Today is June 1st 2021 and I’ve been down here at Scott base for 8 months.
Would you believe that this is the first time I’ve tried to access WordPress from my work desktop? Yup – it was blocked on the wifi here so I just assumed that it was blocked on the work system as well – apparently not!
Such is the exciting life I live now.
8 months is a lot of catchup time, so where to begin?
Let’s recap summer.
Summer 2021 here was a frustrating experience with a load of first timers who seemed to think the place was a ski resort or university campus. Which is fine, except it isn’t. I got lumbered with a DGAF science guy with no IT skills that just didn’t give a shit and focussed on having a good time. I’m sure he was thrilled to have a mildly OCD control freak as a co-worker as well. Swings and roundabouts I guess.
BUT…lets not focus on the negative, as it was actually quite a fun summer for me personally. I got to spend a buttload of time alone up at my second lab at Arrival Heights working on the atmospheric science experiments there, go out on field trips and back to my beloved McMurdo Dry Valleys, and out onto the Ross Ice Shelf a few times for equipment installations and such.
CLOe (our ancient Chlorine Monoxide monitoring baby radio telescope) broke in early February (don’t get me started on the why) and despite several full pumpdown attempts (24/36 hours work) couldn’t be resuscitated so a NIWA tech had to be flown down for a top to bottom overhaul so she’d last the Winter. Naturally it follows that I develop an emergency dental problem as this was just as the summer crew were leaving (and my little helper was gone) and the seasons flights were winding down. The NIWA guy flew in a day or so after I flew out and he left a few days before I flew back. Worked out pretty ok actually.
OH so what happened with the dental thing? In late Feb, after a visit to the McMurdo Dentist for a routine pre-winter checkup, I somehow picked up an abscess under a crown. After a week of trying medication to manage it, I was flown back to Christchurch on one of the last C17’s (the only passenger) to get it fixed in a whirlwind of dental visits, truncated quarantine and an unexpected break back in ‘civilisation’ that neatly bookended the Summer and Winter season for me. I actually had several days to wander free as a normal person in Christchurch (before my mandatory quarantine kicked in) so naturally I spent that at the movies, shopping and downloading as much of the Internet as I could over the apartments WiFi. I flew back down to Antarctica just as the last of the Summer Crew were leaving so I was nice timing as I got to say goodbye.
On a personal level, since the summer crew left, not having a ‘crew’ here to or even someone remotely interesting (and more importantly not very annoying) to hang with was a challenge (still is now), but it really freed me up to 1) work constantly 2) binge watch an incredible amount of TV and film and 3) work on my photography.
Oh and my people watching skills have been elevated to a science now – one of the most fascinating things to watch as the seasons trundle along is the borderline psychotic personality changes and tics that my coworkers exhibit here (myself included) as the season changes from summer to winter and the darkness fall upon us. There’s a person that pathologically cannot be alone EVER (several live-in partners this year so far and counting), the mood swing person that is practically bipolar, the grumpy asshole (that’s me), the person that keeps speaking quiet and quieter and quieter, the functional alcoholics and the absolutely bonkers imports that don’t quite get it…
Psychologists! There’s a freakin’ NOBEL PRIZES in Psychiatry to be won in Antarctica. ALL the fun stuff is here so come get some.
So whats my experience like so far? Mainly I’m tired. Constantly tired. Exhausted. My eyes are constantly burning from the dryness. I wake up with a throat like sandpaper from the dryness of the air. Sleep is difficult still, and although there a supplements galore it constantly eludes me (turns out I’m a MASSIVE cunt especially when I haven’t slept well).
I’m also taking a 5htp based sleep supplement that is messing with my Seratonin levels so I’ll blame my cuntiness on that (cos who doesn’t like to blame things on other things).
My feet are turning into little square blocks with the constant work boot wearing (being on Fire Crew you have to always be prepared to go outside), I’ve developed tennis elbow in both arms from the 70’s office furniture and shit ergonomics (seriously). I’m gaining weight at an alarming rate despite eating like a monk, and am now ‘that guy’, with a range of medications, theraputic putty and Thera-band flex bars at my workstation to help my body recover.
All the social events and classes (yoga, dancing, games) seem to be scheduled in the week I’m on Duty, so I cant usually get there and as my role here is really three jobs and I’m bouncing schitzophrenically between the Science, IT and crew member roles which chews up pretty much ALL of my time and energy. 16 hour days are normal when the moon cycle is right and it really fucks with your happy mood juice. I have no self discipline when it comes to exercise and the thought of being locked in the gym (yes, there’s a gym here) is just so unappealing.
(NEWS FLASH : Satellite phone lines are down back to NZ so no morning meeting with Christchurch IT – yay for that!)
Hmmm…this is turning into a whinge session. So be it.
Look I’d love to constantly wax lyrical like some psychotic Arts Fellowship type about how amazing and wonderful and incredible life is down here but the honest truth is that its bloody hard: it’s a lot of work, it’s physically and emotionally demanding and it’s a long tough haul. We’re not just here for three weeks in Summer on a short term science project – 13 months is a lifetime (and if you are here for 2/3/4 weeks on a short term project, don’t fucking say you’ve ‘done a season on the Ice’ – just fuck right off).
Between the Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Services, that’s now 4 summers done and dusted plus a winter season well in progress and despite all my bitching moaning, I really fucking love this job and this magnificent desolate place.
That’ll do for today…more positivity tomorrow. Maybe.