Lie staring, thinking.

May 19, 2008 at 10:17 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

5th February

My top bed cover went adrift, so wake up cold on the PO counter at three. Rick brings tea through just before nine. Lie staring, thinking. Commitment visits at ten. Tony has offered to take me on a jaunt to Palmer for two nights, but that’s impossible. Shame. He buys a lot of books. Australis zip over for a last-ditch post dispatch. Rick, Roger and Tony share coffee and talk lots. Off they go. In theory, this is a Maintenance Day, but two other yachts will visit this afternoon, and the weather (windy, occasional snow flurries) is not conducive to external painting. Frustrating to not be able to relax. Can’t type or ring home because the computer is in use (on and off) all day. Helen has liberated a new row of boxes by the time I reach Boatshed to bring up To + Fro greetings cards. It’s peaceful in there sometimes. After unpacking, lunch is well due. Heat up risotto with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice. Via, with four French pax arrive after two – they’ve come from Tahiti (and Ushuaia) it’s jolly talking French. Half an hour between them and Lady M arriving – only one passenger with her very own Expedition Leader! They bring over a bag of foody goodies. The crew of ten visit too, we are later invited to join them for dinner. EL leads Helen and I to her luxury cabin (with a mirrored ceiling and deep pile carpet) ohmigod it’s bliss! Recline on the day bed and gossip while Helen showers. Then I hop into the cascading liquid warmth, tempted to lock the door and stay forever. The Crew Mess is lovely. We’re on Second Sitting for curry. Meet Jim the Captain, Paul the Ice Pilot, and briefly the other stewardesses and other crew. Very comfortable and kind. They send us back to base with as much milk as they could spare (we were back on Nido rations) and three frozen portions of braised lamb shank – bless them. Quick tour of Bridge, then Helen and I get lost on the way back to the Marine Platform oops. Relaxed and weary, it’s only half past eight! Rick reads, Helen knits and I put images on a CD for Pete. Rick says it’s getting too cold to sleep next door, and that my intolerance to snoring is psychosomatic. Helen dispenses counselling session. I am grateful for the quiet.

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Grey. Glassy calm. Snowing small wet drops.

May 19, 2008 at 10:15 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress | Leave a comment

4th February

HAPPY Birthday Megan!

Adults with clumps of grey fluff in their beaks from pecking their chicks. Admonishing, chiding, exercising their wings. Rick is still in pyjamas when Shane radios from Shokalskiy – he says we’re all up and ready. Helen keeps him focused on breakfast, shaving and into boat suit, cachet in the pocket with the right date (my contribution.) Finish nut/fruit/yogurt melange from yesterday. A real Postie from Dorset delivers our sack of letters form Stanley – more Archers for me, choc from London and Amsterdam ! Thank-you, thank-you! This ship is leaving some packages for another, and taking some of our waste away. Rick and Helen have cleared space for incoming deliveries from Endurance – Helen is supervising to avert utter chaos. Endurance radios, enquiring about local weather conditions and tide levels – visibility is very poor. I take one of the calls and am miffed to accidentally sign off with “Over and Out” Doh! Ah the dear familiar plum is out in the bay, hovering behind a large berg, waiting for Shokalskiy to depart. Two boats bring orange-suited matelots for their first walk ashore in a long while. Some familiar faces, but even those don’t recognise the new haircut. I’m all skittery wondering if it will be possible to leave Helen coping with a shop full and Rick with unloading 65 boxes at the Boatshed – but there are several pairs of Able Seaman’s hands to help, so after humping a few loads, I jump in a RIB and zoom over to the mother ship. Wave at the Bridge. Pleased to see Boson chief at the top of the ladder. Greeted by Dr Matthew who will escort me to the Medical Unit Bath – hurrah! Grabbed first for a quick interview by a crew who are recording for Radio 4 (a snippet on Leading Edge, 3rd April listen again at bbc.co.uk) – they are amused that I have come aboard to ablute. Then to meet Captain Bob, who seems impressed with the Iceberg Library postcards I present him with, and delighted to accommodate my request. So, to bathe – bubbles – a proper soak – moments of luxury. Quickly lather on lotion, dress, and head down to SRM, meeting Dave on the way – he had kept some paper I couldn’t carry, and looked out some obsolete charts – very good. Happy to be in the Mess. Down a cider for old time’s sake. Treated to anything I like from the NAAFI, but all I take are three Eat Natural bars and a packet of Dolly Mixture. Also keen to see Chart Room (journal pages diminishing) but Stationary Drawer gleans no crisp notebook – shame. Good to see Kelly Phots again, up on the Bridge. Boat operations have halted because ship is moving to a better anchorage. Relish the time here, but the last boat is going. Back via a rocky beach near the mouth of Peltier, to drop off BAS scientists collecting lichen. It’s a novelty to see this wall of scree close up, having been part of the distant landscape all these months. Run up the path – Mikheev have just commenced their landing – straight behind counter of busy shop. Already the recently unloaded fluffy penguin cuddly toys are lined on every ledge and tucked into every cranny – they’re lovely! Grateful to Helen for allowing such time out. Relaxed visitors wandering all over low tide rocks and out to Bill’s where a leopard seal idles for the cameras. We take the chance to eat tea and cake with Monica, hiding in the Bunkroom, popping out occasionally – her staff have full control! Soon they leave. Helen is tired and hungry – I know because she repeatedly says so, instead of doing something about it. Down to Boatshed to sort newly arrived stock. Rick unpacks while I heft boxes into new workable scheme. Exciting to discover sets of mini magnets, plenty more membership leaflets and ‘useful implements’ – including a clock, a pink hammer and a retro whistling kettle. Rick rants about junk in an exhausted kind of way. I stay in shop, finding storage solutions and finish franking. Shoulder twingeing from shifting stuff this morning. Shut the door and practise yoga. My turn to cook, with the benefit of crucial ingredient, which Bernd so kindly secreted across – Arboreo Rice. Octopus and Tuna Risotto is well received. E-mail-wise, Phil has replied to query about the appropriate collective noun for penguins – officially a ‘colony’ but he thinks a ‘paddle’ could do… Open parcels, feel lucky. Write. Helen rubs Deep Heat onto sore shoulder. Rick very tired, snoring by ten. Now our propane supplies are topped up we are toasty as the wind whips up.

