Franking and hankering.

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

22nd January

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

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

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

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

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

An Emperor penguin is here, exceptional.

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

16th January

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

So much chocolate, cake and fruit.

January 24, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

22nd December

Eyes open to sound of Rick shaving, rasp, rasp. Polar Pioneer is here. Spirit of Sydney sails away. Rick goes across for talk. We sweep and reply to a couple of e-mails. Friendly bunch. Crew bring Christmas Lollies (and eggs, and custard, and strawberries.) A chick is seen at Jougla… but in the beak of a skua. We don’t have time to go and look in our nests. One gentleman, who has posted a number of cards into mail box thinks he may have forgotten to address one, could I please check? There’s a massive queue waiting, but I do, and can’t find it… sigh. Helen and I sing carols, which peter away when we have to start adding up! Chat with the cooks – it’s Jo’s birthday, she’s baked us Christmas Pudding, what a star. A couple of keen birders are outside videoing, but the visit is to all intents over. I start franking, Helen cashing and listing stock. Down to boatshed straight away. Find everything except elusive red caps (actually there aren’t any left.) Rick carries up the he aviest box. Once we’re all set again, stew-soup for lunch. I add cream, which is off, will I get a sore tummy? It has started to snow again, and the pressure is dropping. Unsettled. Helen lies on landing rock and snow falls on her. I wonder where she is and squint into the distance, frowning. We have a break of a couple of hours. I sleep until Fram radios. Swiftest visit to squeeze them in after they’ve been delayed due to a Medevac. Ian brings a couple of admiralty charts for me; how did he manage that?! I promise to make him something. Oh and more Christmas treats. Rick fears the island will sink – we have so much chocolate, cake and fruit. Rick tops us up with regular hot drinks. One hour turn around before Multanovskiy – they had kindly hung back and visited Damoy. Frank and hope ink dries. Yum simple organic cheesy pasta, courtesy of Palmer’s Stacey x, tipped down pdq. Campers land first; they all want passports stamping. Then another twenty or so. Forty-four altogether.

Doctor has not forgotten previous trip’s promise of a bath, and visions of bubbles fuel entire visit. Last zodiac includes me, Helen and clean knickers. (Fram did our laundry, thank-you.) Blissful soak, the first in two months, with a glass of chilled white. Heaven. Float to bar and swallow a few more glasses with the kayak master, Mark the doctor, Tula, Karin and the Lonely Planet author (Geoff) who is a very interested historian. Pleasurable company. Leave at midnight, promising each other not to be tired tomorrow. There is no break in the rhythm of Rick’s snoring.

Introducing Fanny and Pickle

November 19, 2007 at 6:23 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Dreams and imagination, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | 2 Comments

3rd November

We all thought it was going to be a cold one, the wind blew up, but it wasn’t too chilly really. Wake with the expectation of leaping into action, but there’s no ship on the horizon. It’s about three degrees (plus wind chill). Back into bags with tea and muesli. Rick reads, Helen knits, Tudor thinks. I write: I’m scared. Last night I was kind of close to tears – scared that this is hard and we’ve only just begun. E-mail from ship – eta three pm. Relaxed pottering = much happier. We have the luxury of not rushing, finishing off labels, tweaking. Tudor is brilliant at ‘Display’ – his family used to run a department store.

Prepare for the rush by tearing sheets of stamps, and wrapping First Day Covers in protective wrappers. Rick and Tudor are fixing up the Penguin Study Area’s ropes and posts (so that human impact can be monitored with control colonies. Shovel snow from front decking in order to increase circulation and warm up, which takes minutes! First on-site lesson in radio use for Fanny and Pickle (for that, inexplicably, is what this season’s postal staff have been named,) involving wandering about going “Wot? eh? What button? Can’t hear you! Over and out!” etc. Funny. We’re sure to get the hang of it soon enough. Helen counts out float, and places stamps, paper bags, credit card machine etc on the counter. I prepare an emergency snack box for under-counter guzzling and bottles of quenching water. We’re ready to be there for maybe five hours without pause. We’re waiting…and waiting… and waiting… getting hetty- keep going to the door and peering out. Finally take tea on the veranda. Rick checks e-mail; ship is not coming – impossible to negotiate ice in the Gerlache Strait. Oh. So we can finish glossing the walls… Ah ha! We can also start our Post Mistress duties: Mail that was posted here at the end of last season, after the PO ‘closed’ in March, together with all the new postcards from the Nordnorge, need cancelling without delay!

