Sunday, June 25, 2006


Well now that we're coming to the end of our Midwinter week here I've finally got a chance to sit down and tell you what's been going on. The last couple of weeks have been full of preparations for midwinter, which becomes our alternative Christmas as it's the coldest darkest part of the year, and we missed Christmas proper as we were in the middle of relief. As a result the workshops have become the most popular places on base, full of people cutting, polishing, varnishing, welding, breaking, swearing, crying, and starting all over again. The pain was worth it though as there were some truly amazing creations, but more of that later.

Since I last wrote we've been doing our best to maintain a thin veneer of normality amongst anticipation of festivities to come. Various bits of IT equipment have done their best to maintain the status quo by failing at inopportune moments, but luckily nothing insurmountable. I've also been out and about with Jules checking the comms masts. Jules is Winter Mast Officer, so it's his responsibility to ensure none of them fall down, which involves checking the tension in the stays and making sure nothing gets buried by the snow. On the social side we've had another couple of inter-base darts matches, managing a win against Rothera, but sadly losing 2-0 to KEP. These webcam matches provide a great opportunity to get everyone together in the bar, as even the self proclaimed non-players get up for their shot, and a chance to swap gossip with the other bases and remind ourselves that we're not entirely alone down here, and there is life outside our 1km comfort zone.

Simon lines up for a shot

Having lived within the confines of a 1km diameter circle for 7 months now you'd think we'd know our way about, but I very nearly got lost a couple of times while helping out on the gash run. All our waste is put out onto a platform outside the front door of the building, and then when that gets full it's all craned onto a sledge and towed out to various dump lines around base, awaiting export when the ship comes. I was gainfully employed as dozer driver and crane operator 2nd class, but sadly my navigation skills nearly let me down. It's fairly tricky driving in the dark when it's snowing at home. Now imagine doing it with no street lights and a flat white landscape, trying to locate two bamboo poles with flags on which you know are out there somewhere. Except they're not because the flags have blown off in the wind. Nevertheless we managed to get everything done, and didn't break any sledges this time so all in all a successful day.

Starting the dozer. Never again will I complain about de-icing the car.

In the last week before midwinter the base takes on something of an end of term feel as decorations start to go up and activities are organised for the week ahead. In Doc School Vicki arranged a couple of scenarios to test our knowledge, which we managed to get through without quite killing anybody, although the acting of the 'patients' was very realistic at times. Simon also ran a class in rope splicing and whipping, so we spent an enjoyable afternoon joining bits of rope together. I celebrated the end of the week by raising some catenaries, which are poles that carry cables out to the aerials and satellite dome to ensure they don't get buried by the snow.

Artistically spliced and whipped ropes

After the end of the working week it was time to get down to the important business of midwinter celebration. We had many events planned over the week, and Bob kicked us off on Saturday with a fascinating slide show of various pictures from his previous jobs working on yachts. As far as I can tell he's spent many tough years photographing female crewmates and climbing masts in order to get a better vantage point from which to take photos. Sunday was a marathon film day, having all voted on a film shortlist the final programme was It's a Wonderful Life, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Very Long Enagement, Life of Brian, and Muppet Christmas Carol. I managed valiantly to watch all five films, only one of which I'd seen before.

Monday saw the pool competition and many a cue chalked in earnest. Sadly I was knocked out in the first round, but the rest of the competition proved fascinating. The girls all did incredibly well, dominating all the rounds, with the final being between Kirsty and Fran. Fran emerged victorious, but then again she has been down here a year longer than everyone else so has had much more practise. During the day Simon unveiled the winter magazine which he has been putting together for the last few weeks. This is another tradition down here, each year the wintering team puts together a magazine to reflect what's gone on and try and embarrass as many people as possible. This years superb effort had something of a football theme, reflecting Simon's love of the game and probably also relating to that World Cup thing which apparently is going on at the moment. Tuesday included a 2 hour yoga session, after which we all felt slightly disjointed but very flexible. This proved an excellent warm up to the evening darts match against KEP.

Then came the big day. Wednesday June 21st was midwinters day in the Antarctic. Tradition dictated that John the Base Commander had to offer to deliver everyone tea and coffee in bed. I decided to decline the offer, but was up in time for an excellent brunch with Bucks Fizz to start the day. A few of us hardy souls (idiots?) decided that a naked run round the building would be the perfect way to celebrate the day, so ventured out for a brisk trot round the Laws at -40 degrees...... This wasn't actually as bad as I was expecting, and certainly blew away the cobwebs. After that we relaxed by watching The Thing, almost as scary as the sight of us circumnavigating the building but not quite. For the evening meal everyone dressed up in their best posh togs and met up for a pre prandial G & T. Nic the Chef prepared us an absolutely incredible 5 course feast and we all duly stuffed ourselves silly.

And they're off!

Table ready for the midwinter meal

After all the lovely food it was all we could manage to walk through to the lounge for the present giving. At last the waiting was over and we got to see the fruits of all those hours spent labouring away. I had drawn Vicki's name out of the hat and after much welding, metal bending and fiddling with bits of coke can I managed to produce a miniature samba drum with a model of the base on top. As coincidence would have it Vicki picked my name out of the hat so I received a lovely patchwork wall hanging of the view up from the bottom of a crevasse. There are obviously some very talented craftspeople on base as all the presents were fantastic, and very original, providing an excellent memento of our time here. After the presents it was time to sit round the wireless. Every year on the World Service there is a special Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast where friends and family can leave messages, so we had the HF radio piped through to the stereo and had half an hour listening to voices from home. If you're interested you can listen to the broadcast here

Presents all wrapped and ready

The result of Anto's expert welding tuition, and a large hammer

A not quite to scale model of Halley

Patchwork quilt on display at Halley Art Gallery

Midwinter presents on display

After the excesses of midwinter, Thursday was understandably a fairly low key affair. I successfully slept through most of Dr Zhivago and in the evening Simon hosted a quiz. Friday night was games night, consisting of Twister, Mafia and Balderdash and Pictionary. We also had another cocktail night, having fun making Antarctic creations, which tasted surprisingly good actually. Saturday night was an opportunity for more talents to come to the fore as we had the Halley Cabaret Night. There was lots of music, singing, poetry and sketches, but for me the highlight of the evening was Liz sawing Andy in half. I've often wondered how magicians do this trick and now that I've seen it performed in my own front room I can safely sayI still have no idea.

Bob aka Johnny Cash, with backing band

"Always look on the bright side of life"

Liz starts off with the power tools......

......but reverts to more traditional methods

Andy didn't feel a thing

As I write we await the result of the Photo Competition, and that will bring to a close our week of festivities as we return to work refreshed tomorrow, looking forward to seeing the sun again in a couple of months.