A tinned dinner and white wine, courtesy of the captain. I read them “Silver Threads” and sleep on counter…

April 7, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

19th January

Evie ‘Eskymo’s’ Birthday!!!

It’s been snowing. Sheathbills were so busy stampeding on roof to plant fresh footprints on deck and ramp, so I do it. Raining now.

Chicks fluff muddying. We’re prepared for seven am landing, but they start at Damoy first, so we have extra minutes for waking up. The staff on Clipper are cheery – we’re pleased to see them – first visit since December, when they were operating on one engine. 105 pax. Including a couple from Ayr, who take a swiftly constructed package for Helen’s folks. Box of much needed veg – cheers. They leave by eleven. Juliette, from Pen Duick VI is left behind, poorly with suspected appendicitis; she’ll stay warm here until her yacht picks her up, to take her to Palmer, where a fourth doctor will offer an opinion before she decides to weather the Drake. A few hours respite.

Three people from Tamara visit. A Canadian guy advises on possibilities of sodden camera recovering, tests battery, dead as dodo – he reckons charging it for 12-14 hours will do it… but that’s impossible here, on the wee petrol generator which runs for a only a few hours at a time. I REALLY miss having the means of a snapshot in my pocket for spontaneous documentation. Frank. Helen goes to try a mini-stock-take, HQ is asking what’s shifting and what’s not for next season’s ordering. She also pulls out currently low items. Big job, too hard to finish in a hurry and she’s hungry.

Carry up boxes damp and muddy. Lunch on salmon, cheese and least mouldy bread. Four credit cards from December have expired, so there’s anxiety about chasing them. H cashes up from this morning, but has lost figures from last night… ooops… it’s hard to keep on top of everything. Sit about with Juliette chatting about sailing/ being here/being French. Rick goes over to Le Diamant for talk, despite majority Francophone around three. Turns out that the staff are French, and it’s an American charter. Charming Hotel Manager brings 828 postcards and two assistants (dancing girls) to stick them on. One man wrote 86 – I promise to frank them carefully. Busy entertaining visit, humorous banter. Finish at 7:45. There was talk of dinner, but weather is holding for Lemaire, so they must speed off. Unfortunate but we’re pooped and there’ll be a next time.

Juliette has been rescued by her boyfriend, and they welcome us over for drinks. Ah but all we can manage is tinned dinner (chicken in white sauce, new potatoes and spinach, with artichoke heart starter…) and white wine, courtesy of Capt. I drink Bailey’s with milk (thanks Bernd!) Helen knits for the first time in months. Rick endures teasing for the scent of his armpits. Long day, finished laughing. I read them ‘Silver Threads’ and sleep on counter…

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Seven Weeks and One Day. I appreciate the extraordinariness.

April 7, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

18th January

Sarah’s Happy Birthday! xxx

Staggered start. Multanovskiy radios, alerting us to their -2 status, but they’ll be a little while yet. Kettle on and outside to see that big bergs are still there and a new one is still closer. The original chicks at hut corner are standing together in the nest as their parent loiters watchfully nearby. Somehow I’m caught on the back foot and easily narked and disgruntled by passenger’s requests ie. ‘Could I have a receipt?’ ‘If you insist…’ Delphine is relaxed; happy not to be EL this trip, which is the last of the season for Martin Enkell. He buys some of the marvellous crocheted snow flakes sent down from Florida by a previous year’s supportive visitor. Tired and dozy. Frank. Helen restocks clothes, I do books and all the stuff up here, help carry boxes, then slink off for a lie down instead of lunch. Multanovskiy kindly removed a lot of our waste, but also left sackfuls of stuff for another ship. Rick and Helen sort it all out and many boxes are emptied in the process. Explorer II had radioed to say they’d start landing at two pm our time, but actually send staff ashore at one thirty, so my nap is curtailed. Helen holds fort while I rustle a salmon sandwich together and hence start work smelling of fish. This ship has brought post for us from Stanley – stamp supplies and a few parcels which wait tantalisingly, tucked away at the foot of my bunk. Very nice visit, culminating in slight frenzy at the end, good pace, neither rushed nor slow. Two leopard seals on floes near chains landing. HMS Endurance have located Explorer on the sea bed with their super solar beams. We will leave here in seven weeks and one day – looking at time in that context makes me appreciate the extraordinariness, and wonder about the things I meant to do in these five months. Missing small things. So: Six o’clock, tools down. Open parcels. Helen has a bag of porridge oats and wholesome goodies. I have a lovely funny parcel of treats from sister Jule, including a painted penguin from Sebastian – brilliant! Great to see photographs of both nephew and niece. Pat Law – the love – has filled a box with thoughtful gifts. And the first instalment of The Archers has made it from Sarah and Geoff – essential. Cards from Aileen and Peter Parker, amongst others. So sweet. Silently go frank, cash up and restock in the lightly falling snow. Rick responds to weary summons, carries boxes and refills t-shirt cubicles. Helen has a headache… we both dream of a bath, a long hot soak. Once all done, it is nine o’clock.

