The last potato

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Summer 07
Winter 07


After midwinter everything has calmed down. The sky seems to get brighter every day, but still treats us to stars at lunchtime. A full moon casting enough of a silvery light onto the snow to reveal a world beyond the buried barrels that form the perimeter. We've had more cold clear days. The temperature touching -48.5 degrees for an afternoon. I managed, foolishly, to freeze the end of my nose as I walked to work that day, and wandered into the Piggott with an icicle of frozen breath held fast to my face. After a bit of warming my nose was no longer stiff but with flexibility came feeling -- a crushing throb between the nostrils that persisted for the rest of the day. Better now, thankfully, and not an experience I'll repeat if I can help it.

The quiet of midwinter, and my week of slack on nightwatch, ensured that I had a lot of work to do for the first couple of weeks after the festivities ended. Thankfully I finally got the backlog cleared on Thursday and could head down to the garage to help Simon (our outdoor expert) put the finishing touches to a new Nansen sledge. We use wooden sledges held together with bits of string, very like those that were pulled by dogs fifty years back, as they have the flexibility to cope with the rough ridges of sastrugi that make a ploughed field seem smooth. Pretty much everyone on the base has had a hand making this model so we all signed our names on the bridges and now have to hope none of our knots fail when our creation is being bounced about deep in the field.

We've passed a major milestone. The last fresh potatoes on the station were served with dinner on Saturday. I managed to eat the final specimen, and jolly nice it tasted too. We ran out of red onions slightly earlier, but I had a fine time in the kitchen sorting through the stock to retrieve the edible parts from the injured.

You start with a large metal bowl of six month old onions. Many have grown thick short white roots, like string for wrapping parcels, sprawling in the air outside their skins. Some produce shoots, thrusting through their shells, sturdy green white spears curving along their length. Plucked from the earth months ago yet still searching for soil and sunlight.

Pick each up in turn - if the thin skin outside is dry, and feels like squeezing a jiffy bag, the contents are likely fine. Peel off the flaking shells, crackling like dried autumn leaves, until a firm layer is reached, streaked purple and white with a soft shine. Top and tail and place in the bucket of good specimens.

If mouldy outside - the skin turned orange, brown, dusty white or a silvered green. The bruises feel softer, liquid rather than dry. Some layers have collapsed from firmness under the onslaught of the spreading decay. The badness goes around, along the sheets of soft white cells, but has trouble penetrating successive shells, the purple shields like curtain walls against the invasion. With two or three spongy spoilt layers stripped away the strong center is again a good onion, and finds itself in the "good" bucket. Clearing away the unclean material leaves the fingers covered with a sticky purple dye, with the consistency of just spilt blood and the colour of squashed blackberries, that stains the skin for the rest of the day.

Some onions are beyond redemption, the corruption piercing to the core even as new shoots race out to escape their crumbling prison. Here and there a sound region surrounds a single fouled interior surface, with another fine onion nestled inside.

It's funny, after this, to read recipies that demand "only the freshest eggs" or "farm bought vegetables". A lazy mantra that infects writers and supermarket shelves and feeds an industry of waste. Week old vegetables are cast away to make space for their marginally more recent cousins. Glistening with this morning's dew, firmer perhaps but surrounding the same fine flesh. We might lose some of the taste and texture after food has travelled so far and been stored for so long, but to me the eggs still taste of egg, the onions still make me cry when I chop them up.

Piggott in the darkness
Piggott in the darkness

Eating the last fresh potato
Eating the last fresh potato

Lashing on sledge Z2006
Lashing on sledge Z2006

Bridges on sledge Z2006
Bridges on sledge Z2006

My name on the sledge
My name on the sledge

We've also been very involved with the football. Internet radio brought England matches into the lounge, until we fell under a fire of penalties, and a small sweepstake has given even the uninterested a reason to look at the results, if not the action, of the games.

Anxiously listening to England's penalties
Anxiously listening to England's penalties

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