I would marry a Dutchman if I could only get my mouth round their words!

April 7, 2008 at 5:36 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

24th January

Rick up at six. Helen feeds him porridge and boils his shaving water. I stay swaddled ’til the last minute, seven fifteen, when Rick is picked up to talk on Maryshev. Sweep, breakfast, mail bundled for dispatch. Chilly fingers but a brighter dry morning, which lifts spirits. Mixture of Europeans and Antipodeans. One Dutch guy buys a copy of ALL the books. They stay for a long time, because Europa are landing at Jougla and they don’t want to overlap. Sunshine burns away the clouds and warms battered emotions. By the end, having franked and typed up a day or so, I realise there’s a chance to call Sarah. Hear her quiet small voice and it’s unbearable to be here, not there, holding tight. She’s still numb. Wracked. Blunder out, sobbing, to let the others know I’m off the phone. Helen hugs me as a yacht passes by in front of us and the crew from Balena come ashore.

They are jolly, love the place and spend an age in the shop. I sit stunned in the sun. Helen paints the white of windows. Rick starts scrubbing down floors. I want to cry and cry, but serve the gentlemen. Frank, feebly sweep. Dan, the EL on Europa, comes to collect us for lunch. This ship has a special atmosphere, jaunty. I would marry a Dutchman if I could only get my mouth round their words!

Because the weather is holding, just, food is served on deck. Funky salads, tasty herbed and garlic butter, beany chorizo soup.

Rick talks in the salon bar. I drift in and out, wanting to watch the water and welling up. The capt/barman says we should mineralise our water – it’s dead, our bones will crumble. Jeez! Another thing to worry about! Dan is interesting; a scientist with a passion for the arts. Through the afternoon, fragments of conversation about pulling the two together, how writers have had a tendency to personalise Antarctica, how scientists could be taught to write creatively…

Need to be in touch about this after March – there’s all sorts we can do. Relaxed landing, accompanied by this intense talking, jotting note and literary recommendations. I want to take time out, to make and read and write An Antarctic Library. After feels like a car crash. We all collapse for an hour, until Alan, EL on Marco Polo, radios ‘Knock knock!’ he’s at the door. In the rain with him are Piers and Heather Dalby, who live in the next village along from home in Somerset, and also, conincidentally, Piers is my step-father’s dentist ha ha. We have a few minutes for a gabbled tour, taking pics, bundling a parcel of cc slips for Rachel Morgan and packing up a present for Neville. Suits on, out in the wet and across to Marco Polo, where the Dalbys kindly let me use their shower. Surreal to be sitting there in undies. Piers thought-fully dials Nev on his mobile – amazing – we exchange a few words (about tax bill! and sisters) amidst this carpety luxury. Great to hear about Justine’s life since we hung about together as kids (I remember swimming pools and horses and good-looking brothers…) Up to Raffles Lounge for a bottle of red (thank-you Piers!) and a buffet dinner. Highlights: cod, battered aubergine, flambé cherries and ice cream. Up to the bar, where there’s a live band and formal dancing. Quick drink with staff, a girl sits near me – the artist in residence – who, it emerges, is Lucia de Leiris, who camped in Woo-ville with Sara Wheeler (in her book Terra Incognita.) Wow. Then Alan apologises; the wind has picked up and Captain is in a hurry, antzy to leave. Don’t neck wine (?!) Hugs to Heather (who’s been drawing with Lucia) and Piers escorts us to the hatch. Long rope ladder down into tender. Back across waves and into bed on counter by ten.

Seven Weeks and One Day. I appreciate the extraordinariness.

April 7, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

18th January

Sarah’s Happy Birthday! xxx

Staggered start. Multanovskiy radios, alerting us to their -2 status, but they’ll be a little while yet. Kettle on and outside to see that big bergs are still there and a new one is still closer. The original chicks at hut corner are standing together in the nest as their parent loiters watchfully nearby. Somehow I’m caught on the back foot and easily narked and disgruntled by passenger’s requests ie. ‘Could I have a receipt?’ ‘If you insist…’ Delphine is relaxed; happy not to be EL this trip, which is the last of the season for Martin Enkell. He buys some of the marvellous crocheted snow flakes sent down from Florida by a previous year’s supportive visitor. Tired and dozy. Frank. Helen restocks clothes, I do books and all the stuff up here, help carry boxes, then slink off for a lie down instead of lunch. Multanovskiy kindly removed a lot of our waste, but also left sackfuls of stuff for another ship. Rick and Helen sort it all out and many boxes are emptied in the process. Explorer II had radioed to say they’d start landing at two pm our time, but actually send staff ashore at one thirty, so my nap is curtailed. Helen holds fort while I rustle a salmon sandwich together and hence start work smelling of fish. This ship has brought post for us from Stanley – stamp supplies and a few parcels which wait tantalisingly, tucked away at the foot of my bunk. Very nice visit, culminating in slight frenzy at the end, good pace, neither rushed nor slow. Two leopard seals on floes near chains landing. HMS Endurance have located Explorer on the sea bed with their super solar beams. We will leave here in seven weeks and one day – looking at time in that context makes me appreciate the extraordinariness, and wonder about the things I meant to do in these five months. Missing small things. So: Six o’clock, tools down. Open parcels. Helen has a bag of porridge oats and wholesome goodies. I have a lovely funny parcel of treats from sister Jule, including a painted penguin from Sebastian – brilliant! Great to see photographs of both nephew and niece. Pat Law – the love – has filled a box with thoughtful gifts. And the first instalment of The Archers has made it from Sarah and Geoff – essential. Cards from Aileen and Peter Parker, amongst others. So sweet. Silently go frank, cash up and restock in the lightly falling snow. Rick responds to weary summons, carries boxes and refills t-shirt cubicles. Helen has a headache… we both dream of a bath, a long hot soak. Once all done, it is nine o’clock.

