October 20th, 2006

Oh, and I should have added to my previous posting that our own aircraft are being held back in the UK by various technical and regulatory issues, so we’re not expecting them to arrive before November 9th at the very earliest. This obviously impacts on summer fieldwork, so a lot of people are concerned that their projects might get shortened or cancelled. No BAS planes also means no mail, so Pauline in the office in Stanley will have to put up with our heaps of mailbags for another few weeks.

Summer is icumen in…

October 20th, 2006

…loudly squark pingu. Yes, the summer will soon be upon us and a lot’s happened since I last wrote.

It began with the Film Festival – this is Kirk Watson’s brainchild and he organised the first one last year. Many people made short (and not-so-short) films/videos and then the whole collection were then shown over an evening alongside a sumptuous meal. Of course, the week before was full of panicky people desperately hunched over their editing software or manically shooting the last shots of their creations and in the end we must have had around fifteen individual entries.

Everyone had to “trail” their film by producing a poster – here they all are:


On the night, Riet pulled out all the stops to give us a memorable dinner:

We began with canapes in the bar – home-made pate on toast (best use found so far for the half-tonne of liver in the meat freezer), mini pizzas, garlic mushrooms and the like.

Tom and Lowri help themselves

Tom and Lowri help themselves

After the first few films we moved through to the Dining Room and had lemon sole with asparagus:

lemon sole and asparagus

followed by chicken terrine with tomato sauce, green beans and potatoes

main course

and then trifle and, eventually, cheese.



All this was produced from frozen, dried and tinned ingredients, all the fresh stuff having long since been used up.

The following week, the fire alarms went off just after lunch, and we found ourselves doing a fire and rescue exercise that Tim and Lowri had organised with various peoples’ help. The “fire” was in Giants House, which was suitably smoke-filled, and teams of rescuers wearing breathing apparatus had to go and rescue Jamie and Richard L, both suitably made-up to look burned! Unusually (I’m usually doing radio cover in a major incident) I got roped in to setting up the surgery and trying to remember how to set up intravenous drips, monitor patients and administer injections. The whole exercise was pretty effective in reminding us of how to deal with an emergency.

In the mean time, a lot of effort has been expended in getting the base ready for the coming summer season. The runway and hangar area have been cleared of snow, and we engaged in a three day “scrubout” session to clean the parts of the base other scrubbings haven’t reached recently. The place now looks shinier and the smell of cleaning products is beginning to wear off a bit!


Clearing snow off the runway

We’ve had unseasonably warm weather over the last couple of weeks, with temperatures hovering around freezing and climbing to +3 today. As a consequence, our nice hard snow has turned to soft, stodgy, crystalline clag and there are pools of water forming under some of the buildings. The apron and runway in particular are now pretty boggy. The sea-ice is looking pretty rotten too, and there’s definitely open water only a few miles away.
Our first aircraft of the season arrived yesterday – but they weren’t ours. Our location makes us the only sensible route in and out of the continent in a small-to-medium sized aircraft, so we welcomed two planes from Kenn Borek Air Ltd, who specialise in Arctic and Antarctic operations and who operate under contract to the US, French and Italian Antarctic Programs, and the adventure tourism company ANI-ALE who will, for a hefty fee, organise expeditions to the South Pole or to climb Mt Vinson, the highest peak on the continent.
Anyway, a Twin Otter and a Basler BT-67 (an old Douglas DC-3 rebuilt with turboprop engines) arrived from Punta Arenas, bringing us seven enthusiastic Canadian aircrew and a six boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables! They even managed to arrive about an hour before dinner, which was pretty much perfect timing. This morning they’ve packed up again and flown on to the South Pole before making their onward journey to McMurdo tomorrow. We’ll see them again at the end of the season on their way home.

Basler BT-67

Basler BT-67, C-FMKB, on the apron at Rothera. This is a new plane this year and they’re very proud of it!

lunch today

Today’s lunch – I was flight following so Agnieszka brought me a tray of lunch to eat in the tower. Look- salad! Mmm… crunchy vegetables…mmm!

Oh, and yesterday morning we had the extremely unusual appearance of three Emperor penguins at around 8am. They hung around for a short period, then waddled off!

