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Hijinks on the High Seas

Posted by Conservators Apr 29, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 23/04/2013

Temperature: -26 degrees

Windspeed: 13 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -39 degrees

Sunrise: 11.46am

Sunset: 1.56pm

 

Being down on the Ice is a difficult balance. All winter-over staff (AHT+AntNZ) have a massive amount of work to get through during the season. But the idea that a season can be acheived without a good slice of humour added into the mix is pretty naive.

 

The more I read of the explorers the more I'm facinated by what they got up to, and the dour accounts that follow. From journals of the long journey to Antarctica in the Discovery, comes an odd account of a "ducking pool": made from a wooden scaffold and sails, created aboard the ship, and through which (it seems) the men had to run a watery "Neptunes" gauntlet featuring razor blades and lather! In the games that followed Walker (a Dundee whaler) had his thumb "clean bitten to the bone." Scott's accounts of the soapy events were "The party was rather too lavishly regaled with whisky" and that the men "were a little rough towards the end"?

 

Click here for a picture of sails being rigged for Neptune's Gauntlet aboard the Discovery: http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p83.6.2.3.10/ photo credit Anon.

 

Needless to say there has been no thumb biting at Scott Base, although April the 1st was enjoyed by planting a fake "leak" in the water treatment plant. A series of 'emergency calls' later (out of work hours), the ever professional Graeme, attended the scene with great concern, and with a very well developed Preston-ian sense of humour, enjoyed the hijinks. He has become rather fond of the leek and it's since become a mascot of the water treatment plant.

 

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Graham and his new friend. Credit: Jonny5

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Winter Routines

Posted by Conservators Apr 23, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 17 April 2013

Temperature: -32 degrees

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -50 degrees

Sunrise: 10.19am

Sunset: 3.34pm

 

When the AHT winter team arrived on the ice ten weeks ago we arrived to 24-hr daylight... and next week, already, we move into 24-hr darkness. It seems to have come around quickly, giving our internal body clocks little consistency upon which to establish reliable routines. Consequently, we are reliant on the clock, especially as we now rise and begin work in the dark. Many lights around Scott Base are now on 24/7, with power being generated largely by three wind turbines on a hill behind the base.

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An April day at Scott Base, from the wind farm

 

Not unexpectedly, our winter routine of rising, working, eating and enjoying some recreational activities in the evenings is not unlike that of the early explorers. But of course we live in a modern facility so many aspects are very different. Of days' end during the 1911 winter at Terra Nova hut Captain Scott recorded: "At 11pm the acetylene lights are put out, and those who wish to remain up or to read in bed must depend on candle-light. The majority of candles are extinguished by midnight, and the night watchman alone remains awake to keep his vigil by the light of an oil lamp."

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Historic candles from the "heroic era", Cape Royds

 

For us, each in a room of our own, "lights out" in the evenings is, of course, whenever we choose to flick the switch. And, with the ever present risk of fire, never do we light a candle... and we have 200+ smoke detectors, 200 fire extinguishers, 8 hydrants and an extensive water sprinkler system to protect the base. Further, thanks to sophisticated alarm and communication systems, there is never a need for someone to keep watch at night... unless perhaps it's in the hope of observing an aurora, and that's purely for reasons of fascination and awe!

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Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 26/03/2013

Temperature: -31 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: About 15-20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: - 49 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 8.30am-ish

Sunset: 8.00pm

 

Despite valiant efforts to comprehensively understand and manage health and safety in Antarctica, danger still lurks, a hidden menace that brings pain and misery to all that live here. It can strike unseen and without warning, leaving its victims both irate and in pain.

 

Travelling the long deserted corridors of Scott Base, the deadly combination of extremely dry air and interestingly patterned polyester carpets becomes lethal, allowing the innocent pedestrian to accumulate a massive static charge, which can only mean one thing. Approach the washing up bowl, flick a light switch or simply reach for a tempting pasty and "crack", its too late. A blinding spark the size of a small planet leaps from your fingertip and leaves you cursing and frustrated, in the certain knolwedge that before long it will happen again.

 

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A scientist demonstrates the power of static electricity - Jaime Ward

 

On the positive side however, once fully charged you briefly have super hero powers, able to destroy electronic equipment with a single touch, or to become extremely unpopular by gently tapping unsuspecting people on the ear and observing their reaction.

 

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Some random penguins; naturally untroubled by static discharge - Jaime Ward.

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A Guessing Game

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2013

Author: Stefanie

Date:  10th April 2013

Temperature:  -22.4° C

Wind Speed:  20/13 kts

Temp with wind chill: -34° C

Sunrise: 09:14

Sunset:16:31

 

I refer you to a blog written by conservator John in December 2011:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/community/antarctic-conservation/blog/2012/01/16/mystery-from-the-hut-of-captain-scott-at-cape-evans

John, who found an intriguing metal-sheet figurine at Cape Evans, describes the object's unusual features and asks his readers to suggest a solution to its mysterious function. The responding suggestions, which included a weather vane and tin opener, are problematic for several reasons and the mystery of the one legged figurine remains just that, a mystery.

 

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Mysterious Man: Metal sheet figurine with unknown function.

 

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Mysterious Man: Reverse side of figurine

 

The unresolved function and purpose of that curious metal figurine was recently revisited as the object came through the lab for conservation treatment. Each one of us pondered its purpose and after making no concrete conclusions, I made a card replica of the object to demonstrate the full functioning of the moveable leg and to aid tactile and visual understanding.

