Landing with seals, penguins, people and reindeer

October 27, 2007 at 11:13 am | Posted in Observations in Antarctica, Photos, Rachel Hazell | 2 Comments


24th October

*A very Happy Birthday to Charlotte and Rhys!!

Six-thirty call. We’ve arrived at South Georgia. Fortuna Bay is filled with sunlight. Wonderful solitary run in cool bright sunshine, round and round amongst the snow-patched mountains and shining water; easier to exercise when the world is like this. Rush breakfast – there’s a landing first thing (starting at seven-thirty.) Layer up thermals, load up cameras in general readiness, only to discover that there will be an hour’s break in between boat groups; landing regulations allow just one hundred people ashore at any one time. Mmm the perfect tea opportunity. The weather has turned – snow clouds blowing over the peaks. Land on rocky beach scattered with fur seals, people, elephant seals, penguins and reindeer in the distance. Walk over glacial plane with Rick along to the king penguin colony avoiding fur seals marking their territory and clumps of penguins apparently, bemusedly, going the same way. Elephant seals litter the way like burping trunks of driftwood. Groups of fifty-odd king penguins stand in streams, stoically facing the same direction. At the colony loads of ridiculously fluffy brown baby kings; some just still, others solemnly following a parent. Hard to envisage the transformation from downy plum to sleek back and white

Bookbinding fingers begin to itch

October 27, 2007 at 11:10 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Rachel Hazell, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


23rd October

Turbulent night. Up for brisk walk round deck (too dodgy to run.) Discover from pipe that clock has moved forward an hour. Not much time for breakfast. Really trying for smaller portions, having been disgusted at current photos of me rounding out. 9am bridge visit, all too brief; makes me appreciate the ships I’ve been on that have had an open bridge policy. I’m sharking for gash charts to make gift books out of…mmm…haven’t yet found the right person to ask. Bookbinding fingers are itching. Outside it’s snowing and the water is moving about a lot. Have learnt of two professional blows in the last twenty-four hours – one disadvantage of almost instant e-mail contact all the way down here. One piece of work broken; one commission cancelled. Shut myself in lecture room and sing every song I can think of. Sounds weak and wavery but serves to sort my head out. Particularly in view of impending proximity, I doubt my capacity to respond calmly, not impetuously. Rick and Tudor empathise over marinated fish of various descriptions and give good advice; we all linger in the dining room. Sleep for an hour. Woken by the pipe announcing Shag Rocks; stark triangular silhouettes on the horizon. Oh but look! The first iceberg! It glows almost neon amidst the grey, superbly sculptural all by itself. Watch the wake, bluer now. Everyone excited to see a Giant White Petrel, very rare. It arcs and swoops with the rest of them. Information-loaded lecture on ice and glaciers from Uli. Oooh I love all that physical geography stuff; diagrams and arrows… First sitting of dinner with some of the expedition staff. We talk about the importance of celebrating Christmas on board and the merits of ice-cream over cheesecake. (They’re right about the cheesecake. They know.) Quick turn round the deck. Two fur seals writhing. Write. Tidy cabin. Meet the others after second sitting. Desultory chat about the lethargy of days at sea, underwear and filmmaking. Because we’re now in iceberg territory, the Nordnorge switches on a powerful beam that sweeps the dark waves ahead. Someone on the bridge will be concentrating very hard tonight. Last thing up to the forward bar on deck seven to see the light picking out crests and growlers and wings.

Happy Birthday Rachel Hazell!

October 26, 2007 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

With lots of love from all your family, friends, secret and not-so-secret admirers.

To let avid readers of the blog know, the posts are uploaded by Rachel’s friend and paperboy Philip, but Rachel of course writes absolutely everything in her own distinctive style.

Do comment as much as you can. When Rachel can get a signal – when she does stumble across wifi in amongst the icebergs – she would simply love to hear your words and voices.

For now, a Big Happy Birthday to Rachel, across the skies…

Preventative measures

October 25, 2007 at 8:28 am | Posted in Journey, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment


22nd October

A good run while the sea’s relatively flat, followed by some sun salutations – it’s still hard to balance. Shop/PO session after breakfast: stock sheets, credit card slips, rubber stamp security etc. Good lecture about Amundsen ‘breaking the rules’ by Arne. Our Oslo Hasher friend confirms general sense of Norwegian ambivalence to their national hero who had privately always planned to go South, all the while proclaiming his intentions for the North. Sea state starts to tip, so we take preventative measures, which means I sleep for most of the afternoon. Only moment of note – getting i-Tunes fixed. Hurray! Have music! Manage vertical orientation for dinner – tender lamb and poached chocolate fondant. Lie down and sing.

