The setting of the sun is one of the big three milestones for the winter season, with mid-winter and sunrise being occasions we still have to look forward to. Most of the crew was looking forward to what winter would bring, with the challenges of the prolonged isolation from our local fusion reactor in the sky, making us devoid of natural alarm clocks, as well as bringing some of the coldest conditions experienced on the planet. Furthermore, the lack of natural light in the night sky allows one of the true magical aspects of life down here – the ability to gaze upon the universe around us with minimal light, moisture or atmospheric distortion. Along with what promise to be amazing starscapes, the chance to see auroras is for many, one of the biggest things to look forward to over the winter.
To celebrate the going down of the sun, our Galley crew pulled out all the stops for a formal dinner for the station. Tablecloths were brought out of storage, wine glasses dusted off, and a five course meal was carefully crafted from a limited armamentarium of ingredients.
Shaggy beards were trimmed, ties were fossicked from the back of wardrobes, best pairs of jeans had their quarterly wash and most people’s solo dress shirt were ironed. The crew mustered up surprisingly well, and whilst we waited to be seated in the main dining area, we were treated to platters of specialty cheese, prosciutto and crab that had been stashed for such an occasion.
With mains of braised duck breast, lobster tail, vege medley and fresh salad, everyone was left content. The greenhouse had had a hiccup the week prior in the lettuce department, so our salad consisted of two slices of cucumber and a cherry tomato each, with a vinaigrette over top. Such is life!
With an industrial supply of liquid nitrogen on station thanks to science requirements, homemade icecream is a novel way to escape the supply of icecream that gets shipped in, but seems to absorb through the cardboard box the odour and taste of the jet-fuel near where it is stored. And a dessert is not a true american dessert without bacon, so Applewood smoked bacon liquid nitrogen icecream it was, with coffee cake and toffee glaze creations.
After everyone was filled to the gunwhales, and content with enough calories in their system to go into hibernation for winter, should they wish, we all pitched in to get the whole process cleaned up and dishes done. Their had been a poll of most appropriate sunset horror movies, with the leading candidate being ‘30 days of night’, a horror set in Point Barrow, in the far north of Alaska, about zombie vampire type beings that take over the town during their 30 day sunless period of continuous night in mid-winter. Our sunless period is six times the length, so thankfully, we could double the movie as an educational instruction on how to deal with such scenarios, should a ghost ship pull in and offload a bunch of blood sucking undesirables in the long months ahead.
One of the last remaining tasks for sunset was the bringing in of the flags at the Ceremonial South Pole. The twelve countries that make up the original signatories of the Antarctic treaty each have a flag flown at the Ceremonial South Pole during the months of light. Bringing in the flags of Argentina, Australia, Chile, Russia, New Zealand, Norway, USA, Great Britain, France, Japan, Belgium, and South Africa, as well as another copy of the Stars and Stripes, and NSF moniker that flew on the station, were all balloted out to interested individuals, and 14 of us got to lower the flags, and carefully roll up the emblems that had been battered by six months of constant sun and wind.
I got in early and was uncontested in the pick for the New Zealand flag. It was just three days after the result of our referendum popularity contest regarding the choice of whether we wanted to replace our current ensign with John Key’s favourite tea-towel pattern. Given that mail had stopped a month and a half earlier, and that the design that was challenging the incumbent was known well before, I had sought and gained permission from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that runs the US Antarctic Program, to bring down a copy of the new flag, should it be successful. Whilst I was opposed to the new design, it would have been a special opportunity to raise a new flag on behalf of our country, at the South Pole, for the first time.
The outcome of the quazi-democratic process, hamstrung by the supposed expert committee containing no-one with any flag designing experience or design expertise at all, and all personally chosen by our great leader who had openly repeatedly voiced his preference for any new design to contain a fern, ‘cos he likes rugby, and the All Blacks are great, it is unsurprising with the result we got. What was a great opportunity for our country to reaffirm our principles of what we stand for, our heritage that is important to us, and our political outlook we want to take into the 21st century instead ended up being squandered as essentially a vote of do we like sport more than the mother Britain. Whilst we are a great sporting nation, we are so much more than that, and just transplanting a complex motif from our sporting attire that is far too intricate for a flag (which are supposed to be high contrast simple shapes designed to be seen and identified from miles away at sea), belittles everything else that we have achieved as a country and what potential we have to be.
My moral conundrum of how I would feel if the new flag got voted in, and was due to be raised thankfully did not come to fruition, and so I have a copy of the flag, still wrapped up in my drawer, should any of those on the bandwagon for change want a copy that has been to the bottom of the world and back.
Rant over. Well, it is my blog, so there…