Helen and I step out into the night

January 24, 2008 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey | 1 Comment

2nd January

Tiredness lingers, although all we need to do is get dressed, assemble bags of dirty laundry and be at the landing site by eight am. Nordnorge have invited us for breakfast – aah bliss – hello hello friends. Fresh fruit and the smoked salmon I’ve been craving. Our favourite waiter beams and can’t pour us enough coffee/tea/juice. Manage to send brief New Year’s text message… not many replies… All too soon we must rush to return before the pax. Zodiac driver passes me a parcel – assumed it was mail – it’s chocolate for me! Karen’s already on the deck all cheery, keeping an eye on Jougla landings round the corner. Jovial visit overall. Couple of tricky customers, arriving at counter with armfuls of goods yet no money to pay for them. Sigh. Clean clothes – ah, I was beginning to smell like a homeless person. Helen and I stick stamps on all the postcards collected from the ship this am, so that they’re ready to frank straight away. Rick takes advantage of drier conditions to mop through house where guano muck accumulates faster than you can say penguin. Helen boils eggs (semi-successfully) and deals with the lost digit cc transactions from the end of November – four cards whose last four numbers didn’t make the slip. Oh dear, they were all mine, must have been done in a hurry. Surprise e-mail from bestest dearest friends who married in Pitlochry on 31st, so delighted for them, and so sad not to have been there. While Rick is over on Polar Pioneer, Helen takes a radio call from the (Joint British Forces) yacht Discoverer; they have four Ukrainians from Vernadsky who have come to stay the night with us and when would be convenient to drop them off? ! ! ! Helen regains composure rapidly and cautiously agrees to a plan, with the proviso that Rick will need to confirm the details. I feel like singing, so I do, in the genny shed, which Rick hears as he walks up the path – it reminds him of the Storr experience; a lone singer amongst rocky crags (on Sky e, produced by the visionary NVA.) Polar Pioneer visit goes well, jolly Ozzies. All I can think of is ‘We’re having four Ukrainians to stay! How mad.’ Crack open the M+Ms and crunch on handfuls. Once the visit is over we have about an hour to frank/cash up. Just going down to the boatshed as a zodiac disgorges our (un)invited guests. Run down to welcome them and blow me, if it isn’t Connor (the geologist PhD student/partner civvy in the SRM on Endurance) holding the painter. I never imagined we’d manage to meet, even though I knew he was around here with the army. The whole lot of them will come for ‘a proper British visit’ next week. Hurrah. The four Ukrainians look very sheepish and offer to help in any way. I hide to write this up and occasionally check on progress and pressure levels in the kitchen. Bring beer. Gently encourage prospective purchases to be selected now, as we’ll be busy tomorrow. They sweetly choose t-shirts for their ladies and amass piles of orders from their colleagues. Very keen on the t-towels, which is endearing. Stew is ready, Christmas tunes on, table laid. Enjoy dinner, with questions about our life here and Wordie House (near them) and how it all fits into the historic scheme of things. Helen stirs custard for cake. While she and I wash up – there’s no place to put anything – Rick shows a slideshow of sledging times in Antarctica and Alaska. Rick goes to bed. Helen and I step out into the night and walk around with the Verdansky guys, pointing out chicks and picking up bits of egg shell. They’re impressed by the whaler’s chains, and take pictures of everything. We leave them around eleven and tiptoe into bunkroom. Two yachts in the back bay: Discoverer and Australis. Not sure why we’re quiet as snoring has commenced.

Crazy busy queues in all directions

January 24, 2008 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Life in the snow | Leave a comment

1st January 2008

Rick’s up first, shaving and eating his breakfast like a snuffling badger. I worried that the ferocious sound of his throat vibrations indicated a dangerously dry throat, and woke him up to drink some water. Helen doesn’t dare move. I’m happy lying still as long as possible. Quietly eating a Bovril sandwich when Explorer II announces their arrival (an hour early – must be on Argentine Summer Time) her captain wonders would we like to go aboard for lunch? Affirmative from Rick and I, Helen too er delicate. Quite choppy water and the gangway not affixed, so having been signed in, there’s only twenty-five mins for lunch, which is delicious. Prawn kebabs and salad salad salad. Spoon in a quick chocolate roulade and run back down to pull on suits, dash across the sea, wake Helen up and get behind counter. Don’t think we’ve ever made so many credit card transactions. Crazy busy queues in all directions and a couple of mid-visit trips to boatshed for tartan ties and pink ladyfits.

