Saturday, 22 September 2007

Conference and Training

Well, what an amazing few weeks.
It has been a really busy period, and I haven't had time to reflect on what on has occurred in my life. However, I shall attempt to make sense of it here (for the benefit of my

Week 1 - General Induction

After dumping a good load of possessions on my mother I drove to what was to be my place of residence for the first week...Tim and Anna's place.
Or, to be more precise...Tim and Anna's sofa.

Wednesday was to be the first day of my contract, and I was expected at BAS HQ in Cambridge . The day (and the remainder of the week in fact) was a general introduction to the company and to meet my line management. A relatively uneventful day in all, however, walking through the door to reception made me have a revelation. A realisation that BAS was now my employer, and I was soon to be working in Antarctica for 15 months, and that is not the whimsical fantasy and desire I have had for the past 4 years. It was real.

That was my philosophical moment.

However, my philosophical musings that day was rather abruptly cut short and I was brought back to the sometimes worrying madness of the real world during my drive back home to my sofa / bed. I overtook a cyclist.
Not an uncommon sight in Cambridge I'm sure you are aware. At first I believed he was wearing the usual skin-tight garb cyclists are often seen wearing. However, on approaching the chap, I realised that he wasn't really wearing skin-tight cycling shorts/top...he was in fact wearing nothing at all!!!

"Good Lord!" I exclaimed to myself.

My shock was confirmed by the sight of seeing his arse-crack half swallowing the bicycle seat!
And for the rest of my days on this earth I will forever question my motives for looking in the rear-view mirror for confirmation of this sight as I overtook him! It was worse from the front *cringe*

So, my introduction to life in Cambridge was a somewhat unique one.

The rest of the week was overshadowed by this experience and I cannot recall what happened.
(well, okay, I can recall everything which happened. But they just aren't worth recording here!)

Week 2 - Conference

Week 2 was the Conference. A residential conference in Girton College organised by BAS.

The conference is for all of those of us "going south", (heh...I still get a coy smile forming on my face whenever a female asks me when I'm "going south" *snigger*), the chance to attend a series of lectures and presentations about the history of BAS, what it is like to live and work in Antarctica, what the programme for each base is, meet our colleagues and the other usual things such as being presented with the sobering thought that we might not return alive. You know, things like that!'s sobering that we might die (as highly unlikely as it is), but then again everything in life is a risk. Cycling
to work across Cambridge in the morning is probably more hazardous than walking to work in Antarctica. Particularly if you're naked! (see earlier)

The conference was a fun few days, getting to meet so many interesting and equally mad people who also want to spend a good part of a year (if not more) in the most extreme and harshest environment known to man on this graceful planet. Most of these people I will probably never meet again, as we are all heading to work at different bases. As the conference progressed we all started forming into individual groups as per which base were going to. And so far, I can say that the group who will be wintering with me at Halley seems a good solid and sound bunch of people. I can't complain at all.

Wednesday night was the annual Scottish Ceilidh dance usually organised for BAS conferences. The dance was preceded by a scrummy BBQ and plenty of free wine. Such a combination was blatantly encouraging a messy night of drink and dance...which is ironic as the daytime presentations were about the BAS alcohol policy and how we should control our drinking. Hmm...was it a test? Were they watching us? Were we all about to systematically jeapardise our trip south? Who knows!

It was tremendous fun, and I had a superb time spinning women around and chucking them left right and centre. Very much like the mating dance of chavs often seen in a typical night out in Great Yarmouth.
It was a rather late night preceding an early start for the first day of the 1st aid course. Three days of learning how to do basic life support and recognise the signs for various illnesses, injuries and incidents which we may encounter in our colleagues whilst down south. And what fun we had (of course, I was taking it seriously as well). The highlight of the 1st aid course for me was the scenarios played by actors and actresses.

Being an actor myself
(check out the Boundary Players at
I really got into the whole role-play of these scenarios. Probably even more so than the actors. But my hat goes off to the lady who feigned breaking her leg in a skiing accident. Oh my, what an actress!! And the make-up showing a broken shin complete with sticking out bones, veins, blood and all sorts was amazing. The horror of seeing this wound still didn't stop all of us in my group laughing at it!!! I guess we didn't have the best bedside manner expected of us.

Week 3 - Field Training

Straight after the conference was field training. A chance for those of us wintering at the bases to go to the Gritstone Crags of Derbyshire (near Baslow if my memory serves me correctly) and learn crevasse rescue techniques and navigation Antarctic style. We spent the week under canvas in tents, and the days consisted of learning how to rope ourselves up as if our lives depended on it and abseiling down / jumarring up cliffs as high as the eye could see. Pictures may follow...

It's all for training to know what to do in the unlikely event that a colleague happens to fall into a crevasse.

