Lie staring, thinking.

May 19, 2008 at 10:17 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

5th February

My top bed cover went adrift, so wake up cold on the PO counter at three. Rick brings tea through just before nine. Lie staring, thinking. Commitment visits at ten. Tony has offered to take me on a jaunt to Palmer for two nights, but that’s impossible. Shame. He buys a lot of books. Australis zip over for a last-ditch post dispatch. Rick, Roger and Tony share coffee and talk lots. Off they go. In theory, this is a Maintenance Day, but two other yachts will visit this afternoon, and the weather (windy, occasional snow flurries) is not conducive to external painting. Frustrating to not be able to relax. Can’t type or ring home because the computer is in use (on and off) all day. Helen has liberated a new row of boxes by the time I reach Boatshed to bring up To + Fro greetings cards. It’s peaceful in there sometimes. After unpacking, lunch is well due. Heat up risotto with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice. Via, with four French pax arrive after two – they’ve come from Tahiti (and Ushuaia) it’s jolly talking French. Half an hour between them and Lady M arriving – only one passenger with her very own Expedition Leader! They bring over a bag of foody goodies. The crew of ten visit too, we are later invited to join them for dinner. EL leads Helen and I to her luxury cabin (with a mirrored ceiling and deep pile carpet) ohmigod it’s bliss! Recline on the day bed and gossip while Helen showers. Then I hop into the cascading liquid warmth, tempted to lock the door and stay forever. The Crew Mess is lovely. We’re on Second Sitting for curry. Meet Jim the Captain, Paul the Ice Pilot, and briefly the other stewardesses and other crew. Very comfortable and kind. They send us back to base with as much milk as they could spare (we were back on Nido rations) and three frozen portions of braised lamb shank – bless them. Quick tour of Bridge, then Helen and I get lost on the way back to the Marine Platform oops. Relaxed and weary, it’s only half past eight! Rick reads, Helen knits and I put images on a CD for Pete. Rick says it’s getting too cold to sleep next door, and that my intolerance to snoring is psychosomatic. Helen dispenses counselling session. I am grateful for the quiet.

A disturbed night of wind and engines.

May 19, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

2nd February

Too hot. Wakefulness. At six thirty Endeavour is on the radio. Ten minutes later, we’re ready for the breakfast boat. I savour melon, honey and yogurt in solitude, until Rick and Helen return from showers. Bernd and his wife join us – he has brought mended camera, it was just the battery, hurray and thank-you. I shower and drip dry in the sauna, catching the end of Rick’s talk. Visit goes swimmingly. At the end we fly back aboard for lunch – time for a white-wine-spritzer with Marek first. And sit quiet, until David Stephens wanders by, admiring green slippers. Accompany him to lunch and we sit with curious Bostonians, amongst others, who educate me as to the British-ness of their accent. We talk of Gentoo success and the differences between matriarchal, matrilocal and matrilineal, all the while troughing down five varieties of salad and lamb shank, followed by DIY ice cream sundae. And a hot chocolate, which comes just as Rick tips the off – so a waiter pours it into mug and instructs me to take it with me; funny carrying it across the water. Ship steams off even as Matt drops us off at the landing site. Frank the mail with an irritable head (tut tut drinking at lunch time.) HMS Endurance has mailed – they’ll be here on 4th, and yes, I can have a bath. Sit in the sun for a minute. Dog tired but can’t miss these rays, and H bounces out when she realises. The Doctor on Endeavour has prescribed antibiotics – although she’s on the mend already – it’s hard to recover in cold damp surroundings when the pressure is on. Xplore (Steve and Annie) and their French/Belgian pax (who had all worked together on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan ,) turn up just as I contemplated lying down. They present Rick with an Antarctic Tartan scarf customised with Xplore’s stamp. The guests write lots of postcards then all head off to Vernadsky. Sink into bed and doze for an hour, trying not to feel guilty as Rick paints the outside of the window by my head. Wish I was spread-eagled in my own bed at home, between linen sheets, half way through a good book…soon enough…soon enough. Arise, eat choc bix and fold the remainder of the second pack of maps. Rick suggests that it may be a good opportunity for a chick count – warm and dry. So take Rite in the Rain notebook and propeller pencil (thanks Phil) and walk softly amongst the colonies, counting the fluffy beanbag ones, avoiding affronting pecks. No corpses. Take photos as I go, parents and offspring in assorted poses. The moulting non-breeders look so abject and forlorn – quite hopeless. By the time I’m done, fingers are frozen. Curry is cooked. The red/orange/yellow ship that I took to be Argentinean Navy, is actually the Lawrence M Gould (American Research and Supply Vessel) out in the bay by the Neumayer Channel. Normally they rush past, but radio over; sorry to call so late but please could they visit? Rick has never heard of such a thing and puts them off til after dinner. Great curry and oily poppadums. Reluctant to wash up, so ready the shop. Thought they were landing at eight, Rick lights the Tilley and we wait, but it’s nine before the first zodiac-ful leaves the ship. I stand on rock and watch the big orange jackets come. They are on their way home, having been out in the field; some dazed, others inquisitive. Chat to a few of them, and compare travel notes on South America with the ship’s chef, until he’s the last back on the boat. Rick is already in bed in the lounge, pining for an alternative to insomnia. Helen and I tease him. Lie and think and drift off.

