Thursday, 24 February 2011

Hello from rainy Antarctica!  Would you believe it – one of the driest places (in terms of precipitation) in the world and it’s raining!  It’s probably a good thing though, helping me to acclimatise to the UK before I return home to the shock of soggy weather.  Still, at least everything won’t be all frozen!
So!  Regular update from down here at Rothera contains... not that much.  The season here is well and truly at an end and everyone is getting ready to travel north.  Tom and I fly out on the 3rd of March and we are the penultimate Dash flight out with the one after us being just the pilots.  In between then and now the four Twin Otters will all be fitted with their Ferry Tanks to make the long journey up and will have all left by the time we do.  It’s weird to think that in a week’s time it will all be over and we will be about to leave for the Falkland’s.  It’s been a pretty long season but in both respects it’s flown by and also it feels like we have been here for ages.  When I think back to things we have done down here: our field training, the two weeks at Fossil Bluff and the Reptile Ridge work it feels like we’ve been down here forever but here we are at the end and I can honestly say that time hasn’t dragged once.  Having said that I do feel that the time is right to come back – I’ve started to get into going home mode and am looking forward to all the things I haven’t been able to do whilst I’ve been away.  However I’m not as excited as Steve MET was a week before he was due to leave – it was all he talked about and he would come up to the tower and tell Tom and me how many days he had left!  To be fair to him, he was the hardest working person on base getting up around five in the morning to be on standby all day until about ten, seven days a week.   No wonder he couldn’t wait to leave!
Since the last time I posted we have had Folk Night, which became Folk Night/Air Unit barbecue, and we had HMS Scott in the day before.  Tom and I made sure we got ourselves on to that ship by asking John every time we saw him and in the end I think he just felt sorry for us and let us go to stop the incessant asking.  It was only four of us that got the chance to go across in the end and it was one of the most memorable experiences that I’ve had down here (to be fair it was only a week ago...).  Once onboard we were met by the XO and given a tour of the ship and her facilities – which were first class.  Every man onboard has his own cabin and Officers also have a day cabin, two gyms, a basketball/squash court and an extremely impressive hydrography suite.  At one point around the ship, the XO opened a compartment which ran the height of the ship and it was huge!!  There was just a bit of time for some lunch in the Wardroom, uckers and a cheeky bit of JPA.  That was quite funny as both of us had not been online since we left, four months ago, and both struggled to remember our passwords...  We got there in the end. 
After the Scott had departed we had a cruise ship in the day after and I was roped into giving tours to the passengers.  Nothing exciting: just showing them round the base, taking them to the aquarium and science labs, answering their questions and highlighting my own lack of knowledge of the base...  That evening was the Air Unit barbecue which was held indoors due to inclement weather (surprise) and also Folk Night.  It was a really good evening and a chance to take a humorous look at the events of the past season with people doing sketches, songs and some stand up.   Since then it has been very quiet.  We had fifteen people leave on the Dash a few days ago and another fifteen leaving tomorrow, so it’s getting very sparse around the bazaars.  We also uplifted Sky Blu last night which officially marks the end of the season and has now made evening scheds (where we talk to field parties) a lot easier with just Fossil Bluff out awaiting shut down.  At the peak of the summer we had eight field parties out which took two hours to get through, now it’s just fifteen minutes.  Result! 
On a more awesome note – Tom and I were treated to some private flying time with Alan, the Chief Pilot, a few days ago.  It was THE best experience I’ve had down here without a question of a doubt.  We flew out of Rothera to uplift North Sound Depot at the north of King George Sound near the Bluff.  I took co-pilot first and once lined up on the threshold Alan turns to me and says: ‘You’ll be doing 90% of this if you’re happy?’ Let me think about that.... yes!  So I did the take off and the hour and a half flight down to the depot, with some cheeky low level flying thrown in.  On the way down we flew over sea and icebergs and as we were approaching the Sound Alan turns and says: ‘Let’s have some fun – descend down to 500ft and then when you’re comfortable take her down to 250ft’.  Hell yeah!  It was the most exciting flying that I have ever done; just watching the icebergs and the ice cliffs about 100ft below was so exhilarating!  Especially when you fly over a particularly tall berg and with the RadAlt set to 200ft you hear: ‘Terrain! Terrain! Pull up!’ in a weird robotic, but very loud, voice!  Unfortunately, when we located the fuel drums, the contrast was down to nil which meant that I couldn’t do the landing and so Alan stepped in.  However on the way back, whilst Tom was flying, we found a large patch of sun on the snow which meant the contrast was good enough for us chimps to have a go at a few landings with skis.  It was such an awesome days flying and one that I’ll never forget. 
That’s about it for this post.  Not much else has happened and not much is really due to happen in the days before we leave.  It’s going to be work as normal, flight following and fire cover, and starting to pack.  My next post will probably be my last from the continent so I will try to make it exciting however I can only work with the material I have...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Not much

