Sopping suits in the genny shed; splashing over postcards

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

30th December

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

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

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

28th December

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

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

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

27th December

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

An unpleasant breeze through my pockets.

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

21st December

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

Rip-Snorter: something extraordinary, humdinger.

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

20th December

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

I’m having a marzipan baby!

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

18th December

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

An accidental Jackson Pollock

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

17th December

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

Admiring Russian log books, enormous eyes and swimming pools filled with snow

January 2, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

16th December

Misread watch denies Sunday lie. I’m quite in the mood for early Philatelic franking and map folding anyway. Brightness indicates good roof painting opportunity. Rick goes up – his scraping mimics the sheathbills, but louder. He and Helen stop for coffee and croissants, I sip Rooibos, temporarily virtuous. Doesn’t look as though the weather will hold, so painting called off. In the course of helping to scrape, Helen inhales dust of sheathbill excrement eurgh. In a bit I head through thickly falling snow to boatshed to collect some fleeces and cross-stitch kits. Oh the snow! It keeps on coming. Salad and cheese on rye sandwiches. Orlova radios during lunch; anchoring in twenty mins. The visit has just begun when Father Christmas (in the form of Alex the barman) delivers an enormous sack from the catering staff. Ahh! I’m really touched. A Dutch philatelist is SO disappointed that I won’t instantly frank his mail ( I search it out later and deliver freshly inked envelopes to a surprised man in lounge on ship before dinner.) Having folded the National Geographic satellite maps and looked at distant place names, particularly on the far side, past the Weddell Sea where the far flung bases lie, I wonder how to get there, what a whole circumnavigation could be like? How? How? How?! Vlad is delighted that we’ve sold so many of his cds (1000 images of Antarctica for $20!) and brings over some more. Happy that dinner invite allows franking and cashing up in between. Disentangle selves from immersion suits. Rick and Helen shower, I feel clean enough so head straight to bar – washing does cut into red wine time. Phil (ex BAS) gives me a wee tour, including the bridge, where I admire the Russian log books and talk with a navigator-in-training (enormous eyes!) then to the snow-ful swimming pool. There’s no room for us all to sit together for dinner; I share a table with guests, Victoria and Phil. Antennae prick up when Victoria talks of the Certificate in Anta rctic Studies she and her husband undertook. My friend Jean de Pomereau did that too. Hmmm, tempting; will investigate further, when possible… Full of red wine and charming conversation. Vlad whisks us back to Goudier. Chilly in our civvy clothes; quicker to bed the better.

Grey plastic sea, soft flumps of snow

January 2, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | 1 Comment

15th December

Elies’ Birthday Hurray!

Soft flumps of snow catch in curls and dampen my hair. Low visibility. Grey plastic sea, a few shards of brash. Rick goes aboard Maryshev for an early talk. For the past couple of days there has been a lump, like a stone, in the toe of my right rigger boot, which I habitually leave just inside the porch. Usually always in a rush to shrug them on and off, but this morning I tipped it up and out fell a large plastic headed pin from the Inter-ship notice-board! A fine visit; so much interest in the dear penguins that the shop has is relaxed. The light still ethereal. Frank, restock, eat cheese, lie around. Down to boatshed for fleeces, t-shirts, postcards and the elusive red caps. Bremen appears just as we finish. Long slow visit, preceded by the staff bearing enormous crate of fruit and a water-melon. Philatelic exasperation. Possible and minimal infringement of control colony, not easy to see from bunkroom window. Kind invitation to dinner from Captain – last zodiac, hurry hu rry. Amazing Guano-matic boot washing machine, hot refreshing towels and tea on tap for arrival, how civilised. Shown to sauna and suggest Rick goes first. Helen impatient for heat. I stand out on deck in the snow watching it fall against and into dark water, so quietly. Last joining Captain for drinks – splendid red wine. He explains the restaurant is fully booked so we’ll be eating in the Card Room (where the four sacks of mail  have already been carefully stored.) Charming meal, all chivalrously speaking English and telling jokes. Captain reigns! Home warm, clean and well fed.

