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!

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

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

24th January

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

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

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

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

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

Slept soundly on my bed of stamps,

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

23rd January

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

Look After Your Feet!

April 7, 2008 at 5:09 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Journey, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

15th January

There was a loud thud which shook the building at four thirty am. Rick up at six-thirty. We’re not sure when Bremen are coming – they have two slots, starting at five-thirty, booked. Two large chunks of ice are beached on the on the landing site, how extraordinary. The others have indulged in fresh coffee and are sitting out on deck in the sunshine. Hear Bremen on the radio waves, broken, in the distance… something about 15:00 hours… So coffee turns into an extended foot soak session, using Helen’s Tisserand oils, Spirit of Adventure’s exfoliator and Ricks birthday Doc Hauschka Fitness Foot Balm. Our feet are like new; all plumped and cared for. The First Law of Port Lockroy is “Look after your feet!” (The second is “Look after your bum.”) Helen points out how dull it might be living on this island if the penguins weren’t here, despite their noise and smell.

On with jobs: Helen scrapes and sands window frames at side and front, Rick finishes bitumen in the middle and swaps batteries about.

The info packs are dwindling, so I collate a load more, happily humming along to i-Pod. Cold fingers in here, even though the sun is shining. Helen’s getting grunmpy (ie. hungry) but won’t stop for a tea break. Several items have accidentally dropped/fallen between deck slats and need to be rescues from the mirth of sheathbills. Rick does it chopstick style, Helen has constructed a hook with wire and ribbons of sellotape – technique depends on object lost. Watered-down curry soup for lunch. Helen stretches first, back aching. Rick nearly nods off, but Bremen will be here in half an hour. Helen nervy about getting post bagged up and setting counter straight. An immensely tedious visit, four hours, big gaps in between the four groups.

Doctor only has twenty pieces of philatelic mail today. We start to go bonkers, so Helen dons overalls, and paints windows and meets Mr. Delmonte – really! – who promises to send us a calendar with palm trees and fruit, to help keep us warm (in our imaginations, if nothing else.) Cold biting wind, fat chicks totter on the nests, many visitors stay outside to photograph the fluff. Even with just me behind the counter, there is still plenty of opportunity to browse through book (wonderful, published by SPRI) of Edward Seago’s paintings, which triggers creative synapses, pleasing stimulus amidst the nondescript. Immediately afterwards, Rick fries up egg, beans and bacon, cooked and eaten in relay to ensure maximum hotness. Finish first, return to franking, mini-restock. Rick sweeps through, shop made ready. Very early night.

Helen is filmed tap dancing. Light-headed, I eat gratefully.

April 7, 2008 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

14th January

Thank goodness Rick slept well and cosy on the lounge floor, whence he was banished. I’m up for tea duty (for a change!) Snowed in the night and it it snowing now. Rocks are wet and poopy. Discoverer leaves and Antarctic Dream’s engine hum pre-empts the ship steaming into view. Chopped dried fruit today, and yummiest Palmer granola. 

Plenty of time to wake up and prepare for the day. First pax at nine. 

Sweep snow from ramp. Bundle post. Continue writing long letter. Big mixture of nationalities. One fellow sticks extra stamps on a load of First Day Covers, bound for Barcelona – hope they get there. Blizzard (yacht) are in. They have a film crew aboard – ‘On The Water.’ – from Melbourne. First they radio Antarctic Dream seeking permission for interviewing Capt and Julio. Straight away after, they visit Lockroy base, filming Rick while Helen restocks and I deal with crew. They interview me briefly too, the presenter insisting on some live franking instruction. Help H carry stuff up through the snow then she’s filmed tap dancing! Quite funny, but we need to eat lunch before this afternoon’s big ship visit. Munch on gifts left by yacht and ship. Boiled eggs too. Ian radios from Fram, they’ll be here in half an hour, but will head straight off to Antarctic Sound instead of hanging around catering to our ablutions and stomachs – dang! 

