Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bright Sunny Days...

Well, hello there. This will probably be my last installment, but if I
can get another in, I'll try and do so.

So much to tell!

It was about last Thursday when the vibe on station really changed.

Snowmobiles buzzed around with luggage, cargo and other strange things we
hadn't seen in many months. We had just huddled through the worst storm
of the season - for a week it blew, with winds that went within 1.5kts
of the all time record for the Pole. Early in the week though, the weather
cleared, to reveal an entirely new landscape.

Since the wind was blowing from the 'wrong'
direction, that is, the opposite to the direction it normally does, all
of the deep grooved sastrugi had been filled in. The landscape was flat,
entirely flat, all sharp edges smoothed away and the hard crust on top
was crisp and easy to navigate. It felt like a good omen. The drifts
from the storm were immense - in some cases doubling the height of the
drifts created in the entire rest of the season. A wall of snow two
storeys high sat in front of the station and I could walk to the roof of
the Viper building, from the outside, just on the snow.

It was touch and go as to whether the runway would be ready in time.
Night and day you could hear Rod and Jed in the D6 cats, trundling up
and down with the planer and the chains. By thursday, though, all was
go. We had all shifted rooms, quite a few people to summer camp and i
moved back upstairs. There was definitely a strange note to thursday, a
lot of energy and laughter in the halls - and finally I put my finger on
it. It felt like the last day of school before the summer holidays.
Anticipation. Excitement. Some strange unexplained nervousness.

I couldn't tell you why I wasn't looking forward to the planes arriving
on the Friday. Perhaps it was the fear of the new: new people, a change
in an existence i was happy with, invasion of a personal space which had
grown to envelop the whole station. But when the plane appeared in the
sky on the Friday, standing there with Vicky and my other friends, it
was impossible not to catch the nervous excitement. Watching the plane
land and pull up in front of us was one of the most vividly bizzarre
moments of my life. It seemed surreal, this monstrous grey noise-box,
spewing red-parka-ed strangers suddenly in our midst, after ten long
months of the pristine silence, the dark, the dawn and nothing but the
ice.

Suddenly it was busy. Nearly a hundred people arrived that day, and the
winterovers cared for nothing but the fact that the plane had Freshies!!
Fruit - avocados, oranges, apples, kiwi fruit, papaya, bananas, grapes,
melon...despite the misgivings of our stomach we stuffed ourselves
silly. Oranges are the best tasting things in the world. So we sat at
one end of the galley like a gaggle of monkeys, stuffing our faces,
juice running down our chins, oblivious to the huge change in our world
for all was good!

The Saturday night opening party was quite interesting. There were very
few summer people there, but the winterovers truly made it their own. A
lot of folks who had been mostly restrained all season decided to let
their hair down on this evening. There was merriment and more. In a
pleasant surprise, the drunken members of Al Dente managed to get
together for a last performance, though we hadn't planned it. The crowd
loved it, and once we had got through a dozen songs (the ones we could
remember the words and chords to) they demanded more. So we tried the
ones we didn't quite remember the words and chords to. All I know is we
played 'One Way or Another' in four separate keys, and I sang the first
verse to 'Play that Funky Music' four times over cause I couldn't
remember the other verses. No one noticed.

During the middle of the set,
Steffen, our drummer, looks over and sees that someone is asleep on the
couch and using his carhart overalls as a pillow. Unable to do anything
but play (and bless 'im, he didn't miss a beat) he had no choice but to
watch helplessly as the fella vomits all over his carharts and then goes
back to sleep on them! Poor Steffen was particularly distraught as he
had to put the overalls back on to get back to station. Watching his
mincing run back from summer camp, trying desperately not to let the
overalls touch his legs, was a highlight of the night.

We have had strangely clear, cold weather since the storm. For over a
week now, it has been clear, relatively still and has sat within a
degree of -50C without fail. There is a problem with this. This year the
Air Guard, who flies in the hercs, has set a hard limit of -50C as being
the lowest temp allowable for the planes to land. At opening, two planes
got in before it descended below this. The third plane circled and then
left. On Monday all flights were cancelled due to the cold. Tuesday was
the first flight when thirty winterovers were meant to leave. The plane
got to pole 3 - the marker indicating they are about fifteen minutes
from landing, and circled. The temperature was -50.7C. At -50.5C it is
rounded 'up' to -50 and they can land. The bastards circled for an hour
and a half and then left, all because of 0.2C!!! There were some
unhappy winterovers at Pole. Not to mention they thirty or so poor sods
on the plane who had now had *two* boomerangs from Mactown.

Finally on Wednesday the first of the winterovers flew out. It was a
shock. I had been happy here, not anxious to leave, quite content with
the status quo. It hadn't occurred to me that it wouldn't be anywhere
near as fun when my friends all left. It was quite horrifying. So by
thursday, we were diminished, huddling in the corner of the galley eager
to see familiar faces. Yesterday was truly hard. The second big crew of
winterovers left, taking with it all of my really close friends from the
winter. In truth it was a little horrible. I was miserable, properly
miserable, for the first time this year. Toastiness descended like a
hammer - I stared out the window, forgot things, didn't hear people when
they asked me questions. I guess it was the true realisation that things
were coming to the end. And tuesday the 1st of November, my flight,
seemed a month away.