Apologies for the lack of activity to those who check my blog, by now you should realise that I’m not very consistent...  I guess it’s the closeness of leaving and the thought of going home that makes me feel like there’s not much point in writing, which is ridiculous because I’m still here for another three weeks.  To be fair, not a lot has happened in the three weeks since I last wrote: the field season is coming to an end and people are starting their long journeys north which means there’s not been time for anything except work, work, work.  I’m starting to notice myself getting tired a lot more and a week or so ago I had a terrible cold that I just couldn’t shake.  It was one going round the station and thankfully I didn’t catch it as badly as some others did but it spread like wildfire.  It’s quite interesting to see something like that spread in such a close environment – you could actually see the change in some people of the space of a few hours and you could work out who passed it to who.  Not very interesting, I know, but I’m soo tired right now and my chat is suffering for it, sorry!  The reason for my lack of energy? 4 o’clock starts in the morning in order to flight follow some of the survey planes.  Go Science!  In truth I don’t mind it too much as it’s quite nice to have the tower to yourself for a few hours before anyone is awake and the views when the sunrises are stunning; that and the enjoyment taken from people being woken at 4:30 when the aircraft taxis and gets airborne outside their windows.  Well, if I’m up...
Last time I wrote it was the eve of Gould night and the football team were playing in the ultimate grudge match out on the apron.  What can I say: we lost.  To be fair when Tom and I bimbled down from the gym we found what resembled a cartoon fight in the sense that there was a lot of arms, legs and dust.  Some bright spark had decided to allow about seventeen people aside on a pitch that was smaller than a normal one.  One word: farce...  We only lost by one goal to nil and it was wonder how anyone managed to score with that number of people in the way.  Gould Night itself was really good fun – everyone enjoyed the band, the music was good and the drink kept flowing.  I don’t know how exactly it happened but I ended up staying until 6am and only went to bed when John, the base commander, came in on his way to organise casting of the Gould at 7.  Good times.  Good times...
Tom and I are still working the circuit scene and everyone is still enjoying them so we must be doing something right!  I took them last week and we had fourteen people turn up!  Fourteen!  The gym here is ridiculously tiny so it was pretty cramped to say the least but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.  Aparently Tom and I are a double act in the sense that he’s the bad cop and I’m the slightly effeminate cop.  Basically Tom beasts everyone so that their muscles fall of and I tell everyone that they all look lovely and that they can reach their rainbow.  Not gay, just slightly effeminate...  
So, what’s coming up here at Rothera that’s worth putting in your diary? Well we have Folk night next Saturday or Sunday night which is the last biggish night that we have down here.  It’s basically an open mike night and a chance for anyone to get up and do anything whether that’s singing, playing an instrument or doing a sketch.  Then this Saturday we have the annual Air Unit barbecue over on the apron.  This I’ve been looking forward to because, as my family will testify, I am a bit of a glutton and what better excuse to eat your own body weight in meat than at a barbecue.  The Dash flies in tomorrow from Punta with the last lot of people coming south for the season and also onboard is a large supply of fresh South American meat in the form of burgers and steaks as well as beer and fresh salad – all we need now is the weather!  Oh, and time off work...  As always, whenever anything interesting happens on base I am always working.  It’s not too bad though, Karen and I will be able to see the barbecue from the tower and we could always put a food order out on the loud speaker...  One thing I will make sure I’m available for will be when HMS Scott visits on the 21st.  That will be good, although I may need a shave and a haircut if I want to present myself as a Naval Officer and don’t want to be mistaken for a homeless person...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Ships ahoy!

6 weeks!  6 weeks left and then I’m back in the UK!  The time that I’ve spent down here has gone by so quickly that it’s a bit strange to think that we are over halfway in our stay here.  I’m starting to look forward to coming back, not because I’m getting bored but because of the things that I miss.  Just simple things like taking the dogs for a walk in the woods and seeing trees and grass instead of snow and ice.  The weirdest thing that I miss is my car.  Not because I’m in love with my car or anything weird like that, but because it’s become a symbol of independence.  Being able to do what you want, go where you want and do it when you want is something that you don’t get down here and it’s something I’m looking forward to the most when I get home. 

When I signed off from my last post I was about to go boating in the waters around Rothera.  We went round a few of the local islands and got to see some of the local wildlife up close.  We stopped on one island that had a colony of blue eyed shags and their chicks and it was amazing but it also smelt terrible.  It was probably a cross between a corpse and wet phys kit – the smell of someone who had been exercising very hard but had then keeled over due to poor health.  We then went on to one of the larger islands where we have a little hut set up for overnight trips and for those trips the winterers go on.  The island itself was only about a mile across but it had an abundance of wildlife which included a whole variety of seals, birds and penguins.  Again it smelt like the first island.  All I can imagine is that there is a group of highly unfit people touring round the islands off Rothera and dying, leaving an unbearable smell...

Elephant Seals fighting on Lagoon.

Blue Eyed Shags and chicks.
A couple of days ago Tom and I completed our Module 3 Field training, which is an advanced look at travelling across crevassed areas and crevasse rescue.  It consists of a lot of abseiling and ascending using ropes, snow anchors and general mountaineering.   This was all in preparation for going up to the radio repeater buttress on top of Reptile Ridge and swapping over the batteries.  O to the M to the G.  We had to shift eight batteries which were similar to the ones in cars and weighed a fabulous 32kg each.  What the hell...  I never want to see those bastard things again.  Ever.  The worst part about it was that the snow on top of the ridge was all sugary and you sank up to your knees whenever you walked anywhere and with an extra 32kgs added you sank even further.  I can’t complain too much though as we were spared the horrors of lugging them to the top of the Ridge by the Helicopters of the Polar Stern.  The Polar Stern is a German science ship similar to the ones that BAS operate and it had decided to pay us a visit for the day, which meant we were able to be quite cheeky and pinch their helicopters.  They were only small five seat things but they did the job and it was pretty cool to get airlifted up and it meant I got to see the base from a completely different perspective.  For all the grumbling and cursing Tom and I did whilst shifting those things we had a truly awesome time and it definitely beats working in the office hands down. 

