Travels With Oso con Migo

Winter In The Ross Island Dependency

OAE At The Room With A View Of Black Island (just to the left of Discovery)

April 26, 1996, last letter March 18, 1996

Sunday, March 24, 1996, Getting Short

I find I am counting the days/meals/hours to my leaving Bleak Island more so than any countdown to departing McMurdo last October. What has happened to this place which I used to love so much? What has happened to me? Have I had enough of this splendid isolation? No, I think it is more the nature of the company I am keeping, or that is keeping me. Last week's company was better than this weeks company but then this week we are three; three is two too many but last week's two was Ok.

What does that mean? I don't know if I can really explain it. Now more than a week has passed. It is Tuesday, April 2, 1996, and I have been back in town since Tuesday last. There is not so much to write about from this perspective. The sea was still open water all the way south to the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf and all across the view from my window it has been like a boiling cauldron, smokes drifting up from the relatively warm water of an ocean that would like to freeze into the very much colder air whipping the surface into such a state of agitation that ice cannot hope to form. Today the air is still and the surface of the water skims over quickly, then snow comes.

This just in from the Weekly Report...

>The third traverse to Black Island to rescue the second traverse 
>which was trying to rescue the first traverse left town this 
>afternoon. The third traverse will replace a second traverse delta 
>with one from the third traverse which will then continue on to 
>rescue the first traverse.  The third traverse will then return to 
>MCM while the second traverse continues with the second phase of the 
>second traverse.  A fourth traverse will then be staged to rescue the 
>second traverse delta that the third traverse failed to bring back in 
>their attempt to rescue the second traverse while it was rescuing the 
>first traverse.  By the time this paragraph was completed the second 
>traverse had rescued the first traverse and the fourth traverse was 
>attempting to collect the delta left by the earlier third traverse 
>rescue of the second traverse as it rescued the first traverse.

All I can say is --I'm very happy I slept through all of that.

And of course AirDrop has been cancelled but the bright side of that is that there may not be any mid-winter flu or cold making the rounds, could be an interesting study to keep track of.

Worst however is that there are no cookies and other munchies available from the galley for hut breakout. Another budget cut there. No money for cookies. We have been told to buy what we want from the store. You know where that is going... next we will be told to buy what we want for the rest of our meals. 

Sunday, April 7, 1996, Happy Easter.

I am still in my rut though it is getting about as broad as my ass from sitting around as I am wont to do these days. The new thing here is that tonight, Easter night, I start a new adventure being McMurdo's only classical DJ. Maybe I will find Handel's Messiah for an opener.

Easter greetings. Are we to be afraid to mention "Easter" and "Resurrection" and replace them with the euphemisms "Bunny Day" and "Hopping Good Bunny Day". The galley here is decorated as if for a halloween party except the crepe streamers are yellow and white (for chickies and bunnies?) and there are all manner of secular posters and designs. I suppose I feel put upon in some respects in much the same manner as those who would object if there were any religious overtones to the decor but of course there is no room for protest when one objects to secular overtones. Interesting how society works- -It is ok for one faction to object when another faction decorates with an image of Christ, the faction with the objection will always win; but when one objects that the image of the bunny is found offensive the communities response opposite in nature. 

I skipped Easter dinner. I find my society's attempt to debase the traditional aspects of the holiday vile and disingenuous. Not that I am any sort of Christian any more than I am any sort of Hindu or Jew; (I am Human, specialisation is for insects) what bothers me is that all holidays are being reduced to the same crepe and plastic and all moved to Mondays. I think it does not bode well for us as a community that we endeavour to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator, towards reducing all holi-days to colour coded Mondays; no matter what the traditional intent of this day or that, the new morality is simply to give the masses another excuse for a three day weekend. I see that Passover and Purim and July 4th are holding on but its only a matter of time for Independence Day. Easter and Christmas are about the only two Christian holi-days which have yet to succumb to the Monday part but the Christian roots of these two days have been weakened, both have been colour coded and iconised. 

Monday, April 8, 1996, Remember your water day.

Fresh water is made by desalinating sea water. We are presently using a reverse osmosis desalinator to make several thousand gallons of fresh water per day. The water is sent round to most of the buildings in town through pipes, heated to keep from freezing, and there is a heated water truck which makes deliveries to a few buildings still without town water.

From the weekly report: gallons produced-234,000; consumed-242,000; on hand-230,000.

Here in the cold and dark (almost dark anyhow, there is still some noon-sun, albeit pale and cold and of less duration each day) I am actually getting a few things accomplished. Once in a while even a new thing learnt, and I try for a new thing every day.  Recently I learnt, theoretically at least, one can open a bottle of wine, (not one of those with a twist-off cork, they do not count) sans corkscrew by repeatedly slamming the bottom of the horizontally held bottle against a large firm stationary object, like a wooden door jamb or the leg of a substantial table. This magic is probly something in the same realm as tooth faeries and lighting farts--I have heard about them from enough sources to have some faith in their veracity but never directly experienced the phenomena. (Actually in the matter of lighting farts I did see a suppose'ed dramatic scene where a rather portly uncle was showing off to a bunch of children in a movie--can't remember the title--and he had one of the younger kids hold a candle in the right place but when he lowered his pantaloons and broke wind he blew the candle out!) (And in the matter of tooth faeries I once found a dime under my pillow in place of the tooth there when I went to sleep, but I recognised it as being the very same one my father pulled from my ear only the day before.) 

It seems reasonable that banging the bottom of the bottle onto a door frame might cause the cork to work out but I don't know as I will risk anything older than 1993 on the experiment. I can see it working with champagne, agitating a bottle of that stuff might make quite a mess and the resulting acceleration of the bottle caused by the forceful expulsion of the froth and liquid could well damage nearby spectators, not to mention the door jamb.

Tuesday, April 9, 1996, Where has all the chocolate gone...

I keep a bar of extra fine baking chocolate around. It weighs about five pounds out of its box and is too big to fit in the silverware drawer. YUM!!

In order to control my Self I keep this bar, what's left of it actually, out at Black Island so the only time I get to nibble on it is the several times a year when I am out there instead of in town. This is a nice dark chocolate that stands freezing very well and requires a hammer and chisel to break up. I like to take a chunk and melt it slowly in a saucepan and add just the right amount of sugar and milk to make *REAL* hot chocolate; not that patsy chocolate *flavoured* artificially coloured hot drink kid stuff mix.

My taste runs toward the semi-sweet. And the more semi the better since that is generally not liked by too many of the horde here so my stash has a better chance of surviving the winter. Last year we had Cadbury's dark chocolate with mint and a few Lindt mocha bars but this year, with the budget cuts and all, not only is there no cookies for coffee break but we have been resupplied with Hershey bars and M&M's. Some people feel that cheap chocolate is better than no chocolate. De gustibus non disputandum est.

I have been carefully rationing my last three Cadbury mint bars, mostly by hiding them behind the clean sheets and under my underwear. Each bar comprises eighteen barely bite-sized squares and I have at least seven months to go. Just writing this letter has driven me into a frenzy of chocolate debauchery and I have eaten three squares! Fortunately there is a backup emergency stash of semi-sweet chocolate chips close to hand which purport to be "real chocolate", they will at least keep from being reduced to M&M's. 

Eastern Orthodox Monday, April 15, 1996, New Kiwi Telcom Service

One of the things I am doing as a sort of spare time project, to engender a bit of extra walking around, to see parts of the station I might not otherwise get into, get acquainted with folks I might not otherwise meet, is to take ephotos of various members of the community at work and at play, at their request. It gives me something to write about as well and I give them a copy, a file, via email, they can send use to decorate their computers or send elsewhere.

