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.

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First ship shop

November 27, 2007 at 6:40 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | 1 Comment

15th November

Slightly hungover. Glad at prospect of fresh fruit for breakfast, to ward off scurvy. No time for porridge. First shop; Helen and I are nervous about prices and stock. Stand on ramp to welcome the passengers.

Take positions and the flow is steady, no problems (except for slow adding up.) It’s interesting to see how people move around the space, what they buy, how many stamps… Not too pooped. Tudor and I re-stock.

(Must remember to take torch, tally sheet, knife, pen and gloves.) Helen cashes up. Rick, expanding his culinary envelope, (and bravely using the mysterious unlabelled bag of dried mushrooms which hydrate up into huge slithery oysters,) serves up miso-style noodle soup for lunch; hot and sustaining. Wind increases. Endeavour arrives. Tim Soper (who was expedition leader on the ship that first brought me to Antarctica,) runs in to hug hello, see that our jerry cans are filled, and deliver enormous box of fresh fruit, veg, milk, butter and enough steak for a week, hurray, thank-you! Extra pair of hands (Tudor’s) allows mingling, helping with sizes and testing knowledge of science room. The frailer pax are quite buffeted about in the gusts outside – it’s horrid – and scale the slopes with ski poles. Weather conditions make the decision whether to invite us on board for dinner or drinks uncertain. As we’re about to restock the shop for a possible early morning visit, it’s a surprise to be told that the last zodiac is waiting and we need to hurry. Rough and bumpy ride straight into the waves, jolts Helen’s back and I nearly lose hat. Glad we’re in immersion suits. Speedy shower – four of us in twenty minutes (dispelling theory that women take an age to ablute.) At recap, Rick performs well, the audience is charmed. We answer questions, delighted to be drinking G+Ts as waiters pass canapes.

Divine to sit at a table with starched napkins, a menu, wine and intelligent conversation. Weather has continued to worsen – gale force eight, forty knot winds. We must stay on board, it’s too dangerous to return to Port Lockroy tonight. Warm, wined and dined; I don’t care.

Cabins are juggled, empty bunks found. Banter tiredly but contentedly in bar. Rick talks to the doctor about nasal issues. Helen keeps sliding off sofa (due to swell.) After the luxury of checking internet, Helen and I go up to the bridge to look at icebergs on the radar and charts that show how small our little island really is. I’m sharing a cabin with Rick, who is too tired to snore. Late to sleep.

Haircut on the beach at low tide. Penguins halt and move on.

November 27, 2007 at 6:37 pm | Posted in Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

13th November

Ship is not coming; ice blocks their passage beyond our safe haven. Grey water rippling. Penguins are all crashed out from their nocturnal swims.

Tudor observed them at 2:45am, gathering by the water’s edge, quorate around one hundred, they launched off before the next group assembled (in ten minutes) and again they are away, diving and feeding for twelve – eighteen hours. When they come back, propelling up and out of the sea, they preen and shake before returning to the nesting sites. Dare the Stairway to heaven with Helen; it’s steep and the last step is ginormous. When will I brave it alone? Shovel snow from deck and swing into it, heaving and tossing high over the bank, hopefully avoiding ramp and gentoos around the flagpole. Helen is on the opposite side, hacking at ice with a pick. Hot work. During tea break, I discover that my hairdressing appointment is at midday. Vidal Baboon has had a cancellation. Boil up water and scald head in a bucket. The salon is a chair, set on the beach at low tide. Walk down with wet conditioned hair (which freezes into attractive dandruff.)  Helen takes documentary shots and issues encouragement. Vidal’s fingers are sporadically immobilised by the frosty nip, so he has to pause and blow on them. Passing penguins halt and move on. Twenty minutes later, the deed is done; I’m shorn.

