Living here in isolation has been interesting. Its a unique experience that cannot simply be recreated in a mock up space station in a european city, 10 minutes ambulance ride from Starbuck’s, Macdonald’s, a hospital, your home and freedom.
The isolation is REAL here. The BigMac burger I had smuggled in frozen had gone off some time ago.
Its just me and 12 european crew members for a long way over 1,000km in most directions. And it changes the way you think, feel and perceive. There is a basic monotony of life – and as strange as it may sound, a routine that I have enjoyed- having previously lived a life of chaos working all and any hours in an emergency department back in UK.
I had been out walking, helping in some minor jobs outside the base.
I closed my eyes as the theme tune to BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘The Archers’ broke the Antarctic Desert Silence. Out of nowhere, like a refreshing shotgun blast to the ears.
Even after a month’s in isolation living here, you stop looking outward and start to look inward. Lying in bed, at the dinner table, and absent mindedly sat at your desk.
As Chris Johnson, consultant anaesthetist in Bristol (UK) and head of the Royal Geographical Society’s Medical Cell told me before I came away… “overwintering in Antarctica, you will learn things about yourself that you may not necessarily like”. And Chris would know, he over wintered with the British Antarctic Survey’s Medical Unit, in Halley (a few buildings ago >20 years ago ), and it has been interesting sharing my experiences and hearing his, since arriving. I have also been in touch with the current Halley Doctor also.
I had laughed at the time. Ignorance really is bliss. Like being sat back at home in the UK, not really understanding what he had meant, surrounded by home comforts- a husky puppy on my lap and a cup of tea to hand, with the freedom to walk outside without having to spend 10 minutes covering every inch of your skin with Canadian Goose Down fill 650 or above. Mind you, if you are the kind of person who won’t go outside without buckets of make-up, I now understand how you feel… stepping outside really does mean life or death for our aesthetic image.
It’s the little things in life… like the music of the Archers… that every boy who grew up in England would recognise instantly (and so soon after, every child would immediately make a desperate plea for their parents to change the radio station, fully aware of what was about to hurt their tiny teenage ears, having been ‘burnt’ so many times before). There would be no release from such pain.
Its like God Save the Queen, but different.
If a British Astronaut ever travels to Mars – take the Archers with you. It will make you hum along and dream of the Olde English Countryside.
I opened my eyes. They adjusted to my surroundings. A foggy mask, breath like a dragon’s smoke due to the extreme cold, and rosy red cheeks- the onset of frost-nip (or as my French colleagues say, ‘Frowst neeepe’).
My fingers ached – popsicles with the effect of vasoconstriction as all blood had been diverted to my lungs, heart and brain. Vital organs. I tried to recall the proportions of blood supply in millilitres per minute to each organ in the resting state. I gave up trying.
Just for a second I had forgotten I was here. I recalled my childhood home – long walks with different family dogs.
I struggled on, distracted, being unable to recall the smell of freshly cut grass.