Southbound Again

When I was listening to music as a teenager I had one band in particular that I used to like that nobody else did at the time: Dire Straits – They weren’t fashionable, they weren’t ‘pretty’, they were rough as guts and Mark Knopfler (lead guitar and vocals) sounded like he was singing from inside a musty drain filled with rats and empty cigarette packets. Knopfler was the key songwriter for the band and it has to be said he was bloody good at it. For those who can’t remember, Dire Straits did the ‘Brothers in Arms’ album, you know, that blue one with the old steel ‘Dobro’ guitar hanging in the sky on the front cover that probably 80% of the world owned at the time. People mainly found themselves owning it due to it being the first ever album to be recorded digitally and pressed onto the new fan-dangled format which was Compact Disk when the rest of the world was still using analogue equipment – Anyone who’d just invested in a CD player in those early days had no option but to buy it unfortunately and thus Knopfler became a very rich and sought after man. For most people, their listening to Dire Straits probably finished there, I went a bit further though and eventually bought all their albums over the next twelve or so months (delayed mostly due to financial issues and the embarrassment of having to sneak them home so my mates wouldn’t find out) and with it I started to enjoy some of their lesser ‘known’ songs, and in my opinion the much better one’s too – Every wannabe guitarist needs a hero and at that time for me it was Mr Knopfler’s style of playing that did it for me.

The reason I’m harping on about Dire Straits is that on their first album (Dire Straits – Dire Straits………I know, originally eh!) they had a song called ‘Southbound Again’ which Knopfler wrote because he was constantly travelling South from his home in Newcastle in the UK to visit record companies in London whilst trying to score the band a recording contract…Anyway, that song has been running through my head for the past two weeks as I’m about to do the same again myself, and it’s a very fitting tune..

I recently came back from Suva, Fiji  after a two month contract there with the World Food Programme (UN logistics and telecommunications cluster), I had a great time, met some good people and generally learnt a bit about the UN and how it all fits together in terms of supporting countries in need of assistance during or after a disaster strikes. I was due to stay on with a contract extension when fortunately or unfortunately (yet to be confirmed!) I received a call from the AAD again offering me a winter position at Casey station. I had to take a bit of a risk in leaving the Fiji role as by heading home I still wouldn’t be guaranteed a place at Casey unless I passed the medical but let’s be blunt, if I fail a medical for any reason then I’ve got bigger worries overall! I got home on the 12th of August after a series of flights, one of which included the pilot wearing his Puma jacket whilst flying through a storm and throwing a bottle of water back to me as in flight refreshment. Suva was an interesting place to work and live though very different from what I think a lot of us expect it would be like.

Once home I had to go through a whole range of post mission medicals and psychological assessments from Fiji only to be followed with a range of ‘pre’ expedition medicals and psychological assessments for Antarctica which took up the best part of a week to get through with constant trips into Brisbane and numerous other desirable places.

By the way, did I ever mention how much I hate blood tests? Did I? Probably not! – The bain of my life is blood tests, they’re a necessary evil for what I do but they are my worst nightmare, about five years ago if you told me I was due a blood test in a month I would have a whole month of anguish, mental trauma & worry and would snap at anyone who came near me….Nowadays I’m not so bad, having had so many in recent years I’ve now developed a coping strategy and have stopped blacking out and throwing up on nurses – I do still try and break my fingers in the side of the hospital bed to try and take my focus away from the needle as it gets shoved into my brachial artery…(all my hairs on my arms are currently at full attention whilst writing this…I will now change the subject!). So to summarise, firing squads: fine, blood tests: not so good.

Having been back a few weeks now I’ve had the ‘all clear’ for the medicals and received my contract this Friday so other than insulting people (highly possible) or breaking a leg (No skateboarding for me) prior to departure I should be on schedule to start work with the AAD shortly. The plan at this stage is for myself to commence training at AAD HQ in Kingston on the 13th of September, I’ll be put through the usual rounds of training e.g. fire team training, boat handling, search and rescue, ropes rescue and tower climbing which the full winter team have to partake in. Alongside that I’ll also be training in the technical stuff that I need updating on for the AAD systems which include everything from learning the helpdesk software to having a day’s training on how to fix the X-Ray machine in the eventuality that it breaks down. This should see me through to late October where I get a week at home for pre-departure leave with the family and then back to Hobart again for the usual process of ‘Hurry up and Wait’ whilst we hope for the conditions to be perfect enough for us to all board the A319 and fly direct to Casey station for the start of the big contract.

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For those who read this blog last time I was wintering down South this is a different station to before. Before I wintered at Davis but this time I’m heading to Casey and whilst the systems and people are similar the stations have many differences. Firstly you’ll remember that last time I headed South I was sailing aboard the jolly ship & icebreaker the VNAA ‘Aurora Australis’, the main reason for that being that resupplying the cargo to all stations is carried out via ship and that the most efficient way to get staff to Davis is aboard that ship with all their ‘many things’ – Casey is different, it is home to Wilkins runway which is a CASA approved skiway located approx 65km inland from Casey station on the ice plateau itself. There are many regular flights in and out of Wilkins from Australia throughout the summer season where folk are dropped off and picked up with great regularity – Casey station becomes something akin to a transit lounge at a busy modern airport though with usually longer waiting times, a distinct lack of McDonalds and the likelihood of cold feet whilst stood hoping that the aircraft can land – Still, the view is much better and the home brew is free…

My two weeks at home have been fairly busy asides of medicals and windows updates, I’ve discovered that George can do nothing other than talk about skateboarding and Tony Hawk, I have found that my car has had it’s electronic handbrake replaced with a screaming sound and I’ve also concluded that the cats still haven’t learnt to enjoy being tortured. So for now I have two weeks left back at home to relax, typically this weekend I have man flu so this is highly likely to be my last ever blog – I believe I may not make it through the night, my carcass is likely to be tossed out onto the nearest passing milk float in the morning to be discarded into the Brisbane river with all the other unfortunate men that could have likely contracted this evil pathogen this weekend, Gawd bless us….

I’ve heard that it is possible to survive man flu, it has been done, If this is so and I manage to pull through I will be away next weekend on Stradbroke Island with Stan and four of his teenage mates for Stan’s 15th Birthday, god help ‘em is all I can say….Not many of them have met me properly yet, I have a feeling they may well be in for a shock.

My last weekend at home is Stan’s actual birthday so it’ll likely be spent counting down the time before I disappear so they can all cheer and pop the champagne corks as I head off down the driveway on my way to the airport. Between now and then I have to pack all my stuff and get it couriered to Hobart, continue to update all the computers at home so that they stay working for the next eighteen months and generally browse the internet in search of those last minute ‘camera bargains’ that you know damn well are going to happen.

But until such time as I’m needed in Hobart I shall relax and sit about

Cheerio

Stu

 

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