Meet Ron Lewis-Smith; long-time BAT (British Antarctic Territory) stamp committee person – he took some of the iceberg pics. Helen, pale, has to disappear several times and just wants everybody to leave. When they do she goes to bed and stays there. I do the franking business and catch up on diary writing from yesterday. Can’t settle as snoring is too loud, so I restock shop and make a list of all the clothes. Rick goes to and fro, carrying it back up and helps fill the compartments, for which I am grateful. Tired and hungry now; it’s nearly nine pm. Nordnorge steams in to anchor here tonight. Rick chucks a tin of stew in the pan – perfect. Helen conscious but limp. Suzanne Vega tuneful. Outside to check on chicks; many nests now have two wee ones cheep cheeping away. Re-erect penguin fence, well the control colony rope, which is difficult with no snow to keep the support posts standing. Peek over at Xplore, not a peep from them today. Ok that’s it then. Takes an age to fall asleep.

Sit with Mike and Gavin and explain about paper icebergs

January 24, 2008 at 8:00 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey | Leave a comment

31st December

Disturbed night and then knocks on the door at six thirty am. Richard from Endeavour to collect us for breakfast and a shower. We knew they had changed clocks to Argentinean Summer Time but everybody stayed confused – no matter – swift roll out of bunk and into immersion suits, still wet from last night. Miserable, but warmer outside, precipitation continues. Rick nips off for a quick shower, Helen and I to the fresh fruit platter. Bernd joins us and fills us in on their trip to Marguerite Bay. Such a delight to have our friendly waiter serve mint tea in a pot. Up to lounge for Rick’s talk (and to the library for a handful of Organic Earl Grey teabags.) Back to shore and the visit flies by, possibly cos we’re not quite awake. Meet Tim’s bro Jack and hang around with some of the staff. Enjoy hearing Bernd’s Furthest Travelled Weetabix story and his penchant for Port Lockroy fridge magnets (they match his Smeg!) This is the end of Tim’s contract as EL for this season – sad to say goodbye – he’s provided respite and much generosity. I’ll miss him. Good luck. Frank Endeavour’s mail. Feels like lunchtime to me, although it’s only eleven. Rick cooks me up crispy bacon and eggs, polished off with tea and mince pies. Pen a couple of thank-you letters as the post will leave here tomorrow. Two crew and three passengers from the yacht Xplore visit just after two. One man, Mike, buys a lot of Antarctic Tartan ties and fifty postcards. We happily agree to join forces for New Year celebrations. Marco Polo rep drops off hundreds of stamped postcards and buys more stamps. Frank them all, with Helen helping, saying “Can’t we finish them tomorrow?” No!! Not sure what I was doing, but before I realise it, Helen has restocked. Marco Polo’s expedition leader, Alan, pops across for a swift beer, with David (a keen supporter of the New Zealand branch of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, who is impressed with Base A.) Lots of group photos. Helen nips to beach for glacier i ce to pop in our G+Ts. Soon it’s seven pm and Simon has come to collect us. Rough enough for immersion suits, though weather has calmed slightly. Xplore is a beautiful yacht, tucked right into Alice Creek, where rocks emerging through receding snow have a Charles Rennie Mackintosh look about them. Stand out on deck with Mike, sporting one of the newly acquired ties amongst his waterproofs. Cloud clears and light intensifies, but it remains a cool six degrees. Swap places with a couple of people inside and devour fabulous guacamole feverishly impolitely. Steve, the skipper, has a great tome of Antarctic Place Names and Their Origins, published by the USA govt. I’m sure there is a similar ancient two volume British version (belonging to the CPOSR?) on the bridge of Endurance. Convivial banter. Various sous-chefs dip in and out of galley. A wee tour of cabins and heads. Three passengers have plenty of space, must feel very different when she’s a racing vessel. We toast New Year in the UK, four hours ahead. Huge thanks to Steve, Annie, Gavin, Mike and Simon for our final meal of 2007. A feast: Roast beef, tatties, carrots and steamed spinach. Ah my mouth waters to think of it. Helen is animated. Humorous jostling as to pros and cons of working with two women and repeated reminders that Rick chose US! Helen washes up and Simon dries – all so quickly tidied away and shipshape. This is a very neat and airy boat. Around 11pm decamp to our house. Interesting not getting tangled in immersion suit liner and not falling in. A damp chill lingers in our hut. Quickly light heater in the museum lounge, fire up Tilley lamp, stock up the bar and find adequate supply of glasses. Argue whether Runrig’s ‘Loch Lomand’ or Auld Lang Syne should be played at the bells, with seven minutes to go. Annie does the count down and we all link arms except for Gavin, who is intent on taking (what will no doubt prove to be incriminating) photographs as the evening proceeds (fortun ately mostly of Simon, who is very funny.) We dance, with gramophonic interlude and try to persuade each other to swallow the more obscure liquids from our drinks cupboard. Helen manages to spill her cup by the music, so our i-Pods are in a puddle, oh Pickle! I sober up. Sit with Mike and Gavin and explain about paper icebergs. Gavin wonders if I should tout about a maquete of the walk-in iceberg I’d like to produce. Of course. General consensus that Helen is on a different trajectory to the rest of us tonight. Simon swaggers around with tinsel boa, Steve struts his stuff in orange wellies and Annie looks bored as we oldies frolic about. The only song she danced to was ‘Sex Bomb’ by Tom Jones, and I think she enjoyed herself. Towards two am I stamp their passports with Ist January 2008 hey hey. They layer up in waterproofs and lifejackets and disappear into the night. Tidy up as proficiently as able. Helen’s still dancing. Rick and I are already in bed when she comes through surprised it’s all over. Again the wind buffets and lurches and shakes the fabric of this hut. The night is pale dusk.