On not quite wanting to get festive with carols

January 2, 2008 at 5:24 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

14th December

HAPPY BIRTHDAY dear Isobel!!!!!

Is it really morning already? Polar Star in at eight, and Rick goes over to talk about Goudier Island history and the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Swift satellite phone call to sis, who’s poorly, to wish her happy birthday. For some reason staff boat arrives forty-five mins before the passengers, which makes finishing breakfast and tidying up tricky. Passengers blow in with the snow; soaking gloves and freezing fingers, soggy postcards. Staff brilliant at limiting numbers (site guidelines advise maximum of sixty people in the building at a time) which means a queue at the ramp and quite a long visit for ninety six people somehow. Helen banished to her sleeping bag while I frank all yesterday’s mail, until Rick calls through that soup is ready. Spicy butternut squash flavour v good. Restock all by myself, which is soul destroying. Thank goodness Rick comes down to carry boxfuls and help unpack a bit.  Bundle up the wodges of postcards, as the post will soon be bagged up for tomo rrow’s dispatch. Helen is busy working out how many First Day Covers need to be ordered – Anton, in the Falklands, has them ready, together with a sack of post for us. Oh I’m longing for some mail… friend’s handwriting, outside news. Once all ready, lie down for what seems like seconds then Molchanov are here. Flitting to the bunkroom mid-visit, I notice the lounge full of people writing postcards, quiet, like a library and warm, as if they were generating particular heat by concentrating on friends at home. The waves blowing onto the landing have magnified enough to necessitate a change to the boatshed. It’s odd (in a good way) to see people peering into rock-pools around Bill’s Island and Sinker Rock, looking for starfish. Frank this afternoon’s cards with sapping strength. Fortunately no need to restock for am visit. Helen’s cooking spag bol. Rick and I collapse. Spaghetti takes a long time to cook because somehow the ring wasn’t on… good when it comes. Sprawling lazy after dinner. Windy and chill out. Rick wants to get festive with carols, I don’t, yet. Read instead.

Tea and white chocolate cookies in the sun

January 2, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

13th December

Didn’t sleep well as Rick was snoring. Blustery sea blowing onto landing site rocks – almost a wake up douche! Rick thought that Mikheev was coming in at 8:15 but he’d read the e-mail wrong! So, a bit of quiet sitting about and pottering in shop. Helen cashes up from last night. She’s still bunged up with cold and fills bunkroom with vapour from an inhalation in the fruit bowl. Rick’s writing latest episode for Port Lockroy website. Sun pushes through. Ship sighted around ten. Have heard from dear newly recovered cousin Katie that she is still planning to visit here in January, despite having been booked on Explorer. Hurray girl; can’t wait! Even though we may only manage to snatch a few minutes together… Mikheev visit goes well, although I felt flat as a pancake, not ill. Fantastic lunch grazing on remains of barbeque. Out in the sun for five mins with tea and white chocolate cookies (also from Multanovskiy.) Full restock, with some gratuitous box moving (!), until shop i s in tip-top state. Lie down flat with eyes shut. Look forward to Fram coming – watch her stately arrival before catching up on the morning’s franking… which is still drying when first passengers enter the genny shed. Non-stop good fun, but sauna/shower hopes thwarted as staff have been struck poorly with projectile vomiting. Helen goes to cash up in the warm, throat still tender. I restock all the ‘up here’ stuff and compile a list of what’s needed from ‘down there’. By the time that’s done, Rick (with Helen’s help, cos both radios became Hot lines for a moment there,) has plated up roast vegetables with cheese sauce. Just washing up as Julio and his assistant walk in with fruit, wine and postcards. Stop for half an hour talking of broken crank shafts and uncomprehending pen-pushers thousands of miles away. Explorer II is passing, and sends over a zodiac with 344 postcards and cash for more postage. Insist on sticking all stamps on before bed, which is late. Now can someon e turn the light out? Oh no, it’s Antarctica, eight days before the longest one.

