Rothera Diary: December 1999

written by Gerard Baker

The new Millennium


December 1999

Dear All

A profound time to be here at Rothera and a privilege to be in such a place for the Millennium too. I hear from a lot of my friends - those who keep in touch anyway - that they were hoping to be with their families over the New Year and had not considered spending the night in a room full of strangers....

Well, before I tackle that little chestnut I will talk about the rest of the month.

As you will be aware, if you have read the previous month's diary, November saw us eagerly awaiting the arrival of RRS James Clark Ross to Rothera - she had been stuck in ice and unable to make her first call to us on time. So - lots of frustrated people on the ship and a similarly large number of people awaiting supplies and stores - and colleagues. We had enough food - of course - it did not quite get down to eating dried meat - but not far from it. To cap it all - the day before we were going to have to ration the bacon and sausages that provide our mid morning snacks - the ship arrived.

In fact not only did it arrive once in December - but twice - just - making back to Port Stanley in the Falklands and then back here to Rothera with cargo for the building programme that has been taking place here this year - just in time in fact for the New Year.

The base seemed quiet for the month of December - and when I came to look at how many seats we would require for the Christmas Dinner my thoughts were confirmed as we numbered sixty five or so - about thirty down on the previous year. So - at least we would be able to fit everyone in. I had panicked - a little - at the thought that the ship might not reach up by Christmas and at the suggestion of various people - including the Base Commander - asked a couple of outgoing people if they would be kind enough to try to procure some turkeys for us - the ship, it turned out had none. They managed to get six - which in fact was more than enough - great big free-range Falkland Island's turkeys with dark flesh and a rich gamey taste - nothing like the dry stuff you often get at home - so we were pleased as punch.

A couple of pre-Christmas baking sessions complete with choral accompaniment from King's College saw to it that we had mince pies in legion and Christmas puddings to cobble cats with!

One of the more pleasant things about having so many people about in the summer is that there are always masses of volunteers up for a laugh - which helps when the mince pie making gets a little out of hand.

Of course - as numbers creep up as they inevitably do at this time of the year - more and more people manage to disappear into the sidelines of base life. The winterers who are used to relative peace and quiet find their own space and head off to the hills skiing as much as possible - often with young and impressionable summer visitors of the opposite sex. Hmm.

One of the most obvious things happening on the base this year is the construction of a new accommodation block - 100 meters long - in front of our main building - but thankfully only one storey high. Thankfully, I say, as it means that I can still see out of the kitchen window! After all - without the view - life here would be rather dull.

Most of the field parties were out on their respective glaciers, in their respective hills, or at their oases by the middle of the month. It was nice to see people getting out and doing their thing so to speak, after all science gives us all the excuse to spend time in this place of places, and it is only right that they should be able to get out and carry out their work. I enjoy chatting on the radio now and again, and had the occasion to catch up with a few Field Assistants and their charges over the course of the month. All are well and enjoying themselves by the sound of it, and I hope that you will be able to hear more about their work as the summer goes on.

As for the New Year - well, I think that everyone enjoyed it in their own way. Masses of people had planned and worked hard to organize music for the night - getting into the rehearsal room after a long day's work - and they did a fabulous job. As midnight approached, I felt as though I wanted to be alone, just to be able to sit and draw in the beauty of a golden night with a still, slate grey sea. I wandered up to the memorial cross that sits at the top of the southern end of Rothera Point. From there the view was glorious - the sun setting behind Jenny Island, ice streaking across the bay - and a few Minke whales blowing to catch my attention. I could have sat there forever - part of me will always be there. I popped open the bottle of Champagne that I had saved specially, and looked around to see a few odd souls, sharing in the peace of the evening. My watch chimed midnight and I shed a tear, part happy and part sad.

I have been a bit under the weather recently - in fact I have to go home and try to get better - something that I am not looking forward to particularly - not that it will not be wonderful to see my family again. It is more that I want to stay here and continue my work and finish what I had started. My time here at Rothera has been very special - I shall crave ice and snow when I am back in the rainy UK and may well be South again - I hope so. There is something so very out of the ordinary about the Antarctic - its purity, the scale of things - that I find so mesmerizing. And, at the same time, so hard to translate into any meaningful language when I am away from it all.

I hope that over the past few months I have been able to give you some idea of our lives here at Rothera Research Station, and that some of you out there may one day be able to experience the Antarctic for yourselves. If it something you want to do - make sure it happens- that is the only way!

Best wishes and Happy New Year!- Gerard Baker.

Gerard Baker, Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica