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April has been a busy month on base. The last of the field parties went out, in daytime temperatures below –30 °C for the most part. Mark, Andy, Jon and Duncan had a great time at the hinge zone, but conversation for the evening radio scheds revolved largely around how cold it was! I think that our field trips bring home to us just how harsh this environment can be – It is possible to stay warm in these temperatures, but we have to keep the work rate up to maintain it (and therefore have to eat accordingly in the evening to refuel!).
|The rest of the month has seen us getting ready for sun-down. The sun has been sinking lower and lower as we head towards ‘winter’, and the 28th was predicted to be the last day that we would see the sun at all for 105 days! Something that we all take so much for granted is about to disappear, and I know that it will be a very special day when I first feel the warmth of the sun on my back again. Lack of sun over winter brings with it certain challenges. Everyone knows how difficult it can be to get out of bed on a dark and cold morning. Even now we get no hint of daylight until late morning, and that can make the first few hours of work a real challenge. Lack of regular bright light can also play havoc with our body clocks, which may in turn lead to sleep or mood problems. The lighting at Halley is thought to be too dull to provide the stimulus that we normally get from the sun. My research here involves monitoring sleep quality and body clock phase to monitor these effects. Thanks to enthusiasm from the rest of the base I now have an army of volunteers keeping sleep diaries, and wearing actiwatches to monitor activity levels and light exposure. Halley in fact provides a perfect place to do this sort of research because the seasons here are so extreme, and much of the research carried out has taken it’s place in world medical literature on the topic of sleep and night-shift work.|
Anyway, such an important time of year can’t pass by without a party. Saturday saw us outside over the brightest part of the day for some outdoor sports. Sumo wrestling provided us with huge entertainment while on the ship on the way into Halley, so we repeated it here – huge thermal suits for wearing while ski-dooing stuffed with pillows provided the padding we needed. Andy also set us up an assault course to be tackled on the Elans (the smallest, lightest and most manoeverable of the ski-doos we have on base). Ben (our mechanic) rode the course in the fastest time, but was closely followed behind by Cathy (one of the met angels).
At 2.45pm, just as the sun disappeared below the horizon for the last time, we followed Halley tradition and lowered the union jack from the flag-pole. Mark S had the honour of doing this as he is the oldest base member – Elaine (the youngest on base) will raise the flag again once the sun reappears. Mark read us a quote about the disappearance of the sun by Admiral Byrd, an American who wintered alone in the Antarctic in 1934. The flag was then raffled off, and was appropriately won by Mark himself, who had so fittingly marked sun-down for us.
In the evening we headed for the garage for a barbecue. I am never likely to experience such an amazing barbecue anywhere else. At –30 °C we had to drink our beers sharpish before they froze!!! Once the eating was done the dancing started inside. Jon and Mr Sharp had been working away to provide us with most excellent disco lights – and Club Nido was kicking! Antarctic fashion may well catch on for clubbing back home – especially our huge mukluk boots!!!
Late in the evening we retired to the ‘chill-out room’ - groups of us have been out over the past few weeks building an igloo, and it provided an excellent post-club venue! It fitted 10 of us inside with plenty room to stretch legs out. We now have several volunteers who want to sleep out in it - myself included!!!
All in all we saw the sun off in great style.
Other activities on base carry on much as before . Our gym is becoming very popular - so much so that we’re almost making bookings for a time slot! Mark R and Annette have been keeping Jon, Andy, Elaine and myself hurting with regular circuit sessions; Steve, Duncan, Annette and Mark can be found swinging gracefully around on the climbing wall; Dougie has been spotted doing some aikido training; and Ben, Kev and Mickey are more likely to be found lifting unfeasibly heavy weights. Mark S is a keen and very fit runner, and regularly runs round the base perimeter. He provides the spur to get me out running too! As well as this, Stu has been providing us with a fortnightly showing of the huge reel-to-reel collection that has been built up at Halley over the years, and Monday may well turn out to be a regular bridge night. We are lucky to have so many group activities set up this winter, while everyone appreciates that time alone is often called for too. I think we have the balance about right so far!
From now it is only 6 weeks or so until midwinter - a huge celebration on Antarctic bases. Preparations here have begun already!!!
Happy 90th Birthday Granny!
And big love to my funky husband, Steve xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx