Like ships in the night

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

29th December

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


Dancing to Penguin Pop CD; the law of the tongue; what’s with this peach?

January 24, 2008 at 7:50 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

28th December

There’s a spider in my peach! Spun a little home where the stone used to be. Contravenes Antarctic Treaty rules so have to kill it. No bug immigration here. Frank philatelic mail delivered by yacht, and also Andrea’s. Finish folding National Geographic maps from the first packet – they’re very popular. Cold finger. Wind from the NE still. It’s officially a Maintenance Day for Lockroy. No ships. Our leader recommends taking things easy, so I start on backlog of blog entries. Too chilly to sit for long and Helen suggests a warming box moving session. So down to the boatshed with a long list. More empty boxes mean every week a little more light is let in. Heroic womanhandling of t-shirt boxes buried at the bottom of stacks, and clambering over the waste management dept. Five loads later we’re done. When it’s all set out, stop for lunch involving pickles and crackers. Back to typing. Helen offers to wash porch floor…and ends up doing the hall and shop too. Spirit of Sydney rad ios through the windy air. Helluva choppy in the Gerlache; can they come in? Only six Irish kayakers. Of course they can. Rick’s been busy for most of the day with electrical cabling in Radio room. Helen needs to transfer numbers onto spreadsheets. I’m happy to deal with the visit. The kayakers are having a great time. Ben the skipper is up for chick spotting. More wee fluffy things right by the hut, one all curled up, still egg shaped. Wind has winkled its way through my layers and I’m glad to be back in the bunkroom. Vernadsky guys brought us two frozen chickens; one goes in the oven (squashed to fit,) carrots n’ tatties prepared. E-mails about numbers missing on credit card slips and confusions with stock numbers – we have 203 of something when we should only have 100. Cabbage and gravy add to proper Sunday dinner (ok so it’s Friday) and it’s early enough for film night. Ben (from Spirit of Sydney) has lent us a ‘Big Blue’ whale DVD, with a documentary about killer whales working with fishermen (in Eden, SE Oz) to capture larger whales in return for the tastiest part of the beast – The Law of the Tongue. Fascinating, though Helen may have preferred more escapism. Rick watches last part with his eyes shut. Oh we (I) danced beforehand, to excerpts from Penguin Pop cd – it’s good to move like that. Rainy and horrid outside. Helen likes a challenge, so insists on taking buckets, slipping on ramp and soaking trousers (second pair today) oh dear. Lie and listen to the weather before sleep.

Just to confirm: yes, Antarctic Christmases also involve bubble and squeak.