Presented with a painting of a chicken.

April 7, 2008 at 5:50 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

29th January

At five am Le Diamant departs Port Lockroy to be in place for an early landing elsewhere. We quietly brace ourselves for two large ship visits. Fram commences relaying passengers at nine am. Whilst it is not as frantic as previously, the BAS/UKAHT Peninsula maps fly off the shelf. Pace not steady but not too slow. Rick comes to ask if we’d like a hot drink, but doesn’t reappear. Helen finds he was making coffee and has been held up in the corridor, holding new carton of Long Life milk, answering a question about Marconi… An American radio channel interviews me (after Rick) seeking my thoughts on Scott and Shackleton hmmm and how it is to live here – click on penguins.) Having laundered our clothes (mmm relief) Fram leaves at eleven twenty. We’re still chowing down on yesterday’s pastries glub glub. Plenty of energy to start on franking backlog and fill the counter before taking five minutes on deck. Dry, low cloud, half back bay swept through with brash. Particularly grubby Sheathbill looks as if he had face-planted in a mud puddle. Younger chicks cheep, older ones practise trumpet call. They are developing fast, despite apparent absence of krill. This means the Sheathbills have not started their habit of knocking masticated food out of the penguin’s mouths, mid-feed. Sleep for over an hour. Up for two o’clock lunch. The others have been on boatshed errands. Wash up. Frank. Bundle. Quiet. Nordnorge materialises through snowy mist. Everyone is covered with snowflakes. Marco is back, Steffan his cheeky tall self. Presented with a painting (of a chicken) by someone wanting to have their work represented in each continent – I was the first person she saw. Helen progressively tireder, no energy to respond to endlessly same questions. She sinks behind the counter now and then for brief respite. Discover that we are invited over to the ship for the evening. Helen stays behind, not well. Rick and I on last zodiac. Quick shower. Rick purchases internet card for time owed. He fails to sign in to web mail account, I fear it has expired. We’re hungry anyway; relish fish and salad, whizzy pudding. Rick to bar and I find him there after downloading e-mails and catching up a mini bit of my other life. Leave at nine-thirty, skimming back over the gloupy oil-slick dark water, ice reflected grey and turquoise. H has been sweating out fever in bed poor thing. Even my eyelashes are tired – do you ever get that?

I pretend to wear a cocktail dress under this immersion suit.

April 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

25th January

Burn’s Night!

Wet wet wet! Rain drumming on roof. Aware of Marco Polo departing and Europa moving (dragging on anchor chains it transpires.) Slept well and finish Alan Bennett’s book, luxuriating in the long lie. There’s a risk I’ll be serving from this supine position. Helen brings peppermint tea around nine (saved me from waking at seven thirty when Rick got up to make his first cup!) A sodden Dan delivers last of Europa mail before they leave. Rick seems to have left half his clothing on Marco Polo – his best fleece and jeans – oh consternation! He looks everywhere for them. Yachts due to land shortly; Vaïhere and Okolé. Impossible to distinguish between the two as they are all French. They try not to drip on the philatelic post that’s drying on the counter. Pierre on Okolé explains that they are following Charcot’s voyage and they’ll tell us more tomorrow. Charcot discovered and named Port Lockroy (19th February, 1904,) so this is a significant port of call. He’s sending much mail and needs more stamps. There’s a seamless merge into the afternoon, I’m still trying to catch up on franking (Marco Polo’s stacks and stacks.) Pelagic Australis whip in to film some more, mostly with Rick. Helen’s putting figures into spreadsheets on the computer. She and Rick stop for coffee and toast at some point. Before we know it, Mikheev are here. Lovely to see Monica, as always. French charter so lots of Franglais. Balena re-visit, apologising for lateness, I’m confused, not sure who anyone is, the half familiar faces. Mikheev visit is over by four. Rick and Helen go straight over for a shower and dinner. I’m determined to crack the franking and have accepted dinner invite from Vaïhere. But Pelagic pax hang around and there’s a final postcard mission from Discoverer. Have to firmly shut door and finish the backlog. Eat four Ferrero Roché, drink tea, wash up, write e- mails and indulge in time alone. Rick radios Vaïhere from the ship to say that it’s too windy and not safe, but Eric says it’s calm in the back bay and he’ll be over in a minute. I’m slightly put out that the others are tagging along too, having already showered, wined and dined themselves. No matter, more the merrier as it turns out. Eric picks us up from the sheltered boatshed side. Vaïhere emits delicious smells of herbs, and heat emanates from hatch. Sit amongst Frenchmen and take great pleasure chatting away. They teach me the difference between ‘pinguins’ and ‘mancheaux’, and the word for sailboat. Drink lots of vin rouge. At nine pm, there is an announcement, with pipes, from Discoverer. All the yachts (Seven! Balena, Spirit of Sydney, Santa Maria Australis, Pelagic, Okolé, Vaïhere and Discoverer-the most ever) at Port Lockroy are invited to a party from ten ’til twelve. After delicious meaty ribs, stew and beans we clamber into dingy and are piped aboard the army yacht by Dick. Although several vessels (and us) have early starts, there is much drinking (of whiskey) and cavorting. I discuss the expression of art and science and keep immersion suit on, pretending to be wearing a cocktail dress underneath. We say farewell just after midnight. Fantastic!

