May – Plumbing

15 May, 2003


I’m supposed to be writing about plumbing. There is just one small problem that I can see right from the onset with me writing about plumbing, that being I know absolutely squat about plumbing. Normally this wouldn’t matter but as I managed to ‘blag’ the job of Base Plumber, well you can sort of see the complications right from the onset. It was a two way street, the advertised position was for a Mechanical Services Technician, being slightly mechanical I thought I’d apply. The interview went well, I received a telephone call and was offered the job. So off I went to attend a training weekend in Cambridge and low and behold the next thing you know they are asking for the ‘Rothera Plumber’ to stand up, I’m looking around thinking to myself ‘poor sod’ wouldn’t fancy his job looking after all those pipes in freezing temperatures. Then I get a prod from Pat, my line manager, that’ll be you, oh no surely some mistake, er, no that’s you old chap, which was the first I knew about it. That’s karma for you, you tell a few fibs at an interview and it all comes back at you, Mechanical Services Technician is BAS speak for Plumber.

So far I’ve dealt with burst pipes that flooded a few offices and labs, plumbed in a sewage treatment plant, installed a reverse osmosis plant for making drinking water, repaired the burst sewage pipes in the accommodation building, pumped out flooded sewage tanks, more burst pipes, more sewage, then a bit more sewage and a few toilets as well; are you picking up on the recurring theme here?

Sewage. Though even with all that it’s still better than sitting behind a desk in Harold Hill dealing with shipping companies, ship owners, ship brokers and accountants; as a Plumber in the Antarctic I get less of the brown stuff hurled my way than I did as the Technical Manager for a stevedoring company. Now in the mornings I don’t have to battle with the traffic on Gallows corner roundabout, none of those ‘I’ve got a Mercedes, I’m so important’ people cutting you up on the way to work here, though I’ve found that I do give way to the odd fur seal or penguin that crosses my path as I bimble over to the boiler house.

I’m surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery that I’ve ever seen, just an unspoilt array of mountains, glaciers and sea. Icebergs drift past in the bay, hewn by wind and water into fantastic Daliesque sculptures. Being able to sit on your front door step with a cup of tea and a smoke, whilst this natural conveyor of art is displayed, brings a tremendous sense on lenity. Sort of like the Tate Modern except a lot bigger, easier to comprehend and you can see it without the breakdowns on the District & Circle line.

The diving’s pretty fantastic as well, amazing prolific colours, the sea lemons, which look like the remains of a giant paint ball fight, anemones, sponges, sea squirts, fish, star fish, urchins and seals. On the last dive I did, as we ascended, a weddell seal lay there just checking us out with these huge, emotional brown eyes the size of saucers. Underwater the contrast is so remarkable from the barren white and blue of the snow and ice, purple hues, flashes of red, vivid yellow all shaded with this mottled effect as the light refracts through the forming ice on the surface.

Right, I’ve wondered way off from the plumbing theme, or probably more correctly I’ve completely lost the plot.

Eric Thornthwaite

Wintering Plumber