Lie staring, thinking.

May 19, 2008 at 10:17 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

5th February

My top bed cover went adrift, so wake up cold on the PO counter at three. Rick brings tea through just before nine. Lie staring, thinking. Commitment visits at ten. Tony has offered to take me on a jaunt to Palmer for two nights, but that’s impossible. Shame. He buys a lot of books. Australis zip over for a last-ditch post dispatch. Rick, Roger and Tony share coffee and talk lots. Off they go. In theory, this is a Maintenance Day, but two other yachts will visit this afternoon, and the weather (windy, occasional snow flurries) is not conducive to external painting. Frustrating to not be able to relax. Can’t type or ring home because the computer is in use (on and off) all day. Helen has liberated a new row of boxes by the time I reach Boatshed to bring up To + Fro greetings cards. It’s peaceful in there sometimes. After unpacking, lunch is well due. Heat up risotto with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice. Via, with four French pax arrive after two – they’ve come from Tahiti (and Ushuaia) it’s jolly talking French. Half an hour between them and Lady M arriving – only one passenger with her very own Expedition Leader! They bring over a bag of foody goodies. The crew of ten visit too, we are later invited to join them for dinner. EL leads Helen and I to her luxury cabin (with a mirrored ceiling and deep pile carpet) ohmigod it’s bliss! Recline on the day bed and gossip while Helen showers. Then I hop into the cascading liquid warmth, tempted to lock the door and stay forever. The Crew Mess is lovely. We’re on Second Sitting for curry. Meet Jim the Captain, Paul the Ice Pilot, and briefly the other stewardesses and other crew. Very comfortable and kind. They send us back to base with as much milk as they could spare (we were back on Nido rations) and three frozen portions of braised lamb shank – bless them. Quick tour of Bridge, then Helen and I get lost on the way back to the Marine Platform oops. Relaxed and weary, it’s only half past eight! Rick reads, Helen knits and I put images on a CD for Pete. Rick says it’s getting too cold to sleep next door, and that my intolerance to snoring is psychosomatic. Helen dispenses counselling session. I am grateful for the quiet.

Grey. Glassy calm. Snowing small wet drops.

May 19, 2008 at 10:15 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress | Leave a comment

4th February

HAPPY Birthday Megan!

Adults with clumps of grey fluff in their beaks from pecking their chicks. Admonishing, chiding, exercising their wings. Rick is still in pyjamas when Shane radios from Shokalskiy – he says we’re all up and ready. Helen keeps him focused on breakfast, shaving and into boat suit, cachet in the pocket with the right date (my contribution.) Finish nut/fruit/yogurt melange from yesterday. A real Postie from Dorset delivers our sack of letters form Stanley – more Archers for me, choc from London and Amsterdam ! Thank-you, thank-you! This ship is leaving some packages for another, and taking some of our waste away. Rick and Helen have cleared space for incoming deliveries from Endurance – Helen is supervising to avert utter chaos. Endurance radios, enquiring about local weather conditions and tide levels – visibility is very poor. I take one of the calls and am miffed to accidentally sign off with “Over and Out” Doh! Ah the dear familiar plum is out in the bay, hovering behind a large berg, waiting for Shokalskiy to depart. Two boats bring orange-suited matelots for their first walk ashore in a long while. Some familiar faces, but even those don’t recognise the new haircut. I’m all skittery wondering if it will be possible to leave Helen coping with a shop full and Rick with unloading 65 boxes at the Boatshed – but there are several pairs of Able Seaman’s hands to help, so after humping a few loads, I jump in a RIB and zoom over to the mother ship. Wave at the Bridge. Pleased to see Boson chief at the top of the ladder. Greeted by Dr Matthew who will escort me to the Medical Unit Bath – hurrah! Grabbed first for a quick interview by a crew who are recording for Radio 4 (a snippet on Leading Edge, 3rd April listen again at – they are amused that I have come aboard to ablute. Then to meet Captain Bob, who seems impressed with the Iceberg Library postcards I present him with, and delighted to accommodate my request. So, to bathe – bubbles – a proper soak – moments of luxury. Quickly lather on lotion, dress, and head down to SRM, meeting Dave on the way – he had kept some paper I couldn’t carry, and looked out some obsolete charts – very good. Happy to be in the Mess. Down a cider for old time’s sake. Treated to anything I like from the NAAFI, but all I take are three Eat Natural bars and a packet of Dolly Mixture. Also keen to see Chart Room (journal pages diminishing) but Stationary Drawer gleans no crisp notebook – shame. Good to see Kelly Phots again, up on the Bridge. Boat operations have halted because ship is moving to a better anchorage. Relish the time here, but the last boat is going. Back via a rocky beach near the mouth of Peltier, to drop off BAS scientists collecting lichen. It’s a novelty to see this wall of scree close up, having been part of the distant landscape all these months. Run up the path – Mikheev have just commenced their landing – straight behind counter of busy shop. Already the recently unloaded fluffy penguin cuddly toys are lined on every ledge and tucked into every cranny – they’re lovely! Grateful to Helen for allowing such time out. Relaxed visitors wandering all over low tide rocks and out to Bill’s where a leopard seal idles for the cameras. We take the chance to eat tea and cake with Monica, hiding in the Bunkroom, popping out occasionally – her staff have full control! Soon they leave. Helen is tired and hungry – I know because she repeatedly says so, instead of doing something about it. Down to Boatshed to sort newly arrived stock. Rick unpacks while I heft boxes into new workable scheme. Exciting to discover sets of mini magnets, plenty more membership leaflets and ‘useful implements’ – including a clock, a pink hammer and a retro whistling kettle. Rick rants about junk in an exhausted kind of way. I stay in shop, finding storage solutions and finish franking. Shoulder twingeing from shifting stuff this morning. Shut the door and practise yoga. My turn to cook, with the benefit of crucial ingredient, which Bernd so kindly secreted across – Arboreo Rice. Octopus and Tuna Risotto is well received. E-mail-wise, Phil has replied to query about the appropriate collective noun for penguins – officially a ‘colony’ but he thinks a ‘paddle’ could do… Open parcels, feel lucky. Write. Helen rubs Deep Heat onto sore shoulder. Rick very tired, snoring by ten. Now our propane supplies are topped up we are toasty as the wind whips up.