Sopping suits in the genny shed; splashing over postcards

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

30th December

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

Like ships in the night

January 24, 2008 at 7:53 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

29th December

Storm is over. Our e-mail system is down (although our phone card is now topped up.) Grey and calm. Wet rocks. White ship in the distance, coming our way. Lyn asks if we’d like breakfast or showers, but time here is preferred. So Rick zips over while we sweep and tidy. Jolly keen folks; our first Silver member hurray. Talk about art work and next September’s exhibition in Plockton, seems a long way away. Rick has a migraine, well a man headache, probably from being outside with no sunglasses for half the morning. Emergency slice of stšllen. The nearest penguin chicks have a row of paparazzi observing their every peep. H and I have sore tummies, but hungry. Helen and Rick have pasta, and me a bowl of tuna mayo, followed by far too many sweeties. Turns out Irridium data satellite is down – everyone is in a panic, could be another eight hours. Nought to do but wait. We were expecting Fram this afternoon, but they are delayed. Itty bitty restock after Rick has brought deluge of waste under better control. Optimum levels of extra postcards now stacked under the display. Rick is repairing broken sledge rack and half needs an assistant. Helen volunteers and gets cold (and bored.) Big ship Rotterdam cruises past, too many passengers to stop here. I pack postcards, then type. Northanger radios, wanting to catch up with Rick, so I take the handheld down to him. Greg says they’ve had similar satellite problems but it’s working again. They’ll try to anchor at Dorian Bay tonight. I check computer, hurray we have communications again. Oh but bad news from Fram. Yesterday they had a power blackout and drifted into an iceberg, causing minor damage, no-one hurt. Needs to be checked out, so we won’t be seeing them anytime soon…and I’ve nearly finished Ian’s wee chart book. Helen picks meat off the chicken and boils up proper stock so that I can produce a thick soup. Also use up very brown bananas by frying them in butter with chopped pears, cognac, sugar and sp ices. Second film night in a row hey hey: Tudor sent us Groundhog Day for Christmas, mostly for Helen, as it highlights the certain repetitive nature of life here. Front row seats on Ricky’s bunk, connect speakers and sit back. Helen keeps asking questions about what’s going to happen next. Intermission to change batteries and eat Rick’s chocolate gingers. Afterwards, quite a few penguins are standing in their nests, revealing weak-necked chicks wavering in the evening air, their bean-bag bodies so fluffy and tiny velveteen wing flippers. E-mail cousin Katie the desperate news that her ship is not actually scheduled to visit Lockroy. Read a little more anthology and drift off.

Dancing to Penguin Pop CD; the law of the tongue; what’s with this peach?

