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.

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.

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.

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.

The Antarctica Dream has arrived.

April 7, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment
 
   

13th January

*Happy Birthday Julia!!!

RIP dear Melanie.

Coo that fleece eye mask is good. Wake sometimes, but relaxed. Rick brings tea through just before eight, with news that Andrea are offering us a shower and lunch, starting at eleven-thirty, which is ten-thirty for us… so much for morning off eh. Restock quickly, as necessary. Three army guys, including Meiyon, arrive to help Rick dig out the mud (shit) from behind the old genny shed, to aid drainage. 

Helen gets on with Post Mistressy things and even finishes remaining franking. Finally I sit down and type; one hour twenty mins = two and a half days… will I EVER catch up. Rick goes aboard Andrea and I give the labourers stale bread and waxen cheese sandwiches, which go down a treat with a can of Boddingtons. Helen brings out tea and biscuits for afters (including last of Palmer’s decorated Christmas biscuits.) Sit and chew the fat until Rick reappears. Passengers won’t be landing here for at least forty mins. Hands in the washing up bowl when we’re alerted to pax in the shop and Sam’s here to stamp passports. Run in and hop to it. A couple on Andrea were married at Jougla Point this morning. Helen and I, disenchanted, discuss outrageous gestures in order to catch people’s attention; they are so quiet and unresponsive, do nothing and carry on selling stamps. I’m starting to hate people who rip open t-shirt and fleece packaging, then bring a wrapped one to the counter, leaving the other screwed up, unwrapped, in the wrong pigeonhole. Franking next batch when Rick comes through to say Kotick II will visit any minute. A boatful of cheery Brazilians and then one guy, Dick, from Discoverer, who’s come for more postcards. He stays on to chat about expeditions and God children and buys a shopping bag for his mother. At last everybody’s gone. Start typing – another yacht radios, is it too late to visit?  er yes it is, there will be a chance tomorrow. Rick deals with e- mails. Fray Bentos, marrowfat peas and creamed mushrooms for tea. 

Very good. Antarctic Dream have arrived – do we desire supper/shower/ drinks? No energy, so decline, think about watching a film but it’s too late already. Rick declares that he’s starting to enjoy this season. GO and put out stock which Helen has carried up. It’s so cold (snowing) that we turn the heater on. I write to my friend B and listen to the others playing cribbage.

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.

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.

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.

Sit with Mike and Gavin and explain about paper icebergs

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

31st December

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

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