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.

Slept soundly on my bed of stamps,

April 7, 2008 at 5:31 pm | Posted in Journey, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | 1 Comment

23rd January

…snug in sleeping bag cocoon.  Antarctic Dream have changed time, they’ll be landing at eight am, twenty mins to prepare. Still have uneaten bowl of cereal by the afternoon! Although the rain is pattering down, our visitors are happy standing in it to watch the chicks. Julio helps us out of a crisis situation by sending over a box of Earl Grey tea bags. The great advantage of an early start? – It’s over sooner! Just getting into the franking groove when Santa Maria Australis visits with twelve pax, and Anne Margaretha with eleven. Nice people –  inc. an artist, Francisco, on the first boat and Peter, a Shetlander, on the second – He lives in Puerto Montt now, I’ve gorged on great cake (with a view) at his mother’s café at Eshaness. Andrea asks us over for lunch, so the yachties are persuaded to hurry, so that we can gorge on succulent chicken. The ‘tag in’ system on Andrea is mounted on a replica cut-out, each cabin number on a different hook – you’ll just have to imagine it if I can’t get a picture. Busiest afternoon in the shop; at one point, there’s a whole congo line of a queue, stretching, good humouredly round the generators to the very back of the hut. The BEST afternoon for memberships – seven from the one visit – extraordinary! Crazy crazy, can’t stop ’til we’ve restocked – early start tomorrow. Pouring with rain, pretty dismal. Rick deals with waste management once we’ve carried boxes up. There’s the possibility of sending a package back to the UK tomorrow, so I scroll through thousands of fluffy chick angles and icebergs, to choose some for your delectation… which takes an hour and a half, by which time the other two are three-quarters through naps and my toes are freezing (and don’t warm up, even under sleeping bag with coat still on.) Current read is Alan Bennett’s ‘The Uncommon Reader’ which I’m loving – the queen and her library, so far away. From outside, the perpetual sounds of zoo (or alternatively, farm) continue. Rick makes popcorn, turns light and music on. Realise we should create CD of images for Lockroy website as well, so go into picture files again. 
Rick looks over Helen’s shoulder, wanting a slide show. By the time we’re done, and e-mail schedule complications have been dealt with, and some umm-ing and aah-ing, we’re going over to Anne Margaretha for a drink. Their little dingy seems flimsy on the swell. Four yachts in; Anne M, Errance and two smaller ones, can’t see the names. Large yacht, lovingly built by hand, all solid. Two sociable chambers and cabins in cosy corners. The chat is easy and there’s lots of room. Bread is just out of the oven. We toast a small tipple of Dutch gin.  Europa engines in, black ensign flapping. (So that makes five boats at anchor here.) We stay ’til elevenish, big waves and splashes on the way back. Resentments, deafness, misunderstandings. Miserable.

…which is special, because the night light is so like the inside of a shimmering shell.

April 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Journey | Leave a comment

20th January

But a storm blows up, wind and rain. Lie still, happy and solitary until Helen brings mint tea at eight thirty. It’s cold enough to have the heat on. Finish reading Anthology with bowl of granola – I’ll send it to Palmer for Phil to read and pass on to Stacie, who may enjoy the chapter by a fellow Polar Chef. I loved it all. Eventually get to franking. H cashes up in the warm. Rick must be persuaded away from bed and book – we have several pressing jobs on top of restocking for Nordnorge’s visit. Pen Duick pax come for a quick visit, with their credit cards this time, and thank-you wine from Juliette. We’re glad she’s on the mend. Penguins are dripping but the wind has subsided. Helen and Rick are in the boatshed assessing fleece quantities, and pulling out supplies for this afternoon. Earphones in for mega frank of Le Diamant mail, which takes an hour and forty-five minutes. Pen Duick VI disappears into the mist. Still snowing. Rick cooks up a kind of carbonara with left over pasta. Helen jots down the code numbers of finished fleece boxes and draws diagrams for future stock layout. Wind and wet continue.

Franz EL back from holiday. 300 and something passengers, control filtered. Frustrating weather for them, low visibility in the Lemaire Channel. Relieved to hear that the ship will anchor here overnight, therefore we can go aboard for the evening. Nordnorge is so full that there are no spare cabins, so we shower next to the sauna (disappointingly not on.) Agree to find Helen out on deck five when I’m done. Turn mobile phone on, as this ship has a signal.

Devastating message from Sarah; her dear, too young, sister has given up the cancer fight, and died on 13th. Feel so impossibly far away and can only send love.