Keep waking up tired these days, though slept well.

May 19, 2008 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

3rd February

Just going down to the landing when zodiac zooms round to collect Rick – dang! Is nowhere private?! Get ourselves together. Helen’s throat, tonsils and glands are very sore – should she succumb to penicillin? Molchanov’s passengers are apparently unresponsive; the visit is slow and smooth. A small boy from Swansea is anxiously waiting to play with the penguins Afterwards feels like Sunday – want to curl up. Frank first then do so, for forty-five mins. Rick has commenced extending wooden handrail around deck. Helen helps saw. Drag my body up. Helen was on the way to restock. Two skuas are perched above a chick corpse, it’s eyes pecked out. Misty damp cloud draws towards us. Discover two more boxes of info leaflets and a box of t-towels – believed we had run out of both! Bring up postcards and posters etc and unpack. Curry reheated for lunch. Washing up as Antarctic Dream pax appear (had heard hum of zodiacs as they landed at Jougla Point first.) Seventy pax. Maria Agnes’ birthday. Good to see Julio with gifts of wine, jalapenos and unidentifiable black beans. Helen has had genius notion of bringing Tesco’s Finest Christmas Cake up from the boatshed so we can have tea and cake on deck. Rick’s safety rail is nearly complete and it is only snowing slightly. Watch Australis motor in. They radio hello, with plans to land tomorrow, but we expect three ships then, so now is better. Not much to frank. Half an hour later they are here, a jovial bunch, wanting group photos by the flagpole. Roger seems well and is considerate as ever. Mixture of punters; Dutch, Australian (inc. a weaver) and American, having a ball. Helen is painting white on the window frames and Rick is finishing rail, so I hold the fort, chatting away with Tony (one of those Antarctic sea dogs like Bob, who he knows, of course.) Persuaded me to cancel some stamps then and there which I Never do – clearly touched some kind of charm button. Another lady selects loads of items for her staff – she has asked the price in dollars, euros and pounds, then decides it’s all too expensive and puts most back. Sigh. Thought my camera was fixed, but it won’t hold a charge. One technical chap says it is shorting out, but could work if I just put the battery in when needed. Pooped. Rick has prepared enchiladas with remains of bolognaise. Ooh I’m full. Tinker and tweak t-shirts in the shop, hoping we don’t need too much more stock. Tootle down for more plastic bags and pink fleeces, past Gentoo statues, beak tucked under one wing, on domes of rocks. Bedtime for them. Icebergs are glass ornaments scattered on chipped marble table top. Tired and wondering about tomorrow. Others are counting money into thousands, heat cranked up. Pass out on top of sleeping bag… a huge effort to get in.

A disturbed night of wind and engines.