Utter blast – 243 pax in good and generous moods. Three hours of concentrating and smiling. At one point I grope under the counter to pull out Snack Box but never managed to dip into it. Gave Ian his wee chart book as he had provided the means to make it. Anya is an Angel in the shop – leaves depleted shelves tidier than ever, ah thank-you! 

Stacks of mail delivered from the ship adding to that posted in our red box. Whack i-Pod on loud and frnak the lot. Helen heroically amassed five boxes of replacement stock while Rick starts the laborious thankless task of sweeping/scrubbing guano from the floors. 

Oh AND he manages to cook up great fruity and not too hot curry. 

Takes two hours to prepare shop for next onslaught. Light-headed. Eat gratefully. Wash up. Rick continues floor cleaning and Helen helps. I have no ounce of strength. When Rick took the buckets a windy gust forced him to run half way round the island and he didn’t spill a single drop! Blizzard is tucked into Alice Creek waiting out the wind, which is rattling our foundations.

Email National Geographic Endeavour with haircut request.

February 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

8th January

Throbbing engine announces Marco Polo’s arrival – they’ve started landing their many passengers at Jougla Point, a few at a time – zodiacs zip. Windy cold and grey today (choose pee position carefully.) Rick’s still in bed on counter when I take him tea. He’s slept badly. Read four days worth of blog and send off. We think Hanse Explorer is a small yacht ship due this morning, and wait for her to come, but she never does. Keep busy with things that need doing, putting out all the caps, franking all the Marco Polo mail – a decent amount, hey hey, Rick brings me tea half way through, he’s installed second lampshade (with parts from other historical bases) in the bunkroom, very smart. He and Helen have brewed coffee and eaten toast. We’re all out of sync. Kotick visits at ten-thirty, I deal with them. Marco Polo delivers post. Helen goes to restock, but Rick’s in the middle of waste management, so she has to stand and watch and occasionally pass him bits of string. Helen and Ri ck slurp on fruit salad for lunch, about two, while I wrote base diary. Marco Polo brought me mail from Ushuaia… I had worried that the arrangement through their Antarctic Tourist Office (set up by the lovely Roberto) had not worked; so an uplifting surprise. Lovely Christmas cards, a birthday Pooping Penguin from Plockton Miriam, Icelandic Voices from Pat law and a sweet Advent calendar from Heather, long letters from Sally and Ian, Susan and Jeremy. Precious. No word from Le Diamant, due at two, so I type for a while. Lots of aromatic nut roasting goes on. Discoverer’s skipper, Andrew comes ashore with a few others to buy more postcards. Show them some of my papery work, as Connor had tried to explain what I do. After typing some more, my eyes start to fail and I feel sick. Migraine Alert. Scared enough to take pills and lie down immediately. Sleep for two hours. Kotick return with mail, and stay for a drink, accompanied by gramophone tunes. Although we have a chicken in the oven, we accept dinner with the French, bien sur. At seven, the radio signals Ioffe on the air; hilarious wee chat with Coz Katie, who’s nearby and loving Antarctica – what a stuff up that we can’t meet! Fail to contact Le Diamant. E-mail National Geographic Endeavour with haircut request. Skim read script of film, it’s hard to visualise, but exactly what we had hoped for. At eight o’clock we join Kotick, on the Peltier side of Jougla Point, nestled in a good wee nook when the wind is right. Cosy, book-lined, effortless hospitality as only the French can achieve. Raisin cabbage hors d’oeuvre, beef and prune couscous, Fer Breton for afters. V. comfy, many twinkles in eyes. Lovely to boat home over still water. Risk snores, trusting to continued effect of migraine pills.

