Saturday, April 29, 2006

Scattered showers in the south

The weather is playing an ever increasingly important part in our lives these days. We have various instruments here that measure temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction, and the output from these can be viewed on a PC, so we usually have a couple of screens around the base constantly updating this information. Often you'll see people looking anxiously at the weather monitor to see if it's suitable to go outside, climb a mast, go kiting, or just sit inside and hide from the elements. We've seen winds up around 50 knots and temperatures down to about -40C in the last couple of weeks, which means you have to think much more carefully about what you're going to wear if you venture out. Overalls and a hat just aren't enough any more, so it's extra neck protectors, balaclavas, goggles, fur hats, insulated boots, two pairs of gloves and enormous goosedown jackets these days. It may take you 5 minutes to get dressed before you go out but it's certainly worth it. Even the breath inside your balaclava freezes, and touching anything metal seems to suck the warmth out of you. We can't complain though, this is the reason most of us came down here, to experience something different, and it's a lovely feeling to be in the nice warm bar in the evening when blowing snow outside makes visibility about 10 feet and the building is shaking. On the other hand, we do get some incredibly beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and weather phenomena that you just don't see at home like sundogs and diamond dust. We've also had our first glimpses of aurora, a faint whitish green light moving eerily in the sky. I tried to get a few photos but I think I need to read the camera manual a bit more to get better results.

The view from my office window

Snow and rime covers everything now

I've also had my first week of nights this month. Every week someone is allocated night duty, it's mainly a safety thing, making sure someone is up and alert overnight to listen out for alarms and ensure the building doesn't burn down. Nightshift also involves a few cleaning duties, and breadmaking. This was something very new for me, but with the aid of an industrial mixer and some very detailed instructions I managed to produce some loaves and rolls, and even criossants! Just call me Delia. It's quite strange having the whole building to yourself once everyone has gone to bed, but it's nice to get some time on your own, which isn't always easy here as we all live and work together. Luckily there were no disasters during my watch, just a couple of science alarms which were easily fixed by Jules, and some exciting weather. Nightwatch also has to make a weather observation at 3am, making note of cloud cover, visibility, and any fog or snow that might be around.

Night chef hard at work

The final results

Other than that it's been fairly normal lately. (Now there's a worrying thought, when did I start to consider this as normal?) Simon has started giving yoga classes so I'm aching in places I never knew I had, I've had a go at playing bridge, the samba band is progressing in leaps and bounds, Mark has been giving guitar lessons, and I think I'm due to start Spanish lessons next week, been out skiing a couple of times. It was my turn to cook again on Thursday, which I didn't realise until the day before, so hurriedly raided Nicola's collection of cook books for easy recipes. I managed to knock up home made burgers for lunch, and a casserole for dinner so luckily no-one starved. The only slight blot in my copybook is managing to break the towing eye on one of the crane sledges (obviously a faulty design, couldn't possibly have been my fault), but Anto has fixed it already so I think I can relax again.

All wrapped up.....

.....heading into the sunset

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We're all going on a.........

Well unfortunately our winter trip didn't entirely work out. For the first couple of days the weather wasn't too good, so we did a bit of training with Simon, which mostly involving abseiling down the lounge and pretending someone had fallen in a crevasse, then trying to remember what we had learned on the field course before we came away. In my case not much. We also practised jumaring in the garage, which involves climbing a rope with the aid of various clever mechanical devices. Having done our best to remember how to tie knots the weather was still rotten so we occupied ourselves by building an igloo. This was quite fun, first we cleared a pit area, then set about digging up blocks of snow. These are actually surprisingly strong, especially if the temperatures have been a bit low as the snow becomes much more solid. As it turned out we were a little ambitious in our igloo size initially, and suffered a few collapses, so the MkI was abandoned for a smaller version. This went much better and we had a laid a good few courses of blocks on the first day. Sadly the temperatures got up overnight and next day we had an igloo that looked more like a Gaudi building as one side had melted and half collapsed. We made a go of salvaging the project and things were looking good for a finished building, although we didn't get a chance to finish as we finally got to go away.

Early stages of construction

Nearing completion

By now the weather was showing no signs of improvement to allow us to go on our trip so instead Vicki suggested we go to Windy Caboose for a couple of days. This was met with approval so off we went. A caboose is basically a small shed on skis, fitted with a little paraffin burning stove and some bunks, meaning we wouldn't have to try and put tents up in 25 knot winds. So Vicki, Andy and I got three days off base at Windy, which was very relaxing, and almost the proper Antarctic camping experience as food was cooked on Primus, we were lit by Tilly and we went to the toilet outside. Windy is near the coast so we strolled down to look at the sea ice and saw a few penguins in the distance, in between strenuous bouts of reading, drinking hot chocolate and having a very intense Ludo game.

Our chalet by the sea

The brochure said full self catering facilities.......

The intrepid winter trippers

We headed back to base in time for the weekend, but that didn't mean time off as I was on gash. We don't have the luxury of maids down here so every day one person is on cleaning duties and Saturday was my turn. This involves cleaning the communal areas and toilets, setting the table for meals, washing up the chef's stuff and doing a bit of laundry. Hopes of a peaceful nights rest after my exertions were dashed as the fire alarm went off at about 3:30am, which means everybody has to get up. I ended up being a runner, whose job is to go to the area indicated by the fire alarm and make an initial assessment. In this instance it was the garage so three of us headed over to investigate. Meanwhile the rest of the base would have been up having a roll call and getting breathing apparatus on in case anyone needed rescuing. Happily it was a false alarm as there was no sign of a fire, so after resetting the alarm we returned. Sunday didn't offer a chance for a lie in either as it was my turn to cook. In order to allow Nicola the chef a couple of days off a week we have a rota for us mere mortals to try our hands in the kitchen. So far the results have been very impressive so I was keen to provide a decent spread. Lunch consisted of a fairly traditional fry up, so not too many problems there. For dinner I decided to try and do tapas, hoping to be able to provide some variety. When you're used to cooking for a few people at home it's very difficult to suddenly up the quantities and try and cater for 16. I'm not sure I quite got it all right, but there were no reported cases of food poisoning the next day and some people even went back for seconds so I'll count that as a success. Next time it might be beans on toast.......

Other jobs lately have ranged from dental nurse (both patient and doctor seemed most put out that the outfit provided didn't fit me), through Comms (an intermittent satellite problem and a trip onto the roof to screw down an errant wireless dish), drum raiser (digging out and repositioning the empty drums that mark the perimeter of the base), to Waste assistant (craning lots of rubbish off the Laws platform and moving it to various locations).

After our first month of solitude things are going well and we're all still enjoying ourselves. Days are getting noticeably shorter now, soon it'll be dark.......

Trying to play a fife.
It looks impressive but there wasn't actually any sound coming out.