If a mother’s love could be shown in presents, I think my mum has just succeeded!
The summer crew have left at last and it’s time now to settle in for the winter.
First we picked rooms out of a hat and, ironically enough, I landed the room
that I first had last summer and hated. The windowless cell, the tiny pit. Now,
it has been transformed. An oil burner, poems, photos, cards, shelves and beautiful
things like conkers and crystals – I’m discovering the girl in me who
I never knew existed! It’s my den, my escape, my very own space for me and my
stuff where no-one can come in without asking first.
Yes, it’s tiny, yes, it doesn’t have a window, but funnily enough, I don’t
mind so much this time around. The allocation was fair, the first community-spirited
activity.. and, after all, I do have to brave the elements every day to go to
work, unlike some of the folk here. The chef, the comms manager – if they
didn’t have windows they might never even have an inkling of what it’s like
And so it came to unpacking all the boxes I had stored away until now. How
much stuff did I bring for a year! All so unnecessary. More books than I might
ever normally read, a thousand photographs, creative supplies, food: chocolate,
dried fruit, chewy sweets, teabags and rusks. Games. As I sit here and write,
I can’t imagine ever needing any of these things. But it’s still light outside,
everyone is enthusiatic about being here, there’s loads to do and certainly
no such thing as boredom. Ask me again in five months!
What I didn’t bank on is the amount of time and effort my mum had put into
wrapping little presents, finding cards, thinking of things I might need here.
And it made me realise that a year away in the Antarctic sounds an awful lot
longer to people outside this environment than the reality feels down here.
As far as I can tell, it’s going to fly. If I had no emotional attachments outside
of here, and if my job were to exist, I think I would happily stay for a second
winter. Thirty-three months sounds so long, it did to me as well, but once you’re
here, it seems just about the right amount of time to fit it all in, to take
it all in.
It’s wonderfully simple here but there’s always something to be done. It’s
a pace of life that I like. The pace of the summer was too much: it smacked
of bringing the city to the desert. This space wasn’t designed for meetings
and deadlines. It is perfect space, space for breathing, looking around, smiling
and, of course, doing your work.
It is absolutely beautiful outside. I look out of the window next to me and
see a blue sky, bright evening, flat calm snow surface, slightly icy, covered
in shadows from sastrugi. It’s like the ocean, frozen. It is the ocean,
frozen! A snapshot in time. Endless white to the horizon. And on the horizon:
mirages of icebergs. In three of four directions the strange effects of layers
of stable atmosphere bounce light around and mean we can see far beyond the
expected, we see the reflection of icebergs in the mirror-like atmosphere above
In the fourth direction, I see in the sky the reflection of the antarctic plateau.
Out there, about 30km away, are four of our team members on their first winter
trip. Mine is in three weeks – I can’t wait. The Hinge Zone, where the
ice leaves the plateau and there are large crevasses to explore. To sleep in
a tent, to really take in the stage of the setting sun, to wake up to ice: that’s
something I came here for.
In the meantime, there are a hundred things I haven’t told you,. The visit
by the Argentinian helicopter, posh dinner on HMS Endurance, the return of the
beloved Shackleton, the penguins who have set up camp outside my lab (damn them
– this is supposed to be a Clean Air Area!), the sun setting and the increasing
blue of the night sky, the flares we set off as the ship sailed away, the first
dinner as a wintering crew, the normality of it all.
I know for sure that this is the right place for me to be right now. It’s a
special place and a shame it’s so inaccessible. To me right now, it’s not the
harsh barrenness that everyone describes, it’s actually quite friendly –
and when the winds howl, they’re only playing with you.
Ask me again in five months!