January 24, 2008 at 7:46 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

27th December

There is no way of zipping up a sleeping bag quietly; it’s like unwrapping a throat sweet at the theatre. Helen has to endure stereophonic snoring (from Eugene and Stan next door on the lounge floor.) Rick wakes up tired, he slept badly and now his throat is dry. So sunny! First tea, and then cereal outside on deck. Sheathbills have been in the shop, pulling t-shirts off the shelves with their beaks, and shitting everywhere. Eugene is reading on his Sony Clio – he has 200 books to peruse – wow. He and the other Vernadsky-ites have been there for ten months, two more to go. Every week or so he posts a long letter home and hopes to publish it on the web. They play us cheery Ukranian polar music and help carry things up from the boatshed. And buy lots of souvenirs from the shop. Twelve pax and three crew of the Anna Margaretha land and are briefed by Rick on visiting guidelines, as they are not IAATO members. They are 95% Dutch. The owners built, and now sail their yacht, and w ill be down in Antarctica three times. V keen to see the two chick nest and we stand in line patiently waiting for the parent to lift up and feed. But no movement. Parent stays impassive. One of the pax tells me that male gentoo have larger beaks and feet than the females – so that’s how you can tell! Sun shining, wind picking up. Not long ’til Corinthian II, but long enough for tea and Christmas cake. About to go for a major stock up when the ship invites us for lunch in twenty mins. And could they buy 900 postcards and lots of stamps? Eugene and Stan help count them out. Corinthian II is a beauty, and John the EL, an excellent sort. Captain Peter is at the gangway to greet us and accompanies us up to stern deck for the barbeque, which is actually a luxury buffet under an awning – luscious ribs and burgers. Helen has joined the Ukranians (who are delighted to discover that an 80% Russian crew will accompany them back to Vernadsky) in a glass of red. Rice pudding and tea. Dow n to lecture hall oh more like a coffee lounge and half listen to Ricky’s talk, but he’s distracted by chewing gum and going off on tangents, so we off to look at a map of the world instead. Back to base and jump off just before the captain, who is anxious to acquire a polar fleece as he was summoned for this job at only a few days notice, and is better prepared for warmer climes. Good calibre of passenger; good postcard writers – there was a queue at Reception the instant John announced cards and stamps were for sale. Good good. Not much chance to turn around before Andrea noses in. They have caused some perplexion by merging Goudier and Jougla together, when in fact they are separate landings on the IAATO schedule. Fortunately Rick goes over for a talk, giving Helen ten mins shut-eye, and me the chance to bundle mail and write a wee bit. Decide the moment is nigh to open Evie’s parcel (which has Best Wishes from Aberdour Post Office on a sticky label!) The most exquisite se lection of parcels wrapped in maps of Scotland and a lovely long letter. All wonderful, brilliant gifts, especially the Penguin Pop customised compilation and Pablo Neruda’s book of poetry from Il Postino (natch!) What a lift to have such a dazzling web-designer friend! Go see So Andrea don’t start landing (60) passengers until six pm. Wind has really picked up – choppy zodiac rides, splashed clothes. All chirpy. One of the zodiac drivers has lost his neck warmer and nips in to see if we sell any; we don’t but I give him one a new one of mine, winning eternal gratitude. No offence but we’re relieved to shut the door. Rick cracks open a beer. Helen’s going for a round-the-island run and lets me come too. Bitter wind, but we’ve had no exercise for weeks. Clamber round clockwise from boatshed, mostly rock, patches of snow. Wonder if residents on Anna M think we’re crazy. Curtailed by sheer edge and deep water near Stairway, forced to retrace steps, having played with icicles and decided not to live there in a snow cave. Stretch and step ups on flat rocks, quite off putting the penguins. Into the warm around eight. Add baked beans to stew and fry up bubble and squeak with crispy bits. Helen has sprung a cavity somehow and my temporary filling has again vanished, so dentistry skills practised before camomile tea then bed. The wind is all around.

Rachel and the Lonely Puffin

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

25th December

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

Whisky on the (glacial) rocks

January 24, 2008 at 7:33 pm | Posted in Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

24th December

Ouch my eyelids ache. Six thirty peppermint tea from Ricky. Marco Polo monster at Jougla. Polar Star radio at seven, we have a few minutes to ready ourselves. Hannah et al are full of early cheer. 105 passengers a bit of a blur. One of the staff sights a chick in nest just by our hut – on Christmas Eve how perfect. Only around ten minutes before Ushuaia staff land – Monica and her beaming team, bearing gifts of whiskey and lip-balm! Rick makes us sandwiches to ward off collapse. Many Chinese visitors purchase a LOT of First Day Covers. By the end I’m pole-axed. We just can’t accept the offer of lunch on board – dang. Marco Polo’s EL (Alan) and their shop manager swing by for stamps and give us sweet (Rockhopper) penguin zip-pulls. 381 pieces of mail to stamp and frank. Oh and four sacks of mail for us from the Falklands. Rick fixes lunch – tuna mayo – while Helen braves Thai Hot Noodle (a present from a previous passenger, who warned not to use the Whole sauce sachet,) she’s  crying and laughing and gasping to recover. Apply stamps to Marco Polo mail, but there’s no time to frank them. No time to delve into the bulging sacks either. Helen stocks up on all the wearables – by the time I go to help, she’s staggering under huge red sack like a misplaced Father Christmas. Shokalskiy: more carols, low spend, dripping kayakers. One hour to frank and turn around. Melancholy. Open four sacks of post with Helen. The new First Day Covers look great. Lovely card from P. Several parcels for me. More for Helen. None for Rick. A few for Port Lockroy, including lovely one from our Oslo Hash House Harrier friend Brit (from initial Nordnorge voyage.) A wave of overwhelmingness hooks me; I stumble over rocks and weep against the glacier face. Aaaah utter tiredness, a flood. So many people to love, and not here. Icebergs impassive, penguins the same. Half an hour later, over to ship. Quick shower next to cold sauna. First in line for food, at Angela’s insistence. St eak, sausage, salad = yum. Stay on bow with happy punters. There is a couple from the Lake District who read a recent article about Helen in their local paper (and bring us up to date, thank the Lord, with Archers gossip.) Chat with architects and wanderers. Hunk of glacier is being smashed up for whiskey or amaretto on the rocks. Radio call for us from Antarctic Dream, who are passing from Peltier to Neumayer Channels. Could they please buy stamps and deliver parcels? Helen rides home to oblige and Julio, on discovering a gap in the schedule, persuades her to allow the ship to anchor here and visit on Christmas morning! (He also buys a whole set of First Day Covers, including new ones just in.) Helen returns to Shokalskiy and we adjourn to bar. A passenger presents Rick with a parcel – another Pooping Penguin! Then Brendan’s present is a Poolar Bear…even more impressive turds… Triumphant whoops whenever they perform. Home about eleven-thirty, on a boat whose engine kept cutting out. See same zodiac whizzing over to Antarctic Dream, in the back bay; three people fall out, climb in, boat returns to mother, and out for another foray, I think to sing carols. Completely exhausted, but need to wrap presents (one of my most favourite things.) The others are in bed, amazed at how long it’s taking. When that’s done, and gifts are laid around our mini tree, Rick is already snoring. The light outside is mother-of-pearl on far, high, mountains. Have to fetch camera. Sink into bed at half past one.

