Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Final note

Friday 29 February 2008

Now I am in Cape Town waiting to travel back home. Like Mr. Ben I got to keep a memento from the experience: my pink neck wrap. I'll wear it as often as possible, so if you ever see a fat bloke wearing a pink neck wrap this summer it's probably me.

It strikes me, now that I am no longer in the direct service of BAS, just how just how much you are shielded from the stresses of normal life (as well as being shielded from the hostilities of Antarctica). Slowly the realisation of this is returning to me: Back in the real world I am surrounded by people, traffic, congestion, smoke, noise and adverts. Other worries start to become more apparent too such as the state of my overdraft, bills, the mortgage, and where my next chocolate bar is coming from.

The Antarctic is a most fantastic place and Halley is just incredible. It is not flat: The site undulates, rises and falls, the terrain is like a solid fluid, changing all the time. The landscape is always reshaping itself, and claims back its territory from man at frightening speed. It is not white: It changes colour every hour of the day every day of the year. There is a never-to-be-repeated photographic moment happening all the time. The sun plays tricks with the snow scape and the buildings that hover above it to produce a myriad of colours and moods.

Everyone, even the most well seasoned Antarctic visitors are alert to the changes around them, never tired of what they see and never tired of trying to capture it on film. I feel very privileged to be here and very privileged to be here with BAS. The Antarctic is a fierce and unforgiving place. It really is a hostile environment. Stray outside too long, in the wrong conditions and you can be in very serious trouble. Travelling with BAS and you feel as safe as you could ever be. This is a far cry from the days of early exploration where humans had to brave the Antarctic elements without any additional human support.

Something that sticks in my mind in particular is Aspley Cherry-Garrard’s description, at the point of extreme exhaustion, starvation, hypothermia and near death is how much he missed peaches in syrup. Our journey has not nearly been as hard as this, and there are lots of peaches in syrup on the base, out on the servery counter every day for breakfast lunch and dinner. There are pears too and the rice pudding is not to be missed! BAS provide for everything – well almost everything.

Unfortunately, what they can’t replace, and what I have been missing for the past three months is a Greggs cheese pasty. Please send your spare Greggs cheese pasties, in any condition, to:

The Greggs Cheese Pasty Appeal

Hugh Broughton Architects

41A Beavor Lane

London W6 9BL

(or a sticky bun will do)



The journey back

Wednesday 27 February 2008

The journey back started with a very early start. At 3.45 am we checked into the Laws dining room and at 5 am we were loaded onto a sledge and taken to the air field where a plane was waiting for us on the Halley blue-ice runway.

As we left the base, we all took a final look back. At the plane, there was not much time spent hanging around before we were away and heading east towards Novo. It was very different to any other plane I have been on. The crew wear overalls covered in grease and dirt, the plane bounces around in the air like Flash Gordon's rocket ship, there is lots of noise and vibration, and there is a very strong smell of AVTUR fuel, which at first I found worrying, but later realised was very normal.

There was no entertainment on the plane and we were all crammed in like sardines. The only thing to do was to catch up on some sleep until the next stop, but I'm not sure if some towards the back had not passed out from the fumes.

We had to land for refueling after a couple of hours, which is where three drums of fuel were rolled over to the plane and manually hand-pumped into the tanks, hence the smell. We had landed at Sanae IV, the South African Antarctic base. There were two huge bonuses here: Firstly, for the first time, we were standing on the Antarctic continent! Secondly, there was a slim chance of seeing the Sanae building. I knew about this stop in advance but was not sure how far the base would be from the runway, if we would be able to see it, or if there would be an opportunity to go to visit the building.

As it happened there was a sledge ready to take anyone with bladder-shyness to the base for a toilet stop. I wasn't going to hang around and Simon Gill and I jumped on the back before Morgan (one of the SA scientists) drove us up (at approx 120 km/h).

I know it sounds a bit silly but this was one of the real highlights of the trip. I never expected to be here and it was a complete surprise to be given the opportunity to see it. After our pit stop, we asked Morgan if we could have a quick look down the corridor, and he was happy to show us as much of the base as we could see in the few short minutes we had. We literally ran around the place to see as much as possible. I'm surprised any photos came out in focus.