Rick heads to sleep in lounge. I had been quite looking forward to another night on the PO counter… There is a yacht moored here and a paper cut out iceberg. Affix glow-in-the-dark stars on the underside of black shelf above bunk and shimmy into bag, laying out clean socks for the morning.

Avoid colouration of fingers. Fill head with meteorites.

April 7, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

17th January

Crevasse lines appearing on Mount Jabat as the summer continues; ‘invisible ink’ writing revealed. If I was a serious artist person, I would have taken the same picture, from the same spot, at the same hour, on each of the 126 days we are here. Hmmm. Capt Peter asks us to breakfast on Corinthian II, but we need a chance to regroup before their visit. And are still bundling postcards and eating cereal when the staff arrive, ahead of Rick returning from his 8:15 talk. French staff lady adds the wool Antarctic Tartan scarf to her collection (she’s looking good in the silk one,) and waits as we accomplish the counting of three hundred postcards and five hundred stamps. A large family contingent are friends with the Jeldwen firm, who have taken over Boulton and Paul – the company who manufactured our building, and many other huts on the Peninsula. Jeldwen sponsored the production of our funky new information leaflet, so it’s great to make the connection. It’s the Captain’s last trip, so I send over a set of postcards. Good to see John and Trevor again. Passengers are also landing at Jougla Point. The Emperor is visible on the shoreline rocks, already a celebrity. We’re alerted to fact that French from a yacht are too close to the penguins, our exceptional visitor in particular. A Francophone issues reprimand and apologies made; it’s their first landing, and, in their excitement, had not been fully briefed on IAATO guidelines. Elevenses on deck, with half a mug of M
+Ms (chucked straight down the throat, avoiding colouration of fingers.) Start writing up belated base diary, but Pen Duick VI land, and I attempt a brief introductory speech in French, and answer questions about penguin monitoring, which stretches my vocabulary somewhat. Helen and Rick push on with exterior maintenance while I serve in the shop, mostly postcards and stamps. Hungry! Lovely ham from Delphin, with mustard on rye. Linger on sunny deck. Wash up as Rick starts to snore. Spend an hour and a half franking. Just when I’d considered all done, I discover the red post box is full of more from Shokalskiy as well as Corinthian II. Listen to J.P. Courmier.

Clouds are a feathery watercolour wash high above us. Investigate new berg with camera and find a Weddell seal stretched on nearby floe.

Retreat to synchronise February’s schedule dates. Helen and Rick have been taking pictures and measurements of Nissan Hut base, for possible future accommodation potential. Sit outside to finish transcribing diary. Rick is still pottering about in overalls, with a jam jar and a paint brush. I persuade him that yoga would be a good thing. Hold poses for longer and work hard. Helen is feeling emotional, having battled with scrape dust. Overtired. She does some stretching later, while I start on dinner. Go through with garlicy hands and crack her stiff back – her bones are like a birdcage. Use third of enormous salmon in a thick, creamy pasta sauce. Drop of good red, courtesy of Uli; sweetheart. Some time reading blog, bringing typing into the New Year, sending it off to dear Blogmeister… The others are already in bed, I follow quietly, and read, filling head with meteorites.