So much chocolate, cake and fruit.

January 24, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

22nd December

Eyes open to sound of Rick shaving, rasp, rasp. Polar Pioneer is here. Spirit of Sydney sails away. Rick goes across for talk. We sweep and reply to a couple of e-mails. Friendly bunch. Crew bring Christmas Lollies (and eggs, and custard, and strawberries.) A chick is seen at Jougla… but in the beak of a skua. We don’t have time to go and look in our nests. One gentleman, who has posted a number of cards into mail box thinks he may have forgotten to address one, could I please check? There’s a massive queue waiting, but I do, and can’t find it… sigh. Helen and I sing carols, which peter away when we have to start adding up! Chat with the cooks – it’s Jo’s birthday, she’s baked us Christmas Pudding, what a star. A couple of keen birders are outside videoing, but the visit is to all intents over. I start franking, Helen cashing and listing stock. Down to boatshed straight away. Find everything except elusive red caps (actually there aren’t any left.) Rick carries up the he aviest box. Once we’re all set again, stew-soup for lunch. I add cream, which is off, will I get a sore tummy? It has started to snow again, and the pressure is dropping. Unsettled. Helen lies on landing rock and snow falls on her. I wonder where she is and squint into the distance, frowning. We have a break of a couple of hours. I sleep until Fram radios. Swiftest visit to squeeze them in after they’ve been delayed due to a Medevac. Ian brings a couple of admiralty charts for me; how did he manage that?! I promise to make him something. Oh and more Christmas treats. Rick fears the island will sink – we have so much chocolate, cake and fruit. Rick tops us up with regular hot drinks. One hour turn around before Multanovskiy – they had kindly hung back and visited Damoy. Frank and hope ink dries. Yum simple organic cheesy pasta, courtesy of Palmer’s Stacey x, tipped down pdq. Campers land first; they all want passports stamping. Then another twenty or so. Forty-four altogether.

Doctor has not forgotten previous trip’s promise of a bath, and visions of bubbles fuel entire visit. Last zodiac includes me, Helen and clean knickers. (Fram did our laundry, thank-you.) Blissful soak, the first in two months, with a glass of chilled white. Heaven. Float to bar and swallow a few more glasses with the kayak master, Mark the doctor, Tula, Karin and the Lonely Planet author (Geoff) who is a very interested historian. Pleasurable company. Leave at midnight, promising each other not to be tired tomorrow. There is no break in the rhythm of Rick’s snoring.

An unpleasant breeze through my pockets.