Sopping suits in the genny shed; splashing over postcards

January 24, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

30th December

Stormy weather means those outside jobs are again postponed. I propose pre-porridge yoga. Rick acquiesces, Helen’s legs are too stiff. Start before we change our minds and wake up properly. Surprisingly focused and painless forty mins. It emerges afterwards that Rick has been fantasising about toast and marmalade, so satisfies those desires after porridge. My bowl of pear, banana, peach and nuts is also very good. Others recline as I read eight days of diary – no alterations required. Rick sorts through e-mails and writes three. I type until battery runs out and shoot off blog updates (now we’re charged up on the satellite phone again.) Rick goes to tidy his electrical wiring job with cable brackets. Helen checks spreadsheets (end of year accounts, literally) and replies to Rachel’s e-mails. It’s really too dreich to do anything. Only seven degrees centigrade in bunkroom; heat on and cosy in. Chicken soup for lunch, pear-banana custard and desert wine. Rick suspects it may t urn out to be a bedridden afternoon. Stick labels on my limited edition postcard packages (although they are not selling fast,) while Helen bakes mince pies and Rick rests, cross-legged. Listen to Country carols with Rhonda Vincent. Finish sewing little chart books, eat too many mince pies, drink tea and pop out every so often to scan horizon for Europa. String linen thread above bunk shelf and suspend gentoo shell samples in their ziplock bags (which we’re collecting for Oceanites.) The pingus are utterly soaked, snow is shrinking as rain lashes into it. The wind is so ferocious that the bunkroom lino billows up, so much so that the door sticks! Seven degrees in here now, but feels colder. Heater on sporadically to conserve fuel. Spot the brave Europa, rounding in from Neumayer. They’ve had a good sail and will come to collect us for dinner in fifteen minutes. It’s a wild evening, so definitely immersion suits. Tjalling is positive. The ship’s wood panelled interior is warm and an urn of gluwein is ready to be ladled. Downstairs for beef stew, rice and smiling pax. Manage to shower rapidly before Rick’s talk – the first wash in quite a few days, lovely. The storm has not abated – the other two even pull on neoprene hoods. Very rocky clambering from ship to boat and biting cold blasts to head on the few minutes of journey. We doubt for their safety in returning, let alone conducting a landing in these conditions. Since glasses are steamed up and useless, I go and stand, dripping, breathing in the porch. Hang sopping suits in the genny shed. Rick and Helen stayed out to make sure the inflatable returns safely. Helen panics and runs amok. Astoundingly, Tjalling radios to announce that they WILL land passengers, if that’s ok with us. Crazy! So light the Tilley and dress up in more layers. Very wet visitors, splashing all over postcards and stamps. One fellow, a train driver in Luxembourg, buys stamps for collector friends at home, and will pass on r egards to Rob McGill on Carcass Island (The Falklands) in a couple of weeks. We’re very disappointed that Europa won’t be here tomorrow night. Their lost anchor at Cuverville has set them back… ah they’ll be at Vernadsky instead. Tired, damp and the wind completely surrounding us. No word from the yacht – Xplore – in Alice Creek today.

Like ships in the night

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

29th December

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

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

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

28th December

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

Sailboats appear; therapeutic franking; the comfort of bunk

January 24, 2008 at 7:41 pm | Posted in The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

26th December

Conflict of schedule first thing – Maryshev and Orlova are double booked. (Rick’s penned alterations misunderstood.) But goodwill prevails, as it often does down here, and Maryshev whisks pax in from Dorian Bay even before they’ve finished swallowing breakfast. So Orlova’s visit, after Ricky’s talk, is not unduly delayed. All in good spirits. A group of ROAM-IPY students especially enthusiastic. Oh but I haven’t been able to eat one mouthful of (last bowl of) granola. Having maintained a cheery exterior, Helen tells me I’ve turned yellowish. After a little therapeutic franking I seek the comfort of bunk and weep silently before vague slumber. Helen and Rick restock shop. Hear Toonuka arrive with two guys from Vernadsky (Eugene and Stanislaus) who have come to fix the magnetometer. Dutch skipper helps adjust our aerial too, while pax wander the island leisurely. Finally arise from fug, joining everyone for tea and cake. (Trying to encourage/force the large sweet creamy one we  have been given on everyone first.) Helen’s Mum’s fabulous Christmas cake is multilingually appreciated. Helen cooks up beef and butternut stew. My stomach is in a fragile state and our guests too have surprisingly small portions. All except Rick out to chick hunt, and find one on far side of mast, near to Stairway. Helen discovers that our original babe now has a sibling – they are both being fed. We stand in the evening light. Rick is at the landing site on a garden chair, catching up with the base diary.  From our elevated position we watch the sailboat Anna Margaretha appearing from the Peltier. A soft whisper of brash.

