A chirpy lullaby of penguins.

February 28, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Penguins | Leave a comment

12th January

Particularly resonating snores lead to sleep deprived grumpiness. Take mint tea through to the shop, top up pots and piles to avoid being rude to anybody. Beau (from Spirit of Adventure) arrives at eight for Rick, who’s still shaving. And so begins a stately SAGA visit, no rush, much patriotism and support. Delightful to see Tony Soper here – leap over counter to hug him. Ah what a lovely surprise. There is a massive stack of postcards to process, that have been written on the ship. So weary, can’t answer the same old questions with the usual enthusiasm. Where do you come from? Where do you live? How long are you here for? No electricity?! No running water?! What scientific research are you doing? How long will this postcard take to get there? Where? Sadly unable to go aboard for lunch, as the landing won’t finish ’til three, so we take it in turns to sneak off for a cheese sandwich. I sit in the sun for five minutes, just for the warmth of it, having peered out at the sun for hours, regardless of continuing persistent questions. We’ve started to sell out of things; calendars are long gone and grey fleece hats finished today. Brain hurts dividing and multiplying in various currencies, and defending our policy of pricing in dollars. The combination of poor night’s sleep and dear Helen singing the same snatch of tune over and over again is simple torture. Start franking. Yachties want to come over in an hour – a Canadian boat (Traversay III.) Some of Discoverer lot hear there’s a pause in our business and land too. I need to lie down and do. Rick and Helen went for a run, but H twisted ankle, so they sit on a rock and then count the penguin nests on Bill’s Island (44.) By the time they’re back, I’m up and franking again. We are picked up at seven pm by Spirit of Adventure, it’s the last time they will call here this season (though many staff are transferring to Saga Ruby.) Need a shower (cheesy feet, fishy other bits) which is luxurious – the ship  is full so it’s in a storage cabin, but the light and towels are soft and everything is wonderful. Up to Yacht Club bar for drinks with Capt Frank and Ice Pilot Chris. Then down to the restaurant – table 50, in a corner, so we can be raucous. I take the full five courses – very delicious. Excellent red wine. Frank, full of cold, a great host. Funny chat. Go to the loo and sell a t-shirt en route (I’m displaying our wares.) Tony Soper passes over some letters and disappears – I can’t find him later shame shame. I look forward to some quality time with Francois (Chris’s wife) to discuss Antarctic Literature, a mutual fascination. Along and pleasurable repast. Leave at ten thirty with the last post. Remember to run up for the t-shirt, just. Anticipating a Sunday lie and slow morning, I retire to the PO counter and sleep content, with a chorus of penguins, a chirpy lullaby.

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Crispy salads, fish and ice-cream. Men appear on rocks.

February 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

11th January

Conscious at five. Rustling. Rick up at six, says National Geographic Endeavour are ‘just coming in now’ when actually they’ve swung off the Neumayer. It’s grey and flat out. Another wee yacht in the back bay, oh it’s Discoverer back again. So, over to Endeavour for breakfast – lovely. I wrote to EL Matt asking if I could make an appointment with the hairdresser. Sadly Vidal Babboon’s sterling shearing effects have worn off. Only yesterday Helen was commenting on how ‘bouffant’ my style had become. So at nine am, while Rick is talking through his introduction Lim, from the Philippines, cuts my hair. She gave Rick a severe trim last time, so I’m nervous, especially when she turns electric clippers on the back. Lovely Lisa Trotter Lady refuses to let me pay for it. It’s quite short; should last the season now. Make it back to base before first passengers and trade is brisk. Ah ha! We’ve been invited back for lunch as well, so catch last zodiac and zoom to dining room for crispy salads, fish and ice-cream. Zip up to bridge and say goodbye. Draughty neck all afternoon ha ha. Orlova steams in early, Rick radios a plea to go slow. Men appear on rocks as we’re cashing up and franking – they’re from the yacht Esprit d’Equipe. Have to work around them, talk French and stamp. Helen stocks up on garments with Rick. A few minutes in the bunk room, but spy a figure wandering blithely into Control Colony (because the fence/rope has fallen down.) Go out and yell, he returns, no harm done. Then Roger and Orlova are here, more inter-ship parcels to store, another artist-in-residence with his sketchbook, enjoying plethora of sights and subjects. Many fleece purchases, particularly Baby Blue. And some young travellers. A mighty care package from Palmer Station is delivered by Commitment – thanks Tony and son! – ah granola, I’m so happy. Lots of postcards sent, so I keep on top of the franking by setting to stamping straight away. Whiteing out with tiredness. Helen  has cashed up and started in the boatshed by the time I’m done. Down to replenish fleeces; a new box is required, (the only one left in this particular size and colour-way,) and is, surprise surprise at the bottom of a stack, partially covered by sacks of concrete. To avoid further inflaming Helen’s poor shoulder I shove stuff around myself, phew. The others bring up more boxes of books. Then, and only then, a wee relax aaaah. Shut eyes for an hour and think about fidelity. Helen and Rick head onto the rocks for beer and crisps. Come to when they arrive back to heat up soup, excited by sheathbill pecking hole in the tin and fluttering after as it rolled down the slope. Radio scheds. Eat my bowlful propped up in bed. Wash up. Read out Christmas bit of blog. Helen puts stats on computer and I send off updates. Outside the ice crackles and tinkles. Milky hues with some azure and grey. Sing and want to go higher, but bed is calling.

