Taking it in turns to be interviewed

January 2, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

6th December

Blink and hear snow falling. And a ship’s engine – Maryshev. Outside to find flat calm sea. Good porridge. Quick stock. Rick and crew go across for talk while we rush to be ready. Relaxed visit, fifty passengers, which does not last long. Cram in three slices of bread and butter before plodding through snow to boatshed. We’re taking it in turns to be interviewed, so I start amassing fleeces and children’s books into cardboard boxes and searching for grey caps, while Helen does the Post Mistress bit. She saves the day by coming down just in time to find the t-shirt varieties – her speciality. Interviewed cross-legged on bunk with hand-bound diary on knee. Fail to say anything sparkly or revelatory – they’ll only use it for snippets anyway. Limited moments to assemble disc of images for film crew to carry back to UK for Rachel Morgan. Rick stirs up lentil soup which hits the spot. Film crew generously lend us their satellite phone for a few minutes each – all I communicate wit h are ansa-phones, and a few fragmentary bursts with Barbie – a treasure nonetheless. As Helen has her go with technology, stamping outside on the snow, she sees a strange man (Richard actually) walk up from the landing – Endeavour had tried unsuccessfully to radio us, and so turned up to collect Rick anyway. While customary introduction is going on, Joe and Victoria capture some penguin counting on film, up at the mast colony. It’s blizzarding in my face (preferable to clogging up the lense) so I can’t see much. Doesn’t take long. Run down ready for visitor’s arrival in shop. Staff first, friendly faces and news. Some folk from Palmer Station (our nearest neighbours, eighty miles away) have come on a jolly. Lovely to meet them, especially Kim, their artist-in-residence, who made an inflatable iceberg in their bay (something I wanted to create for the launch of International Polar Year in Paris, but lacking a budget.) Desperate to talk icy art with her, simultaneously debating clothing sizes with Americans. We vow to keep in touch and swap addresses. I’m practising swing-vaulting out over the counter like a cowboy, without disturbing Helen, which amuses me (and worries Helen!) Kindly, funny Captain Oliver is going home for Christmas, and then off to supervise another ship; Goodbye and Farewell to him. Most brilliantly, Endeavour’s radio engineer smilingly arrives with his tool-box to fix our aerial. Absolutely particularly excellent as we can test communications with his ship and with Palmer too. Now we’re properly in touch with our immediate world. Hurray. Lisa, (Eareckson Trotter) another friendly face from KK trip, will be aboard Endeavour until March – it’s good to see her. Once all departed, I frank mail and discover a photo-postcard of Explorer sinking: A startling image as we have seen no newspapers or internet pictures. Because we anticipate a seven am visit, money must be counted and shop re-stocked. Rick heroically produces dinner – eve n popcorn – while Helen and I pluck garments, books and t-towels from various corners. There’s a ribbon of brash out in the Neumayer Channel. Last meal with Joe and Victoria Rockhopper; beer and tales from Outer Mongolia. Still a small amount of night sequence (lounging about reading/writing/knitting in pyjamas) to film, involving Helen lighting the Tilley lamp. Joe shoots inside and outside. A long, long day. Please turn the music off.


Frank in the half light

December 17, 2007 at 8:48 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination | 5 Comments

3rd December

Moved my bed 180 degrees, so that the midnight sun may pass over head instead of into eyes. Not sure if it’s an improvement. Flash of metallic sun through open curtains. We’re ready for Mikheev. Take some time to further absorb facts and figures on the information posters in anticipation of film crew’s questions. Helen cleans the Loo Bucket Salon – pine fresh! and also fashions blocks of wood to stop her stack of Thermarests sliding off. One passenger tries to buy a wooden plank from a 1944 expedition crate – she’s very surprised when we explain that it’s not for sale. Lots of Spanish visitors. There’s a seal again, on the island with no name, I can’t tell what kind, even with binoculars, and walk down to look – an emaciated weddell. The Ushuaia steams in from Peltier Channel at two thirty. We are ready, just about. Monica the (lovely) Matriarch and her staff arrive. Rick carries her bag (full of passports and her delightful watercolour postcards) up to the hut. Cups of tea all round. The ship has been chartered by a group of Japanese who are cruising round the world. They are very excited about shopping and bring a fantastic translator, who patiently explains everything as well as helping me add up and bag up all at the same time. Quite an onslaught, in a good way. By the end, we have sold a lot of stamps, and penguin USB charms. In an extraordinary random act of kindness, one gentleman, who appears to be sporting a pair of oven gloves (in place of the more usual polar hand warmers) bows and donates them to us! The amazing thing is, we were really wishing we had some, as folded thin tea towels are not quite heat proof enough. Well wow. We have one hour to turnaround before dinner. Monica and Captain are so kind, they have been deliberating on wine choices to go with our meal, and arranged the loan of cabins with fresh towels too. Rick and I frank, Helen cashes up. Make stock list, whiz to boat shed, and it’s already immersion-suit-donning-time.

