Monday, 16 June 2008

It's Mid-Winter already?

"Move, move, move...gangway" I shout excitedly, as I run down the length of the corridor holding it in my hands, "it's gonna blow"!

Turns out it didn't, but I thought it was.

For those of you with your minds in the gutter, I am in fact talking about the spare UPS (uninterruptible power supply) which I had transported from the Simpson to the Laws.

It was arcing and filling the computer room with a nice electronic-like burning smell. 230V supplied from the internal battery was shorting somewhere inside and I needed to disconnect the battery quick.

Some snow must have got into the inside of the UPS during transit and when melted had shorted out some of the electronics. Usually I leave electronic equipment to warm up and dry out when transporting them between buildings. This time I neglected to consider that the lead-acid battery inside would be supplying the circuitry constantly. Ooops.

Needless to say, I discovered it in time, and removed the battery. Averting disaster and burning down the entire base. From hero to zero to hero again!

Still, I have a repair job to do, as testing it a few days later caused it give an almighty bang and produce a jet of flame from an exploding power transistor or two. D'oh.

It's now been almost 2 months since my last entry. Not so much from me being lazy, but really from having too much to do each evening. The social calendar is packed.

The 24hr darkness soon came within a couple of weeks of the sundown ceremony. Life and work continued and monotony kicked in. I refuse to bore you with details of my job. And there really is little I can remember about day-to-day life and activities during the social hours.

That on station is fun. Sometimes it can be damn good laugh.

The Darkness Descends

So, the Sundown ceremony came and went on 1st May, complete with an amazing aurora display to tie in with it. One month later Halley was quickly plunged into perpetual 24 hour darkness. Although on a perfectly cloudless and calm day a glow can be seen on the northern horizon at local noon (1400GMT), other than that it's dark.

Bloody dark.

With no light pollution and when there is a new moon, standing outside at night can be very spooky. It is so dark it is disorientating. But it gives an amazing view of the cosmos above though. There are loads of stars!

Thursday 9th May - Friday 16th May 2008
Nightwatch Shenanigans

A week after sundown was my turn to spend a week on nightwatch duty. We take it in turns here to spend a week on nightwatch. Nightwatch is needed to ensure that someone on base is awake and alert to keep an eye on all the systems, watch for any issues, provide 1st line defence against any possible outbreaks of fire, and do all the general cleaning which cannot be done in the daytime.

We also get a chance to make bread.
Look at these puppies I made! My first ever time at making bread.

It can be a boring week on nightwatch, unless one amuses themselves somehow.

Me...I amuse myself by leaving practical jokes for people to discover the next day.

On Sat night I thought it would be a laugh to leave a picture of me giving the thumbs-up and a cheesy smile on the inside of the ladies loo cubicle door. They have loads of pictures of beautiful scenery and vistas, so I thought I'd add to the collection with a picture of me too! It'd be a nice surprise for whoever sits down to do their business in the morning! heh heh heh

Turns out that the girls never noticed it there until Dean pointed it out in the afternoon when he was doing the cleaning.

The following night I was doing my rounds, and I found I had been defaced by the girls. I didn't know whether to be honoured or insulted. I chose honoured, as later they took down all the other pictures and left mine up! Where it stays until this day...well, until some clown drew a big phallus on my head that is.

On Saturday night at the bar Hannah made a little pink girly horse balloon thing wearing a tie. Nobody knows it, but this little thing became my companion during those quiet evenings on nightwatch. It would watch films and programmes with me. It would watch me mop the floors. It would sit with me whilst I ate my meals. She was the only friend I had during that lonely week whilst out of sync with the rest of the base.

On Wednesday night, whilst cleaning the bootroom, I decided it would amuse me to place a couple of M5 nuts in everyone's boots. And by God it did amuse me. I was giggling to myself all night.

But there was never any mention of nuts in boots for 2 or 3 weeks afterwards. Not one person made a comment about it. Until one night at the bar. Ags mentioned about finding some nuts in her boots, and then everyone piped up stating the same. I tried to join in, but my guilty face gave me away. By the way everyone turned and looked accusingly at me, I realised that I too was to become a target of many a practical joke myself at some point.