Rick heads to sleep in lounge. I had been quite looking forward to another night on the PO counter… There is a yacht moored here and a paper cut out iceberg. Affix glow-in-the-dark stars on the underside of black shelf above bunk and shimmy into bag, laying out clean socks for the morning.

Sopping suits in the genny shed; splashing over postcards

January 24, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

30th December

Stormy weather means those outside jobs are again postponed. I propose pre-porridge yoga. Rick acquiesces, Helen’s legs are too stiff. Start before we change our minds and wake up properly. Surprisingly focused and painless forty mins. It emerges afterwards that Rick has been fantasising about toast and marmalade, so satisfies those desires after porridge. My bowl of pear, banana, peach and nuts is also very good. Others recline as I read eight days of diary – no alterations required. Rick sorts through e-mails and writes three. I type until battery runs out and shoot off blog updates (now we’re charged up on the satellite phone again.) Rick goes to tidy his electrical wiring job with cable brackets. Helen checks spreadsheets (end of year accounts, literally) and replies to Rachel’s e-mails. It’s really too dreich to do anything. Only seven degrees centigrade in bunkroom; heat on and cosy in. Chicken soup for lunch, pear-banana custard and desert wine. Rick suspects it may t urn out to be a bedridden afternoon. Stick labels on my limited edition postcard packages (although they are not selling fast,) while Helen bakes mince pies and Rick rests, cross-legged. Listen to Country carols with Rhonda Vincent. Finish sewing little chart books, eat too many mince pies, drink tea and pop out every so often to scan horizon for Europa. String linen thread above bunk shelf and suspend gentoo shell samples in their ziplock bags (which we’re collecting for Oceanites.) The pingus are utterly soaked, snow is shrinking as rain lashes into it. The wind is so ferocious that the bunkroom lino billows up, so much so that the door sticks! Seven degrees in here now, but feels colder. Heater on sporadically to conserve fuel. Spot the brave Europa, rounding in from Neumayer. They’ve had a good sail and will come to collect us for dinner in fifteen minutes. It’s a wild evening, so definitely immersion suits. Tjalling is positive. The ship’s wood panelled interior is warm and an urn of gluwein is ready to be ladled. Downstairs for beef stew, rice and smiling pax. Manage to shower rapidly before Rick’s talk – the first wash in quite a few days, lovely. The storm has not abated – the other two even pull on neoprene hoods. Very rocky clambering from ship to boat and biting cold blasts to head on the few minutes of journey. We doubt for their safety in returning, let alone conducting a landing in these conditions. Since glasses are steamed up and useless, I go and stand, dripping, breathing in the porch. Hang sopping suits in the genny shed. Rick and Helen stayed out to make sure the inflatable returns safely. Helen panics and runs amok. Astoundingly, Tjalling radios to announce that they WILL land passengers, if that’s ok with us. Crazy! So light the Tilley and dress up in more layers. Very wet visitors, splashing all over postcards and stamps. One fellow, a train driver in Luxembourg, buys stamps for collector friends at home, and will pass on r egards to Rob McGill on Carcass Island (The Falklands) in a couple of weeks. We’re very disappointed that Europa won’t be here tomorrow night. Their lost anchor at Cuverville has set them back… ah they’ll be at Vernadsky instead. Tired, damp and the wind completely surrounding us. No word from the yacht – Xplore – in Alice Creek today.

Rachel and the Lonely Puffin

January 24, 2008 at 7:37 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

25th December

The Worst Snoring in the World! Probably due to excesses of whiskey forced on Rick by Shokalskiy’s Captain. Cold south-easterly wind – so it’s even breezy on the bucket! Briefly read our Christmas e-mails. Not too cheery. Special porridge and then Antarctic Dream’s passengers start landing at ten. Singing is very good and we are jollied by their fine spirits. When they leave, around twelve, we move into lounge and pile up an extraordinary number of presents. So much generosity from the ships – Rick has never seen such decadence at Lockroy. There are parcels spread on every surface. First off, the catering staff from Orlova provide great hats (which Rick and I wear for the rest of the day (Mine’s a sparkling Viking number and Rick’s a pantomime dame.) The bestest heart-warming thing, which brings me to tears again, is Kit’s book ‘Rachel and the Lonely Puffin.’ So wonderful. So proud. And Helen’s knitted penguins; perfect and exquisite with their matching hats and scarves (whi ch echo ours.) Rick gives us fluffy penguins, huge mugs and mysterious eggs which we must immerse in water and see what happens. Incredible amount of chocolates, bottles and treats. Sip desert wine and listen to Blind Boys of Alabama over and over. We have a cheese sandwich (with Piccalli) for lunch. Helen stirs up festive custard to pour over Jo’s Christmas pudding (from Polar Pioneer.) Rick makes a couple of calls to loved ones, and discovers we’re very low on minutes. Which prohibits much communication with our nearest and nearest. Try to call Iz because I know Jule is there too – all terribly sad because their cat died this morning. Agree she’ll ring in half an hour. Tudor phones – Helen and I both get a couple of minutes. Great to laugh with Tudor, and hear he’s brought the same camera as Helen. Sister’s ring, and it’s great to hear each voice for a few seconds. Charlotte tells me they’re eating Cheesy Nipples which takes me back to last year (three happy days of Port an d Quality Street,) Rhys talks of turtles and chicks. Can’t hear properly and the call is over too soon. The yacht Santa Maria Australis lands her nine passengers at four pm. Helen has prepared mulled wine, which we serve in paper cups. They are subdued. And smoke on deck, which floats into shop and shocks our nostrils. Wrap First Day Covers and Helen unscrews Perspex on counter to adjust display. I need to lie quiet but Rick talks and Helen rustles – she’s rolling out marzipan and icing for her mother’s cake. So forty winks are not achieved before Orlova radios arrival and we need to be in immersion suits because the sea is choppy. Distinctly un-festive, we bundle off with not even a card for our fine hosts. Quickly change into jeans and enter full dining room with our Christmas hats firmly on. This provokes cheers and camera flashes. I get to sit with Victoria, her husband, their friends and the doctor. Numerous courses, including sea bream on spinach yum yum. Back through t o bar for a bit, the bridge is impatient for us to depart however, so that the crew can stop work. So back across the moving water with Vlad, who collects four boxes of de-frosted potato wedges that we had buried in a snow drift. Helen can’t believe Christmas is over. Her three snap and glow wands have somehow snapped. She waves them around and plays with them on her pillow. (There are photographs she took very quietly, which I like.) An engine throbs loudly nearby. Happy Christmas. How odd.

