Outside to sit on rock and consider the high horizons.

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

30th January

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

Presented with a painting of a chicken.

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

29th January

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

Our best French jokes are aired. Time to go.

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

28th January

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

I am persuaded to wear a little black number.

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

27th January

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


Neon blue bergs in the grey again.

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

26th January

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

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

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

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

25th January

Burn’s Night!

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

I would marry a Dutchman if I could only get my mouth round their words!

April 7, 2008 at 5:36 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

24th January

Rick up at six. Helen feeds him porridge and boils his shaving water. I stay swaddled ’til the last minute, seven fifteen, when Rick is picked up to talk on Maryshev. Sweep, breakfast, mail bundled for dispatch. Chilly fingers but a brighter dry morning, which lifts spirits. Mixture of Europeans and Antipodeans. One Dutch guy buys a copy of ALL the books. They stay for a long time, because Europa are landing at Jougla and they don’t want to overlap. Sunshine burns away the clouds and warms battered emotions. By the end, having franked and typed up a day or so, I realise there’s a chance to call Sarah. Hear her quiet small voice and it’s unbearable to be here, not there, holding tight. She’s still numb. Wracked. Blunder out, sobbing, to let the others know I’m off the phone. Helen hugs me as a yacht passes by in front of us and the crew from Balena come ashore.

They are jolly, love the place and spend an age in the shop. I sit stunned in the sun. Helen paints the white of windows. Rick starts scrubbing down floors. I want to cry and cry, but serve the gentlemen. Frank, feebly sweep. Dan, the EL on Europa, comes to collect us for lunch. This ship has a special atmosphere, jaunty. I would marry a Dutchman if I could only get my mouth round their words!

Because the weather is holding, just, food is served on deck. Funky salads, tasty herbed and garlic butter, beany chorizo soup.

Rick talks in the salon bar. I drift in and out, wanting to watch the water and welling up. The capt/barman says we should mineralise our water – it’s dead, our bones will crumble. Jeez! Another thing to worry about! Dan is interesting; a scientist with a passion for the arts. Through the afternoon, fragments of conversation about pulling the two together, how writers have had a tendency to personalise Antarctica, how scientists could be taught to write creatively…

Need to be in touch about this after March – there’s all sorts we can do. Relaxed landing, accompanied by this intense talking, jotting note and literary recommendations. I want to take time out, to make and read and write An Antarctic Library. After feels like a car crash. We all collapse for an hour, until Alan, EL on Marco Polo, radios ‘Knock knock!’ he’s at the door. In the rain with him are Piers and Heather Dalby, who live in the next village along from home in Somerset, and also, conincidentally, Piers is my step-father’s dentist ha ha. We have a few minutes for a gabbled tour, taking pics, bundling a parcel of cc slips for Rachel Morgan and packing up a present for Neville. Suits on, out in the wet and across to Marco Polo, where the Dalbys kindly let me use their shower. Surreal to be sitting there in undies. Piers thought-fully dials Nev on his mobile – amazing – we exchange a few words (about tax bill! and sisters) amidst this carpety luxury. Great to hear about Justine’s life since we hung about together as kids (I remember swimming pools and horses and good-looking brothers…) Up to Raffles Lounge for a bottle of red (thank-you Piers!) and a buffet dinner. Highlights: cod, battered aubergine, flambé cherries and ice cream. Up to the bar, where there’s a live band and formal dancing. Quick drink with staff, a girl sits near me – the artist in residence – who, it emerges, is Lucia de Leiris, who camped in Woo-ville with Sara Wheeler (in her book Terra Incognita.) Wow. Then Alan apologises; the wind has picked up and Captain is in a hurry, antzy to leave. Don’t neck wine (?!) Hugs to Heather (who’s been drawing with Lucia) and Piers escorts us to the hatch. Long rope ladder down into tender. Back across waves and into bed on counter by ten.

Slept soundly on my bed of stamps,

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

23rd January

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

Franking and hankering.

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

22nd January

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

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

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

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

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

Sheathbills clutter regardless.

