Frank in the half light

December 17, 2007 at 8:48 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination | 5 Comments

3rd December

Moved my bed 180 degrees, so that the midnight sun may pass over head instead of into eyes. Not sure if it’s an improvement. Flash of metallic sun through open curtains. We’re ready for Mikheev. Take some time to further absorb facts and figures on the information posters in anticipation of film crew’s questions. Helen cleans the Loo Bucket Salon – pine fresh! and also fashions blocks of wood to stop her stack of Thermarests sliding off. One passenger tries to buy a wooden plank from a 1944 expedition crate – she’s very surprised when we explain that it’s not for sale. Lots of Spanish visitors. There’s a seal again, on the island with no name, I can’t tell what kind, even with binoculars, and walk down to look – an emaciated weddell. The Ushuaia steams in from Peltier Channel at two thirty. We are ready, just about. Monica the (lovely) Matriarch and her staff arrive. Rick carries her bag (full of passports and her delightful watercolour postcards) up to the hut. Cups of tea all round. The ship has been chartered by a group of Japanese who are cruising round the world. They are very excited about shopping and bring a fantastic translator, who patiently explains everything as well as helping me add up and bag up all at the same time. Quite an onslaught, in a good way. By the end, we have sold a lot of stamps, and penguin USB charms. In an extraordinary random act of kindness, one gentleman, who appears to be sporting a pair of oven gloves (in place of the more usual polar hand warmers) bows and donates them to us! The amazing thing is, we were really wishing we had some, as folded thin tea towels are not quite heat proof enough. Well wow. We have one hour to turnaround before dinner. Monica and Captain are so kind, they have been deliberating on wine choices to go with our meal, and arranged the loan of cabins with fresh towels too. Rick and I frank, Helen cashes up. Make stock list, whiz to boat shed, and it’s already immersion-suit-donning-time.

A well-lubricated funny night, with numerous passenger photo ops. We have been given the most enormous tub of dulce de leche (I could fit my whole face into it,) a crate of fruit (Rick reluctantly had to send two back) and two huge chunks of meat… when we mention that a bit of bread would go down well… THREE boxes, with SEVENTEEN loaves in, is secreted ashore. Oh thank-you for everything. The Japanese have written about a hundred more postcards since their landing. Tip back up to our hut, frank in the half light, climb into bunk

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.’.


December 17, 2007 at 8:42 am | Posted in Penguins | Leave a comment

28th November

The snow is melting; rocks emerging, our local landscape morphing, shrinking into spring. Small ship visit – Mikheev 47 pax – arrives after they go through a safety drill (it was too rough in the Bransfield Strait yesterday.) We had time to cancel remaining post beforehand. They are happy; first landing. Numerous nationalities. Ship also delivers more cds and postcards. I’m quiet and flat for no reason. We three walk to boatshed to look at the gentoos on the right side, who have melted dips in the snow (fallen off roof) with their tummies to create nests (more like holes.) Back up to bunkroom for German sausages, hot with onions. Helen mistakes lumps of cheese hidden within for gristle and gets all queasy. I’m so tired, Rick sends me to bed for a couple of hours while he and Helen move boxes round boatshed to accommodate new stock. Wake to a mug of Earl Grey and sort detritus in shop, finding new places to store the new things. Rick is powering through today so cheerily, he insists on cooking up a feast: Chicken casserole then pear n’ apple crumble. Extremely good. An arched iceberg has docked mid-channel by Jougla. We have another wee team stroll up to look. And there’s one nest with three eggs – penguin parent struggling to nestle them all. Most nests are fully constructed, some still in development; odd season. Transfer photos to computer and type up a day. That’s enough. Sleep

