I left the lab late today, around 9:30 pm, but it had been a productive afternoon

so I bore no grudges. A nice little blast of work to clear my conscience for

the weekend. Truth be told I haven’t done much up there this week as it’s been

stormy for the past few days and there’s no fun in going to the CASLab in winds

above 30 knots, vis less than 10m, unless you really have to. Anyway, I left

the lab in the dark. Two steps down and there was a breeze down my ankle –

I hadn’t pulled my overalls fully over my boots. Back indoors to re-attire.

And check the mitts are snug as well.

I reached the bottom of the steps and was nearly knocked over by a gust of

wind. It’s blowing 25 knots and though that’s low compared to the last few days,

I was reminded that it still gives the air a significant force. But nothing

unmanageable and the wind was behind me and slightly to my side, in my favour

at any rate.

I thought, I love this, this is great. I wanted to remember what it was like

so I stopped and looked around. Behind me was my beloved lab, shining white

by the floodlights, still looking as though it belongs on the moon. Inside it

is hot or cold, loud, buzzing, clicking and full of problems. From the outside,

it still makes me gasp with pride. I work there. That’s my lab. I even saw it

being built!

In front of me, well the direction I was headed, were three dim lights. Hazes

of light denoting the Piggott, Laws and Simpson platforms. Are they clear enough

to follow home or should I stick to the handline? I love following the lights,

there is so much space around me then. In every other direction I could see

nothing. I couldn’t see the surface my feet were walking on, I couldn’t see

my black mitts against the black sky. It does get really dark here still, thank

God. I felt elated. This is what I love. A strong wild wind, space in every

direction and a strong, deep, sense of security. Someone recently told me I

was brave; I couldn’t relate to that at all. Here I feel absolutely safe, at

one, at home. It’s wild but it’s wonderful.

Dark. The surface, I was thinking about the surface and how my feet feel the

way forward. Crunch crunch they squeak on the hard snow. Then suddenly a soft

patch, like icing sugar, it’s divine. Then back to the polystyrene chunks. Snap:

so easy to break. The worst thing that can happen between here and the Laws,

I feel, is that I fall over!

And as sure as mud is mud, you will fall over. I fall over the whole time.

I love falling over, we always laugh. It doesn’t hurt, there is nothing to be

scared of. Why does it hurt at home? Maybe the scrapes and bruises – but

here I am padded everywhere. A twinge in my lower back when my foot lands on

air and I fall deep into a sastrugi hole perhaps, but that’s the worst of it.

It makes me laugh always. I love tripping people up too. You’re never safe here

if someone is walking behind you! Come to Antarctica and learn to rugby tackle

(I was rubbish when I first got here – I’ll be responsible for all sorts

of bloody noses and lost friendships when I get home, no doubt, forgetting that

concrete hurts!).

So I’m thinking about the surface beneath my feet that I love walking on so

much. I could ski, not in this, but sometimes – but I prefer walking.

I like to feel the sastrugi under my feet, the snow, the ice, feel the ice,

a hundred metres of it maybe below me, and then below that is water. Salty,

cold and dense ocean. It’s great. Nothing like snow on concrete, snow on earth,

this is snow on snow on snow. All water molecules.

So I’m watching the world around me, so dark, so blowy, so exciting. Remarking

on how little there is to focus on, unlike at home. At home there would be buildings

everywhere, or at least trees. Here I just have three blurry lights in front

(I’m heading for the middle one) and one behind me. Black everywhere else. O

my – there’s a dot of light in front of me and up a bit. Bend, bend, bend

your back upwards, Rhian. My hood and dead rabbit hat and goggles are obscuring

anything above me, keep bending. O MY – LOOOK!! STARS!! Soo many stars

you have no idea, I am clapping with joy. There’s big smiley Scorpio and the

bright lights of the Southern Cross. The Milky Way streaking like a great smoky

line across the sky, even the magellanic clouds are clear tonight. This storm,

this 25 knots of blowing snow around my head – it’s just here, just at

ground level. Not even on the platform of the lab was it this blowy. It’s amazing.