(Here is the games room, sporting all the important flags of the world - Go Bulle!!!)

After our whirl-wind tour it was back on the plane for another two hour flight to Novo and the Aleutian which would be taking us back to Cape Town. At Novo we literally jumped out the plane, threw all the bags and ourselves onto a sledge and then jumped into the big plane, as we were told it was taking off inside 20 minutes of our arrival.

The inside was again more like a military flight than a commercial one. It has always been reported as a bit of a white knuckle ride with lots more noise and vibration. We were all given a Russian ham sandwich to keep us occupied on the six hour flight to Cape Town. I think I chewed on mine for 90 minutes before throwing the other half in the bin.

(Simon still smiling - he must have had this expression for at least a week)

Given the power-point safety presentation we were shown in Russian, the condition of the plane and the food, I felt safer keeping my hard hat on my head throughout the flight back.

('The Right Stuff' exit to passport control)

And then, all of a sudden, we were back in Cape Town, at what seemed like lightening speed. What was a two week outward journey on the Shackleton travelling at an average of 10 knots, was replaced by a return journey completed in little over twelve hours by plane!

It was now about 10.30pm local time (Halley is 5 hours behind Cape Town)

Postcards from the edge...of the Brunt Ice Shelf III

Hiya Joyce!!!

See you soon

(about 6 O'clock-ish)




Last day at Halley

Tuesday 26 February 2008
-14.5 deg C
Wind: 142 deg S at 2.7 knts

Today is my last full day at Halley and I have been running around trying to tie up all my loose ends of work and see as much of the remaining areas at Halley as I could before departing. I have also been keeping a running action list of tasks I have to complete for work during my stay, and was on a mission to close as many as I could. Unfortunately, there is a thing called ‘the Halley condition’ here which means that you just have to take your time and chip away at your tasks bit by bit. The cold affects every one and every thing. Electrical equipment slows down, batteries to cameras and laptops have a shorter life span and humans become forgetful. Combined with the fact that the landscape creeps up on you and covers everything with snow, which needs constant sorting out, every thing at Halley takes longer than it would elsewhere. (This is my official excuse for use in the office).

One of the things I wanted to do was to get a photographic record of the Laws building – the living and working centre of Halley V. After going through the plant rooms, kitchen, stores, dining room, etc, I asked if I could see a pit room. This was the highlight for me as it was the most personal human space within Halley and an area where we had invested much time and consideration designing for Halley VI. I asked Nicola (Halley admin assistant) and I was glad to find this was not a problem; there was an empty room I could see as one BAS member was on a field trip and had left her room tidy and ready either for her return or for anyone else to use in the meantime. At the room Nicola checked first that there was no one sleeping, and that it was tidy and respectable enough to be photographed. I think my preconceptions led my eyes when I first walked in. It was a small room, a bit Hostel / student - like, but looked comfortable and homely with pictures on the walls of Halley, penguins and Antarctica. On the desk were books on Edwardian adventures in Antarctica, a coffee cup and note book. It looked perfect, just as we had imagined it in the office during the design stage for Halley VI, and I started taking lots of pictures. It must have been another case of the cold making me slow, but by the time I got to the skirting detail, I realised that I’d taken about 20 shots of dirty clothes, knickers and bras. When I looked over the camera I saw they were everywhere – on the bed, on the floor, on the desk, on the chair, hanging out of the wardrobe – in every single shot. I sometimes think that Architectural design involves at least 30% human psychology, but we certainly didn’t include for this in our visualisations for Halley VI and I’m glad I wasn’t taken to see an untidy room. I feel a degree of professional confidentiality is owed to the occupant of the room so I’m afraid I can not post her name or any pictures of her knickers. Instead, here is a nice picture of penguins.

(Courtesy of Google images)

I was also glad for once that my camera has a habit of taking out of focus shots.