Rick’s on the rocks, glass in hand – watching.

February 28, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

10th January

Wake at six in a strange mood. Ocean Nova is on GMT -2, we have been invited for breakfast before Rick’s talk. Too early for me, but Helen is perky and eager, so they depart at seven-fifteen, with instructions to sweep throughout. Buy the time I’m dressed and swept, visitors are here and I haven’t finished chopping breakfast fruit. Superb weather; passengers bask and ask if it’s always like this. Chicks already panting in the heat. Sheathbills provoking defensive hissing from the penguins. A cacophony of tweets from all over the island. Since the snow cover has all but gone, the gentoos slide-surf down the steeper rocks – they must have reinforced soles – comical to watch. Nice cuppa on deck soaking up the warmth (and finishing delayed breakfast.) Helen is hungry for egg, so I whip them up scrambled for everybody, and we eat on our knees outside. Rick clears away snow and gubbins from back wall so that I can join Helen’s painting efforts (she’d do the whole thing single-hand edly otherwise.) Slap on the bitumen, don’t feel like singing, have to concentrate on not frowning, though I’m happy enough. Make it round past the back door and Helen overtakes to start on the middle gap, in between new and old genny sheds. Balancing on a stack of wood to reach the facia, I see great views of sparkling ice, blue skies, mountains, wisps of cloud. Suddenly notice a person atop the palatial berg over in Peltier Channel’s mouth. There’s an inflatable moored beneath it, several other figures appear, some ice-climbing. What a thing to do?! Carry on painting. There’s a sharp contrast between shadow and direct light. Helen goes to fetch ladder to do the strip we can’t reach. Precarious on uneven slope on soft snow. After covering a few more metres we need lunch and stop for fishy salads. I stay out, enjoying the air, and reflections, and think how it will be to look back on this. Rick joins me with tea. Euronav would like to visit. We make them wait forty-five minutes, for a decent break. Theirs are the voices I heard last night, and they were gallivanting on the big blue berg earlier. Finish painting in the middle, yachties arrive as I’m peeling out of overalls. Helen’s come over all tired, lay down to eat lunch then stayed there. Nice Belgian skipper Dixie, and crew appear, and start chatting to Rick and I – they had been in touch via e-mail over the last year. Notice that we’re being filmed. This team are tracing de Gerlache’s route; In The Wake of the Belgica. Funds have been raised by selling postcards at boaty exhibition/events, signed by all the crew, with a rubber stamp, the ink glows in the dark to illuminate voyage of the original explorers – cool. 300 to post from here (quite a few philatelic,) and 197 more stamps needed. We stick them all on. Rick chats about Alaska, dog racing and friends who’ve changed gender. Get down to franking once they’ve gone, and fill whole counter, and the lounge table. Brain ticks with future fund -raising plan for Port Lockroy. Helen is boiling stock for soup and restocks a few bits from the boatshed. Tinker so that shop is ready for Endeavour. Euronav have lent us a kayak! Wow. Work til all is done (relieved that we don’t need to wash floor. Rick finishes puttying new window panes in the science room. We eat hearty bowl of chicken broth. H and I dress up in waterproofs. Rick sees us off and kindly spots us all the way. So exciting to paddle off round the island, oars dripping globules on the sea’s surface for a second. pass Jougla Point and the yacht Esprit d’Equipe who’ve just come in this evening. Not too close to the cliffs. Stop and glide then spurt forward, alternating energetic bursts with pure relaxing. Think about Woogie Island, but that’s too far for tonight, slip over to express our thanks to the Belgians. Rick’s on the rocks, glass in hand, watching. Only half an hour but SO theraputic. Zinging. I’m starting to consider Rick’s daily waste management chore as penance for snoring. We hear an engine but see nothing.

