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.

On not quite wanting to get festive with carols

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

14th December

HAPPY BIRTHDAY dear Isobel!!!!!

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

The most delightful morning

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

9th December

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

The whip round of a ship

January 2, 2008 at 5:11 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

7th December

Six am ship’s in. Time to get up. Quick tea and porridge. Explorer II radios through the instant we turn it on. Larry appears fifteen minutes later, with staff and flasks of hot drinks (Matz tea experts!) It has snowed in the night. Shop’s busy, Joe and Victoria bring us tea, having washed up and packed up – they’re catching a lift home today – quick goodbyes. Half way through visit, (pack ice having necessitated move to the boatshed landing,) the decision is taken to curtail, as that brash has moved into in to our bay and rapidly blocking access. Last hurried transactions and hugs, standing beside a well camouflaged  baby weddell on the rocks. Wind is picking up; there’s a chance we may be isolated for a while. The film crew is away – we wish them Happy Birthdays for tomorrow. Lumber up through snow, admiring our new fleet of icebergs, including a new mate for our protector wedge. Helen fries up egg n’ bacon brunch and brews fresh coffee. Welcome pause in proceedings to cat ch breath. Rick responds to e-mails. Helen writes up yesterday’s long day. I sit on bunk and think. Frank Explorer II mail. Helen completes stock list. The boatshed has a fine (sometimes gunky) layer of guano and bits of packaging all over the floor; therefore inadvisable to drop anything. Several trips up and down. (Heavy boxes of cloth, and plastic bags.) Make soup from left over potato, tired celery and blue cheese. He says the best one so far. Orlova braves the brash (and see a humpback in the bay on their approach.) Passengers felt rather battered by the weather during their Palmer visit, so are quiet with us. A few parcels spice up our Post Mistress existence. Conditions threaten to crap out, so this visit is also aborted. Learn that the ship had a whip round on hearing that our Christmas post had sunk with the Explorer – we have a mysterious plastic sack-full, not to be opened until 25th! Ahhh. Meet the Orlova/Quark artist in residence, a photographer – her partner has invented a bookbinding machine, must check it out when there’s internet access. We talk about International Polar Year. She has an exhibition in Washington that she’d love to tour… Wondering if I’m missing all that stuff, this enforced separation from creativity. Prefer not to miss what I cannot have. Conditions threaten to crap out, so this visit is also aborted. Wind is rising, penguinsd are returning from their feeding swims. Eyes start to prick with accumulated tiredness. Funny readjusting to absence of film crew, back to just three. Helen e-mails official figures and long overdue personal replies. Rick cooks a plain stew with chick peas and red cabbage. I pass on plums and custard, sit and stare. We talk about being here and being grateful. I take slop bucket down to landing. Ice jostles almost silently. Our new iceberg collection is magnificent, spreading into the middle distance, white on white in the flat light. Take a few pictures, but it’s more about remembering.

Helen reads out loud from some of the children’s books. I sleep, chastened.

Ship party foregoed: there are stamps to stamp

December 17, 2007 at 8:38 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | 1 Comment

25th November

Wake at five thirty but wait until six to ring home (three hours ahead.) So good to chat with Nev and then Sarah, on a line with no delay, as a Giant Petrel flies past the porthole. Minutes fly by, must be at breakfast for seven. Sit with the expedition staff. Waiters are happy to see us (but sad that my hair is cut short.) Whiz over to Goudier Island ahead of eight-thirty landing. Despite this being our largest visit in terms of numbers (230) the passengers are well managed and flow is steady. Famished after, so finish left over curry. Bread and Jam for pudding – with the special Calafate berry jar so kindly given by Marco.

Rick has found an e-message sent from Endeavour yesterday, asking if they can come in this afternoon (instead of 28th)- try to reply. Neaten piles of t-shirts (Now I can empathise with those Benetton shop assistants) and restock as far as necessary. We have loads of post to process from Nordnorge, so congregate in the bunkroom to apply stamps, make up new mint sets and frank (spread out on kitchen table to dry quickly.) Endeavour running late. Go on a mini monitoring expedition – lots of muddy eggs in puddles. Chick numbers will surely be low this year. At seven pm Endeavour hangs left into Port Lockroy and sends a zodiac to collect us for dinner (me and Helen enthusiastically run down to the landing site in our immersion suits.) Richard the bird man, is driving, and fills us in on the scene he saw around the Explorer. There are growlers around the gang plank, so we wait for them to pass.  Delighted to see Tim and a wee welcoming committee for big hugs.

