Saturday, October 08, 2005

Two weeks of peace and quiet

Hi All,

the sun is up and bright today, it looks like it should be wonderfully
warm outside, so it is always a bit of a disappointment to step out into
the sun and find that it is -65C. However, it is very hard to be gloomy
when the big orange ball is so cheerful, and most people here are merry
for the thought that it ain't long till they escape.

In just under two weeks, weather permitting, we are to be inundated with
about a hundred people, an idea as unappetising as it is frightening. The
summer hoardes are about to descend and I am trying to enjoy the last few
days of peace and quiet before the madness.

Preparations for summer are now underway in earnest, with a large portion
of people out and about this week shovelling snow away from half or
totally buried summer camp jamesways and hypertats (old Korean war
semi-cylindrical tents and their fibre-glass cousins, respectively). The
summer camp is now warm and ready for occupation, the hilarious thing
being it will be mostly occupied with winterovers who are kicked out of
their own habitats in station so that the much more important summer
people don't have to spend even a day in the snowy wilderness. Crazy room
changes are ordered at opening, I am moving upstairs, some people move to
different wings and poor Robert is being made to move across the hall by
one room, for a total of five days. Silly stuff, but most people aren't
particularly fussed, happy to cruise along for the silliness as it won't
be a long stay in the new place in any case.

My stay, however, is now longer than planned. After a hilarious round of
combative emails between respective projects, the Helium Wars are
hopefully over, and the last drops of helium have been allocated to most
people's satisfaction. QUAD shuts down today, and this allows ACBAR and
AS/TRO to continue longer than originally hoped, good news for the
data-bots in the States, bad news for this little winterover, who now has
to stay an extra week to collect more data. You can't say no to such a
request, even when sandy shores and a warm bath beckon, not in the last
year of a successful project that costs several thousand dollars a day to
run. It is a measure of my boss, Bill, that he has been sweet enough not
to ask me to stay longer still (though I am still wary of new emails from
him), so now my new 'escape' date is the 1st of November.

I am now ok with this, having changed dates for my cosy little cottage in
Christchurch, and not much else (apart from imminent threats to my mental
health) has been disturbed. More concerning is that an additional seven
days among the new populace, all usually ridden with a number of
infectious diseases from the northern hemisphere and everywhere in
between, means i'll likely spend most of this time violently ill.
Hopefully, this means I'll get it over and done with before holidays start

The common question amongst the winterovers now is "so, when do you
leave?" and amusing comparisons of predictions for how long people will be
stuck in McMurdo (Mactown) before escaping to Christchurch. For toasty
Polies a length of time in the craziness of Mactown seems a fate worse
than death after Pole, so this keeps us amused. Mind you, it doesn't take
much to keep us amused at the moment. Yesterday I saw eight people
peering out the windows of the Galley, transfixed as the Met guy, John,
took his daily observations - which involve standing outside and seeing
how much cloud there is. Exciting stuff.

Not much else to report really. ACBAR is running like a little champion
(though I am shielding this sentence from him in the control room so he
doesn't get any ideas), the sun is out, I am as pale as a pavlova,
everyone is toasty and some are even counting the *hours* until they
leave. Crazy people.

After finishing my cryo fill about an hour ago, I found myself sitting on
the steps up to the Mapo roof. The building shielded me from the wind, the
sun almost seemed warm, and lit up the curvaceous sastrugi as far as I
could see, and the station almost seemed pretty in the light. Despite all
the grumbles and brainlessness that overwhelms people at this end of the
season, a moment of clarity reminded me that I still have the best job in
the world. The quiet and the sublime stretch of snow and ice before me is
as yet undisturbed by the rest of the world, and I have but two weeks to
enjoy it. Funny how the world turns, really, especially at its Poles...


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