A well-lubricated funny night, with numerous passenger photo ops. We have been given the most enormous tub of dulce de leche (I could fit my whole face into it,) a crate of fruit (Rick reluctantly had to send two back) and two huge chunks of meat… when we mention that a bit of bread would go down well… THREE boxes, with SEVENTEEN loaves in, is secreted ashore. Oh thank-you for everything. The Japanese have written about a hundred more postcards since their landing. Tip back up to our hut, frank in the half light, climb into bunk

Write twelve letters, some with big writing

December 17, 2007 at 8:46 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

1st December

Blowing a hooley and snowing a bit. Cold in sleeping bag. Polar Pioneer had scheduled a local climb today, seems far too windy. Small discussion about breakfast time – so early yesterday that Helen and I were hungry behind the counter by eleven – hard when we’re not sure how long we’ve got before a landing, the scheduled slots are necessarily broad. Rick has cereal, Helen cooks porridge a little later. The ship calls Rick over for intro talk. Since outside is a bluster, Helen and I stay behind. A few extra minutes of solitude. Climbing cancelled so shop and museum has extra indoors appeal. Large percentage of Australian passengers. Lovely, lovely cooks bring us more extra special treats – sun-dried tomato foccacia, roasted garlic, pineapple and strawberries! What loves! Fifty-eight passengers makes for a short-ish burst. Lunch on chicken soup, the bread and garlic, chopped pineapple. The bunkroom is warmed up, post goes tomorrow, so me and Helen have mail to prepare. Rick li es down, in anticipation of crazy few days ahead. Helen writes postcards, I burn new disc of blog images and paint borders for letters. Helen reads aloud from Rick’s book once he’s awake – a horse auction – while we decide whether to yoga. And I finish painting. We make it through to the chilly genny shed with our mats, and it’s good, though our flexibility had lapsed. Saw a weddell seal on a little islet by Bill’s – the others thought it was a rock – later it moves, so i’m vindicated. Yum modest serving of carbonara from Rick and, fantastically, strawberries and cream (In Antarctica! In a blizzard!!) Write twelve letters, some with big writing. Step over the hill with Helen, waves are slapping and the snow is soft and deep; a giant petrel swoops over, working the wind. That was my one and only step outside today! Some of us are lovesick; we drink Jagermeister and imagine our perfect days. Much harmony. Frank post and leave to dry over night.

Box-toppling in the boatshed

December 17, 2007 at 8:45 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

30th November

Still bright, fresh north-easterly breeze. A floe of four weddell’s floats past Bill’s Island slowly. Take pictures of Helen’s rolls of notes, looking like a dollar forest, and bundle yesterday’s mail too. Rick is hungry for porridge, which we eat before Shokalskiy radios over inviting us for breakfast – doh! – Rick goes aboard to give his talk. A moment to plan some letters with special stamps on – mail will be dispatched on 2nd December I think. Wind whistling and pressure falling… oh no is that a storm brewing? After Rick promised that every day would be sunny from now on ha ha! Scrape sheathbill deposits from ramp; an ongoing futile endeavour to prevent it spreading through museum on people’s soles. And then spot one of them with a sock (!) disappearing beneath the generator shed – Helen sprints round in hot pursuit and rescues the singular article. (Rick’s, set to dry outside, after running yesterday.) Shokalskiy pax appear, including several jolly folk who join up as  Friends of Antarctica – hurray! And a Swedish camera woman taking footage of everything for a national news channel. She films me cancelling mail and is interested to see all aspects of our life, charmed by the bunkroom, and delighted when Rick agrees to play the gramophone for her. Oh but we’re hungry so bye bye tea and toast, too impatient to wait for ‘proper’ food that Rick is making – veggy noodle soup… Make up more mint sets and package more First Day covers (the ones we’re running short of.) Fix shop ready for next visit. Re-stock: Quite a few heavy things. First box-toppling incident in the boatshed – but no damage done – won’t be the last. Finish putting commemorative coins into fiddly plastic pockets. Stomach has been cramping. Prepare envelopes for my special people, with whole penguin sheetlets – so cool being able to frank them too! Rick snores loudly for duration of his afternoon nap. Helen’s mini woollen bobble hats are brilliant. Start cooking at six-ish, wh ere did the afternoon go? How relaxing not to know? Chicken and spinach stew, which refuses to thicken – serve in a bowl with wedge of carrot and potato mash iceberg… Type up a couple of days. See how penguin highway is developing into quite a rut. Shimmy into sleeping bag worrying about the week ahead – two ships a day, film crew coming, Rick to Damoy with BAS and the first penguin count to do…