On the Ridge with the repeater in the background.
In the Crevasse below Reptile Ridge.
At the time of writing, the Laurence M Gould an American science ship is alongside the wharf here at Rothera and tonight is the legendary Gould night.  The Gould visits Rothera each year and the base tries to make it into a big occasion which helps keep morale high.  Today half the base went onboard and went for a trip around the local islands for half the day.  Some of the more dedicated (for dedicated read unfortunate) ones of us had work to do and so I’ve been stuck flight following in the tower all morning.  I’ve just been chatting to Mike out of my cabin window after he arrived back from his jolly and he was carrying a coke cup, the sort you get in McDonalds.  Not fair!  It turns out they have a free coke vending machine on board and they also have as much cookies as you can eat.  It just keeps getting better...  Then he said they had fillet steak with asparagus for lunch with white magnums for dessert.  I could have punched him!  Luckily for him I couldn’t reach him. 
Next on the agenda for today is the annual football (not soccer...) match, where the Gould ask for a good spanking and we happily oblige.  Then we play the match...  I was chatting to some of the guys when Doug brought them up and showed them the tower and they were telling me that they know they are going to lose but they just play to humour us.  Looking at the preparation that’s gone into the match it does make me laugh: the football team has spent the last month in training for this day in order to play a team of people who don’t play the sport and haven’t got the space to even run on the deck.  I don’t know what we’re worried about, still, I guess it would be pretty funny if we then went and lost...
Tonight is the night to end all nights.  The infamous, within BAS, Gould night party in the Garage.  Basically it’s the same as New Year’s except bigger because of the addition of about 30 or so people from the Gould.  It’s also legendary because of the number of new females on base which means that sharking levels go through the roof.  Supposedly the day after Gould night is the worst for morale as all the men on base who are hoping to get lucky fail miserably and wake up with nothing to show but a sore head.  Tonight is also the night that the Dom Savage Experience plays their biggest gig.  We’ve learnt even more songs and remember to save some back for an encore so that we don’t look like a bunch of specials – again...  We are also changing the name to The Ross No More Project in honour of Ross who, unfortunately, has been sent to Sky Blu for a few weeks much to his disappointment.  Hopefully everything will all go to plan and I’ll maybe have a few stories to tell when I next write – the less incriminating the better...

A few photos of the local residents:

Adelie and Elie.
Does my bum look big in this...
Shag parents with chick.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Happy belated New Year! I hope everyone had a great time and by now are thinking about giving up their New Year’s resolutions!  Come to think of it, I haven’t thought of any for this coming year.  I don’t know what I could have; possibly to have a more positive, assertive attitude towards things – especially my flying.  That was one thing I was told I needed to improve: confidence.  I need to switch on the part of my brain that tells me to get on with what I know is the right course of action instead of trying to please the instructor.  Anyway, enough of that talk!  Antarctica!  Wahey!  Everything down here is still ticking along nicely and I’m loving my time here.  When I first heard I was going down to Antarctica I thought that I would get about halfway through my stay and start to wish I could come back but on the contrary I’m really enjoying my time here and haven’t really noticed the time spent away from home (that’s not to say I’m not missing you Mum...).  I also think that staying for a winter down here wouldn’t be as bad as I first thought it would.  I realise that I say that knowing that I’m leaving in two months and that I have a job to get back to in the ‘real’ world, but all the same I think it would be fun especially with the people who will be wintering this year. 
New Year’s here was an awesome couple of days.  As I said in my last post we had the 10km race on the runway on New Year’s Eve which was tough but definitely a good laugh.  Quite a few people turned out which was really good and the weather was perfect: no wind and just hot enough to be able to run without overheating.  As everyone started turning up at the start, Tom and I were trying to work out the competition.  We hadn’t seen half the people who turned up run before but some of them had the racing snake figure about them which worried me and annoyed Tom: “Where’re all the short guys with small legs that I can race against?”  I’ve never run 10km before so I was pretty nervous about getting my pace right and on top of that Steve, the MET forecaster, had been going round telling people that I was one of the favourites.  Cheers Steve, no pressure...  The race itself was pretty standard, as soon as the starting flare went off we all legged it, all apart from Dave Boat.  He thought the opportune moment to relieve himself would be as we were lining up under starter’s orders.  As the flare went off he turned round to find everybody had started and he was left with his trousers round his ankles, so to speak – that is to say he’s not an 8 year old boy...  As soon as I’d set off I took the lead and instantly regretted it.  I thought that some of the other guys would have gone with me but they were behind by a good few meters which made me think I’d set off too fast.  I started having visions of being overtaken by everyone and then hoofing my guts up halfway round.  Not cool.  Fortunately that didn’t happen and I led the race for its entirety and finished first with a time of 40:14 minutes which beat the previous year’s winner.  Tom came in fourth which was a good performance considering how many lanky racing snakes there were running.  I was pretty happy with my time considering I’d never run over that distance before and I’d set myself the target of 40 minutes + or – 2 minutes, which I managed to achieve.  I’m not going to lie, I won’t be doing it again in a hurry.  Tom and I had been in the gym the previous day and had inadvertently worked out our legs.  Yeah - smooth move idiots.  We were in pain.  So much pain...
That evening we had the New Year’s Eve party in the garage and it was such a good night.  All the Vehicle Mechs had spent all of New Year’s Eve afternoon preparing the garage ready for the night and it looked great.  A bar had been set up in one corner and the stage was along the side where the doors were which meant that there was quite a roomy dance floor in the middle.  The guys had even bin bagged all the windows up to stop any light getting in and make it feel more like night which actually makes a big difference out here.  Then it was the moment that everyone had been waiting for: the debut performance of the Dominic Savage Experience, and boy what an experience!  Without being arrogant we were better than I expected us to be and everyone loved it.  We did make a few cock ups, mainly my fault, but no one noticed – except for the acoustic set where we were halfway through and our music fell off the stand.  Bollocks.  Then the heckling began, all in good spirit of course...  We also managed to get people dancing instead of standing and watching so that was all good and we even got an encore – although we didn’t have a song prepared.  Whoops...  The rest of the night was a bit of a blur due to the ridiculously alcoholic cocktails that JJ was making behind the bar but I do remember thinking it a good idea to try and move an avtur drum until I sliced my thumb.  It was open and we were using it as a bin so it was effectively a giant baked bean can.  Ross and I, very much intoxicated, decided that three plasters would do the job... which it did. 

