The Halley Fable

Once upon a time there was a scientist who wanted to do some research in Antarctica. You can't do that by yourself, they told him, 'What you want is somewhere to stay'. So they sent some builders down with him to make him somewhere to live and they sent some plumbers down with him so he could have a drink and a wash and they sent some electricians with him so that he could turn a light on and watch videos. Then they said, 'What you want is some way of getting around', so they gave him some sno-cats and skidoos, and sent some mechanics down with him so that they could mend these vehicles when they broke down. They also sent down with him a cook for when people got hungry and a doctor for when somebody got ill and a dentist for when somebody got toothache. Soon they realised that there was not enough room for all these people so they sent some designers down to design and build other places to live and a garage so they could bring in bigger and better machinery for all the extra people and more mechanics to look after them. Everybody was so busy thinking about their own plans and schemes that they didn't really notice the scientist doing his work.

Then one day it was decided that there were really too many people on base and somebody had to go. So they called a meeting to decide who it should be. 'We can't go home' said the builders, 'else who will build and maintain where we live?'. 'And we can't leave either,' said the plumbers, 'What will you do when all the water runs out?'. 'Nor can we; cried the electricians, 'Who else will mend the generator when it breaks down?'. And we must stay - said the mechanics, 'otherwise who will look after all the vehicles?'. 'We can't go' called the cooks, 'or who will make food for everybody when they are hungry?'. 'And I'm essential', said the doctor 'for who else will make the people better when they get ill?'. 'Me too,' cried the dentist, 'If I go what will happen if somebody gets toothache?'.

In the end after much discussion they decided that the scientist should be the one to go home, since he was the only person on base who wasn't indispensable. He was the only one amongst them whom none of the other relied upon, so it made sense that he should be the one to leave. That day when the scientist finished work they told him and he went back home on the ship. After that everybody was very happy and got on with doing their own specialised work. The builders built, the plumbers plumbed, the electricians wired, the mechanics mended, the doctors and dentists healed and in a short time they forgot the scientist had ever been there . . . .

Written by Martin Varley, summer visitor, on his trip home on Bransfield, date about 1994...ish.

From the BAS Club Newsletter, No. 37, p. 36 (1997)

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