Thinking about Ali Smith’s enthusiasm for the spare and simple

December 17, 2007 at 8:43 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

29th November

Sunny bright morning. Crunchy snow down to landing, where whaler’s chains are emerging from the melt. Quick porridge (extra milk) and prepare for Clipper’s eight am arrival. They come with news that Andrea is also visiting this avo. Make mental note to ask for an updated ship’s scheduler. Ah I’m extra-grateful for yesterday’s nap. Nice visit – mostly due to relief that they were not in Drake’s Passage… They love the museum and the well-stocked shop! Some lingering, but I’m starving and another ship is due, so disappear to refill shelves. Helen fries up potato patties to go with last night’s casserole. Rick erects our new comfy garden chairs and we eat watching the mountains. Tropical fruit in tropical weather. V. tempting to strip off and swim… but no sign of a shower for days, and er, there’s a likelihood of heart-stopping chilliness. Drag myself inside to frank mail. Rick drags me outside to drink tea. Whisk to boatshed for fleeces and caps. Help cash up and sit in the  sun. Andrea lands at Jougla first, which gives us some breathing space. Fifty-eight pax. Right at the end a few crew come in; one says he hasn’t time to look properly this trip, but I insist on showing him our digs and the radio room. He says it’s very like Macquarie and I say D’you know Mary Ann Lea? And he says she’s my partner! So I give him a big hug. Wow. She was ace aerobic ping-pong player and Marine Biologist on the KK… Good to meet you Sam. Once we’ve waved them goodbye, the last of the sticky toffee pudding and sauce is warmed up, which we eat basking in the sun, and plan a run. The pingu are doing a lot of their loud yodel/gurgle thing today; because it’s hot? Or because the unborn chicks need to hear how to recognise their parents? I’m reading Tove Jannson’s book ‘Fair Play,’ and thinking about Ali Smith’s enthusiasm for the spare and simple. Special chance to see how light and cloud changes Mount William. And the rippling water reflecting a million sparkling s tars. At five we’ve agreed to exercise, and change into shorts and t-shirt it’s that warm. Helen prefers to practise corpse pose. Me and Rick run around rocks and mini-islands, Have to concentrate on foot placement and not think of twisted ankles, or fall in the water – it’s SO clear. After twice round Bill’s (and crawling under wet dripping ledge once, tramping through soggy snow once) my knees are twanging. Rick continues all the way round and I find a warm flattish spot to stretch and breathe in the glory. Stand still so that the penguins aren’t afraid when they flop and whap out of the sea, and stand themselves, plumping up feathers and shaking off the wet. Back to find Helen prepping Fajitas and it’s Pisco Sour night. Climb slightly further along past landing chains to find the perfect rock that’s facing the not-at-all setting sun. Sit and drink and soak up the quiet ripple, gilded outlines, many ranks of penguins porpoising in wave upon wave. The talk is of love and age – the only subject on a night like this. Slush up through porridgey snow, past an empty egg shell discarded by a skua. Dinner is superbly chickeny with jalapenos. Hurriedly fill in yesterday’s base diary entry so that Rick can write today’s fresh. Finally send Sarah belated birthday love and thoughts. Helen is knitting something small, blue and fiddly, which amuses her. We’ve been listening to Brothers in Arms and now Eddie Reader. Bright wide awake light outside. Sleeping bag tired in this corner bunk. Rick reads us more ‘Of Dogs and Men.’.

Glimpsing address, language, love, signature

December 17, 2007 at 8:39 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

26th November

Can’t quite move. Don’t want shoulders to be colder. No word or sign of KK. Bundle up all Endeavour mail cancelled last night. I love catching glimpses of addresses, languages, love, signatures… Decide what needs topping up in the shop. On the way to the boatshed we’re careful not to lose our empty boxes in wind that is pulling and pushing the cold. Penguins stand askance. Takes about an hour to re-stock, then another exploding boxes, displaying, primping, storing. The KK does not come. Bremen arrives as planned. There are shovel ‘markers’ to stop passengers treading in the mud melt below hut nests. A friendly visit, I, however, become grumpy; patience tried by philatelicism. Bremen folk leave around six leaving two boxes of food i) fresh veg including celery and onions ii) meat, including guinea fowl and a tongue! lovely cheeses and sausages. As one ship departs, another arrives – this one momentous – Hurtigruten’s new star of the fleet, Fram, sails into Lockroy for the f irst time. Ian EL is pleased to invite us over for dinner and a tour, understandably glowing in the shiny splendour. Our showers (mmm) are by the most amazing sauna – a wooden clad heat capsule with porthole views of glaciers. Peel ourselves away to wash and rush down to fabulous dining room for plenty of meat and a bottle of red from the captain – how very fine. The third course is a medley of creamy/saucy puddings. Now Rick sings for our supper with rendition of his heritage talk, in bite sized chunks so that Anya can translate into German. We are in the observation lounge, whose windows unfurl an icy panorama beyond the listening faces. The ship is somehow rotating on its bow, slowly and elegantly. More questions afterwards, and twirls to show off t-shirts…time to go…but not to leave. Ian takes us to the bridge, where I sneak into the captain’s (v. comfy) chair and see Goudier Island all small through brilliant binoculars. V. jovial. Back home to bed, happy.

