Slough or Antarctica? Well, at least Antarctica has penguins

Opera man climbs antenna towers at -30˚C

Email? Once a day!

The Register: How do workplaces differ around the world?

Kevin O'Rourke: I think the differences have been more due to the organisations I've worked for than the location. The British Antarctic Survey was quite civil-service like and rule-bound but also with a lot of individual responsibility for getting your job done, since my manager was thousands of miles away and we only got email once a day.

Most of the time my working environment was indoors, in front of a computer, but with the occasional day of climbing up antenna towers at -30C or driving bulldozers. Just walking from the accommodation building to the building I worked in could be amazing though, whether it was bright sunshine and millions of shades of blue or total darkness and the Milky Way overhead.

In Nigeria there were the irritations of dodgy satellite internet connections and power outages, but tremendously friendly and sociable colleagues. The campus I worked on had been designed in the 70s, so it looked liked something taken from an old sci-fi film and plopped down in the tropics.

Here in Sweden I work in a former apartment building from 1898, so instead of huge open-plan offices it's really quite cosy and everyone takes their shoes off at the front door. An added bonus is that I managed to rent an apartment in the building next door, so I have a two-minute commute.

The Register: We hear Nigeria is very, very dangerous. What special precautions did you have to take to work there?

Kevin O'Rourke: I was lucky enough to be there during the quiet spell after the trouble in the north of the early 2000s and left as the trouble in the Niger delta was getting worse. I could travel around quite freely from where I was living in Kaduna, slightly north of the middle of the country. Working as a volunteer I wasn't a target in the same way as the people who work for oil companies, so I could wander about without worrying about security.

Just as we’ve always suspected - malaria absolutely is a “great way to lose weight”

The main danger was travelling on the roads. The main Kano-Kaduna expressway passed by the campus where I lived and worked and just on the short stretch into Kaduna there were so many accidents. Even fairly minor accidents were often fatal because of the decrepitude of the vehicles and the lack of emergency services.

The only danger that affected me directly were the bloody mosquitoes. I had two fairly mild bouts of malaria and had a couple of weeks of feeling pretty rough each time. It's a great way to lose weight though.

The Register: Did you have to get any special qualifications or skills to work in Antarctica?

Kevin O'Rourke: I was working as an electronics engineer, operating and maintaining various upper-atmospheric physics experiments at Halley Research Station. So, I was mostly using my computing and electronics skills I'd picked up during my degree.

We had training both before departure and in Antarctica on things like techniques for rescuing people from crevasses, using breathing apparatus to rescue people from fires, and first aid. There was on-the-job training for driving unusual vehicles (snowmobiles, Sno-Cats, bulldozers) and dangling off antenna towers.

The Register: We've heard that some Antarctic bases designate a day for ... mmm ... self-relief, to make sure the mood on base during winter doesn't get too edgy. Can you confirm or deny?

Kevin O'Rourke: There weren't designated days. Getting any privacy on base was a problem though. During the summer season (December-February) we shared rooms and even when you had a room to yourself the walls were paper thin. One morning at breakfast the woman who had the room next to mine asked if I'd had trouble sleeping; she'd heard me turning the pages of my book during the night.

The Register: What do you do during the coldest, darkest parts of the Antarctic winter?

Kevin O'Rourke: Work, read books, watch films, try to take photos of auroras, organise parties. It's an Antarctic tradition going back to the early explorers to celebrate midwinter, so we'd have a week of festivities.

On midwinter's day there was a streak around the main accommodation building (temperatures usually in the -40s) and a huge meal. The worst part was after midwinter but before the sun comes back in August, especially if the weather was bad and you couldn't get outside much.

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