Sit with Mike and Gavin and explain about paper icebergs

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

31st December

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

Like ships in the night

January 24, 2008 at 7:53 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

29th December

Storm is over. Our e-mail system is down (although our phone card is now topped up.) Grey and calm. Wet rocks. White ship in the distance, coming our way. Lyn asks if we’d like breakfast or showers, but time here is preferred. So Rick zips over while we sweep and tidy. Jolly keen folks; our first Silver member hurray. Talk about art work and next September’s exhibition in Plockton, seems a long way away. Rick has a migraine, well a man headache, probably from being outside with no sunglasses for half the morning. Emergency slice of stšllen. The nearest penguin chicks have a row of paparazzi observing their every peep. H and I have sore tummies, but hungry. Helen and Rick have pasta, and me a bowl of tuna mayo, followed by far too many sweeties. Turns out Irridium data satellite is down – everyone is in a panic, could be another eight hours. Nought to do but wait. We were expecting Fram this afternoon, but they are delayed. Itty bitty restock after Rick has brought deluge of waste under better control. Optimum levels of extra postcards now stacked under the display. Rick is repairing broken sledge rack and half needs an assistant. Helen volunteers and gets cold (and bored.) Big ship Rotterdam cruises past, too many passengers to stop here. I pack postcards, then type. Northanger radios, wanting to catch up with Rick, so I take the handheld down to him. Greg says they’ve had similar satellite problems but it’s working again. They’ll try to anchor at Dorian Bay tonight. I check computer, hurray we have communications again. Oh but bad news from Fram. Yesterday they had a power blackout and drifted into an iceberg, causing minor damage, no-one hurt. Needs to be checked out, so we won’t be seeing them anytime soon…and I’ve nearly finished Ian’s wee chart book. Helen picks meat off the chicken and boils up proper stock so that I can produce a thick soup. Also use up very brown bananas by frying them in butter with chopped pears, cognac, sugar and sp ices. Second film night in a row hey hey: Tudor sent us Groundhog Day for Christmas, mostly for Helen, as it highlights the certain repetitive nature of life here. Front row seats on Ricky’s bunk, connect speakers and sit back. Helen keeps asking questions about what’s going to happen next. Intermission to change batteries and eat Rick’s chocolate gingers. Afterwards, quite a few penguins are standing in their nests, revealing weak-necked chicks wavering in the evening air, their bean-bag bodies so fluffy and tiny velveteen wing flippers. E-mail cousin Katie the desperate news that her ship is not actually scheduled to visit Lockroy. Read a little more anthology and drift off.

The penguin ballet and the wire coils

January 24, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Posted in Book art, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

23rd December

A ship is sailing into the back bay as I emerge from the house in pyjamas. Forced to forego usual spot for another rock to maintain modesty.  Search for chicks, but all nest occupants still sitting tight. Rick goes over early for talk, leaving us to tidy. Frank stamps whilst eating granola and banana. Quite yawny today – relaxing effects of bath linger. Molchanov visits until midday; pax happy to sit and watch the penguins. This is Nathan’s(EL) last trip before going to work in the Ross Sea area – he will deliver a parcel to my friend Al, working for NZAHT at Cape Royds, heh heh. Delphine has invited us over for lunch and shower, but we must decline, as a major restock is required before Nordnorge visit. We have new books to find shelf-space for, and cubicles to rearrange and label. Have I mentioned how Helen is Queen of the Labels?! As tide is low, Rick has decided to attempt removal of wire coils on sea bed near chains landing. I need food and a wee sit in the sun – a chee se and tomato sandwich. Eat swiftly and  straight down to boatshed. Can categorically confirm that we’re out of calendars. Reconfigure boxes. Several new ones to find and slash open. Also refill the nut-mix-box; of crucial daily importance! Helen finds all the t-shirt varieties and then goes to help Rick. I hump four boxes up and unpack them. Hear radio in the bunkroom – Nordnorge will be with us in an hour. The confusion of wire is being brought to order and boxed up, so that landing site will be in a useable state. Ah they have such mucky hands! Doesn’t feel like Christmas even though the advent calendar says it is. Help carry heavy battery up from the not-working-magnetometer. Lie in instant stupor of tea and cake until Nordnorge arrives, exactly on time. The Hotel Manager brings cards and stamp money, then hurries out to look for chicks. Quite early on we start singing ‘Away in a Manger’ and very quietly, the whole shopful joins in – a little celestial choir in wellington  boots. Lots of kisses from our favorite staff, some of whom are off home for a few weeks. Some challenging scenarios to test one’s patience – people triple checking my sums (yes it is still $303!) or accumulating enormous pile of goods with no money to pay for it. Karin had planned for us to join the ship for dinner, but the Captain is worried about ice in the Neumayer, so they’re offski. Crack into mega-frank while Rick and Helen nip out for pisco and crisps (bringing me a small glass on the way.) I’m hungry for some simple protein – a small tin of crabmeat with chopped tomatoes, onion and mayo – before stocking to the rafters. We have three ships tomorrow (and the massive Marco Polo, who, with over four hundred passengers is unable to land at Lockroy, but will probably purchase stamps and post lots of mail for us to process.) More box heaving. Spend hours filling shelves and baskets. Outside for a swift chick check, but all the birds that lift up of their own accord only have eggs. I wonder if the babies are hidden or merely behind. More chicks have been seen at Jougla. From this viewpoint I can watch penguins performing aqua-ballet. Try for early bed. At half past ten Polar Star’s engine signals their premature anchoring.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