Straight to the dining room where we receive a rousing clap from a bunch of eager bunnies. Delectable dinner, gourmet fish and chips, hot chocolate fondant swilled down with a couple of glasses of wine. I cause delay to first zodiac by running round finding a WC, and then we drop a couple of staff off at Jougla Point… so we arrive at the landing after the first passengers. Run up to the hut, comedic removal of immersion suits, package up mail, pull on long johns, light tilley lamp and the shop’s in full swing, credit cards all the way. Great spirits and much patience. Sad to forego party on board, but KK is expected at 9am, we have lots of Endeavour mail to cancel and shop to restock. I stamp the stamps, Helen counts cash, Rick makes camomile tea and cocoa. Finish at eleven thirty. Wind blowing fine smoke. Bremen (who have come by for the party) and Endeavour are ablaze, zodiacs buzzing between the two.  Traffic noise for the first time in weeks!

A man in a cowboy hat insists we have something in common

December 17, 2007 at 8:32 am | Posted in Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

21st November

Up first. Down to the landing site as usual. Brash ice has blown in, blocking easy route for zodiacs. Since Explorer II is not on the horizon, we check shop stock again and Helen prepares the mail-bag for dispatch to Stanley Post Office. Wind has dropped and sunny spells provide perfect opportunity to look for further egg laying. Almost every cluster has at least one nest with an egg. And there are three new ones just by the hut! I can monitor them from the genny shed windows. Odds and sods preparing for ship visit. Extended tea break on sunny veranda with books and chocolate biscuits. It’s hot enough Helen and Rick to have bare feet (I remain in two pairs of socks.) Explorer II arrives two thirty-ish – a fine visit. Calm and relaxed somehow – homebound leg of a long trip via Falklands and South Georgia. A man in a cowboy hat insists we have something in common and removes his hat to reveal curly hair – he’s funny, I must e-mail him. Fresh supplies; eggs, bacon, cheese and potatoes – yum! At six thirty we’re collapsed. Fantastic fry-up with cheesy mash and a glass of wine. Cash up – have to count everything twice or thrice… adds up eventually. Frank all mail, doesn’t take long
– not enough! Could crawl into pit at eight thirty but stay up preparing birthday gifts for Bruno Buckle our Base Commander. The night is light ’til eleven now. The three quarters moon over Mount Francaise and pink light is worth stepping out for a photo. Numb fingers.

Shifting horizons

November 27, 2007 at 6:30 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

7th November

Awake in the night, cold bones. Lie still listening to the others breathing. Warm up by morning, so don’t want to leave cocoon. Peppermint tea and porridge. Washed up, washed self, phew. A loving e-mail keeps me warm all day. Start preparing the museum lounge, well one wall and two built-in benches, using a one-inch scraper all round. Surprised to get really into it, even asking if I can clean up inside the bench, where no-one can see. Cheery but tired by lunch – beans on toast with a very special treat – three slices of chorizo, yum. Small discussion on the first ethical dilemma in Helen’s book… end up talking about suicide options Marie Celeste style instead. V. chuffed to have finished the undercoat by six thirty. (How my horizons have shifted?!) My turn to cook – the others are already planning to order a takeaway, cheeky.
Resulting curry is good enough for Helen not to add Tabasco. Cooking with frozen tins of mush is an acquired skill that one can hardly expect to master at the second attempt. Hair is reaching unwieldiness close to dreadlocks. The others vote to shave it off. Aie! I’d lose my identity, wouldn’t I? The thing is, there may be a hair-washing opportunity in ten days time…but can’t depend on circumstances/weather. Hmmn. Will ponder another night at least. Rick has a pain in his lower back, which gets him a Deep Heat rub AND out of the washing up. Hope it wasn’t the yoga.

