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.


Rachel and the Lonely Puffin

January 24, 2008 at 7:37 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

25th December

The Worst Snoring in the World! Probably due to excesses of whiskey forced on Rick by Shokalskiy’s Captain. Cold south-easterly wind – so it’s even breezy on the bucket! Briefly read our Christmas e-mails. Not too cheery. Special porridge and then Antarctic Dream’s passengers start landing at ten. Singing is very good and we are jollied by their fine spirits. When they leave, around twelve, we move into lounge and pile up an extraordinary number of presents. So much generosity from the ships – Rick has never seen such decadence at Lockroy. There are parcels spread on every surface. First off, the catering staff from Orlova provide great hats (which Rick and I wear for the rest of the day (Mine’s a sparkling Viking number and Rick’s a pantomime dame.) The bestest heart-warming thing, which brings me to tears again, is Kit’s book ‘Rachel and the Lonely Puffin.’ So wonderful. So proud. And Helen’s knitted penguins; perfect and exquisite with their matching hats and scarves (whi ch echo ours.) Rick gives us fluffy penguins, huge mugs and mysterious eggs which we must immerse in water and see what happens. Incredible amount of chocolates, bottles and treats. Sip desert wine and listen to Blind Boys of Alabama over and over. We have a cheese sandwich (with Piccalli) for lunch. Helen stirs up festive custard to pour over Jo’s Christmas pudding (from Polar Pioneer.) Rick makes a couple of calls to loved ones, and discovers we’re very low on minutes. Which prohibits much communication with our nearest and nearest. Try to call Iz because I know Jule is there too – all terribly sad because their cat died this morning. Agree she’ll ring in half an hour. Tudor phones – Helen and I both get a couple of minutes. Great to laugh with Tudor, and hear he’s brought the same camera as Helen. Sister’s ring, and it’s great to hear each voice for a few seconds. Charlotte tells me they’re eating Cheesy Nipples which takes me back to last year (three happy days of Port an d Quality Street,) Rhys talks of turtles and chicks. Can’t hear properly and the call is over too soon. The yacht Santa Maria Australis lands her nine passengers at four pm. Helen has prepared mulled wine, which we serve in paper cups. They are subdued. And smoke on deck, which floats into shop and shocks our nostrils. Wrap First Day Covers and Helen unscrews Perspex on counter to adjust display. I need to lie quiet but Rick talks and Helen rustles – she’s rolling out marzipan and icing for her mother’s cake. So forty winks are not achieved before Orlova radios arrival and we need to be in immersion suits because the sea is choppy. Distinctly un-festive, we bundle off with not even a card for our fine hosts. Quickly change into jeans and enter full dining room with our Christmas hats firmly on. This provokes cheers and camera flashes. I get to sit with Victoria, her husband, their friends and the doctor. Numerous courses, including sea bream on spinach yum yum. Back through t o bar for a bit, the bridge is impatient for us to depart however, so that the crew can stop work. So back across the moving water with Vlad, who collects four boxes of de-frosted potato wedges that we had buried in a snow drift. Helen can’t believe Christmas is over. Her three snap and glow wands have somehow snapped. She waves them around and plays with them on her pillow. (There are photographs she took very quietly, which I like.) An engine throbs loudly nearby. Happy Christmas. How odd.

Rip-Snorter: something extraordinary, humdinger.

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

20th December

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

On not quite wanting to get festive with carols

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

14th December

HAPPY BIRTHDAY dear Isobel!!!!!

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

The most delightful morning

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

9th December

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

Taking it in turns to be interviewed

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

6th December

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

Frank in the half light

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

3rd December

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

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

Write twelve letters, some with big writing

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

1st December

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

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.

Nordnorge is near

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

24th November

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday in Antarctica

December 17, 2007 at 8:34 am | Posted in Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

22nd November

Rick’s Birthday!

All pile into his bunk for card opening – one of which includes ‘vouchers’ to cash in all day. We tuck into the chocolate gingers from Jo, and stay, three of us wedged in warm, for ages. Special servings of porridge, then tea, then toast. More presents opened, the highlight being a mate for Pooping Penguin (and bestly, a new supply of poops!) Rick’s only allowed to do nice jobs today, so me and Helen go up the slippery Stairway and also collect ice, and we’re down to the last drop of jerry can water again. Brash ice is spread over the rocks like a delicate levitating jigsaw puzzle. Treacherous for ankles (and tough terrain for landing pingus.) Find a table berg to use for smashing up smaller bits. Doesn’t take long…and actually I’ve been missing the melting… twenty kilos can be cumbersome to pour, the ice is easier to scoop with a ladle. This batch, however, turns out to be salty, ok for washing up, not for drinking. Fill up the baskets of pins/patches/charms etc. and work out what we need from the boatshed, which makes us hungry, so we gorge on celebratory spam pancakes (?) with fresh cheese and tomato. Helen solders broken torch connection…(‘ONE last try!’ about twenty times…) and fixes it! Speedy-ish re-stock with Helen. An hour’s typing. The other’s go for wee walk, leaving b’day sponge in oven. Now the oven does Hot or Very Hot and nothing in-between, and cake-making ingredients are er limited so the fruits of Helen’s labours do not satisfy her exacting standards (and the edges tinged after I’d checked it…) Yoga session next, all achey and toes never warm up – Rick’s progressing in leaps and bends (and I’m not just saying that.) Helen rises deftly to the challenge of cooking up a feast on two rings, the lounge is prepared – a table set with candles and a large red ensign as tablecloth. Rick’s favourite – Fray Bentos pie, peas and mash, with birthday cake for afters. Several gramophone tunes, a couple of whiskeys, and talking of times past the evening whiles away merrily.

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.

Zip-lock bag to pop in popped out tooth

December 17, 2007 at 8:27 am | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

17th November

Seven am rise. Lightly, softly, snow falls. Lots to do before today’s ship visit. Clearing, sweeping, ordering, counting cash and re-stock.

Rick helps me in the boatshed – daunting despite Tudor’s system, especially when the two t-shirts you need are in the bottom box in the stack of eight. Luckily, no rush, so we blunder at leisure, eventually locating all we think is required. Helen also joins fray – I’m so glad we’ll share this task to begin with… still takes ages. Once ’tis done, it’s certainly coffee break time. Helen sorts money, I fill in missed base diary days and Rick constructs new boot brush. Radio calls Rick over to Polar Star, leaving us with an hour’s grace, rationalising postcard storage cupboard to accommodate overflow of t-shirts in five different colour ways. Ready for the troops! I’m rubbish at numbers for some reason and cash drawer falls out, greenbacks everywhere, don’t swear. When sugar levels hit a low, I grab a handful of hard gums; mid-transaction half a molar detaches…I carry on taking the money and Helen passes a zip-lock bag to pop in the popped out bit of tooth. Good to see Kim Crosbie – we reconfirm promises to meet for a hot chocolate back in Edinburgh. I sit, half comatose with tea and biscuits. Easy evening with red wine and alluring cooking smells (inimitably FRESH!) Absolutely delicious steak sandwich, with brocolli, onions, those dried mushrooms and merest spoon of nose-corroding mustard. Moribund and heartfelt conversation about oldness. Monsieur Adelie is still here. Ice in the water so many shapes of blown glass. Light emergency dentistry.

Rick and Helen both wake from mid-evening snooze. I’m asleep.

First ship shop

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

15th November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14th November

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

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

I’m thinking of poetry and missing it

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

11th November

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

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