June – Midwinter

30 June, 2005 Rothera

Rothera Diary, June 2005

Hi everyone,

June is such an exciting time to be in Antarctica. The main reason being that the 21st June is mid winter’s day, very significant in this part of the world. It is the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of winter (don’t tell anyone, but it never gets completely dark here at Rothera, we get a few hours of daylight during lunchtime and early afternoon). On this day, everyone based on this great continent enjoys a day of celebration. Mid winter is also a week’s holiday for us but more on that later.

The whole of June leading up to this festive time is very busy. Part of the tradition on mid winter’s day is the exchange of gifts. Everyone on Base makes a present and on the day these are swapped by pulling names out of a hat. I cannot begin to describe to you the amount of effort people put into these gifts, for weeks and even months prior to mid winter, people are creating bespoke masterpieces. The level of craftsmanship that goes into these presents would, I’m sure, be the envy of many a carpenter, picture framer or blacksmith. I feel I should also tell you that it was a very busy time for Glen, our Chippy. Since the majority of presents were made out of wood, Glen’s immense carpentry skills were much in demand as he assisted most of us in creating our works of genius. During this time it was not uncommon for Glen to still be in his workshop at 11pm giving someone a hand.

Of course, day to day life continues around Base. The Met still has to be done, the Marine Team still have world class science to study, the Field Assistants still have to carry on preparing equipment for the season ahead, the vehicle mechanics have to service all the skidoos and other vehicles used around the base and everyone else has to keep the Base running. By far, the biggest project on Base from the technical services point of view has to be the ‘makeover’ of the bar. This was a mammoth undertaking carried out primarily by Big Andy, our Sparky and Glen, with assistance from other base members, namely Andy L and Kirk. The work on this should have been carried out during last summer but the late arrival of the James Clark Ross put paid to that – she was carrying all the supplies needed for the job. So, it was left to Glen and Big Andy to tackle the project during this winter. Their target was to have the work done by mid winter, this they did with aplomb! It looks amazing, so chic and stylish.

Each month it’s customary to ask another department to write a little bit about the work they do here. Well, as the chef on base and since food is such a big part of the mid winter celebration, I thought I’d tell you something about the work that I do. We have everything here that you would expect to find in any professional kitchen. Indeed, this kitchen would not be out of place in any setting where bulk catering is required. The advantage over working anywhere else is that we honestly have the best view in the world from our kitchen window – no exaggeration, it’s awesome!

The Rothera chef is contracted to work here for 18 months. One arrives at the start of a summer season and spends the first 5 months working alongside the chef who’s just spent winter here. Two chefs are needed during the summer because there can be over 100 people on base at this time. At the end of the summer, the chef who’s just wintered leaves on the Ernest Shackleton along with all the other non-wintering personnel. You’re then on your own for the next 7 months, or so, until the cycle starts again.

There is a very distinct difference between the summer and winter seasons from a chef’s point of view. Summer is a time of full on mass catering. There are virtually no convenience foods at all down here, which is a good thing, but it does mean that the job can be very demanding. The winter, however, is completely different and a time I love. It’s like cooking for a big family with around 20 people spending the winter here together. Most weekday meals are just as you’d have at home, we have all the traditional stuff like today for lunch I made Toad in the Hole with Onion Gravy. Saturday nights are usually something special, we might have a theme night or a proper 3 or 4 course sit down meal, or maybe relax, enjoy a bar meal whilst watching a movie . On Mid Winter’s Day we really pull out all the stops, the champagne flows and we have a food extravaganza. Below is a copy of the meal we had this year, hope it makes your mouth water!

 2005 Mid Winters’ Day Meal

Asparagus Spears With Hollandaise Sauce

French Onion Soup And Cheese & Garlic Crouton

Smoked Salmon With Aioli Mayonnaise & Capers

Individual Fillet of Beef Wellington

Potatoes Gratin Dauphinois

Glazed Carrots with Coriander

Broccoli Florets

Peppercorn & Brandy Sauce

Rich Devil’s Chocolate Pudding with Hot Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

Cheese Selection & Biscuits

Coffee & Mints

Remember I mentioned earlier that there would be more to follow on the mid winter week festivities? Well, here’s Agnieszka with a round up of the weeks events:

Where do I start with our mid winter week of total enjoyment? Lets start at the beginning. To celebrate the timely completion of our new bar we paid homage to our old bar (though to be honest we were quite drawn to sitting in the new one) and began our week with a pub crawl. Most departments created a unique ‘pub’ for us to have variety throughout the evening. First off the bat was the Bonner Team whose underwater theme bar, called ‘The Andy O Memorial Bar’, incorporated a game show full of challenges for the lucky ‘randomly’ chosen contestants. Simon, Andy B and Isabelle were subjected to name the taste whilst ‘blindfolded’ with a pair of diving goggles. Jo and Ed found themselves bobbing in a tank of water to save poor Nemo. Not to be left out our trusty mechs Paul and Gary had a shootout using dye filled jet spray ‘guns’. Of course Kirk and Andy L proved themselves worthy to be divers (in the loose sense) in the race to don the Crack Dive Teams wetsuits. I must say all participants did a fantastic job and the audience were highly entertained. Leaving the Bonner we ventured to the sledge store and visited ‘Bar Bungee’ for some gnarly bungee sports which of course was supervised by our expertly trained FGAs. Something went amiss however as Kat, after a magnificent run-up found herself able to walk and claim all the prizes! Following this we moved up to the heights of the Pit Stop Inn, finding a superb set up of Scalextric time trials. Enjoying the views in the comms tower a blinking light in the Hangar beckoned us to trek across to discover ‘The Fridge’, the coolest place to be, a ‘club’ lit with a psychedelic lighting display and pumping dance music. Finding it a little cold the posse moved on to La Cantina where everyone was put through their paces on a space hopper over a treacherous pseudo western style assault course complete with paper cowboy hats. After all our adventures, those (hard core crawlers) that were left chilled out in the garage, decked out with picnic tables.

As you may imagine a night of adventures and games was aptly followed by a day of movie watching. Previously, Matt put a lot of work into drawing up a list of top 100 movies and after many votes, five movies were chosen for a day of total indulgence. Luckily the weather was superb, if not a little cold (we are in Antarctica after all!) which deemed to be perfect for our winter snowsports day. This day included Downhill Slalom, Ski Jump, Ice Climbing and Ski-doo skills driving (not all of us can reverse park!). Awards were presented that evening to the most outstanding competitors of the day. Kirk was awarded the fastest slalom, Andy Wilson and Dan fetched the longest Ski jump, Rob climbed the highest, Ed showed driving prowess and Andy Mac won the all rounder trophy having participated with the use of only one arm (the other one is in plaster).

Mid Winters Day came face on before we knew it and everyone was quite excited that morning. Tradition found us watching ‘The Thing’ with the addition of a new movie ‘Alien v Predator’, because these movies are set in Antarctica. We all put our Sunday best on to meet in the bar in the afternoon to exchange the midwinter presents. At 6.30pm we all huddled together to listen to the BBC World Service broadcast, bringing us the sounds of home. Having not eaten all day (in preparation) the feast of Mid Winters Day was to start which was a culinary journey leaving most of us beaten. The day rounded off nicely with many experiencing that ‘Christmas Day’ feeling then making use of our brand new bar.

Of course as mentioned we were able to have the whole week off and several more activities were planned. Kirk and myself put together a treasure hunt incorporating as many obscure clues and random places around the base as we could, along with a couple of good old fashioned puzzles. The week was finished off with the Band Night. Many of us had been practising for weeks (the majority of us first timers with an instrument) to put together a set to get everyone bopping! Needless to say we sounded fantastic and even got an encore from our public. All was not over, a remaining challenge replaced the normal Saturday night cook with ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’ with a line up of lucky contestants: Ed and Gary (Starters), Kirk, Paul B and Andy Mac (Main), then finishing off the courses were Matt and Andy W (Dessert).

Despite the kitchen looking like complete chaos during most of day we were presented with a meal that would impress the pants off any critic!. Alas our week had come to an end, feeling rested, well fed, musically entertained, movied out, outdoor adventured, it was time to return to work and everyday base life.

Well, that’s it for this month. As I write its now well into July and the sea ice is looking good. The Field Assistants are cracking on with training us all in the rudiments of Sea Ice Travel. There is a general buzz around the place at the prospect of being able to go out on that very fickle surface. Let’s hope it stays and you have the pleasure of reading all about our adventures from next month’s diarist.

My love, hugs and kisses to Mum, Dad and all the family and friends in Yorkshire. Love to everyone in Florida, Wyoming and Kentucky. Miss you all loads. Looking forward to meeting up with Alan in Santiago next year.

Best wishes,

Isabelle Gerrard

P.S. Just thought of something that might be useful to you. There are lots of guys here this winter called Andy so in order to differentiate between them all, we’ve given them ‘code names’. Andy B (Andy Barker) is the Winter Base Commander, Andy Boat (Andy Wilson) is the Boatman and Deputy Winter Base Commander, Big Andy (Andy Porter) is the Electrician, Andy L (Andy Lole) is one of our Field Assistants and Andy Mac (Andy MacConnachie) is our Generator Mechanic. Hope that helps! x