Ship party foregoed: there are stamps to stamp

December 17, 2007 at 8:38 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | 1 Comment

25th November

Wake at five thirty but wait until six to ring home (three hours ahead.) So good to chat with Nev and then Sarah, on a line with no delay, as a Giant Petrel flies past the porthole. Minutes fly by, must be at breakfast for seven. Sit with the expedition staff. Waiters are happy to see us (but sad that my hair is cut short.) Whiz over to Goudier Island ahead of eight-thirty landing. Despite this being our largest visit in terms of numbers (230) the passengers are well managed and flow is steady. Famished after, so finish left over curry. Bread and Jam for pudding – with the special Calafate berry jar so kindly given by Marco.

Rick has found an e-message sent from Endeavour yesterday, asking if they can come in this afternoon (instead of 28th)- try to reply. Neaten piles of t-shirts (Now I can empathise with those Benetton shop assistants) and restock as far as necessary. We have loads of post to process from Nordnorge, so congregate in the bunkroom to apply stamps, make up new mint sets and frank (spread out on kitchen table to dry quickly.) Endeavour running late. Go on a mini monitoring expedition – lots of muddy eggs in puddles. Chick numbers will surely be low this year. At seven pm Endeavour hangs left into Port Lockroy and sends a zodiac to collect us for dinner (me and Helen enthusiastically run down to the landing site in our immersion suits.) Richard the bird man, is driving, and fills us in on the scene he saw around the Explorer. There are growlers around the gang plank, so we wait for them to pass.  Delighted to see Tim and a wee welcoming committee for big hugs.

Straight to the dining room where we receive a rousing clap from a bunch of eager bunnies. Delectable dinner, gourmet fish and chips, hot chocolate fondant swilled down with a couple of glasses of wine. I cause delay to first zodiac by running round finding a WC, and then we drop a couple of staff off at Jougla Point… so we arrive at the landing after the first passengers. Run up to the hut, comedic removal of immersion suits, package up mail, pull on long johns, light tilley lamp and the shop’s in full swing, credit cards all the way. Great spirits and much patience. Sad to forego party on board, but KK is expected at 9am, we have lots of Endeavour mail to cancel and shop to restock. I stamp the stamps, Helen counts cash, Rick makes camomile tea and cocoa. Finish at eleven thirty. Wind blowing fine smoke. Bremen (who have come by for the party) and Endeavour are ablaze, zodiacs buzzing between the two.  Traffic noise for the first time in weeks!

Nordnorge is near

December 17, 2007 at 8:36 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

24th November

I hear a ship’s engine again – at five thirty. Rick was kind of awake, and needing a pee, but could see nothing ooops. More snow in the night.

I’m wearing the brown fleece which turns me into a fluffy king penguin chick – good for hugs. Landing site and ramp need digging out again.

Spot Antarctic Dream in the Neumayer Channel – they start landing at nine. Good to see the crew again. They were hoping to be with us last night, but were delayed due to their part in Explorer’s rescue operation. Cold toes; have to bounce behind counter. By midday the place is quiet. They left us an enormous bag of fruit, milk and onions. And avocadoes we revel over on toast, with cheese, for lunch. Rick gives Helen a lesson in sharp knife use! Since Nordnorge took on all of the Explorer passengers, we don’t know if they will make it here today. Rick and Helen go to re-dig snow steps that had completely drifted in. I wash up and make stock list. Down through snow to the boatshed. No wind. No flotilla of bergs on low tide rocks. The nests here are particularly waterlogged; it will be hard to keep the eggs warm enough. We’re getting better at dividing and conquering the box mountain. The odd item continues to elude. Also manage to go through children’s t-shirts that were in a muddle – all now ordered by torch-light. Ponder exchange rates; the confusion of converting pounds to dollars to euros, and difficulties calculating change in different currencies. Finish off birthday cake (which had matured perfectly.) Unwrap more fiddly nickel penguins, liberating them from double layer of plastic and bubble wrap.

Rick has a gleam in his eye – another joinery project – a longer bench for the far left of genny shed. Helen is chief assistant this time, leaving me an hour to finally achieve synchronicity with blog. Fifteen minutes of intense ball balancing exercises before preparing boiled-egg and steak tandoori. The bench is not finished until seven thirty and the labourers are famished. Serve up dinner that looks like a rice penguin nest with two eggs in each. As we’re eating, Franz radios to say that Nordnorge is near and will anchor at the north side of Dumas – would we like to go across for a drink? Er yes please. We (happily) suffer indigestion, speedily swallowing sticky toffee pudding and bundling up a month’s stash of dirty washing. The bosun himself drives zodiac over to collect us, along with Franz and Marco – so sweet of them. Moving to hear a small part of their last 24 hours. Climbing aboard, it feels like coming home. Oivan says ‘You’re staying, right? So I can put the boat away?’ Captain says that’s ok, so we do. Lots of faces smiley with recognition. Astounded to be given a cabin each. Ah such luxury to stand under hot water and wash hair. Up to the bar, where yesterday the rescued passengers from Explorer had been camped. Some had no shoes.

