In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter exclaims, ‘It’s always tea time’. I agree, carrying both British and Indian heritage.
To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee Tea Party today, Tuesday 5th June, Concordia Station, one of the world’s most isolated research stations, celebrated in its own way… by holding a tea party in -70 degrees Celsius during the Antarctic winter – the world’s worse winter on offer.
As only British member on the base and the only British person for over 1000 km in all directions, I felt it my duty to host a tea party and to coax the other DC8 Concordia Crew Members outside onto the roof – having freshly baked scones myself leaving a trail scent and crumbs up to the roof – to celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee.
I was given a gift of Fortnum and Mason tea by my sister before I departed to Antarctica, which alongside a single can of Heinz Baked Beans and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Double Black Whiskey, had been saving it for a special occasion. With birthdays, midwinter and more celebrations, being both British and Indian I have found there is ‘always a time for tea’ and to warm up, especially when you live in the world’s coldest environment. Every time I go outside to accompany scientists in their work, I take with me a flask of hot tea. Its simply marvellous to stop work in -70, to retreat into a wooden shelter to enjoy a hot cup of tea.
I know we are not the only remote population celebrating this landmark occasion. But speaking on behalf of this year’s Concordia station’s multinational crew, DC8, including French, Italian, British-Indian and Russian crew members, I would like to reach out and extend our warmest regards from the world’s coldest location, to not only her Majesty but also all the British Overseas Territories worldwide, British Antarctic Survey’s overwintering teams on this continent and tea drinking communities. I hope they too celebrated in the same style.. but also hope that they had more time to enjoy their tea than we did – drinking it outdoors in -70 degrees Celsius, the tea froze solid in a couple of minutes once served. As for the scones, we had to eat them quickly, as they too froze, set like stone. But for my first hand at baking scones from raw ingredients, I was pleased to find only a couple left – set like stone.
We even had British ‘Penguin’ (how appropriate for Antarctica…) and ‘Club’ chocolate biscuits I had brought all the way from UK, using up precious luggage allowance.
Tea-time conversation was brief, succinct and to the point, as it should be at -70, before everybody streamed back indoors, in time for dinner.
Before I go, I also would like to point out how in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, March Hare ends up dipping the Mad Hatter’s watch in tea, after Alice acts surprised by the fact that the watch only `tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!’. Down here in the eternal darkness without Days – thats the kind of watch we feel like we live by down here… Time means nothing. We count the months passed and those remaining like children, on our fingers at dinner time.
Here is to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Life goes on down here, as we continue to plummet through the Antarctic darkness, down our own Rabbit Hole of sorts.