The engine in my chest

January 2, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Journey | Leave a comment

12th December

There was a ship nearby all night. I could feel the engine in my chest, but no-one else did. No visitors until four today so porridge in bed. Helen is poorly, slumped on her pillows, Rick is up and at it, and I’m somewhere in-between. Start unpacking the stuff Helen carried up yesterday (during first part of egg count) and folding t-towels (they come in big clumps of ten) and straightening up lines of postcards. Helen, who should have stayed in bed, and I, go to boatshed to search for a rogue box hidden, we suspect, in the depths of third row back. Much humping and grunting on my part (very warming) and systematic diagram drawing (for future reference) on Helen’s. Find Large Steel Blue T-Shirts and reconfigure the stacks. Good job! Walk up through the gentle snow for a cup of something hot. Fold the new National Geographic satellite maps into quarters – the perfect task for a bookbinder and her bone-folder – and settle them into a slot on front counter. Fiddle about moving s tickers and books through from science room until curry soup for lunch. Type and type away (about a week behind) until battery runs out. Multanovskiy arrives on schedule. A ‘People to People’ charter, extra space filled with an assortment of passengers, including some booked on Explorer. Barbeque invite taken up by Rick and I, but Helen feels like a QNI, rather than talking outside on deck. We leave her with instructions to do nothing. Kind Tula sends me to the sauna for a shower, assuring me that it would be empty. Walk in naked and am greeted by a bathing-suited couple ooops. Chat, then scrub and lather. Straight out to prow for favourite steak, chorizo and salad. Talk with ex-BAS, NZ, Argentinian and Brits on holiday, also IPY stuff with Geoff. Drink gluwein until too cold and crew are hosing down the deck. The doctor has promised me a bath (in the medical room) next visit ha ha hurray. Into bar for a quick drink and then Geoff drives us home, laden with boxes for other Qu ark ships, a box of barbeque leftovers and a box full of DVDs to borrow. Helen’s fine. Out into the calm night for a pee. We heard a thunderous noise a few minutes ago; our protectrice iceberg is no more! Toppled and divided, it is reduced to two chunks and a welt of brash. Splash marks on landing site rocks indicate quite a wave. I’m sorry she’s gone. We can’t hide anymore.

Things are looking up for the penguins!

January 2, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Penguins | Leave a comment

11th December

My glasses have disappeared! Instant panic. Takes a while to find them – on floor in darkest corner, behind boxes, having fallen through the bed slats. Snowing so much the penguins are drifting in again. I heard a ship and said nothing. Polar Pioneer are here, expected this afternoon – our schedule is not up to date. Sweep snow off ramp and welcome them in. Australian adventurers. Rick’s lost hat found (despite fresh snowfall) on Jougla, phew. Lingering and contented visit. It’s gotta be lunchtime. Benefiting from fresh delivery, Helen puts garlic mushrooms, bacon and egg in front of us yum yum. Perfect time for egg count. Rick is great at lifting each brush to catch brief glimpse of nest content. Even so, it’s quite traumatic, for them, and for us. I mark the tally in pencil, and watch for skuas (who are notably absent.) Most of the nests contain two eggs; things are looking up for the penguins! Due to all that bending over, three-quarters of the way through, Rick needs cof fee and the sky has cleared, so a veranda break… While Rick e-mails, Helen takes over the lift and squint position. We soon finish the Mast and Screen colonies. Far too brilliant outside, so stay out on the step. Write up the figures – one less nest than we’d counted last time, so that’s good. Helen sets wee stones on the ramp to ‘help’ nest builders. Watch lonesome lady penguin who we fear has lost her love – and has an egg with no nest. She needs to feed but then sheathbills steal her egg. All forlorn and shaking. Our very own soap opera (- there’s violation and adultery too, but this is the abridged version.) Stay until sun disappears from deck, talking about bikes and why they’re so great. Make a very orange curry for tea. Too hot for me, tone it down with lashings of cream. Drawn outside; the light and life are wondrous. Look, shoot film, look. Intensely present perfect. The sounds of snow edges slumping into the rising tide, distant avalanche explosions, and noisy ice bergs tilting on their axes. And all about the penguins, doing their busy birdy thing, or just stopped and looking too. Macro lens on camera captures some feet and beaks in particular. Wrench away to go inside. The others drink hot toddy, ailing. I’m ok. Sheathbills stutter and stampede across the roofs of our sleep.