Life in the Tower has been pretty intense over the last week as we were missing Karen who was at Fossil Bluff for a bit of R&R.  It seems that when people wear themselves down and need to recharge their batteries they are sent to the holiday camp that is Fossil Bluff.  This, I can say from experience, will definitely recharge anyone who has been feeling the pressures of work.  The trouble for me was that I went fairly early on in the season before I had the chance to become stressed.  Luckily I haven’t felt that I’ve got anywhere near that stage yet, touch wood.  All this isn’t to say that Karen has been stressed at work, far from it; Karen worked at Halley, the other BAS station in Antarctica, for 18 months doing this job so she’s seen it all.  She was at the Bluff for two weeks and had a really good time, and like everyone who comes arrives at Rothera from the Bluff she didn’t want to come back.  Now that she is back though, we will have five of us working in the Tower which means we might start to get the occasional day off a week. Yay!  At the moment we are working around 14 hour days, every day without any days off.  We do get a morning or an afternoon off sometimes but we don’t get a full day to ourselves which can be slightly annoying.  It also means that you start forgetting what day it is because every day is the same and starts to blend into one.  Groundhog day, much? 
On the subject of Karen coming back, we’ve also had a group of VIPs arrive on station and stay for the last two days on a whistle stop tour.  The group was comprised of a few men from the House of Lords who hold a lot of sway with the amount of funding BAS receives from the Government so it was a very important visit.  They were due to be in earlier and stay for longer but due to adverse weather they were delayed and it was touch and go as to whether they would actually come at all.  Tom and I were told we would be talking to them about the connection of BAS and the Navy and how it was such a great opportunity for us to come down.  Tom, as the Senior Naval Officer on the Continent, instructed me to have a shave and smarten myself in anticipation of their arrival. They arrived.  They didn’t talk to us...  Fantastic.  To cap off their visit, we had a formal dinner last night which Tom and I were apparently not invited to.  The meal began at 8pm and went on for about two hours with a Greek theme and the Chefs had really pulled out all the stops to impress the VIPs.  Unfortunately Tom and I were on duty from 7pm and ended up working until 10:30pm at which point we cracked and asked Mike to cover us whilst we went for dinner.  Usually dinner is served at 6:30pm which means that you can get something to eat before hand over for the late shift but, because dinner started an hour and a half later, Tom and I wouldn’t be able to eat until we had finished our shift.  With the night shifts you can be working anywhere between 10 minutes to all night depending on the state of flying.  This isn’t too bad because you will have eaten before your shift and will usually have the next morning off.  However on this occasion we hadn’t.  We had to wait until all flying had finished which it did at around 11pm.  By the time we got into dinner everyone had finished their meals and were sitting chatting and having coffees.  We had meals put aside for us so it was just a case of sitting and chowing down and by this stage we were pretty hungry.  What did start to annoy me though was people asking why we were so late and whether we’d forgotten the meal was on.  Ok, people think about it: if we’d forgotten the formal meal was on later in the evening surely we would have turned up at the normal 6:30pm time for dinner and then been told that it was on later.  It’s amazing how many people on base don’t realise that people in ops are working all day, every day, regardless of VIPs and fancy meals.  Douche bags...  Right!  Glad that’s off my chest!
When we have had some free time, Tom and I have been making the most of it.  Yesterday we went and visited the crevasse that the GAs use for training up near Reptile Ridge.  It was absolutely amazing.  There were only a couple of us and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve done since I’ve been down here.  To get into the crevasse we had to abseil about 8 meters down an extremely thin ice chute which, I’m not going to lie, was very claustrophobic.  Once at the bottom the crevasse opened out into a big cavern of ice with tunnels and passages created by melting water branching of in all directions.  We then went down one of the passages which became increasingly smaller and smaller and resulted in me breaking off all the icicles with my head and them going down my back – result!  The rest of the time down there was spent sliding around a lot and squeezing through smaller and smaller holes.  We also went skiing earlier today which I’m still coming to grips with.  I’m still yet to see the appeal in paying money to go to somewhere cold and wet and then to strap planks to your feet and slide down a very long hill – and if you’re like me eat snow a lot.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m starting to come round to skiing and it is really good fun but I’m being paid to do it which makes all the difference.  At the mo I’ve passed the snow plough stage and I’m now trying to turn.  Unsuccessfully...  With dire consequences...  I start a turn then my body doesn’t want to continue with it so I end up going supersonic straight down the slope before smashing my face into snow.  I had to be checked over by Vicky, the Doc, for concusion.  I got up and carried on skiing but my wipeout was of biblical proportions and those watching thought I may have died...  Better safe than sorry. 
Better sign off here.  I’m up in the Tower with nothing to do but it’s Sunday brunch in a bizzle so I’m off to fill my face with delicious fried food.  Then a cheeky bit of time on the boats out around the Islands and maybe, if I’m lucky, a snooze...

Friday, 31 December 2010

Well, that's a Christmas I'll never forget...

