I’m seeing quite a different side of Rothera today. Looking outside the dining hall window earlier, it was just as if someone had pulled down a white blind across the glass. There was not a single feature visible. The wind has increased steadily – first to 30 knots and now over 45 knots. Walking between buildings is hard. I came out of one door and was literally picked up off my feet. The wind is drives ice crystals into my face as I walk, and without googles it is too painful to look up and see where I am going. It is what my Father would call a “wild” day. The view had steadily disappeared as more driving snow came across the base, and now snow it beginning to pile up against the doors. These heavy porticoes are like industrial freezer doors with big handles that swing to lock them closed. At first I didn’t see why all the doors open inwards, but the shovels and picks at each exit are the clue. It might be that we will need to dig out if any more snow blows up against them.
We had three false alarms this morning. Each time we had to muster in the dining hall. This requires everyone to tramp across to the main hall. Each time it was a false alarm, perhaps the wind is blowing into something, but at least now I have seen the drill. In the entrance hall stands the fire-fighters clothes and breathing apparatus, a solemn reminder that we are completely self-sufficient here.
It is a quiet Sunday today. People filed in for brunch and we chatted and did crosswords. People have filtered off again to play games, read, contact family or do gym workouts. I went to the gym myself, it is pretty basic but has everything I need. I wish I had brought some more suitable clothing. I also wish I had wellie boots. Most seasoned hands do, and they are much quicker to get on and off when going between buildings.
The snow damps all noise. Even a plane taking off becomes a distant roar. But today the wind howls around every structure on base. A few minutes outside, and my face becomes red raw. I really need googles and a muff, but I have not received by personal belongings yet. At breakfast we discussed whether the wind would break up this ice and the ship can get through. Most people are hoping it will, but at least one person expressed the opinion that it is nice to be frozen in still. It adds to the feeling of isolation and makes for magnificent scenery.
I poked around the mountaineering store early. Wooden shelves and tin boxes which hark back to bygone eras are full of everything that is required to mount over-land sledge trips. There is history evident on every wall and on the labels of every box. Different hands from many generations have made notes and comments about their expeditions. Faded logos, dated stickers and greying posters are all memories of the explorers and scientists who have passed through. Loading up their sledges and their dog teams before setting out into the white wilderness. Little has changed, and this is a comforting thing. Modern equipment adorns the racks, but the same skills and practices keep people safe out on the ice. The field guides are all very experienced and photos of them scaling rock faces in more sunnier climbs are testament to that. Little in-jokes are shared on cut-outs from magazines and well-wishes have been sent from celebrity climbers.
Someone asked me to describe the community here. How it functions and what people are like. Going up the ski-slope on Friday, someone commented that “there is no ego here”. I am not sure about that, I think that everyone acknowledges the skills of others; there would be no point being a big-mouth when the guy next to you probably has more experience than you in many other things. I notice a weary patience amongst the more seasoned staff. It’s a manor I’ve noticed before with a certain type of farmer. It is the patience that comes with being in touch with the seasons and reliant on the weather. It says, I won’t rush this today, as I know the weather will be better for it tomorrow. One mechanic commented to me that he prefers this work to “commercial” work as he has time to do a good job. Perhaps that is what brings people here, that you can do a good job and be appreciated. That you need to plumb the depths of your knowledge, and still you will be thanked properly for it. Everyone is keen and enthusiastic to help, not being waited to be asked. But there is still a great dependence on rotas and schedules, things are planned out by the clock, despite the weather being the real true master.
I’d like to customise my room and my life a little more. It didn’t seem too important when I left the UK, but I feel a little envious of people who brought cups and clothes from home to make their life a bit more colourful, and express who they are. I will probably print some pictures out when my box arrives, and hopefully I packed a few things to adorn my bunk room. It’s great to be able to communicate with home, the emails and messages that get through are keeping me going. I haven’t resorted to opening up any of the “care packages” people sent me just yet, I figure after just 3 days, I can wait a bit longer. Yet it already feels so long! I do have a piece of priceless Swiss art work and an Indian god looking out from my desk. I also am well-supplied with jam and very cosy wool socks. It would be nice to have a kettle, there is no shortage of hot drinks, but having to walk across to another building each time is unappealing in even the sunniest weather.
Not much else to say today, it is quiet apart from the howling wind and dripping snow. I think when the wind drops tomorrow, the scenery show another spectacular side to me, and I will be setting out for more field training – Monday’s task is to stay overnight in a tent.