Retreat to bunkroom and whack on heat. Tomato sauce soup for lunch, followed by a game of liar dice. Go down to the ice sculpture garden as we’re out of water. There’s a second adelie… but they don’t appear to be talking to each other (only ten metres apart.) The blue ice shapes are magnificent, multi-hued, multi-textured. Gazing into the shallows I see a crustacean, which looks interesting. Helen removes boots and socks, rolls up thermals, steps straight in and plucks the creature out!

It’s a poorly isopod, more used to deeper waters. Helen, lying down, discovers a constellation of bright starfish. Rick’s still running errands, fixing aerials – we call him over and he joins the Helen Annan Nature Walk. We see sea urchins, snow-snakes (pinky/purple squiggles) sea fleas, shrimpy things, multi-millipedes, lots of limpets and orange woolly anemones. Much adventure en route, rock climbing, iceberg surfing, (Tudor) snow caving, (Rick) and pausing to watch penguins, catching new angles and perspectives of our little island. Think a lot about St. Agnes on the Isles of Scilly (rounded rocks) and ‘The Summer Book’ by Tove Jansson (island as microcosm.) The final section of circumnavigation looks too hard-core for me, so I reverse up the Stairway to Heaven and plod in Rick’s footsteps instead. Essential tea time! At several points this afternoon, the others have stared askance at me, mistaking new haircut for a new person altogether. Can’t resist a pee amongst marooned icebergs, watching gentoos dripping gold in this evening light as they porpoise. While Tudor prepares mystery feast, the remainder go through the motions of a yoga session, warming up slowly and groaning at our stiff shoulders. The Mexican dinner with the same diminishing resources is excellent. Chilli con carne, refried beans, strips of stir-fried pork and tortilla chips. Extraordinary. Mini slide show of recent photos from me and Helen. Another day in icy paradise.

Reluctantly agreeing to hair cuts

November 27, 2007 at 6:35 pm | Posted in Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

12th November

I’ve been snoring, quite rhythmically, and keeping Tudor awake, despite his painting marathon yesterday. Sea is rippling, wafting larger bergs into landing site. Crunchy snow. We hope a ship is coming in tomorrow.

So the paint-spattered cardboard is bundled up, dust swept, dribbles removed, stains scrubbed and omissions touched up. I’m assigned to sparkle up/groom lounge and science room. Many grubby corners excavated and much delicate wiping with a damp cloth, and remembering where artefacts had been hung before we moved them to decorate. Enjoy systematically going through all the bookshelves with the duster. Who’s been reading the entire works of Proust? Pile of 1950s magazines and plenty of the same era’s Reader’s Digest if we run out of literary matter. Finish by sweeping, including all low down nooks and crannies.

The science room contains an extravagance of material for such a small space; an array of historical, scientific and personal artefacts, with the Beastie (hugely important in the realm of Ionospherics,) in the middle. Carefully move each item, wonder what it is and how it works, clean/dust it, and shelf, and replace. Try to absorb and learn as I go
along: International Geophysical Year, Whistlers, the ozone layer, weather data… wowee. Screw information plaque and hardware onto dark room door. Sweep around there, and where Rick’s been tidying the workshop bench. After tea, down to the boat shed with Helen so that Tudor can explain his stock storage system to us i.e. Port Lockroy caps are behind this stack of boxes, at the bottom. The thought of re-stocking in a hurry, between ships is terrifying. Flee to warmth of bunkroom and write. Helen verifying shop procedures, so salmon carbonara (tastes great looks yuk) is slightly late, thus all the more gratefully received. Takes a while to heat up tonight. Having problems reaching anyone on the HF radio, and no news of the ship due tomorrow. Helen rushes in announcing a new visitor – Hello adelie! He’s looking anxious too, and wanders disconsolate, me following with a camera at a respectable distance. Oh it seems so lost. We’ve been here two weeks; no visitors, no fresh supplies, no shower… and d’you know? It’s ok.

Reluctantly agreed to have hair cut (by Vidal Baboon, one of our local hairdressers,) two days ago, but haven’t got round to it. One chilblain. Helen has brought ‘Poetry Please!’ and reads one to us in bed.