We’re all going on a summer holiday.

January 24, 2008 at 7:16 pm | Posted in Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

19th December

Awake excited. Blue and blustery, wind from northeast. Last night’s uneaten pudding mixed in with porridge. Rick off at eight am to Endeavour, in close. A yacht, the Northanger radios on their way in to seek shelter in Alice Creek, keen to see Rick. We packed our bags last night; cameras, sun-cream, clean knickers, all that jazz. Good humoured shop (not surprising since we’re high as kites,) and a fresh delivery from the Palmer Bakery – Thank-YOU. The instant last passenger has signed her membership form, we lock the genny room door, hide the key and run down to the landing, singing ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday!’ (Rick rolls his eyes.) Unbelievably Tim, the Expedition Leader, has forsaken his cabin for the night. Helen and I settle in and head to the bridge to catch up with Tim and Lisa. Jim the film-maker/photographer will share his cabin with Rick, who goes straight for a shower. Then it’s lunchtime – splendid salad and the company of a couple from Arkansas. Also m eet Raydene, from Palmer, who deals with logistics. Ice-cream with butterscotch sauce! Helen tempted to shower, but we’re about to Lemaire… and the landscape wins. Out on deck with the red-coats and it’s glorious. Talk with Rod on the prow. Meet Kathy (from Palmer, also involved with logistics) really good to chat about life, and being away from home (they are away for nine months but can travel within a two mile radius of Station.) Realise we’re the only two left, and stay snapping and watching for whales all the way to Vernadsky. Into lounge bar where the Palmer gang are camped. It’s incredibly wonderful to be with them. Chat some more and bundle into warm gear. We, the Lockroy/Palmer ensemble, have been placed to land in between the odd and even numbered cabin groups and enjoy what I suspect is a slightly ‘insider’ tour of the base. At every door, our guide, Vlad, in dark suit and maroon shirt says, “This is the most important room!” (…particularly the gym, fully decor ated with breasts.) We even climb up into the roof space to see ozone-measuring machine. Finally to the bar after regarding much ex-Faraday memorabilia, the generator shed and curious humour. The vodka is golden, with a very gentle after-kick in the throat. Odd badges and faux icons for sale. Zip back to ship to pick up passport- may be only chance to have it stamped here. Several vodkas later, Raydene and I remove brassieres with minimum fuss and relinquish them to the bar in exchange for another shot, short lived fame and respect (and Tim wins his bet with Tudor.) Vlad plays guitar and sings heartfelt ballads, barman (infamous for zodiac adventures) performs magic tricks and Base Commander gives us a magnetometer to install temporarily at Lockroy. Out onto deck for a glimpse of Wordie House in the nook of snowy hillocks. Helen would like to live there she says, but she has drunk six vodkas.  We are made tea by Stanislaus, swallowed scorchingly to make last zodiac. Shower an d shave front of shins extraordinarily badly. Recap follows soon after, a great insight into icebergs and the animals who live around and under them, accompanied by a G+T. Rebecca and Phil give an intro to life and work at Palmer Station, very well received. We have swung out into the ocean now, and the swell lifts. Ropes are strung between posts to aid lilting walkers to the dining room. Sit for dinner, and manage first course of mushroom risotto. The conversation lurches as we do, until, regrettably (with a steak on order!) the ladies at the table (including me) make apologies and flee. Helen has been sick and sleeps. I join her in Tim’s double bunk for a queasy half-doze. He comes in to type up tomorrow’s itinerary, commenting on the scent of penguin that materialised with our occupation and opens the window! Soon at Palmer where skies are moody and Arthur’s Bay jagged with brash. Passengers are to lie at anchor tonight, while staff and crew are invited to a party. Fabulou s ride across with Tim driving… Welcome to Palmer! Great to see the ‘other half’ who visited us a couple of weeks ago. They seem so pleased that we are here; it’s heartening. Phil, the perfect host, offers a wee tour, (which lasts off and on, all night.) Best is the stationary store where I am issued with a ‘Rite in the Rain’ All Weather notebook and a propeller pencil, which, of course, makes me deliriously happy. See krill in large vats in the Krillers labs, the outsides of various clever machines, Kim’s inflatable iceberg and some print designs, the most cared for Ladies Room and offices. Helen still slightly icky and Rick not at full strength either but both are here, Rick talking on a sofa, Helen out on the bar’s veranda, waving to us on the boardwalk. Party is swinging; Philipino crew playing pool and dancing, Marek (Chief Barman from the ship) and a Kriller are a demon shot production line – fruity orange vodka. Utterly delectable guacamole and nachos. Good chatting and letting down of hair. A little more tour, stopping at Ham Radio Room for a luxury chance to view this blog live (!) and see Kim Baranowski’s website – she joins us, as does Helen. Tired Rick and Helen say goodnight. Tim is keen to hot-tub, as am I, Phil was going to bed, but comes too. We undress in the sauna to keep clothes warm and dry. Fortunately I have pink lacy post-mistress undies on. Step out into the snowy air and along to the tub. Tim is in first. Oh my GOD it’s HOT!!! 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Yowsers! Skin tingles with the pain of it, I can sympathise with broiled lobsters. We try vortexing to lower the temperature. An officer joins us. So boiling that a contrast is needed – the sea! Steam has rendered glasses useless. Delicately tread along wood, then metal, walkway then rock and snow (ouch! ice burn) and more rock into the cold dark water. Only up to the knees I confess, splashing all over and cooling face ah ha. Swedish chef joins the throng. We have brought hunks of fresh ice back with us, they float and crackle in our saucepan. Highly sensuous to rub the cold along legs and arms still submerged in the heat. More crazy vortexing and finally I am too dizzy. Retreat to sauna all wobbly, near collapse, breath held in the moment. Tim collects a melted me, last on the tender. Once back I walk slowly upstairs, but am summoned back for Crew Mess karaoke (it’s 2:30) Eventually to bed. Helen coughs. Wind blows through porthole from the night.

An accidental Jackson Pollock

January 2, 2008 at 5:29 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | 1 Comment

17th December

Ships n’ snores from five am onwards but we’re allowed to doze until nine. White and overcast outside, warm enough to pad around in pyjamas, which I do, to see if there are any chicks. Gentoos seem quite clucky, but firmly snuggled down over their nests. A couple tucked under the genny shed are getting soaked as melt drips off the roof – bedraggled! Eat porridge and write as Helen, back in bed reads and Rick peels and chops apples for stewing. Elvis sings Christmas, then Frank and Bing do too. We wish we had Merry Woolworths tunes too. Rick climbs onto the roof and starts slapping on the bitumen. Helen and I drape Christmas decorations everywhere in a desperate attempt to feel festive. I’m not quite lethargic, just severely lacking in energy. We’re pleased with our efforts. Rick says ‘What have you done?!’ when he sees. (What does he mean?) Bread, cheese, salad and cured venison sausage for lunch, sitting outside in remains of the sun. Apples and cream for pud, good. Tea and  chocs later too. Wash up. Wonder when Shokalskiy may arrive – they’re running late. Restock as quickly as possible. Poor Ricky has a hole in his bucket, and spatters black paint all through the corridor, an accidental Jackson Pollock. Penguins odiferous. Rivulets of meltwater glisten between rocks. Lie and sleep for half an hour, which is at least forty winks. Reviving tea, we do drink a lot, well this is a very British outpost. Then see Shokalskiy in a shot of light sailing from the Neumayer. A passenger walks up the ramp with our first sack of mail. Jubilations. She is a teacher from St. Georges in Edinburgh and is in the advance party in order to purchase stamps for 300 envelopes, (a fundraising project which I’d heard about through Judith and Fiach.) By extraordinary coincidence, Helen is an alumni of this educational establishment; she sorts out stamps in a complicated variety of denominational combinations under the beady (and twinkling) eye of Mrs. Mackie. I go and in vestigate sack of post – oh goodness… ALL the parcels are for me. There’s some philatelic items and a couple of cards for Helen. I feel awful and so sad again for the other parcels lost on the sea bed. Rush (as far as is possible) into immersion suits and over to ship. We’re shown into the engine room to leave our stuff. Noisy. Flustering. Barbeque in full swing. Fine gruel and sausages. It’s hard to eat, drink gluwein and answer questions all at the same time. Helen goes to supervise stamp-sticking-on so barely eats anything. Then into bar for swift briefing before whizzing back and trying to remove suits and slide behind counter before first pax ascend the ramp. Tilley lamp and our Christmas lights are lit. Merry and short visit as about half the group are off to camp at Dorian Bay tonight. Precious parcel from P, extra-special banana socks from Susan, apposite Santa hats from Louise, jiffy full of surprises from D + A, gorgeous treats and long, long letter from Aileen. I ‘m so lucky and loved. And thought all these parcels lost. Rick in bed not feeling great. We sing him carols and celebrate inaugural lighting of lamps on his bedside tree, which surge to life in a very appealing manner. Read letters and treasure the thoughts. Save some to open later and sleep with many warm feelings.
 

The engine in my chest

January 2, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Journey | Leave a comment

12th December

There was a ship nearby all night. I could feel the engine in my chest, but no-one else did. No visitors until four today so porridge in bed. Helen is poorly, slumped on her pillows, Rick is up and at it, and I’m somewhere in-between. Start unpacking the stuff Helen carried up yesterday (during first part of egg count) and folding t-towels (they come in big clumps of ten) and straightening up lines of postcards. Helen, who should have stayed in bed, and I, go to boatshed to search for a rogue box hidden, we suspect, in the depths of third row back. Much humping and grunting on my part (very warming) and systematic diagram drawing (for future reference) on Helen’s. Find Large Steel Blue T-Shirts and reconfigure the stacks. Good job! Walk up through the gentle snow for a cup of something hot. Fold the new National Geographic satellite maps into quarters – the perfect task for a bookbinder and her bone-folder – and settle them into a slot on front counter. Fiddle about moving s tickers and books through from science room until curry soup for lunch. Type and type away (about a week behind) until battery runs out. Multanovskiy arrives on schedule. A ‘People to People’ charter, extra space filled with an assortment of passengers, including some booked on Explorer. Barbeque invite taken up by Rick and I, but Helen feels like a QNI, rather than talking outside on deck. We leave her with instructions to do nothing. Kind Tula sends me to the sauna for a shower, assuring me that it would be empty. Walk in naked and am greeted by a bathing-suited couple ooops. Chat, then scrub and lather. Straight out to prow for favourite steak, chorizo and salad. Talk with ex-BAS, NZ, Argentinian and Brits on holiday, also IPY stuff with Geoff. Drink gluwein until too cold and crew are hosing down the deck. The doctor has promised me a bath (in the medical room) next visit ha ha hurray. Into bar for a quick drink and then Geoff drives us home, laden with boxes for other Qu ark ships, a box of barbeque leftovers and a box full of DVDs to borrow. Helen’s fine. Out into the calm night for a pee. We heard a thunderous noise a few minutes ago; our protectrice iceberg is no more! Toppled and divided, it is reduced to two chunks and a welt of brash. Splash marks on landing site rocks indicate quite a wave. I’m sorry she’s gone. We can’t hide anymore.

The most delightful morning

January 2, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

9th December

The most delightful morning. Rick disappears outside straight away (with book and nail varnish) we follow with porridge and more tea. And sit in the sun for a couple of hours, marvelling. I go snapping on the rocks, with a new lens on camera – incredible difference for close up shots and depth of field – lovely. Quite content. The penguins are panting in the heat – wish we could spray them with a hose, most are off in the water anyway. We’re out of water, but take advantage of the weather to scrub shop floor (with a tea cup full of water) then mop, then dry with a towel. Down to chuck slop (with camera) Antarctic terns nesting there pose obligingly. Rick has offered a prize for this season’s Dominican Gull picture. I’m not inspired. Helen and Rick create an underbunk storage solution for her boxes – a original lip made them annoyingly hard to access. A five minute job (according to Helen) takes hours. While Rick does the drilling and screwing, Helen and I go to chip ice! Bri efly watch the penguins – four chinstraps and one adelie. Rick’s raring to run. By the time we’re ready, the tide has risen, barring our circumnavigation. Brisk wind. Run round and round the rocks for half an hour before knees give in. Retire to warm genny shed – hurrah! – for yoga. Rick joins us later, somewhat distracted. Then Helen sights Bark Europa, emerging full sail from Peltier Channel – a three masted Dutch adventurer, a veritable pirate ship. Run outside to wave and admire through binoculars. Rick observes there are few women onboard. Beautiful. Grab a sandwich and hurriedly tidy our mornings doings. Skip across to Europa for Rick’s briefing. All forty pax out on deck, with a large bowl of oranges, smiling; what a way to be in Antarctica! For the first time it’s possible to get our surrounding glacial cliffs in perspective – tallest mast is twenty-eight metres high. A minke whale shows a fin. Quiet visit – such a different feel from the larger ships, sell a lot of p ostcards. Dutch mostly, some French…By the end, Captain and Expedition Leader are in the kitchen drinking tea, engineer comes to get us – the last tender is waiting…and stays for a cuppa too. Over for our first deck barbeque. Shower first in a cosy wooden four bunk cabin. Hot water bliss, clean fluffy hair (came unprepared.) Then up to bar for a drink – I have the sensation of being in the observation lounge of an old train. Jovial chatter. Food is ready; table heaped with salad and garlic/whiskey dressings, pork marinated in ketchup and fantastic kebabs. Congenial company. Wee tour. Panatone and tea. Barbeque becomes a crate wood bonfire, which we crowd round to keep warm. Sunset palate glows with silver grey light from the wooden deck, between many ropes. When it’s time to leave, a leopard seal playfully performs on the submerged lip of an iceberg, right by the ship. Suspect she may toy with our inflatable, but ride home is calm and content. I do like the Dutch; being on Europa makes me want to be in Amsterdam again.

The whip round of a ship

January 2, 2008 at 5:11 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

7th December

Six am ship’s in. Time to get up. Quick tea and porridge. Explorer II radios through the instant we turn it on. Larry appears fifteen minutes later, with staff and flasks of hot drinks (Matz tea experts!) It has snowed in the night. Shop’s busy, Joe and Victoria bring us tea, having washed up and packed up – they’re catching a lift home today – quick goodbyes. Half way through visit, (pack ice having necessitated move to the boatshed landing,) the decision is taken to curtail, as that brash has moved into in to our bay and rapidly blocking access. Last hurried transactions and hugs, standing beside a well camouflaged  baby weddell on the rocks. Wind is picking up; there’s a chance we may be isolated for a while. The film crew is away – we wish them Happy Birthdays for tomorrow. Lumber up through snow, admiring our new fleet of icebergs, including a new mate for our protector wedge. Helen fries up egg n’ bacon brunch and brews fresh coffee. Welcome pause in proceedings to cat ch breath. Rick responds to e-mails. Helen writes up yesterday’s long day. I sit on bunk and think. Frank Explorer II mail. Helen completes stock list. The boatshed has a fine (sometimes gunky) layer of guano and bits of packaging all over the floor; therefore inadvisable to drop anything. Several trips up and down. (Heavy boxes of cloth, and plastic bags.) Make soup from left over potato, tired celery and blue cheese. He says the best one so far. Orlova braves the brash (and see a humpback in the bay on their approach.) Passengers felt rather battered by the weather during their Palmer visit, so are quiet with us. A few parcels spice up our Post Mistress existence. Conditions threaten to crap out, so this visit is also aborted. Learn that the ship had a whip round on hearing that our Christmas post had sunk with the Explorer – we have a mysterious plastic sack-full, not to be opened until 25th! Ahhh. Meet the Orlova/Quark artist in residence, a photographer – her partner has invented a bookbinding machine, must check it out when there’s internet access. We talk about International Polar Year. She has an exhibition in Washington that she’d love to tour… Wondering if I’m missing all that stuff, this enforced separation from creativity. Prefer not to miss what I cannot have. Conditions threaten to crap out, so this visit is also aborted. Wind is rising, penguinsd are returning from their feeding swims. Eyes start to prick with accumulated tiredness. Funny readjusting to absence of film crew, back to just three. Helen e-mails official figures and long overdue personal replies. Rick cooks a plain stew with chick peas and red cabbage. I pass on plums and custard, sit and stare. We talk about being here and being grateful. I take slop bucket down to landing. Ice jostles almost silently. Our new iceberg collection is magnificent, spreading into the middle distance, white on white in the flat light. Take a few pictures, but it’s more about remembering.

Helen reads out loud from some of the children’s books. I sleep, chastened.

Taking it in turns to be interviewed

January 2, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

6th December

Blink and hear snow falling. And a ship’s engine – Maryshev. Outside to find flat calm sea. Good porridge. Quick stock. Rick and crew go across for talk while we rush to be ready. Relaxed visit, fifty passengers, which does not last long. Cram in three slices of bread and butter before plodding through snow to boatshed. We’re taking it in turns to be interviewed, so I start amassing fleeces and children’s books into cardboard boxes and searching for grey caps, while Helen does the Post Mistress bit. She saves the day by coming down just in time to find the t-shirt varieties – her speciality. Interviewed cross-legged on bunk with hand-bound diary on knee. Fail to say anything sparkly or revelatory – they’ll only use it for snippets anyway. Limited moments to assemble disc of images for film crew to carry back to UK for Rachel Morgan. Rick stirs up lentil soup which hits the spot. Film crew generously lend us their satellite phone for a few minutes each – all I communicate wit h are ansa-phones, and a few fragmentary bursts with Barbie – a treasure nonetheless. As Helen has her go with technology, stamping outside on the snow, she sees a strange man (Richard actually) walk up from the landing – Endeavour had tried unsuccessfully to radio us, and so turned up to collect Rick anyway. While customary introduction is going on, Joe and Victoria capture some penguin counting on film, up at the mast colony. It’s blizzarding in my face (preferable to clogging up the lense) so I can’t see much. Doesn’t take long. Run down ready for visitor’s arrival in shop. Staff first, friendly faces and news. Some folk from Palmer Station (our nearest neighbours, eighty miles away) have come on a jolly. Lovely to meet them, especially Kim, their artist-in-residence, who made an inflatable iceberg in their bay (something I wanted to create for the launch of International Polar Year in Paris, but lacking a budget.) Desperate to talk icy art with her, simultaneously debating clothing sizes with Americans. We vow to keep in touch and swap addresses. I’m practising swing-vaulting out over the counter like a cowboy, without disturbing Helen, which amuses me (and worries Helen!) Kindly, funny Captain Oliver is going home for Christmas, and then off to supervise another ship; Goodbye and Farewell to him. Most brilliantly, Endeavour’s radio engineer smilingly arrives with his tool-box to fix our aerial. Absolutely particularly excellent as we can test communications with his ship and with Palmer too. Now we’re properly in touch with our immediate world. Hurray. Lisa, (Eareckson Trotter) another friendly face from KK trip, will be aboard Endeavour until March – it’s good to see her. Once all departed, I frank mail and discover a photo-postcard of Explorer sinking: A startling image as we have seen no newspapers or internet pictures. Because we anticipate a seven am visit, money must be counted and shop re-stocked. Rick heroically produces dinner – eve n popcorn – while Helen and I pluck garments, books and t-towels from various corners. There’s a ribbon of brash out in the Neumayer Channel. Last meal with Joe and Victoria Rockhopper; beer and tales from Outer Mongolia. Still a small amount of night sequence (lounging about reading/writing/knitting in pyjamas) to film, involving Helen lighting the Tilley lamp. Joe shoots inside and outside. A long, long day. Please turn the music off.

Penguin calculators

December 17, 2007 at 8:47 am | Posted in Penguins | Leave a comment

2nd December

Stay still as long as possible. So long that Helen brings me porridge in bed and hour later. No ship is due until the evening, so I’m pretending it’s a Sunday long lie. Me and Rick dress up to count penguins, but euk it’s snowing slush and we’d get soaked, so retreat inside. Package a few First Day Covers then the weather appears to clear, so we head out again. Gosh it’s yucky by the boatshed, a treacly gloup of mud, meltwater and guano. I find it hard to move and count without slipping in the mire and remembering where I’d got up to. We both reach the same figure (give or take a couple) and move on up to the mast colony. Tricky when nests are huddled around a prominent rock and there’s no clear line of sight. The snow is coming down fiercer. We both make the same tally. After counting the small scattered Anode Tower colony I retreat indoors, ineffectual without eyesight (glasses are snowed under) leaving Rick to count the control colonies. He comes in shortly, soaked. Adding the figures together gives us a total of 618 nests. (Last year there were 611 on 27th November.) Thaw out and unpack stock that Helen has valiantly carried up from the boatshed. Start collating sets of eight posters which make up the Port Lockroy information pack (a bargain at $5!) laid out along bench in science room. This is familiar work for me, and  music is playing in my ears. Rick cooks up Sunday Brunch style meal; fried eggs, potatoes, beans and tomato mmm. Straight back out to bag up more poster sets. Startling how much snow cover has disappeared over the last days, temperature hovering around zero, precipitation sometimes more like rain. Our whole topography is changing, I find edges where there were none. The snow made everything bigger and now I’m surprised to realise this is so. Bit of a ‘ho hum’ afternoon; tidying, small jobs. Helen has done a stamp stock take, trying to work out what we may run out of and need to re-order. Waiting is frustrating – today’s only  ship visit is scheduled from seven thirty pm onwards. Eventually lie down and read. Rick cooks exotic curry: mango and guinea fowl! V. dense and tasty. Stewed apple and custard. Still no ship. Risk taking full slop bucket to landing, hurl it right out in an arc. Nothing happens. No-one comes. Paint a few cards for International Polar Year, with the commemorative round stamps on. Hardly breathe. Stare. Start reading American anthology of Antarctic stories…

Write twelve letters, some with big writing

December 17, 2007 at 8:46 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

1st December

Blowing a hooley and snowing a bit. Cold in sleeping bag. Polar Pioneer had scheduled a local climb today, seems far too windy. Small discussion about breakfast time – so early yesterday that Helen and I were hungry behind the counter by eleven – hard when we’re not sure how long we’ve got before a landing, the scheduled slots are necessarily broad. Rick has cereal, Helen cooks porridge a little later. The ship calls Rick over for intro talk. Since outside is a bluster, Helen and I stay behind. A few extra minutes of solitude. Climbing cancelled so shop and museum has extra indoors appeal. Large percentage of Australian passengers. Lovely, lovely cooks bring us more extra special treats – sun-dried tomato foccacia, roasted garlic, pineapple and strawberries! What loves! Fifty-eight passengers makes for a short-ish burst. Lunch on chicken soup, the bread and garlic, chopped pineapple. The bunkroom is warmed up, post goes tomorrow, so me and Helen have mail to prepare. Rick li es down, in anticipation of crazy few days ahead. Helen writes postcards, I burn new disc of blog images and paint borders for letters. Helen reads aloud from Rick’s book once he’s awake – a horse auction – while we decide whether to yoga. And I finish painting. We make it through to the chilly genny shed with our mats, and it’s good, though our flexibility had lapsed. Saw a weddell seal on a little islet by Bill’s – the others thought it was a rock – later it moves, so i’m vindicated. Yum modest serving of carbonara from Rick and, fantastically, strawberries and cream (In Antarctica! In a blizzard!!) Write twelve letters, some with big writing. Step over the hill with Helen, waves are slapping and the snow is soft and deep; a giant petrel swoops over, working the wind. That was my one and only step outside today! Some of us are lovesick; we drink Jagermeister and imagine our perfect days. Much harmony. Frank post and leave to dry over night.

Box-toppling in the boatshed

December 17, 2007 at 8:45 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

30th November

Still bright, fresh north-easterly breeze. A floe of four weddell’s floats past Bill’s Island slowly. Take pictures of Helen’s rolls of notes, looking like a dollar forest, and bundle yesterday’s mail too. Rick is hungry for porridge, which we eat before Shokalskiy radios over inviting us for breakfast – doh! – Rick goes aboard to give his talk. A moment to plan some letters with special stamps on – mail will be dispatched on 2nd December I think. Wind whistling and pressure falling… oh no is that a storm brewing? After Rick promised that every day would be sunny from now on ha ha! Scrape sheathbill deposits from ramp; an ongoing futile endeavour to prevent it spreading through museum on people’s soles. And then spot one of them with a sock (!) disappearing beneath the generator shed – Helen sprints round in hot pursuit and rescues the singular article. (Rick’s, set to dry outside, after running yesterday.) Shokalskiy pax appear, including several jolly folk who join up as  Friends of Antarctica – hurray! And a Swedish camera woman taking footage of everything for a national news channel. She films me cancelling mail and is interested to see all aspects of our life, charmed by the bunkroom, and delighted when Rick agrees to play the gramophone for her. Oh but we’re hungry so bye bye tea and toast, too impatient to wait for ‘proper’ food that Rick is making – veggy noodle soup… Make up more mint sets and package more First Day covers (the ones we’re running short of.) Fix shop ready for next visit. Re-stock: Quite a few heavy things. First box-toppling incident in the boatshed – but no damage done – won’t be the last. Finish putting commemorative coins into fiddly plastic pockets. Stomach has been cramping. Prepare envelopes for my special people, with whole penguin sheetlets – so cool being able to frank them too! Rick snores loudly for duration of his afternoon nap. Helen’s mini woollen bobble hats are brilliant. Start cooking at six-ish, wh ere did the afternoon go? How relaxing not to know? Chicken and spinach stew, which refuses to thicken – serve in a bowl with wedge of carrot and potato mash iceberg… Type up a couple of days. See how penguin highway is developing into quite a rut. Shimmy into sleeping bag worrying about the week ahead – two ships a day, film crew coming, Rick to Damoy with BAS and the first penguin count to do…

Thinking about Ali Smith’s enthusiasm for the spare and simple

December 17, 2007 at 8:43 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

29th November

Sunny bright morning. Crunchy snow down to landing, where whaler’s chains are emerging from the melt. Quick porridge (extra milk) and prepare for Clipper’s eight am arrival. They come with news that Andrea is also visiting this avo. Make mental note to ask for an updated ship’s scheduler. Ah I’m extra-grateful for yesterday’s nap. Nice visit – mostly due to relief that they were not in Drake’s Passage… They love the museum and the well-stocked shop! Some lingering, but I’m starving and another ship is due, so disappear to refill shelves. Helen fries up potato patties to go with last night’s casserole. Rick erects our new comfy garden chairs and we eat watching the mountains. Tropical fruit in tropical weather. V. tempting to strip off and swim… but no sign of a shower for days, and er, there’s a likelihood of heart-stopping chilliness. Drag myself inside to frank mail. Rick drags me outside to drink tea. Whisk to boatshed for fleeces and caps. Help cash up and sit in the  sun. Andrea lands at Jougla first, which gives us some breathing space. Fifty-eight pax. Right at the end a few crew come in; one says he hasn’t time to look properly this trip, but I insist on showing him our digs and the radio room. He says it’s very like Macquarie and I say D’you know Mary Ann Lea? And he says she’s my partner! So I give him a big hug. Wow. She was ace aerobic ping-pong player and Marine Biologist on the KK… Good to meet you Sam. Once we’ve waved them goodbye, the last of the sticky toffee pudding and sauce is warmed up, which we eat basking in the sun, and plan a run. The pingu are doing a lot of their loud yodel/gurgle thing today; because it’s hot? Or because the unborn chicks need to hear how to recognise their parents? I’m reading Tove Jannson’s book ‘Fair Play,’ and thinking about Ali Smith’s enthusiasm for the spare and simple. Special chance to see how light and cloud changes Mount William. And the rippling water reflecting a million sparkling s tars. At five we’ve agreed to exercise, and change into shorts and t-shirt it’s that warm. Helen prefers to practise corpse pose. Me and Rick run around rocks and mini-islands, Have to concentrate on foot placement and not think of twisted ankles, or fall in the water – it’s SO clear. After twice round Bill’s (and crawling under wet dripping ledge once, tramping through soggy snow once) my knees are twanging. Rick continues all the way round and I find a warm flattish spot to stretch and breathe in the glory. Stand still so that the penguins aren’t afraid when they flop and whap out of the sea, and stand themselves, plumping up feathers and shaking off the wet. Back to find Helen prepping Fajitas and it’s Pisco Sour night. Climb slightly further along past landing chains to find the perfect rock that’s facing the not-at-all setting sun. Sit and drink and soak up the quiet ripple, gilded outlines, many ranks of penguins porpoising in wave upon wave. The talk is of love and age – the only subject on a night like this. Slush up through porridgey snow, past an empty egg shell discarded by a skua. Dinner is superbly chickeny with jalapenos. Hurriedly fill in yesterday’s base diary entry so that Rick can write today’s fresh. Finally send Sarah belated birthday love and thoughts. Helen is knitting something small, blue and fiddly, which amuses her. We’ve been listening to Brothers in Arms and now Eddie Reader. Bright wide awake light outside. Sleeping bag tired in this corner bunk. Rick reads us more ‘Of Dogs and Men.’.