January 24, 2008 at 7:50 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

28th December

There’s a spider in my peach! Spun a little home where the stone used to be. Contravenes Antarctic Treaty rules so have to kill it. No bug immigration here. Frank philatelic mail delivered by yacht, and also Andrea’s. Finish folding National Geographic maps from the first packet – they’re very popular. Cold finger. Wind from the NE still. It’s officially a Maintenance Day for Lockroy. No ships. Our leader recommends taking things easy, so I start on backlog of blog entries. Too chilly to sit for long and Helen suggests a warming box moving session. So down to the boatshed with a long list. More empty boxes mean every week a little more light is let in. Heroic womanhandling of t-shirt boxes buried at the bottom of stacks, and clambering over the waste management dept. Five loads later we’re done. When it’s all set out, stop for lunch involving pickles and crackers. Back to typing. Helen offers to wash porch floor…and ends up doing the hall and shop too. Spirit of Sydney rad ios through the windy air. Helluva choppy in the Gerlache; can they come in? Only six Irish kayakers. Of course they can. Rick’s been busy for most of the day with electrical cabling in Radio room. Helen needs to transfer numbers onto spreadsheets. I’m happy to deal with the visit. The kayakers are having a great time. Ben the skipper is up for chick spotting. More wee fluffy things right by the hut, one all curled up, still egg shaped. Wind has winkled its way through my layers and I’m glad to be back in the bunkroom. Vernadsky guys brought us two frozen chickens; one goes in the oven (squashed to fit,) carrots n’ tatties prepared. E-mails about numbers missing on credit card slips and confusions with stock numbers – we have 203 of something when we should only have 100. Cabbage and gravy add to proper Sunday dinner (ok so it’s Friday) and it’s early enough for film night. Ben (from Spirit of Sydney) has lent us a ‘Big Blue’ whale DVD, with a documentary about killer whales working with fishermen (in Eden, SE Oz) to capture larger whales in return for the tastiest part of the beast – The Law of the Tongue. Fascinating, though Helen may have preferred more escapism. Rick watches last part with his eyes shut. Oh we (I) danced beforehand, to excerpts from Penguin Pop cd – it’s good to move like that. Rainy and horrid outside. Helen likes a challenge, so insists on taking buckets, slipping on ramp and soaking trousers (second pair today) oh dear. Lie and listen to the weather before sleep.

Just to confirm: yes, Antarctic Christmases also involve bubble and squeak.

January 24, 2008 at 7:46 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

27th December

There is no way of zipping up a sleeping bag quietly; it’s like unwrapping a throat sweet at the theatre. Helen has to endure stereophonic snoring (from Eugene and Stan next door on the lounge floor.) Rick wakes up tired, he slept badly and now his throat is dry. So sunny! First tea, and then cereal outside on deck. Sheathbills have been in the shop, pulling t-shirts off the shelves with their beaks, and shitting everywhere. Eugene is reading on his Sony Clio – he has 200 books to peruse – wow. He and the other Vernadsky-ites have been there for ten months, two more to go. Every week or so he posts a long letter home and hopes to publish it on the web. They play us cheery Ukranian polar music and help carry things up from the boatshed. And buy lots of souvenirs from the shop. Twelve pax and three crew of the Anna Margaretha land and are briefed by Rick on visiting guidelines, as they are not IAATO members. They are 95% Dutch. The owners built, and now sail their yacht, and w ill be down in Antarctica three times. V keen to see the two chick nest and we stand in line patiently waiting for the parent to lift up and feed. But no movement. Parent stays impassive. One of the pax tells me that male gentoo have larger beaks and feet than the females – so that’s how you can tell! Sun shining, wind picking up. Not long ’til Corinthian II, but long enough for tea and Christmas cake. About to go for a major stock up when the ship invites us for lunch in twenty mins. And could they buy 900 postcards and lots of stamps? Eugene and Stan help count them out. Corinthian II is a beauty, and John the EL, an excellent sort. Captain Peter is at the gangway to greet us and accompanies us up to stern deck for the barbeque, which is actually a luxury buffet under an awning – luscious ribs and burgers. Helen has joined the Ukranians (who are delighted to discover that an 80% Russian crew will accompany them back to Vernadsky) in a glass of red. Rice pudding and tea. Dow n to lecture hall oh more like a coffee lounge and half listen to Ricky’s talk, but he’s distracted by chewing gum and going off on tangents, so we off to look at a map of the world instead. Back to base and jump off just before the captain, who is anxious to acquire a polar fleece as he was summoned for this job at only a few days notice, and is better prepared for warmer climes. Good calibre of passenger; good postcard writers – there was a queue at Reception the instant John announced cards and stamps were for sale. Good good. Not much chance to turn around before Andrea noses in. They have caused some perplexion by merging Goudier and Jougla together, when in fact they are separate landings on the IAATO schedule. Fortunately Rick goes over for a talk, giving Helen ten mins shut-eye, and me the chance to bundle mail and write a wee bit. Decide the moment is nigh to open Evie’s parcel (which has Best Wishes from Aberdour Post Office on a sticky label!) The most exquisite se lection of parcels wrapped in maps of Scotland and a lovely long letter. All wonderful, brilliant gifts, especially the Penguin Pop customised compilation and Pablo Neruda’s book of poetry from Il Postino (natch!) What a lift to have such a dazzling web-designer friend! Go see www.eskymo.co.uk So Andrea don’t start landing (60) passengers until six pm. Wind has really picked up – choppy zodiac rides, splashed clothes. All chirpy. One of the zodiac drivers has lost his neck warmer and nips in to see if we sell any; we don’t but I give him one a new one of mine, winning eternal gratitude. No offence but we’re relieved to shut the door. Rick cracks open a beer. Helen’s going for a round-the-island run and lets me come too. Bitter wind, but we’ve had no exercise for weeks. Clamber round clockwise from boatshed, mostly rock, patches of snow. Wonder if residents on Anna M think we’re crazy. Curtailed by sheer edge and deep water near Stairway, forced to retrace steps, having played with icicles and decided not to live there in a snow cave. Stretch and step ups on flat rocks, quite off putting the penguins. Into the warm around eight. Add baked beans to stew and fry up bubble and squeak with crispy bits. Helen has sprung a cavity somehow and my temporary filling has again vanished, so dentistry skills practised before camomile tea then bed. The wind is all around.