Every meal time in the Laws building I look at the pictures on the dining room walls of the past winter and summer Halley teams. It’s a great feeling to be part of an exclusive club and a member of a close knit community like this. Soon the BAS team photo for the summer 2008 team including me and my serial killer friend will be up there as well. The history of Halley is not just on the walls, but also living in the station. Many of this year's summer team have been to Halley several times before and appear on the photos of past years. Brian Newham, for example, pictured here in the dining room is also in previous winter and summer team photos going way back, like something from ‘The Shining’, although he’s not easy to spot as he had hair then.

(Brian and the past winter team photos)

(Summer team wall with Brian hiding in the photos)

After dinner, I paid a visit to the bar and lounge (something I don’t normally do as I am always working so hard - honest) and sat with the other guys discussing our experiences and adventures. The conversation turned to the deeper subject of what we had learnt about ourselves during our stay at Halley. Phil Moneypenny’s realisation was that there was nothing he liked better than a bacon butty. Mine was that I’ll never get to the pole man-hauling. It was definitely beyond me. Andy’s was that he gets a good night’s sleep if he is not in the same pit room as me. Profound!

While I have been here, in little under three weeks including a four-day storm, the Halley VI site has gone through great transformations. The two ‘energy modules’ which were covered have been rapidly growing internally with the installation of plant and services systems. Four modules have been tented and service fit-out has proceeded at a pace, and the remaining module at the south end of the site has been fully clad. The work rate has been incredible and everyone is proud of what has been accomplished. Everyone is also looking forward to going home now. It's been a long season for the build team, but you can tell there will be as much eagerness to return for the second season’s build in about eight months time. Its the draw of Antarctica and Halley!

(Final cladding panel being installed)

(The completely clad module on site)

I have to clear up my remaining work items, and prepare for the flight back to Cape Town. The flight leaves at 5am tomorrow morning and we have to check in to the Laws at 3.45am. I hope I don't sleep in.

(Last sunset - a tear jerker)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Tuesday 26 February 2008

Here I am again in the Morrison team photo. This time I looked behind me to check that there were no serial killers or psychopaths. I was glad to see Andy Cheatle and one fully clad Antarctic module.

I’d totally forgotten about the Morrison team photo (its the cold that does it) and was lucky that Simon Gill found me digging around on the container line. When we turned up at the site we were greeted by the calls of ‘Architect’s late as usual’. It’s good to make an entrance. Every one was happy though (you can see them smiling in the photo), and I think that’s partially because we are on programme and every one is starting to look forward to going home, and partially because of where we are and what we are working on.

I fly out with 17 others (five Morrison and 13 BAS) tomorrow at 5am. So along with checking in all my bags and belongings, I have to ensure that all my work here is complete. I have to get cracking today because I have a lot to do.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sun dog

If I'd thought fast enough I would have had a shot of the sun shining out my arse. D'oh!

Saturday 23 February 2008
-5.3 deg C
Wind: 19.7 knt at 87 deg E

Directly after the team photo we had a 'sun dog'. The skies were clear and the sun dropped onto the horizon creating lots of opportunities for atmospheric photos. This one of the B2 module taken from the Laws building makes it look look it's on some kind of lunar terrain.

This was the rest of the site. I was trying to capture the effect of the snow being blown over the surface of the ground. The whole ground plane was moving.

Everyone with a camera was taking photographs. You can't go anywhere at Halley without a camera. There is a photogenic scene every time you go outside.

Another shot of the sun over a fluid terrain.

Andy Cheatle and the Halley sign post.

Kirk (Field GA and camera man for the Halley build), posing with the sun. It did seem like we were standing on an alien terrain.

The sun is mostly up above the horizon. Apart from an hour or so now, we have constant sunlight. But the movements of the sun still baffle me. In the evening it appears to be going in a different direction to the mornings, which I know can not happen.

I was thinking about this at breakfast and asked the question openly to the dining room 'which way does the sun track round the horizon?'

'The earth goes round the sun stupid' came the answer. That's the problem with scientists. They never clarify anything, only confuse.

Postcards from the edge...of the Brunt Ice Shelf II

Hi Bobby!

Missing you very much and looking forward to seeing you soon!

Lots and lots and lots of love



Saturday, February 23, 2008


Saturday 23 February 2008
-5.3 deg C
Wind: 19.7 knt at 87 deg E

This is the Halley summer team photo, taken yesterday afternoon at the foot of the Laws building steps. You can't miss me - I'm the one in the orange boiler suit.