The Antarctic Juke Box

November 27, 2007 at 6:32 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

10th November

Make porridge after gentle ball gyrations and the best outside pee – the water absolutely dead calm and snowflakes falling. Supposedly warmer. Into chilly overalls after teeth and dishwashing, to finish scraping the genny shed entrance, then sanding, then undercoating. Listen to lounge music, then Lemon Jelly on loud – we’re all out painting hall/porch walls and ceilings. Corned dog and sardines for lunch, with chocolate. Rick’s sweetie of choice is liquorice and there’s only a limited supply, so the others have to sneak pieces. Three giant petrels noisy around the apple turnover wedge of berg out front. Nine cape petrels were there the other day. Lumps of snow slide off the hut roof with a whumf, intermittently. Finish first undercoat. Take slop bucket to sling into the sea and take an hour walking back – the penguins are so distracting. Click zillions of photographs. Sheathbills are doing the love thing on the porch roof – tricky when the lady underneath is standing on one leg and her tail feathers are in the way. Snow is slushier…must be warmer then?! Two mins to reply to e-mails, then down to chains landing for a snow wash surrounded by glassy cold sea, bergy bits sparkling and icicles hanging round this outdoor bathroom. Not adept at washing bits without ice ending up down long johns. Glistening sights. Cold nose. Trumpeting gentoos. It’s Saturday Night and we’re going ‘out’ after Rick’s feast… I mean, we’re going out of the bunkroom and into the museum lounge, where the gramophone needle is sharp and ready. Tudor dresses up, Saturday night BAS style in shirt and proper shoes. I ruffle up hair, put on stripey jumper and pink lipstick. Helen has new thermals on, and Rick a smart Port Lockroy top. Top tunes include:

‘Run Rabbit Run.’
‘Takes Two to Tango.’
‘I Whistle a Happy Tune.’
‘The Lady is a Tramp.’
‘Blow the Wind Southerly.’
‘When i’m Cleaning Windows.’

and my favourite for marching…

‘Oh Ain’t it Grand to be in the Navy.’

Extraordinary tone – an acoustic glimpse of the past. Our dancing impersonates the penguins on purpose and maybe not. Layers of thermals are removed due to enervating music. Since needle requires changing  for every record, the evening progresses elegantly… until i-Pod and speakers replace the hand-winding, and bopping continues, steaming up the windows.

Penguins walking by the kitchen window

November 19, 2007 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Rachel Hazell | 2 Comments

5th November

No bonfire night! N.B. Don’t lick your fingers or rub your eyes with antibacterial hand-wash gel. Yuk/ouch. Wind still blowing. Up for an outside wee. Snow has drifted some, still falling. Penguins all away swimming, just a few stragglers. Ball exercises and wildlife report reading. Gloss coat of magnolia in the Science room. Really hard to achieve neat edges cos the paint is so cold; fingers not working so well. Dixie Chicks and chatting to Rick about motivation. Then finishing off the puddle at the bottom of tin on a wee patch in museum kitchen with Tudor and Helen, talking about what to do on return, babies, travelling, employment decisions… Turn last night’s lasagne into hearty lunch soup. Helen worried about rolled oat supply. Me worried about peppermint tea supply. Back to preparing kick boards of shop for painting, after finishing franking (and Scottish dancing with Rick and Helen; Gay Gordon’s, Dashing White Sergeant, and Strip the
Willow…) V. blustery and cold outside, Rick puts heater on for morale and necessity (gloss sticky and drips more at zero degrees.) He’s being extra supportive and considerate today.  Cups of tea. Funny to see penguins walking by the kitchen window. Oh but we’ve run out of water, (some of it has been tasting odd, like burnt fried food)  so all four of us face the elements armed with ice axes, washing up bowls and shovels. The tide is up, so must dig down through snow overhang (risky) and fish out mini bergs blown into the bay. Some of the ice chunks are so huge that Tudor has to bash them with an axe on cardboard on the hall floor. Scoop up right-sized chunks and sweep up shards. Nearly finished reading ten years worth of wildlife reports. Helen makes bread. Tudor cooks dinner. Beer o’clock is early and the banter is coarse. V. fine kedgeree despite lack of tumeric, parsley etc. Lychees and chocolate mousse for pudding. Don’t we eat like royalty?! Play cribbage – first since we arrived – Rick and I neck and neck… I only win because my cards are scored before his. Then out to marvel at snow drifted penguins aarh. Grooving to Rolling Stones increases temperature, as does Jagermeister. Computer dead; woe is me.

