Friday, 18 November 2016

Things that Mother Failed to Mention

When my parents waved me off to sea (figuratively speaking- they weren’t really perched up on a hillside in red flannel dresses waving white hankies like forlorn extras from the Railway Children. At least I hope not.) my mother gave me a wealth of good advice. Chief amongst her concerns seems to have been that I should avoid getting trolls on my blog. I was uncertain as to how to follow this excellent advice other than to take heart from my relative anonymity. You’d have to be a fairly dedicated troll to search out unknown BAS employees. Surely it would be speedier just to abuse people appearing in your dog-eared copy of NOW magazine. (Who knows, I may have just encouraged a volley of abuse. Please be nice guys.) But there were things that she unaccountably failed to mention.

  1. It’s dry down South. Dessicatingly dry. Your lips will peel despite repeated applications of chapstick and eventually you’ll look like a slightly deranged Hannibal Lecter, constantly chewing on your lips and pulling great chunks of skin off. When you finally look properly at your legs for the first time in days (rather than the glances in the shower) you realise that the skin is so dry that it looks faintly like the Gobi desert after a really parched year- cracked and flaky. Lovely eh? And then of course there is the static. It’s so dry down here that sparks are created by the smallest amount of friction on any surface. Walking the foot to my bathroom door this morning meant that I lost enough electrons to generate a wee arc as my hand reached out for the metal door handle. Ouch. Noses bleed, heels crack and all the rough tough sailors have their own favourite brands of body butter. The reason for this dryness? The icebergs suck the moisture out of the atmosphere.
  2. Sleeping at night will be a problem. Your body rolls about constantly on the mattress unless you assume the superman-in-freefall position. And then dig your toenails in. As Mike, our radio officer, points out on his website (check it out if you haven’t already- gm0hcq into google) all the little things in your cabin will start rattling at night- they were silent in the day. But now, as you try to drift off...they come out to play. I’ve just been initiated into one of the glorious mysteries of sleeping at sea though. Wedge your sea-survival suit under the outer side of the mattress and it creates a valley between the wall and the elevated side of the mattress. You can snuggle down into that space and barely move as the ship decides to do the nautical equivalent of a triple pike somersault on the beam with dismount. Smug faced.
  3. The toilets. For those that dislike reference to bodily functions; I suggest that you look away. The toilets are suction based which means that there are a series of rather stern instructions on the inside of the toilet door demanding that you flush with the lid down (I really want to know what happens if you don’t- does the ship turn inside out?) and certainly don’t flush whilst sitting on the toilet. Because, and I quote “serious injury may result.”
    Visions of prolapsed bowels dancing through my head at this point... The other source of dismay is the ghosts of toilet visits past. Normally, when at home, I don’t worry about where the toilet paper ends up as long as it's within the bowl! I simply flush (sometimes with the lid up- crazy shit) and the toilet paper goes away. Not so with the suction toilet. Your paper must be appropriately placed or it will not be sucked down into the nether regions of the ship. And then when you lift the lid later in the day, there will be your toilet paper. Bearing mute witness to micturitions past and glaring accusingly at you.
4. A total loss of any sense of proportion. We live in a microcosm floating about on the Southern Ocean. The population of my little town varies from 50-70 people and the outside world is very far away. My bosses have referred to this as the “goldfish bowl” where suddenly tiny slights- real or imagined- assume titanic proportions and you realise that you’re raging down the phone to your long suffering other half about the cereals at breakfast with no sense that there are things going on in the real world. There was an American presidential election- and I think some people may have been hard put to decide which was more important- the state of the Nutella stocks on board or the election. Naturally I knew which was more important. Nutella is a thing of beauty and joy forever whereas American presidents come and go in a mere four years. Silly question really.

5. You will get bored. Most of the time the whole thing is crazy and exhilarating. It’s wonderful to be doing my job and getting to see a part of the world that very few people will ever get to visit.
More of Signy 2016

Signy 2016

Signy 2016- I am phenomenally lucky!

 But every so often, when you’ve been sailing for days with nothing really to look at other than more is’ve checked all the first aid kits several times...emailed everyone you know...knitted and read for several start to ponder strange things like how many custard creams will fit in your mouth at once or whether or not X-Raying your whole body is a good idea. Answer; it’s not.

6. The universal and immutable law that says as soon as I put my thermals on, followed by my clothes, followed by my sexy reflective overalls, followed by my fleece, and then my coat and then my hat and then my gloves...I will realise that I need to pee. Badly.

The look of vague anxiety due to wondering how long it will take to peel off all these layers....

Anyway, I have to go and reapply my handcream, so I shall speak to you all anon. Hope you’re all having a lovely and moisturised day!

(NB My mother is a wonderful person who sends me lots of chocolate. I love her dearly.)


  1. Nutella wins hands down!
    O hunny I feel for you with the skin mine is still recovering and I didn't have it half a bad as you, but not feeling that much because I wish we could switch places. I have just got home after being at uni all day trying to learn a new computer program from a bunch of nerdy computer science guys who I think have never seen a female before let alone spoken to one! It was very amusing. However they have provided me with the dummies guide and lots of email addresses if I need help.
    You must need to drink loads! What about eating are you eating more too?

    1. Hey Kerri! Hah- I'm trying to drink more water although as ever coffee seems to end up being a major part of my fluid intake! I really struggle with computers- my battle yesterday was working out how to put an access database into a zip file so that I could email it back to the UK. Took me hours. I'm still not sure how I did it the same battle looks set to happen next month! How's uni going? Are you getting back into the swing of things? Hx

  2. Computers suck! Uni is hard I have to learn two new programmes and coding language so thats fun. I am applying for PhD's too and started working nights again just to make my life easier! Being an awesome mum just comes naturally so back into the swing of that. Just the rest now. Going for dinner with Madie and Denise tonight, wine will happen!
    Miss you x

  3. ROUGH HANDS. You should see mine.It,s getting all the coal in for the solid fuel rayburn that does it and all so we can keep the cats warm that Jana left behind. I mean we have central heating but do cats like to snuggle up to a bit of warm mild steel. No they want the real thing. Anyway glad to hear you and your skin are bearing up and looking forward to more Stories. Uncle Andrew

    1. Hah- that's awesome. I'm pretty sure that Mum and Dad keep the wood burner going mainly for the convenience of the cats! Glad that you're enjoying the stories! Take care! Helen

  4. Fantastic, blog! I love reading about your experiences in the Antarctic. PS Obvious question: how do you get internet access down there? Is it by satellite? Many thanks!

    1. Not an obvious question at all! I had many a fun conversation with the guys at EE about stopping my mobile before I went South. I explained that I didn't think their service extended that far...but I think they may have thought I was a bit of a fantasist! We have a satellite link. It's been upgraded in recent years so it's actually pretty good. Not as quick as you would have at home but still good. The bases are less lucky I think...I know they struggle with internet at KEP. Hope that answers your question!

    2. Many thanks for your answer; I still find it amazing that I can communicate with someone in such a remote place on earth! Hope you and your colleagues have a great Christmas

    3. It is amazing, isn't it? And it does make staying in contact with family and friends a lot easier, compared with just 30-40 years ago where they sent telexes and had a word limit! Like Twitter before the digital age! Have a merry Christmas yourself. Helen

  5. Static - wee arch - on your way to the toilet! Conjures up by far the wrong sort of image.