Tuesday, 26 February 2008


My flight leaves at 4:00am tomorrow. That's about seven hours away.

You'd think that when you're the only plane at the airport; indeed, the only plane within 500 km, you could schedule a departure to be at a more convenient time.

But it's for a good reason that I support - we're trying to get to Cape Town at a respectable hour, so we can get a full night's sleep. Before, we were going to have to overnight it from Novo - the Russian station on the outer edge of Antarctica, close to South Africa. Since I can't sleep on a plane, I don't want this.

So, we are all debating - go to sleep, or stay up?

I think I shall try to sleep. And I can with a clear conscience - my desk is clean, my bags are packed and loaded on the plane. I shall make one last trip to the Simpson, to look for anything I've left behind. Then I shall nap.

And then, to quote REO Speedwagon, I believe it's time for me to fly!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Last weekend! And other people's pics.

It's logistical chaos around here; some people are rabidly busy, others with nothing to do. A few people are taking today off; most had the greater part of the week off, due to bad weather, and are working today.

And yes, the weather was rough, and I was lucky enough to get morning melt tank duty all week. It gusted up to 50 knots around here, and at the Shackleton it got up to 75 knots. They had to cast off and wait it out in open water. The base shook quite a bit; our daily journeys to the Simpson, from the main building, were hellish outbound and a great joy inbound. It was funny; you would be trying to walk normally, but the wind is pushing you hard, encouraging you to "Run! Run faster! FASTER!" And next thing you know, you're sprinting. And you can't really stop, except by falling. And, during all this, you are focussed on the rope that links the two buildings across the 150m distance. If you lose sight of it, you're in trouble.

An odd thing happened at 23:57 local time, for me. I was in bed, getting shaken about by the wind, and decided I would turn on some music I recently acquired from the Halley library. I came across one of those songs that I had heard all my life, but never really registered the name of the song or the artist. The iPod informed me that it was "Eye in the Sky", by the Alan Parsons Project.

Hmm. I had heard of the Alan Parsons Project - I believe it was a joke from the second Austin Powers movie. Anyway, I then immediately grabbed a book from the middle of a stack of early sci-fi novels I had taken from the library, to read that evening.

The book was "Eye in the Sky", by Philip K. Dick.

I was disoriented for a second. I'd never heard of the expression "Eye in the Sky" before - or if I had, it certainly made no impression upon me. I had then been hit with it twice, independently, within 10 seconds. Was it a sign? A cryptic message for me? What could it mean? APP's Eye in the Sky is a reference to casino security cameras; PKD's Eye in the Sky is literally a big eye in the sky, belonging to a divine being. Am I being watched? Should I care?

No. Just a cool coincidence, I imagine. And maybe not that cool, even; we are talking about circa-1980 prog-rock and sci-fi. More of a retro-geeky coincidence.

Anyway, the final countdown is on. Wednesday morning at 5:00 AM local, I lift off for the Russian Novo station, and thence to Cape Town. My sites are all up and running, and reporting in beautifully on schedule. My bags are packed. My project is an unqualified success. I've still got a bit of clutter around here, but it's all manageable. Still, I get the feeling I'm forgetting something, but I have a few days to find out what.

Anyway, yes, I believe I promised some pictures. Here is the entire 2007-8 Halley crew:

I'm in the middle, directly below the Union Jack, immediately up and to the right from Simon, one of the guys in front with the green jacket (not that you can even see individual people). And here's Rich taking that picture:

Here's better proof that I was actually in the Antarctic. Bear in mind that an orange insulated boiler suit, as I'm wearing, adds the appearance of at least 30 pounds to your picture.

Here's one in the last week, kitted up to handle the winds. Or I will be, once I zip up and put my gloves on. Remember: 30 pounds.

And here is one of the sun setting.

Finally. It has ceased its unswerving vigil upon us from above. It's almost like it's been...

The eye in the sky; Looking at you, it can read your mind.
It is the maker of rules; dealing with fools, it can cheat you blind

And it doesn't need to see any more to know that it can read your mind.

It can read your mind.


Sunday, 17 February 2008

Diary: Week of 10-17 February.

Whoo-eey! Been a busy week here. Let's do this chronologically - assuming I can remember it all in the correct order.

Rich, my field comrade, was diverted to start doing pleasure trips to the Hinge Zone for the winterers, which temporarily stranded me on base. And Toddy went with him, dammit. This left Kirk and Pete, who were also both trained for field support. Pete started getting together the usual supplies, and we planned to leave for site D10, a troublemaker, at lunch.

However, I apparently had other travel plans. Mark, the pilot, stopped me and said "Be at the plane at 1pm." I responded with a blank stare. He followed up, "You're copiloting today's flight."

Copilot. Every flight needs one. In normal places, this would be a second pilot, or an air mech. At Halley, it is a privilege granted to wintering staff (and the occasional summerer who's been there for four months). Although, the job title would more appropriately be "human ballast". Your job is to occupy the seat, and not to touch anything; and in the event of a horrible crash, you are to make tea and presumably provide body heat to the pilot until help arrives. Fortunately, Mark required neither of these services during the duration of the flight.

We flew around the ice shelf; I got a few pics. [...]

Upon landing, I managed to get out to D10 and fix it, with Pete. So, a busy day.

My new field mate Pete and I went out to E00, a site I have not brought online yet. After fiddling with antennas for a bit, we stopped by the nearby Halley VI site.

