Monday, February 07, 2005

The Little Things

Hey there,

We are in the tail end of the Summer Season now, and the last two weeks have seen many strained tempers and stressed persons around and about. It is a strange mood: stress about whether we have enough flights to get the required supplies for winter, combined with most summer workers starting to dream of tropical islands and suntans, juxtaposed with a winter crew that just can't wait for everyone to bloody leave.

South Pole demands a great deal physically, a result of the elements and the job - no-one here works less than a six-day week and some don't get a full day off at all. Then you must take into account the close-quarters that everyone lives in, making a heady brew of rumour and high emotion.

So little things get magnified to strangely high importance here, and there is no dose of reality to allow perspective. Mail is like nectar from the gods here. It is a random supply, being the lowest priority cargo, and also seems to be ordered in Christchurch by a blind imbecile: some people here since November are still waiting for parcels family has sent three months ago; people who arrived two days ago might receive six huge packages in a day. A mail recipient cannot usually hide their glee, and let me tell you, nothing is more exciting than a day when a parcel of goodies arrive. It is probably the same (perhaps more of a glimpse) of how it must have felt to receive mail in the grand days of sailing ships across the world - where months, weather and sheer fate all stood between each written word and your loved ones. These items are very precious for their rarity.

Freshies are the other euphoric moment: fruit, fresh veggies, stuff for salads - these might be on the table once every three weeks and so nothing, nothing has ever tasted so good. There is a strict ettiquette for how much salad/fruit you take, as it is something that is watched hawkishly by the galley crew and other diners. Newcomers who have just arrived, straight from the Salad Land that is New Zealand, are frowned upon for taking freshies, likewise those who soon are heading back to the warmth of lower latitudes. It went so far on Sunday (our last, likely, day of freshies) that a sign was placed above the fruit tray, requesting only winterovers have their share and the summer folk (who all will be in NZ in less than a week) should refrain. I heard many grumbles about this, and I refrained from comment, again trying to remind myself how strangely high emotions can run over some slices of melon and strawberries.

Other unusual things occur: the last freshies load had some unexpected
hitch-hikers. Some miniscule little insects had stowed away in the lettuces. There were no screams or cries of disgust however. Instead they were named (something like Alouyisius and Samantha), given a lettuce leaf and a comfy jar, and displayed with joy in the galley service area. People picked the jar up, grinning and pointing. Animals!!! Loook!!!

The last two weeks have been a lot of work for me - mostly a result of my latest dose of the crud, which I finally seem to be recovering from. The telescope is behaving himself for the most part - soon I may give you a tour of him, before it gets dark. Computer problems abound though, and this is quite a learning curve for me! I had a crazy weekend: I 'performed' on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday night was another acoustic performance, with me and Tom Woods playing about forty songs in front of about 50 people in the galley. It was a very chilled night, and I was able to sing a lot of the stuff I had wanted to do from the start of season. Tom is one of the most gifted guitarists I have ever played with, so it was a very pleasurable evening.

Sunday was a bit more like work. There was an extra science lecture slot open, and as Station Science Leader it was my job to fill it. I saw the tired, resigned faces around station and decided it was time to take these evenings a little less seriously. At my request, John Storey at UNSW kindly sent me a lecture he does called "A field guide to UFO's" - which explores the UFO sighting and alien abduction phenomenon from both a believers, and then skeptical scientists point of view. I added a few bits and pieces and put up a great teaser poster around the station. Quite a few people said they hadn't been to a science lecture all season, but might come along to this one. I was stunned however when I turned up and the galley was standing room only! There was over a hundred people there, about half or more of the station. Geez. No pressure or anything.

Luckily, I didn't stuff it up, and it went down really well. Got the laughs when I meant to, and there were lots of questions at the end. I have got some really great comments since, though I really am glad it is over now! So a busy weekend.

Back to the grind now, and the temperatures are starting to plummet. The wind has been up for the last few days, taking ambient temperatures of -38C down to -50C with windchill. I have just completed filling the telescope with cryogens and fifteen minutes inside and my toes are still icicles. I will soon have to stop being tough and wearing only my windbreaker and hiking boots and transition to my big red jacket and TDX insulated boots (which weight a couple of kilos each). The station vehicles have been retired as the temps are now too cold, and even skidoos are starting to complain about starting most days.

Now there are people leaving in bunches of twenty or more, with the last flight being in seven days on the 14th of February. This is Station Close, last flight until the end of October. It is exhilarating and frightening at the same time. I know there will be relief, but also some other emotions when I watch that last plane cruise away. At the moment it is hard, as every day sees more friends go, and seven days of farewells is much harder than one. After that I am sure it will get easier.

Oh, that's right. I should finish with something you'll enjoy. I wish I could have the webcam record this moment, cause in hindsight it's pretty funny. Mid-last week I was very crook, tired and having one of those days that should be consigned to the 'rub it out and start again' box. My last job before heading home was to go and clean off the large two metre mirror of the telescope as it had been snowing and the whole dish was covered in an inch of ice-crystal powder. This required clambering up on the 'scope, and climbing up through a trapdoor which is right at the base of the mirror, which has to be vertical to use the door.

So I climb up with my little brush, and poke my head through the trapdoor.The sun had just started to hit the dish. Unfortunately, this, combined with the perfect amount of vibrations as I opened the door, and the telescope decided to help me out.

WHOOOOMMMPH.

Jess=Instant Abominable Snow Person.

Every inch of snow fell off the mirror and onto me. I looked like a pissed-off wedding cake. There was a moment of silence. The telescope almost looked at me in apology. I took a second to avoid the possibility of losing it completely. One phrase came out of my mouth, quietly. "I love my job." After this moment at the brink all was well. There was much jumping and stamping to get the snow out of the nice crevasses that it found in between my clothes and my skin. Now it is pretty hilarious, and I am sure you lot will find it so.

Drop me a line sometime, and say g'day. I will write and tell you how station close goes. I'll try and add some new photos too.

take care all of you
smiles,
Jess

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