Penguin paths/dots of nests/swathes of ice/glacier edge/mountain/high grey sky

January 2, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

10th December

Still water, crisp air. A penguin flip flups up ramp, seeking nest stones – pecks at Helen’s foot and stands on door mat looking up at her. Lovely to glimpse Europa’s rigged masts from our window, there past the control colony. Collected nine-thirtyish  and straight round to Jougla Point on Wiencke Island. Amazing to finally step ashore on land that we’ve viewed in the near distance, and never touched. Apart from numerous gentoo there is a colony of blue eyed shags (-twenty nests Rick counts.) Decide not to conduct a major count, as I believe Oceanites did one recently. And we have an hour and a half. Tjalling guides us on an uphill walk. Unbelievably good to step out and stride along for pure pleasure. Great views and a different perspective of our wee rock. An aerial view of land and coast, penguin paths, dots of nests, then reflections, swathes of ice, glacier edge, mountain, high grey sky. The snow is hard to move in; sometimes firm, sometimes sinking. Alpine graphics of  granite and white, muted lichen. Stand on rock at the top appreciating lines and ridges, hundreds of penguins massed in dark water, foggy clouds on the heights. Pause, biscuits handed round. Tip over onto Peltier Channel side – now I understand where it goes! More snow here, slight sastrugi, steeper. Move round the slope. Above Alice Creek there’s a swoopy dip which we slide down. A few snowballs, continue through deep snow to meet the boats (after several hilarious leg-in-up-to-the-crotch incidents.) Ten minute cruise in along the glacier, but not too close. Immense mysteries in cracks and crevices, indescribable spectrum of pale blues. Sit in the bar with a warm mug, until lunchtime. Most of the passengers and crew are struck with grim flu. (We pray to avoid catching it, with vitamins and Echinacea.) Delicious chicken empanadas with refried beans and some magic rye bread. Leave Port Lockroy under engine; we’re catching a lift to Damoy to check on the hut there. Exciting to  go beyond perimeters of our existence, even briefly. Say goodbye to Europa, who will sail slowly on, while two crew whisk us in to Dorian Bay. Avoid shallow reef. There’s a handful of penguins on the pebble beach. The new sign on door and snow machines removed signal recent BAS visit. Glimpse inside; bare bunkroom, basic kitchen – a historical pageant of foodstuff and memorabilia of guests past. Walk past smaller Argentine hut next door through still deep snow. Putter back to Goudier, intending to count penguins, but collapse into bed and sleep instead. Wake about an hour before the others. Force down boiled eggs on bread and scrummy nuts that Rick has toasted. All in the mood for slumping in front of telly; so we watch an episode of Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole that came free with a Sunday paper. Entertained by dusty exploits in the Sudanese desert, all tucked into Rick’s bunk, computer perched on table. Still only nine thirty… what shall we watch now? Slide in Rod’s (fro m Nat Geo Endeavour) rough cut DVD; a compilation of Super 8 footage from dog sledging Adelaide, Stonington and Fossil Bluff in the 50s and Deception eruption in 1969. Rick takes pre-emptive Lemsip. Last minute e-mail replies after everyone else has checked theirs. Last one to bed. It’s really light. Can’t get comfy.