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

21st January

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

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

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

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

20th January

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

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

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

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

A tinned dinner and white wine, courtesy of the captain. I read them “Silver Threads” and sleep on counter…

April 7, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

19th January

Evie ‘Eskymo’s’ Birthday!!!

It’s been snowing. Sheathbills were so busy stampeding on roof to plant fresh footprints on deck and ramp, so I do it. Raining now.

Chicks fluff muddying. We’re prepared for seven am landing, but they start at Damoy first, so we have extra minutes for waking up. The staff on Clipper are cheery – we’re pleased to see them – first visit since December, when they were operating on one engine. 105 pax. Including a couple from Ayr, who take a swiftly constructed package for Helen’s folks. Box of much needed veg – cheers. They leave by eleven. Juliette, from Pen Duick VI is left behind, poorly with suspected appendicitis; she’ll stay warm here until her yacht picks her up, to take her to Palmer, where a fourth doctor will offer an opinion before she decides to weather the Drake. A few hours respite.

Three people from Tamara visit. A Canadian guy advises on possibilities of sodden camera recovering, tests battery, dead as dodo – he reckons charging it for 12-14 hours will do it… but that’s impossible here, on the wee petrol generator which runs for a only a few hours at a time. I REALLY miss having the means of a snapshot in my pocket for spontaneous documentation. Frank. Helen goes to try a mini-stock-take, HQ is asking what’s shifting and what’s not for next season’s ordering. She also pulls out currently low items. Big job, too hard to finish in a hurry and she’s hungry.

Carry up boxes damp and muddy. Lunch on salmon, cheese and least mouldy bread. Four credit cards from December have expired, so there’s anxiety about chasing them. H cashes up from this morning, but has lost figures from last night… ooops… it’s hard to keep on top of everything. Sit about with Juliette chatting about sailing/ being here/being French. Rick goes over to Le Diamant for talk, despite majority Francophone around three. Turns out that the staff are French, and it’s an American charter. Charming Hotel Manager brings 828 postcards and two assistants (dancing girls) to stick them on. One man wrote 86 – I promise to frank them carefully. Busy entertaining visit, humorous banter. Finish at 7:45. There was talk of dinner, but weather is holding for Lemaire, so they must speed off. Unfortunate but we’re pooped and there’ll be a next time.

Juliette has been rescued by her boyfriend, and they welcome us over for drinks. Ah but all we can manage is tinned dinner (chicken in white sauce, new potatoes and spinach, with artichoke heart starter…) and white wine, courtesy of Capt. I drink Bailey’s with milk (thanks Bernd!) Helen knits for the first time in months. Rick endures teasing for the scent of his armpits. Long day, finished laughing. I read them ‘Silver Threads’ and sleep on counter…

Seven Weeks and One Day. I appreciate the extraordinariness.

April 7, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

18th January

Sarah’s Happy Birthday! xxx

Staggered start. Multanovskiy radios, alerting us to their -2 status, but they’ll be a little while yet. Kettle on and outside to see that big bergs are still there and a new one is still closer. The original chicks at hut corner are standing together in the nest as their parent loiters watchfully nearby. Somehow I’m caught on the back foot and easily narked and disgruntled by passenger’s requests ie. ‘Could I have a receipt?’ ‘If you insist…’ Delphine is relaxed; happy not to be EL this trip, which is the last of the season for Martin Enkell. He buys some of the marvellous crocheted snow flakes sent down from Florida by a previous year’s supportive visitor. Tired and dozy. Frank. Helen restocks clothes, I do books and all the stuff up here, help carry boxes, then slink off for a lie down instead of lunch. Multanovskiy kindly removed a lot of our waste, but also left sackfuls of stuff for another ship. Rick and Helen sort it all out and many boxes are emptied in the process. Explorer II had radioed to say they’d start landing at two pm our time, but actually send staff ashore at one thirty, so my nap is curtailed. Helen holds fort while I rustle a salmon sandwich together and hence start work smelling of fish. This ship has brought post for us from Stanley – stamp supplies and a few parcels which wait tantalisingly, tucked away at the foot of my bunk. Very nice visit, culminating in slight frenzy at the end, good pace, neither rushed nor slow. Two leopard seals on floes near chains landing. HMS Endurance have located Explorer on the sea bed with their super solar beams. We will leave here in seven weeks and one day – looking at time in that context makes me appreciate the extraordinariness, and wonder about the things I meant to do in these five months. Missing small things. So: Six o’clock, tools down. Open parcels. Helen has a bag of porridge oats and wholesome goodies. I have a lovely funny parcel of treats from sister Jule, including a painted penguin from Sebastian – brilliant! Great to see photographs of both nephew and niece. Pat Law – the love – has filled a box with thoughtful gifts. And the first instalment of The Archers has made it from Sarah and Geoff – essential. Cards from Aileen and Peter Parker, amongst others. So sweet. Silently go frank, cash up and restock in the lightly falling snow. Rick responds to weary summons, carries boxes and refills t-shirt cubicles. Helen has a headache… we both dream of a bath, a long hot soak. Once all done, it is nine o’clock.