So this one particular item is a long storey and I don't have all the facts straight so I'll not belabour the issue but to say that at long last any and every dorm phone in McMurdo is now accessible from the outside world. The long storey part has to do with how the Kiwis accomplished this. From the McMurdo switch there is a wire to the new T1-E1 interface (this is were the U.S. telephone standard of McMurdo converts to the European standard of Scott Base) and thence over the pass to Scott Base, to the switch there, round and round the multiplex and modem and up the hill by fiber-optic to Arrival Heights  and the New Zealand Telecom satellite earth station. From there its one hop to Christchurch and then one more to North America. So now from anywhere in the world you can dial the New Zealand country code and a number that will connect with Ross Island. From U.S.A. you dial 011 64 24 09 nnnn where nnnn is the McMurdo extension. Long distance rates to New Zealand apply. Music on hold is available.

Monday, April 22, 1996, Rebecca Storm Earth Day (that's what it says on my calendar...)

From the "Things That Amuse Us At Sunset" department...

>...but isn't that spelled dislexercised? ...that's when you're spell brings *in* more evil spirits (especially of low proof) than it casts out. No ... wait... that's dislexorcised. Dislexercised must be when your stair climber or treadmill goes backwards and you don't notice until your heart rate is almost stopped and you've gained three pounds. 

One of the *other* rumors circulating is that I went to see Barbara the Barber today. Some people are hailing it as a major event in my life since the last time it is known I went to a barber shop was in April or May of 1991. The interesting thing about this shop is the way the mirrors create that effect of peering through a tunnel to infinity. Every snip echos fore and aft and it seems to take forever to get a trim. The mirrors are subtly arranged to enhance that effect and twisted ever so slightly to give the appearance of your hair being longer than it really is. This is an effect covered more fully in the Navy's _Manual of Tonsure_, probly in the chapter on doing recruits. There was not enough time in my appointment so I need to return next monday. 

Oso con Migo meets The Skua. Skua: any of several large, brown, gull- like predatory birds of the genus Catharacta, related to jaegers, esp. C. skua (great skua), of colder waters of both northern and southern seas. Skuas migrate and they are scavengers; like sea gulls who seek offal, skuas crowd the tips behind the galley. There are not as many around in these summers now that the tips are covered and there are none about the station now, they have all flown north for the winter. This one must have been looking for a last minute snack, perhaps attracted by the fragrance that emanates from the bakery on bread day. During some recent roof repaneling on that end of Building 155 this skua was recovered from an exhaust vent. Once inside the bird could not get turned around so there, in the bliss of all those warm odours of sustanance, it perished. Good thing it was not an intake fan. The extreme low humidity here dessicated the skua leaving it light as a feather by the time the roofers recovered it a few weeks ago. 

Friday, April 26, 1996, April Birthday Dinner

23rd April is the Feast Day of Saint George. George is, or was, the patron saint of U.K., and of Boy Scouts, but between the Scouts loosing their Boys and the U.K. loosing its royalty Saint George is not being patronised much any more. One correspondent in Liverpool recently told me --we celebrated the feast on Sunday last cos we don't get that day off from school.

We didn't get it off from work either but I was able to work in a toast to the old dragon slayer and saver of maidens at the April Birthday Dinner tonight. --You can't call them maidens anymore, my dinner guest reminded me as I sat down, saving maidens is not PC.

Wednesday was the Navy's Official Sunset Flag Lowering ceremony (but they still leave Old Glory flying, just now there is a big flood light on all the time.) Saturday will be the SunSet Swim (a.k.a. Polar Plunge--this is when hole is chain-saw'd in the sea-ice and the crazies take turns jumping in for a few seconds each. To qualify for honours you must keep your head, and the rest of you, under water for ten seconds.) followed by barbie at Scott Base, Thursday was ANZAC Day in Oz and NZ, so all in all this will be a really good time to go to the pub for a piss-up. 

Inchoately yours, Friar Tech, B.I.M.B.O.S (retired)
(Made Merry on, eh... I will use that line somehow...)

Tourists don't know where they've been.
Travellers don't know where they're going. --Paul Theroux

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