Down to rocks seeking whale bones with Rick

December 17, 2007 at 8:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

27th November

Happy Birthday Dear Sarah xxx

Up early to check stock for Fram – a slightly daunting 217 pax on board. Glorious clear blue day, with a smattering of brash sparkling on glass smooth water. Landing site lapping at high tide, beautiful. Well monitored landing. Flags erected along shore side to prevent accidents on overhanging snow edges. Sunny and warm. Busy and good. Afterwards, feel that if I don’t keep going I’d never start again. Graze on delicious grub from the Bremen after dazed re-stocking of wee baskets. Weather too gorgeous to frank, even though a large bundle came in this am (including a belated package of mail from Nordkapp posted before incident at Neptune’s Bellows last January.) Down to rocks seeking whale bones which Rick saw from a zodiac loaded with more books. A few photographs. Calming to be outside in the air, looking not adding up. Restock to maintain stock levels. Orlova arrives around two thirty, with a contingent of potentially ‘demanding’ visitors (the like of which reduced Jo and S ally both to tears last year.) Helen and I vow to stay jolly and firm. No worries in the event; interesting people, lots of numbers (and First Day Covers!) Once last passengers have left, frank away in an attempt to keep up. Susan (EL) has asked us to the Orlova for dinner and kindly sends a boat over for us a little later. What an intimate comfy ship! Stand at the bar enjoying the chat. Good to meet the Australian artist-in-residence and see her work. Entertaining dinner conversation with Eric (ex FIDS,) Nigel (bird man who worked at Lockroy nine years ago, and at Rothera,) and Susan. Several young Swedish girls are keen to apply for work here next year… Good fun. Zip back about ten thirty and laugh while finishing franking slightly inebriated.

Glimpsing address, language, love, signature

December 17, 2007 at 8:39 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

26th November

Can’t quite move. Don’t want shoulders to be colder. No word or sign of KK. Bundle up all Endeavour mail cancelled last night. I love catching glimpses of addresses, languages, love, signatures… Decide what needs topping up in the shop. On the way to the boatshed we’re careful not to lose our empty boxes in wind that is pulling and pushing the cold. Penguins stand askance. Takes about an hour to re-stock, then another exploding boxes, displaying, primping, storing. The KK does not come. Bremen arrives as planned. There are shovel ‘markers’ to stop passengers treading in the mud melt below hut nests. A friendly visit, I, however, become grumpy; patience tried by philatelicism. Bremen folk leave around six leaving two boxes of food i) fresh veg including celery and onions ii) meat, including guinea fowl and a tongue! lovely cheeses and sausages. As one ship departs, another arrives – this one momentous – Hurtigruten’s new star of the fleet, Fram, sails into Lockroy for the f irst time. Ian EL is pleased to invite us over for dinner and a tour, understandably glowing in the shiny splendour. Our showers (mmm) are by the most amazing sauna – a wooden clad heat capsule with porthole views of glaciers. Peel ourselves away to wash and rush down to fabulous dining room for plenty of meat and a bottle of red from the captain – how very fine. The third course is a medley of creamy/saucy puddings. Now Rick sings for our supper with rendition of his heritage talk, in bite sized chunks so that Anya can translate into German. We are in the observation lounge, whose windows unfurl an icy panorama beyond the listening faces. The ship is somehow rotating on its bow, slowly and elegantly. More questions afterwards, and twirls to show off t-shirts…time to go…but not to leave. Ian takes us to the bridge, where I sneak into the captain’s (v. comfy) chair and see Goudier Island all small through brilliant binoculars. V. jovial. Back home to bed, happy.

Ship party foregoed: there are stamps to stamp

December 17, 2007 at 8:38 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | 1 Comment

25th November

Wake at five thirty but wait until six to ring home (three hours ahead.) So good to chat with Nev and then Sarah, on a line with no delay, as a Giant Petrel flies past the porthole. Minutes fly by, must be at breakfast for seven. Sit with the expedition staff. Waiters are happy to see us (but sad that my hair is cut short.) Whiz over to Goudier Island ahead of eight-thirty landing. Despite this being our largest visit in terms of numbers (230) the passengers are well managed and flow is steady. Famished after, so finish left over curry. Bread and Jam for pudding – with the special Calafate berry jar so kindly given by Marco.

Rick has found an e-message sent from Endeavour yesterday, asking if they can come in this afternoon (instead of 28th)- try to reply. Neaten piles of t-shirts (Now I can empathise with those Benetton shop assistants) and restock as far as necessary. We have loads of post to process from Nordnorge, so congregate in the bunkroom to apply stamps, make up new mint sets and frank (spread out on kitchen table to dry quickly.) Endeavour running late. Go on a mini monitoring expedition – lots of muddy eggs in puddles. Chick numbers will surely be low this year. At seven pm Endeavour hangs left into Port Lockroy and sends a zodiac to collect us for dinner (me and Helen enthusiastically run down to the landing site in our immersion suits.) Richard the bird man, is driving, and fills us in on the scene he saw around the Explorer. There are growlers around the gang plank, so we wait for them to pass.  Delighted to see Tim and a wee welcoming committee for big hugs.

Straight to the dining room where we receive a rousing clap from a bunch of eager bunnies. Delectable dinner, gourmet fish and chips, hot chocolate fondant swilled down with a couple of glasses of wine. I cause delay to first zodiac by running round finding a WC, and then we drop a couple of staff off at Jougla Point… so we arrive at the landing after the first passengers. Run up to the hut, comedic removal of immersion suits, package up mail, pull on long johns, light tilley lamp and the shop’s in full swing, credit cards all the way. Great spirits and much patience. Sad to forego party on board, but KK is expected at 9am, we have lots of Endeavour mail to cancel and shop to restock. I stamp the stamps, Helen counts cash, Rick makes camomile tea and cocoa. Finish at eleven thirty. Wind blowing fine smoke. Bremen (who have come by for the party) and Endeavour are ablaze, zodiacs buzzing between the two.  Traffic noise for the first time in weeks!

Nordnorge is near

December 17, 2007 at 8:36 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

24th November

I hear a ship’s engine again – at five thirty. Rick was kind of awake, and needing a pee, but could see nothing ooops. More snow in the night.

I’m wearing the brown fleece which turns me into a fluffy king penguin chick – good for hugs. Landing site and ramp need digging out again.

Spot Antarctic Dream in the Neumayer Channel – they start landing at nine. Good to see the crew again. They were hoping to be with us last night, but were delayed due to their part in Explorer’s rescue operation. Cold toes; have to bounce behind counter. By midday the place is quiet. They left us an enormous bag of fruit, milk and onions. And avocadoes we revel over on toast, with cheese, for lunch. Rick gives Helen a lesson in sharp knife use! Since Nordnorge took on all of the Explorer passengers, we don’t know if they will make it here today. Rick and Helen go to re-dig snow steps that had completely drifted in. I wash up and make stock list. Down through snow to the boatshed. No wind. No flotilla of bergs on low tide rocks. The nests here are particularly waterlogged; it will be hard to keep the eggs warm enough. We’re getting better at dividing and conquering the box mountain. The odd item continues to elude. Also manage to go through children’s t-shirts that were in a muddle – all now ordered by torch-light. Ponder exchange rates; the confusion of converting pounds to dollars to euros, and difficulties calculating change in different currencies. Finish off birthday cake (which had matured perfectly.) Unwrap more fiddly nickel penguins, liberating them from double layer of plastic and bubble wrap.

Rick has a gleam in his eye – another joinery project – a longer bench for the far left of genny shed. Helen is chief assistant this time, leaving me an hour to finally achieve synchronicity with blog. Fifteen minutes of intense ball balancing exercises before preparing boiled-egg and steak tandoori. The bench is not finished until seven thirty and the labourers are famished. Serve up dinner that looks like a rice penguin nest with two eggs in each. As we’re eating, Franz radios to say that Nordnorge is near and will anchor at the north side of Dumas – would we like to go across for a drink? Er yes please. We (happily) suffer indigestion, speedily swallowing sticky toffee pudding and bundling up a month’s stash of dirty washing. The bosun himself drives zodiac over to collect us, along with Franz and Marco – so sweet of them. Moving to hear a small part of their last 24 hours. Climbing aboard, it feels like coming home. Oivan says ‘You’re staying, right? So I can put the boat away?’ Captain says that’s ok, so we do. Lots of faces smiley with recognition. Astounded to be given a cabin each. Ah such luxury to stand under hot water and wash hair. Up to the bar, where yesterday the rescued passengers from Explorer had been camped. Some had no shoes.

They lost everything except their passports and the clothes they had on.

Extraordinary listening to the Captain describing what happened, and the others talking of the shock and tears. Humbling. Marco passes on a message from the EL (Expedition Leader) for Rick, apologising for our post being at the bottom of the ocean. That’s even more humbling, and incredible he had the presence of mind to remember such an insignificant thing. Having brought laptop over, I take advantage of the wifi to go surfing and catch up with Facebook buddies. Particularly lovely to read long messages from Barbara and Susan. Forgot adapter, so soon run out of juice. Bedtime anyway, it’s half past midnight. Stretch out under crisp white sheets. Ship’s engines drone through fitful sleep.

Explorer down

December 17, 2007 at 8:35 am | Posted in The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

23rd November

I can hear a hum! Outside in pjs to see Ocean Nova in the back bay. They invite us aboard for breakfast, what a treat. We weren’t expecting them til later, but last night, a camping expedition had to be evacuated as ice packed in round their ship, and they sought a safe harbour with us.

Just before Rick starts his introductory talk we learn that another Antarctic Cruise ship, the Explorer has hit ice, been holed and is sinking. This terrible news distracts from the business at hand.

Throughout the day we hear updated reports via e-mail. Quite apart from the obvious tragedies, I am gutted to realise that our first sack of incoming mail was on board; another loss. (*The bag was dispatched from Stanley on 15th November, so any mail reaching there after that date may hopefully arrive with us on 17th December, the next scheduled delivery. Thank-you to everyone who has sent special presents… I don’t know what to say.)

Ocean Nova’s visit is hectic because the weather is so wild, drifting snow and strong wind. Jougla point landing is cancelled, busy busy in the shop and museum. Rick’s book ‘Of Dogs and Men’ is selling out – passengers wait for more copies to be retrieved from the boatshed.

Once pax departed, assess stock and pause for tea…but all hungry.

Quick cheesy potato soup. Down to the boatshed passing small black penguin packages lying submerged in snow that has drifted over their backs. The repercussions of Explorer’s demise – she has been abandoned, we don’t know if she has sunk – will take sometime to percolate through.

The next few days are uncertain – she was due to visit us on several occasions through this season, and the ships who went to her rescue may be forced to alter their itineraries. Rick and Helen, suffering slightly from last night’s dram, benefit from small opportunist window to lie down and sleep. First moment of reflection in ages. Maybe the poetry will come retrospectively. This is the longest I have gone without sitting alone and thinking, and making. Cancel the few postcards in the box from Ocean Nova. Enjoy second tap dancing lesson from H. Polar Pioneer radios her arrival as we’re savouring tea and birthday cake.

Just fifty pax, along with Dave Birkett, a Port Lockroy veteran. Sure is blowing a blizzard. Recognise a passenger from 2004 semi-circumnavigation – hello Edgar! One of the cooks delivers sticky toffee pudding with dulce de leche sauce – what an angel. The snow has gusted through cracks in the porch and lies in corners. Cancel mail and leave to dry (which is a long wait in these temperatures.) Rick treats us to crunchy bean, pepper and ginger starter yum – to raise our spirits from today’s flattening news. Then fried potato patties, bacon and egg – just dandy! Time to catch up on some personal e-mails, typing as fast as possible. The gentoos are crashed out all over the place, on their bellies or standing with their beaks tucked over into neck. Wearying to be in that bluster. Have you guessed what Helen is knitting? A penguin!

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.

A man in a cowboy hat insists we have something in common

December 17, 2007 at 8:32 am | Posted in Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

21st November

Up first. Down to the landing site as usual. Brash ice has blown in, blocking easy route for zodiacs. Since Explorer II is not on the horizon, we check shop stock again and Helen prepares the mail-bag for dispatch to Stanley Post Office. Wind has dropped and sunny spells provide perfect opportunity to look for further egg laying. Almost every cluster has at least one nest with an egg. And there are three new ones just by the hut! I can monitor them from the genny shed windows. Odds and sods preparing for ship visit. Extended tea break on sunny veranda with books and chocolate biscuits. It’s hot enough Helen and Rick to have bare feet (I remain in two pairs of socks.) Explorer II arrives two thirty-ish – a fine visit. Calm and relaxed somehow – homebound leg of a long trip via Falklands and South Georgia. A man in a cowboy hat insists we have something in common and removes his hat to reveal curly hair – he’s funny, I must e-mail him. Fresh supplies; eggs, bacon, cheese and potatoes – yum! At six thirty we’re collapsed. Fantastic fry-up with cheesy mash and a glass of wine. Cash up – have to count everything twice or thrice… adds up eventually. Frank all mail, doesn’t take long
– not enough! Could crawl into pit at eight thirty but stay up preparing birthday gifts for Bruno Buckle our Base Commander. The night is light ’til eleven now. The three quarters moon over Mount Francaise and pink light is worth stepping out for a photo. Numb fingers.

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.

The first egg!

December 17, 2007 at 8:28 am | Posted in Penguins | Leave a comment

18th November

Sumptuous sleep. Baby bear bowl of porridge. Chilly wind through pjs outside. A skua menaces gentoos right by the hut. The anxious timbre of their voices will indicate this predator’s presence from now on. Others have a long lie. I’m eager to be up and about. Finish catching up with base diary and set out on first Penguin Monitoring Patrol, to see if any eggs have been laid. Helen comes too. Move clockwise round the island, approaching colonies slowly. Sometimes the birds rise up enough to see what’s underneath, some respond to the gentlest of posterior touches.

Extra care moving round the control colonies, as they are least used to humans. Nests seem well developed, but no sign of anything more until we reach the mast colony and check an early nest we have had our eye on. I can’t see anything, but Helen softly persists – using binoculars she spots a very mucky egg! The first on Goudier Island! Hurray! Closer to the mast, a bird carcass, exposed in the melting snow, is being picked at by another skua (the first one was ringed, so now we have a pair to disrupt the gentoos general calm.) V. chilly nose and too cold hands for pictures. Back into the fold for luxxy elevenses – toast, butter and jam mmm. Start preparing Christmas card list, then cancel all the mail posted here yesterday. Tear sheets of stamps into singles (to sell for postcards.) Write up wildlife observations. Toss up  a Salad Nicoise because we have fresh lettuce, French beans, tins of tuna, olives and fresh bread. Really good. Typed up some blog. Still hopelessly twelve days behind and fear endless chasing tail. Assess what’s needed for shop re-stock and, stepping gingerly round penguin nests, we enter boat shed.

The torch promptly refuses to light our way from box to box. One hour and five loads later, Helen has lost the plot locating final box of caps. Rick comes to rescue us, cold and sedentary from computer work.

Kettle’s on. Easy going yoga session, all relaxed after. More steak, with cabbage and mash. Heater is on, but so is coat, hat and scarf… it’s eleven degrees. Sleepy washing up. The nights stay brighter longer now. Desperate typing whilst cribbage gallops. So tired, I drift off as Helen teaches Rick how to play Racing Demon and they discuss pensions and whiskey tasting.

Zip-lock bag to pop in popped out tooth

December 17, 2007 at 8:27 am | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

17th November

Seven am rise. Lightly, softly, snow falls. Lots to do before today’s ship visit. Clearing, sweeping, ordering, counting cash and re-stock.

Rick helps me in the boatshed – daunting despite Tudor’s system, especially when the two t-shirts you need are in the bottom box in the stack of eight. Luckily, no rush, so we blunder at leisure, eventually locating all we think is required. Helen also joins fray – I’m so glad we’ll share this task to begin with… still takes ages. Once ’tis done, it’s certainly coffee break time. Helen sorts money, I fill in missed base diary days and Rick constructs new boot brush. Radio calls Rick over to Polar Star, leaving us with an hour’s grace, rationalising postcard storage cupboard to accommodate overflow of t-shirts in five different colour ways. Ready for the troops! I’m rubbish at numbers for some reason and cash drawer falls out, greenbacks everywhere, don’t swear. When sugar levels hit a low, I grab a handful of hard gums; mid-transaction half a molar detaches…I carry on taking the money and Helen passes a zip-lock bag to pop in the popped out bit of tooth. Good to see Kim Crosbie – we reconfirm promises to meet for a hot chocolate back in Edinburgh. I sit, half comatose with tea and biscuits. Easy evening with red wine and alluring cooking smells (inimitably FRESH!) Absolutely delicious steak sandwich, with brocolli, onions, those dried mushrooms and merest spoon of nose-corroding mustard. Moribund and heartfelt conversation about oldness. Monsieur Adelie is still here. Ice in the water so many shapes of blown glass. Light emergency dentistry.

Rick and Helen both wake from mid-evening snooze. I’m asleep.

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