Rick heads to sleep in lounge. I had been quite looking forward to another night on the PO counter… There is a yacht moored here and a paper cut out iceberg. Affix glow-in-the-dark stars on the underside of black shelf above bunk and shimmy into bag, laying out clean socks for the morning.

Avoid colouration of fingers. Fill head with meteorites.

April 7, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

17th January

Crevasse lines appearing on Mount Jabat as the summer continues; ‘invisible ink’ writing revealed. If I was a serious artist person, I would have taken the same picture, from the same spot, at the same hour, on each of the 126 days we are here. Hmmm. Capt Peter asks us to breakfast on Corinthian II, but we need a chance to regroup before their visit. And are still bundling postcards and eating cereal when the staff arrive, ahead of Rick returning from his 8:15 talk. French staff lady adds the wool Antarctic Tartan scarf to her collection (she’s looking good in the silk one,) and waits as we accomplish the counting of three hundred postcards and five hundred stamps. A large family contingent are friends with the Jeldwen firm, who have taken over Boulton and Paul – the company who manufactured our building, and many other huts on the Peninsula. Jeldwen sponsored the production of our funky new information leaflet, so it’s great to make the connection. It’s the Captain’s last trip, so I send over a set of postcards. Good to see John and Trevor again. Passengers are also landing at Jougla Point. The Emperor is visible on the shoreline rocks, already a celebrity. We’re alerted to fact that French from a yacht are too close to the penguins, our exceptional visitor in particular. A Francophone issues reprimand and apologies made; it’s their first landing, and, in their excitement, had not been fully briefed on IAATO guidelines. Elevenses on deck, with half a mug of M
+Ms (chucked straight down the throat, avoiding colouration of fingers.) Start writing up belated base diary, but Pen Duick VI land, and I attempt a brief introductory speech in French, and answer questions about penguin monitoring, which stretches my vocabulary somewhat. Helen and Rick push on with exterior maintenance while I serve in the shop, mostly postcards and stamps. Hungry! Lovely ham from Delphin, with mustard on rye. Linger on sunny deck. Wash up as Rick starts to snore. Spend an hour and a half franking. Just when I’d considered all done, I discover the red post box is full of more from Shokalskiy as well as Corinthian II. Listen to J.P. Courmier.

Clouds are a feathery watercolour wash high above us. Investigate new berg with camera and find a Weddell seal stretched on nearby floe.

Retreat to synchronise February’s schedule dates. Helen and Rick have been taking pictures and measurements of Nissan Hut base, for possible future accommodation potential. Sit outside to finish transcribing diary. Rick is still pottering about in overalls, with a jam jar and a paint brush. I persuade him that yoga would be a good thing. Hold poses for longer and work hard. Helen is feeling emotional, having battled with scrape dust. Overtired. She does some stretching later, while I start on dinner. Go through with garlicy hands and crack her stiff back – her bones are like a birdcage. Use third of enormous salmon in a thick, creamy pasta sauce. Drop of good red, courtesy of Uli; sweetheart. Some time reading blog, bringing typing into the New Year, sending it off to dear Blogmeister… The others are already in bed, I follow quietly, and read, filling head with meteorites.

An Emperor penguin is here, exceptional.