I thought Neil had a lonely spot out at the CAS lab. The Halley VI site is 12 km away and occupied by four guys. They've got a few trailers out there, a stack of movies to watch, food, and tea. We were offered the latter two - they don't get many visitors. But we declined, and left them to their mast erecting and snow grooming.

On Wednesday, I began an effort to reduce my gargantuan calorie intake. I certainly couldn't sustain it back in the UK. That's it for me on Wednesday.

However, on Wednesday night at 10:04PM local, something happened that I'd been awaiting for months. The sun set. Hooray! We partied all night. All four minutes of it.

Back to the Rumples - this time, with Kirk, the last of the four field folk. Kirk, as well as being a field guy, is shooting a documentary about this season at Halley; so, he came along with his camera. We fiddled with more antennas, downloaded some data, and then he shot a little bit of footage of me talking about the Rumples and my project. It'll show up in his documentary, which will probably be an internal British Antarctic Survey product only. But still, it was fun to do, and I'll see the end result in a week.

On Friday, I wrote code to consolidate the GPS raw data into a format that could be posted on an internal BAS website. Interesting for me, perhaps, but probably not for you.

We got word that bad weather is coming in, so we went back out to the Rumples to do some more surveying. This mostly meant strapping a GPS to my skidoo and driving around the rolling "hills" in the ice. I'd been dreading it for awhile - after 1600km of skidoo riding this season (we counted), riding several hours at 10km/h was a bit dry. But it got done, and that's my last major trip for the season. Now I can sit in the 40 knot winds this week and not feel guilty that I should be out in the field.

Saturday night was a improv/skit night, with our house band headlining. Previously named "Z or Dead", as Z is the code for Halley (all our jobs are coded too, like ZChef, ZElec, etc; my code is ZLife), they changed their name to "Toucan Rool and the Ticksheets". That'd be a reference to the "two-can rule" for alcohol, which was suspended for the evening. A bit of a messy night, as a result. Fortunately, I refrained from the mess, planning ahead for Sunday (see below). But when I got up for my usual 4am Marmite sandwich - another habit I'd like to break before returning to the UK - they were still partying hard. Most impressive.

Finally, today there was a fundraising event where we were to transport ourselves around the perimeter to make a total of 300 circuits among us all. At 5km a circuit, that's the distance to get to the South Pole. Some ran, some walked, some skied, some kited. I chose to ski, of course, as I brought my nordic skis with me. I did four laps, 20km, which was roughly on par. I felt pleasantly tired. Then I watched some movies, and wrote a blog entry, conveniently organized into daily entries.

And then I apologized to my readers, as I was too tired to go to the Simpson and get my camera to download the pictures. I went to bed, instead.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Shack is back

Yes, everyone's favourite Antarctic vessel is back, moored up in its usual spot at Creek 4 on Thursday. And it will stay here for the rest of the season, leaving in about a month. However, it doesn't look like I'll get to see it this time - the second relief is short. I think it may actually already be over. But it was a bit nostalgic yesterday to hear the Captain's Scottish voice on the radio methodically announcing and confirming cargo..."Yes, that's acknowledged, three empty Germans coming ship side..."

Meanwhile, I'm putting finishing touches on this and that, helping occasionally with packing, and little things here and there. Melt-tank duty, for instance. It occurs to me, I've never posted a picture of melt-tank duty. Here's one:

I've split all my current possessions into three groups: a) stuff that can stay here until next season; b) stuff that I can send back on the Shack; and c) stuff that comes with me to Africa. That last group is meant to be as small and non-valuable as possible.

Rich and I have done a few more trips - one of them is to the Rumples, where we drive and walk around with a GPS strapped to us so we can map the undulations in the ice. Here are the Rumples, and Rich with the GPS pack (we swapped it around a bit, so we both had pack duty).

In general, one can feel that things here are wrapping up. The services people - carpenters, plumbers, etc. - are starting to run low on things to do. The Halley VI site is starting to cocoon for the winter, tenting up some of the modules. And people are starting to plan their trips home in earnest. And the sun is actually starting to think about setting. Here it is, waffling about 10 degrees from the horizon.

In the end, it decided to wait a little longer. There's still a bit more to do around here.

Sunday, 3 February 2008


Theme of the week: Dirty. Filthy, dirty!

First dirty item: The CASLab, the Clean Air Sector Lab. Pictured below:

Notice the snowmobile in the foreground? Not quite kosher for a Clean Air Sector, right? First one to be there in fifteen years. On Monday, we officially dirtied up the air and decommisioned the CAS Lab, soon to be re-established 10km away at Halley VI.

Nothing like sullying something pristine to raise the spirits. We were in the process of pouring dirty tar all over the lab and setting it on fire - a Viking funeral for a Halley V landmark - but the Health and Safety people intervened before we threw the first torch. Damn bureaucrats.

Second dirty item: The ionosphere. Terrible this week! My wireless devices report in over 12km distances wirelessly...but they found it difficult recently. Solar flares and whatnot are causing serious interference; if it was dark, we'd have some stonking good aurora borealis. As it is, I've had to adjust my algorithms to be very, very patient when transmitting data. Like waiting up for a minute to send a kilobyte of data. Filthy, dirty ionosphere!

Final dirty item: me. I'm not going to be starring in any deodorant advertisements any time soon. Greasy hair, bit of acne, and God knows what I smell like. I miss running water. However, if everything is relative, I'm doing all right - a few people came in from deep field this week where they hadn't bathed for a few weeks. Filthy, dirty people! Not like us civilized people who bathe once a week.