Saturday 24th May 2008
Mexican Night

Another theme night, and another chance for people to raid the fancy dress cupboard.
Joe had proposed a Mexican-themed food night. Soon it was proposed to dress up also.
We had a good turn out.

Joe came as, what he called, a day-to-day modern mexican...he said he looked it up on the internet. To us he looked like a builder with a waste-jacket!

Paddy came as a Mexican terrorist. A little stereotypical maybe, but we were working with limited variety.

Rich came as a Mexican nobleman. He just radiated nobility and power whenever one was in his presence.

Ags and Hannah dressed in whatever I guess Mexican women dress in. Spanish-esque I suppose!

I came as Zorro...with an incredibly poorly made eye-mask which restricted my view. I could not look at anything unless I physically pointed my head specifically at objects or people. Twas the source of much amusement for the evening.

And we all sat down to eat Mexican food.

Then we partied the evening away Mexican style.
Like whacking a paper bull,
which was hanging from the ceiling, by the means of a radio antenna in order to get sweets out of it. In other words...a pinata.

A bizarre activity, but fun nonetheless.

Monday 26th - Friday 30th May 2008
The week the science died

The exploding UPS was just a small part in what was to be the week of hell for science at Halley.
My life was about to get a little more busy than usual.

The balloon PC decided to start playing up when recording balloon data.
The weather station stopped recording wind.
The weather PC stopped logging it's midnight measurements.
Of course, the UPS blew up on me.
And Ryan's network of GPS loggers out in the field were not communicating with the Simpson building.
What else could possibly go wrong on me?

Well, nothing actually, because there was literally nothing else left to go wrong.
The situation became somewhat of a joke with the rest of the winterers. Even the nightmet board was showing mockery (thanks to Hannah's artistic abilities).

Extreme Science - Antarctic Style

We were experiencing a good blow throughout the week. Rich wanted to get some arty photo shots of balloon launches. Not one to turn down the chance to be photographed, I instantly agreed to help out.

And some pictures in not so blowy conditions...

The balloon shed is called the BART. Balloon and Radiosonde Release Terminal, or something like that. Obviously a title derived from the acronym, rather than vice-versa. It's a beautiful pun to the fact that the met building is the Simpson.
In it's hey-day, all equipment and computer systems on the Simpson were named after characters from the Simpsons.

I'll take this opportunity to wish my good friend Leigh-Anne and her new husband Rik all the best in their new married life. Sorry I couldn't be there, but we shared a toast in your honour on the day.

June came, and suddenly everyone was under pressure to complete their respective mid-winter presents they were making for whomever they pulled out of the hat in March. Myself included. Must of June was spent sawing and filing wood, and many people were not seen for several days at a time.

Wednesday 18th June 2008
Mid-Winter week begins

After being treated to the most spectacular aurora display ever on Saturday, the week was off to a good start. Wednesday was the last working day before we all chilled out for a whole week, and celebrated mid-winter.

Mid-winter week being very much like Christmas celebrations, and mid-winter's day being on 21st June.

To kick it all off was the traditional office party at the Simpson. I was busy all day prepping the building for a mini-party. I set out one of the rooms as a bar with a table for a buffet. Mood lighting was set in my office, and chairs were set for the revellers.

And soon, after 2000hrs, guests started arriving.
Rich and Ags were first, followed by Dean and Joe (not as a couple). Scott, Paddy and Bob from Accounts soon followed also.
Who the hell was Bob from Accounts? He looked rather feminine, sported a very dodgy moustache, had a million pens in his shirt pocket and was very boring. He also looked uncannily like Hannah.

Constructing the mid-winter present

Well, I completed it on time. The masterpiece I had been making all this time since early May.
I had drawn Scott in the secret santa back in March. I was racking my brains as to what I could build him, and eventually decided on a clock with a personalised touch. Practical and ornamental.

Friendly hint:
never ever decide to build a circular frame from 4 short pieces of wood. It's a bitch.

It all came together really well in the end, and I was happy with the outcome.
In fact, I wanted to keep it for myself! :o)

Enough of me blowing my own trumpet.

