Sunday, 17 June 2007

Mid Winter, June 21st 2007

Well here we are. June has arrived out of nowhere. Mid winter is finally upon us. Another cycle of Antarctica's darkness will very slowly be drawing to an end, and the 3 months of our dark, ice encrusted home will once again, be bathed in the 24hr rays, of light and shadows on the sustrugi scared ice plateau.

Many jobs have to be taken care off throughout the year, all over the base. Me and Thomas offer a helping hand in defrosting a couple of skidoos in the garage prior to mid winter, which have sat outside in temperatures averaging minus 30 degrees C, entering the warmth of the garage only for maintenance and services.

There are a number of events to look forward to in our June timetable, talks about the Polarstern ship in the Arctic, Pete's prize quiz, scalextrix, murder mystery, table tennis, pool & photo competitions, film day. But the first, was Thomas's Feverzangenbowle. The tradition of drinking Gluhvein 2 weeks before Christmas in Germany, was initiated. As mid winter here is our equivalent of Christmas Day.

Christmas decorations coming out for the mid winter celebrations.

Next on the big agenda for June was Pete's 50th Birthday on the 9th June, he couldn't have timed it better, having it here on an Antarctic research station. With the tradition of the Doc. making the birthday cakes on base, all i had to do was cook Pete's favourite meal - hoping i'd have the ingredients, that is. Braised beef steak and a jacket potatoes. The party night continued with a fancy dress theme of "Explorers", which proved tricky when some of the guys and girls decided to rope up in true mountaineering style, but then consequently struggled to release rope, while under the influence of alcohol, for the frequent toilet pit stops.

Pete with Doc's cake and a frame made by me,Tamsin and James, with the picture donated by Thomas.

The "Explorers" Club.

Dave posing, still roped up, while other members of his party, make use of the toilets.

One thing i'd just like to mention is that i live, work and sleep in a freezer - literally, when temperatures average around minus 30 - 40 degrees below, it can take its toll on the windows and frame. This photo was taken on 10th June, and is of the inside of my pit room window.

The frost on the floor in the corridor is due to the external ice strengthened steel beams, running close to the interior floor.

It was like the last shopping day before Christmas, i spent part of Friday afternoon away from the kitchen and meticulously grafting away at my winter present, with much needed guidance given from Matt, down the garage. Making a few last minute adjustments and improvements, for one of the lucky winterers i pulled out the hat in February. And yes, in case your all wondering, my chefs jacket was changed, prior to any cooking.

With the Friday night Simpson office Christmas party underway, and outside catering provided by "moi", the festivities of mid winter commenced. Balloon games, pin the bow tie on the penguin, guess the photocopied body parts and eating chocolate with a knife and fork, whilst wearing some of your Antarctic accessories, were all worth the 300 metre trek from the Laws, and the biting -39 degree temperatures.

Trust me to get stuck into the chocolate game.

The following day saw me enjoying my time off work and the subsequent holidays to come. I can't remember the last time i had a good few consecutive days off. Saturday afternoon would be biathlon time, a 2mile ski in minus 29.1 degrees C, from the laws to the memorial and back, followed by the knocking off of 5 cans with 5 ice balls, with additional mini laps to the melt tank, as punishment for however many cans left standing. After an incredibly dodgy start, with skis coming undone and sticks flailing everywhere, i was in 4th place coming up to the memorial. My cross country skiing ability is more of a run with planks on my feet, rather than the graceful glide demonstrated by my competitors. A wrong turn by the can shoot out and a loose ski, saw me loose valuable positioning. I proceeded to knock 3 out of the 5 cans down, resulting in 2 mini laps between the melt tank and laws, and with no rules in the biathlon games, i flung the skis from my feet and ran the rest of the way. Every step was a gamble for my body to compensate in the dark dreary light, sometimes my feet would sink like quick sand in the soft ice, other times they'd gain grip like trainers on hard bitumen tarmac. My target was a fair way ahead, a Norwegian born mountaineer called Sune, born with skis on his feet. I made very little distance up, as he passed me on the loop, gliding like a swan landing on a lake, humbling me to a 2nd place spot.

The can shoot out, in readiness for the competitors.

Finished at last, 2nd place.

A table tennis tournament organised by Tamsin saw the appearance of John McEnroe, playing with as much enthusiasm as the out fit he was wearing.

Me showing Tamsin my silky skills.

Another tradition here on base is the watching of "The Thing", at mid winter. A 1982 horror by John Carpenter, about a thing / creature, that goes around killing people working on an Antarctic research station. So Sunday night, film night, we gathered in the lounge, watching this film that mimicked our lives at present - how unfortunate for the lonesome soul, who has to do the 12am and 3am Met observations outside on the ice.

Wednesday would bring another active session outside, this time a 2 mile marathon, part way around the perimeter. With an actual temperature outside of minus 37.5 degrees C, the crisp, sharp, freezing air hitting the back of your throat induces a few initial coughing spasms, a sign of your lungs disliking the temperature, in which they are being asked to work over time in. We could all feel the steady stream of energy and stamina, dwindle with every aching breath and heavy footed plod. My brain was telling my body to do things, which my body was struggling to implement. A few moments after the marathon, with all but one of the competitors back, a safety radio check was given out to the lone straggler, found casually walking the marathon course. A testament to those who competed, in probably the harshest mini marathon on Earth.

Me enjoying the starry skies after the grueling run.

A spot of well deserved lunch after the run, saw the majority of the Laws rooms, being turned into a crazy golf complex, all with their individual themes and challenges.

Dave's, "Hello Kitty" theme in the gym.

Thomas testing my Par 2 hole, i made in the kitchen.