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.

It’s slippery and slidey and scary and the light is flat

November 19, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

2nd November

Colder. Awake at six for a pee – too early! Snuggle down for another hour. Inflate swiss ball, much to baffled amusement of Tudor, and wobble about improving core stability for a bit. We have one day to prepare Port Lockroy for first proper ship visit, which is happening a day earlier than scheduled. Much of morning spent dusting and moving boxes of stock. I leave the others to be anxious about how to display all the permutations of t-shirts (sizes, colours, shapes) – there are so many. At morning break I make tea wrong! Milk powder must be treated with delicacy to prevent scorching… Then an inquisitive sheathbill leaves a calling card, which I, not noticing, tread into soles of indoor slippers. Hmm. Oh and I’m also gutted to discover that there’s no sign of the wonderful nut bars sponsored by Eat Natural. Food packers don’t remember them. Apparently they were delivered… a mystery. Stomach is churning, adjusting to a change of diet; it’s impossible to include enough protein. Oh dear. Progress is slow, but continuous, sledging and carrying boxes up and down from boat shed to shop, snow softening in the sun. Feel like a cart horse, harnessed up. Slowly, slowly each item finds its place and receives a price label. Great Mulligatawny soup out on the sundeck suntrap, which has a wee seat carved out of the snowdrift. More and more penguins are settling back on to the island, emerging from the water, ruffling feathers, congregating at their nesting sites. Speedy snow wash, standing on warm rock down by the landing site; top half naked, then bottom, hugely invigorating. Feels good, except for stray drips of ice down thermal trous as I pull them back up! Back on the job, slightly frantic towards evening when there still appears to be hours worth of work ahead. Rick brings speakers through because we’re concentrating too hard to sing and lift our spirits. He also fuels us with tuna mayo pasta and spicy bowls of soup.
Inaugural trip up the Stairway to Heaven with loo and slop bucket. It’s slippery and slidey and scary and the light is flat. Clouds have covered us over. Thank goodness Tudor accompanies me, and kindly demonstrates how to balance on rock to swill bucket without waves lapping on feet. V tired and quiet. Bed around eleven.

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.

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.

Landing with seals, penguins, people and reindeer

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

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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

Bookbinding fingers begin to itch

October 27, 2007 at 11:10 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Rachel Hazell, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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23rd October