I would marry a Dutchman if I could only get my mouth round their words!

April 7, 2008 at 5:36 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

24th January

Rick up at six. Helen feeds him porridge and boils his shaving water. I stay swaddled ’til the last minute, seven fifteen, when Rick is picked up to talk on Maryshev. Sweep, breakfast, mail bundled for dispatch. Chilly fingers but a brighter dry morning, which lifts spirits. Mixture of Europeans and Antipodeans. One Dutch guy buys a copy of ALL the books. They stay for a long time, because Europa are landing at Jougla and they don’t want to overlap. Sunshine burns away the clouds and warms battered emotions. By the end, having franked and typed up a day or so, I realise there’s a chance to call Sarah. Hear her quiet small voice and it’s unbearable to be here, not there, holding tight. She’s still numb. Wracked. Blunder out, sobbing, to let the others know I’m off the phone. Helen hugs me as a yacht passes by in front of us and the crew from Balena come ashore.

They are jolly, love the place and spend an age in the shop. I sit stunned in the sun. Helen paints the white of windows. Rick starts scrubbing down floors. I want to cry and cry, but serve the gentlemen. Frank, feebly sweep. Dan, the EL on Europa, comes to collect us for lunch. This ship has a special atmosphere, jaunty. I would marry a Dutchman if I could only get my mouth round their words!

Because the weather is holding, just, food is served on deck. Funky salads, tasty herbed and garlic butter, beany chorizo soup.

Rick talks in the salon bar. I drift in and out, wanting to watch the water and welling up. The capt/barman says we should mineralise our water – it’s dead, our bones will crumble. Jeez! Another thing to worry about! Dan is interesting; a scientist with a passion for the arts. Through the afternoon, fragments of conversation about pulling the two together, how writers have had a tendency to personalise Antarctica, how scientists could be taught to write creatively…

Need to be in touch about this after March – there’s all sorts we can do. Relaxed landing, accompanied by this intense talking, jotting note and literary recommendations. I want to take time out, to make and read and write An Antarctic Library. After feels like a car crash. We all collapse for an hour, until Alan, EL on Marco Polo, radios ‘Knock knock!’ he’s at the door. In the rain with him are Piers and Heather Dalby, who live in the next village along from home in Somerset, and also, conincidentally, Piers is my step-father’s dentist ha ha. We have a few minutes for a gabbled tour, taking pics, bundling a parcel of cc slips for Rachel Morgan and packing up a present for Neville. Suits on, out in the wet and across to Marco Polo, where the Dalbys kindly let me use their shower. Surreal to be sitting there in undies. Piers thought-fully dials Nev on his mobile – amazing – we exchange a few words (about tax bill! and sisters) amidst this carpety luxury. Great to hear about Justine’s life since we hung about together as kids (I remember swimming pools and horses and good-looking brothers…) Up to Raffles Lounge for a bottle of red (thank-you Piers!) and a buffet dinner. Highlights: cod, battered aubergine, flambé cherries and ice cream. Up to the bar, where there’s a live band and formal dancing. Quick drink with staff, a girl sits near me – the artist in residence – who, it emerges, is Lucia de Leiris, who camped in Woo-ville with Sara Wheeler (in her book Terra Incognita.) Wow. Then Alan apologises; the wind has picked up and Captain is in a hurry, antzy to leave. Don’t neck wine (?!) Hugs to Heather (who’s been drawing with Lucia) and Piers escorts us to the hatch. Long rope ladder down into tender. Back across waves and into bed on counter by ten.

Sheathbills clutter regardless.

April 7, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Observations in Antarctica, Penguins | Leave a comment