I’m going to start this post firstly by apologising for the tardiness, apologies Toms mum and aunt, and by saying that this was a Christmas I will never ever ever ever forget for a whole host of reasons, one of them being the wrong reason...
Since my last post not much has really happened on base and life has been ticking over in the countdown to Christmas.  The only thing to note that I can remember was being on Gash last Wednesday.  Gash can have a whole host of meanings...down here we use it in the same way as the Navy: rubbish.  Each day we have someone on the Gash rota and it is this person’s job to help with all the cleaning tasks around base.  When a person is on Gash they can be expected to help out with the cleaning in the kitchen, helping the chefs and doing a specific cleaning task for their allotted day.  It might sound as though it’s not that fun but it actually is; you get to leave the Tower for the day and help out in the kitchen which is really enjoyable as well as getting to go round the base and chat to the people you don’t normally see during working hours.  To be honest, Gash is a bit of day off!
The build up to Christmas here has been fun – decorations in the Tower, carols on Christmas Eve and a pub quiz.  The decoration making was interesting: making paper chains in the Tower in between flight following is definitely not one of the things I thought I would be doing when I came down here.  The Christmas carols on Christmas Eve were good fun too, although we didn’t really sing any but the mulled wine and mince pies we had really hit the spot and helped everyone feel a bit more Christmassy.  It’s quite hard to get into the Christmas spirit here when the sun shines for 24 hours and you’re cut off from everyone else.  It’s also hard to get into the spirit when you’re always working morning, evening for about 12 hours every day including weekends.  Don’t get me wrong I’m not moaning about work, I love working down here in the Tower but it does mean you are always preoccupied with work.  The pattern of work down here is much like the military: one minute it’s manic, the next there’s nothing to do – hurry up and wait. 
Christmas Day was one of the best days I’ve had since I’ve been down South.  Luckily we didn’t work because of strong cross winds but if it hadn’t been for these then we would have been up in the Tower slaving away whilst everyone else, except the pilots, would have had the day off.  I woke at about 9am Christmas morning and called home to see what everyone was up to, it was about 12pm at home so they had all got back from church and were opening pressies.  It was really nice to speak to everyone and it made me realise how much I wished I could be at home.  It even helped me feel a bit more Christmassy speaking to them all and listening to them relaxing in front of the fire.  After that we had some brunch at about 10am and watched some Star Wars in the briefing room on the projector.  What a classic!  You can’t get any better than that!  Though there were an alarming number of people who hadn’t seen it before – Tom and I were appalled.  Shocking!  Then Vicky, one of the Docs, had the cheek to say it was one of the worst films she had seen!  I feel very concerned for those wintering because it seems that their Doctor has mental problems...  After that Tom and I spruced ourselves up and donned our Nos 2s for Christmas Dinner.  This went down a storm with everyone and it wasn’t just the two of us dressed up – Dave Dive was wearing his tuxedo, a few others were in suits and Andy Boat was in his finest Highland regalia.  After the meal we all went up to the bar which is where the majority of people stayed until about 3am when an incident occurred which marred the evening, shall we say...  This is the event which will remind me of this Christmas for years to come and one that I probably don’t want to think about ever again.  Obviously I’m not going to say what happened on here so you’ll just have to use some imagination...
The rest of the festive season has been good, although it doesn’t feel very festive, and the band is in full swing for Friday night.  It’s the big one: New Year’s Day.  The moment everyone has been anticipating.  The crowning glory for the Savaged Ross Experience (the name changes daily...) it is now only a day away and I’m starting to worry.  I’m pretty sure we’re good enough to be able to play but I want people to think: ‘Wow! Those guys rocked! And who’s the dark, handsome one on lead guitar...’ Not: ‘Very well done guys! It’s nice to see you out of the home and smiling. Are you with the Happy Foundation?’ (spoken in loud, slow, patronising voice).  I’ll get some photos up and maybe a cheeky video of our performance if anyone is interested and then you can decide for yourselves.  So far the set list reads: Muse-Plug in Baby, The Raconteurs-Steady as She Goes, The Dandy Warhols-Bohemian like you, The Violent Femmes-Blister in the Sun, The Divinyls-I touch myself (don’t ask...) and an acoustic medley of Umbrella, Bad Romance and Maneater that Ross, Reit and myself are playing.  It should be a really good New Year’s Eve – we are holding it in the garage and they’ll be a couple of guys who have brought their decks down playing and a cocktail bar.  So hopefully a good night should be had by all, so long as a repeat of Christmas Day doesn’t occur...  Oh dear. 
For the last two weeks Tom and I have taken on the role of circuit master.  Alan Hill, who usually organises circuits, is down at the Bluff and will be leaving and heading North soon so Tom and I have taken up his mantle.  We have decided to give people a taste of Navy style circuits and so far people have enjoyed them.  It does involve a lot of mincing but I think most people down here are pretty open minded when it comes to that sort of thing...  Yesterday it was my turn to put people through their paces and from the looks of pain and groaning that I heard I can safely say: mission accomplished!  In all seriousness though I didn’t make it that hard for them – I don’t think it would go down if we broke half the people on base through circuits.  To make them even more Navy and Fleet Air Arm like we have made it mandatory that the Top Gun sound track is played always.  No exceptions.  This does make it slightly weird when you are doing squats to the song: Take my Breath Away...  We have also been giving them a taste of PTI wit as well: ‘pair up in threes’, ‘short sharp bursts of endurance’ and ‘pain is just weakness leaving your bodies, so take control of your bodies’. On Friday we’ve got the New Year’s Eve 10km Race on the runway and I’m sure most people wouldn’t thank me for giving them an injury.  I’m quite looking forward to the race as I’m hoping to get a time of around 40-45 mins; the runway length is 900m (not as long as some in Scotland!) so it is just over 5 laps. 
Apart from that not much has been happening.  The only thing that I will say is that the Christmas post came in which was a big morale boost – thank you everyone at home.  The only annoying thing about this was that half the mail was left in the Falkland’s.  This has left me very disgruntled as an eagerly anticipated parcel of delicious brownies should be all over my face at this moment but alas no.  The beginning of Feb and the next lot of post can’t come round quick enough!  Thank you Ellen, even though they aren’t here yet, the thought of your delicious but slightly old brownies should get me through January!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Holiday Bluff

For those wondering why I haven’t posted anything on here in a while I’ve been living it up Scott style in the field for two weeks at Fossil Bluff.  This post covers my time in the Bluff right up to arriving back at Rothera.  It is a bit of a beast and is about the length of a small thesis so no worries if you can’t finish it.  Maybe I should have posted it in instalments...

