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.

The sun is coming out but I’m so behind with typing.

May 19, 2008 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Observations in Antarctica, Penguins, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

1st February

Another month down! Slept content until six, then lay with eyes shut, smiling, until Helen brought tea through at eight fifteen. Get a scare seeing a dingy full of yachties coming our way, but thankfully they go past and climb the ridge opposite. Lazy franking. Thirteen from Berge Viking visit. The sun is coming out but I’m so behind with typing, deny temptation and manage two short bursts. Polar Pioneer arrive at one thirty-ish, allowing rushed lunch and swift washing up. Helen and Rick have hefted up boxes of books. Helen not only puts them all out, but sweeps through too. I try not to feel bad about having typed instead. Rick goes to talk to the Aussies. Thought we’d said Goodbye to Chris – Bar Lady Big Spender – she thought this trip would just be through the Weddell Sea . Lucky us. Fifty-four pax is a doddle after the bigger ship visits. Briefly meet a Mexican lady who uses glass to produce ice works, don’t catch her name… Frustratingly short chat with sweet Assistant EL. Doc Matthew knows Tara Woods’ parents, and the stretch of beach in Kenya that changed my life (WildFitness again!) Rick fears he’s succumbing to the same bug as Helen. Leave him to sleep. Helen is writing postcards having cashed up and looked at t-shirt levels. Frank the box of mail and lie flat on counter until Helen comes through to listen to my ponderings about love and attachment. Tell you what I’m really missing today; a trampoline. Helen insists on cooking spag bol. Weary Rick sweeps everywhere. I package up more post. Good nosh – an enormous plateful. Rick has had Lemsip, beer and wine. We are not sympathetic when his tummy hurts! Wash up as Helen films the plastic pooping penguins in action. Mesmerised by misty grey porpoising splashes of homecoming penguins far out in the bay. Not quite rain. Try to take pictures of baby sheathbills in the gloaming. I’m so stupid; looked and couldn’t see them yesterday cos they’re brown and wee, not white!

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?

Neon blue bergs in the grey again.

April 7, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Posted in Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

26th January

Six o’clock is a rude hour to wake after a night of carousing.

Actually Delphin doesn’t start landing until eight thirty, staff/crew at eight. Helen leapt up to make tea and restocks before realising full extent of hangover. Luckily, the measured pace allows her to disappear sporadically and then permanently, a breathing exhibit in the living museum bunkroom! I take a deep breath and deal with 350 Germans cheerfully and calmly. It is their last visit of the season.
Two blondes spend hours applying over a thousand stamps. Caterina again does a great job of selling tartan and postcard sets. Start in on the franking mountain. Eat wonderful avocados (forced on Rick by a lady on Marco Polo) trying not to nauseate Helen, who’s still hiding on the day bed. At two-ish, the film crew from Okolé (which means asshole in Polynesian ?!) arrive. Rick is still on computer, so they ask to interview me (being so shy and retiring) franking. They are looking for the personal perspective of the people that they meet and also recreating photographs taken on original voyage with the same kind of stereoscopic camera. Their enthusiasm is endearing. I talk about paper sculpture and show them my wee blue promo pack and postcards. During the interview, Pierre asks if I’d like to be involved in the resulting exposition in Normandy next year. Well chuffed. Xavier takes still shots of me franking in 3D. While they are talking to Rick I read e-mails. Glimpse result of stereoscopic shots through silly glasses – cool. Spirit of Sydney pax visit, unannounced (we could have agreed to anything last night admittedly) and don’t spend much or stay long. Five thirty, lie down, shut eyes for an hour and a half. Helen rises, still fragile and cashes up.
Just settling into some serious franking when more yachties appear, without a ‘by your leave’ or a radio call. Rick ticks them off – we’ve had enough visits today… and welcomes them in anyway, only five pax. they leave at eight. Finish franking the masses. Helen calculates that we have sold 64,000 stamps. I wonder how many pieces of mail I will have cancelled by the end of five months. Heat up the soup Europa left and eat quietly. I’m vague and longing for peace. The others consider me ‘robust’ but I’m doubting that today. There is an indefinable ache in my head. Walk in the rain on the rocks, neon blue bergs in the grey again.

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

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

24th January

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

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

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

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

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

Slept soundly on my bed of stamps,

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

23rd January

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

Sheathbills clutter regardless.

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

21st January

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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 www.eskymo.co.uk 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.

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