30 April, 2005 Halley
This month started off with winds of 40 knots and temperatures of −30°C and pretty much stayed the same with the exception of one or two reprieves. This made commuting to work on other platforms or to the garage difficult — (not that I would know anything about that, being on the Laws platform all day).
The weather doesn’t help when it’s your turn to dig snow for the melt tank. Some days it was blowing so much that your clothes are covered with frost and the snow will fill every gap in your clothes. Goggles freeze over so that you can’t see what you are digging. Lucky there are no dogs around here, or we could run into all sort of problems!
At the few times in the day when the weather was not blowing like mad, we saw sun dogs (a trick of some kind), sun pillars (another trick) and diamond dust, which are ice crystals that float in the air and sparkle like glitter.
In the evenings we are seeing more and more of the amazing auroras. The feeling seeing these things is still something quite special and is still certainly a highlight of wintering here that I will never forget. They are caused by charged particles in the ionosphere from the sun. The Earth’s magnetism deflects these ionised particles to each pole and so we get the most beautiful displays of luminous light in the star filled skies above us.
On Saturday nights we all put in extra effort to make the evening a special event. The food of course is exceptional, which I would like to take full credit for but I have to give credit were it is due. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my kitchen sidekick, Cheffete Miriam.
Some of the Saturdays have been combined with birthdays so that we can be celebrated more freely without the thought of working the following morning. JC is the grand daddy of the base but don’t let this fool you, he’s no pushover. He can and will instil fear into even the youngest and bravest of us! He was the first one who celebrated with a trip out to the ice cave for a glass or two of wine.
Cheffete Miriam celebrated her 24th birthday and after chocolate cake we played games in the library to the tunes of Simon on the keyboard.
Last of the birthdays was Jamie ‘Hobbit’ Koplick’s, the base plumber and all round good northern lad, who celebrated alongside St George’s and we all got dressed up and made good use of baking foil stocks.
The mornings and nights are getting darker each day as we approach mid winter. So any work that has to be outside has to be done in the ever-diminishing daylight hours. A lot of these things that needed to be done are Gareth’s, our vehicle mech of two years, although we would hardly know because he is always working from early in a morn till late at night! He has been testing his new baby, the Caterpillar D5. He had to see if it could pull 40 tonnes in readiness for the Halley 6 build, while also servicing and storing all the other vehicles until the end of winter.
The flubber, which is the bulk fuel storage for the winter (similar to a massive water bottle), has had to refilled under the expert eye of Matt ‘Touch It’ Butters our genny mech.
The science goes on as usual with the impeccable high standards of skill, attention and 24 hour devotion. Jeff ‘Viet Cong’ Cohen, Bryn ‘Baaaaa’ Jones, Simon ‘Judge and Jury’ Coggins, and Miriam ‘Why isn’t there any pudding?’ Iorwerth, taking care of things on the Piggott. Craig ‘Media darling Mk2’ Nicholls, Vanessa ‘I still haven’t got a pony’ O’Brien, Frances ‘blah blah’ Williams taking care of the Simpson.
Back at the laws everything else is taken care of, our electrickery is taken care of by Steve, our power by Matt, our water by Jamie, our steel and wood by little Dan, our health by Petra. The winter trips have finished now and Ian ‘Cold Cuts’ Coxan, our Field Assistant, can get down to the serious business of maintaining the equipment in tip top order so we don’t die on our post-winter trips in November. Most importantly though, the food needs have been taken care of by me. And not forgetting Mike ‘Update’ Rooney who gives us our daily wit and humour, as well as ensuring that we have constant access to the interclacker! What would we do without him?
I also had my turn to work on nights which is when I had the pleasure of sleeping through the day then getting up in the evening to keep a keen eye on the base to ensure we don’t burn down and to wake the relevant people if their science alarm goes off. It is also a good opportunity to get some time to yourself and do any little projects that you may have on the go. I managed to put some of the new toys that were sent in this year to good use. The main one being the croissant cutter! I think everyone was pretty pleased when they woke up to the smell of freshly baked croissants, pain au chocolate (this was my treat!) and hot chocolate.
One of the great tings about nights is that it is practically a week off. Well it is from the normal run of things and it was quite nice to have someone else cook all my meals for me. Only thing that was missing some nights was pudd! How can we have dinner without pudd!? It is one of life’s essential pleasures!
Coming off nights can be quite tricky, but I managed to overcome this quite easily by staying awake the best part of the following day and then spending the night at wonky caboose. Wonky caboose is a hut on the perimeter of Halley base, 1km from the main platform. It was great to get away from everyone on base for a night even though the door needed to be dug out from the feet of snow blocking the way in. Once inside with the Tilley lamp, primus stove and the Refleck stove all fired up and blazing away it soon warmed up and was very toasty. We found a bottle of frozen whiskey inside which Russ Locke our ex winter base commander left, no doubt for medicinal purposes only. As we both were suffering with cold throats we felt obliged to partake in a sip or two as it slowly defrosted.
The end of the month will see the sun down ceremony. This will be last day we shall see of the sun for 105 days. This year as with every other year the most distinguished base member will have the honour to make an inspiring speech whilst standing on the roof in the freezing cold and ceremoniously lowering the Union Jack flag. We await this eagerly and hope that it will see us into the darkness.
Fire is easy to make!
Best wishes to all my family and friends back home (or wherever you may be). Also hello to all last years’ winterers, hope that life back in the real world is still bearable!