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Musings from the High Arctic

My messy desk

A striking demonstration of how messy my desk is is that I have just un-earthed a diary that has sat there since I returned from the high Arctic well over a year ago!

I’ve just enjoyed a pleasant hour re-reading it nostalgically and have decided to share a few bits of writing from that trip here. You might also enjoy these videos from the Arctic Ocean.

Big Brother On Ice?

Putting a group of people who have never met before, into a camp in the outreaches of the Arctic, with no respite or possibility of going home, is the stuff of Reality Television. On TV there would be tears, tantrums, cliques and evictions. By those parameters then our Ice Base would make for terrible viewing: life here is boringly amiable.

And yet we are living and working, all day every day, in a confined and difficult environment. For safety reasons nobody is allowed to wander off on their own for a couple of hours of decompression. But, until I wrote that sentence, this had never struck me as claustrophobic.

Is it just a fortunate coincidence that amongst the scientists and Ice Base staff there has not been a single falling out or cross word? I think not.

A project like this immediately rules out lazy people and negative people. The office “sniper” – that person who is only happy when complaining or criticising – would not be interested in 7-day work weeks and personal inconvenience.

Secondly, everyone is here through choice. Our motives for coming are all different, but they are united in a love of this environment and a feeling of privilege to be able to do our work out here. When you feel like that about what you are doing then you actively want to work hard. There is no incentive to shirk and this then removes one of the biggest causes of friction in a normal working environment. Knowing that if somebody has not helped to wash up for a few days it is because they are busy in the evening rather than just lazy is important.

Everyone has an important role to play here. Each person is the best person at their job. There is no real overlap and no real competition. Each person therefore has a strong sense of adding value to the project as a whole.

Up here people are aware that there is no escape. Even if somebody is not the type of person you would normally spend time with, out on the ice you have no choice. So you find yourself making more of an effort than you may do at home where you can quickly think “this sort of man is not my style” and move on to other people. In the Arctic we are all together, like it or not. So you may as well put in the effort to like it. And meal times are a very important time for this. We all come together, spend time together and laugh and talk together.

A wise man once told me “nobody ever learned anything with his mouth open”. It is generally true that the more experienced and interesting a person is, the less they feel the need to tell everyone about it. Up here I feel fortunate to be surrounded by really interesting, talented, accomplished people. But none of them are perpetually talking about themselves. They are interested as well as interesting. The people I am with here listen, they ask questions and they want to learn. There is no Camp Bore.

I can honestly say that since I have been here I have never felt a shard of irritation towards any of the scientists or permanent Ice Base staff. I have no idea who I would choose to vote off the Ice Base were we to face Eviction Night (it definitely would not be Malin the chef!). Boring television perhaps, but it is a treat to live in this community.

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