So mid winters eve, saw the usual traditions you'd take part in on Christmas eve, with carol singing outside on the platform with hot mince pies, which didn't stay hot for long in the -36.5 degree air.

Mid winter greetings, came from all over the World. Some from their country Headquarters like Goa, India, President George Bush in Washington, and our very own Tony Blair. Others came from the research bases scattered around Antarctica, from the American, Amundsen Scott base at the South Pole, the French, Dumont D'urville station on the South coast, the Australian, base Casey on the east coast, the Indian, base on the North coast and the Japanese, base Syowa also on the North coast.

The "Big Day", Thursday 21st June 2007, Mid Winters day .

For most people on base today, and all this week, mid winter was about time off, relaxing and spending time on their winter present, joining in the base events or having quality time for themselves. However, us chefs, as always, never relax when others do. Our job is required at the most social of calendar dates, anywhere in the world, and down South is no exception. Another tradition for the chefs past, present and future is to provide an exquisite meal in the darkest month, of week long celebrations.

The program of events today, was all around me, well the food anyway, and an allocated slot in the mid winter celebrations, for some naked running around the laws, in a rather chilly, minus 35.5 degrees.

Me and Richard, making a clean getaway, running so fast, we got caught by the speed camera. Initial inquiries suggest we were seen fleeing at around 2pm.

So Champagne canapes in the bar at 4pm, with a team photo to mark the occasion, followed by a casual stroll into the dining room, for what would hopefully be an enjoyable meal. The raffling of the Laws flag, won by Brian the plumber, which i had the privilege of drawing, would be after the Amuse Bouche, (pre starter). The gnarled, weathered flag sails in the frozen Antarctic sky between sun up (August) and sun down (May), quite a historic prize, to take home.

Mid winter picture in the bar.

The mid winter menu. (click to enlarge menu)

What a busy bee.

Pete, laying up the table as my waiter for the evening.

Tamsin serving the canapes in the bar.

James and Jules tucking into the Champagne and canapes, although Jules looking like he's scoffed enough already.

Placing the Amuse Bouche, in readiness of the hoardes.

The fish course.

Mid way, in the assembly of the mains.

Some of the desserts served for the meal.

Round of applause for guess who? Me!

With the filter coffee slowly dripping through the machine, the retirement of the lounge chairs bekoned, with continued excitment of mid winter presents and the BBC World Service Broadcast. The HF (High Frequency) radio broadcast, is transmitted worldwide, which also features the other BAS Antarctic Stations, with the added bonuses of messages from much missed family, friends and loved ones. We had the opportunity of requesting a song for the broadcast a few weeks earlier, which was Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins. A special message from Joanna Lumley during the broadcast, giving her best wishes to all of us here at Halley, was another enjoyable festive moment. The evening was far from over, with the guessing of who made what for whom, on the agenda for the rest of the evening. You recieve a present, guess who made it, then take another present from under the tree and give it to whoever, its named for.

Who left these, santa?

Andy McConnachie, the Genie Mech, receiving his gift, later found out made by Dave, one of the Met babes.

Mark, the Electrician, receiving his mystery present, with surprisingly, no idea who made it. A painted bucket with putty sealant in. How displeased does he look? And this took 4 months to make. Is this a joke?

Doc. receiving his welded metal scupture of himself, pulling a sledge, mounted on an original piece of Nansen sledge, courtesy of Matt the Mechanic.

Me receiving my present, which i guessed correctly, was made by Brian, the Plumber, . Two solid brass candle sticks, weighing in at 2 lb each. A fantastic gift which i'm well chuffed with, which Brian later told me, requires them back, to add a few little finishing touches to them.

Dean the Comms Manager, opening his present made by me, wrapped in the news paper headlines which he concocks each morning, when he can be bothered. The carved Z in the back of his head, was the result of him trying to shave his own hair.

A photo mosaic of the laws in a bent Alluminium frame.

Last but not least, just when we all thought it was all over, another small brown box appeared from under the tree with Marks name on it. His true present, a replica Primus stove made out of brass. Made by the one man we all knew had the ability to make such a gift - Andy McConnachie, who also owned up to the painted bucket and putty. A useful addition to Marks potential barge he wants to buy, the bucket catches the drips, and the putty fills any holes.

Mark, this time enjoying his real surprise gift.

A selection of all the mid winter presents.

Thomas's present he made for Pete, a replica of the Polarstern ship which they have both been on, moored up alongside the ice shelf.

A replica "Tesla" steam turbine, made for Matt by Jules the Electronic Engineer.

After a very long day, with everyone fed and watered and more than pleased with their presents, the suggestion of cigars and a tipple outside on the platform, was to conclude the night. The suggestion came from an unlikely source, but who am i to argue with "Doctors orders".

Concert night. Z or Dead, making their debu performance live on Friday 22nd June 07.

Mid winter week was almost over, the last weekend before going back to work, seemed as good a time as any for Thomas to perform another Feverzangenbowle. The perfect finish to round off the festivities of the week.

Even more so was the beautiful natural light glowing from the horizon, at 14.30 in the afternoon.

Mid winter was truly over. Which seemed a fitting time for me to aquire some free base labour, on the kitchen deep clean, or for me to get my own back, for the fact that i worked during mid winter.

Once the Halley winterers had gourged their stomachs on all manner of foods and beverages, after mid winter, Richard the Doc. announced the time was wright for some free scrapping, filling and drilling. So i thought i'd demonstrate my skills, to show him how its done.

"Just lay back and relax, i no what i'm doing"?

June Statistics:

Max Temp. -10.7 Degrees C on 8th
Min Temp. -47.5 Degrees C on 4th
Max Gust Speed: 56.1 knots