The most delightful morning

January 2, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

9th December

The most delightful morning. Rick disappears outside straight away (with book and nail varnish) we follow with porridge and more tea. And sit in the sun for a couple of hours, marvelling. I go snapping on the rocks, with a new lens on camera – incredible difference for close up shots and depth of field – lovely. Quite content. The penguins are panting in the heat – wish we could spray them with a hose, most are off in the water anyway. We’re out of water, but take advantage of the weather to scrub shop floor (with a tea cup full of water) then mop, then dry with a towel. Down to chuck slop (with camera) Antarctic terns nesting there pose obligingly. Rick has offered a prize for this season’s Dominican Gull picture. I’m not inspired. Helen and Rick create an underbunk storage solution for her boxes – a original lip made them annoyingly hard to access. A five minute job (according to Helen) takes hours. While Rick does the drilling and screwing, Helen and I go to chip ice! Bri efly watch the penguins – four chinstraps and one adelie. Rick’s raring to run. By the time we’re ready, the tide has risen, barring our circumnavigation. Brisk wind. Run round and round the rocks for half an hour before knees give in. Retire to warm genny shed – hurrah! – for yoga. Rick joins us later, somewhat distracted. Then Helen sights Bark Europa, emerging full sail from Peltier Channel – a three masted Dutch adventurer, a veritable pirate ship. Run outside to wave and admire through binoculars. Rick observes there are few women onboard. Beautiful. Grab a sandwich and hurriedly tidy our mornings doings. Skip across to Europa for Rick’s briefing. All forty pax out on deck, with a large bowl of oranges, smiling; what a way to be in Antarctica! For the first time it’s possible to get our surrounding glacial cliffs in perspective – tallest mast is twenty-eight metres high. A minke whale shows a fin. Quiet visit – such a different feel from the larger ships, sell a lot of p ostcards. Dutch mostly, some French…By the end, Captain and Expedition Leader are in the kitchen drinking tea, engineer comes to get us – the last tender is waiting…and stays for a cuppa too. Over for our first deck barbeque. Shower first in a cosy wooden four bunk cabin. Hot water bliss, clean fluffy hair (came unprepared.) Then up to bar for a drink – I have the sensation of being in the observation lounge of an old train. Jovial chatter. Food is ready; table heaped with salad and garlic/whiskey dressings, pork marinated in ketchup and fantastic kebabs. Congenial company. Wee tour. Panatone and tea. Barbeque becomes a crate wood bonfire, which we crowd round to keep warm. Sunset palate glows with silver grey light from the wooden deck, between many ropes. When it’s time to leave, a leopard seal playfully performs on the submerged lip of an iceberg, right by the ship. Suspect she may toy with our inflatable, but ride home is calm and content. I do like the Dutch; being on Europa makes me want to be in Amsterdam again.

Icebergs disperse into fresh configurations. Rick dreams of being a cowboy.

January 2, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress | Leave a comment

