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)

Thanks


Phil

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)

LoL

P

XXX

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)