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!

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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.

An Emperor penguin is here, exceptional.

April 7, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Penguins | Leave a comment

16th January

At ten to six Rick is on the radio and cheery. Helen (Helen!) makes tea and we rouse ourselves for an early visit from Delphin. 340 pax! Just about swallow breakfast (digging that granola Stacie) before staff come ashore. Gorgeous sunshine and much cheer. Wholly German contingent, many euros and much asking for rubber-stamp cachet (which we only use for passports.) Staff are fantastic, especially Katrina, a natural born saleswoman, who does a sterling job promoting Antarctic Tartan, Rick’s book and my postcards. H nips out for cheese energy snackerals. All over by eleven am, including the lovely surprise of seeing Uli (orig on Nordnorge) who’s been at Jougla all morning and brings us tea. Purser asks if there’s anything we need beyond the milk and eggs Rick has requested. Discover later that they sent over an enormous smoked salmon, ham and bacon too – many thanks.
Delicious. Sit in the sun and stop. We have until six pm. Frank morning’s post, restock rapidly, pause for more sunshine. I’m just skedaddling off for a nap (the other’s lunching on fruit and cheese) when Sandy and another two staff from Marco Polo appear with two sacks of ship’s mail and two large bottles of whiskey. They buy more stamps for their final trip. We sing Sandy ‘Happy Birthday’ which ricochets lightly round the penguins. Ah they also brought a small packet of post for me, from Ushuaia, which I savour in my bunk, before kipping for an hour. Woken by scraping in earhole; rick preparing window sill for painting. Then Shane’s on the radio from Shokalskiy, so that gets me out of bed. (Rick admits later, he’s impressed by my radio manner!) So an hour’s franking for me. Helen comes in from the cold and e-mails. Rick still up a ladder painting eve boards. At six we’re down at the landing site, but ooh, the zodiac is unfamiliar. Actually, it’s full of Frenchmen from Errance, a yacht that we hadn’t seen arrive. Explain that we’re closed for the night. They had read in a pilot guide that we could sell them fuel…er no, bonne soiree anyway. Jamie, who we DO recognise, picks us up. Straight to bar. Dinner with bird man (British, un-PC) an Oz lady, Helen and two Russian photographers (in a group of fifteen.) Veal, salad. Steal a couple of bananas. Sneak off for a swift hot shower, just before Rick’s talk – he’s distracted by us reappearing all clean. Over to shore, easy shop. But discover – Help! – we’re down to our last hundred credit card slips, there could be trouble ahead. Once done, across to Jougla; an Emperor penguin is here, exceptional. It preens and calls and is calm, on the higher ground, surrounded by Gentoo. We hope this creature may stay and moult. Barrel rings and wooden staves scattered in the mud a remainder of whaling days. Time to kayak! Strap on inflation corsets (which secure in seven separate places) and stretch on proper skirts. Me in front, Helen behind with the rudder. Anti-clock-wise on this occasion, choppier. I want to see new big berg close up. Helen panics, finds the waves uncomfortably wobbly, is scared and wants out. I paddle harder (default tendency is to accelerate out of trouble, not always best) and soon we’re round on the other side in calmer water. Another yacht is in; Pen Duick VI. I have waterlogged my camera. Back to Jougla. Twenty minutes was enough. Phil takes me back to Goudier (teaching me to drive.) Helen joins Rick on the ship for a drink. Six jerry cans of water have kindly been refilled and delivered – I carry four of them up to base (causing perplexion later when the others worry that some have been left on Shokalskiy.) Frank for an hour, restock and crawl into bed.

A chirpy lullaby of penguins.

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

12th January

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

Good day for a chick count.