Keep waking up tired these days, though slept well.

May 19, 2008 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

3rd February

Just going down to the landing when zodiac zooms round to collect Rick – dang! Is nowhere private?! Get ourselves together. Helen’s throat, tonsils and glands are very sore – should she succumb to penicillin? Molchanov’s passengers are apparently unresponsive; the visit is slow and smooth. A small boy from Swansea is anxiously waiting to play with the penguins Afterwards feels like Sunday – want to curl up. Frank first then do so, for forty-five mins. Rick has commenced extending wooden handrail around deck. Helen helps saw. Drag my body up. Helen was on the way to restock. Two skuas are perched above a chick corpse, it’s eyes pecked out. Misty damp cloud draws towards us. Discover two more boxes of info leaflets and a box of t-towels – believed we had run out of both! Bring up postcards and posters etc and unpack. Curry reheated for lunch. Washing up as Antarctic Dream pax appear (had heard hum of zodiacs as they landed at Jougla Point first.) Seventy pax. Maria Agnes’ birthday. Good to see Julio with gifts of wine, jalapenos and unidentifiable black beans. Helen has had genius notion of bringing Tesco’s Finest Christmas Cake up from the boatshed so we can have tea and cake on deck. Rick’s safety rail is nearly complete and it is only snowing slightly. Watch Australis motor in. They radio hello, with plans to land tomorrow, but we expect three ships then, so now is better. Not much to frank. Half an hour later they are here, a jovial bunch, wanting group photos by the flagpole. Roger seems well and is considerate as ever. Mixture of punters; Dutch, Australian (inc. a weaver) and American, having a ball. Helen is painting white on the window frames and Rick is finishing rail, so I hold the fort, chatting away with Tony (one of those Antarctic sea dogs like Bob, who he knows, of course.) Persuaded me to cancel some stamps then and there which I Never do – clearly touched some kind of charm button. Another lady selects loads of items for her staff – she has asked the price in dollars, euros and pounds, then decides it’s all too expensive and puts most back. Sigh. Thought my camera was fixed, but it won’t hold a charge. One technical chap says it is shorting out, but could work if I just put the battery in when needed. Pooped. Rick has prepared enchiladas with remains of bolognaise. Ooh I’m full. Tinker and tweak t-shirts in the shop, hoping we don’t need too much more stock. Tootle down for more plastic bags and pink fleeces, past Gentoo statues, beak tucked under one wing, on domes of rocks. Bedtime for them. Icebergs are glass ornaments scattered on chipped marble table top. Tired and wondering about tomorrow. Others are counting money into thousands, heat cranked up. Pass out on top of sleeping bag… a huge effort to get in.

A disturbed night of wind and engines.

May 19, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

2nd February

Too hot. Wakefulness. At six thirty Endeavour is on the radio. Ten minutes later, we’re ready for the breakfast boat. I savour melon, honey and yogurt in solitude, until Rick and Helen return from showers. Bernd and his wife join us – he has brought mended camera, it was just the battery, hurray and thank-you. I shower and drip dry in the sauna, catching the end of Rick’s talk. Visit goes swimmingly. At the end we fly back aboard for lunch – time for a white-wine-spritzer with Marek first. And sit quiet, until David Stephens wanders by, admiring green slippers. Accompany him to lunch and we sit with curious Bostonians, amongst others, who educate me as to the British-ness of their accent. We talk of Gentoo success and the differences between matriarchal, matrilocal and matrilineal, all the while troughing down five varieties of salad and lamb shank, followed by DIY ice cream sundae. And a hot chocolate, which comes just as Rick tips the off – so a waiter pours it into mug and instructs me to take it with me; funny carrying it across the water. Ship steams off even as Matt drops us off at the landing site. Frank the mail with an irritable head (tut tut drinking at lunch time.) HMS Endurance has mailed – they’ll be here on 4th, and yes, I can have a bath. Sit in the sun for a minute. Dog tired but can’t miss these rays, and H bounces out when she realises. The Doctor on Endeavour has prescribed antibiotics – although she’s on the mend already – it’s hard to recover in cold damp surroundings when the pressure is on. Xplore (Steve and Annie) and their French/Belgian pax (who had all worked together on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan ,) turn up just as I contemplated lying down. They present Rick with an Antarctic Tartan scarf customised with Xplore’s stamp. The guests write lots of postcards then all head off to Vernadsky. Sink into bed and doze for an hour, trying not to feel guilty as Rick paints the outside of the window by my head. Wish I was spread-eagled in my own bed at home, between linen sheets, half way through a good book…soon enough…soon enough. Arise, eat choc bix and fold the remainder of the second pack of maps. Rick suggests that it may be a good opportunity for a chick count – warm and dry. So take Rite in the Rain notebook and propeller pencil (thanks Phil) and walk softly amongst the colonies, counting the fluffy beanbag ones, avoiding affronting pecks. No corpses. Take photos as I go, parents and offspring in assorted poses. The moulting non-breeders look so abject and forlorn – quite hopeless. By the time I’m done, fingers are frozen. Curry is cooked. The red/orange/yellow ship that I took to be Argentinean Navy, is actually the Lawrence M Gould (American Research and Supply Vessel) out in the bay by the Neumayer Channel. Normally they rush past, but radio over; sorry to call so late but please could they visit? Rick has never heard of such a thing and puts them off til after dinner. Great curry and oily poppadums. Reluctant to wash up, so ready the shop. Thought they were landing at eight, Rick lights the Tilley and we wait, but it’s nine before the first zodiac-ful leaves the ship. I stand on rock and watch the big orange jackets come. They are on their way home, having been out in the field; some dazed, others inquisitive. Chat to a few of them, and compare travel notes on South America with the ship’s chef, until he’s the last back on the boat. Rick is already in bed in the lounge, pining for an alternative to insomnia. Helen and I tease him. Lie and think and drift off.

The sun is coming out but I’m so behind with typing.

May 19, 2008 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Observations in Antarctica, Penguins, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

1st February

Another month down! Slept content until six, then lay with eyes shut, smiling, until Helen brought tea through at eight fifteen. Get a scare seeing a dingy full of yachties coming our way, but thankfully they go past and climb the ridge opposite. Lazy franking. Thirteen from Berge Viking visit. The sun is coming out but I’m so behind with typing, deny temptation and manage two short bursts. Polar Pioneer arrive at one thirty-ish, allowing rushed lunch and swift washing up. Helen and Rick have hefted up boxes of books. Helen not only puts them all out, but sweeps through too. I try not to feel bad about having typed instead. Rick goes to talk to the Aussies. Thought we’d said Goodbye to Chris – Bar Lady Big Spender – she thought this trip would just be through the Weddell Sea . Lucky us. Fifty-four pax is a doddle after the bigger ship visits. Briefly meet a Mexican lady who uses glass to produce ice works, don’t catch her name… Frustratingly short chat with sweet Assistant EL. Doc Matthew knows Tara Woods’ parents, and the stretch of beach in Kenya that changed my life (WildFitness again!) Rick fears he’s succumbing to the same bug as Helen. Leave him to sleep. Helen is writing postcards having cashed up and looked at t-shirt levels. Frank the box of mail and lie flat on counter until Helen comes through to listen to my ponderings about love and attachment. Tell you what I’m really missing today; a trampoline. Helen insists on cooking spag bol. Weary Rick sweeps everywhere. I package up more post. Good nosh – an enormous plateful. Rick has had Lemsip, beer and wine. We are not sympathetic when his tummy hurts! Wash up as Helen films the plastic pooping penguins in action. Mesmerised by misty grey porpoising splashes of homecoming penguins far out in the bay. Not quite rain. Try to take pictures of baby sheathbills in the gloaming. I’m so stupid; looked and couldn’t see them yesterday cos they’re brown and wee, not white!

Singing lightly in Thunder Bay

May 19, 2008 at 10:07 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

31st January

Hanseatic staff arriving in ten mins! Glorious morning. Two penguins down on the shore have started to moult; feathers a-flutter like leaves in Autumn. Because this process renders them un-waterproof, they won’t go swimming (i.e. no food) for as long as it takes – poor them! Hide breakfast bowl behind mounds of post and the scales. Brusque start and too many Amex cards to turn down. Some sort of business person’s charter, orgainised this year by Mr Morrison of eponymous mega construction company. Paul Rose (ex BAS) films Rick for BBC website – fantastic. And one visitor becomes a Life Friend of UKAHT wowee a fine day. Nice to see tall Arne, and another German fellow (who had worked on Bass Rock for a season and hence got into the British way of tea for every occasion.) Rick and Helen walk Dave Fletcher, EL on his penultimate trip, down to the landing to wave them all off at the end. I sink into a chair with my face to the sun. Wish I could record the sounds of these Gentoos – who are also revelling in the warmth – different tones of chicks and adults. A cacophony. Sit here for a while with Rick and tea. Hear voices from around the corner of hut; yachties from Vision who’d waited til the big ship had left. New Zealanders climbing, walking and having fun. And considerate of our busy-ness. They look round everywhere smiling, buy small bits + pieces and invite us over for coffee or whatever. We decline, anticipating an afternoon on our own at last, and send them off with a surplus crate of fruit. Frank a counter-full. Conditions are ripe for a glide in kindly loaned kayak. Rick is up for it. Helen, still recuperating, sees us off from low tide rocks by the boatshed. Rick manoeuvres so I don’t get feet wet. Perfectly calm water, icy bits glistening and reflecting like diamonds, paddle dripping and churning. Happy to let Rick, in front, determine direction. We go around Bill’s and out to Boogie Island . Find a low shelving step, hop out and circumnavigate, stopping at the engraving B W Larvik 1911. Limpet shells scattered as carelessly arranged beads, sparkling. Stone warm to sit upon, whaler’s chains, rust stained surface, orange brown flakes. Two wooden posts, still there – no tide or wave in the last hundred years strong or high enough to move them. Paddle back and round, in by Jougla Point to examine the young shags on the nearside outcrops. They are flapping, brown wings growing darker. And on to Alice Creek , where Vision is moored, singing a Native American round (which Jo taught me at an event for Survival International, many moons ago) and then to inspect the information sign by the Scoresby rock (1928) that the others had noticed previously. We’re in Thunder Bay now, where there’s always a risk of calving – glide as close as we dare, swirling up glacial melt dust. Sing lightly and detect oddly oriented echoes. Radio Helen, all’s well and we’ll be home for lunch shortly. Slip back, climb out. Dine on salad, cheese and avocadoes again, yum, out on deck. Take tea and chocolate into shop for another franking session. The ‘to-do’ pile is reducing and mail sacks are bulging. I like the time to think – listening to the Gotan Project and grooving gently. Thought I’d adjusted the ink pad right, but it’s fading already, maybe merely due to the quantity of usage. Having e-mailed for hours, Rick paints the facia board, up a ladder, while cold wind whips round his neck. Helen sleeps. Eventually, at seven, I stop, after sorting the latest boxful into order. Nip out for a pee. Baby penguins curled up, many collapsed flat on stomachs, feet splayed out, wings spread wide. Rick cooks steak and onions for dinner, with carrots and butternut squash. Helen has been counting income from the previous three visits – she had been too ill until now. Eat good-humouredly. Xplore radios their arrival. Viking has moored in the channel between Goudier and Jougla, and Vision is tucked into Steve’s fav spot, but he manages to fit into Alice Creek as well. Cold damp air. Clear counter of mail. Bed down with hot water bottle as wind blows – the yachts are obviously expecting a rough night.