I knew I wasn’t alone! Now I really am laughing, I can’t contain myself. Who

could ask for more?! Stars and storm?!! Woweee! I keep looking up but then I

can’t go forwards and I fall over. In the end I lie on my back, in the 25 knot

blow, snow flying past my ears, and stare at the sky. HALLO SKY I shout!! I’m

Rhian!!! I know, you fool, say the stars, we’re billions of years old. Now get

up before you never get up. And they accompany me all the way home.

Just before I reach the platform I am called in from my silence, my chest

bleats "Rhian, Rhian- Laws" and after some fumbling inside two jackets

I manage to extract my radio to inform them I’m ok, nearly there, nearly home.

"Would you like a drink waiting for you?" Oh yes, a gin and tonic

please, this is a night to celebrate.

11 thoughts on “WHOOOSH

  1. The darkness of which you are so fond, Rhian, is about to start coming to an end. Careful calculations in my observatory here at 54 degrees north tell me that the first sight of the returning sun should be with you at 13.30 GMT on 10th August. Tink and I have got a bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge, to be opened at that precise moment in your honour. All Friends of Rhian, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, should do likewise. So get the bubbly ready, and let’s hear a cheer loud enough to penetrate the wildest Antarctic wind for Rhian and the return of the sun!

  2. Toast my sister!

    It’s short notice, I know, but if you’re reading this before 13:30 GMT on Tuesday, August 10, and you know my sister, then start looking for the Champagne! A very clever man in Yorkshire has done his sums, and worked…

  3. Thanks, Jim

    Indeed, the sun is due to return today.. we’ve got a champagne sweepstake running as to when the actual first sighting will be since mirage effects may bring it earlier and clouds may obscure it.. but it’s theoretically due today. Our sun-up ceremony won’t happen until all members are back on base (two are away preparing for trips to see the emperor penguin colony). As for losing the darkness, you’re right,- I haven’t been looking forward to the return of light but you can’t hold the seasons back so might as well enjoy them as they come. And anyway, I’ll still have the stars at night time for another couple of months!

  4. Update update! Writing at 1429 GMT we have still not seen the sun yet… there was some low level cloud obscuring the horizon. However, our missing base members did return from the coast so the Union flag has beeen raised once again, this time by our youngest member, Nessie. My bet is on for 1400 tomorrow .. will keep you posted. It’s amazingly light at the moment,- you can see forever!! love Rhian

  5. Well, I can tell you that I raised a glass of Champagne at 9:30 this morning — while, I might add, in the middle of a lengthy phone interview with an extremely grand international capital markets personage. Felt great — maybe I’ll raise another glass tomorrow, in the hope that this time there will be sun in Antarctica…

  6. we should have started a pool…

    i think the sun doesn’t break the horizon until the 12th at 1:28 GMT.

    of course that is no reason to not start with the bubbly now.

  7. What- did we drink all that champagne for nothing?? Ah, well, back to the fridge for a repeat performance….

  8. Sorry Geoff, still no sighting.. thugh I guess you still win if no-one has guessed later than you! Very misty today, rainbow fog. A couple of folk did apparrantly see the sun when they went off-base though but that doesn’t count,- has to be seen at Halley and confirmed on channel 6 by three others. Will keep you posted. Meanwhile, our bubbly is still sitting on ice. Rh


  10. I think it’s worth pointing out that according to the BAS homepage, the temperature at this auspicious moment is a slightly chilly -48.3 ∞C. Or -55 ∞F for you old-fashioned types.

  11. Tis true… it’s f*cking freeziing here at the moment,-we hit-49.9C yesterday so the -50 streak might not be a thing of last year after all. It’s a bit like spring in Britain when you suddenly see bikinis in parks on days when wooly jumpers aren’t ridiculous… just cos the sun’s come out I’ve fouund myself taking my gloves off much more frequently to take photos or pick something up and immediately regretting it. Even plastic is cold at -50!!

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