Turbulent night. Up for brisk walk round deck (too dodgy to run.) Discover from pipe that clock has moved forward an hour. Not much time for breakfast. Really trying for smaller portions, having been disgusted at current photos of me rounding out. 9am bridge visit, all too brief; makes me appreciate the ships I’ve been on that have had an open bridge policy. I’m sharking for gash charts to make gift books out of…mmm…haven’t yet found the right person to ask. Bookbinding fingers are itching. Outside it’s snowing and the water is moving about a lot. Have learnt of two professional blows in the last twenty-four hours – one disadvantage of almost instant e-mail contact all the way down here. One piece of work broken; one commission cancelled. Shut myself in lecture room and sing every song I can think of. Sounds weak and wavery but serves to sort my head out. Particularly in view of impending proximity, I doubt my capacity to respond calmly, not impetuously. Rick and Tudor empathise over marinated fish of various descriptions and give good advice; we all linger in the dining room. Sleep for an hour. Woken by the pipe announcing Shag Rocks; stark triangular silhouettes on the horizon. Oh but look! The first iceberg! It glows almost neon amidst the grey, superbly sculptural all by itself. Watch the wake, bluer now. Everyone excited to see a Giant White Petrel, very rare. It arcs and swoops with the rest of them. Information-loaded lecture on ice and glaciers from Uli. Oooh I love all that physical geography stuff; diagrams and arrows… First sitting of dinner with some of the expedition staff. We talk about the importance of celebrating Christmas on board and the merits of ice-cream over cheesecake. (They’re right about the cheesecake. They know.) Quick turn round the deck. Two fur seals writhing. Write. Tidy cabin. Meet the others after second sitting. Desultory chat about the lethargy of days at sea, underwear and filmmaking. Because we’re now in iceberg territory, the Nordnorge switches on a powerful beam that sweeps the dark waves ahead. Someone on the bridge will be concentrating very hard tonight. Last thing up to the forward bar on deck seven to see the light picking out crests and growlers and wings.

Happy Birthday Rachel Hazell!

October 26, 2007 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

With lots of love from all your family, friends, secret and not-so-secret admirers.

To let avid readers of the blog know, the posts are uploaded by Rachel’s friend and paperboy Philip, but Rachel of course writes absolutely everything in her own distinctive style.

Do comment as much as you can. When Rachel can get a signal – when she does stumble across wifi in amongst the icebergs – she would simply love to hear your words and voices.

For now, a Big Happy Birthday to Rachel, across the skies…

Preventative measures

October 25, 2007 at 8:28 am | Posted in Journey, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

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22nd October

A good run while the sea’s relatively flat, followed by some sun salutations – it’s still hard to balance. Shop/PO session after breakfast: stock sheets, credit card slips, rubber stamp security etc. Good lecture about Amundsen ‘breaking the rules’ by Arne. Our Oslo Hasher friend confirms general sense of Norwegian ambivalence to their national hero who had privately always planned to go South, all the while proclaiming his intentions for the North. Sea state starts to tip, so we take preventative measures, which means I sleep for most of the afternoon. Only moment of note – getting i-Tunes fixed. Hurray! Have music! Manage vertical orientation for dinner – tender lamb and poached chocolate fondant. Lie down and sing.

A quick game of Badminton at Falkland

October 25, 2007 at 8:23 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Photos, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

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21st October. Happy Birthday Timothy!