February 28, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Posted in Penguins, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

9th January

Eyes ache, so keep them shut. Endeavour doesn’t appear early, or at all, they changed their schedule and we hadn’t got the message. Glorious sunshine. Can only move slowly. Helen very bouncy, goes to faff in shop. Rick lies in too. It’s a good day for the chick count, though it’s hard to decide exactly when to do it, as certainly not all the eggs have hatched. What a funny old season it’s been for the birds. Army guys  stop by briefly, Helen rushes out with (only slightly fermenting) fruit cake from our bakery mountain. Helen starts painting exterior walls with thinned down bitumen (to avoid bubbling.) We start counting at eleven o’clock. There are five different colomns to record, for all the combinations of chicks, eggs and empty nests. Oh my goodness this is even more traumatic than counting eggs; some of the chicks are so wee, and we stir up quite a commotion. Rick is as gentle as can be, each and every disturbance pains him. Have to pause for coffee. Helen is doing a gr eat job with the black (everywhere, including on her socks!) Continue and complete the count. Sit in the sun and tot up figures as Rick dons overalls to join the paint job. Late lunch – tuna salad. Sensitive eyes, stay inside, write a few e-mails, wash up again. Peel, core and chop apples for stewing (with plenty of cognac.) Since the others are painting round the corner now, Rick hints that I might like to think about dinner. Prep veg and hope someone will ‘deal’ with the chicken. In the event, Helen pops it in the oven – oh, I could have managed that. First ever warm yoga. Rick is focussed, if stiff, and concentrates well. He and Helen go for pisco sours. I ponder how to heat three veg in two pans. (Honestly not this useless at cooking at home.) Sneak to boatshed for spinach, toss the potatoes with that, and garlic. The others have the apple, with a liberal dollop of condensed milk (?!) for pudding. Light joistering about Rick turning on computer and wondering off. Out to photograph multitude of fluff. Bewildered to hear voices over towards Peltier Channel. Retire to the horizontal and read an essay on adelies.

Things are looking up for the penguins!

January 2, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Penguins | Leave a comment

11th December

My glasses have disappeared! Instant panic. Takes a while to find them – on floor in darkest corner, behind boxes, having fallen through the bed slats. Snowing so much the penguins are drifting in again. I heard a ship and said nothing. Polar Pioneer are here, expected this afternoon – our schedule is not up to date. Sweep snow off ramp and welcome them in. Australian adventurers. Rick’s lost hat found (despite fresh snowfall) on Jougla, phew. Lingering and contented visit. It’s gotta be lunchtime. Benefiting from fresh delivery, Helen puts garlic mushrooms, bacon and egg in front of us yum yum. Perfect time for egg count. Rick is great at lifting each brush to catch brief glimpse of nest content. Even so, it’s quite traumatic, for them, and for us. I mark the tally in pencil, and watch for skuas (who are notably absent.) Most of the nests contain two eggs; things are looking up for the penguins! Due to all that bending over, three-quarters of the way through, Rick needs cof fee and the sky has cleared, so a veranda break… While Rick e-mails, Helen takes over the lift and squint position. We soon finish the Mast and Screen colonies. Far too brilliant outside, so stay out on the step. Write up the figures – one less nest than we’d counted last time, so that’s good. Helen sets wee stones on the ramp to ‘help’ nest builders. Watch lonesome lady penguin who we fear has lost her love – and has an egg with no nest. She needs to feed but then sheathbills steal her egg. All forlorn and shaking. Our very own soap opera (- there’s violation and adultery too, but this is the abridged version.) Stay until sun disappears from deck, talking about bikes and why they’re so great. Make a very orange curry for tea. Too hot for me, tone it down with lashings of cream. Drawn outside; the light and life are wondrous. Look, shoot film, look. Intensely present perfect. The sounds of snow edges slumping into the rising tide, distant avalanche explosions, and noisy ice bergs tilting on their axes. And all about the penguins, doing their busy birdy thing, or just stopped and looking too. Macro lens on camera captures some feet and beaks in particular. Wrench away to go inside. The others drink hot toddy, ailing. I’m ok. Sheathbills stutter and stampede across the roofs of our sleep.