Mostly I just felt tired. Bone tired. A tired exhaustion that seeps into
your soul and isn't quenched by sleep. My friends all leaving and this
descending on me was a good thing, however. Because finally, I felt
ready to leave. I was ready to go. Itching for it. And this is always a
better state to be in than not wanting to let go, and always longing for
it in some small unsatisfied piece of you.

Work still continues. We will observe until the day before i fly out. I
guess since my goal was to 'do my job and not piss too many people off'
i can at least be certain the first bit worked out!! I think my bosses
are pretty happy and ACBAR has worked like a little champion. In that
way it has been an extremely fulfilling year.

Question marks remain on my future - I am as yet jobless, though I have
an interview in Wales in a few weeks which will be interesting. I won't
rule out another year down here, if they'd have me, but we'll just have
to see how everything works out.

The sun beams down today and almost feels warm. I got my first sunburn a
few days ago, on my cheeks and nose, and now I'm peeling. The rest of me
is white as a ghost, but hopefully this will change soon. Right now all
I can smell is balsamic vinegar salad dressing cause Robert was in front
of me in the lunch line, shook the huge pourer of dressing and the
bottom fell off the container and dropped about two litres of dressing
on me and him. He is currently in the laundry washing my carharts. Bless
'im. I look forward to sleep, showers, smells and rain, in about that
order. Life is good.

thanks for reading,
smiles
Jess

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Two weeks of peace and quiet

Hi All,

the sun is up and bright today, it looks like it should be wonderfully
warm outside, so it is always a bit of a disappointment to step out into
the sun and find that it is -65C. However, it is very hard to be gloomy
when the big orange ball is so cheerful, and most people here are merry
for the thought that it ain't long till they escape.

In just under two weeks, weather permitting, we are to be inundated with
about a hundred people, an idea as unappetising as it is frightening. The
summer hoardes are about to descend and I am trying to enjoy the last few
days of peace and quiet before the madness.

Preparations for summer are now underway in earnest, with a large portion
of people out and about this week shovelling snow away from half or
totally buried summer camp jamesways and hypertats (old Korean war
semi-cylindrical tents and their fibre-glass cousins, respectively). The
summer camp is now warm and ready for occupation, the hilarious thing
being it will be mostly occupied with winterovers who are kicked out of
their own habitats in station so that the much more important summer
people don't have to spend even a day in the snowy wilderness. Crazy room
changes are ordered at opening, I am moving upstairs, some people move to
different wings and poor Robert is being made to move across the hall by
one room, for a total of five days. Silly stuff, but most people aren't
particularly fussed, happy to cruise along for the silliness as it won't
be a long stay in the new place in any case.

My stay, however, is now longer than planned. After a hilarious round of
combative emails between respective projects, the Helium Wars are
hopefully over, and the last drops of helium have been allocated to most
people's satisfaction. QUAD shuts down today, and this allows ACBAR and
AS/TRO to continue longer than originally hoped, good news for the
data-bots in the States, bad news for this little winterover, who now has
to stay an extra week to collect more data. You can't say no to such a
request, even when sandy shores and a warm bath beckon, not in the last
year of a successful project that costs several thousand dollars a day to
run. It is a measure of my boss, Bill, that he has been sweet enough not
to ask me to stay longer still (though I am still wary of new emails from
him), so now my new 'escape' date is the 1st of November.

I am now ok with this, having changed dates for my cosy little cottage in
Christchurch, and not much else (apart from imminent threats to my mental
health) has been disturbed. More concerning is that an additional seven
days among the new populace, all usually ridden with a number of
infectious diseases from the northern hemisphere and everywhere in
between, means i'll likely spend most of this time violently ill.
Hopefully, this means I'll get it over and done with before holidays start
though.

The common question amongst the winterovers now is "so, when do you
leave?" and amusing comparisons of predictions for how long people will be
stuck in McMurdo (Mactown) before escaping to Christchurch. For toasty
Polies a length of time in the craziness of Mactown seems a fate worse
than death after Pole, so this keeps us amused. Mind you, it doesn't take
much to keep us amused at the moment. Yesterday I saw eight people
peering out the windows of the Galley, transfixed as the Met guy, John,
took his daily observations - which involve standing outside and seeing
how much cloud there is. Exciting stuff.

Not much else to report really. ACBAR is running like a little champion
(though I am shielding this sentence from him in the control room so he
doesn't get any ideas), the sun is out, I am as pale as a pavlova,
everyone is toasty and some are even counting the *hours* until they
leave. Crazy people.