21st January

Stormy. High winds. Patchy disturbed sleep. Stay mummified ’til nine thirty. The building creaks in the bigger gusts. I’m tempted to stay lying in the hope that my horizontal weight will help keep the roof on better. Arise eventually, bunkroom is the only habitable spot in this wind and wet. Heater on. Stick stamps on Nordnorge post. Helen braves the squall to restock – it’s ferocious – go down to check she’s ok and bring back a box. Fingers sting with cold. Takes ages to stamp everything. Rick’s on the computer. Even with the heater on we’re chilly in here. Ring Sarah’s number, the funeral was this morning, she’s not there. Type for an hour. Rick not feeling well, he’s down in the dumps. Helen catches up on e-mails home. Polar Pioneer are here at three. Chef drops off lovely bread, yogurt and cookies. Chris (cheery bar-woman, our best return spender!) sad to say goodbye, this is her last visit – we present her with a cloth bag for her latest purchases. Start in on the franking. Skies have cleared. Soon the guys from Pelagic Australis visit; they’re making a film for National Geographic. Helen has cooked aubergine bake whose smell in the oven wafts, through to the shop. While we wait – I frank and serve – Helen stocks up AGAIN, Rick eats popcorn, and helps with various things, changes batteries. Camera up nose, High Definition on unwashed face, it swings and pans over the franked ranks of mail on counter. Presenter buys and licks stamps. Bye bye, they’ll be back tomorrow, and may lend us their kayak heh heh. Delicious, if slightly sloppier than anticipated, dinner, with drop of red. Gentle evening.

Type a little, stop at ten. A few minutes outside. Yachts in: Blizzard, Tamara, Pelagic Australis and Pen Duick VI. Rick realises that we all need sleep, big day ahead, so moves next door. Chatter about when Endeavour will be here and what they’re up to at Palmer, but Helen’s trying to sleep. Sheathbills clutter regardless.

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.

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.

Helen is filmed tap dancing. Light-headed, I eat gratefully.

April 7, 2008 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

14th January

Thank goodness Rick slept well and cosy on the lounge floor, whence he was banished. I’m up for tea duty (for a change!) Snowed in the night and it it snowing now. Rocks are wet and poopy. Discoverer leaves and Antarctic Dream’s engine hum pre-empts the ship steaming into view. Chopped dried fruit today, and yummiest Palmer granola. 

Plenty of time to wake up and prepare for the day. First pax at nine. 

Sweep snow from ramp. Bundle post. Continue writing long letter. Big mixture of nationalities. One fellow sticks extra stamps on a load of First Day Covers, bound for Barcelona – hope they get there. Blizzard (yacht) are in. They have a film crew aboard – ‘On The Water.’ – from Melbourne. First they radio Antarctic Dream seeking permission for interviewing Capt and Julio. Straight away after, they visit Lockroy base, filming Rick while Helen restocks and I deal with crew. They interview me briefly too, the presenter insisting on some live franking instruction. Help H carry stuff up through the snow then she’s filmed tap dancing! Quite funny, but we need to eat lunch before this afternoon’s big ship visit. Munch on gifts left by yacht and ship. Boiled eggs too. Ian radios from Fram, they’ll be here in half an hour, but will head straight off to Antarctic Sound instead of hanging around catering to our ablutions and stomachs – dang! 

Utter blast – 243 pax in good and generous moods. Three hours of concentrating and smiling. At one point I grope under the counter to pull out Snack Box but never managed to dip into it. Gave Ian his wee chart book as he had provided the means to make it. Anya is an Angel in the shop – leaves depleted shelves tidier than ever, ah thank-you! 

Stacks of mail delivered from the ship adding to that posted in our red box. Whack i-Pod on loud and frnak the lot. Helen heroically amassed five boxes of replacement stock while Rick starts the laborious thankless task of sweeping/scrubbing guano from the floors. 

Oh AND he manages to cook up great fruity and not too hot curry. 

Takes two hours to prepare shop for next onslaught. Light-headed. Eat gratefully. Wash up. Rick continues floor cleaning and Helen helps. I have no ounce of strength. When Rick took the buckets a windy gust forced him to run half way round the island and he didn’t spill a single drop! Blizzard is tucked into Alice Creek waiting out the wind, which is rattling our foundations.

The Antarctica Dream has arrived.

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

13th January

*Happy Birthday Julia!!!

RIP dear Melanie.

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

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

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

Crispy salads, fish and ice-cream. Men appear on rocks.