Tudor accompanies me up the Stairway (the gulls are  waiting – bleurgh!) and I accompany him to chains landing to pour out the slops bucket, too heavy to hoist up and over the hill. Now the snow has ceased, fresh wind blows plum dark blooming clouds across behind Anvers island, throwing white bergs and snow lines into the foreground. The penguins are building nests and lovemaking (as they were even during blizzard.) Looks like krill is returning. So hot in bunkroom –   at eighteen degrees Celsius  – the hottest yet. Step into cooler lounge to tear brush through tangles. Eeeoou. Painful ten mins later, hair has gone frizzy and big… no need to cut it off yet. The comms guy rope is slapping intolerably against our roof. Helen braves the gusts as we’re all tucked up in bed and heroically fixes the irritation as sleeps takes me, warm and toasty in double sleeping bag.

Port Lockroy

November 20, 2007 at 1:54 pm | Posted in Observations in Antarctica, Penguins | Leave a comment


Snow shovelling to warm up; tap dancing lessons

November 19, 2007 at 6:26 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Observations in Antarctica, Penguins, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

4th November

*Happy Birthday Sebastian!**

A proper sleep in! Awake at eight thirty. Happy to have loving replies in my e-mail inbox. Mooch around after half an hour’s yoga and swiss ball in museum lounge – a challenge with socks on, and too cold to relax, but worth it nonetheless. Turn on computer for the first time since we arrived; the screen stays dark… wait for it to adjust to ambient temperature… still nothing… try not to panic, nor consider the disastrous implications of no personal computer for the season; no music, no photos, e-mail addresses… Tudor suggests that battery is flat and can be recharged when the generator is next on. Hmmm. Anyway, food shelf sorting/cleaning needs finishing. Discover all sorts in dark and dusty recesses – so much chilli powder, so many frozen tins of baked beans… A cushy job compared to the others, who are prepping museum kitchen and science room for decorating; there will be no opportunity once the ships come sailing in. My but it’s cold! More snow shovelling to warm up, and Helen conducts first lesson in tap dancing; very effective for increasing circulation in toes. We’ve been fantasising about spam fritters (well, a Sunday fry up…) Tudor knocks them up in a jiffy, plus a side order of baked beans, mmmm. Red overalls on to sand and undercoat wooden partition wall, lots of obsolete electric cables to manoeuvre round, funked up by Jamiroquai. Helen’s getting sore arms tackling kitchen ceiling. Tudor is rationalising the massive wooden crate of medical supplies; unpronounceable names of drugs we’ll hopefully never ever have cause to need. Being official Penguin Monitor I am reading through wildlife reports. They were started ten years ago by BAS biologist Norman Cobley, as Port Lockroy provides a unique opportunity to assess human impact on the island gentoo colony over each Austral summer season. I am a little daunted by the obvious experience and expertise illustrated over the years but attracted to the systematic nature of survey. My eyes will tune into the observation… not sure about working out percentage successes though. Fabulous Helen TVP lasagne followed by compo ration sachet of “Custard with mixed fruit.” Remarkably good. Most of the food we’re eating has the texture of semolina – yes everything – especially thrice frozen tins… learning to love oh yeah learning to love… Gentle music, reading, postcard writing. Every time the kettle has boiled more ice chunks are slid in to melt. Relaxed and warm inside (91% humidity down from 98%) bright and the wind picking up outside.

Introducing Fanny and Pickle

November 19, 2007 at 6:23 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Dreams and imagination, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | 2 Comments

3rd November

We all thought it was going to be a cold one, the wind blew up, but it wasn’t too chilly really. Wake with the expectation of leaping into action, but there’s no ship on the horizon. It’s about three degrees (plus wind chill). Back into bags with tea and muesli. Rick reads, Helen knits, Tudor thinks. I write: I’m scared. Last night I was kind of close to tears – scared that this is hard and we’ve only just begun. E-mail from ship – eta three pm. Relaxed pottering = much happier. We have the luxury of not rushing, finishing off labels, tweaking. Tudor is brilliant at ‘Display’ – his family used to run a department store.