The penguin ballet and the wire coils

January 24, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Posted in Book art, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

23rd December

A ship is sailing into the back bay as I emerge from the house in pyjamas. Forced to forego usual spot for another rock to maintain modesty.  Search for chicks, but all nest occupants still sitting tight. Rick goes over early for talk, leaving us to tidy. Frank stamps whilst eating granola and banana. Quite yawny today – relaxing effects of bath linger. Molchanov visits until midday; pax happy to sit and watch the penguins. This is Nathan’s(EL) last trip before going to work in the Ross Sea area – he will deliver a parcel to my friend Al, working for NZAHT at Cape Royds, heh heh. Delphine has invited us over for lunch and shower, but we must decline, as a major restock is required before Nordnorge visit. We have new books to find shelf-space for, and cubicles to rearrange and label. Have I mentioned how Helen is Queen of the Labels?! As tide is low, Rick has decided to attempt removal of wire coils on sea bed near chains landing. I need food and a wee sit in the sun – a chee se and tomato sandwich. Eat swiftly and  straight down to boatshed. Can categorically confirm that we’re out of calendars. Reconfigure boxes. Several new ones to find and slash open. Also refill the nut-mix-box; of crucial daily importance! Helen finds all the t-shirt varieties and then goes to help Rick. I hump four boxes up and unpack them. Hear radio in the bunkroom – Nordnorge will be with us in an hour. The confusion of wire is being brought to order and boxed up, so that landing site will be in a useable state. Ah they have such mucky hands! Doesn’t feel like Christmas even though the advent calendar says it is. Help carry heavy battery up from the not-working-magnetometer. Lie in instant stupor of tea and cake until Nordnorge arrives, exactly on time. The Hotel Manager brings cards and stamp money, then hurries out to look for chicks. Quite early on we start singing ‘Away in a Manger’ and very quietly, the whole shopful joins in – a little celestial choir in wellington  boots. Lots of kisses from our favorite staff, some of whom are off home for a few weeks. Some challenging scenarios to test one’s patience – people triple checking my sums (yes it is still $303!) or accumulating enormous pile of goods with no money to pay for it. Karin had planned for us to join the ship for dinner, but the Captain is worried about ice in the Neumayer, so they’re offski. Crack into mega-frank while Rick and Helen nip out for pisco and crisps (bringing me a small glass on the way.) I’m hungry for some simple protein – a small tin of crabmeat with chopped tomatoes, onion and mayo – before stocking to the rafters. We have three ships tomorrow (and the massive Marco Polo, who, with over four hundred passengers is unable to land at Lockroy, but will probably purchase stamps and post lots of mail for us to process.) More box heaving. Spend hours filling shelves and baskets. Outside for a swift chick check, but all the birds that lift up of their own accord only have eggs. I wonder if the babies are hidden or merely behind. More chicks have been seen at Jougla. From this viewpoint I can watch penguins performing aqua-ballet. Try for early bed. At half past ten Polar Star’s engine signals their premature anchoring.

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.