They lost everything except their passports and the clothes they had on.

Extraordinary listening to the Captain describing what happened, and the others talking of the shock and tears. Humbling. Marco passes on a message from the EL (Expedition Leader) for Rick, apologising for our post being at the bottom of the ocean. That’s even more humbling, and incredible he had the presence of mind to remember such an insignificant thing. Having brought laptop over, I take advantage of the wifi to go surfing and catch up with Facebook buddies. Particularly lovely to read long messages from Barbara and Susan. Forgot adapter, so soon run out of juice. Bedtime anyway, it’s half past midnight. Stretch out under crisp white sheets. Ship’s engines drone through fitful sleep.

Stamps in the snow

December 17, 2007 at 8:31 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

20th November

Hear Rick shifting awake at six. Determined to beat him to the kettle for a change, and do so, just before seven. A giant petrel swoops over and over me down by the landing. Make porridge with fresh peach slices – how anachronistic. Window cleaning for me, inside and out, with vinegar and kitchen roll (which freezes on the outside.) Listen to The Waifs (which makes me think of Rhondda) ignoring the stiff stingy breeze and avoiding sheathbill deposits on deck. Only today to finish Christmas greetings – a concerted effort – kettle on, warm up bunkroom and determinedly grit teeth. I had a head start yesterday, so finish soonest. Attach stamps (three for each one,) add base cachet to reverse of envelope (for a philatelic treat) and cancel them all – what a unique pleasure?! Since Rick has such a number of official cards to write, I stick his stamps on too. Also select photos for blog, burn them onto disc and package it up for Philip with special penguin stamps. This takes most of the afternoon. Forego yoga for typing, and miss it, but cram in a couple of days. My turn to cook, with final chunk of steak that the Endeavour so kindly donated to us. Helen has baked the long-promised bread and butter pudding, which needs the oven. So I do a kind of frying pan casserole. We forgot to warm the wine, so it’s a little frisky. Helen offers to do the loo bucket, I insist on going with her; it’s a death slide with icy rock step and waves lashing at the bottom. No fatalities, just wobbles. A satellite phone call (our first) from Explorer II, who are struggling through ice in Gerlache Strait and hope to see us tomorrow, not at dawn as expected. Tonight we have a bedroom story! Rick reads excerpts from his book ‘Of Dogs and Men.’

Helen and I listen with our eyes shut.

First ship shop

November 27, 2007 at 6:40 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | 1 Comment

15th November

Slightly hungover. Glad at prospect of fresh fruit for breakfast, to ward off scurvy. No time for porridge. First shop; Helen and I are nervous about prices and stock. Stand on ramp to welcome the passengers.

Take positions and the flow is steady, no problems (except for slow adding up.) It’s interesting to see how people move around the space, what they buy, how many stamps… Not too pooped. Tudor and I re-stock.

(Must remember to take torch, tally sheet, knife, pen and gloves.) Helen cashes up. Rick, expanding his culinary envelope, (and bravely using the mysterious unlabelled bag of dried mushrooms which hydrate up into huge slithery oysters,) serves up miso-style noodle soup for lunch; hot and sustaining. Wind increases. Endeavour arrives. Tim Soper (who was expedition leader on the ship that first brought me to Antarctica,) runs in to hug hello, see that our jerry cans are filled, and deliver enormous box of fresh fruit, veg, milk, butter and enough steak for a week, hurray, thank-you! Extra pair of hands (Tudor’s) allows mingling, helping with sizes and testing knowledge of science room. The frailer pax are quite buffeted about in the gusts outside – it’s horrid – and scale the slopes with ski poles. Weather conditions make the decision whether to invite us on board for dinner or drinks uncertain. As we’re about to restock the shop for a possible early morning visit, it’s a surprise to be told that the last zodiac is waiting and we need to hurry. Rough and bumpy ride straight into the waves, jolts Helen’s back and I nearly lose hat. Glad we’re in immersion suits. Speedy shower – four of us in twenty minutes (dispelling theory that women take an age to ablute.) At recap, Rick performs well, the audience is charmed. We answer questions, delighted to be drinking G+Ts as waiters pass canapes.

Divine to sit at a table with starched napkins, a menu, wine and intelligent conversation. Weather has continued to worsen – gale force eight, forty knot winds. We must stay on board, it’s too dangerous to return to Port Lockroy tonight. Warm, wined and dined; I don’t care.

Cabins are juggled, empty bunks found. Banter tiredly but contentedly in bar. Rick talks to the doctor about nasal issues. Helen keeps sliding off sofa (due to swell.) After the luxury of checking internet, Helen and I go up to the bridge to look at icebergs on the radar and charts that show how small our little island really is. I’m sharing a cabin with Rick, who is too tired to snore. Late to sleep.