May 19, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

2nd February

Too hot. Wakefulness. At six thirty Endeavour is on the radio. Ten minutes later, we’re ready for the breakfast boat. I savour melon, honey and yogurt in solitude, until Rick and Helen return from showers. Bernd and his wife join us – he has brought mended camera, it was just the battery, hurray and thank-you. I shower and drip dry in the sauna, catching the end of Rick’s talk. Visit goes swimmingly. At the end we fly back aboard for lunch – time for a white-wine-spritzer with Marek first. And sit quiet, until David Stephens wanders by, admiring green slippers. Accompany him to lunch and we sit with curious Bostonians, amongst others, who educate me as to the British-ness of their accent. We talk of Gentoo success and the differences between matriarchal, matrilocal and matrilineal, all the while troughing down five varieties of salad and lamb shank, followed by DIY ice cream sundae. And a hot chocolate, which comes just as Rick tips the off – so a waiter pours it into mug and instructs me to take it with me; funny carrying it across the water. Ship steams off even as Matt drops us off at the landing site. Frank the mail with an irritable head (tut tut drinking at lunch time.) HMS Endurance has mailed – they’ll be here on 4th, and yes, I can have a bath. Sit in the sun for a minute. Dog tired but can’t miss these rays, and H bounces out when she realises. The Doctor on Endeavour has prescribed antibiotics – although she’s on the mend already – it’s hard to recover in cold damp surroundings when the pressure is on. Xplore (Steve and Annie) and their French/Belgian pax (who had all worked together on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan ,) turn up just as I contemplated lying down. They present Rick with an Antarctic Tartan scarf customised with Xplore’s stamp. The guests write lots of postcards then all head off to Vernadsky. Sink into bed and doze for an hour, trying not to feel guilty as Rick paints the outside of the window by my head. Wish I was spread-eagled in my own bed at home, between linen sheets, half way through a good book…soon enough…soon enough. Arise, eat choc bix and fold the remainder of the second pack of maps. Rick suggests that it may be a good opportunity for a chick count – warm and dry. So take Rite in the Rain notebook and propeller pencil (thanks Phil) and walk softly amongst the colonies, counting the fluffy beanbag ones, avoiding affronting pecks. No corpses. Take photos as I go, parents and offspring in assorted poses. The moulting non-breeders look so abject and forlorn – quite hopeless. By the time I’m done, fingers are frozen. Curry is cooked. The red/orange/yellow ship that I took to be Argentinean Navy, is actually the Lawrence M Gould (American Research and Supply Vessel) out in the bay by the Neumayer Channel. Normally they rush past, but radio over; sorry to call so late but please could they visit? Rick has never heard of such a thing and puts them off til after dinner. Great curry and oily poppadums. Reluctant to wash up, so ready the shop. Thought they were landing at eight, Rick lights the Tilley and we wait, but it’s nine before the first zodiac-ful leaves the ship. I stand on rock and watch the big orange jackets come. They are on their way home, having been out in the field; some dazed, others inquisitive. Chat to a few of them, and compare travel notes on South America with the ship’s chef, until he’s the last back on the boat. Rick is already in bed in the lounge, pining for an alternative to insomnia. Helen and I tease him. Lie and think and drift off.

The sun is coming out but I’m so behind with typing.

May 19, 2008 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Observations in Antarctica, Penguins, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

1st February

Another month down! Slept content until six, then lay with eyes shut, smiling, until Helen brought tea through at eight fifteen. Get a scare seeing a dingy full of yachties coming our way, but thankfully they go past and climb the ridge opposite. Lazy franking. Thirteen from Berge Viking visit. The sun is coming out but I’m so behind with typing, deny temptation and manage two short bursts. Polar Pioneer arrive at one thirty-ish, allowing rushed lunch and swift washing up. Helen and Rick have hefted up boxes of books. Helen not only puts them all out, but sweeps through too. I try not to feel bad about having typed instead. Rick goes to talk to the Aussies. Thought we’d said Goodbye to Chris – Bar Lady Big Spender – she thought this trip would just be through the Weddell Sea . Lucky us. Fifty-four pax is a doddle after the bigger ship visits. Briefly meet a Mexican lady who uses glass to produce ice works, don’t catch her name… Frustratingly short chat with sweet Assistant EL. Doc Matthew knows Tara Woods’ parents, and the stretch of beach in Kenya that changed my life (WildFitness again!) Rick fears he’s succumbing to the same bug as Helen. Leave him to sleep. Helen is writing postcards having cashed up and looked at t-shirt levels. Frank the box of mail and lie flat on counter until Helen comes through to listen to my ponderings about love and attachment. Tell you what I’m really missing today; a trampoline. Helen insists on cooking spag bol. Weary Rick sweeps everywhere. I package up more post. Good nosh – an enormous plateful. Rick has had Lemsip, beer and wine. We are not sympathetic when his tummy hurts! Wash up as Helen films the plastic pooping penguins in action. Mesmerised by misty grey porpoising splashes of homecoming penguins far out in the bay. Not quite rain. Try to take pictures of baby sheathbills in the gloaming. I’m so stupid; looked and couldn’t see them yesterday cos they’re brown and wee, not white!