February 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

11th January

Conscious at five. Rustling. Rick up at six, says National Geographic Endeavour are ‘just coming in now’ when actually they’ve swung off the Neumayer. It’s grey and flat out. Another wee yacht in the back bay, oh it’s Discoverer back again. So, over to Endeavour for breakfast – lovely. I wrote to EL Matt asking if I could make an appointment with the hairdresser. Sadly Vidal Babboon’s sterling shearing effects have worn off. Only yesterday Helen was commenting on how ‘bouffant’ my style had become. So at nine am, while Rick is talking through his introduction Lim, from the Philippines, cuts my hair. She gave Rick a severe trim last time, so I’m nervous, especially when she turns electric clippers on the back. Lovely Lisa Trotter Lady refuses to let me pay for it. It’s quite short; should last the season now. Make it back to base before first passengers and trade is brisk. Ah ha! We’ve been invited back for lunch as well, so catch last zodiac and zoom to dining room for crispy salads, fish and ice-cream. Zip up to bridge and say goodbye. Draughty neck all afternoon ha ha. Orlova steams in early, Rick radios a plea to go slow. Men appear on rocks as we’re cashing up and franking – they’re from the yacht Esprit d’Equipe. Have to work around them, talk French and stamp. Helen stocks up on garments with Rick. A few minutes in the bunk room, but spy a figure wandering blithely into Control Colony (because the fence/rope has fallen down.) Go out and yell, he returns, no harm done. Then Roger and Orlova are here, more inter-ship parcels to store, another artist-in-residence with his sketchbook, enjoying plethora of sights and subjects. Many fleece purchases, particularly Baby Blue. And some young travellers. A mighty care package from Palmer Station is delivered by Commitment – thanks Tony and son! – ah granola, I’m so happy. Lots of postcards sent, so I keep on top of the franking by setting to stamping straight away. Whiteing out with tiredness. Helen  has cashed up and started in the boatshed by the time I’m done. Down to replenish fleeces; a new box is required, (the only one left in this particular size and colour-way,) and is, surprise surprise at the bottom of a stack, partially covered by sacks of concrete. To avoid further inflaming Helen’s poor shoulder I shove stuff around myself, phew. The others bring up more boxes of books. Then, and only then, a wee relax aaaah. Shut eyes for an hour and think about fidelity. Helen and Rick head onto the rocks for beer and crisps. Come to when they arrive back to heat up soup, excited by sheathbill pecking hole in the tin and fluttering after as it rolled down the slope. Radio scheds. Eat my bowlful propped up in bed. Wash up. Read out Christmas bit of blog. Helen puts stats on computer and I send off updates. Outside the ice crackles and tinkles. Milky hues with some azure and grey. Sing and want to go higher, but bed is calling.

Rick’s on the rocks, glass in hand – watching.

February 28, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

10th January

Wake at six in a strange mood. Ocean Nova is on GMT -2, we have been invited for breakfast before Rick’s talk. Too early for me, but Helen is perky and eager, so they depart at seven-fifteen, with instructions to sweep throughout. Buy the time I’m dressed and swept, visitors are here and I haven’t finished chopping breakfast fruit. Superb weather; passengers bask and ask if it’s always like this. Chicks already panting in the heat. Sheathbills provoking defensive hissing from the penguins. A cacophony of tweets from all over the island. Since the snow cover has all but gone, the gentoos slide-surf down the steeper rocks – they must have reinforced soles – comical to watch. Nice cuppa on deck soaking up the warmth (and finishing delayed breakfast.) Helen is hungry for egg, so I whip them up scrambled for everybody, and we eat on our knees outside. Rick clears away snow and gubbins from back wall so that I can join Helen’s painting efforts (she’d do the whole thing single-hand edly otherwise.) Slap on the bitumen, don’t feel like singing, have to concentrate on not frowning, though I’m happy enough. Make it round past the back door and Helen overtakes to start on the middle gap, in between new and old genny sheds. Balancing on a stack of wood to reach the facia, I see great views of sparkling ice, blue skies, mountains, wisps of cloud. Suddenly notice a person atop the palatial berg over in Peltier Channel’s mouth. There’s an inflatable moored beneath it, several other figures appear, some ice-climbing. What a thing to do?! Carry on painting. There’s a sharp contrast between shadow and direct light. Helen goes to fetch ladder to do the strip we can’t reach. Precarious on uneven slope on soft snow. After covering a few more metres we need lunch and stop for fishy salads. I stay out, enjoying the air, and reflections, and think how it will be to look back on this. Rick joins me with tea. Euronav would like to visit. We make them wait forty-five minutes, for a decent break. Theirs are the voices I heard last night, and they were gallivanting on the big blue berg earlier. Finish painting in the middle, yachties arrive as I’m peeling out of overalls. Helen’s come over all tired, lay down to eat lunch then stayed there. Nice Belgian skipper Dixie, and crew appear, and start chatting to Rick and I – they had been in touch via e-mail over the last year. Notice that we’re being filmed. This team are tracing de Gerlache’s route; In The Wake of the Belgica. Funds have been raised by selling postcards at boaty exhibition/events, signed by all the crew, with a rubber stamp, the ink glows in the dark to illuminate voyage of the original explorers – cool. 300 to post from here (quite a few philatelic,) and 197 more stamps needed. We stick them all on. Rick chats about Alaska, dog racing and friends who’ve changed gender. Get down to franking once they’ve gone, and fill whole counter, and the lounge table. Brain ticks with future fund -raising plan for Port Lockroy. Helen is boiling stock for soup and restocks a few bits from the boatshed. Tinker so that shop is ready for Endeavour. Euronav have lent us a kayak! Wow. Work til all is done (relieved that we don’t need to wash floor. Rick finishes puttying new window panes in the science room. We eat hearty bowl of chicken broth. H and I dress up in waterproofs. Rick sees us off and kindly spots us all the way. So exciting to paddle off round the island, oars dripping globules on the sea’s surface for a second. pass Jougla Point and the yacht Esprit d’Equipe who’ve just come in this evening. Not too close to the cliffs. Stop and glide then spurt forward, alternating energetic bursts with pure relaxing. Think about Woogie Island, but that’s too far for tonight, slip over to express our thanks to the Belgians. Rick’s on the rocks, glass in hand, watching. Only half an hour but SO theraputic. Zinging. I’m starting to consider Rick’s daily waste management chore as penance for snoring. We hear an engine but see nothing.