Sailboats appear; therapeutic franking; the comfort of bunk

January 24, 2008 at 7:41 pm | Posted in The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

26th December

Conflict of schedule first thing – Maryshev and Orlova are double booked. (Rick’s penned alterations misunderstood.) But goodwill prevails, as it often does down here, and Maryshev whisks pax in from Dorian Bay even before they’ve finished swallowing breakfast. So Orlova’s visit, after Ricky’s talk, is not unduly delayed. All in good spirits. A group of ROAM-IPY students especially enthusiastic. Oh but I haven’t been able to eat one mouthful of (last bowl of) granola. Having maintained a cheery exterior, Helen tells me I’ve turned yellowish. After a little therapeutic franking I seek the comfort of bunk and weep silently before vague slumber. Helen and Rick restock shop. Hear Toonuka arrive with two guys from Vernadsky (Eugene and Stanislaus) who have come to fix the magnetometer. Dutch skipper helps adjust our aerial too, while pax wander the island leisurely. Finally arise from fug, joining everyone for tea and cake. (Trying to encourage/force the large sweet creamy one we  have been given on everyone first.) Helen’s Mum’s fabulous Christmas cake is multilingually appreciated. Helen cooks up beef and butternut stew. My stomach is in a fragile state and our guests too have surprisingly small portions. All except Rick out to chick hunt, and find one on far side of mast, near to Stairway. Helen discovers that our original babe now has a sibling – they are both being fed. We stand in the evening light. Rick is at the landing site on a garden chair, catching up with the base diary.  From our elevated position we watch the sailboat Anna Margaretha appearing from the Peltier. A soft whisper of brash.

Rachel and the Lonely Puffin

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

25th December

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

Whisky on the (glacial) rocks

January 24, 2008 at 7:33 pm | Posted in Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

24th December

Ouch my eyelids ache. Six thirty peppermint tea from Ricky. Marco Polo monster at Jougla. Polar Star radio at seven, we have a few minutes to ready ourselves. Hannah et al are full of early cheer. 105 passengers a bit of a blur. One of the staff sights a chick in nest just by our hut – on Christmas Eve how perfect. Only around ten minutes before Ushuaia staff land – Monica and her beaming team, bearing gifts of whiskey and lip-balm! Rick makes us sandwiches to ward off collapse. Many Chinese visitors purchase a LOT of First Day Covers. By the end I’m pole-axed. We just can’t accept the offer of lunch on board – dang. Marco Polo’s EL (Alan) and their shop manager swing by for stamps and give us sweet (Rockhopper) penguin zip-pulls. 381 pieces of mail to stamp and frank. Oh and four sacks of mail for us from the Falklands. Rick fixes lunch – tuna mayo – while Helen braves Thai Hot Noodle (a present from a previous passenger, who warned not to use the Whole sauce sachet,) she’s  crying and laughing and gasping to recover. Apply stamps to Marco Polo mail, but there’s no time to frank them. No time to delve into the bulging sacks either. Helen stocks up on all the wearables – by the time I go to help, she’s staggering under huge red sack like a misplaced Father Christmas. Shokalskiy: more carols, low spend, dripping kayakers. One hour to frank and turn around. Melancholy. Open four sacks of post with Helen. The new First Day Covers look great. Lovely card from P. Several parcels for me. More for Helen. None for Rick. A few for Port Lockroy, including lovely one from our Oslo Hash House Harrier friend Brit (from initial Nordnorge voyage.) A wave of overwhelmingness hooks me; I stumble over rocks and weep against the glacier face. Aaaah utter tiredness, a flood. So many people to love, and not here. Icebergs impassive, penguins the same. Half an hour later, over to ship. Quick shower next to cold sauna. First in line for food, at Angela’s insistence. St eak, sausage, salad = yum. Stay on bow with happy punters. There is a couple from the Lake District who read a recent article about Helen in their local paper (and bring us up to date, thank the Lord, with Archers gossip.) Chat with architects and wanderers. Hunk of glacier is being smashed up for whiskey or amaretto on the rocks. Radio call for us from Antarctic Dream, who are passing from Peltier to Neumayer Channels. Could they please buy stamps and deliver parcels? Helen rides home to oblige and Julio, on discovering a gap in the schedule, persuades her to allow the ship to anchor here and visit on Christmas morning! (He also buys a whole set of First Day Covers, including new ones just in.) Helen returns to Shokalskiy and we adjourn to bar. A passenger presents Rick with a parcel – another Pooping Penguin! Then Brendan’s present is a Poolar Bear…even more impressive turds… Triumphant whoops whenever they perform. Home about eleven-thirty, on a boat whose engine kept cutting out. See same zodiac whizzing over to Antarctic Dream, in the back bay; three people fall out, climb in, boat returns to mother, and out for another foray, I think to sing carols. Completely exhausted, but need to wrap presents (one of my most favourite things.) The others are in bed, amazed at how long it’s taking. When that’s done, and gifts are laid around our mini tree, Rick is already snoring. The light outside is mother-of-pearl on far, high, mountains. Have to fetch camera. Sink into bed at half past one.