Early approach to Stanley. Sally is on the quay. It’s raining. There’s a bit of faff with the gangplank not achieving the correct angle of rest. Then a beautiful garden shed is fork-lifted into position for customs/security ha ha. Stand around on slippery steel discussing ice conditions and getting our fuel/alcohol supplies security checked and onboard. Sit drinking tea while the people who know what they’re doing do it. Squeeze into Sally’s car and visit her home/ducks/polytunnel before heading to the Falkland’s main Post Office. In by the side entrance, past the sorting room piled with parcels (which already rouses me to a pleasurable frenzy) and through to the back where the safe is full of stamps and the smiling staff are ready to furnish us with enough postal paraphernalia for four and a half months. We double-check sheaves of First Day Covers and shoals of sheetlets, oohing and aahing over new releases of Antarctic marine life, fresh iceberg stamps and a special commemorative round one for International Polar Year…(I’ll tell you more when we’re properly set up at Port Lockroy.) While Helen is more fully instructed in the Arts of Post Mistressing there’s time to admire the order and repetition, talk about the significance of postal communication and stock up on padded envelopes. Deputy Post Master Ann is going to be our parcel lifeline; thank-YOU Ann! Walk away down Ross Road chanting ‘I love stamps and envelopes and rubber stamps and stationary!’ loud enough to remember exactly how excited I am to be on the way to doing this job. Stand in the aisles of what is likely to be the last supermarket for four and a half months paralysed with indecision. From the mass of bounty I choose mint humbugs and gold doilies. Back to ship for lunch and gym stuff. Rick has decreed that we play badminton and has booked a court. What a laugh! Such an unexpected way to spend our final afternoon in civilisation. All frustrated by how good we used to be, except Tudor who’s brilliant regardless, and even appears to have a strategy. Cool off in the swimming pool, mucking about and laughing (in a kind way) at Tudor’s terrible buttock bruises sustained during an unscheduled bounce down metal steps after a hot tub… Split so that Helen can be shown the swiftest historic tour of Stanley. I wander along the rain-bright colour-saturated streets to dear Kay’s B+B. But where are the gnomes? Relieved to learn that they will be out and proud anytime soon, now that spring is here. Kay, along with her gnomes, home-baking and twinkling eyes nurtured me last year when I’d left HMS Endurance with wobbly sea legs and iceberg etched retinas. Catch up with necessary gossip over tea and fruitcake. Talk about Port Lockroy; Kay thinks her brother-in-law stopped by there in the 40s. She pulls out his diaries (browned paper, meticulous copperplate) and describes how he died from a seal infection after months of pain. He must have been part of Operation Tabarin – Wow! Meet up with the others over beer at the Globe; rough and smoky but the liquor slips down mighty fine. Move on to the Victory and down a few more before emerging into the glowing evening and catching last bus back to the ship. Carry on drinking as we sail away into the tumbling ocean. Sleep with tablets to hand and two e-mails from home x

An overdose of squid rings

October 23, 2007 at 2:53 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

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20th October

Early ten min run as we’re landing today. North western most islands of the Falklands all around. Someone has a bird in their hand. Many binoculars in evidence. Brisk and glowy, red tingly legs. Good breakfast. Dress in layers of thermals and waterproofs – it’s  8 degrees centigrade out there – and swap green carpet slippers for welly boots. Disembark via hold on deck two, through various boot soaks, sprays and baths. Ah we’ve only been at sea for a few days and already the smell of earth is a nostalgic one. Gorse, tussock grass, heather, peat, daffodils, even twisted wild roots exposed on the path… Walk up and over a ridge of West Point to find the bird colony. Last time I was here, nearly a year ago, I was in a bereft and addled state, having left the Endurance a few days earlier. That day was finer, and windier; the albatross were looping and reeling overhead. This time lots of Rockhopper penguins mingled with the bigger birds, the albatross sitting tight on perfectly cylindrical nests. Listen to the music of their sighings and squawkings. Too chilly to sit around, so march back to the house where tea, and a phenomenal groaning tableful of cake, is being served. Say hello to Jeanette, who’s pouring, who welcomed me last year. Return to ‘mother’, read more reports before lunch, with a generous portion of shut-eye in between. Helen and I peruse previous Port Lockroy Post Office reports in anticipation of our briefing in Stanley tomorrow. Gosh there’s so much to learn, and under no circumstances DO! Oh and all the confusions of currency fluctuation and complication. Got my facts wrong earlier: Last year 40,000 pieces of post were hand-franked. Curiously, the more we talk with passengers, we discover that there is a wealth of postal knowledge on board, so we’ve been asking for advice! From West Point to New Island. Still monochromatic tonal perspective. Anchor off Beef Island and transfer one boat at a time – we’re the last. Sit in comfy armchairs with too many clothes on. It’s possible to get even closer to the Rockhoppers at this colony. Great to be striding along a peaty path, chuckling at the Upland Geese and their chicks. Rugby is being transmitted on a crackling transistor at the museum/shop. Back to the ship in time for last twenty painful minutes, played over chronic internet connection. Had to drink wine in commiseration. Overdose on squid rings at dinner. All four of us search the library’s games cupboard; not much choice if you don’t want to do a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle or play a Norwegian board game. End up playing Liar Dice at which Helen and I are spectacularly hopeless.

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

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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. 

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