On the first morning there was a frost. And we were moaning and groaning and cursing about the chill. It was as if the group failed to operate in anything below 3 degrees centigrade. All I can say to this, and the fact we are all training to live/work in Antarctica for 15months, is...."Oh dear"!

At least we got to go to the pub in the evenings. Purely to warm up mind and absolutely nothing to do with the beer, seeing we're all responsible Antarcticans and have to be strict with our alcohol intake!

Week 4 - Met. Training

With the conference and field training over, it was back to my personal training schedule. The first of which was to learn to be a meteorologist.

This required a trip to the met station in Camborne, Cornwall and be taught in the art of taking met observations and launching weather balloons. A good percentage of the week was spent with my head in the clouds.

(well, it is important to recognise the different cloud types)

The meteorologist part of my role at Halley will be to conduct regular weather observations and convert these into a code used by the UK Met Office for transmission to the UK. This is mostly done automatically, but the human element adds the finer detail such as cloud cover, cloud types, visibilty, current weather, past weather, etc. My role will also include making daily weather balloon radiosonde launches. These record a profile of the temperature, humidity and pressure of the atmosphere up to 30km above the station. Wind speed and direction is derived from the GPS position which the sonde also records.. The data is radioed back to the station and is converted into charts for transmission to the Met Office. This all has to be done at the same time daily, no matter what the weather. It could be blowing a 40knot blizzard, and good ol' Dave has to go out there and launch the balloon!

Below is me practicing launching a balloon. Note the use of artistic licence here...I wont get the luxury of a big rotating shed and clear sunny days like this when I am at Halley.
(note the classic shape of a small cumulus cloud in the top left of the picture!!!)

Week 5 - Ozone Measurements

Continuing with the training for the
meteorologist side of my role at Halley, I was back in Cambridge HQ to learn how to conduct ozone measurements. I will be required to make measurements 4 times per day when I am at Halley with some extra additional measurements on specific days of the week.

What more can I say about the subject without going into boring geek mode and explain all about the theory of how the device I will be using measures ozone...
...ah, sod it, I can't be bothered! Follow these links instead:

How does a Spectrophotometer Work?

What is a Dobson Unit?

Operations Handbook - Ozone Observations With A Dobson Spectrophotometer

Monday, 3 September 2007

Welcome... my Antarctic blog!

I have decided to embrace modern culture and document my entire personal experieces on the web in (potentially) full view of the entire world! I feel rather exposed, almost naked. And if I'm quite honest, it's a little arousing!

The aim of this blog is to create a light hearted record my experiences of living and working in Antarctica.

I suppose it needs somewhat of an introduction:

I have been recruited by the British Antarctic Survey to work as an electronics technician / meteorologist at the Halley station (based on the Brunt Ice Shelf). My contract is to spend 15 months from November 2007 until March 2009 living and working in one of the most hostile locations on earth acting as the on-station science rep for the scientists back at HQ in Cambridge.

I am often affectionately known within my family as "Monkey".

With a beautiful play on words combined with the name of a well known band, I have devised a devilishly and cunningly genius blog title. Ah, my wit sees no limits.

"But why Monkey?" I hear you cry.
Well, I am a young man with considerable levels of testosterone flowing through my veins. A consequence of this hormonal power coarsing through my system is that I have a slightly hairy disposition. I guess some who know me would say that "slightly" is somewhat of an understatement.

I shall be using this blog as a place to record each significant experience I have of my time working for the British Antarctic Survey.

This blog starts at a time of 0245 in the morning of Monday 3rd Sept 2007, two days before I begin my contract. I am sitting up desperately trying to record my entire CD collection to MP3 so that I do not have to add copious amounts of CDs to my consignment for shipping to Antarctica. Yes, once again, I am a late developer in the way of modern life. I have never maintained a good library of my music on computer and now I have left it a little bit late to start.

Dave very tired.
I have a long drive back to good ol' Hopton-on-Sea tomorrow so that I can dump a lot of stuff on my poor old mother. I then head to Cambridge to spend a week on my mates sofa before starting the conference. I'm somewhat concerned as to how I am going to fit everything I need to transport into little Teresa*.

Yes, I can see this blog becoming somewhat surreal already. Maybe it's something to do with hysteria kicking in from lack of sleep. I'll sign off here, and hopefully we'll have some level of normality in the next entry.

*Teresa is my car. Her full name is in fact Whet Teresa. (To drive her provides me with pleasure, hence her name). There's an anagram to the full name, but you'll have to work that out yourselves.

Update 08/10/07:
Teresa is no more. I had to dump her.
The damn rotton MOT ran out, and to pass she would have needed £900 in repairs. A price which is 3x more than the value of the car. So, I decided to put her out of her misery and sell her to a breakers. On the bright side, I made £50...but on the downside, the MOT cost me £50. Zero profit and zero transport.