Singing lightly in Thunder Bay

May 19, 2008 at 10:07 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

31st January

Hanseatic staff arriving in ten mins! Glorious morning. Two penguins down on the shore have started to moult; feathers a-flutter like leaves in Autumn. Because this process renders them un-waterproof, they won’t go swimming (i.e. no food) for as long as it takes – poor them! Hide breakfast bowl behind mounds of post and the scales. Brusque start and too many Amex cards to turn down. Some sort of business person’s charter, orgainised this year by Mr Morrison of eponymous mega construction company. Paul Rose (ex BAS) films Rick for BBC website – fantastic. And one visitor becomes a Life Friend of UKAHT wowee a fine day. Nice to see tall Arne, and another German fellow (who had worked on Bass Rock for a season and hence got into the British way of tea for every occasion.) Rick and Helen walk Dave Fletcher, EL on his penultimate trip, down to the landing to wave them all off at the end. I sink into a chair with my face to the sun. Wish I could record the sounds of these Gentoos – who are also revelling in the warmth – different tones of chicks and adults. A cacophony. Sit here for a while with Rick and tea. Hear voices from around the corner of hut; yachties from Vision who’d waited til the big ship had left. New Zealanders climbing, walking and having fun. And considerate of our busy-ness. They look round everywhere smiling, buy small bits + pieces and invite us over for coffee or whatever. We decline, anticipating an afternoon on our own at last, and send them off with a surplus crate of fruit. Frank a counter-full. Conditions are ripe for a glide in kindly loaned kayak. Rick is up for it. Helen, still recuperating, sees us off from low tide rocks by the boatshed. Rick manoeuvres so I don’t get feet wet. Perfectly calm water, icy bits glistening and reflecting like diamonds, paddle dripping and churning. Happy to let Rick, in front, determine direction. We go around Bill’s and out to Boogie Island . Find a low shelving step, hop out and circumnavigate, stopping at the engraving B W Larvik 1911. Limpet shells scattered as carelessly arranged beads, sparkling. Stone warm to sit upon, whaler’s chains, rust stained surface, orange brown flakes. Two wooden posts, still there – no tide or wave in the last hundred years strong or high enough to move them. Paddle back and round, in by Jougla Point to examine the young shags on the nearside outcrops. They are flapping, brown wings growing darker. And on to Alice Creek , where Vision is moored, singing a Native American round (which Jo taught me at an event for Survival International, many moons ago) and then to inspect the information sign by the Scoresby rock (1928) that the others had noticed previously. We’re in Thunder Bay now, where there’s always a risk of calving – glide as close as we dare, swirling up glacial melt dust. Sing lightly and detect oddly oriented echoes. Radio Helen, all’s well and we’ll be home for lunch shortly. Slip back, climb out. Dine on salad, cheese and avocadoes again, yum, out on deck. Take tea and chocolate into shop for another franking session. The ‘to-do’ pile is reducing and mail sacks are bulging. I like the time to think – listening to the Gotan Project and grooving gently. Thought I’d adjusted the ink pad right, but it’s fading already, maybe merely due to the quantity of usage. Having e-mailed for hours, Rick paints the facia board, up a ladder, while cold wind whips round his neck. Helen sleeps. Eventually, at seven, I stop, after sorting the latest boxful into order. Nip out for a pee. Baby penguins curled up, many collapsed flat on stomachs, feet splayed out, wings spread wide. Rick cooks steak and onions for dinner, with carrots and butternut squash. Helen has been counting income from the previous three visits – she had been too ill until now. Eat good-humouredly. Xplore radios their arrival. Viking has moored in the channel between Goudier and Jougla, and Vision is tucked into Steve’s fav spot, but he manages to fit into Alice Creek as well. Cold damp air. Clear counter of mail. Bed down with hot water bottle as wind blows – the yachts are obviously expecting a rough night.

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