April 7, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Penguins | Leave a comment

16th January

At ten to six Rick is on the radio and cheery. Helen (Helen!) makes tea and we rouse ourselves for an early visit from Delphin. 340 pax! Just about swallow breakfast (digging that granola Stacie) before staff come ashore. Gorgeous sunshine and much cheer. Wholly German contingent, many euros and much asking for rubber-stamp cachet (which we only use for passports.) Staff are fantastic, especially Katrina, a natural born saleswoman, who does a sterling job promoting Antarctic Tartan, Rick’s book and my postcards. H nips out for cheese energy snackerals. All over by eleven am, including the lovely surprise of seeing Uli (orig on Nordnorge) who’s been at Jougla all morning and brings us tea. Purser asks if there’s anything we need beyond the milk and eggs Rick has requested. Discover later that they sent over an enormous smoked salmon, ham and bacon too – many thanks.
Delicious. Sit in the sun and stop. We have until six pm. Frank morning’s post, restock rapidly, pause for more sunshine. I’m just skedaddling off for a nap (the other’s lunching on fruit and cheese) when Sandy and another two staff from Marco Polo appear with two sacks of ship’s mail and two large bottles of whiskey. They buy more stamps for their final trip. We sing Sandy ‘Happy Birthday’ which ricochets lightly round the penguins. Ah they also brought a small packet of post for me, from Ushuaia, which I savour in my bunk, before kipping for an hour. Woken by scraping in earhole; rick preparing window sill for painting. Then Shane’s on the radio from Shokalskiy, so that gets me out of bed. (Rick admits later, he’s impressed by my radio manner!) So an hour’s franking for me. Helen comes in from the cold and e-mails. Rick still up a ladder painting eve boards. At six we’re down at the landing site, but ooh, the zodiac is unfamiliar. Actually, it’s full of Frenchmen from Errance, a yacht that we hadn’t seen arrive. Explain that we’re closed for the night. They had read in a pilot guide that we could sell them fuel…er no, bonne soiree anyway. Jamie, who we DO recognise, picks us up. Straight to bar. Dinner with bird man (British, un-PC) an Oz lady, Helen and two Russian photographers (in a group of fifteen.) Veal, salad. Steal a couple of bananas. Sneak off for a swift hot shower, just before Rick’s talk – he’s distracted by us reappearing all clean. Over to shore, easy shop. But discover – Help! – we’re down to our last hundred credit card slips, there could be trouble ahead. Once done, across to Jougla; an Emperor penguin is here, exceptional. It preens and calls and is calm, on the higher ground, surrounded by Gentoo. We hope this creature may stay and moult. Barrel rings and wooden staves scattered in the mud a remainder of whaling days. Time to kayak! Strap on inflation corsets (which secure in seven separate places) and stretch on proper skirts. Me in front, Helen behind with the rudder. Anti-clock-wise on this occasion, choppier. I want to see new big berg close up. Helen panics, finds the waves uncomfortably wobbly, is scared and wants out. I paddle harder (default tendency is to accelerate out of trouble, not always best) and soon we’re round on the other side in calmer water. Another yacht is in; Pen Duick VI. I have waterlogged my camera. Back to Jougla. Twenty minutes was enough. Phil takes me back to Goudier (teaching me to drive.) Helen joins Rick on the ship for a drink. Six jerry cans of water have kindly been refilled and delivered – I carry four of them up to base (causing perplexion later when the others worry that some have been left on Shokalskiy.) Frank for an hour, restock and crawl into bed.

Look After Your Feet!

April 7, 2008 at 5:09 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Journey, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

15th January

There was a loud thud which shook the building at four thirty am. Rick up at six-thirty. We’re not sure when Bremen are coming – they have two slots, starting at five-thirty, booked. Two large chunks of ice are beached on the on the landing site, how extraordinary. The others have indulged in fresh coffee and are sitting out on deck in the sunshine. Hear Bremen on the radio waves, broken, in the distance… something about 15:00 hours… So coffee turns into an extended foot soak session, using Helen’s Tisserand oils, Spirit of Adventure’s exfoliator and Ricks birthday Doc Hauschka Fitness Foot Balm. Our feet are like new; all plumped and cared for. The First Law of Port Lockroy is “Look after your feet!” (The second is “Look after your bum.”) Helen points out how dull it might be living on this island if the penguins weren’t here, despite their noise and smell.

