20 June, 2003 Rothera
On first hearing about the presents that winterers give to each other on Midwinter’s Day, I was full of dread. Why? Because they are all hand made, on base, and have a reputation of being of a very high standard. Okay, so what skills do I have that I can use to try and create something that doesn’t look like its come straight off Blue Peter, or worse? Well, I’m a scuba diver – that doesn’t get me far, I’m good at reading books – emmmm maybe not, I used to be okay with clay modelling a school – no clay and can’t say I’m much of an artist. Okay, looks like I’ll have to learn a new skill. First lets come up with an idea. I know, how about a set of bar skittles – that should be simple enough – a flat piece of wood with a few pegs and something to knock them down with – excellent, even I can do that. Okay to the chippie shop “Matt, this is what I’m thinking of doing for my winter pressie”, “excellent” says Matt, “something similar was done last year and they shaped the pegs like penguins”, “ooh” I say “nice, how do I go about that”. Talk about a leading question…..
The next thing I know I’ve started the pressie and it involves much more than I thought. To begin, I need to combine two different types of wood so that small 3cm pieces of light coloured wood fit into gaps of the same size in darker coloured wood. This means sawing at very precise angles of 45° to exact depths – okay, might sound simple those with some skill with wood – I’ve never done anything but burn the stuff! And, if I thought that was pushing my skills, next I’m on the lathe turning the wood, chippings flying everywhere and the occasional ‘thunk’ as a rather too large a piece gets stuck to the end of my chisel. Hmm. Eventually, I turn out two lengths of wood that have 12 shapes calved out of them (I needed a few extras just in case they went pear shaped). By this time, I’ve spent nearly every evening possible in the chippie shop and only two weeks to go.
Of course I’m not the only one. Every bench space, makeshift surface and piece of equipment are being used. Everyone trying hard to pretend they know what they’re doing. Matt stands laughing (otherwise he might have cried) in the background, offering endless and life saving advice. Wood is going everywhere, sounds of frustration from some, others giving encouragement or making appreciative noises and there were the odd query as to ‘just what is that?’ The chippy shop is not the only place that is extremely busy. The garage also has works of art being created. What was once simply an idea, under the skills and guidance of the mechs, are actually turning into reality! The darkroom is booked out at all times, busy photographers desperately trying to get exposures, grades and tones just right.
By this time, I’m starting to panic – not long to go and I still have to calve each of the 12 shapes into something looking like a penguin. I disappear into a quiet space to concentrate; because yet another skill must be used – hand carpentry – no can’t say I’ve done any of that before either. A week later I have produced one of what is a passable looking penguin. Genuinely pleased with myself, I proudly show Matt, who says “yup, excellent, just another 11 to go”. I swallow hard with the realisation that this is an impossibility with only a week to go. Looks like a change of plan is necessary. A couple of lovingly hand calved and French polished penguins – okay, not quite what I had in mind, but not bad!
What other pressies were presented on the big day? Well the standard was incredibly high. The gifts varied from some beautifully hand developed photos of Antarctic landscapes, the 2003 winterers and local wildlife (some would say that latter two were the same), satellite photos, blue prints of nansen sledges, maps of the local area encased in frames or in a wooden photo album. A stunning wind chime came from one of our mechs (Chris)- the skill just starring you in the face. Others included; a rope mat, framed, taking up half the floor space in the bar, weighing a tonne and lovingly made, a chips and dip plate made out of bits of the snow caterpillar (it still works), a hip flask made out of and old sink apparently, a viewer for seeing under water, a set of giant dominos, a desk calendar with photos of Antarctica, a rigid friend carved out of brass and many others, and a coffee table (Matt’s of course).
All were appreciated greatly by whoever received them. So much time and care were put into all the gifts. I don’t think anyone walked away without having learnt something making there present and thrilled by the one they had received. It is a great Antarctic tradition!