January 24, 2008 at 7:21 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

21st December

Rick’s snoring even permeates ear-plugs I discover with dismay. But no need to rise just yet. There is an enormous new berg on our shore – maybe a representation of last night’s distant commotion. Wind from the west. Rick catches up with e-mail backlog, ship’s scheduling complications. I offer to bring base diary up to date (gaining much needed Brownie points) since I have this personal record to help. Two of the three yachts (Spirit of Sydney and Vaihere) come ashore together. One group, who were camping out on the mountain are exhilarated and grateful. Shop becomes a changing room, checking t-shirt sizes. Such small numbers that passports receive base cachet at the counter. (Normally the ship’s purser will bring all the pax passports and stamps them at the table in our bunkroom.) The sun arrives and everybody is happy to rock hop as the tide is low. Slow and relaxed. Rick already chowing down on fried sausage when we come through for lunch and do the same. All up on the ro of in our Dickie overalls (remember them? it’s been a while… ) sunglasses, crocs and rubber gloves. After some more scraping, we will apply a layer of bitumen to protect Base A for another winter. Sheathbills waste no time in excreting on the new coat. Bright and surreal, but the wind cools us fast – there’s an unpleasant breeze through my pockets. The gloop goes on well and we have a great view of the icebergs. Enviously listen to three kayakers (from one of the yachts) paddling round our island. Wind is finally too chilly, and paint tin is empty, so I descend, forgetting, in my frigid state, to take even one picture of our glistening labours. Rick offers to prepare stew for dinner. Helen and I bend and stretch for a few minutes, me on the ball, throwing and catching a ball. Another yacht (Toonuka) radios and requests a landing tomorrow as they are tired now, but we have three ships visiting, so squeeze them in before dinner. Good meat and veg. Straight back to toppy up st ock, count cash, fold t-towels and watch the penguin who has hurt it’s foot and not moved all afternoon. Another penguin hauls piece of wood up rock, drops it twice, gives up and goes back down for a stone (they seem to relinquish hope quite easily, these gentoos.) Helen places wood within easy reach of the nest and is delighted when the builder turns round, notices and adds fragment to the pile. Check on magnetometer, but it really isn’t working. Collect eggshells for Oceanites, (who will analyse for nutritional information.) Tear myself away from this longest night (may turn out to be the longest day tomorrow.)

We’re all going on a summer holiday.

January 24, 2008 at 7:16 pm | Posted in Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

