Sitting on the plane I can feel the question coming as I head towards catchups with friends and family – How was it? Where to start? – Its hard to sum up sixteen months of life in a few short words but as I fly home I’ve been trying to think of the differences between Rothera and my home life and some of small things that help show the randomness of life working for BAS.
Since leaving the UK I have been on almost sixty flights from as short as fourteen minutes to as long as twelve hours. I’m not a massive fan of flying but there has certainly been a lot of variety with everything from cattle class on major airlines to flying as a co-pilot in the twin otter aircraft. If anything I’ll probably feel happier flying on a normal commercial flight – nothing can be quite as bad as a bumpy flight in the back of small plane surrounded by poo bins and petrol jerry cans.
Of the sixteen months almost two them have been spent in “lie up” stuck in a tent or caboose. Twelve percent of my total time on the continent has been spent camped at Trident East on winter trips.
I haven’t seen any trees, grass, flowers, dogs, children etc for over a year and I’ve only drunk in one bar. I’ve eaten amazing meals, both from the Rothera chefs and in various field camps and tents. I’ve also eaten somewhere in the region of eight hundred biscuit browns and some fairly average dehydrated food spiced up with fried spam and chilli sauce.
I’ve met some amazing people. Scientists who have been to Antarctica every summer for over twenty years, people who have done multiple winters (sometimes agreeing weeks before they were meant to go home at the end of their first eighteen months to stay for another twelve). And of course friends who I could meet in a week or ten years and still laugh at the same jokes, people who will hopefully turn up on the doorstep uninvited and stay for weeks.
I spent seven months with the same twenty one people between the ages of twenty three and sixty, living, working, socialising, cooking, cleaning and partying. In such a short time I feel I know these people as well as I know some of my best friends. I had the privilege of taking eight of these people on their winter trips. Camping, skiing and mountaineering in winter in Antarctica will always feel special but getting to know people at the level you do on these trips can only be described as a privilege. Being stuck with the same twenty people through what seemed like endless bad weather and dusk was at best some of the funnest times and funniest parties I’ve been too and at worst made me question some of my life choices.
I did more climbing and skiing than I expected but also watched more movies and tv series than I would have ever considered possible. From never having been to a gym before I became a regular (at least till the sun came back) in one of the least inspiring rooms for exercising ever. 2016 will hopefully always stand out as the year I did the least rock climbing since I was eighteen, the year I did the most digging, sitting around and most refuelling of vehicles.
The hardest part has been missing events in others lives. Friends and family have moved on, passed away, got married, moved house (some multiple times), had birthdays, had babies, been through hard times and done amazing things and its been hard to not be present for any of it. I can only hope that these people know I was thinking of them and while I feel I missed out on their experiences I don’t feel I could have missed out on this one for myself. I have lived away from the UK for a lot of my adult life but for some reason this time felt different. The idea that you cant return to see people no matter what happens can be a difficult decision to live with.
Its been hard to leave all the amazing people at Rothera, somewhere I called home for a while but with some Scottish tunes playing in my head phones (Frightened Rabbit, Braebach, Skippinish and Runrig) I cant wait to get back to my real home, my family and friends and see what happens next.
These photos hope to show my last couple of days on base as well as some of the things that might be a little different to home.
The view across the Ryder bay from Base. I have photographed this view so many times but it never fails to be impressive. It has occasionally felt like being in a museum with a look but don’t touch mentality.The wonderful Pilots and Mechanics of the BAS airunit. These are the people you hope are doing their jobs correctly! Keeping the planes flying or coming to get you and not complaining about how much you smell.The Cross. This area is littered with memorials and a great reminder that some people do not come home from Antarctica. In my last couple of weeks on base the ice was slowly moving North away from Rothera making the landscape even more dramatic.In the last couple of weeks also had a visit from the RV Laurence M Gould an american research vessel. Possibly one of the most ugly ships I’ve ever seen but I had also heard that they had good food and a great coffee machine on board. Twenty of the Rothera staff went on board for the day for a bit of a cruise and a bit of sciencey stuff. Above – getting winched onboard at 7am. Straight from here into a massive american breakfast while the Americans who had swapped with us went for toast and cereal!Nelly and I found the coffee machine and then took almost an hour working out how to make two coffees. They were pretty amazing though!View from the bridge. The Gould is not a full icebreaker but can push the ice around a bit. Here we are headed back towards Rothera (top right) through the broken up ice.The Gould is a dry ship but traditionally stops at Rothera once a year for a bit of a social and some music. Above – a well stocked fridge outside the music venue (the garage) The band in full swing. One of the things that has truly blown me away about Rothera is the amount of time people are willing to put into making things happen. While some of us where on the ship a group of staff had built the stage and set up for the evening complete with decorations and a full bar complete with optics. On stage (l-r) Adam (Bass -Boatman), Jim (guitar -chippie) Calum (drums -comms manager) Rob (vocals -Plumber), Kate (Vocals -Dive Officer), Trev (Sax -Chef), Tom (Trumpet -Doc), Ali (Sax-Bonner lab manager) cranking out the tunes. The doctor. The talent and time people are willing to put in to help others enjoy themselves is truly incredible.Traffic Jam on my commute to work. Last summer there were hundreds of Elephant seals. This year there were only three but they did decide to commandeer the bridge between the buildings forcing people to walk around them. I think elephant seals are awesome but I’m not sure what they actually do. These seals were in place for the whole of my last week on base never eating or drinking anything. Decisions. The only thing I have really noticed since returning home is that there is a lot of decisions to be made. Above – the whiteboard tells you what to do and when. The “foxhat” (worth googling) is the film choice of the person who’s been washing dishes all day. The dive team heading off for a dive. Before diving they need someone on Seal watch looking out for Leopard seals or whales in the area. Such a tough way to spend an hour or so!The history on the walls. Above – the family tree of all the Antarctic dogs that worked out of Rothera and Halley. This amazing document is on the wall down a side corridor in a building that will soon be knocked down. The walls of the base are littered with amazing things like this. (Great to look out for themes in the dogs names with different generations – Lord of the rings, hebridean islands, film characters etc)
View out of the library window at another weather front rolling in. Tough times in the rothera bar. This sign has been up the whole time I have been at Rothera so I dont think there is any risk of the stocks not lasting. Getting used to using money instead of just ticking next to my name could be interesting (Top right is probably my favourite picture on base of Tom Crean picking up one of Shackletons dogs.)One last penguin shot. There has not been many penguins about this summer but the odd Adelie does pop up around the point.