The penguin ballet and the wire coils

January 24, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Posted in Book art, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

23rd December

A ship is sailing into the back bay as I emerge from the house in pyjamas. Forced to forego usual spot for another rock to maintain modesty.  Search for chicks, but all nest occupants still sitting tight. Rick goes over early for talk, leaving us to tidy. Frank stamps whilst eating granola and banana. Quite yawny today – relaxing effects of bath linger. Molchanov visits until midday; pax happy to sit and watch the penguins. This is Nathan’s(EL) last trip before going to work in the Ross Sea area – he will deliver a parcel to my friend Al, working for NZAHT at Cape Royds, heh heh. Delphine has invited us over for lunch and shower, but we must decline, as a major restock is required before Nordnorge visit. We have new books to find shelf-space for, and cubicles to rearrange and label. Have I mentioned how Helen is Queen of the Labels?! As tide is low, Rick has decided to attempt removal of wire coils on sea bed near chains landing. I need food and a wee sit in the sun – a chee se and tomato sandwich. Eat swiftly and  straight down to boatshed. Can categorically confirm that we’re out of calendars. Reconfigure boxes. Several new ones to find and slash open. Also refill the nut-mix-box; of crucial daily importance! Helen finds all the t-shirt varieties and then goes to help Rick. I hump four boxes up and unpack them. Hear radio in the bunkroom – Nordnorge will be with us in an hour. The confusion of wire is being brought to order and boxed up, so that landing site will be in a useable state. Ah they have such mucky hands! Doesn’t feel like Christmas even though the advent calendar says it is. Help carry heavy battery up from the not-working-magnetometer. Lie in instant stupor of tea and cake until Nordnorge arrives, exactly on time. The Hotel Manager brings cards and stamp money, then hurries out to look for chicks. Quite early on we start singing ‘Away in a Manger’ and very quietly, the whole shopful joins in – a little celestial choir in wellington  boots. Lots of kisses from our favorite staff, some of whom are off home for a few weeks. Some challenging scenarios to test one’s patience – people triple checking my sums (yes it is still $303!) or accumulating enormous pile of goods with no money to pay for it. Karin had planned for us to join the ship for dinner, but the Captain is worried about ice in the Neumayer, so they’re offski. Crack into mega-frank while Rick and Helen nip out for pisco and crisps (bringing me a small glass on the way.) I’m hungry for some simple protein – a small tin of crabmeat with chopped tomatoes, onion and mayo – before stocking to the rafters. We have three ships tomorrow (and the massive Marco Polo, who, with over four hundred passengers is unable to land at Lockroy, but will probably purchase stamps and post lots of mail for us to process.) More box heaving. Spend hours filling shelves and baskets. Outside for a swift chick check, but all the birds that lift up of their own accord only have eggs. I wonder if the babies are hidden or merely behind. More chicks have been seen at Jougla. From this viewpoint I can watch penguins performing aqua-ballet. Try for early bed. At half past ten Polar Star’s engine signals their premature anchoring.

So much chocolate, cake and fruit.

