By Lizzie Meek
Blog number three. As part of our multiyear support agreement with UKAHT, Artefact Conservation Programme Manager Lizzie travelled to the Antarctic Peninsula to survey and assess artefacts at Bransfield House, the main building of ‘Base A’ at Port Lockroy.
“My toes have gone” announces Sophie, which is not some dramatic realisation that there’s something missing at the end of her feet, but an update on how cold she is and a warning that the next sentence will probably be “what shall we have for morning tea” closely followed by “ that’s it, I’m done, see you inside”.
Working for hours at a time in sub-zero temperatures when you are cataloguing means you move very little. Consequently, no matter how good your warm clothing, or how much porridge you had for breakfast, at a certain point, you become aware of getting very cold starting with your fingers and toes ‘going’.
Within short order you become irritable, clumsy, slightly irrational and entirely food focussed. In other words, early signs of hypothermia. Of course we have the experience and training to recognise this and we divide our working day up into blocks of three hours, with a break in between where we can warm up and have something hot to eat and drink. We learn to recognise the signs of cold in our colleagues, and what will best return them to optimal working energy levels over the break. I’m a bit obsessed with real coffee, Sophie likes Nescafe. I will decimate the peanut butter jar, Sophie the cheese.
We have other strategies to ward off the cold – fingerless possum-merino wool gloves help with the keyboard entry. Double socks. I stuff heat warmers at the end of my boots which usually gives me a bonus hour of warm toes. We try variations on star jumps and other circulatory exercises. We move the computer stand into the patch of sunshine streaming in through the widow…though to be honest the effect is more psychological than physical.
As the colder days of November give way to some warmer weather in December, we can switch from a double down jacket to a lighter synthetic one. I can get away without my hat. We still watch with envy as our colleague Kit strolls past outside in a t-shirt, all warm from lugging bags of mail round in the sunshine. “How about macaroni cheese?” Says Sophie. “Just what I was thinking” say I.