After finishing my cryo fill about an hour ago, I found myself sitting on
the steps up to the Mapo roof. The building shielded me from the wind, the
sun almost seemed warm, and lit up the curvaceous sastrugi as far as I
could see, and the station almost seemed pretty in the light. Despite all
the grumbles and brainlessness that overwhelms people at this end of the
season, a moment of clarity reminded me that I still have the best job in
the world. The quiet and the sublime stretch of snow and ice before me is
as yet undisturbed by the rest of the world, and I have but two weeks to
enjoy it. Funny how the world turns, really, especially at its Poles...

smiles
Jess

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hellstar

Well Hello!! I have had many many complaints about the lack of activity on
my site and no diary entries, many apologies but I am a bit Toast. I am
very merry, in wonderful spirits, but it is quite a surprise to discover
that no amount of good cheer has any affect on the loss of mental function
that seems to be inflicted upon Polies around now. So I apologise, and
hereby endeavour to make up for this, most especially to the lovely lasses
and lads at Frankie's workplace, North Eastern Community Hospital,
Adelaide, where I am told they are most disappointed with the lack of
effort by this slack tart. Hope this pleases you.

Well, the Hellstar is back! Sunrise was a bit of an anticlimax, and
somewhat theoretical: there was a bit of light around but no sun to be
seen as bad weather has plagued us for nearly two months now. Most of the
station had half a day off to celebrate this longed for event, and
everyone who had time off celebrated by going to bed early. Gives you an
idea of just how enthusiastic everyone was. It was not until a week later
that the wind turned around to an unusual direction and blew out all the
cloud and bam! Suddenly this horrifically bright orange ball could be
seen. I think this happened to about half the station so I won't be
embarrassed: it was so startling to see that I just stared, before
remembering that I learned as a child that this was a hazardous thing to
do, especially to eyes not at all used to bright light. I was seeing
dozens of little hellstars burned into my retina for several hours.
Nevertheless, mercurial spirits on station were buoyed by this returnee,
mainly as it heralded the idea that it was now not long until the inmates
are freed...In fact, it is only three and a half weeks till the planned date for
Opening: the date when the first plane full of 'tourists', as summer-only
crew are endearingly called by winterovers, arrive.

The Station is beginning both its readiness and 'evacuation' plans. Flags are being
pulled out of walkways, flags are being put back up on the long runway for
the planes, which is soon to be graded by the boys in the big tractors,
and summercamp is to be opened up next week. By evacuation, I mean that
the question on everyone's lips lately is 'So, when do you get to leave?'
Basically, no matter how much any winterover loves Pole, no one wants to
be around long once the hoards of FNGs (erm, the last two words are "New
Guy") arrive, and everyone is keen to get out to warmth, showers and fresh
food. Also, the longer you have to stay around, the more likely you are to
pick up a vast array of horrible flu and cold bugs that the nice new
people from the Northern Hemisphere bring with them and to which we now
have zero resistance. So we are all pretty keen to run away.

Sunrise was pretty cool, some lovely colours, a few days of bright
oranges, pinks and other colours which look hideous anywhere but in the
sky. I think I'll freak out in NZ just to see how fast the sun moves up
and around the sky after getting so used to seeing it inch up and down by
such a tiny fraction here. The telescope is still behaving very well, I've
been extremely lucky this year, and mainly deal with snow and cryogens day
in day out, and won't complain cause that means everything is working. All
I can say is that as long as my bosses are happy, so am I.

What else has been happening...hmm. Well, not terribly much, same old
stuff - the toastiness is pretty funny at this end of the season. Four
reasonably intelligent people sat around lunch yesterday trying to work
out the repercussions of NZ daylight savings time which kicks in this
weekend. A simple process turned rapidly into something with a complex
mathematical quantum physics level of difficulty and it was eventually
given up as a bad job.

It is also a startling little discovery when light returns to the world
that six months in total darkness completely ruins your long-distance
vision. It is already bad in the summer as you really don't have much on
the horizon to focus on anyway (to understand this, look up into a clear
blue sky and try and 'focus' your eyes - impossible), but after six months
of looking at nothing further away than a few metres, your eyes get out of
practice and anything a long way away is very blurry! Hoping this fixes
itself when I get back to NZ!

I was thrilled to see my Swannies get up in the AFL grandfinal last
weekend, though looking at the final score I was glad the satellite was
down and I was unable to follow it in real time as I think I might have
died from anxiety. Go Swannies.

We have another gig with the band on Friday, should be good, one of the
fellas here on station is a tailor and has made four of us amazing
catholic school uniforms (albeit that the girl's skirts are a damn sight
shorter than anything the nuns would have allowed us at school) and our
drummer Steffen has been made an incredible outfit that channels the
Flying Nun - and he is now called Sister Carmelita. Should be a hoot. Will
send photos.

Ok, that is about all my brain is capable of currently, so this will have
to do you. Hope all is well in the real world,

smiles
Jess

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Light and Dark

Hey there,

it is a very strange and disturbing sensation to wake up one day and
attempt to do something normal, something simple, something that you've
done with ease nearly every day of your life and discover that it is
virtually impossible because at some point recently when you weren't
paying attention, your brain fell out the back of your head. A large
number of us on station (actually all of us, to some extent) are now
experiencing some degree of 'toastiness' and it is quite disconcerting.