19th December

Awake excited. Blue and blustery, wind from northeast. Last night’s uneaten pudding mixed in with porridge. Rick off at eight am to Endeavour, in close. A yacht, the Northanger radios on their way in to seek shelter in Alice Creek, keen to see Rick. We packed our bags last night; cameras, sun-cream, clean knickers, all that jazz. Good humoured shop (not surprising since we’re high as kites,) and a fresh delivery from the Palmer Bakery – Thank-YOU. The instant last passenger has signed her membership form, we lock the genny room door, hide the key and run down to the landing, singing ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday!’ (Rick rolls his eyes.) Unbelievably Tim, the Expedition Leader, has forsaken his cabin for the night. Helen and I settle in and head to the bridge to catch up with Tim and Lisa. Jim the film-maker/photographer will share his cabin with Rick, who goes straight for a shower. Then it’s lunchtime – splendid salad and the company of a couple from Arkansas. Also m eet Raydene, from Palmer, who deals with logistics. Ice-cream with butterscotch sauce! Helen tempted to shower, but we’re about to Lemaire… and the landscape wins. Out on deck with the red-coats and it’s glorious. Talk with Rod on the prow. Meet Kathy (from Palmer, also involved with logistics) really good to chat about life, and being away from home (they are away for nine months but can travel within a two mile radius of Station.) Realise we’re the only two left, and stay snapping and watching for whales all the way to Vernadsky. Into lounge bar where the Palmer gang are camped. It’s incredibly wonderful to be with them. Chat some more and bundle into warm gear. We, the Lockroy/Palmer ensemble, have been placed to land in between the odd and even numbered cabin groups and enjoy what I suspect is a slightly ‘insider’ tour of the base. At every door, our guide, Vlad, in dark suit and maroon shirt says, “This is the most important room!” (…particularly the gym, fully decor ated with breasts.) We even climb up into the roof space to see ozone-measuring machine. Finally to the bar after regarding much ex-Faraday memorabilia, the generator shed and curious humour. The vodka is golden, with a very gentle after-kick in the throat. Odd badges and faux icons for sale. Zip back to ship to pick up passport- may be only chance to have it stamped here. Several vodkas later, Raydene and I remove brassieres with minimum fuss and relinquish them to the bar in exchange for another shot, short lived fame and respect (and Tim wins his bet with Tudor.) Vlad plays guitar and sings heartfelt ballads, barman (infamous for zodiac adventures) performs magic tricks and Base Commander gives us a magnetometer to install temporarily at Lockroy. Out onto deck for a glimpse of Wordie House in the nook of snowy hillocks. Helen would like to live there she says, but she has drunk six vodkas.  We are made tea by Stanislaus, swallowed scorchingly to make last zodiac. Shower an d shave front of shins extraordinarily badly. Recap follows soon after, a great insight into icebergs and the animals who live around and under them, accompanied by a G+T. Rebecca and Phil give an intro to life and work at Palmer Station, very well received. We have swung out into the ocean now, and the swell lifts. Ropes are strung between posts to aid lilting walkers to the dining room. Sit for dinner, and manage first course of mushroom risotto. The conversation lurches as we do, until, regrettably (with a steak on order!) the ladies at the table (including me) make apologies and flee. Helen has been sick and sleeps. I join her in Tim’s double bunk for a queasy half-doze. He comes in to type up tomorrow’s itinerary, commenting on the scent of penguin that materialised with our occupation and opens the window! Soon at Palmer where skies are moody and Arthur’s Bay jagged with brash. Passengers are to lie at anchor tonight, while staff and crew are invited to a party. Fabulou s ride across with Tim driving… Welcome to Palmer! Great to see the ‘other half’ who visited us a couple of weeks ago. They seem so pleased that we are here; it’s heartening. Phil, the perfect host, offers a wee tour, (which lasts off and on, all night.) Best is the stationary store where I am issued with a ‘Rite in the Rain’ All Weather notebook and a propeller pencil, which, of course, makes me deliriously happy. See krill in large vats in the Krillers labs, the outsides of various clever machines, Kim’s inflatable iceberg and some print designs, the most cared for Ladies Room and offices. Helen still slightly icky and Rick not at full strength either but both are here, Rick talking on a sofa, Helen out on the bar’s veranda, waving to us on the boardwalk. Party is swinging; Philipino crew playing pool and dancing, Marek (Chief Barman from the ship) and a Kriller are a demon shot production line – fruity orange vodka. Utterly delectable guacamole and nachos. Good chatting and letting down of hair. A little more tour, stopping at Ham Radio Room for a luxury chance to view this blog live (!) and see Kim Baranowski’s website – she joins us, as does Helen. Tired Rick and Helen say goodnight. Tim is keen to hot-tub, as am I, Phil was going to bed, but comes too. We undress in the sauna to keep clothes warm and dry. Fortunately I have pink lacy post-mistress undies on. Step out into the snowy air and along to the tub. Tim is in first. Oh my GOD it’s HOT!!! 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Yowsers! Skin tingles with the pain of it, I can sympathise with broiled lobsters. We try vortexing to lower the temperature. An officer joins us. So boiling that a contrast is needed – the sea! Steam has rendered glasses useless. Delicately tread along wood, then metal, walkway then rock and snow (ouch! ice burn) and more rock into the cold dark water. Only up to the knees I confess, splashing all over and cooling face ah ha. Swedish chef joins the throng. We have brought hunks of fresh ice back with us, they float and crackle in our saucepan. Highly sensuous to rub the cold along legs and arms still submerged in the heat. More crazy vortexing and finally I am too dizzy. Retreat to sauna all wobbly, near collapse, breath held in the moment. Tim collects a melted me, last on the tender. Once back I walk slowly upstairs, but am summoned back for Crew Mess karaoke (it’s 2:30) Eventually to bed. Helen coughs. Wind blows through porthole from the night.

I’m having a marzipan baby!

January 24, 2008 at 7:11 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

18th December

Monochromatic bands of varying degrees out towards Neumayer. Again check for chicks in pyjamas. Penguins fall into our big human footprints oh be careful! Subject others to express read of six days of blog. Relieved to send it off, though a week behind encore. Slow pottering. Finish yesterday’s franking. Helen sweetly compliments the consistent quality of my impressions, which makes me swell with pride. And philatelic stuff (including requests for base cachet when there’s no space to stamp it.) Fold up t-towels and restock all the wee bits, cunningly avoiding swilling down the rocks with Ricky. White Mikheev sails in from the light. Good visit punctuated by very generous seasonal alcoholic gifts. Decide we need pisco sour with our eggs and bacon – is this the start of our decline? It’s only midday… Good news! Tim Soper (on National Geographic Endeavour) can see from his schedule that we have a maintenance day; could we forego roof painting for a wee trip to Palmer and Vern adsky stations? Oh yes PLEASE. This is like winning a prize, a holiday, a weekend away. All cheered. Andrea pulls in and commences landing at Jougla. We’ve learnt from last time that there’s no rush and stay at the shoreline watching penguins, trying, and failing to take a just-in-the-water-and-fluffing-up-bum-feathers shot. Rick heaves himself from under the weather bed and continues cleaning the path rocks. Just making a comforting hot chocolate when Sam walks in – he says Mary Ann has been on safari in Africa after a conference in Cape Town. Thirty-two folk aboard. There’s a discernable difference between visitors who’ve been briefed on Lockroy’s wealth of history before landing – we can be left feeling misunderstood otherwise. Low, possibly due to lunchtime drinking ha we should have carried on or gone to bad I say. The big news today is; a patter of tiny chocolates have made their way into my mouth, and I’m having a marzipan baby! (Courtesy of the enormous delicious doub le-layered box that Tula left us, amongst many other treats.) Frank the few postcards and make ready for tomorrow. Cook a cheesy tuna bake which gets the thumbs up, and gives us warm red cheeks. Rick has heavy eyes and bunged up node so we don’t let him drink red wine or wash up. Helen takes one bucket and I the other. Reluctant to return inside because of the light. Watch the regular exchange of gentoo duty; a penguin comes up to relieve their mate, they bow and ca-hiss. Then one steps off as the other moves onto the nest from behind, gently dividing tummy fur to surround the eggs. In the hall, evening sun catches in corners and a breeze ruffles Christmas garlands. Perch on bunk and paint toenails Kid Orange. I am full.