Good day for a chick count.

February 28, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Posted in Penguins, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

9th January

Eyes ache, so keep them shut. Endeavour doesn’t appear early, or at all, they changed their schedule and we hadn’t got the message. Glorious sunshine. Can only move slowly. Helen very bouncy, goes to faff in shop. Rick lies in too. It’s a good day for the chick count, though it’s hard to decide exactly when to do it, as certainly not all the eggs have hatched. What a funny old season it’s been for the birds. Army guys  stop by briefly, Helen rushes out with (only slightly fermenting) fruit cake from our bakery mountain. Helen starts painting exterior walls with thinned down bitumen (to avoid bubbling.) We start counting at eleven o’clock. There are five different colomns to record, for all the combinations of chicks, eggs and empty nests. Oh my goodness this is even more traumatic than counting eggs; some of the chicks are so wee, and we stir up quite a commotion. Rick is as gentle as can be, each and every disturbance pains him. Have to pause for coffee. Helen is doing a gr eat job with the black (everywhere, including on her socks!) Continue and complete the count. Sit in the sun and tot up figures as Rick dons overalls to join the paint job. Late lunch – tuna salad. Sensitive eyes, stay inside, write a few e-mails, wash up again. Peel, core and chop apples for stewing (with plenty of cognac.) Since the others are painting round the corner now, Rick hints that I might like to think about dinner. Prep veg and hope someone will ‘deal’ with the chicken. In the event, Helen pops it in the oven – oh, I could have managed that. First ever warm yoga. Rick is focussed, if stiff, and concentrates well. He and Helen go for pisco sours. I ponder how to heat three veg in two pans. (Honestly not this useless at cooking at home.) Sneak to boatshed for spinach, toss the potatoes with that, and garlic. The others have the apple, with a liberal dollop of condensed milk (?!) for pudding. Light joistering about Rick turning on computer and wondering off. Out to photograph multitude of fluff. Bewildered to hear voices over towards Peltier Channel. Retire to the horizontal and read an essay on adelies.

Email National Geographic Endeavour with haircut request.

February 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

8th January

Throbbing engine announces Marco Polo’s arrival – they’ve started landing their many passengers at Jougla Point, a few at a time – zodiacs zip. Windy cold and grey today (choose pee position carefully.) Rick’s still in bed on counter when I take him tea. He’s slept badly. Read four days worth of blog and send off. We think Hanse Explorer is a small yacht ship due this morning, and wait for her to come, but she never does. Keep busy with things that need doing, putting out all the caps, franking all the Marco Polo mail – a decent amount, hey hey, Rick brings me tea half way through, he’s installed second lampshade (with parts from other historical bases) in the bunkroom, very smart. He and Helen have brewed coffee and eaten toast. We’re all out of sync. Kotick visits at ten-thirty, I deal with them. Marco Polo delivers post. Helen goes to restock, but Rick’s in the middle of waste management, so she has to stand and watch and occasionally pass him bits of string. Helen and Ri ck slurp on fruit salad for lunch, about two, while I wrote base diary. Marco Polo brought me mail from Ushuaia… I had worried that the arrangement through their Antarctic Tourist Office (set up by the lovely Roberto) had not worked; so an uplifting surprise. Lovely Christmas cards, a birthday Pooping Penguin from Plockton Miriam, Icelandic Voices from Pat law and a sweet Advent calendar from Heather, long letters from Sally and Ian, Susan and Jeremy. Precious. No word from Le Diamant, due at two, so I type for a while. Lots of aromatic nut roasting goes on. Discoverer’s skipper, Andrew comes ashore with a few others to buy more postcards. Show them some of my papery work, as Connor had tried to explain what I do. After typing some more, my eyes start to fail and I feel sick. Migraine Alert. Scared enough to take pills and lie down immediately. Sleep for two hours. Kotick return with mail, and stay for a drink, accompanied by gramophone tunes. Although we have a chicken in the oven, we accept dinner with the French, bien sur. At seven, the radio signals Ioffe on the air; hilarious wee chat with Coz Katie, who’s nearby and loving Antarctica – what a stuff up that we can’t meet! Fail to contact Le Diamant. E-mail National Geographic Endeavour with haircut request. Skim read script of film, it’s hard to visualise, but exactly what we had hoped for. At eight o’clock we join Kotick, on the Peltier side of Jougla Point, nestled in a good wee nook when the wind is right. Cosy, book-lined, effortless hospitality as only the French can achieve. Raisin cabbage hors d’oeuvre, beef and prune couscous, Fer Breton for afters. V. comfy, many twinkles in eyes. Lovely to boat home over still water. Risk snores, trusting to continued effect of migraine pills.