Fossil Bluff
Monday 29th November
As I wrote in my last blog post, Tom had been sent to Fossil Bluff for the week and was due to return in the next few days.  When he returned he told me how he hadn’t wanted to come back to Rothera because he had enjoyed his time spent at the Bluff so much, living the ‘Adventurer’s Life’ – all he had to show for this was a ginger beard, no frostbite.  Disappointing.  At the risk of repeating parts of my last post, Fossil Bluff is located to the south of Rothera some 250 miles at King George VI Sound.  The Cabin lies on the east coast of Alexander Island on the George Sound side.  It is also known as George VI Ice Shelf because the Sound is permanently frozen.  You wouldn’t be able to tell we were on the coast without looking on a map, the ice shelf stretches out to the Peninsula and is covered in snow and so looks like land.  If you are wondering why I say: ‘we’, it’s because on the day Tom arrived back, I was told I was going down to Fossil Bluff for a week.  Everything down here is very last minute and when something occurs that involves you, you are usually the last to hear about it.  It’s not a bad thing but it does keep you on your toes though! 
I flew down to the Bluff yesterday and arrived at about 1100 to a flurry of activity.  We were one of three planes there and all of them had their own purpose, whether that was unloading Avtur drums, loading empties back on or, for Doug’s aircraft, science surveys.  Before I left I was led to believe that there would be about five of us sharing the four man cabin but as I found on my arrival it was just to be myself and Glynn.  My job down here is to be the radio operator and the MET man.  It is my job to talk to Rothera and pass on the weather conditions I record down here as well as talking to the aircraft when they land at the skiway (snow runway).  Another part of my job down here is to refuel the planes and unload or load any cargo or drums they have or need.  With aircraft passing through a fair amount as well as doing the hourly MET observations it can get very busy down here. 

Refuelling at the Skiway
When the planes come through I always chat to Jon, one of the pilots, to find out the ‘Word of the Day’.  Back at Rothera we have created a Tally of Shame in the Tower for any incorrect RT or silly mistakes on the radio.  At the mo I have the most on the Tally but I’m putting that down to Karen making me laugh whilst I was taking weather from Fossil Bluff.  I accidentally said: ‘wind 330 knots at 9 knots’.  Whoops.  It’s not funny at all but it made me laugh and it had Karen in stitches and it then went downhill from there...  If you’re reading this Karen, you know what you did!  I was laughing so much during the weather ob from the Bluff that I had to put Tom on standby while I composed myself.  Hilarious!   We also have the credits board where you can gain points by saying predetermined words and one of those is the word of the day.  So far I’m the only person to get any words of the day in, the words being: Polar Bear and Cribbage.   Cribbage I managed to slip in with Jon and Polar Bear I said to Doug, although I don’t think he knows about word of the day so probably thought that I was special needs. 

Friday 3rd December
End of the week here at the Bluff and quite a lot has been happening.  On Tuesday night we had Dave Boat and Ian Potten stay the night due to poor weather at Rothera.  It was quite nice to have guests to entertain and Glynn knocked up a fantastic chicken stew which I decided to ‘enhance’ with some hot sauce.  Big no no.  I thought it was about the strength of Tabasco so I liberally applied it all over my meal only to find that my face wanted to die when I tried some.  I had to make and drink three pints of the powdered milk we have down here which tastes like a kick in the balls.  On further inspection of the sauce, which was called: Dave’s Insanity Sauce, the label on the back informed users: ‘A great cooking ingredient for sauces, stews and soups.  Also, strips waxed floors and removes driveway grease’ I had to throw my dinner away...