An accidental Jackson Pollock

January 2, 2008 at 5:29 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | 1 Comment

17th December

Ships n’ snores from five am onwards but we’re allowed to doze until nine. White and overcast outside, warm enough to pad around in pyjamas, which I do, to see if there are any chicks. Gentoos seem quite clucky, but firmly snuggled down over their nests. A couple tucked under the genny shed are getting soaked as melt drips off the roof – bedraggled! Eat porridge and write as Helen, back in bed reads and Rick peels and chops apples for stewing. Elvis sings Christmas, then Frank and Bing do too. We wish we had Merry Woolworths tunes too. Rick climbs onto the roof and starts slapping on the bitumen. Helen and I drape Christmas decorations everywhere in a desperate attempt to feel festive. I’m not quite lethargic, just severely lacking in energy. We’re pleased with our efforts. Rick says ‘What have you done?!’ when he sees. (What does he mean?) Bread, cheese, salad and cured venison sausage for lunch, sitting outside in remains of the sun. Apples and cream for pud, good. Tea and  chocs later too. Wash up. Wonder when Shokalskiy may arrive – they’re running late. Restock as quickly as possible. Poor Ricky has a hole in his bucket, and spatters black paint all through the corridor, an accidental Jackson Pollock. Penguins odiferous. Rivulets of meltwater glisten between rocks. Lie and sleep for half an hour, which is at least forty winks. Reviving tea, we do drink a lot, well this is a very British outpost. Then see Shokalskiy in a shot of light sailing from the Neumayer. A passenger walks up the ramp with our first sack of mail. Jubilations. She is a teacher from St. Georges in Edinburgh and is in the advance party in order to purchase stamps for 300 envelopes, (a fundraising project which I’d heard about through Judith and Fiach.) By extraordinary coincidence, Helen is an alumni of this educational establishment; she sorts out stamps in a complicated variety of denominational combinations under the beady (and twinkling) eye of Mrs. Mackie. I go and in vestigate sack of post – oh goodness… ALL the parcels are for me. There’s some philatelic items and a couple of cards for Helen. I feel awful and so sad again for the other parcels lost on the sea bed. Rush (as far as is possible) into immersion suits and over to ship. We’re shown into the engine room to leave our stuff. Noisy. Flustering. Barbeque in full swing. Fine gruel and sausages. It’s hard to eat, drink gluwein and answer questions all at the same time. Helen goes to supervise stamp-sticking-on so barely eats anything. Then into bar for swift briefing before whizzing back and trying to remove suits and slide behind counter before first pax ascend the ramp. Tilley lamp and our Christmas lights are lit. Merry and short visit as about half the group are off to camp at Dorian Bay tonight. Precious parcel from P, extra-special banana socks from Susan, apposite Santa hats from Louise, jiffy full of surprises from D + A, gorgeous treats and long, long letter from Aileen. I ‘m so lucky and loved. And thought all these parcels lost. Rick in bed not feeling great. We sing him carols and celebrate inaugural lighting of lamps on his bedside tree, which surge to life in a very appealing manner. Read letters and treasure the thoughts. Save some to open later and sleep with many warm feelings.

Grey plastic sea, soft flumps of snow

January 2, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | 1 Comment

15th December

Elies’ Birthday Hurray!