Empty day – bright sun, swimming, a quiet place to sleep in

February 28, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

7th January

Couldn’t sleep through snoring, so tiptoed out with sheepskin, pillow and bag to try out the Post Office counter. Long and wide enough, but much lighter and closer to squawking penguins. Wake at three, cold, as top cover has fallen on the floor. Consider graciousness, patience and turning situations to win/win through the early hours. Because Fram is off this trip, we have an empty day. Sun is bright again. I hear Rick and Helen putter out onto deck with tea and breakfast. (Helen calls it ship’s breakfast because we have so much lovely fruit.) Not really in the mood to eat, so frank whole counter’s worth of post. And then carry up new pack of maps to fold. Rick comes in and we agree to take turns sleeping out. Restock bookshelves with the new boxes Rick brought up. So sunny that Helen continues roof painting in fetching (thinner) neo orange overalls. We go for a run, all in shorts around Goudier Island and then Bill’s. Some rock clambering as the tide is not very low, then in circles. Helen’s chest is hurting so she limbers and stretches instead. Rick and I decide to swim. He fetches towels while I run ’til the last minute to be warm enough. Keep running gear on, which reminds me of WildFitness in Kenya, only the temperature is a million degrees different! Swiftly in off long flat limpet covered rock, it’s clear and icy. Breaststroke for at least fifty seconds before lungs seize up and Rick pulls me out. Jump around elated as Rick swims too. “Take note,” he says “I’m really enjoying this!” We laugh. Sit on rocks in the sun, but breeze is picking up. Adorn ramp with wet stuff and savour cheese n’avocado for lunch. Rick’s in shorts again. Increased wind sends us scuttling inside for tea. After washing up, I fold more maps while Rick takes down Christmas decorations and Helen frets about money – the last forty-eight hours have been so hectic what with yachts in between and too much hurry. At three pm six Discoverer chaps visit (the others are on Mo unt William, inc. friend Connor.) Learn about their various missions and expeditions. They need sixty-two postcards for sending thanks to sponsors and supporters. Send them off with a box of fruit. They’ve kindly invited us for dinner. Helen returns to roof. Rick snoozes. I belatedly write Base diary for the fourth and finish up in the shop. Relieved to hear from Jackie, best ex-neighbour – a long message assuring me that home is still standing and she’s managing the mountain of post; oh thank-you THANK-YOU. Helen had been waiting on the roof for Rick to bring more paint, but he’d fallen asleep… she’s cold, weary, and not too pleased. He goes on up and they finish the job, then go on a mission to find grey caps, even more exhausting. It takes over an hour, so our army-taxi-driver is at the door before we’re ready. He was also delivering post – all 62 cards written! Discoverer is exactly the same kind of yacht as Xplore. There’s only room for us because four chaps are on Mount William. They’re delighted with the quality of our red wine gifts. Splendid thai green curry, ingeniously served in Barbie lunch boxes (lids keep food hot and er contained… black Dr.Who ones reserved for a different watch.) Eat, drink and make merry. Tales of great hospitality at Vernadsky, their sauna with steps leading directly into the icy sea. Rick tells of tricky unwelcome visitors… one menacing group with a dog. See a quick clip of orcas pursuing a penguin, who wisely hops into zodiac-full of delighted (if not so wise) tourists. By ten we’re all yawning, so wish them (the British Army Antarctic Expedition) farewell, manage not to fall into MIB despite impeded flexibility of our orange and blue suits. As agreed, Rick carries bedding through to shop, but the counter is still covered with work paraphernalia, which Helen hastily sweeps off. A blissfully quiet room to fall asleep in, for the first time.

We’re pretty much exactly half way through.

February 28, 2008 at 1:16 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey | Leave a comment

4th January

HAPPY BIRTHDAY special Ellen!!!