Birthday in Antarctica

December 17, 2007 at 8:34 am | Posted in Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

22nd November

Rick’s Birthday!

All pile into his bunk for card opening – one of which includes ‘vouchers’ to cash in all day. We tuck into the chocolate gingers from Jo, and stay, three of us wedged in warm, for ages. Special servings of porridge, then tea, then toast. More presents opened, the highlight being a mate for Pooping Penguin (and bestly, a new supply of poops!) Rick’s only allowed to do nice jobs today, so me and Helen go up the slippery Stairway and also collect ice, and we’re down to the last drop of jerry can water again. Brash ice is spread over the rocks like a delicate levitating jigsaw puzzle. Treacherous for ankles (and tough terrain for landing pingus.) Find a table berg to use for smashing up smaller bits. Doesn’t take long…and actually I’ve been missing the melting… twenty kilos can be cumbersome to pour, the ice is easier to scoop with a ladle. This batch, however, turns out to be salty, ok for washing up, not for drinking. Fill up the baskets of pins/patches/charms etc. and work out what we need from the boatshed, which makes us hungry, so we gorge on celebratory spam pancakes (?) with fresh cheese and tomato. Helen solders broken torch connection…(‘ONE last try!’ about twenty times…) and fixes it! Speedy-ish re-stock with Helen. An hour’s typing. The other’s go for wee walk, leaving b’day sponge in oven. Now the oven does Hot or Very Hot and nothing in-between, and cake-making ingredients are er limited so the fruits of Helen’s labours do not satisfy her exacting standards (and the edges tinged after I’d checked it…) Yoga session next, all achey and toes never warm up – Rick’s progressing in leaps and bends (and I’m not just saying that.) Helen rises deftly to the challenge of cooking up a feast on two rings, the lounge is prepared – a table set with candles and a large red ensign as tablecloth. Rick’s favourite – Fray Bentos pie, peas and mash, with birthday cake for afters. Several gramophone tunes, a couple of whiskeys, and talking of times past the evening whiles away merrily.

Stamps in the snow

December 17, 2007 at 8:31 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

20th November

Hear Rick shifting awake at six. Determined to beat him to the kettle for a change, and do so, just before seven. A giant petrel swoops over and over me down by the landing. Make porridge with fresh peach slices – how anachronistic. Window cleaning for me, inside and out, with vinegar and kitchen roll (which freezes on the outside.) Listen to The Waifs (which makes me think of Rhondda) ignoring the stiff stingy breeze and avoiding sheathbill deposits on deck. Only today to finish Christmas greetings – a concerted effort – kettle on, warm up bunkroom and determinedly grit teeth. I had a head start yesterday, so finish soonest. Attach stamps (three for each one,) add base cachet to reverse of envelope (for a philatelic treat) and cancel them all – what a unique pleasure?! Since Rick has such a number of official cards to write, I stick his stamps on too. Also select photos for blog, burn them onto disc and package it up for Philip with special penguin stamps. This takes most of the afternoon. Forego yoga for typing, and miss it, but cram in a couple of days. My turn to cook, with final chunk of steak that the Endeavour so kindly donated to us. Helen has baked the long-promised bread and butter pudding, which needs the oven. So I do a kind of frying pan casserole. We forgot to warm the wine, so it’s a little frisky. Helen offers to do the loo bucket, I insist on going with her; it’s a death slide with icy rock step and waves lashing at the bottom. No fatalities, just wobbles. A satellite phone call (our first) from Explorer II, who are struggling through ice in Gerlache Strait and hope to see us tomorrow, not at dawn as expected. Tonight we have a bedroom story! Rick reads excerpts from his book ‘Of Dogs and Men.’

Helen and I listen with our eyes shut.

The iceberg in the cupboard

December 17, 2007 at 8:29 am | Posted in Life in the snow | Leave a comment

19th November

Chilly spell continues. Lots of itty bitty things to do today. Porridge comes with a side order of stewed apple. There are sheathbill footprints in the fresh snow; they get around, beaks in everyone’s business, literally. Finish stocking shop shelves and putting sets of info posters in logo-ed bags. Big torch was left in boat shed yesterdy…I’m amazed to find it hidden inside a cardboard box. It’s stopped working anyway.

Helen the Post Mistress does her thing with parcels. On her way to finding storage space for spare box underneath the science room benches she comes across a massive lump of ice in the cupboard! Mmm it must have seeped under the wall…goes to show how un-insulated we are. Homemade coleslaw and tasty morsels for lunch. Perambulate round island with Rick and a pokey stick (no no! no poking I promise.) Discover a second egg, and lots of smelly mire, but no more. Spend rest of afternoon tackling Christmas card list – last posting date (not guaranteed) is 21st. Rick starts on the official ones, spreading out, with music, in the lounge.

Helen, having completed cupboard cleaning inadvertently started earlier, now covered in dust, goes for a snow wash. She sits on a small rock and regards the flottila of ice sailing in with the wind. Later she digs out the metal steps, creating some penguin sized ones too. And cooks fabulous Rogan Josh curry with perfect poppadoms. Gosh she’s been busy today. Rick is weary of taking the bucket up Stairway twice a day everyday since Tudor left. Helen has cabin fever un-sated by 1000 piece Elvis jigsaw puzzle. Rick attempts card writing for thirty seconds and returns to reading Wordie’s biography, and sighing. “It’ll be better when the ships come in.’ he says. Chilly round the legs, despite the heater on. Bedtime doesn’t come soon enough.

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