As you have read in earlier blogs, days here are often full with visits from cruise ships, private vessels, small yachts and extra this week, the Argentine Navy. Visitors enjoy a taste of island life during four-hour visits in the morning and afternoon. They wander through the rooms of historic Bransfield House and get transported back to the 1940’s and 50’s and what life would have been like if you had been stationed here.
But what happens behind the scenes, one of the most frequently asked questions is “where do you live?”. Home for the team is a Nissen hut built thanks to some generous donations in 2010, both on the site and in the style of a storage shelter that was here during Operation Tabarin.
We live together in this modest single-storey structure with a spectacular mountainous backdrop. As you enter through the front door you take off your outer layers and boots in the boot room. We keep these here, somewhat to contain the smell that permeates from them after living and working on a small island with our feathered neighbours for 73 days! For the most part, we don’t notice it anymore, until invited onto a ship where we often become acutely aware we do smell quite different to the average Antarctic visitor, and not in a good way! Our fridge is in the boot room, the coolest area of the hut, made of a plastic crate under a bench that holds the items we are trying to keep fresh and cold. At the moment we have some leftovers including curry and custard, as well as a selection of cheeses, all will be eaten and we have become skilled at incorporating them into meals, although not sure those three ingredients will combine well together!
There is a small room with our camping toilet and another one with a small washbasin and pump-operated tap. Then you are into the open plan living area with kitchen, pantry, dining table, sofa and coffee table and communications desk. Many aspects of daily life play out in this space, meals are prepared and eaten, mail stamped and bundled, jigsaws attempted, emails written, spreadsheets edited and plans made for the days ahead. The only other room I haven’t mentioned is the bunk room. I am writing this on my bed on a wet, windy Sunday afternoon. It is a normal-sized bed with regular duvet, pillow and sheets! Last season we increased the capacity here by adding 2 top bunks and they have come in very handy this season for our extra teammates and contractors.
We have recently experienced a significant upgrade in our humble home. As Heidi mentioned last week, Callum, an electrician from the Falkland Islands Company was here rewiring the Nissen hut and we now have lights and power sockets in places we only previously dreamed of! Callum if you are reading this, everything is still working!
After getting up and having breakfast in the morning in the Nissen hut we prepare the island for our visitors. In the early days, this involved shovelling snow, but now we use brushes and lots of buckets of seawater. Many people are surprised to hear that we clean the rocks on the island. We brush and wash away the penguin guano that has arrived overnight to reduce the chance of someone stepping in it and walking it into the museum. With penguin chicks now leaving their nests and stretching their legs the amount of guano seems to be increasing! But it is a good work out and far cheaper than a gym membership.
Between visits we have lunch, taking it in turns to ‘chef’ for the day. Our recent extra housemates have seemed surprised and delighted by the meals prepared, only with a time crunch do we resort to reheating cans. We each have our signature dishes and sometimes enjoy the challenge of mystery vegetables (and how they might best be prepared) gifted from generous vessels. Bread has been baked regularly and Kit has been our star baker, frequently donning an apron and whipping up chocolate brownies or a carrot cake! There have been a few team efforts to celebrate special occasions, this week Heidi shared her birthday with Burn’s night and a wonderful spread of haggis, veggie sausages, mashed potatoes and mashed carrots, followed by apple, plum and blackberry crumble were created and consumed with gusto at dinner time.
To work off all these calories (and we haven’t even mentioned how much chocolate we have down here) we have several maintenance tasks to attend to. The historic buildings are exposed to many weather extremes over the year and our presence here during the Antarctic summer gives us a short window to paint and take care of any work that might be needed. With our Conservation Project Manager Geoff on site for a week and some warm, dry weather, we made the most of every spare moment with everyone donning a set of overalls and getting stuck in. However, there is always time for a tea break, and a biscuit to tide you over until the next meal!
Finally, we are getting new insights and images of the historic buildings from Nathan, introduced in last week’s blog, he has been busy laser scanning and conducting a photogrammetry survey. He has given us a sneak peek into the raw model his work has produced so far and it is stunning. We may have occasionally inadvertently been scanned but he has promised he will edit us out for the final version!