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Halley Diary — February 2010

It was the beginning of February and I had now been in Antarctica a full 2 months as one of the new summer chefs. The time was flying and everything on base was in full flow. By now everyone knew their role inside out and work was progressing well due to the good weather. We even had a day where the temperature at Halley was higher than it was back in the UK, during a particularly cold spell back home; it really was summer in Antarctica!

After having worked a mixture of nights and days during the last couple of months I was now in a set routine with my days starting in the kitchen at 7am where we worked to feed the base of 114 people. As with all the food produced from the kitchen it was all made from the raw ingredients, there were no ‘cook in sauces’ or microwave meals here! This was the same for all the bread that we needed and it meant one of us had to make up to 200 rolls and 10 loaves of bread every day.

To break up the routine for everyone we would always strive to celebrate any special occasions and pull out all the stops on a Saturday night by creating theme nights. Which we did this month by cooking a Chinese feast for the Chinese new year, and a Greek night where we served up all sorts of local delicacies as well as holding numerous curry nights and the ever popular fish and chip Friday, which not surprisingly always went down a storm.

3 Happy Chefs, It can't be!! Gorden Ramsay eats your heart out!! (Photo by Chris Walton)
3 Happy Chefs, It can't be!! Gorden Ramsay eats your heart out!! (Photo by Chris Walton)

The only unintended interruption to our meals came one night, when kitchens safety system decided to go off just an hour before dinner was due to be served. Covering that evening’s food and the entire kitchen in a fine white powder, it was snowing in the kitchen that night! It’s at times like these that you realise what teamwork really is all about, while Ant and myself quickly headed to the Drewry kitchen to make something else up for that evening meal (everyone still had to be fed), a team of helpers descended upon the kitchen to strip and clean it from top to bottom, so that by the end of the evening it was if nothing had happened, a true test of dedication, for all those that had already had a long day at work.

It's snowing!! (Photo by Chris Walton)
It's snowing!! (Photo by Chris Walton)
Got the winter scrub out done early!! (Photo by Chris Walton)
Got the winter scrub out done early!! (Photo by Chris Walton)

After my typical day was done I would go for a ski around the base perimeter which I managed to do most evenings (weather permitting) and had gone from a complete novice to slightly less of a novice! After coming back from a breath of very fresh air and taking the icicles out of my beard I would join the others for a game of cards (having learnt to play bridge since arriving) or a game of pool or darts if there was no films being shown.

The highlights of this month’s films included a showing of the past years 48hour film festival. Which included entries from all Antarctic bases. A horror film made at the BAS station Rothera by our very own camera man Kirk Watson, a good horror film which strangely enough made me want to visit that base as it looked so beautiful up on the big screen. A favourite of mine was when we watched some old cine news reels from the 40’s and 50’s, which was made particularly special when Ags (the previous winter base commander) entered the lounge in full usherette dress to serve us ice cream and popcorn!

Ags the Usherette!! (Photo by Chris Walton)
Ags the Usherette!! (Photo by Chris Walton)

During February both the pool and chess competitions were in full swing. Not wanting to show the others up and give someone else a chance I ducked out of the chess tournament which was eventually one by the new winter doc Michael in a hard fought battle against pre-tournament favourite Gaz. Let’s just hope his moves in the surgery are as good as they were on the chess board for the sake of the upcoming winterers!

The pool competition started with a rerun in the first round of the past years final with Paddy and Shaggy taking the honours again and making it through all the way through to the final where they were beaten by the newcomers and a well practised wintering team of Giles and Karen in an exciting end to a long running game. Unfortunately I only made it through to the second round and was beaten by a fellow chef and ex wintering member of the team on top form, well done John.

On the 14th of February when everyone else around the world celebrated Valentine’s Day we had the Halley 10km fun run. This was run on one of the worst days of weather we had during the whole month with strong winds keeping the temperatures low, but it was amazing effort from all those involved in the running and organising of the event where we would eventually raise £1680 for the British Heart Foundation.

MFL team pulling sledge with 'Spinners' team on board!! (Photo by Chris Walton)
MFL team pulling sledge with 'Spinners' team on board!! (Photo by Chris Walton)

The new base Halley VI started to look a lot more complete with what seemed to be the covers coming off at regular intervals to reveal the new modules fully clad in their colourful coats. I even managed to sneak out from the kitchen to watch as the final piece of cladding was lifted into place and watch as they moved a module into its winter position. I went along with the other staff not involved first hand with the construction, we were privileged enough to have a guided tour of the new modules which were impressive to say the least and will be a true engineering feat when they are completed.

Adding the final cladding to a Halley VI module (Photo by Chris Walton)
Adding the final cladding to a Halley VI module (Photo by Chris Walton)
Sunset over the Halley VI module (Photo by Chris Walton)
Sunset over the Halley VI module (Photo by Chris Walton)

As it started to get toward the end of the month people’s thoughts started to turn to home as they would be seeing loved ones for the first time in 4 months or in the case of the winterer’s 18 months. It was also time for some of the workers to start packing their bags as the first of the ALCI flights home were due to commence.

Having made good time on its journey back from South Africa the Ernest Shackleton arrived with the final supply of deliveries and fresh food which were to last the 11 winter staff for the next 10 months until the next delivery would arrive, now that is an order you don’t want to get wrong!

But before the majority of the workers left we had the Folk festival to look forward to, this was an evening we could all let our hair down and enjoy ourselves after a long hard summer of work and it was a splendid night of song and verse where anyone could stand up and do their own little party piece. Highlights included Brummie Ian doing a version of Jasper Carrott’s funky moped or in this case funky ski-do, Gaz doing a little spoken word number and summing up the entire summer, some great musical numbers from the Marks, Wales and Green. But my favourite bit of the night was a film by Kirk with all the seasons’ bloopers. What a relief!

The 24 hour sunlight I had experienced for most of my time here was also at an end with the sun finally setting and the nights getting longer and longer and the temperature beginning to fall with the sun, every day we were losing 20 minutes of daylight.

The sun starts to leave for another winter!! (Photo by Chris Walton)
The sun starts to leave for another winter!! (Photo by Chris Walton)

With the James Clark Ross due to be arriving soon it was now time for the base to be made ready for the winter to come. This meant that containers had to be raised onto snow platforms to prevent them becoming buried and that vehicles had to be put away along with other things that would not be used during the long dark winter months.

A rare sight for Halley!! (Photo by Chris Walton)
A rare sight for Halley!! (Photo by Chris Walton)

The pressure was on. The ship had arrived and it was time to go as the weather started to get worse and then the JCR broke its moorings and both ships had to head out to sea again while we all waited for the bad weather to abate…

It’s safe to say I did eventually get home and had an amazing time and look forward to returning sometime soon.

Chris Walton
Summer Chef