Penguin calculators

December 17, 2007 at 8:47 am | Posted in Penguins | Leave a comment

2nd December

Stay still as long as possible. So long that Helen brings me porridge in bed and hour later. No ship is due until the evening, so I’m pretending it’s a Sunday long lie. Me and Rick dress up to count penguins, but euk it’s snowing slush and we’d get soaked, so retreat inside. Package a few First Day Covers then the weather appears to clear, so we head out again. Gosh it’s yucky by the boatshed, a treacly gloup of mud, meltwater and guano. I find it hard to move and count without slipping in the mire and remembering where I’d got up to. We both reach the same figure (give or take a couple) and move on up to the mast colony. Tricky when nests are huddled around a prominent rock and there’s no clear line of sight. The snow is coming down fiercer. We both make the same tally. After counting the small scattered Anode Tower colony I retreat indoors, ineffectual without eyesight (glasses are snowed under) leaving Rick to count the control colonies. He comes in shortly, soaked. Adding the figures together gives us a total of 618 nests. (Last year there were 611 on 27th November.) Thaw out and unpack stock that Helen has valiantly carried up from the boatshed. Start collating sets of eight posters which make up the Port Lockroy information pack (a bargain at $5!) laid out along bench in science room. This is familiar work for me, and  music is playing in my ears. Rick cooks up Sunday Brunch style meal; fried eggs, potatoes, beans and tomato mmm. Straight back out to bag up more poster sets. Startling how much snow cover has disappeared over the last days, temperature hovering around zero, precipitation sometimes more like rain. Our whole topography is changing, I find edges where there were none. The snow made everything bigger and now I’m surprised to realise this is so. Bit of a ‘ho hum’ afternoon; tidying, small jobs. Helen has done a stamp stock take, trying to work out what we may run out of and need to re-order. Waiting is frustrating – today’s only  ship visit is scheduled from seven thirty pm onwards. Eventually lie down and read. Rick cooks exotic curry: mango and guinea fowl! V. dense and tasty. Stewed apple and custard. Still no ship. Risk taking full slop bucket to landing, hurl it right out in an arc. Nothing happens. No-one comes. Paint a few cards for International Polar Year, with the commemorative round stamps on. Hardly breathe. Stare. Start reading American anthology of Antarctic stories…

Eggs!

December 17, 2007 at 8:42 am | Posted in Penguins | Leave a comment

28th November

The snow is melting; rocks emerging, our local landscape morphing, shrinking into spring. Small ship visit – Mikheev 47 pax – arrives after they go through a safety drill (it was too rough in the Bransfield Strait yesterday.) We had time to cancel remaining post beforehand. They are happy; first landing. Numerous nationalities. Ship also delivers more cds and postcards. I’m quiet and flat for no reason. We three walk to boatshed to look at the gentoos on the right side, who have melted dips in the snow (fallen off roof) with their tummies to create nests (more like holes.) Back up to bunkroom for German sausages, hot with onions. Helen mistakes lumps of cheese hidden within for gristle and gets all queasy. I’m so tired, Rick sends me to bed for a couple of hours while he and Helen move boxes round boatshed to accommodate new stock. Wake to a mug of Earl Grey and sort detritus in shop, finding new places to store the new things. Rick is powering through today so cheerily, he insists on cooking up a feast: Chicken casserole then pear n’ apple crumble. Extremely good. An arched iceberg has docked mid-channel by Jougla. We have another wee team stroll up to look. And there’s one nest with three eggs – penguin parent struggling to nestle them all. Most nests are fully constructed, some still in development; odd season. Transfer photos to computer and type up a day. That’s enough. Sleep

The first egg!

December 17, 2007 at 8:28 am | Posted in Penguins | Leave a comment

18th November

Sumptuous sleep. Baby bear bowl of porridge. Chilly wind through pjs outside. A skua menaces gentoos right by the hut. The anxious timbre of their voices will indicate this predator’s presence from now on. Others have a long lie. I’m eager to be up and about. Finish catching up with base diary and set out on first Penguin Monitoring Patrol, to see if any eggs have been laid. Helen comes too. Move clockwise round the island, approaching colonies slowly. Sometimes the birds rise up enough to see what’s underneath, some respond to the gentlest of posterior touches.