A quick game of Badminton at Falkland

October 25, 2007 at 8:23 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Photos, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment


21st October. Happy Birthday Timothy!

Early approach to Stanley. Sally is on the quay. It’s raining. There’s a bit of faff with the gangplank not achieving the correct angle of rest. Then a beautiful garden shed is fork-lifted into position for customs/security ha ha. Stand around on slippery steel discussing ice conditions and getting our fuel/alcohol supplies security checked and onboard. Sit drinking tea while the people who know what they’re doing do it. Squeeze into Sally’s car and visit her home/ducks/polytunnel before heading to the Falkland’s main Post Office. In by the side entrance, past the sorting room piled with parcels (which already rouses me to a pleasurable frenzy) and through to the back where the safe is full of stamps and the smiling staff are ready to furnish us with enough postal paraphernalia for four and a half months. We double-check sheaves of First Day Covers and shoals of sheetlets, oohing and aahing over new releases of Antarctic marine life, fresh iceberg stamps and a special commemorative round one for International Polar Year…(I’ll tell you more when we’re properly set up at Port Lockroy.) While Helen is more fully instructed in the Arts of Post Mistressing there’s time to admire the order and repetition, talk about the significance of postal communication and stock up on padded envelopes. Deputy Post Master Ann is going to be our parcel lifeline; thank-YOU Ann! Walk away down Ross Road chanting ‘I love stamps and envelopes and rubber stamps and stationary!’ loud enough to remember exactly how excited I am to be on the way to doing this job. Stand in the aisles of what is likely to be the last supermarket for four and a half months paralysed with indecision. From the mass of bounty I choose mint humbugs and gold doilies. Back to ship for lunch and gym stuff. Rick has decreed that we play badminton and has booked a court. What a laugh! Such an unexpected way to spend our final afternoon in civilisation. All frustrated by how good we used to be, except Tudor who’s brilliant regardless, and even appears to have a strategy. Cool off in the swimming pool, mucking about and laughing (in a kind way) at Tudor’s terrible buttock bruises sustained during an unscheduled bounce down metal steps after a hot tub… Split so that Helen can be shown the swiftest historic tour of Stanley. I wander along the rain-bright colour-saturated streets to dear Kay’s B+B. But where are the gnomes? Relieved to learn that they will be out and proud anytime soon, now that spring is here. Kay, along with her gnomes, home-baking and twinkling eyes nurtured me last year when I’d left HMS Endurance with wobbly sea legs and iceberg etched retinas. Catch up with necessary gossip over tea and fruitcake. Talk about Port Lockroy; Kay thinks her brother-in-law stopped by there in the 40s. She pulls out his diaries (browned paper, meticulous copperplate) and describes how he died from a seal infection after months of pain. He must have been part of Operation Tabarin – Wow! Meet up with the others over beer at the Globe; rough and smoky but the liquor slips down mighty fine. Move on to the Victory and down a few more before emerging into the glowing evening and catching last bus back to the ship. Carry on drinking as we sail away into the tumbling ocean. Sleep with tablets to hand and two e-mails from home x

An overdose of squid rings

October 23, 2007 at 2:53 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment


20th October

Early ten min run as we’re landing today. North western most islands of the Falklands all around. Someone has a bird in their hand. Many binoculars in evidence. Brisk and glowy, red tingly legs. Good breakfast. Dress in layers of thermals and waterproofs – it’s  8 degrees centigrade out there – and swap green carpet slippers for welly boots. Disembark via hold on deck two, through various boot soaks, sprays and baths. Ah we’ve only been at sea for a few days and already the smell of earth is a nostalgic one. Gorse, tussock grass, heather, peat, daffodils, even twisted wild roots exposed on the path… Walk up and over a ridge of West Point to find the bird colony. Last time I was here, nearly a year ago, I was in a bereft and addled state, having left the Endurance a few days earlier. That day was finer, and windier; the albatross were looping and reeling overhead. This time lots of Rockhopper penguins mingled with the bigger birds, the albatross sitting tight on perfectly cylindrical nests. Listen to the music of their sighings and squawkings. Too chilly to sit around, so march back to the house where tea, and a phenomenal groaning tableful of cake, is being served. Say hello to Jeanette, who’s pouring, who welcomed me last year. Return to ‘mother’, read more reports before lunch, with a generous portion of shut-eye in between. Helen and I peruse previous Port Lockroy Post Office reports in anticipation of our briefing in Stanley tomorrow. Gosh there’s so much to learn, and under no circumstances DO! Oh and all the confusions of currency fluctuation and complication. Got my facts wrong earlier: Last year 40,000 pieces of post were hand-franked. Curiously, the more we talk with passengers, we discover that there is a wealth of postal knowledge on board, so we’ve been asking for advice! From West Point to New Island. Still monochromatic tonal perspective. Anchor off Beef Island and transfer one boat at a time – we’re the last. Sit in comfy armchairs with too many clothes on. It’s possible to get even closer to the Rockhoppers at this colony. Great to be striding along a peaty path, chuckling at the Upland Geese and their chicks. Rugby is being transmitted on a crackling transistor at the museum/shop. Back to the ship in time for last twenty painful minutes, played over chronic internet connection. Had to drink wine in commiseration. Overdose on squid rings at dinner. All four of us search the library’s games cupboard; not much choice if you don’t want to do a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle or play a Norwegian board game. End up playing Liar Dice at which Helen and I are spectacularly hopeless.