Prepare for the rush by tearing sheets of stamps, and wrapping First Day Covers in protective wrappers. Rick and Tudor are fixing up the Penguin Study Area’s ropes and posts (so that human impact can be monitored with control colonies. Shovel snow from front decking in order to increase circulation and warm up, which takes minutes! First on-site lesson in radio use for Fanny and Pickle (for that, inexplicably, is what this season’s postal staff have been named,) involving wandering about going “Wot? eh? What button? Can’t hear you! Over and out!” etc. Funny. We’re sure to get the hang of it soon enough. Helen counts out float, and places stamps, paper bags, credit card machine etc on the counter. I prepare an emergency snack box for under-counter guzzling and bottles of quenching water. We’re ready to be there for maybe five hours without pause. We’re waiting…and waiting… and waiting… getting hetty- keep going to the door and peering out. Finally take tea on the veranda. Rick checks e-mail; ship is not coming – impossible to negotiate ice in the Gerlache Strait. Oh. So we can finish glossing the walls… Ah ha! We can also start our Post Mistress duties: Mail that was posted here at the end of last season, after the PO ‘closed’ in March, together with all the new postcards from the Nordnorge, need cancelling without delay!

Hurray! Much excitement and anticipation. First we apply hundreds of stamps to prepaid mail (i.e. a bundle of postcards with enough dollar to cover postage.) Helen ensures date correct on the rubber stamp. Cameras at the ready and we’re off, stamping away and laying out the cards so the ink will dry in this temperature, and not smudge. Every so often, consulting PO instruction manual for guidance re. Non British Antarctic Territory stamps, special issues, Philatelic collectors items, not to mention how each stamp must be ‘tied’ to the envelope by the cancel. I LOVE it! Setting up a system, music on, singing away to hits from the 80s…peeking out of the window to see penguins, glacier edge and sheathbills running round in circles. Bliss. Nearly done by six thirty, and no more room to lay them out. No ship means no fresh water, so down to the rocks at low tide, to chip ice from a berg that doesn’t taste too salty. Five washing up bowls full later, clamber back with the ice picks. Minus one degree outside… no chance of it melting; the bowls will cool down the bunkroom tonight. Squat on rock by water’s edge for first Antarctic alfresco pee, staring at limpets in the pools thinking ‘Bloody hell! Here I am!” Shiny icicles on the overhang contrast against diorite rock. Big Saturday Treat: It’s Fray Bentos Night! Rick’s favourite; with peas and potatoes, followed by rice pudding and raspberry jam oh yeah – the best feast, despite multiple freezings.

Stuffed, hot and fumey (from heater and Tilley lamp,) nice n’ fuggy.

Accompany Rick up to the loo. Gingerly climb down snow steps, balance on rock, chuck waste into high tide, wobble down to lower rock to swill out, slip, squeal and return up steps to where Rick stands smiling, saying nothing. Stop to admire lines of mountain ridge against bruised mauve sky. Sing to the gentoos as if this island is a cathedral.

Happy to be here

November 19, 2007 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Blogroll, Dreams and imagination, Observations in Antarctica, Penguins | Leave a comment

31st October

Toasty toes, still chilly nose. Slept well, up with the joys at six thirty. Peek out the door on the way back from bucket to see thin pancake ice, and the penguins so still, gathered on Bill’s Island, that they look frozen. Kettle on and back in the bag. Today’s mission is to sort out the PO/shop room (The new Generator Shed) before stock goes in.

