Halley Diary — May 2009

31 May, 2009 Halley

Where’s the sun?

After the high winds that blew the last days of April away, we wondered if the breeze would abate to allow us a glimpse of the sun on May 1st — the last day that the sun was predicted to rise before setting for 105 days. The wind kindly dropped, but the clouds conspired to obscure the horizon and thus save Giles, our resident sun up/down forecaster, the embarrassment of having got the dates wrong. As tradition dictates, the grumpiest old man on base climbs, with creaking joints and great difficulty, the ladder to the roof in order to lower the flag that has been flying proud and high since the youngest winterer of the previous team raised it at sun up 2008.

While those at home were stuck in Bank Holiday traffic on the first weekend in May, here, at Halley, we were doing what we do best — digging snow. The blows of the previous month necessitated the reacquainting of weather stations and perimeter drum lines with the surface of the snow as opposed to being buried under 1 metre of the white fluffy stuff.

Work on base continued apace throughout the month. Every department has enjoyed (endured?) their indent and the welcome opportunity to count everything that does not move on base, and, if you’re in the vehicles department, counting most things that move too. Counting indoors is fine — it’s the counting of the stock that is held in steel containers about 1km from base that tends to be more arduous when the temperature is −30°C and there’s a chill wind blowing.

Colin (Plant Operator) got to play about in the dozer as all the containers and sledges had to be moved having been well and truly blown in with snow. Colin has to keep the snow around the base groomed so that we have a safe surface to travel around on. He’s also the base magpie and is the first port of call if any of us are trying to find something! Ben (Genny Mech) had his hands full catering to the needs of his 3 generators and refuelling the base, as we’d turned the heating up when the thermometer dipped to −51°C. Refuelling the base involves loading up on fuel from the fuel dumps and then pumping Avtur (diesel) 35 metres underground to the rubber fuel ‘flubbers’.

Karen (the Comms) and Robbie (Sparky) got to play around with lots of snow while digging up endless catenary lines that had become buried during the blows of April. The catenary lines are all the cables that connect the satellite dish and the radio antennae to the base. As we quite like having communications with the outside world, it’s quite an important job keeping those lines healthy. Robbie also kept us on our toes with fire drills, another important feature of life here, where a fire is possibly the worst thing that can occur on an Antarctic base. The weather in April affected the ability of Nick (Mechanic) to get vehicles in and out of the garage and onto their snow mounds where they’ll be parked up for the winter, so he worked flat out to do that and count a million vehicle parts that live in the garage.

Niv (Field GA) has been out and about checking the GPS positions of our various perimeter and skiway markers as well as getting stuck into the maintenance of all our travel and climbing kit. The Nansen sledges are having their annual overhaul and refurbishment, as are the pyramid tents.

Rob D (Mech Services), amongst the many other jobs he did this month, sorted out the leaking sink in my surgery, so that makes him employee of the month. I also owe him one as, allegedly, I flushed the toilet while he was repairing a pipe, resulting in an unfortunate shower for him… on his birthday!!! Probably not the surprise present he was hoping for. Ags (BC) seemed to count everything on base and make exciting discoveries of items that had lain in the back of cupboards but could now be incorporated into exercise sessions or used in the manufacture of midwinter presents. She also keeps the show on the road as she’s the only one of us who has wintered in Antarctica before — this being winter number four for her. Spending so much time in Antarctica probably explains why she was mad enough to let a genny mech, a metbabe and a comms manager attempt to perm her hair — with support from Ben’s mum via webcam (Hi Sally… Ags’s hair didn’t turn out like Ding a Lings).

The kites have also been taken out and Ben plus dozer had a sideline trade in collecting stranded kiters from the perimeter where they had been deposited by the wind. Tacking upwind is the next skill for everyone to learn, but Karen, Colin, Robbie J and Niv have definitely mastered the art of downwind travel… and eating snow. Early May saw the Halley Hellcats (see last month’s photo) first past the finish line of the 6,000km Race across Antarctica — Go the Hellcats!! We celebrated by deciding that we’d race back across the continent and as I write, the last few kilometres have just been completed and several limping, sweaty souls are dragging their shattered bodies around base. I don’t think the gym equipment could have taken much more either.

John, our Chef, has been keeping us far too well fed this month, and continues to come up with novel ways to both entertain and feed us. We had our first takeaway pizza night, where we all had to make our own pizza boxes, put the toppings of our choice on a delicious pizza base, leave the cooking to Ags and John, retire to the lounge and have the Halley pizza delivery boy ride in on his stylish wheels to deliver dinner.

John was also kept busy by the spate of birthdays that occurred in May — three in a ten day period. As Rob D and Nick’s birthdays were but two days apart, a joint musical extravaganza was decided upon. The guest list was stellar, with the Gibbs Brothers, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Axl Rose, Mark Knopfler, Sid Vicious, Amy Winehouse, Adam Ant and the Wrong ’Un all in attendance.

A ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ style music quiz was held, which was taken far too seriously by all concerned and required repeated renditions of Disney’s Tunes for Toons in order to keep the peace and restore perspective. Most enjoyable and capped off with a truly stunning dance display from all on base. If only BAS did video diaries. Karen the Comms’s Mexican birthday feast was next — such was the quality of costumes on the night that the only thing missing was tumbleweed rolling by on the ice outside. An excellent dance display was provided by a cross section of the catering, technical services and vehicles departments which was much appreciated by the rest of us. And Karen impressed us all with her ferocious demolition of the piñata… poor donkey. For those at home, her birthday cake was intended to be a replica Spacehopper and not a bomb or a pumpkin.

Somewhere along the way, the job of baking the birthday cakes became the responsibility of the doctor. My family would be the first to laugh at the irony of me baking anything, but the birthday boys and girl seem to be happy enough with my unique, heavily iced and mostly inedible creations so far. When not sweating/swearing in the kitchen, I too have been counting — postage stamps (lovely job), surgery stock and medications (we have a lot of safety pins and paracetamol here), and waste management stock (those cold containers again). I’ve put on my dentist’s hat and given everyone’s teeth a bit of a scale and polish so that we all have shiny smiles for our midwinter photo. It’s been such a busy month that I haven’t even started my midwinter present, so I’ll leave all talk of midwinter for next month’s diary writer and leave you with the view north from the melt tank on the 30th of May.

Sending all my love to everyone at home, especially my new niece Alannah, born on the 5th of this month. I’ll be back for the first birthday party!!!

Susanna Gaynor
Z Doc