The dangers of inhaling penguin poo

October 23, 2007 at 1:01 pm | Posted in Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Penguins, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment


19th October

Eyes shut together this morning. Much better; thank goodness for drugs. No-one is running today, not even the Hashers. We speed-walk instead, wearing more clothes against the damp. Rousing, but not sufficiently recovered equilibrium to attempt yogic balances. All grey nondescript sea and sky, flashed through with arcs of birds. Big carb breakfast. Mandatory IAATO briefing. Still tired. Elevenses with the team and a work meeting to go over daily routine at Port Lockroy. Can hardly keep eyes open – even though this is important! Move onto risk assessments (inc. the dangers of inhaling penguin poo) then slump into horizontal mire of a nap for an hour. Good grief where have my energy levels seeped away to? Buffet lunch: only now regaining a sense of proportion with my portions, so just the two courses (mmm one liberally doused in crème anglaise…) Write on the computer for a bit. Amyr Klink gives a slide show of his madcap metal hulled sailing adventures in Antarctic waters. One year he buried treasure in the snow, and brought his children back to find it years later. They are so unimpressed with the contents (alcohol and money) that they create a better one! Since I’ve managed to screw up the music software on my computer, ( a potentially devastating move at the start of five months semi-isolation) I’m delighted to bump into a Mac man on the stairs. He readily agrees to help, but I screw up again, in the nicest company. These guys can’t wait to buy stamps from our PO. One more day’s sail before we reach the Falkland islands. We’ve been trying to work out how to watch the rugby world cup when we’re scheduled to be at an albatross colony on a remote island. Thinking of hiring a small plane…is that a ridiculous notion? Prefer to eat early, although that means alone – enjoy the thinking time. After a decent interval of digestion, first hot-tub/Jacuzzi. Floating in jade bubbles at 39, looking out past the Norwegian flag to grey sea, pale silver spume and fog. Funny to be there, on my own, on a ship, on the way to the Falklands. I join second sitting (for the company you understand) which involves taunting the expedition staff who are not allowed to drink. John (the bird man) v helpful about i-Tunes, tries to help, fails, but promises to try again later. Show Marina some pictures of book sculptures. She says “I had no idea; there are books everywhere!” Latest to bed. 

One of the more bizarre commutes to work

October 23, 2007 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment


18th October

More recruits for this morning’s run. Slightly tippier and quite a buffet rounding the prow. Ooh invigorating! End up astern doing sun salutations – we could run a class. First Aid refresher after breakfast. Recreating scenarios of chest pains and deep wounds on the bar carpet…soon realise that where the manual advises calling 999, we’re on our own. Need to practise my ‘ice-side manner’ that’s for sure. Already queasy. Marco, one of the expedition staff, shows us recent ice reports on the peninsula. The thing is folks, it seems as though the ice is thicker than thick this year, temperatures are unseasonably low and there has been little wind. There’s a chance that this ship and us and our six hundred boxes may not be able to access Port Lockroy on 30th October as planned. So we may have to try again next trip, via Ushuaia. Rick is relaxed but I don’t like not knowing. The weather conditions can change over night and blow the ice away, but at the moment, it’s nine tenths – one grade short of fast ice…. Quick elevenses then down to the hold. Our boxes are stacked on pallets wound round with cling film, all numbered. Impressively, the top stow (our personal gear) is exactly where we expected it to be. Helen opens her kit box full of warm goodies from Tog 24 (our thermal sponsors!) exclaiming with Christmas morning delight as she pulls out the contents. Source some t-shirts for portable advance advertising – the Port Lockroy Post Office/shop will open onboard the Nordnorge once we’ve left South Georgia. So nauseous now; stagger outside and find a life-jacket bench in the sun, snooze the quease away and end up with a red neck. Not too indisposed for lunch mind you. Salmon salad and a chat about CO2 levels through history…. Back outside, on a different deckchair, still report reading, whilst other passengers are in the hot tub! This has got to be one of the more bizarre commutes to work. Move to front lounge, really sunburnt now, heaving towards the horizon. Read and doze and read and doze. By six, very dazed and incapable of making decisions. Eat first sitting with Helen; discuss why we think we are single – not an easy topic – and living with people and how these five months might change our lives. Outside to see the sunset and then the boys, sitting on bar stools, drinking cocktails again. Hurtigruten have produced a cognac that’s been aged pole to pole on this ship; don’t try it. Feel worse and worse. Take sea-sickness pills. Bring them up again. Make it to cabin. Sick again. Succumb to hardcore drug patch and sleep, with lavender on the pillow….

17th October

Talked in my sleep and woke Helen up. We surfaced again about five am (normal time on the other side of the world) all hot. Six thirty found us running round and round deck 5 in the bright blue morning. Still in mouth of wide wide river so not too much swell, although sometimes the weight shifts as the ship rolls grandly. A fellow runner, delighted to see us, from Oslo, sports a Hash House Harrier t-shirt. Really would like to sign up when I get back – they have such a good attitude – a worldwide drinking club with a running problem.  There is a chapter in Antarctica, but maybe we should set one up at Port Lockroy? (Despite the challenge of only having a small rocky island to run round at low tide.) Speedy shower then breakfast – a queue outside the dining room! as service starts at seven thirty – table joined by three others, all Scots. Mr McAllister from Arran had read article about Wide White Page exhibition (at the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh) in the Herald. All very happy to talk about paper icebergs and how to get their postcards stamped. One lady asked if I was going to exhibit my work on board…mmm…that’s not what I’m here for, but it’s tempting (…to repeat the Private View of an Iceberg Library in my cabin, as on the Royal Clipper in August.) More sun on deck; no land in sight. First black browed albatross joins us. Mandatory safety briefing and life boat drill. Start writing this blog and immediately realise the ethical conundrums of writing about other people and a historic monument. Need to ask Rick, Helen and Tudor’s permission to mention them (they all say yes!) Then what about the details of work at Port Lockroy, if I chose to describe the politically suspect or damaging? And will these words be of interest to many anyway? It doesn’t help that the computer is on desk in front of mirror – hard to compose verve and wit with such pallid reflection. First proper Port Lockroy meeting after lunch; filling in gaps in the ops manual, raising concerns, fears and shortcomings. Handed wads of paperwork to read. Enjoy first lecture – “Jewels in a crown” – all about the southern ocean islands we’re visiting. Good to get some biophysical context eh? Take report on Historic British Huts on the Antarctic Peninsula out onto the bright and windy sundeck. Find a shaded spot, snuggle down into a deck chair and feel like a convalescent prescribed an ocean voyage. The report is humbling. It’s awesome to be following in such footsteps – not of famous explorers, but significant contributors to the first International Geophysical Year (1957, fifty years ago this year!) etc. What does the fabric of their future hold? What legacy can we leave intact? Dine in sittings tonight, too late for me. Rick and Tudor partook of Cocktail of the Day, hence providing a jolly foil to our general daze. Retire to bed with Ranulph Fiennes instead of watching Life in the Freezer again.

First words from Rachel – and she’s off…

October 18, 2007 at 8:03 am | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment


 16th October (Happy Birthday Annabel!)

Arrive at San Paulo 5:30am. Not allowed off during refuelling so the cleaners valiantly work around us. All stand and stretch, facing the open door hatch like wilted sunflowers. Hot n’ humid. Bad news: fluffy penguin order didn’t make the freight, so HMS Endurance will bring them in January – too late for Christmas. A shame indeed. North of Buenos Aires peering directly down on to a grid lined settlement looking like the tesserae mosaic you see in fancy ladies magazines…Hey all of our luggage arrived! Even the Christmas tree! Semi-hysterical taxi ride, all jammed into a Berlingo playing salsa, to the port. Recognise bits from four years ago. Our ship for the journey South is Hurtigruten’s splendid Nordnorge- all our supplies for Port Lockroy are in the hold. Much kerfuffle and harrumphing of baggage, sorting of paperwork and issuing of electronic passes, then here we are, me and Helen sharing cabin 340! Many of the crew and staff recognise Rick from previous seasons and are full of welcome for all of us. Sit quite gormless, sipping tea listening to a conversation about dried/salted cod (this is a Norwegian ship after all.) We discuss what work we need to cover. Fetid travelling clothes suddenly require immediate removal. Quick shower and a little gentle unpacking – the mountains of thermals redundant in this heat – stowed away in all the shipshape places. V promising lunch (for a protein addict) – scallops, prawns, crayfish, dried meats followed by the merest morsel of chocolate mousse. Well fuelled for initial exploration of ship; bars, library, café, lecture theatres, decks (fine skipping potential) and the HOT TUBS. Yey heh! Nothing for it but shorts and sunglasses on the sundeck for most of the afternoon, with occasional forays for iced water. Mosquitoes are huge and vicious! Fully conscious to soak up this memory of heat for the cold times ahead. So much to take on board and we haven’t even left Buenos Aires yet. The docks all around us are piled with building blocks of freight containers; vast numbers stacked eight high and cranes moving to and fro industriously. Very good lying around getting to know each other, knowing we have time to get there. Two egrets have flown over, which look like herons and remind me of my mummy. The Captain, his crew and expedition staff introduce themselves, briefly. Feeling somewhat pale and deranged now. Eat early and head out to the stern for departure. A ship leaving port is such a solemn thing. The last thick ropes flung from the quay with such finality. And waving. And the lights of the pilot boats and the city and the stars emerging. We’re all witty and together and tired and ok. Early bed, sinking down to lie straight out flat.

15th October

After ‘the last haircut’, ‘the last phone call’, ‘the last sleep in my own bed’ etc. it’s Monday. Eight o’clock run through Leith to swim in the outdoor pool. Lucky. No-one else there, just the blue sky and morning light and little clouds encroaching. Then a few hours of calm; pottering round, eventually packing, washing sheets. All very ordinary. Barbie and Charlie drive me, five months of kit and a Christmas tree through thick drizzly rain to the airport. Me and Barbs in the back whizzing from subject to abbreviated subject. Helen (The Post Mistress) bounds up – we’ve never met – and I know we’re going to be alright. Rick (Maintenance, Comms….Base Manager; the boss!) follows with rucksack laden trolley. Between us we’re 31 kilos over our baggage allowance. Ouch. That’s expensive!

Rick is anxious. Helen is bouncing. And I’m slightly suspended. Send forty-odd farewell text messages and am touched to receive a barrage of luck and love at the last minute. Fly to Frankfurt. There’s nowhere to do cartwheels. Just time for peppermint tea. Tudor (A young Antarctic old hand, coming to set up ‘robust operational procedure’) is at the departure gate. We have four seats of a middle row; horrid! Helen reads Rick’s book out loud as his glasses are in the overhead locker. Bodes well for literary bonding at least. Started reading Life Class by Pat Barker on the first hop, finish it as we touch down in Argentina. It’s just wrong sitting up all night.

Dreams and aspirations. Rachel’s Food Wish List.

October 18, 2007 at 7:57 am | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

Twinings peppermint tea bags. Eight boxes of twenty.
Twinings camomile tea bags. Eight boxes of twenty.
Twinings earl grey tea bags. Three boxes of fifty.
Clippers organic white tea bags. Four boxes of twenty.
Rooiboos/Redbush tea (Celestial Seasonings, with Vanilla if available!). Four boxes of twenty.
Celestial Seasonings lemon zinger. Four boxes of twenty.
Green and Black’s Hot Chocolate Powder. One jar.Jordan’s strawberry crunch. Two boxes
Dorset cereal. (with the nice leafy packaging)Two boxes (choose one with lots of nuts in please)
Oat cakes
Runny honey, in squeezy bottle. Two.
Gherkins or cornichons. Four jars.
Maille dijon mustard. One large jar.
Artichoke hearts.
Extra virgin olive oil (as opposed to sunflower) esp for salads
General herbs…
Mango chutney
Lime pickle
Thai green curry paste
Coconut milk
Bonne Maman Strawberry jam
Tins of:
Herring mops
Pate: Crab, Chicken liver etc
Salami – possible to get whole sausages to slice?
Brown rice
(all pref to pasta, but will eat pasta too of course)
For snacks:
Pine nuts
Hazel nuts
Brazil nuts
Pumpkin seeds
Sesame seeds
Ingredients for flapjacks!
Green and Black’s chocolate. Anything with nuts in. Two large bars a week…

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