Can tell there’s blue sky beyond those check curtains (red gingham, sweetly sewn by Jo.) Breakfast out on deck. Ring Ellen for birthday wishes and speak briefly with Saz too. Bremen, the model of German efficiency, here this morning, punctually. Fine weather brings smiles, and the Captain, wearing shorts. Start at seven thirty, finish at eleven thirty. A brimming crate of festive goodies appears. Philatelic Doctor reminds me to stamp his mail carefully, again. Helen is sniffing and has sore sinuses. It’s warm in the shop, no need for long johns. Goodbye to big tall Gerhard who gives good hugs. Torture to be inside in this weather. The penguins are panting and standing up to air the chicks. Sit out on deck to write up base diary. Rick joins me with an early lunch, he’s going up on the roof, taking advantage of the weather, but gets waylaid by e-mails. Just have to try for some baby chick photographs before anything else. Beguiled by the soft bags of skin, still egg-shaped, al l sleepy. Frank and re-stock. Helen eats cereal in bed, overcome with weariness. I don’t mind. Love sitting in the sun for a snatched lunch. Antarctic Dream starts landing at three. Several Swiss, so enjoy speaking some French. We girls have both been eating too many sweets. Maria Agnes is sweet. Julio too busy to come ashore. Down to the boatshed for more fleeces, I lose the plot a bit, slashing up new boxes when there’s already one open. Rick is on the roof, singing away to his i-Pod. Revel in the warmth. Tinker until shop ready to roll. Rick paints til late. Type for two hours, only five days worth. All eat separately – me early with salmon mayo. Should have exercised, but no motivation. Ioffe has replied – won’t bend schedule so that Coz Katie can visit, because the managing company disagrees with visitor proximity to the penguins here. Rick washes floors. Earlyish night, although heavenly outside. Fourteen degrees in the bunkroom – the others complain of stuffiness. We’re pretty much exactly half way through – these diary books are never going to last.

A barbecue in the snow. The night is sublime.

February 28, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

3rd January

Ear plugs ineffectual. Helen has also been kept awake by similar noises from the lounge. Confusion with teabags, not peppermint, remedied. Ricky also responsible for carrying four cups through to the Ukrainians. Hurry outside for a wee before too many people are about (and out of sight from the Orlova too.) It snowed in the night; penguin and boot prints. Our guests have already had sardines for breakfast so refuse offers of pappy cereal. At eight o’clock, Rob (from Discoverer) brings zodiac round to collect Vernadsky-ites, at the same time as Vlad arrives from Orlova for Rick. We wave them off with a gentle suggestion to let us know if they plan to drop by again. They were no trouble! Half an hour flies by before fleece frenzy and much enthusiastic visiting. When that’s over and we’re re-stocked, cashed and franked, Helen makes perfect egg, bacon and tomato. The yacht Australis would like to squeeze in a landing, and so they do, with a couple of young stamp collector’s to boot. (And two climbers on Jabat, Helen’s envious.) I deal with the punters while Helen goes to the boatshed for those other goodies. I’m pooped. Snoozle for an hour. Usuhaia are due at four thirty and radio when entering the Peltier Channel. Students on Ice; promises to be a youthful, bouncy visit. Eighty-nine pax. Whoah indeed, LOTS of questions and purchases. Straight away after the film interview in old kitchen is wrapped up – no-one told us! – we leave on the last zodiac. Barbecue is in full swing. Berenice hands us a plate, shows us where the crew mess is, and hints that the best meat may be found at the source – the grill on deck. Hunks of meat, fresh nuggets of bread, salsa and guacamole. Rick has gone to shower and ends up dining with the kids, while we share a bottle of wine with the captain. Boisterous up-beat re-cap session led by Geoff. (Helen takes time out for a shower.) Rick and I answer questions including “Do penguins always smell?” and what degrees do we have?
Manage to locate the scribe of two unaddressed postcards and accumulate some final deliveries. Ian Tamblyn sings to an acoustic guitar. The kids whoop and clap as directed. We interrupt a lecture from a Russian astronaut (translated from Russian to Spanish) as we leave. Rick’s been interviewed by a student of Antarctic tourism. Peppers and any other thing from the kitchen we might desire are pressed on us – my pockets are full of lemons. The night is sublime and Berenice drives slowly, our very own cruise, no rush. Only an agony of incredibleness. Rounding the corner, we divert towards Boogie Island (or Woogie, I can never be sure,) and notice some text engraved in the rock ‘B.W. Larvik 1911’ – Rick says he has never seen this before. Do we want to go ashore? Well yes of course, but we’ve got work to do. I have not seen the mailbox so full. I frank while Helen and Rick restock. Listen to Astrid Williamson from Shetland. Helen and I spend a moment outside.

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