Royale with cheese

October 10th, 2006

It’s the little things, you know, that make the place feel different. Here are a few of them:

  • Static electricity – if you’re not careful in your choice of footwear (trainers are bad) then you get electric shocks off everything and anything. The dry air is the main culprit here – it’s much easier for a charge to build up.
  • Leftovers – we often eat leftovers for lunch, as we like to try and minimise food wastage. Some things get recycled into other things – so left-over pasta’n’sauce is often put in a baking tray, given a topping of grated cheese and then baked in the oven. The best recycled food this winter has been a carrot cake whose major ingredient was left-over carrot and orange soup. Oh, and the soup had been made from canned carrots and orange juice concentrate. It sounds foul but was actually delicious!
  • Toilets in most of the buildings flush with seawater (fresh water takes a lot of electricity to produce) so you can sometimes smell the sea in your bathroom
  • Catering-size everything – giant tins, giant bags of dried food, giant dishes and giant sinks to wash them up in. I think that going back to a domestic kitchen’s going to feel rather cramped.
  • Fresh bread every day – or nearly every day. We have a good selection of bread flours (plain white, wholemeal, malted, etc) and we usually have a fresh still-warm loaf or rolls with our lunch. There are also conventional tin loaves for toast and sandwiches. But it’s a far cry from supermarket plastic white!
  • Boneless meat – to avoid introducing diseases into the wildlife, the Antarctic Treaty forbids the import of any animal bones. For the same reason waste meat products are incinerated (in the nominally monthly “meat burn”) rather than going down the waste-disposal (“muncher”) and into the sewage treatment plant and then into the sea.
  • After a few weeks watching the aircraft come in to land you can tell which pilot is approaching from their style of flying!
  • Fox Hat. This is our twice-weekly film night (Wednesday and Sunday) in the bar. There’s a Fox Hat rota, and the person who’s night it is gets to choose a short (usually an episode from a TV series) and a main feature film. Some people rapidly get a reputation for good/bad Fox Hats so the question “whose Fox Hat is it tonight?” is loaded with significance! Oh, and the name comes from a media visit some years ago by a team from Fox Productions, who were afforded lots of help by the base team and faithfully promised to send a parcel of goodies to say thank you. When the parcel eventually arrived it consisted of one branded baseball cap. After some deliberation, it was decided that the hat should be worn by the person choosing the film… although the hat has now vanished!
  • Wearing sandals and socks indoors is not considered a fashion crime at Rothera, in fact, it shows your acceptance of base life! Some people do pad around in just their socks (especially in the summer) but this leads to accelerated sock wear and eventual deterioration of the socks themselves. Of course, some people choose to dispense with wearing socks at all whilst on base. Similarly, wearing orange clothing (boilersuits, fleece tops, jackets, etc) and thermal baselayer tops is considered normal behaviour.
  • Fostering an unusually precise obsession with the weather. We all look at the display from the automatic weather station with alarming regularity, and have become quite good at guessing temperatures and wind speeds from a 1 minute walk across the yard between Admirals and Bransfield.
  • Sewing. Many people have learned to use the sewing machine in Fuchs House and some are pretty expert with it. This comes in handy for running repairs, but also for making costumes for fancy-dress nights! It’s not uncommon to see people wearing jeans/shorts/shirts/whatever patched or even bulked out with different coloured fabric – orange tent fabric is a popular choice.
  • Drinking unusual drinks, or indeed unusual combinations of drinks, when the bar is suffering a shortage of something. After an evening in which several people developed a taste for White Russians (Kahlua, vodka and milk) there were then some further variations with Kahlua, amoretto and milk, and indeed the latter plus rum-and-raisin ice-cream!
  • G&T on the V – gin-and-tonic on the verandah. Very British – Bransfield and Admirals both have a raised wooden deck outside, and the Bransfield one is a real sun-trap and can be very pleasant on a sunny afternoon, even if the air temperature’s below freezing. Shame about the shortage of gin!
  • Wierd astronomical things – at our latitude we get funny effects with the moon. Sometimes it can be above the horizon all day (and visible, faintly) and at other times of the month it won’t appear at all for several days. We also quite often see satellites flashing in the night sky, not to mention the southern hemisphere constellations – and Orion upside-down!
  • Finally, all the many, many forms of snow. There’s the urban myth that Eskimos (sorry, Inuit) have an unusual number of words for snow, but until you’ve been somewhere where there’s a lot of it, you don’t really appreciate how many kinds of snow there can be. Broadly speaking, we have: powdery snow, spindrift (fine blown snow that ends up in everything after a storm), soft slushy snow that falls in big flakes in warm weather, sleet, neve (pronounced nevvay) which is snow that’s frozen into a texture like polystyrene, and creaks when you walk on it and is good for making igloos out of, champagne powder (which is a mixture of fresh powder snow and ice crystals – lovely for skiing), not to mention soft snow with a hard crust (nasty stuff), hard snow with a dusting of powder on the top, snowdrifts, windscoops and sastrugi (ridges formed by the wind blowing over the snow)
  • Oh, and for those that don’t get the significance of the title of this posting, it comes from the film Pulp Fiction, where one of the (American) characters explains that in Europe MacDonalds have to call a quarter-pounder cheeseburger a “Royale with cheese” because Europeans use metric measurements. It’s the little differences, he says…