It’s 6am on christmas eve and I’m struggling to stay awake for the last two
hours of this 12 hour shift. These are always the hardest. When it’s quiet and
warm inside and sleepiness creeps back in again. Outside, I forget to be quiet.
Razzing around on my skiddoo, carrying newly arrived passengers, offloading
cargo from the ship, picking up boxes and bringing them to buildings, unpacking
box upon box upon box of tinned potatoes.
Last year I was driving across the sea ice, this year I’m at the Halley end,
a winterer who has seen this before. With all these fresh faces around overflowing
with enthusiasm in glaringly bright new orange overalls, I am reminded of myself
last year, the year before, and it’s ok to see the change too. I’m more competent,
I know my way around, I know how things work and get done, this is my home.
I can start a skiddoo on my own and take people where they need to go, I can
lift heavy boxes and dig snow so it makes a difference. I am still a girl on
base and ask for help when I need it, but I’ve learnt when I need it and when
I don’t. No-one is offering to carry those boxes for me any more or start my
skiddoo. I live here. But it’s their new home too.
The ship made it in with little difficulty and the Relief exercise this year
has so far been very smooth. The major anxiety for me was in receiving our scientific
cargo, one component of which is a very expensive 7 tonne ISO container on the
weight-limit threshold for the kind of conditions we had last year. It, and
the rest of our boxes, arrived before my first night shift had even begun. And
all before christmas. Already, we’re off to a good start.
The ship also brought with it post. POST! Letters and cards, packages and parcels.
My dear friends out there know me very well. Presents for my thirtieth, five
months late but not a minute too soon, and one big box from my family that I
opened today full of chocolate and moisturiser, more chocolate, pates, biscuits,
chocolate and shower gel. And some more chocolate. At this stage in the year,
all I want is consumables and it seems I’ll be doing a lot of consuming during
the next few weeks!
A few friends, unasked, sent me underwear.. made me laugh as you have no idea
how welcome that is! That’s something else I’ve noticed: everyone who has been
here for the winter suddenly looks more shabby. Or rather, new folk look more
preened. New colours have appearred in the building – bright purple hats
and brightly coloured t-shirts. T-shirts that are really white. Without noticing,
everything we own has faded and been worn to extreme. Everyone has holes and
patches in their outer clothing, but it’s more a mark of recognition here than
We have fruit as well. I thought I would miss fresh fruit and veg so much but
I haven’t. It’s nice to see an orange again and bite into an apple but really,
the earth didn’t move. I wanted for nothing, which somehow makes the presents
even more indulgent.
It’s christnmas eve. I shall try and phone my family later today. I imagine
I’ll either work or sleep through most of the celebrations but it’s the best
time of summer to be here. When the action really happens. Boys and their toys
in the biggest playground in the world. Bulldozers and cranes, skiddoos and
sno-cats, masses of space to build and lift and dig and drop and move and do
all those things kids dream of. It’s a living dream, for me anyway.
PS. The penguins have grown right up now. Like fat adolescents instead of cute
kids. I wrote a little blog when I went to visit them last but it’s in my room
where my room-mate, on dayshift, is currently sleeping. Photos attached anyway!