John ("Nocker") Nockels


Gordon Devine, Paul Brangham, Ian Bury, Hwfa Jones, Malcolm Guyatt, Bob Wells, Allen Clayton, Mike Warden, Ian Smith, Bob Paterson and Andy Smith

Gordon Devine:

I had the great privilege to know John quite well. When I went down south I wanted to learn about electronics and building circuits but knew absolutely nothing except some stuff from a second year physics course. Somehow John got wind of this desire and took me under his wing. I spent many a happy and frustrating hour in the Beastie Hut. Every now and again while I was doing something, John would rush up saying something like "I can smell burning again". This knowledge was directly useful as after I came back I got a job with Schlumberger Technical Services where this knowledge was put to use. John was a humorous guy; we often had discussions about all sorts of exoteric subjects, getting quite heated. He wasn't one to participate in these but was an amused observer, commenting one time at a quiet smoko "Let's have an argument". The other things I remember were his advocacy of the pleasures of morphine. He had a shoulder that tended to dislocate, and after being hurried back from a field trip said having a morphine jab was really lovely. He was an excellent engineer in many other ways. An example was when we had a Sno-Cat that was notoriously unreliable and he worked with another base member to sort out the track arrangement, finding out that some of the idlers were not turning, something that had escaped the tractor mech's notice. Any way he was one of the best blokes I've ever met, liked by all.

Paul Brangham:

I just remember him as always cheerful, imaginative and a really nice guy. I don't have any specific memories of him. He was normally ensconced in the Beastie Hut.

Hwfa Jones:

He changed our sense of humour by the glorious misinterpretation of all we said - something I picked up from him on Base and do to this day to the exasperation of my family. I remember John as a genius who could interpret a birds nest of components in a few moments and a man who took the art of electronics beyond all practicalities of the mundane to mystify us with flashing lights at the bottom of the bog pit and a huge machine which magically (and practically) turned empty cans of beer into full ones. He was an extraordinary capable man who automated the Ionospheric sounding equipment within a few months of landing on Base. As such he had little to do work-wise for 2 years and was able to direct his talents to more productive projects. I can now reveal the secret we have kept for 44 years. For all his skills he did make an error in the automation which led to the misinterpretation of the amount of ozone over the continent by a number of eminent scientists and the whole global warming mess we now know is due to that error......* but we cared little at the time as he made us a magic beer machine in the time he saved. There wasn't the smallest harm in John - a true gentleman that I have missed for over 40 years, especially his sense of humour!
* Probably the joke is not appreciated or understood by those lacking John's humour.
See also

Malcolm Guyatt:

I was one who 'wintered' with John N. The first memory of him to spring to my mind was the occasion of John's birthday party in the Beastie Hut. John was 'teetotal' (I don't know if he stayed so??) so a bunch of us thought that we should ply him with drink. What would be powerful but innocuous enough to tempt the taste buds of a tyro tippler? Rum and orange - but not the 'tot' issue, dark rum with orange squash - NO, a much more innocent looking clear-as-water glass. Clear Bacardi rum with Cointreau! - we demonstrated how quaffable this mixture could be but so effective was it that I can't remember if he drank any or not (or much else actually!!) There was a bit of a 'wobbly wander' back to the main building shaft - and then embarrassing photos (of me) on the notice board the next day!! That was John's unforgetable birthday bash. Silly, immature behaviour really, but happy days fondly recalled!

Bob Wells:

My best memories involve the aerial raising and the sea bottom grab but I'm sure others can do far better for such a nice guy.

Allen Clayton:

He was a very popular colleague on base. I helped him with his sea-bed sampling grab at the same time as I 'manned' my sea level gauge close by.

Ian Smith:

My memories are of a thoroughly rock solid likeable bloke who never complained, but got got on and helped everybody. He was a bit of a loner and retreated to the Beastie Hut to persue his projects and work. His loves were fishing and electronics, which on base in his first year resulted in the sea bed sampling winch and fishing experiments, and also the Midwinter Beer Machine.

Mike Warden:

Though I travelled down and back with John, his interests were so far from mine, mostly fishing, electrics and music, while mine were at the rougher end of the scale, that I didn't actually do many things with him. He helped build the beer machine; did some fantastic grabbing for bottom samples and measuring the depth and tide on the sea ice off 3rd chip; caught the fish for everyone to have fish dinners when anchored at a variety of places; was spectacularly sea sick whenever the ship moved; and seemed to be able to help fix anything electrical on base. I was never one of his accomplices. But I did have a wee sledge trip with him.

Bob Paterson:

I remember him as a cheerful and really helpful person who presided over what seemed to be a 'cool' set up in the Beastie Hut - introducing me to extensive hard rock/heavy metal music. I recall late night sessions in the dining room when he would play Led Zepplin et al. at max (nearly) volume whilst he and I consumed a tin of 'conny onny' [condensed milk] each (a fresh supply having been discovered hidden in the dumps). He used to take the cat Dillon in his anorak across to the Beastie Hut... He went fishing in the First Chip and got some pretty interesting deep sea life forms having made the appropriate tackle. He rescued my fragile sleep recorders from electronic failure, having got the circuit details from the maker in the UK. He was just a good friend to me.

Andy Smith:

When I first visited the bar after arriving at Halley Bar, I came across the marvellous Beer Machine which John had constructed from surplus electron parts. An empty can inserted at the top magically became a full one at the bottom after various bumps, whirls, liquid bubbling and flashing lights. The spinning Radio Sonde on the top was an integral part of the magic. There is a picture on the Z-Fids website. He was aways a keen fisherman and constructed a machine with a long spooled cable to fish through the sea ice. I don't know if he caught anything live, but he did retrieve some rocks from the seabed. Later in the year he was involved in designing and making the famous 50 Hz regulator (also described on the Z-Fids website) to keep the generator's 50 Hz frequency exactly locked to an atomic clock in the UK, using VLF 16 kHz radio signals from Rugby. Bruce provided the mechanical parts, Nocker the electronic system, and I was the scientific advisor!

After FIDS he worked with electronic methods of evaluating fish stocks, and travelled the world putting these methods into practice. In the Philippines he met Irene his future wife whom he brought back to his homeland North Norfolk. His hobby was antiques and collectables, and he rented a small thatched cabin near Cromer sea front from the local council which he ran as a treasure trove of interesting old stuff. He realised that his hobby was more interesting than his work and so his hobby became his work. He expanded into shop premises in Cromer, where he and Irene ran the business full time. He enjoyed fishing along the Norfolk coast. He died on 22 March 2014 and is survived by his wife Irene and two children.

5 November 2014
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