Helen and I, warm-cheeked and excited, model the ladyfit t-shirts as best we can

November 27, 2007 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

14th November

Metallic pale grey outside. Very still. Inside, legs tucked up, cross-legged in bunk, trying to delete hundreds of photos from computer to make room for multitude of Port Lockroy penguins. Involves looking at the documentation of the last four years (I’m no good at filing.) Keep pics of people, lose technical work sequences. Memories gurgling: trees, cars, workshops, dinner parties… Odd. Wash up porridge bowls and pan to clear kitchen surface, because it needs raising from back breaking to minorly uncomfortable. I’m chief joiner’s assistant, which means watching a lot of measuring and sawing, and occasionally writing a number in a notebook or holding bits of wood. Things improve when the power tools come out, and there’s some drilling and screwing to be done.

Chilli transforms into lentil curry (?) for lunch. Proudly finish up counter by five thirty. It’s exercise time! Circuits, (kind of,) on low flattish rock (avoiding guano and puddles.) All four of us in trainers; jogging, squatting, lunging, star-jumping, sit ups, press ups and using convenient sized rocks as weights. Gentoos emerging from the sea, watch, not bothered, as we work up a sweat. Rick’s on for a curry, using a few ingredients from the boat shed – Base Commander’s privilege. While I’m reading e-mails, the radio above my head crackles! We have contact with the outside world! Oooh it’s Antarctic Dream! Our first visitors – they’ve arrived – they’re about to anchor – and they’re inviting us aboard for a shower. What an ecstatic notion?! We’re to be ready by eight thirty. Dinner is delicious. Then I’m being ditzy – what should I take? Shove clean clothes and toothbrush into waterproof sack, struggle into immersion suits, stumble down to landing and wait for the zodiac’s drone through the fog. It’s snowing. Unutterable joy arcing round underneath the prow, clearly reflected in the icy ink, and climbing into the light and warm welcome. Delightful evening, blissful shower. Up to the all-wooden bar, smiling faces and pisco sours. Rick does his introductory talk about Port Lockroy’s history, and tomorrow’s landing.
Lots of questions. Lovely people flock round, all curious about four Brits in a small wooden hut on the Antarctic Peninsula, running a museum and Post Office… Helen and I, both warm-cheeked and excited, model the ladyfit t-shirts as best we can. Several folk force fresh fruit upon us, which I can’t help but fondle. Time to go, out across the dark water, home. The island is quiet, the penguins still.

I’m thinking of poetry and missing it

November 27, 2007 at 6:33 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

11th November

Clear skies overhead, dark black over Anvers Island. Still still. Chilly to gloss and my first coat drips. Cold and melancholy, by twelve am I’m eager to volunteer for warming soup making. Attempt Moroccan style couscous and tvp stew, with nutmeg, apricot and mixed fruit… it lacks er flavour (meat!) but has heartening effect. Complete lounge painting with second coat of gloss, lost in thought through bursts of Madonna. I can vaguely hear Tudor and Helen discussing past relationships. More contemplation. Take slop bucket. Watch penguins. Standing on the doorstep, talking to the others as they’re painting porch; suddenly notice that a lonesome chinstrap is peering about a few metres away, looking out of place and a little anxious. Have an hour before dinner cooking to catch up on typing this. More of a mush for supper – corned beef, mixed veg and baked beans stirred up, with mash, flowed by rice pudding. It’s very odd this limbo time of waiting and wondering if and when a ship will arrive. Painting is not busy enough for my wandering mind. Stiff shoulders. I’m thinking of poetry and missing it. Mention this to Rick and he reads me some; Robert Service in the Yukon. Just right. Good night.

The Antarctic Juke Box

November 27, 2007 at 6:32 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

10th November

Make porridge after gentle ball gyrations and the best outside pee – the water absolutely dead calm and snowflakes falling. Supposedly warmer. Into chilly overalls after teeth and dishwashing, to finish scraping the genny shed entrance, then sanding, then undercoating. Listen to lounge music, then Lemon Jelly on loud – we’re all out painting hall/porch walls and ceilings. Corned dog and sardines for lunch, with chocolate. Rick’s sweetie of choice is liquorice and there’s only a limited supply, so the others have to sneak pieces. Three giant petrels noisy around the apple turnover wedge of berg out front. Nine cape petrels were there the other day. Lumps of snow slide off the hut roof with a whumf, intermittently. Finish first undercoat. Take slop bucket to sling into the sea and take an hour walking back – the penguins are so distracting. Click zillions of photographs. Sheathbills are doing the love thing on the porch roof – tricky when the lady underneath is standing on one leg and her tail feathers are in the way. Snow is slushier…must be warmer then?! Two mins to reply to e-mails, then down to chains landing for a snow wash surrounded by glassy cold sea, bergy bits sparkling and icicles hanging round this outdoor bathroom. Not adept at washing bits without ice ending up down long johns. Glistening sights. Cold nose. Trumpeting gentoos. It’s Saturday Night and we’re going ‘out’ after Rick’s feast… I mean, we’re going out of the bunkroom and into the museum lounge, where the gramophone needle is sharp and ready. Tudor dresses up, Saturday night BAS style in shirt and proper shoes. I ruffle up hair, put on stripey jumper and pink lipstick. Helen has new thermals on, and Rick a smart Port Lockroy top. Top tunes include:

‘Run Rabbit Run.’
‘Takes Two to Tango.’
‘I Whistle a Happy Tune.’
‘The Lady is a Tramp.’
‘Blow the Wind Southerly.’
‘When i’m Cleaning Windows.’

and my favourite for marching…

‘Oh Ain’t it Grand to be in the Navy.’