My vocabulary has shrunk to the proportions of an idiot savaunt. I
forgot the word 'door-handle' yesterday and was forced to describe it to
Allan, somewhat desperately, as 'you know, that whatsamacallit that is
on the thingy that covers the hole in the wall that you turn to open the
doohickey.' Sigh.

Tempers get frayed very easily nowadays, though mine is faring well for
the most part and I serve to mete out my frustrations mainly on myself
and avoid anyone else any additional suffering. To add to everyone's
trials, the storm that Allan has been predicting for six months finally
hit us on the weekend, peaking on Monday when winds hit in excess of 35
knots (70km/hr), visibilty was zero and so much snow was dumped on my
telescope that it quite literally shut down from the excess weight.
There was no use cleaning it as more got dumped on for everything i
shovelled off, so for the first time in several months I shut the
telescope down for a day and a half. Walking out to work against this
wind was one of the hardest things I'd done all winter, I was leaning
into it at about a 45 degree angle and every step was an absolute
mission. One the up side, however, I walked home in what was likely a
record time, feeling as if a great hand was pushing me in my back, it
was all I could do to move my feet fast enough to stay upright!

To add insult to injury, when Allan was helping me get the telescope
de-iced today, I opened up the door to the little house on top of the
Viper room, where i keep my dewars, and just like in the wizard of oz,
the wind ripped the door out of my hand and clean off the hinges! While
waiting for a fix, Allan cable-strapped the door onto the house, keeping
everything inside warm, but making it virtually impossible to get in or
out of.

While I am typing there is what sounds remarkably like a frog or a
cricket in one of my computer arrays. I am pretty sure it is *not* one
of these creatures, however, and the noise is both irritating and
foreboding. Computers are not meant to sound like crickets and this is a
bad thing. Shall have to go and check on it anon.

No other news anywhere near this exciting has occurred since, so I
should probably wrap it up here. Apparently it is getting lighter but
with the bad weather, the world has simply gone from a dark shade of
black to a dark shade of deep-blue-grey. I had better go find the frog.

all the best,
smiles
Jess

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Thin Blue Line

Hey there,

well now it really has been a while since I wrote, hasn't it? Main reason
(apart from being slightly toasty) is that not a terribly large amount has
happened, and we are all so in our grooves now that everything trundles
along on a very smooth day-to-day basis. So what had happened last time I
chatted ... I think I was just about to cook my big thai meal for everyone and
this was a mission let me tell you - cooking for 86 people is quite a thing!
The thai came out great though, and everyone enjoyed it, it was great to have a
change and though there were a few people running to the loo the next day no
one complained!

I did however, vow never to do it again when Allan got a bee in his bonnet about making pies;
there are no individual size pie plates on station so he first went about
making an industrial pie plate maker - this thing was a behemoth and I cut
out about a million (ok maybe just eighty) alfoil circles for this thing to
press into pretty pie plates. We ended up with about 150 of these things,
which, in Allan's mind anyways, meant that we should make 150 pies!

For a few days before hand Al and I were in the kitchen making fillings for
the pies - meat pies, curry pies, veggie, chicken and potato pies. Crazy. We
even got tin-knocker Jared to make us some cookie cutter shapes to
distinguish between the pies once we put the lids on!

Saturday rolled around and we ended up commandeering an army to help us make
the pies, we had about fourteen people in the kitchen at one point. It was
quite a mission but much fun, there was a lot of dough being thrown around
in addition. The pies were a huge hit... Halfway through our pie-making mission the rest of the station
had an all-hands meeting in the galley.

One part of the fortnightly meeting is a raffle - everyone throws their
names in cause while most of the prizes are pretty pathetic - four year old
tim-tams and corn nuts for example, the last few prizes are worth it -
usually a couple of vouchers for a five minute shower and sometimes even a
ten minute one, and then Bill raffles off the ceremonial country flags which
fly around the ceremonial pole each summer. Since they get quite tattered
they replace them every year and give away the old ones as very cool
souvenirs. Now after sitting through nearly a year of these meetings and
never winning so much as a corn-nut, I concentrated on making pies and
ignored the raffle. So it was quite a surprise when someone nudged me and
said "You won!". I said "Bullshit!" and this for some reason made everyone
in the galley laugh! They were watching as Bill tried to get my attention to
tell me I'd won the Japanese flag from the pole! It was pretty cool, and is
now tucked safely in my drawer - I am thinking of getting everyone here to
sign it before they leave and maybe I'll frame it when I get home.

So in the only other *real* news it is getting light here! Now the sky is
getting prettier every day, with a warm blue horizon spinning around us on
one side and Jupiter, Venus and Mars pointing down towards the hidden sun
like a bright celestial arrow. I will say goodbye to my stars soon (at least
until I leave) though I am not looking forward to the sunlight as much as
some is is still a welcome change.