Dinner is fabulous, a Chilean Buffet. We sit with tall Steffan, who claims to be an old lover of Rick’s… I’m keen to make e-mail contact with friends and family, so take my leave (after selection of four puddings) to hide close to hub. But the six hour card purchased in October is no longer valid – how very annoying. Our favorite Balinese receptionist sneaks me half an hour, which zips by. Making conversation in the bar, Helen mentioned the Emperor visitor. Half the expedition staff escort us home, via Jougla, to try and spot the exotic bird. Very muddy, still raining, we carefully tramp around the rocks, but can distinguish no call or colour. What a shame. A weary fatigue, heightened by sadness carries me to bed where I cry and think of beautiful Melanie.

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.

Look After Your Feet!

April 7, 2008 at 5:09 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Journey, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

15th January

There was a loud thud which shook the building at four thirty am. Rick up at six-thirty. We’re not sure when Bremen are coming – they have two slots, starting at five-thirty, booked. Two large chunks of ice are beached on the on the landing site, how extraordinary. The others have indulged in fresh coffee and are sitting out on deck in the sunshine. Hear Bremen on the radio waves, broken, in the distance… something about 15:00 hours… So coffee turns into an extended foot soak session, using Helen’s Tisserand oils, Spirit of Adventure’s exfoliator and Ricks birthday Doc Hauschka Fitness Foot Balm. Our feet are like new; all plumped and cared for. The First Law of Port Lockroy is “Look after your feet!” (The second is “Look after your bum.”) Helen points out how dull it might be living on this island if the penguins weren’t here, despite their noise and smell.

On with jobs: Helen scrapes and sands window frames at side and front, Rick finishes bitumen in the middle and swaps batteries about.

The info packs are dwindling, so I collate a load more, happily humming along to i-Pod. Cold fingers in here, even though the sun is shining. Helen’s getting grunmpy (ie. hungry) but won’t stop for a tea break. Several items have accidentally dropped/fallen between deck slats and need to be rescues from the mirth of sheathbills. Rick does it chopstick style, Helen has constructed a hook with wire and ribbons of sellotape – technique depends on object lost. Watered-down curry soup for lunch. Helen stretches first, back aching. Rick nearly nods off, but Bremen will be here in half an hour. Helen nervy about getting post bagged up and setting counter straight. An immensely tedious visit, four hours, big gaps in between the four groups.

Doctor only has twenty pieces of philatelic mail today. We start to go bonkers, so Helen dons overalls, and paints windows and meets Mr. Delmonte – really! – who promises to send us a calendar with palm trees and fruit, to help keep us warm (in our imaginations, if nothing else.) Cold biting wind, fat chicks totter on the nests, many visitors stay outside to photograph the fluff. Even with just me behind the counter, there is still plenty of opportunity to browse through book (wonderful, published by SPRI) of Edward Seago’s paintings, which triggers creative synapses, pleasing stimulus amidst the nondescript. Immediately afterwards, Rick fries up egg, beans and bacon, cooked and eaten in relay to ensure maximum hotness. Finish first, return to franking, mini-restock. Rick sweeps through, shop made ready. Very early night.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

The engine in my chest

January 2, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Journey | Leave a comment

12th December

There was a ship nearby all night. I could feel the engine in my chest, but no-one else did. No visitors until four today so porridge in bed. Helen is poorly, slumped on her pillows, Rick is up and at it, and I’m somewhere in-between. Start unpacking the stuff Helen carried up yesterday (during first part of egg count) and folding t-towels (they come in big clumps of ten) and straightening up lines of postcards. Helen, who should have stayed in bed, and I, go to boatshed to search for a rogue box hidden, we suspect, in the depths of third row back. Much humping and grunting on my part (very warming) and systematic diagram drawing (for future reference) on Helen’s. Find Large Steel Blue T-Shirts and reconfigure the stacks. Good job! Walk up through the gentle snow for a cup of something hot. Fold the new National Geographic satellite maps into quarters – the perfect task for a bookbinder and her bone-folder – and settle them into a slot on front counter. Fiddle about moving s tickers and books through from science room until curry soup for lunch. Type and type away (about a week behind) until battery runs out. Multanovskiy arrives on schedule. A ‘People to People’ charter, extra space filled with an assortment of passengers, including some booked on Explorer. Barbeque invite taken up by Rick and I, but Helen feels like a QNI, rather than talking outside on deck. We leave her with instructions to do nothing. Kind Tula sends me to the sauna for a shower, assuring me that it would be empty. Walk in naked and am greeted by a bathing-suited couple ooops. Chat, then scrub and lather. Straight out to prow for favourite steak, chorizo and salad. Talk with ex-BAS, NZ, Argentinian and Brits on holiday, also IPY stuff with Geoff. Drink gluwein until too cold and crew are hosing down the deck. The doctor has promised me a bath (in the medical room) next visit ha ha hurray. Into bar for a quick drink and then Geoff drives us home, laden with boxes for other Qu ark ships, a box of barbeque leftovers and a box full of DVDs to borrow. Helen’s fine. Out into the calm night for a pee. We heard a thunderous noise a few minutes ago; our protectrice iceberg is no more! Toppled and divided, it is reduced to two chunks and a welt of brash. Splash marks on landing site rocks indicate quite a wave. I’m sorry she’s gone. We can’t hide anymore.