Email National Geographic Endeavour with haircut request.

February 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

8th January

Throbbing engine announces Marco Polo’s arrival – they’ve started landing their many passengers at Jougla Point, a few at a time – zodiacs zip. Windy cold and grey today (choose pee position carefully.) Rick’s still in bed on counter when I take him tea. He’s slept badly. Read four days worth of blog and send off. We think Hanse Explorer is a small yacht ship due this morning, and wait for her to come, but she never does. Keep busy with things that need doing, putting out all the caps, franking all the Marco Polo mail – a decent amount, hey hey, Rick brings me tea half way through, he’s installed second lampshade (with parts from other historical bases) in the bunkroom, very smart. He and Helen have brewed coffee and eaten toast. We’re all out of sync. Kotick visits at ten-thirty, I deal with them. Marco Polo delivers post. Helen goes to restock, but Rick’s in the middle of waste management, so she has to stand and watch and occasionally pass him bits of string. Helen and Ri ck slurp on fruit salad for lunch, about two, while I wrote base diary. Marco Polo brought me mail from Ushuaia… I had worried that the arrangement through their Antarctic Tourist Office (set up by the lovely Roberto) had not worked; so an uplifting surprise. Lovely Christmas cards, a birthday Pooping Penguin from Plockton Miriam, Icelandic Voices from Pat law and a sweet Advent calendar from Heather, long letters from Sally and Ian, Susan and Jeremy. Precious. No word from Le Diamant, due at two, so I type for a while. Lots of aromatic nut roasting goes on. Discoverer’s skipper, Andrew comes ashore with a few others to buy more postcards. Show them some of my papery work, as Connor had tried to explain what I do. After typing some more, my eyes start to fail and I feel sick. Migraine Alert. Scared enough to take pills and lie down immediately. Sleep for two hours. Kotick return with mail, and stay for a drink, accompanied by gramophone tunes. Although we have a chicken in the oven, we accept dinner with the French, bien sur. At seven, the radio signals Ioffe on the air; hilarious wee chat with Coz Katie, who’s nearby and loving Antarctica – what a stuff up that we can’t meet! Fail to contact Le Diamant. E-mail National Geographic Endeavour with haircut request. Skim read script of film, it’s hard to visualise, but exactly what we had hoped for. At eight o’clock we join Kotick, on the Peltier side of Jougla Point, nestled in a good wee nook when the wind is right. Cosy, book-lined, effortless hospitality as only the French can achieve. Raisin cabbage hors d’oeuvre, beef and prune couscous, Fer Breton for afters. V. comfy, many twinkles in eyes. Lovely to boat home over still water. Risk snores, trusting to continued effect of migraine pills.

Empty day – bright sun, swimming, a quiet place to sleep in

February 28, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

7th January

Couldn’t sleep through snoring, so tiptoed out with sheepskin, pillow and bag to try out the Post Office counter. Long and wide enough, but much lighter and closer to squawking penguins. Wake at three, cold, as top cover has fallen on the floor. Consider graciousness, patience and turning situations to win/win through the early hours. Because Fram is off this trip, we have an empty day. Sun is bright again. I hear Rick and Helen putter out onto deck with tea and breakfast. (Helen calls it ship’s breakfast because we have so much lovely fruit.) Not really in the mood to eat, so frank whole counter’s worth of post. And then carry up new pack of maps to fold. Rick comes in and we agree to take turns sleeping out. Restock bookshelves with the new boxes Rick brought up. So sunny that Helen continues roof painting in fetching (thinner) neo orange overalls. We go for a run, all in shorts around Goudier Island and then Bill’s. Some rock clambering as the tide is not very low, then in circles. Helen’s chest is hurting so she limbers and stretches instead. Rick and I decide to swim. He fetches towels while I run ’til the last minute to be warm enough. Keep running gear on, which reminds me of WildFitness in Kenya, only the temperature is a million degrees different! Swiftly in off long flat limpet covered rock, it’s clear and icy. Breaststroke for at least fifty seconds before lungs seize up and Rick pulls me out. Jump around elated as Rick swims too. “Take note,” he says “I’m really enjoying this!” We laugh. Sit on rocks in the sun, but breeze is picking up. Adorn ramp with wet stuff and savour cheese n’avocado for lunch. Rick’s in shorts again. Increased wind sends us scuttling inside for tea. After washing up, I fold more maps while Rick takes down Christmas decorations and Helen frets about money – the last forty-eight hours have been so hectic what with yachts in between and too much hurry. At three pm six Discoverer chaps visit (the others are on Mo unt William, inc. friend Connor.) Learn about their various missions and expeditions. They need sixty-two postcards for sending thanks to sponsors and supporters. Send them off with a box of fruit. They’ve kindly invited us for dinner. Helen returns to roof. Rick snoozes. I belatedly write Base diary for the fourth and finish up in the shop. Relieved to hear from Jackie, best ex-neighbour – a long message assuring me that home is still standing and she’s managing the mountain of post; oh thank-you THANK-YOU. Helen had been waiting on the roof for Rick to bring more paint, but he’d fallen asleep… she’s cold, weary, and not too pleased. He goes on up and they finish the job, then go on a mission to find grey caps, even more exhausting. It takes over an hour, so our army-taxi-driver is at the door before we’re ready. He was also delivering post – all 62 cards written! Discoverer is exactly the same kind of yacht as Xplore. There’s only room for us because four chaps are on Mount William. They’re delighted with the quality of our red wine gifts. Splendid thai green curry, ingeniously served in Barbie lunch boxes (lids keep food hot and er contained… black Dr.Who ones reserved for a different watch.) Eat, drink and make merry. Tales of great hospitality at Vernadsky, their sauna with steps leading directly into the icy sea. Rick tells of tricky unwelcome visitors… one menacing group with a dog. See a quick clip of orcas pursuing a penguin, who wisely hops into zodiac-full of delighted (if not so wise) tourists. By ten we’re all yawning, so wish them (the British Army Antarctic Expedition) farewell, manage not to fall into MIB despite impeded flexibility of our orange and blue suits. As agreed, Rick carries bedding through to shop, but the counter is still covered with work paraphernalia, which Helen hastily sweeps off. A blissfully quiet room to fall asleep in, for the first time.

