Lie staring, thinking.

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

5th February

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

A disturbed night of wind and engines.

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

2nd February

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

Singing lightly in Thunder Bay

May 19, 2008 at 10:07 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

31st January

Hanseatic staff arriving in ten mins! Glorious morning. Two penguins down on the shore have started to moult; feathers a-flutter like leaves in Autumn. Because this process renders them un-waterproof, they won’t go swimming (i.e. no food) for as long as it takes – poor them! Hide breakfast bowl behind mounds of post and the scales. Brusque start and too many Amex cards to turn down. Some sort of business person’s charter, orgainised this year by Mr Morrison of eponymous mega construction company. Paul Rose (ex BAS) films Rick for BBC website – fantastic. And one visitor becomes a Life Friend of UKAHT wowee a fine day. Nice to see tall Arne, and another German fellow (who had worked on Bass Rock for a season and hence got into the British way of tea for every occasion.) Rick and Helen walk Dave Fletcher, EL on his penultimate trip, down to the landing to wave them all off at the end. I sink into a chair with my face to the sun. Wish I could record the sounds of these Gentoos – who are also revelling in the warmth – different tones of chicks and adults. A cacophony. Sit here for a while with Rick and tea. Hear voices from around the corner of hut; yachties from Vision who’d waited til the big ship had left. New Zealanders climbing, walking and having fun. And considerate of our busy-ness. They look round everywhere smiling, buy small bits + pieces and invite us over for coffee or whatever. We decline, anticipating an afternoon on our own at last, and send them off with a surplus crate of fruit. Frank a counter-full. Conditions are ripe for a glide in kindly loaned kayak. Rick is up for it. Helen, still recuperating, sees us off from low tide rocks by the boatshed. Rick manoeuvres so I don’t get feet wet. Perfectly calm water, icy bits glistening and reflecting like diamonds, paddle dripping and churning. Happy to let Rick, in front, determine direction. We go around Bill’s and out to Boogie Island . Find a low shelving step, hop out and circumnavigate, stopping at the engraving B W Larvik 1911. Limpet shells scattered as carelessly arranged beads, sparkling. Stone warm to sit upon, whaler’s chains, rust stained surface, orange brown flakes. Two wooden posts, still there – no tide or wave in the last hundred years strong or high enough to move them. Paddle back and round, in by Jougla Point to examine the young shags on the nearside outcrops. They are flapping, brown wings growing darker. And on to Alice Creek , where Vision is moored, singing a Native American round (which Jo taught me at an event for Survival International, many moons ago) and then to inspect the information sign by the Scoresby rock (1928) that the others had noticed previously. We’re in Thunder Bay now, where there’s always a risk of calving – glide as close as we dare, swirling up glacial melt dust. Sing lightly and detect oddly oriented echoes. Radio Helen, all’s well and we’ll be home for lunch shortly. Slip back, climb out. Dine on salad, cheese and avocadoes again, yum, out on deck. Take tea and chocolate into shop for another franking session. The ‘to-do’ pile is reducing and mail sacks are bulging. I like the time to think – listening to the Gotan Project and grooving gently. Thought I’d adjusted the ink pad right, but it’s fading already, maybe merely due to the quantity of usage. Having e-mailed for hours, Rick paints the facia board, up a ladder, while cold wind whips round his neck. Helen sleeps. Eventually, at seven, I stop, after sorting the latest boxful into order. Nip out for a pee. Baby penguins curled up, many collapsed flat on stomachs, feet splayed out, wings spread wide. Rick cooks steak and onions for dinner, with carrots and butternut squash. Helen has been counting income from the previous three visits – she had been too ill until now. Eat good-humouredly. Xplore radios their arrival. Viking has moored in the channel between Goudier and Jougla, and Vision is tucked into Steve’s fav spot, but he manages to fit into Alice Creek as well. Cold damp air. Clear counter of mail. Bed down with hot water bottle as wind blows – the yachts are obviously expecting a rough night.

Presented with a painting of a chicken.

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

29th January

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

Our best French jokes are aired. Time to go.