Extra care moving round the control colonies, as they are least used to humans. Nests seem well developed, but no sign of anything more until we reach the mast colony and check an early nest we have had our eye on. I can’t see anything, but Helen softly persists – using binoculars she spots a very mucky egg! The first on Goudier Island! Hurray! Closer to the mast, a bird carcass, exposed in the melting snow, is being picked at by another skua (the first one was ringed, so now we have a pair to disrupt the gentoos general calm.) V. chilly nose and too cold hands for pictures. Back into the fold for luxxy elevenses – toast, butter and jam mmm. Start preparing Christmas card list, then cancel all the mail posted here yesterday. Tear sheets of stamps into singles (to sell for postcards.) Write up wildlife observations. Toss up  a Salad Nicoise because we have fresh lettuce, French beans, tins of tuna, olives and fresh bread. Really good. Typed up some blog. Still hopelessly twelve days behind and fear endless chasing tail. Assess what’s needed for shop re-stock and, stepping gingerly round penguin nests, we enter boat shed.

The torch promptly refuses to light our way from box to box. One hour and five loads later, Helen has lost the plot locating final box of caps. Rick comes to rescue us, cold and sedentary from computer work.

Kettle’s on. Easy going yoga session, all relaxed after. More steak, with cabbage and mash. Heater is on, but so is coat, hat and scarf… it’s eleven degrees. Sleepy washing up. The nights stay brighter longer now. Desperate typing whilst cribbage gallops. So tired, I drift off as Helen teaches Rick how to play Racing Demon and they discuss pensions and whiskey tasting.

Hot-bunking and chick-counting

December 17, 2007 at 8:25 am | Posted in Penguins, Rachel Hazell, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

16th November

Rick up to bridge for six thirty. No contact from expected ship, and Endeavour is moving south – so we’re on for the day! How tough?

Breakfast on fresh fruit, scrambled egg and bacon as we cruise the Lemaire Channel. This is great – one of my fears about being at Port Lockroy for the season was not getting to see the wonders I know are round the corner…. and here we are – what luck! Foggy views, but still special (there’s a particular someone  who’ll be very envious x x x ) imagine the invisible peaks. Arrive Petermann Island for a landing at nine thirty. Meet Oceanites team who camp there during summer season; major marine wildlife researchers; v. helpful neighbours. Helen and I plod up to Adelie Towers like Teletubbies in our boil-in-the-bag immersion suits. Receive chick-counting tips at the top. Down hill past colony of cormorants, and back to ship for sauna, meeting Ian, (another Oceanites,) who’s washing his smalls in the sink. Helen and I toast, melt, shower, scrub and emerge all limp for crisp salad lunch. More Penguin Monitoring advice from John about checking for eggs; touch nesting bird on tail and she’ll lift up… Moving south now, to Vernadsky, with fresh supplies for the Ukranian station – we will be the first visitors for eight months. But the pack ice thickens to 10/10, difficult for the ship to approach close enough, treating us to a roundabout route through icy vistas and huge clearing skies. Snap away, too bright to check composition. Heart full. Captain tries hard to find a landing site. Two hundred cormorants lift off the water, fly, swoop and land again as one. Eventually one zodiac is able to deliver fresh food, at the cost of one propeller. The sun is so strong, and we so unprepared (no sunnies, no sun-cream,) that shade and bed beckon. Find Tudor and Helen crashed out in OUR loaned cabin, wake them up and take their places – hot bunking! Helen goes for zodiac cruise, Tudor checks e-mails, Rick and I sleep. Recap session v. entertaining, especially Stefan’s rendition of female adelie penguin’s infidelity. Such positive vibes on this ship – I like a captain who throws snowballs. Sit together for our final dinner as a team (Tudor will stay on the ship, until Ushuaia, once we are dropped off, he has lost his appetite.) Out on the monkey deck to appreciate return sail through Lemaire Channel. A sickle moon slithers behind the peaks, which can be seen this time. I’m remembering last year, on the bridge of HMS Endurance, peering up to the heights. What a lot has happened since then, and what luck to be here in awe again. The sea opens out. Our Mount William is visible up ahead.

