Among all the firsts I expect to experience over the next week – my first step on the continent of Antarctica! My first ride in a C-17 Globemaster! My first night in a tent in subzero temperatures! – I get to use a FUD for the first time.
On Tuesday I report to Antarctica New Zealand in Christchurch where they will supply me with all the outdoors gear I will need when I’m in Antarctica. I will get four jackets, six pairs of gloves, two pairs of boots – Sorels! When I lived in Colorado only the rich tourists (or my roommate) had those – as well as various balaclavas, hats, socks, goggles, thermal underwear and so on. I also get a survival kit. And a thing called a “urinary director – females only”.
The reason that we get this thing is because it’s so damn cold down there. Someone worked out that it would be a whole lot easier for the girls to just undo one zip and pee standing up, just like the guys do, than to have to undo and unzip everything (jacket, overalls, etc) and sit down in the sub-freezing cold. Yes, there are toilets in Antarctica, regular indoor ones at Scott Base and a variety of portable ones in tents even in small remote field camps. But there are also “pee sticks” at each camp, which are pretty much a flag on a pole in the snow, to mark a spot where everyone goes to pee.
I’ve spoken to two female friends who went on media trips to Antarctica. One thought the female urination device, or FUD, was great, and she used it all the time – she says the key is to wait until you really, really, really need to go. The other friend … well, she said it wasn’t that cold anyway, and she only used hers once. I’ll see how I go. I’m mostly worried about using it the first time. Will it come with instructions? What if I do it wrong?
These devices are a twentieth century invention, and are now popular with outdoor festival goers – the Wikipedia entry has a photo of girls using them at Glastonbury – as well as field scientists. Though, according to this post by Two Nerdy History Girls, there is a long history of women trying to pee standing up. Back in the days when women wore floor length hooped skirts and petticoats and many layers, hoisting all that garmentry up to sit down was a bit of a mission, so the stand up pee was facilitated by a handy little porcelain vessel called a bourdaloue, a sort of girls only chamber pot. This must have been in the days before underwear was de rigueur. A dirty old Frenchman called Francois Boucher found them so fascinating he painted this picture of a woman using one in the 1700s. (Thanks to my colleague Anne-Marie for finding this picture.)
Anyway, this is my only post about the FUD. I’m not planning to post about all the intricacies of using it. This blog is meant to be about science not peeing. There are other sorts of blogs for that sort of thing.