Week 19 Have You Heard?
20th February - 27th February 2000
It's been a fairly quite week. People settling into routine. I'm almost on to day shift. I end up having a nap during the day every so often, because I've been starting my days so early.
I remember back in my Ant Div days that if someone was trying to spread a rumor they would say - "don't tell anyone - I'm only telling you because you are an old hand". If you don't want the whole world to know - don't tell someone that has spent a significant time in Antarctica. We are the biggest gossips in the universe. We do have a bit of a code of honor - so we change names and embellish to protect the innocent and make the story better. Never let the truth get in the way of a good Antarctic story.
News of politics don't matter much down here. I try and keep up with sport. No point reading movie or book reviews. But what really matters is what soandso got up to last night. National news is something that has happened at MCM. A lot of the time we only get part of the information (for our own good I'm sure) so have no choice but to make up the rest. Of course this can be very bad when the rumors are malicious. They are nearly always wrong. Just take it with a grain of salt. It's all fun and games.
But imagine the tongues wagging when a number of people independently get news from MCM that Willey field is being kept open for an emergency medevac from the pole!! Is someone sick? Was there just an accident we don't know about? It takes a minute to realise that we can account for almost everybody but one person who has not been seen much in the last few days. And when they have been around they have been unusually quite. What is wrong with them? This is where it can get really nasty.
On the second day the rumors had gone exponential. Half the station was to be evacuated - Raytheon was going to train us in weapon use (still don't understand this one) - being the only two I remember. Before lunch I go have a nap. I wake up just before the end of lunch and rush down in a daze. Soandso is sitting by themselves. No worries I can sit with them and not bring up all the rumors that are flying - easy. I've taken one mouth full of food when the Station Manager stands up and says he'd like to make some announcements. There is no medevac happening from the pole! The rest of the statements would fit perfectly in Yes Minister - I have no idea what they meant. Soandso looks at me and says, "I hadn't heard this story - have you?" - "Umm... No this is the first I've heard of it" - my nose growing 6 inches instantly. The real story is just too boring to be remembered.
Our expertise at gossip, along with the attitude of managements, I believe can be used to explain a lot of what seems irrational reactions here. In context they aren't that irrational. My theory that life down here is the same as the real world but intensified, seems to be totally foreign to management. A recent example was when we had it explained to us that in an emergency "comms would be secured". This meant more than just that comms would be needed in an emergency. It meant that we would be denied access to comms unless authorised by the almighty. My real world equivalent would be something like martial law being imposed. So what should be a simple station meeting has the potential to become heated, or the station might simmer for days. Managements sees life here as being special, which justifies attempts to impose this level of authority on our society. But at home this would not be tolerated. And this is home to us, as much as back in the real world. So tensions mount over absolutely nothing.
How does all this mix of gossip, imposition of authority, and control of information manifest itself in our society. At the worst there will be conflict. At the best there will be satire. My favorite example of the satire is a underground newsletter, The Symmes Antarctic Intelligencer, that seems to be produced by someone in MCM. They hide themselves well. But I'm sure that Raytheon has their number. The last issue seemed to be a SP special. Since the times when Michael Palin and Dick Smith visited the pole, the reception allowed by NSF has changed a fair bit. But visitors are still told where they stand (usually outside). There was a great piece about this which I'll reproduce at the end of this email. It was probably triggered by the very poor treatment that one of the groups of skiers got when they arrived just before New Years.
I hope I'm not giving the impression that life is hell here this week. Just a slow week for news from the pole, and I wanted to use the gossip story to expand on my theories about life in Antarctica. It was a very relaxed week, and the gossip made it quite jovial. Don't think the gossip stories were taken seriously for very long. NSF over reacting - never!!!
To be continued .......
The Symmes Antarctic Intelligencer
"There will be no gossiping "
- Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd
Magic Elf Appears at Pole : NSF Refuses Shelter
A magic elf materialized at the South Pole on new Year's Eve and was denied shelter by wary NSF representatives.
The magic elf appeared in front of the dome and immediately began performing miraculous feats such as healing the injured and fashioning spare machine parts out of plain snow.
When ASA officials discovered the fairyland creature's disruptive presence and questioned the entity, the magic elf offered to reveal the secrets of time and dark matter, as well as refining our understanding of quantum mechanics and the global ecosystem, in exchange for a cup of cocoa and a cardboard box to sleep in for the night. The ASA official took the elf's plea to an NSF rep, who asserted that the elf could have a cup of cocoa if he fixed it himself, but that after he had finished his rich creamy chocolate beverage he must leave the world's most isolated human colony and shove off onto the relentless and unforgiving plateau to meet his icy fate.
"Once you shelter one magic elf, you gotta shelter 'em all", says NSF representative Jack Hjorth. "I've seen it before. Pretty soon all science comes to standstill and you're runnin' a magic elf halfway house."