Curiously street-like lamps, night caps and laughing

November 19, 2007 at 5:56 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Penguins, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

October 28th

We are in Admiralty Bay on King George Island, a place familiar to me from surveying up and down these coasts on Endurance last year. Say fond hello to the Florence Nunatak. It’s calm, so have to run, although deck crunchy with fresh snow and populated with many passengers sporting cameras and binoculars, aghast at us in shorts. Straight ahead is Arctowski, a Polish base where we are due to visit. But the sea ice pack is too jammed for the tender boats. There’s a fur seal (unusual), a weddell and a leopard seal in the distance, a multitude of dots – ­ an adelie penguin colony. Shame we don’t get to wake the Poles. Plan B; seek permission to land at the Brazilian base, Commandante Ferrez, instead. They are snowed in. Their living room has (colour saturated) photographs of sandy beaches, and quietly staring men. A felt-tipped list by the door outlines “irritating things” ­ – only twenty items, not bad for a whole winter. Outside, up the hill, past curiously street-like lamps, stand wooden crosses, some of them in memory of FIDS men at Base G (Lockroy  is Base A.) Hey, I’m cheery today, wearing pink salopettes and contact lenses! Back to ship and to blog. Small diversion to pick up an American penguin researcher from Copacabana Base, tragically her house in Arizona had burnt down, and we are the first ship that can take her part of the way home. What a shock. Franz, the Expedition Leader, gives a lecture on Antarctic Stations, including many photos and tricky tales. Land at Half Moon, a large leopard seal prowling; up snow path to see chinstrap penguins up close, loved up, amongst beautiful lichened rock-stacks. Top of the hill for optimum nesting because that’s where the snow melts first. Divine light on distant bergs, a subtle spectrum of silver-greys. Last chance to hot tub! So we all meet up on deck six when Tudor’s finished helping with landing duties, but water’s cold ­ no! ­ so resort to cocktails instead. Double round for me as, I don’t seem to have been in the bar much (an anomaly). Cocktail of the Day: Bend Over, v good, lead to low tone of dinner conversation. Night caps. Laughing.

On trying to memorise prices

November 19, 2007 at 5:52 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey | Leave a comment

October 27th

Late lie, but still run. Helen and Tudor stayed up til one thirty am; missed your own party they said! Indulge in particularly luxurious breakfast of hot waffles, sitting at a window in the grand part of dining room, with views aft. Uli gives a lecture on Antarctic geology.

Not sure I could repeat the substance, but truly enjoyed his impression of particle compression in the earth’s crust ­waving arms and bobbing up and down. Lie on cabin sofa and don’t move until lunchtime (well, only to breathe.) Down to the hold to pull out boxes of stock for the onboard shop, which we think will open for business on Monday night.

Trolley twelve or so cartons up to a spare cabin for seeing what’s what.

Christmas like discoveries. Try to memorize prices. Helen’s turn to feel queasy. Reward ourselves with tea +  biscuits. We’re nearly at Elephant Island, ­ the computer screen maps show ship virtually upon it ­ but can see nothing through thick fog. Suddenly we are at Cape Wild, where twenty-two members of Shackleton’s crew were infamously marooned for four and a half months. Out on the prow, we can just make out shapes of rock, swirling white and the bronze bust of Capt Pardo, who eventually rescued the men, standing incongruous. The places resonates with feeling, deadened by snowflakes. Briefed for landing on South Shetland Islands. Late sitting for dinner; all rather sober tonight. Stop and talk with Mairi (from the Western Isles) who is always affirming. She says how strange it will be without the Port Lockroy team aboard ­ only two more days, three more nights in a warm comfy bed. I’m getting scared.

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