Briefing - © International Polar Foundation

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Live from Antarctica: News regarding the construction

Yesterday evening at 7 00 pm, the work began on the floor of the station. These guys from Prefalux are very laid back and our team of volunteers is pretty amazing too. Imagine the scene: it is snowing lightly, the sky is overcast, but the sun still pierces through in parts creating a brilliant white light which, Rene informs me, is perfect for portraits.

A fresh breeze rises now and again to chill every extremity that has the misfortune to be uncovered. It is -12°C, but who knows what the wind chill is at this moment. Everyone is concentrating hard. Many people have their noses peeling and lips chapped and crusted red and raw to the point of bleeding every time they risk a smile.

Around the work site the Arcomet crane moves silently like a tall and elegant brontosaurus delivering tasty morsels to the rapidly growing nest. The poor Fassi is silent today as Guido and Frank wrestle with its hydraulics. on most days, like a little duck-billed hadrosaurus, it moves from one side of the ridge to the other, loudly fussing around and fuming when contradicted.

Our crew is splendid as ever, wielding enormous sledgehammers while balancing on a beam. They make it look oh-so-easy, in that Soviet Realist style which went out of fashion with the fall of the wall of Berlin but which could be revived any time soon, thanks to them.

Then, they can manipulate these incredibly heavy pieces of metal and wood with an insouciance which has me hyperventilating with anxiety. A flange is discovered that has been misaligned. Nobody cries "Foul" or "catastrophe". They say instead "Nils, come over here and look at this. Can you fix it"?

And of course they will. Nobody ever says, "Sorry mate can't be done", around here. Nobody scratches their head and says, "That's going to set you back a pretty penny". We already know that it will.

Even if a piece weighs 200 kg and is held in place with nuts and bolts which dwarf anything you will find in your local Brico, and require a whole fist to contain, it can be done.

So as I was saying, yesterday, the floor began to go in. They had considered doing it today, since everyone was eager to see how it would go. Every step forward is a new release of tension. Every time something slots into place as it should, we breathe a sigh of relief.

And today, they are simply shooting ahead.

Another traverse set off today. Another 53 containers waiting at the coast in a field of small crevasses. Frank Pattyn would probably call them thermal cracks, and I understand you would have to be seriously undernourished to fall into one, but they still provide frissons to the team - keep them awake.

Our traverse drivers, poor guys are completely frazzled - they have to keep up with speed of the construction. But it actually looks like the construction crew will have to take a day off some time soon, because we cannot risk overloading the Printohs with four sledges instead of three, to make sure everything is here in time.

The Base camp, of which I am the mere manager, and not the Supreme Commander as some would have it, is functioning virtually without much intervention.

Everyone does their jobs, and reports back exactly as they should. I don't have to interfere much, just make sure the groceries are ordered, and that everyone has tents, sleeping bags and gloves, that the office functions, report back to Brussels, check the weather, enforce the "Waste Management System", etc.

Alain feels that I am too "laissez-faire" in my attitude and that I should be more strict - but I still have to figure out what crimes to punish.

As I said before this place is like Stepford. Nobody ever does anything you could get annoyed about. Almost.

Of course, they don't shave, washing is optional, and some look like a band of disreputable pirates who would put the fear of God into our good friend Johnny Depp. The kind of unshaven, unkempt and dusty individuals you would cross Charing Cross Road in the rush hour to avoid.

In a few seconds I will head up to the ridge to check the Inmarsat antenna for the umpteenth time. They tell me that they are going to reprogramme the satellite reception "spots" to cover us.

If it works, you will have the pleasure of my company on an even more regular basis.

Author: IPF

Picture: Briefing - © International Polar Foundation

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