April 7, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Posted in Life in the snow | Leave a comment

28th January

Up at six for a six thirty start. Makes for a better visit when you’ve shared a table the night before! Very cold – five degrees centigrade in bunkroom. Several visitors put on clothes and buy them just to keep warm. Jerome (Wonder-chef top tip: sweet potato soup with crispy bacon topping.) brings over a box of fruit, milk and eggs. He’s shocked at our living conditions. Marten hopes they’ll repeat the visit (and dinner) next trip, when the owner will be onboard. Dale (the Australian) asks how we get on; our most annoying traits…there are many ways to answer. Explorer II appears, steaming in from the Neumayer. So the small luxxy yacht departs. We put the kettle on and swallow more spoons of breakfast. Suzanne (EL) and staff arrive, weighted down with pastries – sugary carbs to get us through. Helen says even I look tired today and yes it’s hard not to yawn. Four groups of fifty, first two evenly paced, then a big gap in the middle. (We have sold so many fleeces that Rick has to retrieve more.) And then another rush, lots of credit cards. Hungry and cold by the end, which comes at midday. Weird to think that we’ll leave on this ship in six weeks time. Already confused about subsequent sequence of events… nothing remarkable, probably restocking, tidying. Stop for food. Read a few e-mails – one from Julia. Wash up. Take slop bucket. Helen’s made a list and I bring up a box. Rick is packing up waste card to clear some space, so I can’t get to the fleeces. Lay out t-shirts and frank. Rick goes over to Le Diamant for talk – the translation (it’s a French charter) is a distraction. No time for a break. Before we know it the staff are here, clamouring in the shop, needing more stamps. Good to speak French again, but tiring. Keep patience with each other. When Le Diamant invites us for dinner I say yes yes without considering the consequences – we’ll have to restock for Fram and Nordnorge tonight. These few days are going to be insane. Hotel Manager remembered my plea for yogurt and carries up a box-ful – merci! Helen finds it divisive that I ‘hoard’ chocolate under the counter: Since we spend so many hours in the shop, there is where I need the energy boost. Two hundred passengers in two batches, with a break in the middle. Straight after the final pax have left, we pack our waterproof bags and speed over to the ship on last zodiac. In the lounge we are instructed to wait for the Captain and handed the cocktail menu; drink G+Ts and Daiquiri until he comes. He says we can take it in turns to shower in his cabin (slightly odd?!) Helen goes first, and is gone a while, then Rick, then me, sustained by canapés. Liberally dosed with the proffered lotions and potions we dine at the Captain’s table, except he is elsewhere. We take full advantage of the free wine situation and have several courses of fantastic French food. We end up last, and loudest, in the Dining Room. (The three of us, Tim and his wife, Rene and Dennis.) Reduced to weeping hilarity – Charcot has become a leit-motif of the trip and his ‘foot-prints’ have made regular appearances. Our best French jokes are aired. Time to go. Rene does a sterling job zipping me up! Back to Base. Send a virgin pooping penguin for the boys on return boat. I’ve drunk too much. Engine is loud as we sleep.

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!

Franking and hankering.

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

22nd January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19th January

Evie ‘Eskymo’s’ Birthday!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Weeks and One Day. I appreciate the extraordinariness.

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

18th January

Sarah’s Happy Birthday! xxx

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

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

Avoid colouration of fingers. Fill head with meteorites.

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

17th January

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

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

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

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

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

14th January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A chirpy lullaby of penguins.