We’re pretty much exactly half way through.

February 28, 2008 at 1:16 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey | Leave a comment

4th January

HAPPY BIRTHDAY special Ellen!!!

Can tell there’s blue sky beyond those check curtains (red gingham, sweetly sewn by Jo.) Breakfast out on deck. Ring Ellen for birthday wishes and speak briefly with Saz too. Bremen, the model of German efficiency, here this morning, punctually. Fine weather brings smiles, and the Captain, wearing shorts. Start at seven thirty, finish at eleven thirty. A brimming crate of festive goodies appears. Philatelic Doctor reminds me to stamp his mail carefully, again. Helen is sniffing and has sore sinuses. It’s warm in the shop, no need for long johns. Goodbye to big tall Gerhard who gives good hugs. Torture to be inside in this weather. The penguins are panting and standing up to air the chicks. Sit out on deck to write up base diary. Rick joins me with an early lunch, he’s going up on the roof, taking advantage of the weather, but gets waylaid by e-mails. Just have to try for some baby chick photographs before anything else. Beguiled by the soft bags of skin, still egg-shaped, al l sleepy. Frank and re-stock. Helen eats cereal in bed, overcome with weariness. I don’t mind. Love sitting in the sun for a snatched lunch. Antarctic Dream starts landing at three. Several Swiss, so enjoy speaking some French. We girls have both been eating too many sweets. Maria Agnes is sweet. Julio too busy to come ashore. Down to the boatshed for more fleeces, I lose the plot a bit, slashing up new boxes when there’s already one open. Rick is on the roof, singing away to his i-Pod. Revel in the warmth. Tinker until shop ready to roll. Rick paints til late. Type for two hours, only five days worth. All eat separately – me early with salmon mayo. Should have exercised, but no motivation. Ioffe has replied – won’t bend schedule so that Coz Katie can visit, because the managing company disagrees with visitor proximity to the penguins here. Rick washes floors. Earlyish night, although heavenly outside. Fourteen degrees in the bunkroom – the others complain of stuffiness. We’re pretty much exactly half way through – these diary books are never going to last.

A barbecue in the snow. The night is sublime.