Extraordinary tone – an acoustic glimpse of the past. Our dancing impersonates the penguins on purpose and maybe not. Layers of thermals are removed due to enervating music. Since needle requires changing  for every record, the evening progresses elegantly… until i-Pod and speakers replace the hand-winding, and bopping continues, steaming up the windows.

Shifting horizons

November 27, 2007 at 6:30 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

7th November

Awake in the night, cold bones. Lie still listening to the others breathing. Warm up by morning, so don’t want to leave cocoon. Peppermint tea and porridge. Washed up, washed self, phew. A loving e-mail keeps me warm all day. Start preparing the museum lounge, well one wall and two built-in benches, using a one-inch scraper all round. Surprised to get really into it, even asking if I can clean up inside the bench, where no-one can see. Cheery but tired by lunch – beans on toast with a very special treat – three slices of chorizo, yum. Small discussion on the first ethical dilemma in Helen’s book… end up talking about suicide options Marie Celeste style instead. V. chuffed to have finished the undercoat by six thirty. (How my horizons have shifted?!) My turn to cook – the others are already planning to order a takeaway, cheeky.
Resulting curry is good enough for Helen not to add Tabasco. Cooking with frozen tins of mush is an acquired skill that one can hardly expect to master at the second attempt. Hair is reaching unwieldiness close to dreadlocks. The others vote to shave it off. Aie! I’d lose my identity, wouldn’t I? The thing is, there may be a hair-washing opportunity in ten days time…but can’t depend on circumstances/weather. Hmmn. Will ponder another night at least. Rick has a pain in his lower back, which gets him a Deep Heat rub AND out of the washing up. Hope it wasn’t the yoga.

Tudor accompanies me up the Stairway (the gulls are  waiting – bleurgh!) and I accompany him to chains landing to pour out the slops bucket, too heavy to hoist up and over the hill. Now the snow has ceased, fresh wind blows plum dark blooming clouds across behind Anvers island, throwing white bergs and snow lines into the foreground. The penguins are building nests and lovemaking (as they were even during blizzard.) Looks like krill is returning. So hot in bunkroom –   at eighteen degrees Celsius  – the hottest yet. Step into cooler lounge to tear brush through tangles. Eeeoou. Painful ten mins later, hair has gone frizzy and big… no need to cut it off yet. The comms guy rope is slapping intolerably against our roof. Helen braves the gusts as we’re all tucked up in bed and heroically fixes the irritation as sleeps takes me, warm and toasty in double sleeping bag.

Penguins walking by the kitchen window

November 19, 2007 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Rachel Hazell | 2 Comments

5th November

No bonfire night! N.B. Don’t lick your fingers or rub your eyes with antibacterial hand-wash gel. Yuk/ouch. Wind still blowing. Up for an outside wee. Snow has drifted some, still falling. Penguins all away swimming, just a few stragglers. Ball exercises and wildlife report reading. Gloss coat of magnolia in the Science room. Really hard to achieve neat edges cos the paint is so cold; fingers not working so well. Dixie Chicks and chatting to Rick about motivation. Then finishing off the puddle at the bottom of tin on a wee patch in museum kitchen with Tudor and Helen, talking about what to do on return, babies, travelling, employment decisions… Turn last night’s lasagne into hearty lunch soup. Helen worried about rolled oat supply. Me worried about peppermint tea supply. Back to preparing kick boards of shop for painting, after finishing franking (and Scottish dancing with Rick and Helen; Gay Gordon’s, Dashing White Sergeant, and Strip the
Willow…) V. blustery and cold outside, Rick puts heater on for morale and necessity (gloss sticky and drips more at zero degrees.) He’s being extra supportive and considerate today.  Cups of tea. Funny to see penguins walking by the kitchen window. Oh but we’ve run out of water, (some of it has been tasting odd, like burnt fried food)  so all four of us face the elements armed with ice axes, washing up bowls and shovels. The tide is up, so must dig down through snow overhang (risky) and fish out mini bergs blown into the bay. Some of the ice chunks are so huge that Tudor has to bash them with an axe on cardboard on the hall floor. Scoop up right-sized chunks and sweep up shards. Nearly finished reading ten years worth of wildlife reports. Helen makes bread. Tudor cooks dinner. Beer o’clock is early and the banter is coarse. V. fine kedgeree despite lack of tumeric, parsley etc. Lychees and chocolate mousse for pudding. Don’t we eat like royalty?! Play cribbage – first since we arrived – Rick and I neck and neck… I only win because my cards are scored before his. Then out to marvel at snow drifted penguins aarh. Grooving to Rolling Stones increases temperature, as does Jagermeister. Computer dead; woe is me.