Okies not much else to say. Hope you are all going well out in the real
world. Check out the homepage there are some midwinter pics (finally) on
there. Aurora photos soon!

smiles
Jess

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Anyone for Toast?

Since the last little while has been mostly uneventful (if pleasantly
so), I thought I'd try and capture for you the mood and mental state of
most of us here on Station now that we approach four months in the dark,
some of us nearly 10 months on station, and all of us dreaming at least a
little about green fields, fresh food and rain.

The phrase to describe someone suffering from too long in the cold and
dark is, in honour of long tradition, TOAST. There are a number of
physical and mental signs of Toastiness in your fellow winterovers
(though it is a little harder to spot in yourself).

How can you tell when you are Toast? Well, as a lot of navel-gazing has
allowed me an admission of a *small* number of these characteristics in
myself now that July comes to a close, I'll try and give you an idea:

The Physical Signs:

1)The Stare: you may see a greasy-haired, well-bearded fellow sitting at
a table, eyes fixed at some immotable spot which seems at least 1000
yards from where he sits. This "1000-yard-stare" is a good sign of a
recent winterover, and is a side-effect of some of the mental deficits
occurring (see below).

2)Tiredness: Poor sleep often affects you from the day you get here,
resulting from the altitude and lack of a diurnal cycle, but as the
months get on, this doesn't improve, but gets continually more
disorienting. Time doesn't tend to mean very much, and the accumulated
lack of sleep and the extended time at altitude, as well as vitamin
deficiency (Particularly vitamin D) mean that you feel nearly constantly
tired, and getting out of bed is quite hard. Permanent black-ringed eyes
are common these days.

3)Glow In the Dark?: Most of us here seriously need some sun-time. You
start to see your bright blue veins (brighter because we are
de-oxygenated) staring at you through vampire-translucent skin. It is
kind of hard to pick down here cause we all look like it, but we stand
out like sore (or sun-burned) thumbs when back in the real world.

4)Accumulated, well... stink: It is fortunate that it is hard to smell
stuff down here. Cause the only thing we'd smell is ourselves. I don't
mean to be gross, but it doesn't matter how deft you are, two two-minute
showers a week just don't cut it in the good hygiene stakes. By nine
months in, this lack of clean just builds up. It builds up more in some
than in others, if ya know what I mean...(I mean, some people 'seem' to
have a tan, and at this point in the year, that just ain't possible...)

The Mental Signs:

1)Forgetfulness: Goldfish memory is amazingly prevalent here. Thought
processes which were nearly instantaneous even in the summer now feel
like you are swimming through molasses. It is possible to do excessively
stupid things here. I rang someone on the phone the other day and they
asked who was calling. I experienced a moment of blankness, then twenty
seconds of blind panic. Then I remembered my name :)

2)Irritability: I've used the softer version of this phrase. It is
incredible how easily you can get the most easy-going of people riled up
nowadays. This is exacerbated by the fact that most people find it very
very amusing to find everyone's big red button and then push it at every
opportunity. You can hide your weak spots easier early in the season but
now they are pretty easy to find. The smallest things can annoy people,
and it is harder to get perspective and chillout. Things get thrown
across the room, feet are stamped, the most common word on station has
four letters, and feathers are ruffled harder than ever. Some people are
even pulling their feathers out...

3)Austin Powers "lack of an internal monologue" Syndrome:
Americans, as a whole, are incredibly polite people. Even early in the season,
us Aussies and Kiwis were raising
eyebrows and nervous giggles for our rude phrases and the way we ripped
into each other verbally. Well, now everyone's "filters" are being turned
off, and the most genteel of speakers has made me choke on my coffee with
a well-turned and utterly cutting insult to a fellow diner. It can make
for extremely entertaining dining (especially if you have been dying to
say the same thing for the last eight months), and is usually followed up
by the falsely contrite question, "Oh, sorry, was that my "Out Loud"
voice?"

4) Deja-vu of the ten-month variety: You get up, walk past the same five
people to the galley, where the same music is playing, you eat the same
thing, head outside where the view (black) has been the same for the last
four months, and then go to work. You talk about the same things at lunch
or dinner, and then spend ten minutes desperately thinking of something
new to do afterwards, to give up and go watch a movie in your room. It is
very hard to explain that out in the real world it is the tiny daily
differences (the weather, the traffic, the radio, conversations, food)
that colour your day and these are nearly totally lacking. The
similarities in the days are sometimes hilarious. There are no days of the week,
there is only Sunday, and not-Sunday.

The smallest new thing can hold your interest like glue:
hence Hide and Seek where a grown woman with a doctorate gets a thrill
cause she discovers she can fit in a washing-machine and close the
lid...

Another example: Twenty people sat and watched four other people
play a game of Monopoly the other day; there was even heckling.

