Midwinter week is the Antarctic Christmas. Work (sort of) stops, the place gets decorated, much food is eaten and presents are given and received. In the run up to the day we exchanged greetings with stations spread around Antarctica. Seeing pictures of other bases and teams of winterers draws us closer over the incredible empty vastness that lies between us. Of special interest were the greetings from Scott base, a New Zealand outpost nestled near McMurdo, where a group of Britains are spending the winter restoring the huts used by early explorers in the region.
Midwinter's day started, as every other good day at Halley must, with the shrieking siren of the science alarm. I was roused drowsily into action at five thirty in the morning after a network switch on the Simpson failed in its simple task of shuttling bits and bytes about the place. A short walk and a few long yawns later I'd figured out what was wrong and returned things to their proper state.
The festivities started with a traditional run around the building near lunch time -- the brighest part of the darkest day, the sun reaching its peak seven degrees beneath the horizon. We were treated to a deep glow along the ice to the North, a dark glowing red like traffic lights in the distance, or the embers of a dying fire. The snow crunching underfoot like sugar icing on a cake, the air cold in my lungs, the cold stinging on my skin, like pin pricks but dulled and stretched across my body. Back inside a tingling takes over as I warm back up, going straight from -40 to +20 by rushing through a welcoming door.
The afternoon is spent preparing. Laying tables, finishing off food, printing menus and, for a break, reading through the base magazine. Each year an issue is published, a collection of quotes, stories, photographs and impressions of the winter so far. It could turn into an exercise in anonymous acrimony but (gladly) we let each other off lightly, and can be collectively proud of our efforts. Of course, the contents stay at Halley and aren't intended for consumption by the outside world...
The first highlight of the day is the meal. Nicola worked another of her miracles, producing a menu that left us stuffed before the puddings had a chance to emerge. Smoked salmon, mussels and prawns to start, then duck, then soft sorbets, then Boeuf en Croute with fresh vegetables saved for the occasion, finished off with truffles and profiteroles.
Then to the lounge for the broadcast. The World Service blasts a midwinter message out to the BAS bases in the evening. Each station picks a tune to be played (we chose White Stripes - Cold, Dark, Night) and has messages from friends or family read out over the air. My parents used this opportunity to inflict an awful pun on me, but raised a smile. Of course, the radio messages aren't so important these days, phones and the internet take care of communication, but it's still a pleasant moment as everyone sits listening together, waiting for their little mention.
Finally the presents. The weeks, hours, nights and days of toil paid back with smiles as gifts are finally unwrapped. My attempts at cutting up pieces of wood satisfied Liz, our carpenter. Frances' long hours spent in the garage welding yeilded a remote controlled Sno-Cat, complete with working tracks and regulation Orange cab, for me to play with on the Piggott.
Later in the week we amused ourselves with quizes and a talent night that was suprisingly full of talent. I pulled out my keyboard and joined Simon and Bob as we walked the line with Johnny Cash, Simon and I then fell apart as we attempted to play a piece we'd only rehearsed the once. Still - worked well as a comedy number. Liz fetched her tools from her workshop and sawed a suprised Andy in half, others sang or played their way into the small hours at the most exclusive gig on the globe.
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