Soft flumps of snow catch in curls and dampen my hair. Low visibility. Grey plastic sea, a few shards of brash. Rick goes aboard Maryshev for an early talk. For the past couple of days there has been a lump, like a stone, in the toe of my right rigger boot, which I habitually leave just inside the porch. Usually always in a rush to shrug them on and off, but this morning I tipped it up and out fell a large plastic headed pin from the Inter-ship notice-board! A fine visit; so much interest in the dear penguins that the shop has is relaxed. The light still ethereal. Frank, restock, eat cheese, lie around. Down to boatshed for fleeces, t-shirts, postcards and the elusive red caps. Bremen appears just as we finish. Long slow visit, preceded by the staff bearing enormous crate of fruit and a water-melon. Philatelic exasperation. Possible and minimal infringement of control colony, not easy to see from bunkroom window. Kind invitation to dinner from Captain – last zodiac, hurry hu rry. Amazing Guano-matic boot washing machine, hot refreshing towels and tea on tap for arrival, how civilised. Shown to sauna and suggest Rick goes first. Helen impatient for heat. I stand out on deck in the snow watching it fall against and into dark water, so quietly. Last joining Captain for drinks – splendid red wine. He explains the restaurant is fully booked so we’ll be eating in the Card Room (where the four sacks of mail  have already been carefully stored.) Charming meal, all chivalrously speaking English and telling jokes. Captain reigns! Home warm, clean and well fed.

On not quite wanting to get festive with carols

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

14th December

HAPPY BIRTHDAY dear Isobel!!!!!

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

Penguin paths/dots of nests/swathes of ice/glacier edge/mountain/high grey sky

January 2, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

10th December

Still water, crisp air. A penguin flip flups up ramp, seeking nest stones – pecks at Helen’s foot and stands on door mat looking up at her. Lovely to glimpse Europa’s rigged masts from our window, there past the control colony. Collected nine-thirtyish  and straight round to Jougla Point on Wiencke Island. Amazing to finally step ashore on land that we’ve viewed in the near distance, and never touched. Apart from numerous gentoo there is a colony of blue eyed shags (-twenty nests Rick counts.) Decide not to conduct a major count, as I believe Oceanites did one recently. And we have an hour and a half. Tjalling guides us on an uphill walk. Unbelievably good to step out and stride along for pure pleasure. Great views and a different perspective of our wee rock. An aerial view of land and coast, penguin paths, dots of nests, then reflections, swathes of ice, glacier edge, mountain, high grey sky. The snow is hard to move in; sometimes firm, sometimes sinking. Alpine graphics of  granite and white, muted lichen. Stand on rock at the top appreciating lines and ridges, hundreds of penguins massed in dark water, foggy clouds on the heights. Pause, biscuits handed round. Tip over onto Peltier Channel side – now I understand where it goes! More snow here, slight sastrugi, steeper. Move round the slope. Above Alice Creek there’s a swoopy dip which we slide down. A few snowballs, continue through deep snow to meet the boats (after several hilarious leg-in-up-to-the-crotch incidents.) Ten minute cruise in along the glacier, but not too close. Immense mysteries in cracks and crevices, indescribable spectrum of pale blues. Sit in the bar with a warm mug, until lunchtime. Most of the passengers and crew are struck with grim flu. (We pray to avoid catching it, with vitamins and Echinacea.) Delicious chicken empanadas with refried beans and some magic rye bread. Leave Port Lockroy under engine; we’re catching a lift to Damoy to check on the hut there. Exciting to  go beyond perimeters of our existence, even briefly. Say goodbye to Europa, who will sail slowly on, while two crew whisk us in to Dorian Bay. Avoid shallow reef. There’s a handful of penguins on the pebble beach. The new sign on door and snow machines removed signal recent BAS visit. Glimpse inside; bare bunkroom, basic kitchen – a historical pageant of foodstuff and memorabilia of guests past. Walk past smaller Argentine hut next door through still deep snow. Putter back to Goudier, intending to count penguins, but collapse into bed and sleep instead. Wake about an hour before the others. Force down boiled eggs on bread and scrummy nuts that Rick has toasted. All in the mood for slumping in front of telly; so we watch an episode of Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole that came free with a Sunday paper. Entertained by dusty exploits in the Sudanese desert, all tucked into Rick’s bunk, computer perched on table. Still only nine thirty… what shall we watch now? Slide in Rod’s (fro m Nat Geo Endeavour) rough cut DVD; a compilation of Super 8 footage from dog sledging Adelaide, Stonington and Fossil Bluff in the 50s and Deception eruption in 1969. Rick takes pre-emptive Lemsip. Last minute e-mail replies after everyone else has checked theirs. Last one to bed. It’s really light. Can’t get comfy.