We sit out on old church hall chairs in the snow for a cup of tea

November 19, 2007 at 6:05 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

30th October

Stir around five am. Over the next few months I’ll try to describe Rick’s snore, but today there’s more important stuff to depict. Snug as bugs in our caterpillar cocoons, condensation running down the walls.

Rick puts the kettle on. Bladder has been bursting for the last hour at least, but since my nose, the only part of body out of sleeping bag is cold, trip down Baltic corridor, through Genny Shed, to the bucket, is not appealing, but finally essential. Ah but tea’s ready and Rick’s making porridge. It’s the Scottish salty kind – but good n’ warming, and especially good with shavings of frozen honey and dried apricots – yum.

Eight o’clock aah the first tender boat full of visitors from the Nordnorge is on its way. Run around moving boxes from the lounge, uncovering protective plastic from the science room and transferring artefacts from safe back to their places on the museum shelves. (Marco the German Expedition Assistant has successfully managed to twiddle knobs in correct sequence – Hurray!) Wonderful to see familiar passengers; their responses are a mixture of aghast and admiring. Prop myself at Bar in lounge and merrily explain how there’s no electricity or heating here. People I’ve never spoken to wish us luck and a happy season. One man even returns to the ship, insists the boutique is opened, and sends back a large bottle of Jagermeister – our first gift, for medicinal purposes, obviously. And Mairi bestows her sheepskin hat and two apples. Once we’ve said goodbye to Nordnorge, unloaded remaining supplies and watched her slip behind the ice walls of Neumayer Channel, we sit out on old church hall chairs in the snow for a cup of tea. The task ahead of us: to stack and store this box mountain – finding a home for 600 boxes. Tudor has a plan. It takes hours and hours, in between pauses for cups of tea, with macaroons (half-inched from ship when T went to check the hold) smeared with dolce de leche. Basking in the wonderment of working up a sweat next to the swimming penguins in an iceberg water garden. Lunch is oatcakes and corned beef (dog) – which never tasted so good. By six thirty every single box has found a home (albeit temporary) and the tarpaulin is bare; fold it up, liberating that patch of snow back to the gentoos, who mull about, and swiftly settle back. It’s beer o’clock! But I’m behind with this, and reluctant to shut the door on the day, so I stand on the threshold writing until fingers too cold to hold pen. Curry for dinner, cooked by Rick. All food here tastes like Nectar of the Gods, perhaps because it’s been a long while since such physical labour. This meal, being hot, thaws us out from the inside. Dreamily cosy in our bunkroom (kitchen, bedroom, living room combined, in 5 x 6 metres) now that the propane heater is on. Helen knits, Tudor washes up and I’ve been nominated to start the base journal, we’ll take it in turns day by day. Not sure when I’ll have time or battery power to write this, so apologies for delay. All rosy-cheeked and curried up, cosy in and Rick starts to snore.