On with jobs: Helen scrapes and sands window frames at side and front, Rick finishes bitumen in the middle and swaps batteries about.

The info packs are dwindling, so I collate a load more, happily humming along to i-Pod. Cold fingers in here, even though the sun is shining. Helen’s getting grunmpy (ie. hungry) but won’t stop for a tea break. Several items have accidentally dropped/fallen between deck slats and need to be rescues from the mirth of sheathbills. Rick does it chopstick style, Helen has constructed a hook with wire and ribbons of sellotape – technique depends on object lost. Watered-down curry soup for lunch. Helen stretches first, back aching. Rick nearly nods off, but Bremen will be here in half an hour. Helen nervy about getting post bagged up and setting counter straight. An immensely tedious visit, four hours, big gaps in between the four groups.

Doctor only has twenty pieces of philatelic mail today. We start to go bonkers, so Helen dons overalls, and paints windows and meets Mr. Delmonte – really! – who promises to send us a calendar with palm trees and fruit, to help keep us warm (in our imaginations, if nothing else.) Cold biting wind, fat chicks totter on the nests, many visitors stay outside to photograph the fluff. Even with just me behind the counter, there is still plenty of opportunity to browse through book (wonderful, published by SPRI) of Edward Seago’s paintings, which triggers creative synapses, pleasing stimulus amidst the nondescript. Immediately afterwards, Rick fries up egg, beans and bacon, cooked and eaten in relay to ensure maximum hotness. Finish first, return to franking, mini-restock. Rick sweeps through, shop made ready. Very early night.

Helen is filmed tap dancing. Light-headed, I eat gratefully.

April 7, 2008 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

14th January

Thank goodness Rick slept well and cosy on the lounge floor, whence he was banished. I’m up for tea duty (for a change!) Snowed in the night and it it snowing now. Rocks are wet and poopy. Discoverer leaves and Antarctic Dream’s engine hum pre-empts the ship steaming into view. Chopped dried fruit today, and yummiest Palmer granola. 

Plenty of time to wake up and prepare for the day. First pax at nine. 

Sweep snow from ramp. Bundle post. Continue writing long letter. Big mixture of nationalities. One fellow sticks extra stamps on a load of First Day Covers, bound for Barcelona – hope they get there. Blizzard (yacht) are in. They have a film crew aboard – ‘On The Water.’ – from Melbourne. First they radio Antarctic Dream seeking permission for interviewing Capt and Julio. Straight away after, they visit Lockroy base, filming Rick while Helen restocks and I deal with crew. They interview me briefly too, the presenter insisting on some live franking instruction. Help H carry stuff up through the snow then she’s filmed tap dancing! Quite funny, but we need to eat lunch before this afternoon’s big ship visit. Munch on gifts left by yacht and ship. Boiled eggs too. Ian radios from Fram, they’ll be here in half an hour, but will head straight off to Antarctic Sound instead of hanging around catering to our ablutions and stomachs – dang! 

Utter blast – 243 pax in good and generous moods. Three hours of concentrating and smiling. At one point I grope under the counter to pull out Snack Box but never managed to dip into it. Gave Ian his wee chart book as he had provided the means to make it. Anya is an Angel in the shop – leaves depleted shelves tidier than ever, ah thank-you! 

Stacks of mail delivered from the ship adding to that posted in our red box. Whack i-Pod on loud and frnak the lot. Helen heroically amassed five boxes of replacement stock while Rick starts the laborious thankless task of sweeping/scrubbing guano from the floors. 

Oh AND he manages to cook up great fruity and not too hot curry. 

Takes two hours to prepare shop for next onslaught. Light-headed. Eat gratefully. Wash up. Rick continues floor cleaning and Helen helps. I have no ounce of strength. When Rick took the buckets a windy gust forced him to run half way round the island and he didn’t spill a single drop! Blizzard is tucked into Alice Creek waiting out the wind, which is rattling our foundations.

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