8th December

Yes, there’s the sound of an engine, and the sun’s full bright, but there’s no ship to be seen. Down slippery path to an ice garden spread over the smooth sea surface. Cold wind on bare skin! Since it’s glorious blue sky day, Rick encourages us up tower to take pictures of the ice. I’m third up, bringing radio, and still too scared to climb onto platform. Cling on with one arm, and shakily try to manoeuvre camera – there’s a great aerial view of the boat shed colony. A chunk falls from nearby glacier with a rumble and all the penguins hush for an instant. Radio crackles to let us know Mikheev is arriving. They are anxious about ice conditions, Port Lockroy looks inaccessible, we can reassure them. Climb down and loiter on solid ground, taking pictures of a chinstrap pair and the like. Sunny visit, lots of euros and no small change. Several Swiss, so I get to speak French. Diana, the EL, proposes an aperitif onboard – what a treat – slow zodiac ride through the icebergs, and straight to bar for a pisco sour (tantalising lunch smells wafting,) nuts, chat, quick tour of bridge ooh and the first Russian navigational charts I’ve ever seen. Back, glowing, to our veranda with Tabasco-ised stew. Wind has risen and changed direction, ice from the back bay glides by and out. Helen nips to top up medium t-shirt supplies, otherwise we’re all set. I admire surroundings and contemplate personal flaws. Rick mops bunkroom floor. We sweep and tinker. Helen attempts to remove two specks of dust from her camera’s innards. Sit out to transcribe base diary (from this one) next to Rick, who’s dreaming of being a cowboy. Andrea had radioed to say they were landing at Jougla Point first. (Half an ear for the buzz of zodiacs.) Look up to see passengers here already, walking up the ramp. Leap up, sell lots of stamps. Sixty-three visitors soon pass through. Find a pair of sunglasses as they’re leaving, run down to landing, where we three stay, for a long time, sitting on rocks, until I, chilly, go and put the kettle on. Icebergs are dispersing into fresh configurations just as photogenic as the last. Helen cooks up delicious chorizo pasta. Read aloud four days of blog for approval before e-mailing it off. Early bed for a decent read.

The whip round of a ship

January 2, 2008 at 5:11 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

7th December

Six am ship’s in. Time to get up. Quick tea and porridge. Explorer II radios through the instant we turn it on. Larry appears fifteen minutes later, with staff and flasks of hot drinks (Matz tea experts!) It has snowed in the night. Shop’s busy, Joe and Victoria bring us tea, having washed up and packed up – they’re catching a lift home today – quick goodbyes. Half way through visit, (pack ice having necessitated move to the boatshed landing,) the decision is taken to curtail, as that brash has moved into in to our bay and rapidly blocking access. Last hurried transactions and hugs, standing beside a well camouflaged  baby weddell on the rocks. Wind is picking up; there’s a chance we may be isolated for a while. The film crew is away – we wish them Happy Birthdays for tomorrow. Lumber up through snow, admiring our new fleet of icebergs, including a new mate for our protector wedge. Helen fries up egg n’ bacon brunch and brews fresh coffee. Welcome pause in proceedings to cat ch breath. Rick responds to e-mails. Helen writes up yesterday’s long day. I sit on bunk and think. Frank Explorer II mail. Helen completes stock list. The boatshed has a fine (sometimes gunky) layer of guano and bits of packaging all over the floor; therefore inadvisable to drop anything. Several trips up and down. (Heavy boxes of cloth, and plastic bags.) Make soup from left over potato, tired celery and blue cheese. He says the best one so far. Orlova braves the brash (and see a humpback in the bay on their approach.) Passengers felt rather battered by the weather during their Palmer visit, so are quiet with us. A few parcels spice up our Post Mistress existence. Conditions threaten to crap out, so this visit is also aborted. Learn that the ship had a whip round on hearing that our Christmas post had sunk with the Explorer – we have a mysterious plastic sack-full, not to be opened until 25th! Ahhh. Meet the Orlova/Quark artist in residence, a photographer – her partner has invented a bookbinding machine, must check it out when there’s internet access. We talk about International Polar Year. She has an exhibition in Washington that she’d love to tour… Wondering if I’m missing all that stuff, this enforced separation from creativity. Prefer not to miss what I cannot have. Conditions threaten to crap out, so this visit is also aborted. Wind is rising, penguinsd are returning from their feeding swims. Eyes start to prick with accumulated tiredness. Funny readjusting to absence of film crew, back to just three. Helen e-mails official figures and long overdue personal replies. Rick cooks a plain stew with chick peas and red cabbage. I pass on plums and custard, sit and stare. We talk about being here and being grateful. I take slop bucket down to landing. Ice jostles almost silently. Our new iceberg collection is magnificent, spreading into the middle distance, white on white in the flat light. Take a few pictures, but it’s more about remembering.

Helen reads out loud from some of the children’s books. I sleep, chastened.

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