Midwinter in Cambridge

June 28th, 2005

Last Friday was the official Midwinter celebrations in Cambridge – a big get-together and lunch for BAS staff. It started with some presentations: two videos made at Rothera were shown – one by the Dive Unit, showing off their underwater camera and one a daft music video shot by a team from Sky News last year, featuring various Rothera-based musicians covering Talking Heads’ classic “Psycho Killer”. Watching the videos was very strange – suddenly I was seeing the landscape around the base at Rothera, which is very impressive and beautiful with the realisation that in a few short months I will be there. Very wierd.
Following the videos, the director of BAS, Chris Rapley, presented long service awards to staff who’d served 25 years with the organisation. This was followed by a hot buffet lunch: Ivon the chef had pulled all the stops to do a choice of hot roast meats and salads outside in the quadrangle. At the very moment Chris Rapley finished speaking, the heavens opened and Ivon and his team whisked it all inside to the canteen (which is called the Icebreaker…) where we all enjoyed an excellent meal. Mmm!

Booking and buying

June 28th, 2005

I’ve now been working at BAS HQ for just over a week, and settling into the way things are done here. I’ve also found out what I’m going to be doing in terms of training courses and booked travel and accomodation for them. So, starting from the 25th July, I’m doing basic UNIX and Netware, mast and structure climbing at Western Power in Taunton, Marine Long Range Certificate in Edinburgh, Netware administration in London, satellite systems in Aberdeen, field training in Derbyshire, aeronautical radio in Cambridge, HF maintenance in Redhill and metereology in Cambridge. And I’m learning to drive a “cherry picker” hydraulic platform, which is clearly the best bit! I’ve also been able to fulfill a long desire of mine: I’m going to Edinburgh and Aberdeen on the Caledonian Sleeper which seems to have become insanely cheap: APEX return tickets to Edinburgh for £89 and to Aberdeen for £99 – bargain!
My work at the moment consists of doing the “indent” – at this time of year the bases send in their requests for new and replacement equipment for the coming year – and I’m going through all the lists of stuff and ordering it. So far, I’ve ordered about £8,500 of radio gear and GPS sets, and £1600 of electronic bits from RS, of which about £500 was Duracell batteries!

Day One

June 6th, 2005

Having accepted the job, had the medical and vaccinations (typhoid, tetanus, diptheria, hepatitis A – yellow fever coming soon once they’ve overcome a national shortage of vaccine) and read the wonderfully Byzantine contract, it was time for a first day at work in Cambridge.
Arriving at BAS after 90 minutes of London traffic, the Blackwall Tunnel and the M11 was kind of strange – only four weeks before I’d been walking up to this building for an interview – but I was met by Chris, my new boss, and then shown down to Personnel where I had the usual briefing on the joys of first aid, emergency exits, fire wardens, teabreak times, clocking on to flexitime and how to find the shower room. Chris then took me round and round the building, introducing me to countless people whose names I now just about remember. Memorable highlights – the enthusiastic people in the MAGIC room (where they’re all map wizards: MAGIC is short for Mapping and Geographical Information Centre) who showed off some really lovely 3D models of the mountains around Rothera and gave me a couple of maps for my very own. The maps really are things of great beauty, and the skill in producing them is very evident.
We then discussed the training courses I’ll be doing. It looks like I’m doing one or two courses on Novell NetWare, one on climbing and rigging masts and towers (in Taunton), one on radio repair and maintenance, the Civil Aviation Authority’s Air-Ground Radio Operator’s course (and possibly also the Flight Information Safety Officer course, too), a marine radio operations course (GMDSS – which would allow me to pursue a career as a ship’s radio officer, if I wanted to) and a satellite systems course. All this plus the basic training that all Antarctic staff get: camping, climbing, abseiling and first aid.
I spent two days in Cambridge: the second day was taken up with learning a bit about metereology (in particular the various met. instruments on the base) and reading reports and documents relating to replacing the HF radio sets BAS uses, as the present ones are getting harder to get spares for.

Interview day

June 5th, 2005

So, to Cambridge. I had a pretty pleasant journey all the way up there on the train and, after seeing the immense queue for taxis, decided to get the buses out to BAS HQ, which is on the far side of town from the station. The HQ building is on a somewhat unfinished science park called High Cross, which is run by the University of Cambridge. The building’s been recently smartened up, with a pleasant new reception area, although it acts as a gateway to a labyrinth of narrow corridors in plain and functional concrete buildings. The interviewers were friendly and enthusiastic, and I talked a good deal about work I’d done at the BBC and why I was keen to work in the frozen South. By the end of the interview we were exchanging fairly detailed questions about the job and working environment, and I was getting the impression that they liked me!
The following day I returned from lunch to an answerphone message from the personnel office at BAS. I had got the job – at the larger of the two bases: Rothera.


June 5th, 2005

How did I come to be doing this? I’ve given up my permanent job at the BBC‘s R&D department to spend about eighteen months working on a research station in Antarctica. Some might say I was mad.
It was back in February. Croydon and the surrounding area was covered in a blanket of snow for about a week, and I arrived at work to find a copy of IEE Review on my desk. It’s a general journal published by the Institution of Electrical Engineers, although it now covers a broad swathe of technology. There, in the jobs section, amongst the usual assortment of recruitment agent ads (“quality jobs for top techies”, “RF designers, military applications, Hampshire”) was a single-column ad with a picture of someone putting on snowshoes. The British Antarctic Survey were looking for Communications Managers to work on their bases and look after HF (short-wave) radio and satellite systems, and administer computer networks. This sounded very much like my cup of tea. Particularly as Auntie Beeb was talking seriously about making a lot of the R&D boffins redundant and moving the rest to Manchester. So, I applied. And I talked about it to anyone who would listen. I’d like to thank my long-suffering housemates and close friends for putting up with me! Some weeks later I was invited to Cambridge for an interview…