January 24, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

22nd December

Eyes open to sound of Rick shaving, rasp, rasp. Polar Pioneer is here. Spirit of Sydney sails away. Rick goes across for talk. We sweep and reply to a couple of e-mails. Friendly bunch. Crew bring Christmas Lollies (and eggs, and custard, and strawberries.) A chick is seen at Jougla… but in the beak of a skua. We don’t have time to go and look in our nests. One gentleman, who has posted a number of cards into mail box thinks he may have forgotten to address one, could I please check? There’s a massive queue waiting, but I do, and can’t find it… sigh. Helen and I sing carols, which peter away when we have to start adding up! Chat with the cooks – it’s Jo’s birthday, she’s baked us Christmas Pudding, what a star. A couple of keen birders are outside videoing, but the visit is to all intents over. I start franking, Helen cashing and listing stock. Down to boatshed straight away. Find everything except elusive red caps (actually there aren’t any left.) Rick carries up the he aviest box. Once we’re all set again, stew-soup for lunch. I add cream, which is off, will I get a sore tummy? It has started to snow again, and the pressure is dropping. Unsettled. Helen lies on landing rock and snow falls on her. I wonder where she is and squint into the distance, frowning. We have a break of a couple of hours. I sleep until Fram radios. Swiftest visit to squeeze them in after they’ve been delayed due to a Medevac. Ian brings a couple of admiralty charts for me; how did he manage that?! I promise to make him something. Oh and more Christmas treats. Rick fears the island will sink – we have so much chocolate, cake and fruit. Rick tops us up with regular hot drinks. One hour turn around before Multanovskiy – they had kindly hung back and visited Damoy. Frank and hope ink dries. Yum simple organic cheesy pasta, courtesy of Palmer’s Stacey x, tipped down pdq. Campers land first; they all want passports stamping. Then another twenty or so. Forty-four altogether.

Doctor has not forgotten previous trip’s promise of a bath, and visions of bubbles fuel entire visit. Last zodiac includes me, Helen and clean knickers. (Fram did our laundry, thank-you.) Blissful soak, the first in two months, with a glass of chilled white. Heaven. Float to bar and swallow a few more glasses with the kayak master, Mark the doctor, Tula, Karin and the Lonely Planet author (Geoff) who is a very interested historian. Pleasurable company. Leave at midnight, promising each other not to be tired tomorrow. There is no break in the rhythm of Rick’s snoring.

An unpleasant breeze through my pockets.

January 24, 2008 at 7:21 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

21st December

Rick’s snoring even permeates ear-plugs I discover with dismay. But no need to rise just yet. There is an enormous new berg on our shore – maybe a representation of last night’s distant commotion. Wind from the west. Rick catches up with e-mail backlog, ship’s scheduling complications. I offer to bring base diary up to date (gaining much needed Brownie points) since I have this personal record to help. Two of the three yachts (Spirit of Sydney and Vaihere) come ashore together. One group, who were camping out on the mountain are exhilarated and grateful. Shop becomes a changing room, checking t-shirt sizes. Such small numbers that passports receive base cachet at the counter. (Normally the ship’s purser will bring all the pax passports and stamps them at the table in our bunkroom.) The sun arrives and everybody is happy to rock hop as the tide is low. Slow and relaxed. Rick already chowing down on fried sausage when we come through for lunch and do the same. All up on the ro of in our Dickie overalls (remember them? it’s been a while… ) sunglasses, crocs and rubber gloves. After some more scraping, we will apply a layer of bitumen to protect Base A for another winter. Sheathbills waste no time in excreting on the new coat. Bright and surreal, but the wind cools us fast – there’s an unpleasant breeze through my pockets. The gloop goes on well and we have a great view of the icebergs. Enviously listen to three kayakers (from one of the yachts) paddling round our island. Wind is finally too chilly, and paint tin is empty, so I descend, forgetting, in my frigid state, to take even one picture of our glistening labours. Rick offers to prepare stew for dinner. Helen and I bend and stretch for a few minutes, me on the ball, throwing and catching a ball. Another yacht (Toonuka) radios and requests a landing tomorrow as they are tired now, but we have three ships visiting, so squeeze them in before dinner. Good meat and veg. Straight back to toppy up st ock, count cash, fold t-towels and watch the penguin who has hurt it’s foot and not moved all afternoon. Another penguin hauls piece of wood up rock, drops it twice, gives up and goes back down for a stone (they seem to relinquish hope quite easily, these gentoos.) Helen places wood within easy reach of the nest and is delighted when the builder turns round, notices and adds fragment to the pile. Check on magnetometer, but it really isn’t working. Collect eggshells for Oceanites, (who will analyse for nutritional information.) Tear myself away from this longest night (may turn out to be the longest day tomorrow.)

Rip-Snorter: something extraordinary, humdinger.

