Saturday, 11 February 2017


I came across a very interesting piece of gossip the other day. Now obviously this is top secret, so you mustn’t tell anyone. Apparently Bird Island, Signy and King Edward Point Stations used to have darts tournaments over the radio. But, and here’s the kicker, unbeknownst to all the competitors only two of the three stations actually possessed a darts board... Now I tell you this, not to encourage you to distrust all those who have spent time at KEP, Signy or Bird Island (although I certainly wouldn’t play poker with the little devils) but to simply admire the can-do attitude and chutzpah of the people on the bases. These proud men and women of the British Antarctic Survey were not to be foiled by the mere absence of a darts board and they improvised, they adapted and they overcame adversity. And only incidentally won the cup three years running...
So I thought it might be fun to consider times aboard the ship where we have improvised to get around a tricky situation. The delivery of a consignment of unshelled nuts, for example, led to one of our engineers creating what I like to call the “nut vice” which crushes the nuts between two plates. The results are somewhat lively with shards of shell pinging through the bar area like shrapnel, but the point is that we improvised and also learned a lot about the importance of safety goggles.  

The Nut Vice

Our chief engineer deeply enjoys weight lifting. So he requested that one of our motormen build him a weight rack. It looks quite a lot like something that might have been used by Laura Ingalls in “Little House on the Prairie” had she been keen on squatting- but it does the job. This is somewhat disturbing because it means that when I’m leading the circuits class (I know, what was I thinking?) the sessions are punctuated by a very burly man making the sort of noises that I normally associate with an obstetrics ward. But he’s happy and that’s the key thing.
Laura Ingalls-Wilder's Squat Rack

The reason for my madness in starting circuits classes up is that I thought it would force me to exercise. I can’t put up signs suggesting that everyone join me for an invigorating session of circuits every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then not show up myself. It’s a little bit nerve-wracking. I don’t even like having birthday parties in case no-one comes along, so you can imagine the terror that assails me every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5.15. What if nobody comes? It’s a nail biter, I know. I was deeply unimpressed by our deck engineer who didn’t share that he used to be a personal trainer in the military until AFTER the first circuits class! However, as I’ve since stolen all his workout plans and used him as “my glamorous assistant” who demonstrates all the exercises, I can’t complain really.
And what is the JCR doing at the moment? We’re progressing further South; we crossed into the Antarctic Circle some days ago which means that I got a certificate (the Hermione Granger part of me is deeply happy) and that there are a lot of icebergs about.
I'm in Nerdvana


We even got to 75°S which meant that I was one of the most southerly doctors employed by BAS; how’s that for latitude attitude! We saw our sister ship, the Shackleton, zipping about the other day- she’s planning on mooring at the edge of the ice shelf to make some deliveries to Halley. And we’re doing a number of CTDs whilst we progress on our merry way.

The Shackleton

CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth, which is by strange coincidence, exactly what it measures! Now, I’m not the best person to explain the wonderful world of CTD (that would be Chris on his blog “Chris’s Climate and Oceanography Blog”. Look it up- it’s funny and clever!) but it involves dropping a metal ring with several bottles welded to it, over the side. The bottle lids are triggered to ping off at different depths, which means that we can collect water from different levels of the ocean and then analyse it for things like dissolved gas or the presence of metals. Probes are also present on the metal ring and they measure the conductivity, temperature and depth of the
water around the device.

One of the things that I’m most excited by is the seal-bothering. Apparently one of our science groups wishes to tag seals. Seals on the whole, are less keen on tagging and so they tend to require a short trip off to sleepy land which is where things get slightly more complicated. Previously scientists used dart guns to shoot the seal with a tranquiliser and then tag it. However administering a successful dose of the tranquiliser is very dependent on seal weight which is rather tricky to guesstimate. So our intrepid scientists are going to try gassing the seals down. Please bear in mind that these are not cute, fluffy, little things, but rather fanged monsters that smell like dead fish and weigh a few ton, so asking it nicely to wear a mask smelling of sevofluorane (anaesthetic gas that smells like lilos) may not work. I have to admit to a slightly sadistic feeling of curiosity as to how well this is going to go... Joking aside, they seem to have a very good protocol worked out, so I’m sure that it will be fine.
Icebergs behind me- I feel this photo is like a proof of life!

I had cause to use my X-Ray machine in anger the other day. I tested it out on a few bits and bobs first of all. It’s proper, old fashioned radiography; I load my X-ray films into cassettes, shoot the X-ray and then develop the films in my dark room. Developing the films is pretty much the same process as photos used to require many years ago. There is a developer bath, a water rinse and then a fixer bath. The film has to spend the right amount of time in each tray so that the image is usable after it’s processed. And with X-ray films you only get one go at developing the image, so you’d better get it right on the first go! This was all incredibly fun even if my dark room does double as the surgery’s bathroom. If I want to develop films in there I have to turn the red light on (Roxanne) and stuff towels into the crack under the door so that daylight doesn’t get through and fog the film. And then because I can’t see my watch in the red light, I have to count “1 elephant, 2 elephant...” It takes a long time to get to five minutes. But despite that it was strangely addictive and I find that I’m quite curious to know what things look like on the inside. So if you’ll excuse me, I just need to irradiate my makeup bag...
*The part about the scallywags winning the darts championship cup three years running isn't entirely true. I don't even think there was a cup!

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