It’s late; the passengers and light are fading. At the library tea bar, an Alaskan lady insists on cramming luxury tea bags in our pockets (Mint Melange, Bombay Chai, etc.) and giving us water bottles and hotel toiletries. A gentleman (who’s wife had lent me several layers, hat, scarf, gloves on deck) presses half a bottle of JD that he’s sure not to need in Drake’s Passage. Quiet cuppa in leather armchair, and then along to the bridge where the others are waiting sombre. Tim laughs at our interactions (altercations?!) – he’ll be observing our progress regularly, from now ’til Christmas. He takes us to the bar for a strong, short hot toddy. Rope ladder hop into zodiac, into nondescript night sea. Several inches of fresh snow. Relief that front door hadn’t blown open. Action stations with no light! Tudor has forty-five  minutes to pack and return to ship. Money must be bundled and credit card slips tallied for him to take. He’s promised to post cd of images for blog…I have ten minutes to burn it argh panic. Bud the zodiac driver waits patiently in the cold dark bunkroom as we flap about. Finally all that can be pulled together is and we are standing at the landing site, hugging goodbye and thanks. We’ll miss him, and envy his passage on the Endeavour. Catch his waving arm, silhouetted against the ship’s beam, on camera. A last moment. The illuminated vessel slides decorously out of sight. Brutal to climb into bed in unheated hut. We’ll have to reacclimatise after comfort of ship. Physical and emotional need for a hot water bottle. Takes a long while to fall asleep.

Port Lockroy

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

portlockroy1.jpg

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.

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

Curiously street-like lamps, night caps and laughing

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

October 28th

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

The dangers of inhaling penguin poo

October 23, 2007 at 1:01 pm | Posted in Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Penguins, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

journey-out-there-5.jpg

19th October

Eyes shut together this morning. Much better; thank goodness for drugs. No-one is running today, not even the Hashers. We speed-walk instead, wearing more clothes against the damp. Rousing, but not sufficiently recovered equilibrium to attempt yogic balances. All grey nondescript sea and sky, flashed through with arcs of birds. Big carb breakfast. Mandatory IAATO briefing. Still tired. Elevenses with the team and a work meeting to go over daily routine at Port Lockroy. Can hardly keep eyes open – even though this is important! Move onto risk assessments (inc. the dangers of inhaling penguin poo) then slump into horizontal mire of a nap for an hour. Good grief where have my energy levels seeped away to? Buffet lunch: only now regaining a sense of proportion with my portions, so just the two courses (mmm one liberally doused in crème anglaise…) Write on the computer for a bit. Amyr Klink gives a slide show of his madcap metal hulled sailing adventures in Antarctic waters. One year he buried treasure in the snow, and brought his children back to find it years later. They are so unimpressed with the contents (alcohol and money) that they create a better one! Since I’ve managed to screw up the music software on my computer, ( a potentially devastating move at the start of five months semi-isolation) I’m delighted to bump into a Mac man on the stairs. He readily agrees to help, but I screw up again, in the nicest company. These guys can’t wait to buy stamps from our PO. One more day’s sail before we reach the Falkland islands. We’ve been trying to work out how to watch the rugby world cup when we’re scheduled to be at an albatross colony on a remote island. Thinking of hiring a small plane…is that a ridiculous notion? Prefer to eat early, although that means alone – enjoy the thinking time. After a decent interval of digestion, first hot-tub/Jacuzzi. Floating in jade bubbles at 39, looking out past the Norwegian flag to grey sea, pale silver spume and fog. Funny to be there, on my own, on a ship, on the way to the Falklands. I join second sitting (for the company you understand) which involves taunting the expedition staff who are not allowed to drink. John (the bird man) v helpful about i-Tunes, tries to help, fails, but promises to try again later. Show Marina some pictures of book sculptures. She says “I had no idea; there are books everywhere!” Latest to bed. 

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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