January 24, 2008 at 7:18 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey | Leave a comment

20th December

Phone alarm call from Tim at seven am. Into breakfast at seven thirty, at a table with an Indian gentleman and his son, and a lady who always travels with her own teapot. Ready to tag along with the tail-end of first group on official visit to Palmer Station. Learn about the science, and prospective new quay and look in the fish tank, then happily come across Phil, who despite being very behind with work, completes my personal tour (what did I do to deserve that?) we end up sitting in the Crary Lab talking and taking the weight off our arpeggios (as Andrew would say.) Find a water-damaged Webster’s Dictionary in the bin: Open at random and the first word is ‘Rip-Snorter’ n. (1840) something extraordinary: humdinger. Boat shed, last stop. Ryan is memorising poetry for Friday’s Art night and recites some as we listen on an upside down zodiac. Bit of Apple Mac chat. Very sticky brownies from Stacey, who has put together a care package inc. special loving granola. Unwillingly le ave, waving and waving. Luncheon with Mr. Trivalpiece and his three sons, who are kind and entertaining. Try to buy internet card and a lady generously offers hers, except no minutes remain. Rod, sitting next to me, donates his, so that I can download forty-five messages. People pass by with money owed and last-minute purchase requests. No time for a shower. Up to bridge and out on to deck. Peltier is gorgeous. Our familiar mountain-scapes emerge from an unusual angle. Ship ripples through stillness. Nine dots of climbers can be seen, moving across the lower slopes of Mount Jabat. We are dropped off with supplies of milk and green tea. Run for maps etc. Goodbye and Christmas wishes. There is thundering distant noise, as if bombs were exploding, sounds of massive movement, yet nothing to be seen through obscuring mist. Richard re-tracks his wake – we’ve forgotten cachet and ship’s post, oops – and catches up with Endeavour, who is sailing away along Neumayer. Frank all the mai l and sleep. Rick shares pisco with Darrell from Spirit of Sydney (yacht) Helen says they just talked about boats and knots. Too many work e-mails. Too strong smell of penguin. Wake. Rick fries up egg and potato. Helen, not hungry, restocks alone, letting me carry one box. I hide behind rocks, flustering the terns, and think about one person coming to find me…… Restock small stuff; commemorative coins in their wee pockets, penguin pins, books etc then bundle up hand-sized chunks of mail with elastic bands. Rick feeling chesty and sleep-deprived. Bunkroom hot and fumey. Prop up in bed and write this before memory goes. (There are three yachts in the back bay.)

We’re all going on a summer holiday.

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

19th December

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

I’m having a marzipan baby!

January 24, 2008 at 7:11 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

18th December

Monochromatic bands of varying degrees out towards Neumayer. Again check for chicks in pyjamas. Penguins fall into our big human footprints oh be careful! Subject others to express read of six days of blog. Relieved to send it off, though a week behind encore. Slow pottering. Finish yesterday’s franking. Helen sweetly compliments the consistent quality of my impressions, which makes me swell with pride. And philatelic stuff (including requests for base cachet when there’s no space to stamp it.) Fold up t-towels and restock all the wee bits, cunningly avoiding swilling down the rocks with Ricky. White Mikheev sails in from the light. Good visit punctuated by very generous seasonal alcoholic gifts. Decide we need pisco sour with our eggs and bacon – is this the start of our decline? It’s only midday… Good news! Tim Soper (on National Geographic Endeavour) can see from his schedule that we have a maintenance day; could we forego roof painting for a wee trip to Palmer and Vern adsky stations? Oh yes PLEASE. This is like winning a prize, a holiday, a weekend away. All cheered. Andrea pulls in and commences landing at Jougla. We’ve learnt from last time that there’s no rush and stay at the shoreline watching penguins, trying, and failing to take a just-in-the-water-and-fluffing-up-bum-feathers shot. Rick heaves himself from under the weather bed and continues cleaning the path rocks. Just making a comforting hot chocolate when Sam walks in – he says Mary Ann has been on safari in Africa after a conference in Cape Town. Thirty-two folk aboard. There’s a discernable difference between visitors who’ve been briefed on Lockroy’s wealth of history before landing – we can be left feeling misunderstood otherwise. Low, possibly due to lunchtime drinking ha we should have carried on or gone to bad I say. The big news today is; a patter of tiny chocolates have made their way into my mouth, and I’m having a marzipan baby! (Courtesy of the enormous delicious doub le-layered box that Tula left us, amongst many other treats.) Frank the few postcards and make ready for tomorrow. Cook a cheesy tuna bake which gets the thumbs up, and gives us warm red cheeks. Rick has heavy eyes and bunged up node so we don’t let him drink red wine or wash up. Helen takes one bucket and I the other. Reluctant to return inside because of the light. Watch the regular exchange of gentoo duty; a penguin comes up to relieve their mate, they bow and ca-hiss. Then one steps off as the other moves onto the nest from behind, gently dividing tummy fur to surround the eggs. In the hall, evening sun catches in corners and a breeze ruffles Christmas garlands. Perch on bunk and paint toenails Kid Orange. I am full.

An accidental Jackson Pollock

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

17th December

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

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