Midwinter- Amazing Gifts.

Amazing Gifts

 

There is a lot to write about mid-winter, from the fabulous meal we have, to the traditional screening of John Carpenters “the Thing” to the BBC world service mid-winter broadcast but I’ll jump into posting about my favourite – and the one thing that has been occupying everyone on base for months now: the making of midwinter gifts.

It is a long-standing tradition that at midwinter we all give and receive Gifts – as you would at Christmas (indeed, as we don’t really have time to celebrate it, this time of year is our Christmas) The person you make your gift for is chosen out of a hat and then kept secret until the big day. The sound of people squirreled away around base, industrially beavering away at their present has been getting steadily louder and louder as we approached the deadline, with people doing their best to keep their gift, and who it is for, a secret.

The big day arrives!

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Me, I got our met babe Richard “Captain Awesome” Warren. I wanted to make something that would  test me in terms of the limited skills I have and hopefully be something that, way into the future, someone would look at and say “yeah, this is what was made for me in Halley 2014” That would be what I would love to get and what I would want to give.  On base we have limited materials and tools, everything that was done was made by hard work and creativity as opposed to pure skill and experience, something which I think makes the standard of things that were made even more incredible. Everyone was just blown away by the gifts they received and I can see why it has become such a big tradition.

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter giftsDSC_0086

Antarctic Midwinter giftsAntarctic Midwinter gifts

Some proper quality on display, with some really inventive use of materials and really well planned ideas.

My pressie for Richard: A folding knife and display case with his initials stamped in and some brass work and veneering. The wood in my gift- like quite a lot of peoples came from an old sledge that was to be “retired”.  The sledge N71 (also called Myrtle) had had a long career South and had seen time at Rothera before coming to Halley and is a real part of Antarctic history. Everything apart from the knife blade itself was made with good old fashioned elbow grease, sawing, sanding and polishing. The blade was handmade too – just this required the use of the bench grinder!  It came out pretty well I think- and the knife shaved the hairs off my arm easily enough when I was testing it! Learning how to veneer was quite fun too. I fancy having another crack at knife making so I might write more about this.

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gift

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

For my gift I got Nick, fellow member of the tech services team. Nick and I work quite closely together so he’d done a great job of keeping things under his hat – I was a bit gobsmacked to discover who had made something for me. Then, I was a bit gobsmacked again when I saw just what he’d knocked up. Nick had made – from bits of metal and wood lying around, A replica of a nansen sledge, with ropes, brakes – everything really, right down to the smallest detail. It really is amazing! Something that will be treasured and talked about for a long time to come.

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Mental innit? It’s sat on a plinth made from the sledge it is a replica of, along with a brass plaque saying HALLEY VI 2014 and also has the map of Antarctica acid etched into brass! It’s well good man.

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

Also made were some Crackers, each with jokes, hats, riddles and small gifts.

I made Al a little Copper Z6 keyring

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

And Silver knocked up this photogenic fella for Mike

Antarctic Midwinter gifts

 

next up is the food!!

 

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Happy Midwinter!!!

There will be more posts and pictures about this in a bit but this is just a quick post to wish everyone down here in Antarctica a Happy Midwinter! Hope you all have a great day however it is that you celebrate.
Joyous midwinter greetings to all those poor buggers back home having to deal with all that pesky “Sunshine” too.

Anthony

Nightsky and Neighbours. Both Stellar and Human…

Been out and about again. Quite often in the course of a day I’ll be about my business, walking from the base modules to the workshop or the garage and you almost forget where you are. Yes, it’s minus 40 and you’re wrapped up in umpteen layers of clothes but you are still really just out and about in the course of your working day – as stupid as that may sound to all of you back home. What you can’t ignore though is the sky, the weird atmospheric conditions and the horizon turning funny colours. I know I’ve probably repeated variations on that theme a few times now, writing about being down here, but one, I can’t help waffling about this stuff and two, I don’t remember things too well. Anyway, the more we get into winter, the more I’m really starting to enjoy looking at the sky. I think I’m turning into a bit of an amateur astronomer, I’ve had all the books I can find in the base library out, trying to familiarise myself with the stars, constellations and planets and generally try to get a handle on the stuff I can see as I wander around. I’ve been playing with the base telescope this week too – though I’ve not quite managed to get it set up and taking pictures yet but watch this space!

The more you know the stars and where they are in relation to each other the more interesting looking skywards becomes, once you get the brightest ones, such as Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Centauri, and the more obvious constellations such as Orion, Crux (the Southern Cross) or Scorpius then you can work outwards and recognise more stuff. I think I might just be getting a little bit geeky about the whole stargazing thing.

The sights this week have included Venus as I was off trotting to the garage. You’ve probably all seen Venus, either in the evening or morning sky back home. It’s the brightest celestial body in the night sky after the Moon and can generally be seen way before (or after) any of the other stars are visible. Not long ago Venus was high in the sky down here, and I got some good pictures – though not with the telescope yet. First one that came to hand is this un, with venus above the Moon:

 

moon and venus antarctica

Right now though, Venus is lower down, nearer the horizon and because of where it rises and falls it appears to shine a number of colours as it comes up and down. The reason for this is that when Venus rises it does so  right about where the Sun used to pop up. The Sun is quite far beneath the horizon at the moment but it’s light still shows a tiny bit, making a deep red or sooty orange glow appear for a few hours in the afternoon away off to the North. Now, when Venus rises it changes colour before your eyes, depending on the clouds and atmospheric conditions. Sometimes it is it’s more customary bright white, others orange but every now and again it will appear as a brilliant red dot, almost like a traffic light, before changing colour again.