Outside to sit on rock and consider the high horizons.

April 7, 2008 at 5:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

30th January

Poor Helen thrashing and feverish. Rick kindly makes tea, except it’s not peppermint… how long have we been here?! Polar Star are the first visitors. Warned by Rick, who has met pax during talk, that there are some serious philatelists onboard, as well as Bernard de Gerlache, whose ancestor explored so much local territory. Very upbeat morning. A couple in tears – their parents loved this place and died last year – they have brought memorial cards to leave here. Emotional. Damon buys Iceberg Library postcards and tries to explain Belgian hierarchy. Not sure how long we have ’til next ship – slightly cowed by amount of post stacking up to be cancelled. And Helen is achey, not well. Frank a counterful while Rick and Helen restock and H retreats to bed, prescribed a Lemsip (not by me!) Rick even gets extra t-shirts as he has seen gaps, very good. Can’t be bothered to eat. Plonk on bunk to attach stamp to all the Nordnorge mail. Rick offers to fry bacon and tomatoes, which, with avocado is really splendid. Orlova arrives. Rick goes over to do talk. The ship has mail from Stanley for us; parcels for me from Belinda and Nessie (big smiles) and finally some for Rick. Helen vaguely present but fades towards the end. I push her off to bed so that she doesn’t breathe flu fumes on everybody. Funny to hear snippets of Victoria’s progress. Roger, Hannelis et al pop in for a minute. Um it’s all a muddle now, only a few hours later…somehow we set ourselves up for the third ship – Multanovskiy. H stays in bed; there are only forty passengers. Meet the very nice Johnathan Shackleton, descendant of the honourable explorer, who has recently completed a handsome book about his famous relly, which he presents to Rick (who reciprocates with a bottle of Jamiesons whiskey which we had in the display cabinet, adorned with Antarctic tartan scarf.) Manage the queues fine, even with humour, but utterly unable to contemplate dinner on board. Rick wants (and deserves) to spend time with his mates, so goes out alone. Unmoved, I assess stock, fill shelves, make lists, write e-mails, go to the bed shed for fleeces and the rest. Wish it were possible to kayak; it’s calm and cold. Also carry up half of my postcard sets which will be sent home early, can’t sell them fast enough, more appealing in another context maybe. Helen sleeps on all hot. Outside to sit on rock and consider the high horizons. An iceberg rolls and settles, stratified with rubble and mud. A yacht is moored in Alice Creek – I can see the mast and two people walking amongst the birds at Jougla Point. Rick is returned. Other zodiacs from Multanovskiy take campers to Dorian Bay – the buzz of engines and penguin calls echo. Fingers become too cold. Encourage Helen to gargle. Rick opens mail – a late Christmas Macaroni penguin puppet from Birgit.

Presented with a painting of a chicken.

April 7, 2008 at 5:50 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

29th January

At five am Le Diamant departs Port Lockroy to be in place for an early landing elsewhere. We quietly brace ourselves for two large ship visits. Fram commences relaying passengers at nine am. Whilst it is not as frantic as previously, the BAS/UKAHT Peninsula maps fly off the shelf. Pace not steady but not too slow. Rick comes to ask if we’d like a hot drink, but doesn’t reappear. Helen finds he was making coffee and has been held up in the corridor, holding new carton of Long Life milk, answering a question about Marconi… An American radio channel interviews me (after Rick) seeking my thoughts on Scott and Shackleton hmmm and how it is to live here – click on penguins.) Having laundered our clothes (mmm relief) Fram leaves at eleven twenty. We’re still chowing down on yesterday’s pastries glub glub. Plenty of energy to start on franking backlog and fill the counter before taking five minutes on deck. Dry, low cloud, half back bay swept through with brash. Particularly grubby Sheathbill looks as if he had face-planted in a mud puddle. Younger chicks cheep, older ones practise trumpet call. They are developing fast, despite apparent absence of krill. This means the Sheathbills have not started their habit of knocking masticated food out of the penguin’s mouths, mid-feed. Sleep for over an hour. Up for two o’clock lunch. The others have been on boatshed errands. Wash up. Frank. Bundle. Quiet. Nordnorge materialises through snowy mist. Everyone is covered with snowflakes. Marco is back, Steffan his cheeky tall self. Presented with a painting (of a chicken) by someone wanting to have their work represented in each continent – I was the first person she saw. Helen progressively tireder, no energy to respond to endlessly same questions. She sinks behind the counter now and then for brief respite. Discover that we are invited over to the ship for the evening. Helen stays behind, not well. Rick and I on last zodiac. Quick shower. Rick purchases internet card for time owed. He fails to sign in to web mail account, I fear it has expired. We’re hungry anyway; relish fish and salad, whizzy pudding. Rick to bar and I find him there after downloading e-mails and catching up a mini bit of my other life. Leave at nine-thirty, skimming back over the gloupy oil-slick dark water, ice reflected grey and turquoise. H has been sweating out fever in bed poor thing. Even my eyelashes are tired – do you ever get that?