Inside the hut

The next day the weather improved and Dave and Ian left for Rothera and later that day Dickie came into the Bluff to replace Glynn.  Since Dickie’s been here the planes have been coming thick and fast.  We managed to dig out a transport sledge at the skiway which was firmly frozen in and had been so since last summer.  When Glynn was still here, we found a blow torch and tried to melt it out.  The sledge, however, didn’t want to play ball.  If anything we were just melting more water into the bits that were frozen to create a super block of ice around the sledge’s runners.  We have also constructed a fresh water hose which runs from a header tank round the back of the hut to the glacial melt water stream behind us.  It needs about 500 metres of hose and we had to dig about two foot down to get to the running water but now the Bluff’s future inhabitants will have fresh mountain water to enjoy at their leisure.  Before this we were collecting snow and melting it in the cabin which can be a ball ache but is necessary.  Since Dickie has arrived, the flatscreen in the Dining room at Rothera, which shows all the notices and information regarding who is manning what station, now reads: Fossil Bluff – Dick and Dom (in the Bungalow).  Brilliant.  To be fair though, we are called Dick and Dom, and the hut technically doesn’t have an upstairs so we are fair game... 
With Glynn gone I wondered if the culinary delights in the nights to come would be up to the standard of those that he had produced when I arrived.  I needn’t bother worry.  Last night Dickie and I ate like kings.  Like kings!  We had a delivery of fresh fruit and veg sent in with one of the planes as well as some chicken breasts.  We decided to go for what was definitely ambitious but at the same time the best meal I’ve had down here.  It wasn’t the best based on the quality of the food but on the satisfaction that came from preparing it.  We decided on avocado with balsamic vinegar and tomatoes to start, followed by chicken satay with egg fried rice, and to finish we found some mini Christmas puds which we had with some Courvoisier Brandy.  Scott is probably turning in his grave.  It’s such a hard life out in the field...  To be fair though that was only one meal.  All the other food here went out of date years ago, even the Manfood boxes (BAS issue rations for two people for three weeks) were packed in 2003.  The most recent box I’ve found was from 2008.  I’ve been eating sugar puffs that went out of date in 2003 for the last week.  To be honest, they aren’t too bad and food’s food at the end of the day. 
Talking of Christmas, back home all the Christmassy adverts must have started now and all the radio stations will be playing all the crappy Christmas songs.  That is the side of Christmas I’m not missing.  I am missing all the Christmas Carols, Christmas shopping and finding the right present for someone, family and friends and surprisingly the dark evenings.  I know people will probably think I’m crazy but when you have 24 hour day light you do miss it when the evenings draw in and you’re inside your nice warm house looking out at all winter has to throw at you.  I haven’t seen the moon for ages.  I’m looking forward to Christmas at Rothera though; it will be the first Christmas I’ve spent out of the UK and away from family. 
In front of V-BL at the Skiway
Today was also eventful as I co piloted V-BL with Ian Potten on a trip down to Sky Blue.  Sky Blue is the other satellite station that Rothera has and is about 500 miles south of Rothera itself.  We, at Fossil Bluff, are quite conveniently positioned halfway which means we act as a bit of a refuelling depot for the planes on their way down to Blue.  This was easily one of the best days I’ve spent down here as it’s been about 3 months since I was last behind the controls of a plane.  Obviously because I haven’t been trained in take off and landings with skis Ian took control.  The rest of it was mine.  I think he quite enjoyed having me there as it meant that he could palm off all the flying to me and therefore get down to the important business of eating his sandwiches.  To be honest it was great to be flying again but it was a little boring (God help those who go multi’s), we pretty much flew in straight lines and only banked to a maximum of 10 degrees.  Rock and roll...  Still I won’t complain too much and hopefully in the near future I’ll be doing the take offs and landings.  Well, so I’ve been told...
V-BL on the Skiway
Sky Blue itself is a very desolate place: 75 degrees south and as flat as the eye can see, except for the huge mountain at the end of the runway.  All their accommodation consists of is two Melon huts (small circular hut) and some tents.  It all made Casa de Bluff look like a luxury hotel.  When I rocked up it was about -18 Celsius and as windy as hell.  It reminded me of the Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, although my Tauntaun joke didn’t go down that well.
Tuesday 7th December
Go for a week they said.  Don’t worry they said.  It’s been two days since I was supposed to leave the Bluff and would you guess - I’m still here.  I’m not surprised to be honest.  I spoke to Al Hill, one of the base GAs (General Assistants), and he told me about the time he came for a week.  Three weeks later...  It’s no drama though, I’m loving my time out here and I’m not that fussed about going back.  All Dickie and I really do here is read, cook, look at the weather and climb.  Earlier we were both out on the balcony shirts off, working on our tans with a good book (in a completely non gay way...).  We’ve also turned the Bluff into Bakery Bluff by doing the most amount of baking I have ever done in the last week.  When I say we I actually mean me, Dickie’s always out doing something or fixing something while I stay in and bake (again, in a non gay way...).  So far the total to date is: two loaves of bread, 4 tins of flapjacks, one lemon curd sponge cake and some oat biscuits.  We’ve even had orders in from Sky Blue for two tins of flapjacks which we sent to them on one of the Otters that passed through.  Apart from the baking nothing much of interest has happened.  Yesterday we had another no fly day and I decided to climb the mountain behind the hut, Drune hill.  It is not a hill.  Whoever named it never had to climb it otherwise they wouldn’t have ridiculously name it a hill.  It would have been Mount Drune.  Due to this incompetence, when I finished slogging my way to the summit, which took an hour and thirty minutes, I renamed it Mount Savage.  Although as Dickie pointed out it does sound a bit like a request...

At the summit of Mount Savage

The only other interesting thing to note is that for the last couple of days we thought that Dickie had killed George, the tame Skua who lives at the Bluff.  I think he has only been loitering around the Bluff for a couple of weeks but like all wildlife on the continent he is undisturbed by humans and will let us feed him by hand.  George usually appears every mealtime on the dot, everyday.  Then for the last two days he stopped, which was very unusual.  A sheepish Dickie then let slip that he may have fed him a seed bar from the manfood box and as he ate it he did seem to choke a lot.  Oh dear...  ‘So what you’re trying to say is you killed George?’  ‘I think so...’  He then flew off, still choking, and wasn’t seen again.  That was until this morning when he turned up for breakfast.  Dickie will sleep easier tonight. 
George, the Skua who will eat anything...
Well, tah tah for now.  More baking to do and dinner to prepare, why do I feel like the housewife in this relationship? 