Admiring Russian log books, enormous eyes and swimming pools filled with snow

January 2, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

16th December

Misread watch denies Sunday lie. I’m quite in the mood for early Philatelic franking and map folding anyway. Brightness indicates good roof painting opportunity. Rick goes up – his scraping mimics the sheathbills, but louder. He and Helen stop for coffee and croissants, I sip Rooibos, temporarily virtuous. Doesn’t look as though the weather will hold, so painting called off. In the course of helping to scrape, Helen inhales dust of sheathbill excrement eurgh. In a bit I head through thickly falling snow to boatshed to collect some fleeces and cross-stitch kits. Oh the snow! It keeps on coming. Salad and cheese on rye sandwiches. Orlova radios during lunch; anchoring in twenty mins. The visit has just begun when Father Christmas (in the form of Alex the barman) delivers an enormous sack from the catering staff. Ahh! I’m really touched. A Dutch philatelist is SO disappointed that I won’t instantly frank his mail ( I search it out later and deliver freshly inked envelopes to a surprised man in lounge on ship before dinner.) Having folded the National Geographic satellite maps and looked at distant place names, particularly on the far side, past the Weddell Sea where the far flung bases lie, I wonder how to get there, what a whole circumnavigation could be like? How? How? How?! Vlad is delighted that we’ve sold so many of his cds (1000 images of Antarctica for $20!) and brings over some more. Happy that dinner invite allows franking and cashing up in between. Disentangle selves from immersion suits. Rick and Helen shower, I feel clean enough so head straight to bar – washing does cut into red wine time. Phil (ex BAS) gives me a wee tour, including the bridge, where I admire the Russian log books and talk with a navigator-in-training (enormous eyes!) then to the snow-ful swimming pool. There’s no room for us all to sit together for dinner; I share a table with guests, Victoria and Phil. Antennae prick up when Victoria talks of the Certificate in Anta rctic Studies she and her husband undertook. My friend Jean de Pomereau did that too. Hmmm, tempting; will investigate further, when possible… Full of red wine and charming conversation. Vlad whisks us back to Goudier. Chilly in our civvy clothes; quicker to bed the better.

Tea and white chocolate cookies in the sun

January 2, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

13th December

Didn’t sleep well as Rick was snoring. Blustery sea blowing onto landing site rocks – almost a wake up douche! Rick thought that Mikheev was coming in at 8:15 but he’d read the e-mail wrong! So, a bit of quiet sitting about and pottering in shop. Helen cashes up from last night. She’s still bunged up with cold and fills bunkroom with vapour from an inhalation in the fruit bowl. Rick’s writing latest episode for Port Lockroy website. Sun pushes through. Ship sighted around ten. Have heard from dear newly recovered cousin Katie that she is still planning to visit here in January, despite having been booked on Explorer. Hurray girl; can’t wait! Even though we may only manage to snatch a few minutes together… Mikheev visit goes well, although I felt flat as a pancake, not ill. Fantastic lunch grazing on remains of barbeque. Out in the sun for five mins with tea and white chocolate cookies (also from Multanovskiy.) Full restock, with some gratuitous box moving (!), until shop i s in tip-top state. Lie down flat with eyes shut. Look forward to Fram coming – watch her stately arrival before catching up on the morning’s franking… which is still drying when first passengers enter the genny shed. Non-stop good fun, but sauna/shower hopes thwarted as staff have been struck poorly with projectile vomiting. Helen goes to cash up in the warm, throat still tender. I restock all the ‘up here’ stuff and compile a list of what’s needed from ‘down there’. By the time that’s done, Rick (with Helen’s help, cos both radios became Hot lines for a moment there,) has plated up roast vegetables with cheese sauce. Just washing up as Julio and his assistant walk in with fruit, wine and postcards. Stop for half an hour talking of broken crank shafts and uncomprehending pen-pushers thousands of miles away. Explorer II is passing, and sends over a zodiac with 344 postcards and cash for more postage. Insist on sticking all stamps on before bed, which is late. Now can someon e turn the light out? Oh no, it’s Antarctica, eight days before the longest one.

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.

Write twelve letters, some with big writing

December 17, 2007 at 8:46 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination, Rachel Hazell, The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