Everybody else has unpacked into their underbunk storage boxes – I’ve been putting it off (fears of too much stuff) – seize the day and attempt to make contents of pink Harris tweed holdall, blue canvas bag and two boxes of personal stuff make sense and fit. Meanwhile Helen tackles the First Aid/Cleaning cupboard, which contains an abundance of ancient Lemsips, numerous toothpaste tubes, rolls of cling-film and cigarette lighters. Decamp the four hundred sets of ‘Iceberg Library’ postcards to shop – delighted that they’ve made the journey here too. The decision has been made to paint the shop. The day is so blue and still and wondrous outside that we are easily distracted. Move boxes to far end, lay down opened out flattened cardboard in lieu of dust-sheets. Helen is assembling optimum nut snack and muesli supplies down at the boat shed, misses initial horrid sanding (makes up for it later) before transforming last night’s curry into soup of the day. Instantly dusty hair ooh but I’m loving these overalls – family would be amused to see me now I think. As we’re running short of water (we had seven jerry cans full from the Nordnorge) Helen and Tudor go down to the blocks of ice on the low-tide shore and chip chunks off with pick-axes, to melt in the boat shed (always warm and wood-smelling.) A battle-scarred young male elephant seal wearily tries to haul out onto our icy shore, evidently needing to lie low – he sleeps all afternoon, ignoring the penguins and us. Stand still in the beauty, I’m so happy to be here. Right: Painting.
Up a ladder with a pot of white undercoat, singing show tunes and an impressive eighties repertoire (Helen’s word-perfect to Wham’s ‘Bad
Boys.’) We are weary-bodied but cheery. Helen sad for a second when paint first sullies her overalls. Tea-break on the ramp, watching leopard seal pretending to be a rock, and avoiding possibility of sheathbills shitting from overhead (as is their wont.) Finish painting by six. The light on the ice is calling; stand and click. Tudor’s cooking up a feast all from tins – a culinary skill that the others all seem to have mastered – a kind of lasagne, very good. As it’s Halloween, we have wondered about ducking for apples, but since there’s only one, we resort to Helen’s festive whiskey and ginger wine. Open computer for the first time, it shuts down, too cold. Trouble lighting both Tilley lamp and heater tonight, finally cosy. Almost (!) too hot in bed – prickly toes – and can’t reach to take socks off zzzz

We sit out on old church hall chairs in the snow for a cup of tea

November 19, 2007 at 6:05 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

30th October

Stir around five am. Over the next few months I’ll try to describe Rick’s snore, but today there’s more important stuff to depict. Snug as bugs in our caterpillar cocoons, condensation running down the walls.

Rick puts the kettle on. Bladder has been bursting for the last hour at least, but since my nose, the only part of body out of sleeping bag is cold, trip down Baltic corridor, through Genny Shed, to the bucket, is not appealing, but finally essential. Ah but tea’s ready and Rick’s making porridge. It’s the Scottish salty kind – but good n’ warming, and especially good with shavings of frozen honey and dried apricots – yum.

Eight o’clock aah the first tender boat full of visitors from the Nordnorge is on its way. Run around moving boxes from the lounge, uncovering protective plastic from the science room and transferring artefacts from safe back to their places on the museum shelves. (Marco the German Expedition Assistant has successfully managed to twiddle knobs in correct sequence – Hurray!) Wonderful to see familiar passengers; their responses are a mixture of aghast and admiring. Prop myself at Bar in lounge and merrily explain how there’s no electricity or heating here. People I’ve never spoken to wish us luck and a happy season. One man even returns to the ship, insists the boutique is opened, and sends back a large bottle of Jagermeister – our first gift, for medicinal purposes, obviously. And Mairi bestows her sheepskin hat and two apples. Once we’ve said goodbye to Nordnorge, unloaded remaining supplies and watched her slip behind the ice walls of Neumayer Channel, we sit out on old church hall chairs in the snow for a cup of tea. The task ahead of us: to stack and store this box mountain – finding a home for 600 boxes. Tudor has a plan. It takes hours and hours, in between pauses for cups of tea, with macaroons (half-inched from ship when T went to check the hold) smeared with dolce de leche. Basking in the wonderment of working up a sweat next to the swimming penguins in an iceberg water garden. Lunch is oatcakes and corned beef (dog) – which never tasted so good. By six thirty every single box has found a home (albeit temporary) and the tarpaulin is bare; fold it up, liberating that patch of snow back to the gentoos, who mull about, and swiftly settle back. It’s beer o’clock! But I’m behind with this, and reluctant to shut the door on the day, so I stand on the threshold writing until fingers too cold to hold pen. Curry for dinner, cooked by Rick. All food here tastes like Nectar of the Gods, perhaps because it’s been a long while since such physical labour. This meal, being hot, thaws us out from the inside. Dreamily cosy in our bunkroom (kitchen, bedroom, living room combined, in 5 x 6 metres) now that the propane heater is on. Helen knits, Tudor washes up and I’ve been nominated to start the base journal, we’ll take it in turns day by day. Not sure when I’ll have time or battery power to write this, so apologies for delay. All rosy-cheeked and curried up, cosy in and Rick starts to snore.

