The Kista has gone and the team are settling into a happy rhythm knowing they’ll be here for fifteen months. “It’s our show now!” is how Syd Kirkby felt as he watched the little red Danish vessel disappear over the horizon on 1 March 1956.
As there are twenty expeditioners, everyone will have a turn at nightwatchman, except the chef. In a nineteen-day cycle, it will be someone’s duty to stoke the night fires and watch over the sleeping station.
It’s a rare treat they will all come to love for the night watchman can do their laundry in a little Hoover washing machine. Many of you will remember these twin tub machines. They noisily tied clothes in knots as they rattled and vibrated, effectively walking themselves around the laundry like little darleks.
Alone in the frozen night, the nightwatchman checked the instruments, and visited the dogs staked outside in the cold. The rituals affected each man differently, but for all of them, the pleasure of the hot bath due exclusively to the keeper of the night fires made the solitary duty a privilege and pleasure. The water that was melted around the diesel generator exhaust pipes ran through a tank and heated enough water to fill a deep tub. Syd’s diary entries as night watchman were his most lovely for there was time to play classical music loudly and think philosophical thoughts. Syd’s first watch was on 6 March, 1956 and here is a brief excerpt from his diary:
Tuesday 6th March 1956
Impressions as night watchman.
It is 3.30 and I am sitting in the mess playing Handel’s Water Music. I reckon tonight I will run through that and Brandenburg concerto no 5. It is rather pleasant sitting alone with music and one’s thoughts … what a fantastic place this is. Just before I came in there had been a burst of strength four aurora. Great green-white bands undulating across the sky with rays bursting from them towards the zenith. The air is as clear as a bell, I’ve seen stars twinkle the way they do here. It is breathtaking with the moon and the aurora lighting the scene up. There’s our little group of huts sitting on the bare rock with the bay in front and behind the towering white mass of the ice cliffs to the plateau. The wind is whistling round the huts and their guys and moaning through the wireless mast. It is like a gigantic discordant wind orchestra.