The other two planets curremtly knocking about in my sky are Saturn and Mars. Mars has been around for a while now and Saturn is not too far away from it – I think if you get a clear night back home you can probably see them both right now too. At the time of writing they should be close to the full Moon. Mars is the reddy orange star, to the left (or right for Northerners, we’re upside down here) of the moon. As you come closer to the moon the star Spica is next and then just before the moon, slightly yellow is Saturn. If I can figure out how to get the tracking working on our telescope I’ll try to get some pictures of it in all it’s glory, rings and all.

Edited to add: Nah, just checked and you can’t see any of that!! One hemisphere at a time for me I think.

The temps and conditions this week have been right for what’s known as diamond dust, microscopic particles of ice that hang in the air, shimmering in any sort of light and causing weird things to appear in the sky. I’ve seen these before in the daylight – things such as Sun dogs Sun Halos, Sun pillars and other gorgeous, multi-coloured, bizarre-sky things. This pic has been up here before, but I like it and it shows what I mean.

 

Sun halo

More rare is when these happen at night and it’s the moon showing itself off. This week as the moon approaches fullness  (on Friday the 13th – wooooh) we got Moon halos, pillars and dogs.

Moon pillar and Moon Halo

 

Moon pillar and Moon Halo

Moon pillar and Moon Halo, with saturn

Hard to actually focus and get the moon and the stars in detail at the same time as showing the halo but the last picture I’ve tried to limit the light taken in  and you can see the little dot to the right of the moon – well that’s Saturn (though it’s now further away from the moon) with the star Spica to the left and also the bottom of the constellation Scorpius., which can be seen in the first two pics. The 3 stars making up it’s claws begin to the right of the moon and its tail then goes up into the sky where it will curl and bend back on itself like a stinger. You might have to click on the picture to get a better look.

Here’s what I mean:

Moon, staurn and scorpio

Also got a nice email from another Antarctic winterer this week – who funnily enough likes the night sky too. Patrick, who is wintering at the South African base Sanae, which is one of our near neighbours (ie, only a thousand miles or so away)

This is a great picture Patrick got of the milky way behind the base, with a little bit of a tinge from the Aurora in the background:

SANAE under the milkyway

You’ve got to love looking up at stuff like that!

 

The rest of the time I’ve been fettling away with my winter gift. I think it’s turned out pretty good, though a bit more polishing won’t do it any harm, and I’ve also continued with the Race Antarctica. Still winning. but man, I’m wanting this to be over. Starting to feel like an old man. Only another 1500km’s to go though!

 

 

 

 

 

Big Empty Place. Bigger and Emptier

Antarctic ice extent

Cool picture I found of Antarctica taken from space showing the growing sea ice. Hard to believe only a few months ago the Shack came in, picked everyone up and buggered off leaving us here, all alone, for the winter.
Ice is what makes Antarctica. From the ice sheets that cover the continent, in places five kilometres thick, to the shelves spilling out onto the sea – like the one I live on that’s hundreds of metres thick.  And then, every year, the sea itself freezes and Antarctica doubles in size, like you can see above.
Now my home is accessible only by penguins.

More Aurora!

Antarctic Aurora. Halley 6

I’ve been out and about in the dark again with my camera and tripod over my shoulder. It’s nice wandering around outside in the dark. It’s easy to begin to take for granted just where you are sometimes, it’s been busy and you’ve been focused on doing your job and you can forget to look around you. When you’re out with the camera though you are really taking it all in. Just walking around aimlessly, looking around you and not just going from one place to another is quite  relaxing – and spooky.  The sound of your feet hitting the ice makes you think about just what you are walking on – hundreds of metres of ice rather than solid ground. The ice here is not simply frozen water but compacted snow, that has either fallen or been blown, that is then frozen solid. Solid is not really the right word though. The ice at the surface is probably made up of ninety plus percent air, but is frozen so it seems solid and only gives a little when you walk on it. Because of this it echoes and rings when you stomp around -often you can hear people walking around outside long before you see them. This ice, that is made up of mostly nothing, will then be compacted as more and more material is deposited until, towards the bottom of the ice sheets, shelves and glaciers the ice is now virtually free of air and is the solid blue ice that will be seen when the ice calves into the ocean and floats off as a Berg. Anyway, I digress. Outside, in the dark, with the stars and strange green and red lights above you, and the strange ringing sound of your footsteps resonating  through the surface ice you can’t not be aware of the fact that you’re in a bit of a mental place. The one thing that stops me from being out there all of the time of course is the cold. To try to get the pictures you want of the night sky takes a bit of tinkering with camera, changing settings, putting delays on the shutter, changing the exposure and trying to focus on things that are light years away. This all has to be done with fingers with the minimal amount of material covering them, rather than the three different layers and huge bulky mitts that will actually keep your hands warm. Because of this you have to do as much as is possible with the camera inside the base, keeping to a minimum the changes to the camera outside. This would be easier if you knew what you were doing, what you wanted to take a picture of and the best way to go about it. Although things are actually starting to sink into my brain I’m still learning a lot and often I don’t have the first clue about a lot of those things and just end up outside changing all the settings after getting them all wrong inside!

Still, as I’ve said a few times now, Antarctica often makes it hard to not get good photos by providing such ridiculously amazing things to point a camera at.

Like this:

 

Antarctic Aurora. Halley 6

Antarctic Aurora. Halley 6

Antarctic Aurora. Halley 6

Antarctic Aurora. Halley 6

Antarctic Aurora. Halley 6

Antarctic Aurora. Halley 6

This last picture is one that I like, only a slight tinge of green from the aurora that I’d gone out to see and the opposite direction form the best bit of the starry sky and the band of the galaxy but something about it just makes you realise what an inhospitable and alien place we live in, like a scene from a film set hundreds of years in the future with the module and it’s spotlight actively exploring somewhere new and weird – which not long ago was just what  was happening down here.

Antarctic sky