Bookbinding fingers begin to itch

October 27, 2007 at 11:10 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Rachel Hazell, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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23rd October

Turbulent night. Up for brisk walk round deck (too dodgy to run.) Discover from pipe that clock has moved forward an hour. Not much time for breakfast. Really trying for smaller portions, having been disgusted at current photos of me rounding out. 9am bridge visit, all too brief; makes me appreciate the ships I’ve been on that have had an open bridge policy. I’m sharking for gash charts to make gift books out of…mmm…haven’t yet found the right person to ask. Bookbinding fingers are itching. Outside it’s snowing and the water is moving about a lot. Have learnt of two professional blows in the last twenty-four hours – one disadvantage of almost instant e-mail contact all the way down here. One piece of work broken; one commission cancelled. Shut myself in lecture room and sing every song I can think of. Sounds weak and wavery but serves to sort my head out. Particularly in view of impending proximity, I doubt my capacity to respond calmly, not impetuously. Rick and Tudor empathise over marinated fish of various descriptions and give good advice; we all linger in the dining room. Sleep for an hour. Woken by the pipe announcing Shag Rocks; stark triangular silhouettes on the horizon. Oh but look! The first iceberg! It glows almost neon amidst the grey, superbly sculptural all by itself. Watch the wake, bluer now. Everyone excited to see a Giant White Petrel, very rare. It arcs and swoops with the rest of them. Information-loaded lecture on ice and glaciers from Uli. Oooh I love all that physical geography stuff; diagrams and arrows… First sitting of dinner with some of the expedition staff. We talk about the importance of celebrating Christmas on board and the merits of ice-cream over cheesecake. (They’re right about the cheesecake. They know.) Quick turn round the deck. Two fur seals writhing. Write. Tidy cabin. Meet the others after second sitting. Desultory chat about the lethargy of days at sea, underwear and filmmaking. Because we’re now in iceberg territory, the Nordnorge switches on a powerful beam that sweeps the dark waves ahead. Someone on the bridge will be concentrating very hard tonight. Last thing up to the forward bar on deck seven to see the light picking out crests and growlers and wings.

The dangers of inhaling penguin poo

October 23, 2007 at 1:01 pm | Posted in Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Penguins, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

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19th October

Eyes shut together this morning. Much better; thank goodness for drugs. No-one is running today, not even the Hashers. We speed-walk instead, wearing more clothes against the damp. Rousing, but not sufficiently recovered equilibrium to attempt yogic balances. All grey nondescript sea and sky, flashed through with arcs of birds. Big carb breakfast. Mandatory IAATO briefing. Still tired. Elevenses with the team and a work meeting to go over daily routine at Port Lockroy. Can hardly keep eyes open – even though this is important! Move onto risk assessments (inc. the dangers of inhaling penguin poo) then slump into horizontal mire of a nap for an hour. Good grief where have my energy levels seeped away to? Buffet lunch: only now regaining a sense of proportion with my portions, so just the two courses (mmm one liberally doused in crème anglaise…) Write on the computer for a bit. Amyr Klink gives a slide show of his madcap metal hulled sailing adventures in Antarctic waters. One year he buried treasure in the snow, and brought his children back to find it years later. They are so unimpressed with the contents (alcohol and money) that they create a better one! Since I’ve managed to screw up the music software on my computer, ( a potentially devastating move at the start of five months semi-isolation) I’m delighted to bump into a Mac man on the stairs. He readily agrees to help, but I screw up again, in the nicest company. These guys can’t wait to buy stamps from our PO. One more day’s sail before we reach the Falkland islands. We’ve been trying to work out how to watch the rugby world cup when we’re scheduled to be at an albatross colony on a remote island. Thinking of hiring a small plane…is that a ridiculous notion? Prefer to eat early, although that means alone – enjoy the thinking time. After a decent interval of digestion, first hot-tub/Jacuzzi. Floating in jade bubbles at 39, looking out past the Norwegian flag to grey sea, pale silver spume and fog. Funny to be there, on my own, on a ship, on the way to the Falklands. I join second sitting (for the company you understand) which involves taunting the expedition staff who are not allowed to drink. John (the bird man) v helpful about i-Tunes, tries to help, fails, but promises to try again later. Show Marina some pictures of book sculptures. She says “I had no idea; there are books everywhere!” Latest to bed. 

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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