Friday 10th December
What I wouldn’t give for a good shower.  A nice warm, long shower.  It isn’t like I smell or anything, or that I’m not washing here, it’s just it would be a lot nicer than washing with a flannel and a bowl.  Oh, and a toilet.  An actual flushing toilet instead of a stick in the ground or a large bucket.  Again, it’s not as if I can’t manage without these things it would just be nice, like having someone give you a foot rub sort of nice.  It looks like I am going to have to keep looking forward to that shower for a bit longer; it turns out that I will be here until at least next Tuesday.  By then it will be the 14th and here’s me leaving my advent calendar in my cabin because I thought I was off for a week.  Oh well.  I’ll just have to catch up on all the chocolate when I’m back...  By the time I’m back I will have been gone for about two and a half weeks and these two and a half weeks have been a holiday, I’m not going to lie to you.  Our day consists of taking MET observations every hour and radioing them back to Rothera, refuelling aircraft when they come through the skiway and general repair work around the Bluff (of which there is lot’s but we don’t have the tools to complete).  On the average day we were getting two to three aircraft rotations but due to different requirements, aircraft going to the Pole or survey work, we are lucky to get one a day now.  Today we had V-BB swing by on their way to Sky Blue, where they’ll be for a month, and then we were stood down for the day.  We’ve also got no planes coming tomorrow so it looks like another day of reading, sunning and maybe the occasional walk.  BAS should definitely market this place as a little holiday chalet because it’s got it all: climbing and skiing, nature walks, wildlife, glacial valleys with rivers and waterfalls.  The best part?  There’s only the two of us for at least 150 miles, maybe more.  No other hill walkers or tourists, our own little playground. 
Dickie on top of Sphinx with Pyramid behind
A couple of days ago Dickie and I decided to do a three peaks route round behind the Bluff which covered Drune, Sphinx and Pyramid.  It took us about three hours to complete and we covered about 10 km as well as climbing up to 745 metres (Pyramid).  Since then we’ve been a bit boring and have just been watching films and reading.  At the mo I’m smashing my way through Homer’s The Odyssey after already reading Frankenstein and The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy and am fast running out of books to read; although we do have a bit of a library here with about 200 books on the shelves.  I could always read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment...  Or maybe not.
The only other slightly interesting thing to happen down here is that the Bakery has branched out into brownies.  I did say ‘slightly interesting’...  I’m not going to lie: they are the best thing ever – so watch out Ellen!  However all this baking has opened my eyes to how much sugar and butter goes into these things.  We must have used 8 blocks of butter in the last week, that’s over half a block each per day!
We also received the mother load of all deliveries a few days ago when one of the Otters came in.  We had doughnuts, bread, fruit loaf, cheese, two dozen eggs, orange juice, grapefruit juice, wholemeal flour, beer, two boxes of Blossom Hill red (equivalent to 8 bottles) and more bacon and sausages than you could shake a pig at.  That was a good night. 
I’m now trying to decide what to do tomorrow.  Toboggan and skidoo are two words that spring to mind...

Saturday 11th December
Another day with not much to do, I’m starting to think we’ve been forgotten about.  As it turned out we weren’t stood down for the whole day today – we had an Otter fly up from Sky Blue to Rothera pass through for fuel.  This meant no toboggan/skidoo surfing: I was disappointed, Dickie relieved. 
We decided to make the most of what we thought was our day off by getting up at 1100.  Bliss! I can’t remember the last time I slept passed 0900 since I’ve been here.  Then we had a delicious brunch of bacon and poached eggs on toast – definitely beats eight year old sugar puffs. 

Our beached Skidoo

The only interesting thing that happened today, and the reason I’m writing this entry, was our doo decided it wanted to try life as a submarine.  As we were coming back to the hut from the skiway we managed to break through the ice on the lake we were travelling across.  Luckily the doo didn’t sink completely and we had time to ‘abandon ship’ before she sank any further.  Due to all the melt water runoff from the glacier behind the hut, two vast frozen lakes have formed around the Bluff effectively creating a moat.  As the summer season progresses these melt but for the moment there is a thick (and thin in some places) layer of ice over it.  When it gets to the point in the season where the ice melts you can no longer drive a skidoo up to the hut; we knew it was about this time in the season and we took the risk.  And lost...  We were doing about 30/35 mph when it gave way so we were almost thrown off when the ice went.  Luckily, because we were going at this speed, we managed to drive further out of the break before the doo stopped.  The ice behind had completely gone and the skidoo managed to beach itself on a bit of solid ice, which prevented it from completely sinking.  Then came the horrible realisation that would have to jump off and ‘swim’ for it – I say swim but the water was only mid thigh height.  After walking back to the hut with numb frozen feet we planned our rescue mission and donned the dry suits that were kept there:  'Erm, Dickie?  Does your Boat suit have sleeves and a zip?'  'Yeah, why?'  'Oh, no reason...'  It turned out that mine was the ‘sports’ version as it had half of the actual suit missing.  Better mobility apparently.  Great, just what you want before getting into a lake...  We decided to get the second doo and tow the first one out, the only problem with this was we didn’t know where the ice was thin.  So what did we come up with?  Oh yeah: I’ll just walk the planned route of the second doo jumping up and down a lot to test the ice strength, good one.  Yes, I did go through the ice.  Several times...  Once we’d found a route we were able to tow the first skidoo out and get it back to the hut.  It’s a good job I’m leaving soon because as the summer goes on I think a lot more skidoos are going to try their hands at swimming...

This season's 'Sports' Boat suit modelled minus a set of sleeves and zip.
  Tuesday 13th December
Back in my cabin now all unpacked and straight back in the Tower, not that I mind.  I did feel bad being away from the comms team for such a long time especially as air ops did start to ramp up in the last week.  Now that I’m back though there’s no rest for the wicked and I’m back flight following and doing Field Party Scheds.  I also co-piloted a flight as soon as I arrived at Rothera, which I wasn’t expecting as I was looking forward to having a shower and some nice clean clothes.  I’d been on the ground for five minutes when Andy, the Field Ops Manager, asked me to co-pilot the same aircraft I had flown in on down to one of the deep field parties, Sledge November.  Although I was knackered I wasn’t going to refuse an opportunity for flying so I jumped back in the right hand seat and off we went.  I’ve worked out that actual stick time, not just time in transit, that I’ve flown down here is 4hrs 40mins which I’m pretty happy with and hopefully will clock up more as the season progresses. 
Things on base are quieter than when I left.  Most of the scientists have gone home for Christmas and those that have stayed have gone out to their field projects for anything between a few days to a few months.  Whilst I was at the Bluff, the James Clarke Ross, a BAS survey ship, visited Rothera to drop of a year’s supply of food, vehicles, a new boat, around 80 drums of avtur and a whole load of other stores.  Luckily I was at the Bluff and missed all the ‘unpacking’ that needed doing when she arrived.  I have heard that HMS Scott might be visiting us in Jan/Feb which should be fun and an excellent opportunity to get into rig.  Tom’s a little disappointed about this because he’ll no longer be the most Senior Naval Officer on the continent anymore.  Which means I'll no longer be the Flag Lieutenant to the SNOC.  What a shame...