How do you minimise your Toastiness? Well, being in the middle of it, I
can't say for certain. I do know I am doing better than some;
particularly return winterovers for whom there is no novelty left find
this part of winter a bit hard. I do find it interesting that the above
symptoms are quite incredibly similar to those experienced while in the
depths of writing a PhD thesis; so it ain't all that new. And I am
staying sane by doing the same things I did then; physical activity
helps, and doing different things (yoga, Maori lessons - and I am now
learning massage from a friend) and keeping it a little crazy - Hide and
Seek being an example of taking pleasure in little things.

Mainly though, it is recognising that you are a bit toasty and not to take yourself too
seriously, trying to laugh at how ridiculously grumpy someone just made
you and get over it. Trying not to count the days till opening (like
clock-watching in school) is always a good idea, cause it'll always make
you feel bad if you do that...

Oh, and never ever start a conversation with "I miss..." cause you'll spend the entire day
craving that item, eg:
grass/puppies/rain/seafood/sushi/green salads/trees/did i mention
rain?/baths/beer less than four years out of date/fizzy
coke/smells/birds/root beer/double beds/spas/water of any
kind/shorts/beachwear/warmth/thunder/real icecream/animals - even flies/

erm...

perhaps I got a little carried away. :) Only kidding. Well, mostly.

I am actually doing really good, though I won't pretend its all a breeze.
I am still having a ball, and am nearly sane (well, about as sane as when
I got here, which isn't saying much).

Hope you had fun with this, and that you are all well and happy,

big smiles
Jess

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Regressing

Hi All,

well they say that July and August are the 'dark' months on station,
referring more to the moods of the place than the lack of light outside.
People did fall in a bit of a slump post-midwinter, as the additional
weeks stretch away before you with no highlights near in the offing.
Several creative attempts have been made by some of us to put such
boredom and depression aside. Last week the highlight for a half-dozen of
us was a spirited game of Hide-and-Seek in the new station. What seemed a
dubious idea ended up being way more fun than it should have been for a
group of 'adults'.

Very ingenious hiding spots were invented, including Jared the
tin-knocker fitting in a sewing cupboard that didn't look physically
possible to get a three-year-old in, and then a spot of concern at the
end of our last game when we completely 'lost' Steve. All five of us went
around the station a few times, calling his name and telling him he'd won
so he could come out. I had horrid visions of him getting somewhere crazy
and freezing or suffocating to death. Then the Inquest: [Coroner]: "So, Dr Dempsey,
as the Station Science Leader on the Station, can you please explain how
one of the scientists on station froze to death in the meat compartment
of the walk-in freezer?" [Dr Dempsey]: "Well, we were playing
hide-and-seek..."

Hmm.

Anyway, nothing so dire occurred. On Kelly and my fourth trip to the
galley, Steve emerged grinning, and limping because both of his legs had
'gone to sleep'. Where were you???! we demanded and he promptly giggled
to us that for the last forty minutes he had successfully wedged himself
entirely behind the soft-serve ice cream machine. He had not heard us
yelling because the ice-cream machine makes such a loud noise!! Much
silliness and fun was had by all, and we are talking about a rematch...

In other news I attempted a controlled cooking experiment in the galley
on Sunday, preparing a thai meal for a few friends as guinea pigs for a
larger version I may do for the whole station on the next long-weekend.
It was a bit of a mission in the industrial kitchen but it didn't go too
badly. It was certainly nice to be cooking again, something I haven't
done for over eight months, which seems crazy.

It is still lovely and dark and cold outside. We've had some lovely
aurora and at the moment the moon is up and fat and silver, and it is
always enjoyable to be able to see where you are going. It is weird as it
has come around so fast, but after this moon sets in a few days we will
have our last stretch of complete darkness in the winter. When the moon
rises again in August the first light will begin to appear on the horizon
and be very visible by the time it sets. Then it will be September and
sunrise is here. Quite strange to think of, really. I have loved the dark
but I won't pretend that the idea of the sun isn't also pretty exciting.
I will need to find a good pair of dark glasses though, the bright will
be a bit of a shock...

I also chatted to a couple of great fellows on Adelaide's ABC radio the
other morning. They were a lot of fun, though it was a shame that my
phone connection cut out half way through - I had been meaning to tell
them how much I missed the cricket and to ask them if they could get me
tickets to the Aus v. Windies test match in Adelaide this November! Alas,
I ran out of time. Sigh. Was very fun though, and had a bit of feedback
from the family in Adelaide who got a bit of a buzz out of it.

No other big news at the moment so will sign out. Hope you are all well,
drop me a line as always if you are bored,

smiles
Jess

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A numbers game: 27 and 300

Hi All,

well a busy week has ensued since I last chatted to you. We had another,
blessed, long weekend for the American 4th of July celebrations, well,
blessed for everyone who actually gets days off, but I still enjoy it as
everyone else is so much more relaxed that it makes it a much more
pleasant place to be.

A quiet weekend was what everyone needed and then on the following
Tuesday a small milestone occurred when, rather against my will, I
officially turned 27. I think 26 sounds much nicer than 27 so I wasn't
thinking this was something to celebrate but this was not apparently for
me to decide. Some of my friends got together and made it a lovely day,
with presents including pin-up pictures of hawaiian men, beef jerky, a
certificate for a massage from Vicky, and some tomatoes :) What a lucky
girl. We congregated in the dome that evening for a drink or six, but a
few of the fellas did my drinking for me and so I wasn't feeling too
poorly the next day. Sweet of them, eh?