The most delightful morning

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

9th December

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

Taking it in turns to be interviewed

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

6th December

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

Box-toppling in the boatshed

December 17, 2007 at 8:45 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

30th November

Still bright, fresh north-easterly breeze. A floe of four weddell’s floats past Bill’s Island slowly. Take pictures of Helen’s rolls of notes, looking like a dollar forest, and bundle yesterday’s mail too. Rick is hungry for porridge, which we eat before Shokalskiy radios over inviting us for breakfast – doh! – Rick goes aboard to give his talk. A moment to plan some letters with special stamps on – mail will be dispatched on 2nd December I think. Wind whistling and pressure falling… oh no is that a storm brewing? After Rick promised that every day would be sunny from now on ha ha! Scrape sheathbill deposits from ramp; an ongoing futile endeavour to prevent it spreading through museum on people’s soles. And then spot one of them with a sock (!) disappearing beneath the generator shed – Helen sprints round in hot pursuit and rescues the singular article. (Rick’s, set to dry outside, after running yesterday.) Shokalskiy pax appear, including several jolly folk who join up as  Friends of Antarctica – hurray! And a Swedish camera woman taking footage of everything for a national news channel. She films me cancelling mail and is interested to see all aspects of our life, charmed by the bunkroom, and delighted when Rick agrees to play the gramophone for her. Oh but we’re hungry so bye bye tea and toast, too impatient to wait for ‘proper’ food that Rick is making – veggy noodle soup… Make up more mint sets and package more First Day covers (the ones we’re running short of.) Fix shop ready for next visit. Re-stock: Quite a few heavy things. First box-toppling incident in the boatshed – but no damage done – won’t be the last. Finish putting commemorative coins into fiddly plastic pockets. Stomach has been cramping. Prepare envelopes for my special people, with whole penguin sheetlets – so cool being able to frank them too! Rick snores loudly for duration of his afternoon nap. Helen’s mini woollen bobble hats are brilliant. Start cooking at six-ish, wh ere did the afternoon go? How relaxing not to know? Chicken and spinach stew, which refuses to thicken – serve in a bowl with wedge of carrot and potato mash iceberg… Type up a couple of days. See how penguin highway is developing into quite a rut. Shimmy into sleeping bag worrying about the week ahead – two ships a day, film crew coming, Rick to Damoy with BAS and the first penguin count to do…

Glimpsing address, language, love, signature

December 17, 2007 at 8:39 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

26th November

Can’t quite move. Don’t want shoulders to be colder. No word or sign of KK. Bundle up all Endeavour mail cancelled last night. I love catching glimpses of addresses, languages, love, signatures… Decide what needs topping up in the shop. On the way to the boatshed we’re careful not to lose our empty boxes in wind that is pulling and pushing the cold. Penguins stand askance. Takes about an hour to re-stock, then another exploding boxes, displaying, primping, storing. The KK does not come. Bremen arrives as planned. There are shovel ‘markers’ to stop passengers treading in the mud melt below hut nests. A friendly visit, I, however, become grumpy; patience tried by philatelicism. Bremen folk leave around six leaving two boxes of food i) fresh veg including celery and onions ii) meat, including guinea fowl and a tongue! lovely cheeses and sausages. As one ship departs, another arrives – this one momentous – Hurtigruten’s new star of the fleet, Fram, sails into Lockroy for the f irst time. Ian EL is pleased to invite us over for dinner and a tour, understandably glowing in the shiny splendour. Our showers (mmm) are by the most amazing sauna – a wooden clad heat capsule with porthole views of glaciers. Peel ourselves away to wash and rush down to fabulous dining room for plenty of meat and a bottle of red from the captain – how very fine. The third course is a medley of creamy/saucy puddings. Now Rick sings for our supper with rendition of his heritage talk, in bite sized chunks so that Anya can translate into German. We are in the observation lounge, whose windows unfurl an icy panorama beyond the listening faces. The ship is somehow rotating on its bow, slowly and elegantly. More questions afterwards, and twirls to show off t-shirts…time to go…but not to leave. Ian takes us to the bridge, where I sneak into the captain’s (v. comfy) chair and see Goudier Island all small through brilliant binoculars. V. jovial. Back home to bed, happy.

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