All of us standing together for the first time in 'a huddle' before dinner.

But not before I got this shot of Richard setting up the camera to take the team photo. The ground looked fluid all day. Very atmospheric.

I think I need to make myself less conspicuous! I found out this lunch time that there was one more person on the photograph than there are people known on the base. What's doubly spooky is that he is standing behind me and next to Andy Cheatle. No one has been able to identify him behind the goggles and heavy clothing. One thing I know, I'll be baracading the pit room door tonight! I hope its not Michael Myers!!!!!

The day after yesterday

Saturday 23 February 2008
-5.3 deg C
Wind: 19.7 knt at 87 deg E

The last few days have been a bit blustery, but everyone sounds like they are having fun. For an example it's an adventure just to walk between the Laws and Piggott buildings.

Some people are really enjoying the adventure. Simon Gill here is really getting into the spirit of adventure. Actually Simon has been bouncing around like Tigger for the past few days. I think he is looking forward to going home, although he hasn't mentioned it - but he talks a lot about going to Cape Town!

The weather is clearing up now. The high winds are going and there is a wash of wind driven snow that is flowing across the surface of the ground. Its like standing in a shallow stream, where the water is snow and it covers the entire surface.

This gives some stunning pictures, the best of which you will be able to see on Andy Cheatle's blog site:

Meanwhile back on site, we had a lot of work to do. Austin's crane had to be dug out, there was a lot of snow management to be done around the modules to level the site again.

Here, Ian can be seen spring cleaning in the B2 module, brushing all the snow out the front door. The clad module seems to have performed very well against the build up of snow.On the subject of front doors, Martin Bell and his team were the most excited of all at the opportunity of clearing snow with their Caterpillar D7 Bulldozers. On Friday morning, clearing the snow from the annexes, they also managed to remove two pairs of skis and our doorway. Luckily I am sharing with Pete Willmott who put his crack team of joiners on the case. For a while I thought I'd be sleeping in the gym again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Has anyone seen our site?

Wednesday 20 February 2008
-5 deg C
wind: 35-40knts, with gusts up to 50knts
Very poor visibility

This was one of the last pictures I took of site (another on 'one blustery day'), taken at midnight local time on Monday night, 18 Feb. We have not seen site since. Wind speeds and poor visibility mean that we are contained between the site accommodation buildings, the Laws building (for food and recreation) and the Piggott building (for work). BAS require that anyone traveling between buildings radio in to the Comms room to confirm where they are and where they are going and then re-confirm when they get there. Preferably we are to travel in pairs or groups.

This is the Laws building in a good patch of weather. Most of the time visibility is so poor, you can't see your destination. If you get lost and lose your bearings you are in real trouble. Typically, I estimate there is around 50 - 70m before objects disappear into the blizzard of snow. Yesterday and today were declared non-site working days. The five day forecast predicts this weather continuing into Monday of next week. We have to wait and see when we can get back to work. Two days down and all of the guys I've spoken to are itching to get going again. Unfortunately all reports say it will get worse first. The Laws building where I am typing from is shaking around quite a bit and the sound of the wind whistling past is loud too.

Meanwhile, the Morrison management team have taken their meetings into the Laws lounge. There is still lots of discussion to be had about a great many issues, and lots of situations to be resolved.

The sense of urgency on this has also drawn in Mr Cheatle who has been patiently weighing up the developing situations and waiting for his turn to make a contribution to the debates.

Meanwhile, the wind driven snow has left a number of us homeless. With over 50 years of Antarctic experience and technical understanding of the particular mechanics at Halley, it didn't occur to some that a blow would block off all of the doors to the annex pit rooms. About a dozen of us are bunking into the Drewry and Laws buildings for the next few nights.

I'm not complaining. This is my room, the Halley Gym. I had it all to myself last night - the biggest bedroom on the station and just look at the toys I have to play with. I can quite happily see this storm through, but it is a bit strange to think that I'll have about two and a half weeks at Halley, and half of that time will be spent in a storm.

