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Rothera Diary — July 2013

Midwinter Roundup

The days got shorter and shorter, the sun stopped appearing over the mountainous horizon and the snow continued to fall; winter was well and truly here at Rothera Station. As we all carried on with our daily jobs and tasks, our thoughts turned to midwinters week. Although not technically half way through the winter, midwinter marks the shortest day of the year, and it is a milestone celebrated by all Antarctic bases, and one which previous winterers talk about with fond memories. A few events are considered traditional and so these were pencilled into a program, and the rest was up to us as a group to decide what to do.

Rose (the doctor) and I signed up to cook a “festive feast” on the first day of the week, aiming to have a warm cosy feeling to the dining room! We tried our hand at curing salmon and also cooked up meatballs, Christmas ham and flavoured schnapps. It was a tiring but enjoyable day!

Scandinavian Festive Feast (Photo: Rose Drew)
Scandinavian Festive Feast (Photo: Rose Drew)

The next day our team of field assistants had organised a Winter Olympics challenge. We were split into teams of three, and spent a great day doing various adventurous activities, including a slalom race, rope crawl across the frozen sea and an egg and spoon race. We did not look a healthy bunch when we had all finished sprinting the 500m from the wharf to the main building on base!

Winter Olympic rope crawl (Photo: Iain Rudkin)
Winter Olympic rope crawl (Photo: Iain Rudkin)

The middle of the week was taken up with finishing making winter presents, watching films, a spot of skiing and generally having a relaxing time of it. On the Thursday night we all sat down to watch “Ann” – a horror film which was written and produced at Rothera a few winters ago. We were all grateful not to be on nightwatch that night, apart from Waity, who was on nightwatch,

Friday (midwinters day) morning came and we awoke to a cup of tea delivered by Mike, our Base Commander. We all then met up in the lounge for a glass of Bucks Fizz and a bacon sandwich while Mike read out various messages and greetings which we had been sent. Current colleagues, ex-winterers, celebrities and even Barack Obama sent their goodwill messages to us. It was then time for the swapping of the winter present. Early on in our winter we each drew a name out of a hat and spent the next few months thinking up and making a gift for that person. It is well known that the standard of craftsmanship is normally high, and this year was no exception. Presents exchanged included a deckchair made with pyramid tent fabric, a coffee table, lathe turned shot glasses, hand-crafted ice axes, lamps, pictures mounted in frames and clocks. It was very exciting to see what people had been busy making in secret!

Midwinter breakfast and messages (Photo: Iain Rudkin)
Midwinter breakfast and messages (Photo: Iain Rudkin)

Whilst Issy (chef) and her assistant for the day Tom (comms) continued the cooking, the rest of us sat down to watch The Thing – a horror film set in Antarctica. It was then time for us to get dressed up smart for the midwinters meal. Issy had pulled out all the stops, and ably assisted by Tom, Amber and Mairi we we treateed to an amazing meal which lasted most of the day! Superb.

Enjoying the midwinter feast (Photo: Iain Rudkin)
Enjoying the midwinter feast (Photo: Iain Rudkin)

Before we tackled the puddings and cheeseboard we headed over to the operations tower to tune into the BBC World Service midwinter broadcast, where each British station gets messages from home played or read out. Although in the days of modern technology we can all email and call friends and family whenever we want, it was very special to sit together and hear the real world! Needless to say there were a few tears being wiped away!

Our midwinters week was drawing to a close, but it certainly did not just fizzle out to going back to work. Mairi (meteorologist) had spent some time preparing a murder mystery event. The upstairs of New Bransfield House was transformed into a 1920s Chicago club, and a motley crew of gangsters, political figures, singers and the law were in town. It was a great evening of bluffing, lying, cheating and extracting information and ultimately it turned out that Sabrina (marine biologist) was the guilty one!

Inspector Neville, Tequila and Sly Sleaze in downtown Chicago (Photo: Rose Drew)
Inspector Neville, Tequila and Sly Sleaze in downtown Chicago (Photo: Rose Drew)

You would think that this was plenty of activities for a week, but to finish off a fine week we had a snowmobile trials course on the Sunday which Jack and Tomo (mechanics) had setup. Paul (boatman) took the title, to add to his table tennis championship earlier in the week.

Midwinters week was a lot of fun, which was due to everyone in the wintering team making a huge effort to organise stuff and have fun together. I will certainly remember it for a long time!

Rothera out.

(Article originally published on Chris Buckley’s blog: polarstories.wordpress.com)