February 28, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

3rd January

Ear plugs ineffectual. Helen has also been kept awake by similar noises from the lounge. Confusion with teabags, not peppermint, remedied. Ricky also responsible for carrying four cups through to the Ukrainians. Hurry outside for a wee before too many people are about (and out of sight from the Orlova too.) It snowed in the night; penguin and boot prints. Our guests have already had sardines for breakfast so refuse offers of pappy cereal. At eight o’clock, Rob (from Discoverer) brings zodiac round to collect Vernadsky-ites, at the same time as Vlad arrives from Orlova for Rick. We wave them off with a gentle suggestion to let us know if they plan to drop by again. They were no trouble! Half an hour flies by before fleece frenzy and much enthusiastic visiting. When that’s over and we’re re-stocked, cashed and franked, Helen makes perfect egg, bacon and tomato. The yacht Australis would like to squeeze in a landing, and so they do, with a couple of young stamp collector’s to boot. (And two climbers on Jabat, Helen’s envious.) I deal with the punters while Helen goes to the boatshed for those other goodies. I’m pooped. Snoozle for an hour. Usuhaia are due at four thirty and radio when entering the Peltier Channel. Students on Ice; promises to be a youthful, bouncy visit. Eighty-nine pax. Whoah indeed, LOTS of questions and purchases. Straight away after the film interview in old kitchen is wrapped up – no-one told us! – we leave on the last zodiac. Barbecue is in full swing. Berenice hands us a plate, shows us where the crew mess is, and hints that the best meat may be found at the source – the grill on deck. Hunks of meat, fresh nuggets of bread, salsa and guacamole. Rick has gone to shower and ends up dining with the kids, while we share a bottle of wine with the captain. Boisterous up-beat re-cap session led by Geoff. (Helen takes time out for a shower.) Rick and I answer questions including “Do penguins always smell?” and what degrees do we have?
Manage to locate the scribe of two unaddressed postcards and accumulate some final deliveries. Ian Tamblyn sings to an acoustic guitar. The kids whoop and clap as directed. We interrupt a lecture from a Russian astronaut (translated from Russian to Spanish) as we leave. Rick’s been interviewed by a student of Antarctic tourism. Peppers and any other thing from the kitchen we might desire are pressed on us – my pockets are full of lemons. The night is sublime and Berenice drives slowly, our very own cruise, no rush. Only an agony of incredibleness. Rounding the corner, we divert towards Boogie Island (or Woogie, I can never be sure,) and notice some text engraved in the rock ‘B.W. Larvik 1911’ – Rick says he has never seen this before. Do we want to go ashore? Well yes of course, but we’ve got work to do. I have not seen the mailbox so full. I frank while Helen and Rick restock. Listen to Astrid Williamson from Shetland. Helen and I spend a moment outside.

Helen and I step out into the night

January 24, 2008 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey | 1 Comment

2nd January

Tiredness lingers, although all we need to do is get dressed, assemble bags of dirty laundry and be at the landing site by eight am. Nordnorge have invited us for breakfast – aah bliss – hello hello friends. Fresh fruit and the smoked salmon I’ve been craving. Our favourite waiter beams and can’t pour us enough coffee/tea/juice. Manage to send brief New Year’s text message… not many replies… All too soon we must rush to return before the pax. Zodiac driver passes me a parcel – assumed it was mail – it’s chocolate for me! Karen’s already on the deck all cheery, keeping an eye on Jougla landings round the corner. Jovial visit overall. Couple of tricky customers, arriving at counter with armfuls of goods yet no money to pay for them. Sigh. Clean clothes – ah, I was beginning to smell like a homeless person. Helen and I stick stamps on all the postcards collected from the ship this am, so that they’re ready to frank straight away. Rick takes advantage of drier conditions to mop through house where guano muck accumulates faster than you can say penguin. Helen boils eggs (semi-successfully) and deals with the lost digit cc transactions from the end of November – four cards whose last four numbers didn’t make the slip. Oh dear, they were all mine, must have been done in a hurry. Surprise e-mail from bestest dearest friends who married in Pitlochry on 31st, so delighted for them, and so sad not to have been there. While Rick is over on Polar Pioneer, Helen takes a radio call from the (Joint British Forces) yacht Discoverer; they have four Ukrainians from Vernadsky who have come to stay the night with us and when would be convenient to drop them off? ! ! ! Helen regains composure rapidly and cautiously agrees to a plan, with the proviso that Rick will need to confirm the details. I feel like singing, so I do, in the genny shed, which Rick hears as he walks up the path – it reminds him of the Storr experience; a lone singer amongst rocky crags (on Sky e, produced by the visionary NVA.) Polar Pioneer visit goes well, jolly Ozzies. All I can think of is ‘We’re having four Ukrainians to stay! How mad.’ Crack open the M+Ms and crunch on handfuls. Once the visit is over we have about an hour to frank/cash up. Just going down to the boatshed as a zodiac disgorges our (un)invited guests. Run down to welcome them and blow me, if it isn’t Connor (the geologist PhD student/partner civvy in the SRM on Endurance) holding the painter. I never imagined we’d manage to meet, even though I knew he was around here with the army. The whole lot of them will come for ‘a proper British visit’ next week. Hurrah. The four Ukrainians look very sheepish and offer to help in any way. I hide to write this up and occasionally check on progress and pressure levels in the kitchen. Bring beer. Gently encourage prospective purchases to be selected now, as we’ll be busy tomorrow. They sweetly choose t-shirts for their ladies and amass piles of orders from their colleagues. Very keen on the t-towels, which is endearing. Stew is ready, Christmas tunes on, table laid. Enjoy dinner, with questions about our life here and Wordie House (near them) and how it all fits into the historic scheme of things. Helen stirs custard for cake. While she and I wash up – there’s no place to put anything – Rick shows a slideshow of sledging times in Antarctica and Alaska. Rick goes to bed. Helen and I step out into the night and walk around with the Verdansky guys, pointing out chicks and picking up bits of egg shell. They’re impressed by the whaler’s chains, and take pictures of everything. We leave them around eleven and tiptoe into bunkroom. Two yachts in the back bay: Discoverer and Australis. Not sure why we’re quiet as snoring has commenced.

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