It was a good day, topped off the next day when temperatures, which had
been hovering down near the -70C mark, plummeted and stayed for a whole
24 hours near -76C, which is -100F. This allowed the first opportunity
this year for people to attempt to join the 300 club. For newbies to the
site, this is a long-held, if completely insane, tradition at South
Pole. When outside temps hit -100F, you strip naked except for some
shoes and hop into the sauna which is set at 200F. You stay there as
long as you can and then run (or walk, which is smarter) outside and
around the Pole marker and back inside again. Thus you inflict upon your
body a 300 degree temperature change, hence the 300 club. As far as I'm
aware it is still the only place you can easily (and that is not quite
the right term) do this.

So around 3pm a bunch of us congregated in Upper Berthing in the dome.
We were the second wave, four girls, including Vicky, Sarah, Mel and
myself and 10 of the boys. It was cheek-to-cheek in the sauna, excuse
the pun. It was ridiculously hot. We were steaming in under a minute. We
probably lasted in there about 5 minutes. Then boots were on (I also had
on a neck gaiter and gloves), and we headed out. In hindsight, the only
mistake I made was not taking a light, as it was dark as the inside of a
cow outside. It was ok at first as I was near others with lights. We
trudged/jogged up the dome slope and got to the Pole. Robert was there
with his camera (the rule is, you can't join the club unless there is
photographic evidence) and took everyone's individual photos. Mostly all
you could see was steam coming off rapidly cooling bodies. It is amazing
how the heat from the sauna shields you from the cold on your way out,
you feel really good. The return journey is another story.

I decided not to run as to avoid getting badly frost-bitten lungs from
the icy air. So I ended up the last coming back in, apart from Robert
who was collecting his camera gear. With everyone else gone, there was
no light, and I didn't have good vision as I had been blinded by the
camera flash. Problem is that the descent to the dome is a steep one,
and if you don't go far enough around to find the slope you fall up to
three metres off the snow walls on either side of the path. I knew I was
near the slope, but had no idea how close. You do NOT want to fall on
the snow with bare skin as that is instant frostbite, but I was racing
against the clock to get inside and avoid this in any case. I called
back to Robert "Where is the slope?" and he yelled back "To your right!"
I thought I had another foot of room in front of me but it turned out
not to be the case. I fell over the edge, and smack, a good two metre
drop flat onto my back on the ice!!! I heard Robert shouting to see if I
was ok, but I was up off the ice in a millisecond and started trudging
down the slope. I was astonished but I felt fine, and felt no burns, but
perhaps that was adrenaline. I arrived back to the sauna, where a bunch
of other very pink bodies were crammed to warm back up, filled with
hacking and coughing from burned lungs. I told my story to hilarity, and
comments that I'd feel it tomorrow.

Surprisingly, no lasting effects of my fall occurred, so adrenaline is an
amazing thing. The photos turned out great (NO, you are NOT seeing them,
I wouldn't do that to you, you'd lose your lunch), including one Robert
took about 10 seconds before I fell off the cliff, just my bare butt
trudging back into the mist and the darkness. Great stuff. In actual
fact, it wasn't that trying, I have certainly been colder wearing all my
gear while out working on the telescope, but it was certainly an
adrenaline rush!! At least that is out of the way for the season, though
there are others who plan to rush out and repeat it at every
opportunity, crazy buggers.

The rest of the week has been quite uneventful in comparison, with the
telescope behaving itself and other things trundling along as per usual.
Hope all is going well in the warmth of the northlands, drop me a line
when you are bored,

cheers
Jess

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Midwinter

Hi All,

well, haven't I been a slack bugger? Sorry for the delay in the posts but we have had a busy time of it in the last week and a half. Midwinters day went off without a hitch - mainly as it was a weekday. This didn't stop celebrations as such, there was still merriment to be had about the place. However we did try to save a fair bit up for the big dinner and party on the Saturday night. It was a two day weekend for most of the station - this didn't include me however. The women on station experienced a sudden attack of 'girliness' in the days leading up to the party. None of us are really the dressy, make-upy types, far from it, but it gets to you, only wearing big bulky carhartt jackets and overalls day in, day out, being shocked to see your ankles let along any other part of your skin, and hair-do's are really limited when you wear hats continuously. So there were whispers all over the women's loos in the week leading to the vent - "so what are you wearing?", "does anyone have any shoes apart from ugg-boots?", etc. The night before the party, Vicky and Kelly wrapped my newly blonde hair in white rags, and I left them in for 24 hours before the party. I had no idea how they were going to turn out. See (soon to appear) photos on the site to see.