Snow shovelling to warm up; tap dancing lessons

November 19, 2007 at 6:26 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Observations in Antarctica, Penguins, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

4th November

*Happy Birthday Sebastian!**

A proper sleep in! Awake at eight thirty. Happy to have loving replies in my e-mail inbox. Mooch around after half an hour’s yoga and swiss ball in museum lounge – a challenge with socks on, and too cold to relax, but worth it nonetheless. Turn on computer for the first time since we arrived; the screen stays dark… wait for it to adjust to ambient temperature… still nothing… try not to panic, nor consider the disastrous implications of no personal computer for the season; no music, no photos, e-mail addresses… Tudor suggests that battery is flat and can be recharged when the generator is next on. Hmmm. Anyway, food shelf sorting/cleaning needs finishing. Discover all sorts in dark and dusty recesses – so much chilli powder, so many frozen tins of baked beans… A cushy job compared to the others, who are prepping museum kitchen and science room for decorating; there will be no opportunity once the ships come sailing in. My but it’s cold! More snow shovelling to warm up, and Helen conducts first lesson in tap dancing; very effective for increasing circulation in toes. We’ve been fantasising about spam fritters (well, a Sunday fry up…) Tudor knocks them up in a jiffy, plus a side order of baked beans, mmmm. Red overalls on to sand and undercoat wooden partition wall, lots of obsolete electric cables to manoeuvre round, funked up by Jamiroquai. Helen’s getting sore arms tackling kitchen ceiling. Tudor is rationalising the massive wooden crate of medical supplies; unpronounceable names of drugs we’ll hopefully never ever have cause to need. Being official Penguin Monitor I am reading through wildlife reports. They were started ten years ago by BAS biologist Norman Cobley, as Port Lockroy provides a unique opportunity to assess human impact on the island gentoo colony over each Austral summer season. I am a little daunted by the obvious experience and expertise illustrated over the years but attracted to the systematic nature of survey. My eyes will tune into the observation… not sure about working out percentage successes though. Fabulous Helen TVP lasagne followed by compo ration sachet of “Custard with mixed fruit.” Remarkably good. Most of the food we’re eating has the texture of semolina – yes everything – especially thrice frozen tins… learning to love oh yeah learning to love… Gentle music, reading, postcard writing. Every time the kettle has boiled more ice chunks are slid in to melt. Relaxed and warm inside (91% humidity down from 98%) bright and the wind picking up outside.

It’s slippery and slidey and scary and the light is flat

November 19, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

2nd November

Colder. Awake at six for a pee – too early! Snuggle down for another hour. Inflate swiss ball, much to baffled amusement of Tudor, and wobble about improving core stability for a bit. We have one day to prepare Port Lockroy for first proper ship visit, which is happening a day earlier than scheduled. Much of morning spent dusting and moving boxes of stock. I leave the others to be anxious about how to display all the permutations of t-shirts (sizes, colours, shapes) – there are so many. At morning break I make tea wrong! Milk powder must be treated with delicacy to prevent scorching… Then an inquisitive sheathbill leaves a calling card, which I, not noticing, tread into soles of indoor slippers. Hmm. Oh and I’m also gutted to discover that there’s no sign of the wonderful nut bars sponsored by Eat Natural. Food packers don’t remember them. Apparently they were delivered… a mystery. Stomach is churning, adjusting to a change of diet; it’s impossible to include enough protein. Oh dear. Progress is slow, but continuous, sledging and carrying boxes up and down from boat shed to shop, snow softening in the sun. Feel like a cart horse, harnessed up. Slowly, slowly each item finds its place and receives a price label. Great Mulligatawny soup out on the sundeck suntrap, which has a wee seat carved out of the snowdrift. More and more penguins are settling back on to the island, emerging from the water, ruffling feathers, congregating at their nesting sites. Speedy snow wash, standing on warm rock down by the landing site; top half naked, then bottom, hugely invigorating. Feels good, except for stray drips of ice down thermal trous as I pull them back up! Back on the job, slightly frantic towards evening when there still appears to be hours worth of work ahead. Rick brings speakers through because we’re concentrating too hard to sing and lift our spirits. He also fuels us with tuna mayo pasta and spicy bowls of soup.
Inaugural trip up the Stairway to Heaven with loo and slop bucket. It’s slippery and slidey and scary and the light is flat. Clouds have covered us over. Thank goodness Tudor accompanies me, and kindly demonstrates how to balance on rock to swill bucket without waves lapping on feet. V tired and quiet. Bed around eleven.

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