 

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Archaeologist Jennifer Danis ponders the function of the mysterious man.  Image taken by:  Zachary Anderson 2013

 

I presented the mystery at our Scott Base meeting and invited ideas, suggestions and resolutions from everyone. A guessing game began with some interesting results:

 

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Jennifer uses card replica to help understand the object.  Image taken by Zachary Anderson 2013

 

Graeme, an engineer, concluded that the figurine is most likely a latch or clamp similar to one used for a chest or suitcase today. However, he also suggested that as the figurine is pressed with an especially shaped form, several shapes of the same figurine could have been cut to create a display or scene. This idea is promoted by Damian, the cook, who considers the object a puppet similar to a shadow puppet. Tim, the science technician, also thought the object a puppet, however after further consideration added that it may have been used as a measuring device. This corresponds to an idea presented by Colin, the carpenter, who suggests the object is similar to a current day pick-a-mood device, used as a tool to enable people to communicate their moods in stressful social interactions. Or perhaps this curious one legged, one armed man is as Stefan suggests, the result of Clissold's mechanical ingenuity. The case remains unsolved and the guessing game continues… 

       

        

 

   

 

 

    

 

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Graphic art in the lab

Posted by Conservators Apr 11, 2013

Author: Marie

Date: 08/04/13

Temperature: -16

Wind speed: 9 knots

Temp with wind chill: -24

Sunrise: 8:58am

Sunset: 4:49pm

 

 

Some artefacts just fascinate you. They take you back somewhere, sometime, straight away. They're appealing. The stationery we had last fortnight had this effect on me. The tray for the colours, the brush and the nib pen, just fill the area with some kind of poetic and artistic atmosphere. And I couldn't refrain from setting up this completely inaccurate reconstruction, for the picture and for the pleasure.

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The imaginary painter atelier in the conservation lab

 

 

Click the following link to see the real painter atelier in the hut. Historic image of Dr Wilson working on a sketch http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.402/. May 19th 1911 Credit H. Ponting. SPRI ref : P2005/5/0402

 

I was also really curious about the nib pen. Could it be Scott’s one? Was it related to one of the diaries? Or maybe to some map, drawing, letters, furniture list or scientific notes? Hence, I started looking again on the historic images, and Lizzie sent me some close ups. So, I can tell now that it's probably not Scott's, neither Cherry's, nor Griff. But, it could be Gran's nib pen, even if I can't tell for sure. The exposure time was long enough for Gran to take a posture in the middle of an already written page and it seems that the handle has been slightly moving. Click the following link to see a picture of Gran holding a nib pen: http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.399/ Credit H. Ponting. SPRI ref: P2005/5/0399.

 

That's probably the most interesting part of the job, going from the excitement of mystery to the pleasure of recognition. So, if someone can just tell me what's written on the page…

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Cook, my cook

Posted by Conservators Apr 4, 2013

Author: Marie

Date: 25/03/13

Temperature: - 32C

Wind speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -49C

Sunrise: 9am

Sunset: 9pm

 

 

If you have ever seen Dead Poets Society you would remember the boys shouting 'Captain, my captain'. The title of my blog is not a joke about Captain Cook, but rather an acknowledgement of the crucial role of a cook on an expedition.

 

For historic image of Thomas Clissold making pies in January 1912 see SPRI/ http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/

 

Shackleton, relating the Endurance's terrible journey, mentions the cook several times for his great ability to make everyones life better by combining seal fat with seal grease in the most lovely way (yes, they were badly starving).

Marie Pic 2.jpgThe cook making pies, March 2013 © AHT/Marie

 

The Terra Nova expedition cook, Thomas Clissold, was so brilliant that Scott wanted him to join the South Pole party! He was said to be the most inventive person, and he built many utensils and gadgets to make his work slightly easier (such as a mechanism to warn him when bread had risen enough in the oven). But Clissold broke a leg and stayed on Ross Island.

Marie Pic 3.jpgEnamel dish in the lab

 

Here and now, our cook Damian, is so important to everyday life, making a feast for morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner with limited supplies. He is also the main reason why we're going to the gym before dinner, as we need to fit into our clothes by the end of winter as badly as we need to eat some more chocolate cake. And to give an accurate idea of our wellness, I should add that Stef used to be a chef and Jaime is baking fresh bread on Sundays!

As I was conserving enamel dishes, covered with burnt sugar on the edges, I remembered Ponting's picture of the cook. And Damian was kind enough to make us a rhubarb pie for the occasion.

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The Frozen Few

Posted by Conservators Apr 2, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 20/03/13

Temperature: -13.5C

Wind speed: 12 knotos

Temp with wind chill: -25C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Not long ago we had a long weekend (two days), a rare treat on Scott Base, and we took the opportunity of getting out on a 'Fam trip'. Anything we do which could be considered dangerous has to be fully considered in every aspect … equipment, communications, health & safety, etc. Lex (our base mechanic) has a tremendous amount of experience with a multitude of heavy machinery and was able to organise a ski-doo trip out to "room with a view" (about 25km NW of Scott Base, up the Hut Point Peninsula).

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Jaime after a bumpy stint on a ski-doo © AHT/Stefan

 

Riding ski-doos is a tricky business. The flat light at this time in the season means it's difficult to see snow drifts, and as you're essentially raising your wind chill by however fast you're travelling, frost nip/bite becomes a very real threat if you're not 100% covered up. It was a brilliant day out, with great scenery and most importantly no injuries.

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Lex with the McMurdo 'Frozen Few' Chapter  © Lex

 

A great aspect to life in Antarctica is that you're surrounded by people who enjoy resurrecting important parts of their life from back home and creating them anew in the inhospitable climes of this harsh continent. A biker fraternity called 'The Frozen Few' (born on McMurdo, the US base) has decided to open up a Scott Base 'chapter'. Proudly Lex, Graeme and even AHT's very own Jaime are newly ordained 'pledges'. We're all very grateful to the guys, as without these efforts to create a diverse social life, our Antarctic experience would be much the poorer.