Minke whales to starboard!

November 19, 2007 at 6:03 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

29th October

Wake early, although not up when an excited Tudor knocks on our door at 6:45 (more than a few people confess to have been wandering around in pyjamas at dawn, too busy looking to sleep.) Up to deck seven, front row seats for an ice spectacle. On our way to Cuverville Island past picture postcard wonder. Intended landing no good, on a little further to Danco, where the water is glassy crystal and the gentoos fly beneath it. At breakfast, a surprise; Franz informs us that since the Captain plans to deliver us to Port Lockroy TONIGHT, we must make ready, and open PO/Shop for business at eleven am! arrgh! Hurry hurry! Make labels, load trolleys, arrange goods and our customers are upon us, three deep, in constant waves. Trying to remember prices, reaching over for t-shirts, channelling credit card payers to Helen, selling, selling selling ­ single stamps, First Day Covers. An astonishing blur for one and a half hours, when there is a slight lull for lunch, so we eat in relay, vacantly staring. Finish at two. Takes an age to pack up and cash up.

Then we have one hour to do everything we need before leaving the ship: ­ shower, pack, check internet, phone home, except there’s no signal (must be big mountains in the way) until the last five minutes. And now that we’ve had the PO onboard, everyone wants to talk to us and tell us interesting things. Impossible to focus, too many urgent distractions.
Finally, last panicky e-mails are sent. Tannoy announces minke whales to starboard: ­ all rush out, and there they are, blowing in the middle distance, five in a row, in this champagne glow of evening, nearly at our destination. Oh and then orcas to port, a mother and baby. That nearly makes my day, but a six minute telephone conversation tops that (despite Rick banging on the door because it’s time to take luggage down to hold!) Up on deck four, the team of four expectantly waits for the first glimpse of Goudier Island. We’re rounding the south end of Neumayer Channel, and there it is –  a small black oblong that is the boat shed and a small corner of Bransfield House just visible. Jumping up and down, it’s so beautiful and the evening is so perfect and the whales have dipped by. Dress up in layers and life jackets, hand in our cabin cards, sign off our accounts. Somehow we’re ready, the passengers are hugging us, and wishing us luck. Down to the tender deck, where most of the expedition staff are robing up to help, and the crew are smilingly light-hearted about transferring nearly nine tons of  cargo. Personal luggage on the first boat. There are sculpted icebergs and the water is deeply clear. A sinuous single leopard seal extends his curiosity. And the gentoos are everywhere.

Rick steps ashore first. Snow heaped all around. Penguins shift in response. Such excitement walking up to the red door (carrying beer – interesting priority, but we don’t want it to freeze and explode do we?), which is half obscured by drift. Rick kicks and heaves the door open – no it’s not locked – and there we are, home! Now the work starts, boat after boat, laden with boxes, negotiating rocks + ice, reaching the shore, unloading along human chain onto massive tarpaulin. This takes two and a half hours of back aching, feet freezing humping with much humour and good will. What stars they are! Helen and I weak with weariness, giggling and collapsing laughing. All the while hardly believing it; the penguins, the light, this mountain silhouette…this small island is to be our world for four and a half months. Carry on ’til the light diminishes and the captain of the ship says ‘Enough! Stop!’ Only three/four more loads, can deal with them tomorrow. Moving to wave goodbye and thanks to Expedition Staff at the loading place, in the gloaming – four of us in a line. (Forgot to mention that we’re all wearing fantastic Dixies red padded overalls.) Waving and walking back up the slope. Nordnorge’s beam picking out shards of ice in between which the boat navigates safe passage back to ship. Soon so dark inside the hut, and I don’t have anything so practical as a head torch (only four shades of lipstick) so locating which boxes have sleeping bags, pillows, pillow cases is not straight forward. Sink into fleece liner inside mega-thick sleeping bag, wearing two pairs of socks, windstopper fleece and pyjamas (I’m the only one who bothers changing; seems a small but necessary nod to decorum) on top of a Thermarest and sheepskin, over-laden with coat and pashmina scarf on top. Shelf above hung with long johns and thermals damp with fresh sweat. Nose and toes are cold, all else warm. Asleep first, leaving Tudor and Helen taking over from Rick in attempt to open the all-important Base Safe.