Some are not quite so lucky. Poor Danny Wood (Structural Engineer) ran over to the Laws building for breakfast on Tuesday morning in a T-shirt and trousers, and when he came back his front door was gone. He's been camped out in the Drewry wearing borrowed clothes (which can't be great because everything hums here). I think it all got a bit too much for him because this lunch time I caught him trying to dig his way back into his pit room. Either he can't see through his goggles or he's on a do-or-die mission because he's standing level with the top of the pit room roof and the wind is filling up snow in front of his door as fast as he can clear it. I believe he did get in to reclaim some vital posessions and sanity in the end. Apparently Phil Moneypenny had to haul him out of the doorway through an opening in the snow - I wish I'd caught that on camera!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Environment Strikes Back!

Tuesday 19 February 2008
-6.9 deg C
Wind: 37.4 knt at 92 deg E

We had almost completed constructing our fleet of inter-galactic space ships, at our rebel base on the ice planet of Halley. Even though we hid (almost) everything under covers, the evil empire -galaxy of Gallixion has spotted out outpost and decided to attack.

Allied satellite images posted on the dining room notice board show the galaxy moving in on us. The Base Commander has given the order to evacuate.

We are being bombarded with heavy winds and driven snow. The spin drift really does get everywhere and through everything. Y-fronts are not the thing to be wearing today. Above is a view of our deserted pit rooms. We all make a run to the command centre for a briefing and a cup of tea.

Luckily we can still just see the command centre through the alien onslaught. After a big bowl of Alpen and a cuppa we get into character to man the ships and retaliate

Ace pilot A. Cheatle and I follow the hand lines to the ships and prepare for battle. Its going to be a tough fight, especially since I'm down to my last three bars of chocolate - but we have to give it our best shot.....

Expedition to the Pole

Sunday 17 February 2008
-13 deg C
Wind speed about 8 knt

Here we are - Laurel and Hardy about to set off on our intrepid expedition walking around the Halley site, pretending we are going to the South Pole. We packed our sledges with eight pieces of Halley VI prime steel, which with supplies of chocolate and a little water, weighed in at around 140+ kg. We started at 10.30am and completed the first 5km lap by 12 noon.

Meanwhile, Simon Coggins (BAS scientist) was tearing up the track on a kite. I think he did about 14 or 15 laps that day. That's smart thinking - you wouldn't catch the ones with brains pulling heavy sledge loads on foot. Come to think of it, Andy and I were the only ones man-hauling that day. Other means of getting around included skiing, walking and running. The closest thing to what we were doing was the Morrison team pulling the happy sledge around. (They were running the opposite way round with refreshments for everyone - I was given a piece of short bread from Pete Willmott - a Kodak moment in itself!) That proves it really - the brains on the base were not being so stupid as to do hauling.

It soon became apparent that there has to be something better than man hauling to get to the South Pole. There is definately something insane about it. A lot of time and thought is put into making it easier: adjusting the harness so it is over the hips and not the back, rationalising supplies to reduce weight, reducing friction on the sledge, wearing the right clothes etc. But the fact remains it is still man hauling and the real thought should be given to eliminating the exercise altogether. Mad dogs and Englishmen!

The first lap, 5km around a groomed snow road was gruelling! For the second lap we each took out two steels to lighten the sledge to around 110kg. (I tried to put mine in Andy's sledge but he was watching). At first that was easier, but it soon became as difficult as the first lap and took the same time. It is incredible to think that people can push themselves to average 22km per day for months on end with more weight than this. Brian Newham said 'it's all in the head' - and he's right.

We called it a day to hauling after the second lap. By then it was 2pm. I was delighted I'd managed to do 10km with the loads that we had, and I think Andy felt a real sense of achievement too - between all the swearing. It did strike me in the last kilometre, that although man hauling must be one of the most insane activities, it was not nearly as stupid as pulling Faber Maunsell's steelwork around like a set of mortal chains.

I really wanted to get a sense of a day's travel to the pole and did another two laps walking which was great - but still hard. Andy did another skiing. I went to bed at 8:30 and when Andy came back to the pit room I was already snoring. (I do try to remedy this but can't really feel too guilty - because he farts in the office).

The end!