Friday night wasn't meant to be a big one, and I really couldn't tell you why it ended up being such a festive one, but suffice it so say that many of us got quite merry. I say this to (partly, but poorly) explain why I ended up winning a $40 bet to stick my entire head in a massive bowl of chocolate mousse in the galley in the wee hours of the morning. I couldn't beleive people would pay me to do something I had been dying to do for ages (cause it just looked so big, inviting and chocolatey)) but then the same could be said of my job here!! Amidst gales of laughter from my audience I smeared the mousse around my face like a facial mask. The hilarious addendum to this is that the next morning my face felt more lovely and smooth than in the entire winter!! So I reckon I should market the stuff for $50 a bottle. I could make millions!

On the Saturday, I had to run out to work for several hours, but it felt strangely like Christmas. The tables in the galley were all decked out, wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen and the boys were setting up the lounge for the band. There was excitiement in the air. Everyone felt revived. The afternoon saw more girliness, with a lot of us meeting to soak our feet, give ourselves a bit of pampering and bring out the nailpolish even. By 3pm, Vicks and Kelly and I retired to her room (chasing out her , Vicky's, poor bloke, Jarrod) to finish the projects. I did their hair and then they unveiled mine. It didn't turn out too bad. We even dusted off the make-up boxes (well, I didn't have a box, just a paltry elyeliner) and made ourselves buutiful. It was fun to do for a change. Horses duvers were served at 4:30pm and the food continued till just before 8pm, courses including lobster salad, pate, scallops, dips, sushi, roast, salad (did I mention salad?), and cakes and sorbets for dessert.

The entertainment began at 8pm, with three, count'em three bands. The first band was 1 and a half Canadians, and they played a great gig, for about forty minutes. The place was packed with about two thirds of the station there. The second band was White Noise, who had a short set, which was fabulous, but I was glad it was short because I was itching to get up and sing. We , Al Dente, started playing at around 9:45pm and we went off like a frog in a sock. It was awesome. Our 'hits' included "Du Hast" (sung experty by Robert, wearing a very short pair of leiderhosen), "Stuck in the Middle with You", "Supersititious", "Groove is in the Heart" and "Bust a Move" - in the end, nearly 30 songs and that took us to midnight. Again, photos will be up on the site very soon.

Much fun was had by all, and is followed up this coming weekend with America's 4th of July celebrations. I think this is secondary to my birthday celebrations the next day, but I won't get too grumpy about it :) Photos coming soon. Enough rambling from me for now,

many smiles
Jess

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Dark Photos and Invitations...

Hey there,

sorry for a bit of a break, but in truth there is nothing terribly
exciting occurring at the moment. We are all in a bit of a pre-Midwinter
lull, but I don't doubt I'll have plenty to tell you about the
celebrations that will occur then. Life is a reasonably smooth routine
at them moment and my telescope is behaving himself admirably. We had
another trauma drill this week, this time involving the 'rescue' of a
hypothermia victim from outside. Our victim was Canadian Eric, the chef,
and the poor fellow got a bit more than he bargained for - he hadn't
been told that we would run through some drills in medical for those of
us learning the med/surgical course. Suddenly he found himself connected
up to a bunch of machines and hears the doctor ask one of us to put in
the catheter - wow, did his heartrate skyrocket! We didn't of course do
anything so horrible, but it was amusing none the less. I think he has
now forgiven us.

The weather outside has levelled out at just plain cold - sitting in the
-65Cs most days. We haven't had another sub -70C day yet, but I am sure
it is not far away.

In other random news, my once-purple-and-orange hair had faded to a
frightening array of dim blues, sickly greens and horrid yellows, so
yesterday, Vicky and I bleached the hell out of it. It is now
white-blond, which is pretty fun and I guess some photos will turn up
sooner or later on my page. Will let you know when.

We are now getting ready for midwinter - the official date is next
Tuesday, the 22nd - which is winter solstice. This is the day the sun
stops drifting away from us and starts making its return journey. Hard
to believe it has come about so quickly. We will have our party for it
on the following Saturday and it looks to be a humdinger. A massive
sit-down meal (and everyone goes all out, formal dress and all) and then
not one, or two, but three bands have emerged from the wilderness,
including our Al Dente, and should put on a great show. I think it will
be fun all round.

Yesterday we all converged in the Dome to take our midwinter picture.
This pic is sent out with a traditional invite to dinner to all the
other winter stations in Antarctica. Each station does this, sending a
dinner menu and a photo, usually, and it is fun to see the collection of
other people sharing the darkness, from Brazil, Russia and Germany to
China, Australia and Chile. And fun to see people on the coastal
stations whinging about the 'freezing' -30C temperatures and laugh! Hah,
they're summer temperatures!!! I haven't seen the pics yet, but we were
sitting and standing around a bunch of food boxes - and being in the
cold, the main problem is getting 86 people to hold their breath all at
the same time while the photo is taken...otherwise it is just a photo of
steam! If I get one soon, I'll post it on the site.

Enough rambling from me, must get back to work. Hope you are all
enjoying yourselves - drop me a line if you have time.

much smiles,
Jess

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