Landing with seals, penguins, people and reindeer

October 27, 2007 at 11:13 am | Posted in Observations in Antarctica, Photos, Rachel Hazell | 2 Comments


24th October

*A very Happy Birthday to Charlotte and Rhys!!

Six-thirty call. We’ve arrived at South Georgia. Fortuna Bay is filled with sunlight. Wonderful solitary run in cool bright sunshine, round and round amongst the snow-patched mountains and shining water; easier to exercise when the world is like this. Rush breakfast – there’s a landing first thing (starting at seven-thirty.) Layer up thermals, load up cameras in general readiness, only to discover that there will be an hour’s break in between boat groups; landing regulations allow just one hundred people ashore at any one time. Mmm the perfect tea opportunity. The weather has turned – snow clouds blowing over the peaks. Land on rocky beach scattered with fur seals, people, elephant seals, penguins and reindeer in the distance. Walk over glacial plane with Rick along to the king penguin colony avoiding fur seals marking their territory and clumps of penguins apparently, bemusedly, going the same way. Elephant seals litter the way like burping trunks of driftwood. Groups of fifty-odd king penguins stand in streams, stoically facing the same direction. At the colony loads of ridiculously fluffy brown baby kings; some just still, others solemnly following a parent. Hard to envisage the transformation from downy plum to sleek back and white

Dreams and aspirations. Rachel’s Food Wish List.

October 18, 2007 at 7:57 am | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

Twinings peppermint tea bags. Eight boxes of twenty.
Twinings camomile tea bags. Eight boxes of twenty.
Twinings earl grey tea bags. Three boxes of fifty.
Clippers organic white tea bags. Four boxes of twenty.
Rooiboos/Redbush tea (Celestial Seasonings, with Vanilla if available!). Four boxes of twenty.
Celestial Seasonings lemon zinger. Four boxes of twenty.
Green and Black’s Hot Chocolate Powder. One jar.Jordan’s strawberry crunch. Two boxes
Dorset cereal. (with the nice leafy packaging)Two boxes (choose one with lots of nuts in please)
Oat cakes
Runny honey, in squeezy bottle. Two.
Gherkins or cornichons. Four jars.
Maille dijon mustard. One large jar.
Artichoke hearts.
Extra virgin olive oil (as opposed to sunflower) esp for salads
General herbs…
Mango chutney
Lime pickle
Thai green curry paste
Coconut milk
Bonne Maman Strawberry jam
Tins of:
Herring mops
Pate: Crab, Chicken liver etc
Salami – possible to get whole sausages to slice?
Brown rice
(all pref to pasta, but will eat pasta too of course)
For snacks:
Pine nuts
Hazel nuts
Brazil nuts
Pumpkin seeds
Sesame seeds
Ingredients for flapjacks!
Green and Black’s chocolate. Anything with nuts in. Two large bars a week…

Rachel Hazell moves to Antarctica…

August 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Blogroll, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Penguins, Photos, Rachel Hazell | 7 Comments

Rachel Hazell will set sail in under two months time to the beautiful world of ice-white Antarctica. Rachel’s new job will be Post Assistant and Penguin Monitor where she will stamp over 20,000 postcards in the time she will be there. In between handling all that card and ink, Rachel will step outside and very quietly and gently tip toe around the sleeping penguins, counting them and their eggs and recording the data for the international penguin monitoring programme. Rachel said, “I am thrilled to be finally living my dream as Post Mistress for Antarctica. I’ve lived on one of Her Majesty’s Navy ships, teaching sailors to make small books, but this has to be my biggest life long ambition.” This will be the site for Rachel’s diary while she is away, so come back often for updates from abroad.

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