antarctica - the real story

May 25, 2005

my brother recently posted a really interesting entry on his weblog about the building where he lives in antarctica.

go and read that first.

after i'd read it, i came up with a list of questions that he hadn't answered in his entry. i obviously asked him all about the cooking and toilets. here's simon's reply...



> That entry is totally excellent! Thanks a lot for that

Glad you liked it. I've been planning to do it for a while but somehow never got round to it!

> 1. How do you get the waste from wherever its kept into those barrels you keep
> on the open platform? Do you link them up to the horsebox somehow? Do you
> have to pump them out? Nice job for somebody!

The drums on the platform are mostly solid waste - there are drums for landfill, glass,
plastic bottles, tin cans, aluminium cans, cooking oil, anti-freeze, lube oil, photo
chemicals, etc. One of the daily cleaning jobs is to take all the bins out and put the
rubbish in the correct drum. Other stuff (mainly paper, card and other plastics) go in
the compactor. Once the waste is in the drums they are sealed and shipped out for
someone else to deal with.

Sewage is pumped directly from the grifter tank, out via the horsebox and down into
the tunnels into the onion. The onion is basically just a pipe into the snow - the warmth
of the sewage melts the snow and creates an enormous cavern that is roughly onion
shaped! Every few years when one is full we move the pipe and start a new one! The
year before I arrived the plumber didn't check the onion level and it overflowed into the
tunnel! It froze solid and created a slick of frozen sewage down one of the tunnels. yuk!

> 2. What fresh vegetables have you got that have lasted THREE MONTHS? I think I
> can see some onions... surely they must be going a bit manky by now? What
> else?

I know, it's amazing. I don't really understand why things seem to last so long. My
best guess is that A: they buy products designed to last longer, B: the dry air here
helps preserve things and C: we are a bit too fussy at home about what we chuck.
From memory we've still got onions, potatos, cabbage, carrots and eggs (!). Last
year we had cabbage for almost 9 months and although the outside was rotten if you
opened them up the inside was still fine!

> Oh yeah, also, where did your chef work before he came to Halley? Is he a big
> "foodie" or is he more the practical type?

He was a restaurant chef so he can make some fancy stuff but he usually saves that
for special occasions. Often the simple pie and chips type meal goes down better than
posh stuff anyway!

> 3. Have you only got ONE washing machine between all of you? That must be a bit
> annoying in the summer!!

Nope, you could only see one in the shot but there are 3 washers and 2 dryers in that room.
It's still a bit of a pain in the summer but managable.

> 4. Why are the toilets/sinks metal? They look like disgusting public toilets.
> Why haven't you got proper ceramic ones? It must be totally vile having to use
> those permanently

Well they're easy to clean! To be honest I hadn't ever considered that - they're fine! I
suppose the base is generally a bit more unfinished than your average house (pipe work
on open display rather than behind wall cavities etc.) but it does make it easier to fix
things if they go wrong and you really stop noticing things like that after you've been here
a while.

> And what is that pink picture above the urinal? Or shouldn't I ask???

It's a poster advertising Vanessa's weekly aerobics classes.

> 5. Being a nosy person, I want to see more pictures of the food store rooms. I
> can hardly see from that pic what you've got, other than TONS of marmite!
> Please can you take some better pictures for me? Is that peppermint tea
> underneath all the coffee?

It's difficult to get good pictures because they are so long and thin. On picture 25 there
is basically just another row of those cupboards just out of shot on the right. I'll try and
get a better picture or just more from different angles. Yes that's herbel tea below the
coffee - another thing that isn't drunk all that much.

> Does the chef just get all that stuff delivered or can he request specific stuff based
> on what he's planning to cook? It must be a total nightmare, especially for a first-winter
> chef who has no clue what s/he's doing.

Each year the chef can make suggestions but usually they won't get to use the new stuff
as most of them only do one winter. There's plenty of variety though so I wouldn't have
thought it would be too hard for a professional chef to come up with stuff. Also they tend
to go for basic ingredients which can be used to make lots of things - for instance we don't
have any marzipan because you can make your own!

> 6. When you say the chiller cabinet usually contains chocolate, what do you mean?
> As in random bars of chocolate? THAT DOESN'T COUNT AS PUDDING!! Where
> are all your lovely desserts? I'm sure I read somewhere that your chef is a
> big fan of pud!

Yep, just bars of chocolate. That's as well as pudding though! Pudding is put out with the
main meal in the middle section if it's hot or in the chiller if it's cold. The chocolate is just for
snacking on although most people try to stay away because of the lack of a dentist here!

> 7. What magazines do you get? Is it annoying when they have stuff all over the
> front page like "David Beckham shags nanny!" and "Lord of the Rings released"
> which you already knew about from a year earlier?

This year we've got FHM/Loaded etc., Cosmo, 2 photography magazines, newsweek,
new scientist, focus (sciency type thing), national geographic and a few others. We also
usually get some totally bizarre ones thrown in for good measure - last month there was a
parenting magazine - really handy down here! I don't really keep up with the news that
much so it doesn't bother me that they are old. I've never been big into reading mags so
I tend to stick to books anyway.

> 8. How do you track what alcohol belongs to who with it all mixed up in the beer
> store?

We have a couple of shelves each and in the summer everything is sorted, checked and put
on our shelves. There's a fridge behind the bar so people move stuff into there and write their
names on it in pen. Spirits tend to sit on the shelves behind the bar - again labelled with names.

> Also, is there anybody on the base this year who smokes? I hope so, I
> think it would be hilarious having to dress up for 15 minutes every time you
> wanted a fag, that would probably be enough to put me off.

Yes there are 3 full time and 1 attempted quitter. They usually just stick on their overalls and a hat
and have a quick one at the bottom of the stairs. It doesn't seem to be as much of an incentive to
quit as you'd think though!

> 9. I didn't even know you had a computer room? Is that just so people can use
> the internet/send emails etc? was that there last year before you had internet
> access?

Yes that's always been there. People used it to check and send emails, print things off or work on local
files as most people don't have a computer to work at on the Laws platform. It's getting a bit more use
now we have internet!

> 10. Why do the girls get their own toilet? Did they have that last year when
> there were only two of them? Seems a bit unfair!

Well if you compare sizes on the plan you'll see it's pretty small. Last year there were only 2 girls but
there's 4 this year so it's probably fairly cramped.

> 11. Toiletries - do you get to choose your own or do you just have to use what's there?
> I remember you took some hair wax with you when you left, have you run out of that?

I just use what's there although of course you can use your own if you brought some. Most of it is
pretty reasonable except for the soap which is a bit cheap. Again, not something that really
bothers me! I've still got loads of that wax yet as I've resorted to fairly short hair as it's easier to cut
with a set of clippers.

> 12. The doctor's surgery looks well scary! How often does he actually need to
> use it? Surely he doesn't just sit in there all day waiting for somebody to
> have an accident???

No, she lays traps for us! Joking. Obviously most of the stuff just sits there and doesn't get used but
of course it needs to be there just in case. The doctors are probably the least busy people here but they
tend to take on some of the general base work (like waste management) to keep them occupied.

Hope that answers your questions!


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