Our best French jokes are aired. Time to go.

April 7, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Posted in Life in the snow | Leave a comment

28th January

Up at six for a six thirty start. Makes for a better visit when you’ve shared a table the night before! Very cold – five degrees centigrade in bunkroom. Several visitors put on clothes and buy them just to keep warm. Jerome (Wonder-chef top tip: sweet potato soup with crispy bacon topping.) brings over a box of fruit, milk and eggs. He’s shocked at our living conditions. Marten hopes they’ll repeat the visit (and dinner) next trip, when the owner will be onboard. Dale (the Australian) asks how we get on; our most annoying traits…there are many ways to answer. Explorer II appears, steaming in from the Neumayer. So the small luxxy yacht departs. We put the kettle on and swallow more spoons of breakfast. Suzanne (EL) and staff arrive, weighted down with pastries – sugary carbs to get us through. Helen says even I look tired today and yes it’s hard not to yawn. Four groups of fifty, first two evenly paced, then a big gap in the middle. (We have sold so many fleeces that Rick has to retrieve more.) And then another rush, lots of credit cards. Hungry and cold by the end, which comes at midday. Weird to think that we’ll leave on this ship in six weeks time. Already confused about subsequent sequence of events… nothing remarkable, probably restocking, tidying. Stop for food. Read a few e-mails – one from Julia. Wash up. Take slop bucket. Helen’s made a list and I bring up a box. Rick is packing up waste card to clear some space, so I can’t get to the fleeces. Lay out t-shirts and frank. Rick goes over to Le Diamant for talk – the translation (it’s a French charter) is a distraction. No time for a break. Before we know it the staff are here, clamouring in the shop, needing more stamps. Good to speak French again, but tiring. Keep patience with each other. When Le Diamant invites us for dinner I say yes yes without considering the consequences – we’ll have to restock for Fram and Nordnorge tonight. These few days are going to be insane. Hotel Manager remembered my plea for yogurt and carries up a box-ful – merci! Helen finds it divisive that I ‘hoard’ chocolate under the counter: Since we spend so many hours in the shop, there is where I need the energy boost. Two hundred passengers in two batches, with a break in the middle. Straight after the final pax have left, we pack our waterproof bags and speed over to the ship on last zodiac. In the lounge we are instructed to wait for the Captain and handed the cocktail menu; drink G+Ts and Daiquiri until he comes. He says we can take it in turns to shower in his cabin (slightly odd?!) Helen goes first, and is gone a while, then Rick, then me, sustained by canapés. Liberally dosed with the proffered lotions and potions we dine at the Captain’s table, except he is elsewhere. We take full advantage of the free wine situation and have several courses of fantastic French food. We end up last, and loudest, in the Dining Room. (The three of us, Tim and his wife, Rene and Dennis.) Reduced to weeping hilarity – Charcot has become a leit-motif of the trip and his ‘foot-prints’ have made regular appearances. Our best French jokes are aired. Time to go. Rene does a sterling job zipping me up! Back to Base. Send a virgin pooping penguin for the boys on return boat. I’ve drunk too much. Engine is loud as we sleep.

I am persuaded to wear a little black number.

April 7, 2008 at 5:44 pm | Posted in Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

27th January

Risked snoring, so awake at four thirty… At seven thirty John, from Corinthian II collects us for breakfast. Utter luxury; fruit, yogurt, hash browns, sausages, salmon, croissant. Then shower in a gorgeous cabin, with time to savour it during Rick’s talk. John keen to get us ashore in advance of the pax, so Helen and I take first staff boat. Busy shop. Biggest single transaction of the whole season; a group of Russians, who refuse the free bag I proffer. Hectic. Helen is in hyper mode since she had ‘rested’ all yesterday. I’m dull, concentrating. Much hassle due to pax not being informed that we can’t accept AMEX. Before Corinthian’s visit is over, Ushuaia cheekily steams into the back bay, ahead of schedule. All I desire is a Green and Black’s Hot Chocolate – Rick prepares the perfect mug-full. Finish franking and restocking, add cc slips. Helen has seen a sheathbill chick, down by the boatshed, very sweet. Lie down cosy for an hour instead of lunch. Ushuaia staff enter the building at two; leap up and into battle. One of the staff is Anna Sutcliffe, whom Tony Soper had given me an envelope for. She’s lovely, we enjoy meeting, and part with assurances to do so again. She has a house on an island, the perfect location for a bookbinding course with islomaniacs… Also chat to Chris Edwards and hear about his rare Polar library and bookbinding in Aberdeen. Had to run a fetch sandwich half way through visit. A revolting smell around the porch cannot be identified – sheathbills had pecked in to an addled penguin egg, just under the grid – very stinky. When they all leave we restock AGAIN, and frank, and cash up. Three work e-mails concerning future booky opportunities – odd to think ahead, away from here. Just considering eating unsociably early when Hanse Explorer radios; they’ll be mooring here tonight and would we like to join them for dinner? We’re curious, and accept. It is implied that we could ‘dress for dinner’ and I am somehow persuaded to wear little black number, rumpled at the bottom of box since October. And lipstick. Rick wears his crumpled best. Helen inserts earrings and tugs on a slinky top. All into boat suits, waiting for the zodiac. Rick pretends Helen had shut his finger in the door. Not funny. Collected by Ukrainian bosun and mate. Amusing to disrobe on the marina deck. Met by Martin the Captain. There are photomontage panels all along the corridors, and lots of art. Swift tour, passing by the galley where the chef advises on top dish choice, and the cleanest sparkliest engine room I have ever seen. Hanse Explorer is owned by a German ship magnate, a training vessel kitted out for twelve special guests. The sitting room has soft lighting, canapés and discreet service. We sip wine and then move through to the dining room, where the table is adorned with marine pebbles and coral. Extravagant four course dinner. Chicken, soup, duck and Antarctic yogurt pannacotta. I am seated next to an Australian woman who was meant to be on another ship, but, due to strike at BA airport, arriving in Ushuaia in tears, her taxi dropped her off on the quay next to Hanse Explorer, who scooped her up and will sort out the insurance later. She’s relieved to speak English and share her sea-sickness experience and worries with us girls. Rick does a condensed version of his talk, which Martin translates. Mini cake stands of chocolate squares and biscuits are produced, along with teas and coffees. All tired, we leave at ten thirty, in anticipation of their seven thirty (SIX thirty our time) landing tomorrow. Rick happy to sleep next door. Fold up cocktail dress and place it back in the box under bunk. I stole a peach.


Neon blue bergs in the grey again.

April 7, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Posted in Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

26th January

Six o’clock is a rude hour to wake after a night of carousing.

Actually Delphin doesn’t start landing until eight thirty, staff/crew at eight. Helen leapt up to make tea and restocks before realising full extent of hangover. Luckily, the measured pace allows her to disappear sporadically and then permanently, a breathing exhibit in the living museum bunkroom! I take a deep breath and deal with 350 Germans cheerfully and calmly. It is their last visit of the season.
Two blondes spend hours applying over a thousand stamps. Caterina again does a great job of selling tartan and postcard sets. Start in on the franking mountain. Eat wonderful avocados (forced on Rick by a lady on Marco Polo) trying not to nauseate Helen, who’s still hiding on the day bed. At two-ish, the film crew from Okolé (which means asshole in Polynesian ?!) arrive. Rick is still on computer, so they ask to interview me (being so shy and retiring) franking. They are looking for the personal perspective of the people that they meet and also recreating photographs taken on original voyage with the same kind of stereoscopic camera. Their enthusiasm is endearing. I talk about paper sculpture and show them my wee blue promo pack and postcards. During the interview, Pierre asks if I’d like to be involved in the resulting exposition in Normandy next year. Well chuffed. Xavier takes still shots of me franking in 3D. While they are talking to Rick I read e-mails. Glimpse result of stereoscopic shots through silly glasses – cool. Spirit of Sydney pax visit, unannounced (we could have agreed to anything last night admittedly) and don’t spend much or stay long. Five thirty, lie down, shut eyes for an hour and a half. Helen rises, still fragile and cashes up.
Just settling into some serious franking when more yachties appear, without a ‘by your leave’ or a radio call. Rick ticks them off – we’ve had enough visits today… and welcomes them in anyway, only five pax. they leave at eight. Finish franking the masses. Helen calculates that we have sold 64,000 stamps. I wonder how many pieces of mail I will have cancelled by the end of five months. Heat up the soup Europa left and eat quietly. I’m vague and longing for peace. The others consider me ‘robust’ but I’m doubting that today. There is an indefinable ache in my head. Walk in the rain on the rocks, neon blue bergs in the grey again.

I pretend to wear a cocktail dress under this immersion suit.

April 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

25th January

Burn’s Night!

Wet wet wet! Rain drumming on roof. Aware of Marco Polo departing and Europa moving (dragging on anchor chains it transpires.) Slept well and finish Alan Bennett’s book, luxuriating in the long lie. There’s a risk I’ll be serving from this supine position. Helen brings peppermint tea around nine (saved me from waking at seven thirty when Rick got up to make his first cup!) A sodden Dan delivers last of Europa mail before they leave. Rick seems to have left half his clothing on Marco Polo – his best fleece and jeans – oh consternation! He looks everywhere for them. Yachts due to land shortly; Vaïhere and Okolé. Impossible to distinguish between the two as they are all French. They try not to drip on the philatelic post that’s drying on the counter. Pierre on Okolé explains that they are following Charcot’s voyage and they’ll tell us more tomorrow. Charcot discovered and named Port Lockroy (19th February, 1904,) so this is a significant port of call. He’s sending much mail and needs more stamps. There’s a seamless merge into the afternoon, I’m still trying to catch up on franking (Marco Polo’s stacks and stacks.) Pelagic Australis whip in to film some more, mostly with Rick. Helen’s putting figures into spreadsheets on the computer. She and Rick stop for coffee and toast at some point. Before we know it, Mikheev are here. Lovely to see Monica, as always. French charter so lots of Franglais. Balena re-visit, apologising for lateness, I’m confused, not sure who anyone is, the half familiar faces. Mikheev visit is over by four. Rick and Helen go straight over for a shower and dinner. I’m determined to crack the franking and have accepted dinner invite from Vaïhere. But Pelagic pax hang around and there’s a final postcard mission from Discoverer. Have to firmly shut door and finish the backlog. Eat four Ferrero Roché, drink tea, wash up, write e- mails and indulge in time alone. Rick radios Vaïhere from the ship to say that it’s too windy and not safe, but Eric says it’s calm in the back bay and he’ll be over in a minute. I’m slightly put out that the others are tagging along too, having already showered, wined and dined themselves. No matter, more the merrier as it turns out. Eric picks us up from the sheltered boatshed side. Vaïhere emits delicious smells of herbs, and heat emanates from hatch. Sit amongst Frenchmen and take great pleasure chatting away. They teach me the difference between ‘pinguins’ and ‘mancheaux’, and the word for sailboat. Drink lots of vin rouge. At nine pm, there is an announcement, with pipes, from Discoverer. All the yachts (Seven! Balena, Spirit of Sydney, Santa Maria Australis, Pelagic, Okolé, Vaïhere and Discoverer-the most ever) at Port Lockroy are invited to a party from ten ’til twelve. After delicious meaty ribs, stew and beans we clamber into dingy and are piped aboard the army yacht by Dick. Although several vessels (and us) have early starts, there is much drinking (of whiskey) and cavorting. I discuss the expression of art and science and keep immersion suit on, pretending to be wearing a cocktail dress underneath. We say farewell just after midnight. Fantastic!

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.

Slept soundly on my bed of stamps,

April 7, 2008 at 5:31 pm | Posted in Journey, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | 1 Comment

23rd January

…snug in sleeping bag cocoon.  Antarctic Dream have changed time, they’ll be landing at eight am, twenty mins to prepare. Still have uneaten bowl of cereal by the afternoon! Although the rain is pattering down, our visitors are happy standing in it to watch the chicks. Julio helps us out of a crisis situation by sending over a box of Earl Grey tea bags. The great advantage of an early start? – It’s over sooner! Just getting into the franking groove when Santa Maria Australis visits with twelve pax, and Anne Margaretha with eleven. Nice people –  inc. an artist, Francisco, on the first boat and Peter, a Shetlander, on the second – He lives in Puerto Montt now, I’ve gorged on great cake (with a view) at his mother’s café at Eshaness. Andrea asks us over for lunch, so the yachties are persuaded to hurry, so that we can gorge on succulent chicken. The ‘tag in’ system on Andrea is mounted on a replica cut-out, each cabin number on a different hook – you’ll just have to imagine it if I can’t get a picture. Busiest afternoon in the shop; at one point, there’s a whole congo line of a queue, stretching, good humouredly round the generators to the very back of the hut. The BEST afternoon for memberships – seven from the one visit – extraordinary! Crazy crazy, can’t stop ’til we’ve restocked – early start tomorrow. Pouring with rain, pretty dismal. Rick deals with waste management once we’ve carried boxes up. There’s the possibility of sending a package back to the UK tomorrow, so I scroll through thousands of fluffy chick angles and icebergs, to choose some for your delectation… which takes an hour and a half, by which time the other two are three-quarters through naps and my toes are freezing (and don’t warm up, even under sleeping bag with coat still on.) Current read is Alan Bennett’s ‘The Uncommon Reader’ which I’m loving – the queen and her library, so far away. From outside, the perpetual sounds of zoo (or alternatively, farm) continue. Rick makes popcorn, turns light and music on. Realise we should create CD of images for Lockroy website as well, so go into picture files again. 
Rick looks over Helen’s shoulder, wanting a slide show. By the time we’re done, and e-mail schedule complications have been dealt with, and some umm-ing and aah-ing, we’re going over to Anne Margaretha for a drink. Their little dingy seems flimsy on the swell. Four yachts in; Anne M, Errance and two smaller ones, can’t see the names. Large yacht, lovingly built by hand, all solid. Two sociable chambers and cabins in cosy corners. The chat is easy and there’s lots of room. Bread is just out of the oven. We toast a small tipple of Dutch gin.  Europa engines in, black ensign flapping. (So that makes five boats at anchor here.) We stay ’til elevenish, big waves and splashes on the way back. Resentments, deafness, misunderstandings. Miserable.

Franking and hankering.

April 7, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Blogroll, Life in the snow, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

22nd January

Six thirty radio call from Endeavour. Rick assumed we wouldn’t want to get up, but we’re easily lured by the possibility of breakfast. Dressed up and down to landing site in ten mins. Help ourselves at buffet and meet Bernd, who lends me his (spacious) officer’s cabin to shower in, while Helen uses the sauna. Up to the bridge, to see this blog on the office computer, until Rick retrieves me. Upbeat visit, despite yesterday’s purchasing at Palmer Station. Bernd brings surreptitious supplies of risotto rice for me, and will try to fix camera in Ushuaia. Make him tea and he chats with Rick about German activity in the South Atlantic during the war. Oh dear Rick inadvertently ate my slice of Polar Pioneer carrot cake just now, forgetting that he’d eaten his last night with yogurt. I’m furious!

We had hoped to return to Endeavour for lunch, but Rick has offered to squeeze a visit for Boulard pax (five Czech) so there won’t be time, and we don’t know when Fram may be here. (In the event, she turns up after four…) Helen and I salivate over dreams of lettuce.

Finish the morning’s franking, it’s cold and wet. Rick is out of sorts. Take my salmon and avocado (home-grown by Manuel in Patagonia) through to shop, which is freezing, but I prefer to be alone. Wash up. Fram and several yachts radio. Leisurely visit with Fram passengers, considering it’s such a large ship. Resort to sour chewy sweeties. Get through. Again they’re heading up to Antarctic Sound straight off. Lovely Anya pops in to say goodbye. No desire to cook, or eat. Frank away. Helen cashes up, restocks, Rick carries boxes.

Finally finish franking. Stock up shelves, boxes, postcards. Read e- mails and send a couple. Hanker after privacy, so bundle up mail, clear counter and prepare shop bed. Take camera out because the blue, strangely illuminated bergs are quite something against the grey.

Brash moves in with the tide, rustling and crackling; an occasional tinkle. I’m getting rained on, and so is the camera. I’m missing the pocket IXUS a lot, fingers crossed it may be fixed by 2nd Feb. Must do a CD of photos for Mr Blog.

Sheathbills clutter regardless.

April 7, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Observations in Antarctica, Penguins | Leave a comment

21st January

Stormy. High winds. Patchy disturbed sleep. Stay mummified ’til nine thirty. The building creaks in the bigger gusts. I’m tempted to stay lying in the hope that my horizontal weight will help keep the roof on better. Arise eventually, bunkroom is the only habitable spot in this wind and wet. Heater on. Stick stamps on Nordnorge post. Helen braves the squall to restock – it’s ferocious – go down to check she’s ok and bring back a box. Fingers sting with cold. Takes ages to stamp everything. Rick’s on the computer. Even with the heater on we’re chilly in here. Ring Sarah’s number, the funeral was this morning, she’s not there. Type for an hour. Rick not feeling well, he’s down in the dumps. Helen catches up on e-mails home. Polar Pioneer are here at three. Chef drops off lovely bread, yogurt and cookies. Chris (cheery bar-woman, our best return spender!) sad to say goodbye, this is her last visit – we present her with a cloth bag for her latest purchases. Start in on the franking. Skies have cleared. Soon the guys from Pelagic Australis visit; they’re making a film for National Geographic. Helen has cooked aubergine bake whose smell in the oven wafts, through to the shop. While we wait – I frank and serve – Helen stocks up AGAIN, Rick eats popcorn, and helps with various things, changes batteries. Camera up nose, High Definition on unwashed face, it swings and pans over the franked ranks of mail on counter. Presenter buys and licks stamps. Bye bye, they’ll be back tomorrow, and may lend us their kayak heh heh. Delicious, if slightly sloppier than anticipated, dinner, with drop of red. Gentle evening.

Type a little, stop at ten. A few minutes outside. Yachts in: Blizzard, Tamara, Pelagic Australis and Pen Duick VI. Rick realises that we all need sleep, big day ahead, so moves next door. Chatter about when Endeavour will be here and what they’re up to at Palmer, but Helen’s trying to sleep. Sheathbills clutter regardless.

…which is special, because the night light is so like the inside of a shimmering shell.

April 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Journey | Leave a comment

20th January

But a storm blows up, wind and rain. Lie still, happy and solitary until Helen brings mint tea at eight thirty. It’s cold enough to have the heat on. Finish reading Anthology with bowl of granola – I’ll send it to Palmer for Phil to read and pass on to Stacie, who may enjoy the chapter by a fellow Polar Chef. I loved it all. Eventually get to franking. H cashes up in the warm. Rick must be persuaded away from bed and book – we have several pressing jobs on top of restocking for Nordnorge’s visit. Pen Duick pax come for a quick visit, with their credit cards this time, and thank-you wine from Juliette. We’re glad she’s on the mend. Penguins are dripping but the wind has subsided. Helen and Rick are in the boatshed assessing fleece quantities, and pulling out supplies for this afternoon. Earphones in for mega frank of Le Diamant mail, which takes an hour and forty-five minutes. Pen Duick VI disappears into the mist. Still snowing. Rick cooks up a kind of carbonara with left over pasta. Helen jots down the code numbers of finished fleece boxes and draws diagrams for future stock layout. Wind and wet continue.

Franz EL back from holiday. 300 and something passengers, control filtered. Frustrating weather for them, low visibility in the Lemaire Channel. Relieved to hear that the ship will anchor here overnight, therefore we can go aboard for the evening. Nordnorge is so full that there are no spare cabins, so we shower next to the sauna (disappointingly not on.) Agree to find Helen out on deck five when I’m done. Turn mobile phone on, as this ship has a signal.

Devastating message from Sarah; her dear, too young, sister has given up the cancer fight, and died on 13th. Feel so impossibly far away and can only send love.

Dinner is fabulous, a Chilean Buffet. We sit with tall Steffan, who claims to be an old lover of Rick’s… I’m keen to make e-mail contact with friends and family, so take my leave (after selection of four puddings) to hide close to hub. But the six hour card purchased in October is no longer valid – how very annoying. Our favorite Balinese receptionist sneaks me half an hour, which zips by. Making conversation in the bar, Helen mentioned the Emperor visitor. Half the expedition staff escort us home, via Jougla, to try and spot the exotic bird. Very muddy, still raining, we carefully tramp around the rocks, but can distinguish no call or colour. What a shame. A weary fatigue, heightened by sadness carries me to bed where I cry and think of beautiful Melanie.

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