Mid-winter's eve

Friday was the coldest day of the year so far.

Although the PRT sensor reading here says -49.3C, we actually got -49.9C at the lowest peak in the evening.

minus 49.9?
Why could it not drop that little extra 0.1C?
How cruel to tease us like that. It's seriously disturbed my zen not seeing that display hit 50.

Regardless, it was a good enough temperature to perform a favourite Halley trick.

Collect those of on station with long hair (Ags, Hannah, Bryan and myself).
Go out onto the open platform and stuck you heads in buckets of warm water.

Hold your head upside down for 20 - 30 seconds

And then stand up straight and let everyone laugh at you

I knew there was a reason why I haven't had my hair cut since leaving the UK in November!

Apart from freezing our hair, mid-winter's eve was quite a chilled day of watching old films on the reel projector. The darkroom has oodles of cans of film from times past. We had them running all day and all evening, Joe and Bryan manning the projector in turns.

The evening brought us a German Feuerzangenbowle. Dean was the perpetrator of this. Mulled wine stuff with a block of sugar suspended above it. Pour brandy over the sugar and set fire to it. The sugar precipitates into the mulled wine, creating a very potent and very tasty hot drink.

Well, we were celebrating, so we're allowed to indulge ourselves and enjoy such a beverage.

Having gone to bed at 0600 in the morning, I was up again at 0900 to observe the weather and prep a weather balloon. Yes, although it was a week off, and we were now on mid-winter's day, science continues in Antarctica.

Dean and I helped put up the decorations, Paddy was in the kitchen prepping our mammoth 10-course meal, and the girls were busy finishing their winter presents. Nothing like leaving it to the last minute.

Soon the whole base had surfaced, and activities started.
At mid-afternoon came the traditional mid-winter's day naked run.

Yes, you read correctly. A run around the outside of the base...naked.
In -47C, you probably think it's a mad thing to do. It is, but hell, what an experience.

The only people brave enough to do it was Dean, Joe and myself. We're obviously true Antarctic Heroes!
No pictures I'm afraid.

At 1700 we started the 10-course meal.
At 2000 we took a break to open the presents and listen to the mid-winter radio message on the BBC World Service.
At 2130 we resumed dinner.
At 2230 we chilled for the rest of the evening.

The tree with presents under it

During the summer, a package was received addressed to the metbabes. It was from an ex-metbabe who wintered at Halley. I think she was expecting the team to comprise of a majority of girls with small feet. Such a stereotype that the met department is always full of girls. It's discrimination I tell you! Not to let her down, I wore the socks that were in the package, much to the amusement of the rest of the group. Particularly when we were all dressed in our smart outfits.

Metbabes are men too you unisex socks would be better
Particularly ones which do not have a polar bear theme!

Me opening my present from Dean

Scott unwrapping his present from me.

My present came from Dean. He made me a personalised weather detector. A piece of runner from an old Nansen sledge with an etched brass plate mounted on it. A frame supported a piece of Antarctic rock hanging from a string. The brass plate explained how to tell the weather by looking at the rock. If it's white then it's snowing, moving then it's windy, casting a shadow then it's sunny, etc. It is brilliant. I was very happy.

The general workmanship of all the members of the group was extraordinary, as the pictures below show.

Paddy's gift to Hannah....a reversible candle holder

My picture of Joe's gift to Les did not come out...but he made a framed picture of Halley V and Halley VI which he developed himself in the darkroom. The frame was made from wood from an old Nansen sledge.

Like I said, the quality of craftmanship was extraordinary from all.

All in all, mid-winter's day was a fantastic day.
The celebrations continued over the week with a biathalon organised by Dean, a murder mystery dinner organised by me, a bowling tournament organised by Rich (using the Wii) and many others.

Bryan curls one off... the bowling

We can all now chill out now the stress of the lead up to mid-winter is over.
It feels like we are on the home straight, but it's another 5-6 months before the ship arrives.

Next entry due when?
Damned if I know.

Oh, and please, do check out the official Halley web-diaries on the BAS website. They are a good read taken from other people's perspective: