Halley Diary — July 2004

31 July, 2004 Halley

A month of birthdays by Graham Gillie

July started quietly and after all the midwinter celebrations it was back to work as normal — or as normal as it gets down here.

Even though it’s dark and regularly below -40°C the daily checks and maintenance still have to be done. On the Simpson, Craig, Vanessa and Stuart carry out (among other things) meterological and ozone observations and launch a balloon every day no matter what the weather (which is quite amusing to watch when its blowing 40 knots). Meanwhile 1.5 km to the south the CASLab pair, Rhian and Steph, busy themselves sampling air and snow to see just how much damage we’re doing to the planet. This month they had a week of intensive data collecting, which involved taking samples every three hours. The CASLab and Simpson people are currently preparing for a joint kite and blimp flying experiment which will involve hanging all sorts of clever gadgetry below the kite if its windy, or the blimp if it’s not, to sample weather and ozone levels at different heights.

Back toward the main base the Piggott boys, Russ, Simon, Jeff and Mark, are on 24 hr call to keep the Advanced Ionospheric Sounder, Southern Hemispheric Auroral Radar Experiment , Very Low Frequency and other experiments running. It is not unknown to hear them getting kitted up in the middle of the night and heading over to the Piggott to restart or tweak instruments that have gone wrong.

Back on the Laws (main platform) Kev our Chef works wonders with frozen, dried and tinned ingredients (it’s a while since we’ve seen fresh fruit or veg) to produce meals that would put most chefs to shame.

Contact with the outside world is an important part of life down here. Be it to send scientific data, speak to teams in the field or just to chat to folk back home. Mike, our ever smiling comms manager, keeps the satellite, HF and VHF links all running smoothly and has regular chats over the radio with the other BAS bases and some international bases.

At this time of year during the dark months, Ed, our Field Assistant (ropes and jangly bits man) makes the most of his time on base. He checks ropes, harnesses, ice axes and various other bits of Antarctic safety equipment, services the sledges and stitches up ripped tents and clothing. His mum will be proud to see the way he has learned to use a sewing machine.

Dr Frank has fortunately been pretty quiet so far this year — lets hope it stays that way. Frank is also responsible for our dental health and carried out the winter checks this month. Ben (BAS Dentist), you will be glad to hear everyone had a clean bill of health

Half a kilometre to the north sits the garage. Here you will find Gareth, our vehicle mechanic, working hard servicing a fleet of Sno-Cats, bulldozers, cranes and skidoos so they are ready for the summer season. If he’s not in the garage he is more than likely out in the bulldozer flattening snowdrifts or piling snow up for the melt tank.

Gareth is one of five in the Technical Services teem, the rest of us, Tommo the Electrician, Graeme the Generator Mechanic, Nigel the Services Engineer (Plumber) and me the Carpenter are responsible for the upkeep and running of all the buildings. This includes general maintenance and servicing of generators and all the other things we take for granted at home, heating, ventilation, electricity, water etc. Also due to the movement of the ice shelf the buildings have to be levelled and jacked up or down as appropriate every month.

So that’s the work stuff now what you really want to hear — What have we been doing with our spare time?

July was a busy month for birthdays. The first was Graeme Barton on the 10th. As birthday boy, Graeme was allowed to choose the menu for the day. Having traveled the world on various ships, we were sure he would come up with some ideas to stretch Kev’s vast culinary knowledge. In the end however the simple Fife boy came through and we had scrambled egg for lunch and tuna toasties for tea. Afterwards we retired to the bar and followed the seafarers’ tradition of a tot of rum and straight to bed!

Rhian and Russ had a joint birthday party on the 24 th which took the theme of a house party — dress casual, bring a friend and a bottle, don’t go and sit in the pub ’til closing time before you turn up. The lounge was decked out with comfy sofas, a hammock and party decorations. After pizza and a bit of chat the evening turned into an impromptu jamming session with Russ, Rhian, Steph and Nige on guitar, Frank on what he calls his didgeridoo, (we call it his didgeridon’t, but it is in fact a bit of old drain pipe), and the rest of us singing, some badly others not quite as badly.

The party went on into the wee small hours then was further extended when the aurora started (probably the best one we’ve had) and we sat outside watching the lights flicker across the sky till we were too cold to stay out for any longer.

The last birthday was Stuarts on the 30 th. Kev once again did us proud with a superb Italian meal, then it was through to the bar for cocktails. As supplies of exotic ingredients are sparse it wasn’t quite the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

A question we are often asked is “who cuts your hair”? The answer I’m afraid is anyone. This usually turns out OK as it’s just a case of having the clippers on the correct setting. However things can and do go horribly wrong if the elected hairdresser gets a bit carried away!

As the light starts to grow on the horizon we are all starting to think of weekends off base. Although we are very isolated at Halley it sometimes doesn’t feel that way. When you live and work at close quarters with seventeen other people, no matter how well you get on with each other, its nice sometimes to get away from it and chill out with just one or two others. There are three cabooses we can head to at weekends, one at Windy 18 km away, one at creek two 12 km away and Wonky, which is just outside the base perimeter. The Cabooses are small huts that sleep three or four people and are great places to go for a bit of piece and quiet. Windy has already been used this month when we went out to set up an abseil point for the up and coming trips to see the Emperor Penguins and Wonky has been used most weekends this month.

Well the sun’s been down for three months now and none of the stories of people walking around in a daze, not sure if its day or night, have come true. When it’s clear the sky is amazing, full of stars, the moon, faint colourful lights to the north and aurora. When it’s stormy, it’s stormy and doesn’t matter if it’s light or dark — you can’t see anything either way. Spending so long in the dark makes you more aware of star formations, the moon’s cycle and just how much we rely on the sun. It will be good to see the daylight again but I for one will be quite sad as it marks the end of a great experience that very few people have had or will have in their lifetime. This is the Antarctic, this is what I came to see and experience and I’ve not been disappointed.

Stay tuned for next months installment.

Love to all at home, Graham.