1st December

Blowing a hooley and snowing a bit. Cold in sleeping bag. Polar Pioneer had scheduled a local climb today, seems far too windy. Small discussion about breakfast time – so early yesterday that Helen and I were hungry behind the counter by eleven – hard when we’re not sure how long we’ve got before a landing, the scheduled slots are necessarily broad. Rick has cereal, Helen cooks porridge a little later. The ship calls Rick over for intro talk. Since outside is a bluster, Helen and I stay behind. A few extra minutes of solitude. Climbing cancelled so shop and museum has extra indoors appeal. Large percentage of Australian passengers. Lovely, lovely cooks bring us more extra special treats – sun-dried tomato foccacia, roasted garlic, pineapple and strawberries! What loves! Fifty-eight passengers makes for a short-ish burst. Lunch on chicken soup, the bread and garlic, chopped pineapple. The bunkroom is warmed up, post goes tomorrow, so me and Helen have mail to prepare. Rick li es down, in anticipation of crazy few days ahead. Helen writes postcards, I burn new disc of blog images and paint borders for letters. Helen reads aloud from Rick’s book once he’s awake – a horse auction – while we decide whether to yoga. And I finish painting. We make it through to the chilly genny shed with our mats, and it’s good, though our flexibility had lapsed. Saw a weddell seal on a little islet by Bill’s – the others thought it was a rock – later it moves, so i’m vindicated. Yum modest serving of carbonara from Rick and, fantastically, strawberries and cream (In Antarctica! In a blizzard!!) Write twelve letters, some with big writing. Step over the hill with Helen, waves are slapping and the snow is soft and deep; a giant petrel swoops over, working the wind. That was my one and only step outside today! Some of us are lovesick; we drink Jagermeister and imagine our perfect days. Much harmony. Frank post and leave to dry over night.

Explorer down

December 17, 2007 at 8:35 am | Posted in The Practicalities of Everyday Life Out Here | Leave a comment

23rd November

I can hear a hum! Outside in pjs to see Ocean Nova in the back bay. They invite us aboard for breakfast, what a treat. We weren’t expecting them til later, but last night, a camping expedition had to be evacuated as ice packed in round their ship, and they sought a safe harbour with us.

Just before Rick starts his introductory talk we learn that another Antarctic Cruise ship, the Explorer has hit ice, been holed and is sinking. This terrible news distracts from the business at hand.

Throughout the day we hear updated reports via e-mail. Quite apart from the obvious tragedies, I am gutted to realise that our first sack of incoming mail was on board; another loss. (*The bag was dispatched from Stanley on 15th November, so any mail reaching there after that date may hopefully arrive with us on 17th December, the next scheduled delivery. Thank-you to everyone who has sent special presents… I don’t know what to say.)

Ocean Nova’s visit is hectic because the weather is so wild, drifting snow and strong wind. Jougla point landing is cancelled, busy busy in the shop and museum. Rick’s book ‘Of Dogs and Men’ is selling out – passengers wait for more copies to be retrieved from the boatshed.

Once pax departed, assess stock and pause for tea…but all hungry.

Quick cheesy potato soup. Down to the boatshed passing small black penguin packages lying submerged in snow that has drifted over their backs. The repercussions of Explorer’s demise – she has been abandoned, we don’t know if she has sunk – will take sometime to percolate through.

The next few days are uncertain – she was due to visit us on several occasions through this season, and the ships who went to her rescue may be forced to alter their itineraries. Rick and Helen, suffering slightly from last night’s dram, benefit from small opportunist window to lie down and sleep. First moment of reflection in ages. Maybe the poetry will come retrospectively. This is the longest I have gone without sitting alone and thinking, and making. Cancel the few postcards in the box from Ocean Nova. Enjoy second tap dancing lesson from H. Polar Pioneer radios her arrival as we’re savouring tea and birthday cake.

Just fifty pax, along with Dave Birkett, a Port Lockroy veteran. Sure is blowing a blizzard. Recognise a passenger from 2004 semi-circumnavigation – hello Edgar! One of the cooks delivers sticky toffee pudding with dulce de leche sauce – what an angel. The snow has gusted through cracks in the porch and lies in corners. Cancel mail and leave to dry (which is a long wait in these temperatures.) Rick treats us to crunchy bean, pepper and ginger starter yum – to raise our spirits from today’s flattening news. Then fried potato patties, bacon and egg – just dandy! Time to catch up on some personal e-mails, typing as fast as possible. The gentoos are crashed out all over the place, on their bellies or standing with their beaks tucked over into neck. Wearying to be in that bluster. Have you guessed what Helen is knitting? A penguin!

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