February 28, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Penguins | Leave a comment

12th January

Particularly resonating snores lead to sleep deprived grumpiness. Take mint tea through to the shop, top up pots and piles to avoid being rude to anybody. Beau (from Spirit of Adventure) arrives at eight for Rick, who’s still shaving. And so begins a stately SAGA visit, no rush, much patriotism and support. Delightful to see Tony Soper here – leap over counter to hug him. Ah what a lovely surprise. There is a massive stack of postcards to process, that have been written on the ship. So weary, can’t answer the same old questions with the usual enthusiasm. Where do you come from? Where do you live? How long are you here for? No electricity?! No running water?! What scientific research are you doing? How long will this postcard take to get there? Where? Sadly unable to go aboard for lunch, as the landing won’t finish ’til three, so we take it in turns to sneak off for a cheese sandwich. I sit in the sun for five minutes, just for the warmth of it, having peered out at the sun for hours, regardless of continuing persistent questions. We’ve started to sell out of things; calendars are long gone and grey fleece hats finished today. Brain hurts dividing and multiplying in various currencies, and defending our policy of pricing in dollars. The combination of poor night’s sleep and dear Helen singing the same snatch of tune over and over again is simple torture. Start franking. Yachties want to come over in an hour – a Canadian boat (Traversay III.) Some of Discoverer lot hear there’s a pause in our business and land too. I need to lie down and do. Rick and Helen went for a run, but H twisted ankle, so they sit on a rock and then count the penguin nests on Bill’s Island (44.) By the time they’re back, I’m up and franking again. We are picked up at seven pm by Spirit of Adventure, it’s the last time they will call here this season (though many staff are transferring to Saga Ruby.) Need a shower (cheesy feet, fishy other bits) which is luxurious – the ship  is full so it’s in a storage cabin, but the light and towels are soft and everything is wonderful. Up to Yacht Club bar for drinks with Capt Frank and Ice Pilot Chris. Then down to the restaurant – table 50, in a corner, so we can be raucous. I take the full five courses – very delicious. Excellent red wine. Frank, full of cold, a great host. Funny chat. Go to the loo and sell a t-shirt en route (I’m displaying our wares.) Tony Soper passes over some letters and disappears – I can’t find him later shame shame. I look forward to some quality time with Francois (Chris’s wife) to discuss Antarctic Literature, a mutual fascination. Along and pleasurable repast. Leave at ten thirty with the last post. Remember to run up for the t-shirt, just. Anticipating a Sunday lie and slow morning, I retire to the PO counter and sleep content, with a chorus of penguins, a chirpy lullaby.

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.

A barbecue in the snow. The night is sublime.

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

3rd January

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

Crazy busy queues in all directions

January 24, 2008 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Life in the snow | Leave a comment

1st January 2008

Rick’s up first, shaving and eating his breakfast like a snuffling badger. I worried that the ferocious sound of his throat vibrations indicated a dangerously dry throat, and woke him up to drink some water. Helen doesn’t dare move. I’m happy lying still as long as possible. Quietly eating a Bovril sandwich when Explorer II announces their arrival (an hour early – must be on Argentine Summer Time) her captain wonders would we like to go aboard for lunch? Affirmative from Rick and I, Helen too er delicate. Quite choppy water and the gangway not affixed, so having been signed in, there’s only twenty-five mins for lunch, which is delicious. Prawn kebabs and salad salad salad. Spoon in a quick chocolate roulade and run back down to pull on suits, dash across the sea, wake Helen up and get behind counter. Don’t think we’ve ever made so many credit card transactions. Crazy busy queues in all directions and a couple of mid-visit trips to boatshed for tartan ties and pink ladyfits.

Meet Ron Lewis-Smith; long-time BAT (British Antarctic Territory) stamp committee person – he took some of the iceberg pics. Helen, pale, has to disappear several times and just wants everybody to leave. When they do she goes to bed and stays there. I do the franking business and catch up on diary writing from yesterday. Can’t settle as snoring is too loud, so I restock shop and make a list of all the clothes. Rick goes to and fro, carrying it back up and helps fill the compartments, for which I am grateful. Tired and hungry now; it’s nearly nine pm. Nordnorge steams in to anchor here tonight. Rick chucks a tin of stew in the pan – perfect. Helen conscious but limp. Suzanne Vega tuneful. Outside to check on chicks; many nests now have two wee ones cheep cheeping away. Re-erect penguin fence, well the control colony rope, which is difficult with no snow to keep the support posts standing. Peek over at Xplore, not a peep from them today. Ok that’s it then. Takes an age to fall asleep.

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