Hurray! Much excitement and anticipation. First we apply hundreds of stamps to prepaid mail (i.e. a bundle of postcards with enough dollar to cover postage.) Helen ensures date correct on the rubber stamp. Cameras at the ready and we’re off, stamping away and laying out the cards so the ink will dry in this temperature, and not smudge. Every so often, consulting PO instruction manual for guidance re. Non British Antarctic Territory stamps, special issues, Philatelic collectors items, not to mention how each stamp must be ‘tied’ to the envelope by the cancel. I LOVE it! Setting up a system, music on, singing away to hits from the 80s…peeking out of the window to see penguins, glacier edge and sheathbills running round in circles. Bliss. Nearly done by six thirty, and no more room to lay them out. No ship means no fresh water, so down to the rocks at low tide, to chip ice from a berg that doesn’t taste too salty. Five washing up bowls full later, clamber back with the ice picks. Minus one degree outside… no chance of it melting; the bowls will cool down the bunkroom tonight. Squat on rock by water’s edge for first Antarctic alfresco pee, staring at limpets in the pools thinking ‘Bloody hell! Here I am!” Shiny icicles on the overhang contrast against diorite rock. Big Saturday Treat: It’s Fray Bentos Night! Rick’s favourite; with peas and potatoes, followed by rice pudding and raspberry jam oh yeah – the best feast, despite multiple freezings.

Stuffed, hot and fumey (from heater and Tilley lamp,) nice n’ fuggy.

Accompany Rick up to the loo. Gingerly climb down snow steps, balance on rock, chuck waste into high tide, wobble down to lower rock to swill out, slip, squeal and return up steps to where Rick stands smiling, saying nothing. Stop to admire lines of mountain ridge against bruised mauve sky. Sing to the gentoos as if this island is a cathedral.

Happy to be here

November 19, 2007 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Blogroll, Dreams and imagination, Observations in Antarctica, Penguins | Leave a comment

31st October

Toasty toes, still chilly nose. Slept well, up with the joys at six thirty. Peek out the door on the way back from bucket to see thin pancake ice, and the penguins so still, gathered on Bill’s Island, that they look frozen. Kettle on and back in the bag. Today’s mission is to sort out the PO/shop room (The new Generator Shed) before stock goes in.

Everybody else has unpacked into their underbunk storage boxes – I’ve been putting it off (fears of too much stuff) – seize the day and attempt to make contents of pink Harris tweed holdall, blue canvas bag and two boxes of personal stuff make sense and fit. Meanwhile Helen tackles the First Aid/Cleaning cupboard, which contains an abundance of ancient Lemsips, numerous toothpaste tubes, rolls of cling-film and cigarette lighters. Decamp the four hundred sets of ‘Iceberg Library’ postcards to shop – delighted that they’ve made the journey here too. The decision has been made to paint the shop. The day is so blue and still and wondrous outside that we are easily distracted. Move boxes to far end, lay down opened out flattened cardboard in lieu of dust-sheets. Helen is assembling optimum nut snack and muesli supplies down at the boat shed, misses initial horrid sanding (makes up for it later) before transforming last night’s curry into soup of the day. Instantly dusty hair ooh but I’m loving these overalls – family would be amused to see me now I think. As we’re running short of water (we had seven jerry cans full from the Nordnorge) Helen and Tudor go down to the blocks of ice on the low-tide shore and chip chunks off with pick-axes, to melt in the boat shed (always warm and wood-smelling.) A battle-scarred young male elephant seal wearily tries to haul out onto our icy shore, evidently needing to lie low – he sleeps all afternoon, ignoring the penguins and us. Stand still in the beauty, I’m so happy to be here. Right: Painting.
Up a ladder with a pot of white undercoat, singing show tunes and an impressive eighties repertoire (Helen’s word-perfect to Wham’s ‘Bad
Boys.’) We are weary-bodied but cheery. Helen sad for a second when paint first sullies her overalls. Tea-break on the ramp, watching leopard seal pretending to be a rock, and avoiding possibility of sheathbills shitting from overhead (as is their wont.) Finish painting by six. The light on the ice is calling; stand and click. Tudor’s cooking up a feast all from tins – a culinary skill that the others all seem to have mastered – a kind of lasagne, very good. As it’s Halloween, we have wondered about ducking for apples, but since there’s only one, we resort to Helen’s festive whiskey and ginger wine. Open computer for the first time, it shuts down, too cold. Trouble lighting both Tilley lamp and heater tonight, finally cosy. Almost (!) too hot in bed – prickly toes – and can’t reach to take socks off zzzz

Rachel Hazell moves to Antarctica…

August 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Blogroll, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Penguins, Photos, Rachel Hazell | 7 Comments

Rachel Hazell will set sail in under two months time to the beautiful world of ice-white Antarctica. Rachel’s new job will be Post Assistant and Penguin Monitor where she will stamp over 20,000 postcards in the time she will be there. In between handling all that card and ink, Rachel will step outside and very quietly and gently tip toe around the sleeping penguins, counting them and their eggs and recording the data for the international penguin monitoring programme. Rachel said, “I am thrilled to be finally living my dream as Post Mistress for Antarctica. I’ve lived on one of Her Majesty’s Navy ships, teaching sailors to make small books, but this has to be my biggest life long ambition.” This will be the site for Rachel’s diary while she is away, so come back often for updates from abroad.

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