Porridge …

Welcome back to reality, motherf@cker! It’s expensive!

(Warning – the following contains a LOT of ‘I” statements cos I’m too lazy to write properly at the moment and my thoughts are still a bit wobbly from what I’m hoping is T3 and not early onset dementia.)

Yes I’m home, or at least closer to home that I’ve been for a long while having decided to perch at the family table at an Addington Coffee house (where you can get a $10 snack for $20) in Christchurch this morning to see what the normal people are up to.

When did a bowl of porridge become such a luxury item?

$14.99 at a not-so-fancy-cafe does NOT seem reasonable to me, and I could give a shit as to the additional maple syrup infused rolled oats, with roasted pear and frikkin’ black doris plum compote. It just seems to be trying too hard.

Can’t you just get some plain rolled goddamned oats any more? Maybe some milk? Maybe some molasses? At least the coffee is good and strong and the wifi is free.

Oh yeah – I’m in New Zealand again. Christchurch. Got back from my 12 months on ice last Tuesday and am a week into the reintegration/normalisation process. This time its been strangely easy to slip back into society, unnoticed and unseen and gloriously anonymous again.

Living in the fishbowl of an Antarctic research station for a year can be excruciating in may ways, the most insidiously destructive being the lack of privacy and personal space. It slowly and quite literally messes with your head (T3 syndrome), shrinks your brain (hippocampus can shrink by up to 12% due to the lack of mental stimulation), affects your overall mental state and can quickly trigger any underlying undiagnosed weirdness. And THATs just by being there!

Which makes it LOADS of fun to sit back and watch the personality circus unfold over the season. Anyway…lets not get into that just yet.

So what was it like? A whole year in Antarctica, the winter, the isolation, the cold?

Interesting, in a word.

Looking back now, the year simply vanished. yet at the time some days seem to last forever. There is an odd time warp effect when you are on ice that makes time pass quickly or drag like you are in slow motion – hypnotised by the rock solid routine and the mundane nature of everyday life. Antarctica is my new normal now, which is frightening.

Did I go through the culture shock of re-entry once I stepped off the plane?

Not really! This time is was ridiculously easy to readjust and reacclimatise. Noise and clamour didn’t bother me, crowded rooms irked me for a little while but that was more Covid related I thought. The newbies were all waxing lyrical about ‘smelling the soil’ and ‘ooo the green…” but it didn’t faze me at all this time. Sure, it was nice to see trees and grass and all that but I wouldn’t weep or write a haiku over it – lets face it, I’m too cool for that (joking). My biggest thrill was going to a cinema again and catching up on the films that I’d planned to, and buy a few new t shirts. to compliment my vast Skua wardrobe of second hand goods. Thats it! Easily pleased.

This time however I’ve deleted all the work related alarms off my phone and watch (no more 9am weather alarms or experiment check alerts), and am ramping up to my usual 13km walks each day. Sleeping in a little later each morning (I awoke at 7.45am today! Amazing!), slowly weaning myself off the solid routine thats kept me together for the last year, I’m barely a week into being back here now and it’s like I never left. No melt down, no crash but I’m waiting for it though.

So what did I achieve while I had that glorious uninterrupted 12 months to myself? Not a lot.

I wanted to continue my French language studies. I didn’t.

I planned to read loads of books. I started many but didn’t finish a single one.

I took a guitar down to keep playing. Ignored it mostly.

I planned to get fit by hitting the gym. I went two times over 12 months.

Personal goal wise, I managed to binge watch loads of movies, The Handmaids Tale, Breaking Bad, and several other TV series and thats about it. The movie room became my refuge of the winter season as the 12 of us on Winter crew fractured into little cells and did our own thing.

Yes yes yes, I also worked 10 to 14 hour days 6 days a week and undertook some really cool science field installations in the absence of science personnel coming down, worked out on the sea ice and the Ross Ice shelf and in the McMurdo Dry valleys, got my hands on exotic equipment, pulse radar systems and bespoke electronics stuff and all that. Which was fun, and incredibly satisfying to be honest – the MAIN reason I keep coming back to Scott Base – Covid hasn’t ALL been bad news for me)

Nacreous clouds against the briefest of a winter sunrise – August 2021.

What saved me really was the environment itself.

Once I got over the annoyance of always having frozen fingers (frostbite SUCKS), constantly frosted over glasses and mild hypothermia (GOD I hate the cold), being outdoors and fully immersed in the vicious and unforgiving enormity this place thats constantly trying to either kill or thrill you is just ADDICTIVE. I took literally thousands of photos (most are crap, but some were ok) of everything that caught my eye and the challenge of taking photos in -35 or below temps was both frustrating and rewarding.

The biggest shock to me over the course of the season is how, despite my best efforts, I made new friends. Usually going out of my way to not build bonds with people (mainly as I HATE goodbyes), somehow I collected a small group of awesome people who saw through my bullshit and were actually pretty damn amazing. The weird thing about Antarctic people (especially the returnees) is that we all share a common thread woven tightly and invisibly into the fabric of our souls. We sense this commonality in ideology and purpose. We’re misfits usually, dissatisfied with the real world for various reasons – politically, emotionally, circumstantially out of sync with society. Coming together in such a remote and hostile place binds us through the adversity of Antarctic life itself. Bonds form, friendships blossom and at the end of the season it is less of a goodbye but more of a ‘see you next season’ . Which is bearable.

Anyway… not a total loss.

So where to now? No idea. At the moment I’m housesitting a place in Christchurch until December for a fellow Antarctican who’s currently down at Scott Base. . Maybe travel NZ for a bit and explore when my second jab immunity kicks in (and assuming C19 doesn’t ravage the Southlands here)

Hmm what else. I’ve put out some vague feelers to AntNZ for some contract work up until the applications open for next season. Apply for the next Australian Antarctic Division round maybe (but that IT role is boring) or maybe not.

Summer, or winter or both I don’t care. I just want to get back down there as it’s fast becoming the closest thing to a home that I have.

Oh and write more. I have been emotionally flatlined for 6 months and bottomed out completely in the June/July winter doldrums – there will be more on that later


One thought on “Porridge …

  1. Welcome back! To civilisation that is, you’re not really back in AU. And ouch – the frostbite.
    Do you have the Antarctic stare too?


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