A tinned dinner and white wine, courtesy of the captain. I read them “Silver Threads” and sleep on counter…

April 7, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

19th January

Evie ‘Eskymo’s’ Birthday!!!

It’s been snowing. Sheathbills were so busy stampeding on roof to plant fresh footprints on deck and ramp, so I do it. Raining now.

Chicks fluff muddying. We’re prepared for seven am landing, but they start at Damoy first, so we have extra minutes for waking up. The staff on Clipper are cheery – we’re pleased to see them – first visit since December, when they were operating on one engine. 105 pax. Including a couple from Ayr, who take a swiftly constructed package for Helen’s folks. Box of much needed veg – cheers. They leave by eleven. Juliette, from Pen Duick VI is left behind, poorly with suspected appendicitis; she’ll stay warm here until her yacht picks her up, to take her to Palmer, where a fourth doctor will offer an opinion before she decides to weather the Drake. A few hours respite.

Three people from Tamara visit. A Canadian guy advises on possibilities of sodden camera recovering, tests battery, dead as dodo – he reckons charging it for 12-14 hours will do it… but that’s impossible here, on the wee petrol generator which runs for a only a few hours at a time. I REALLY miss having the means of a snapshot in my pocket for spontaneous documentation. Frank. Helen goes to try a mini-stock-take, HQ is asking what’s shifting and what’s not for next season’s ordering. She also pulls out currently low items. Big job, too hard to finish in a hurry and she’s hungry.

Carry up boxes damp and muddy. Lunch on salmon, cheese and least mouldy bread. Four credit cards from December have expired, so there’s anxiety about chasing them. H cashes up from this morning, but has lost figures from last night… ooops… it’s hard to keep on top of everything. Sit about with Juliette chatting about sailing/ being here/being French. Rick goes over to Le Diamant for talk, despite majority Francophone around three. Turns out that the staff are French, and it’s an American charter. Charming Hotel Manager brings 828 postcards and two assistants (dancing girls) to stick them on. One man wrote 86 – I promise to frank them carefully. Busy entertaining visit, humorous banter. Finish at 7:45. There was talk of dinner, but weather is holding for Lemaire, so they must speed off. Unfortunate but we’re pooped and there’ll be a next time.

Juliette has been rescued by her boyfriend, and they welcome us over for drinks. Ah but all we can manage is tinned dinner (chicken in white sauce, new potatoes and spinach, with artichoke heart starter…) and white wine, courtesy of Capt. I drink Bailey’s with milk (thanks Bernd!) Helen knits for the first time in months. Rick endures teasing for the scent of his armpits. Long day, finished laughing. I read them ‘Silver Threads’ and sleep on counter…

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Seven Weeks and One Day. I appreciate the extraordinariness.

April 7, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Posted in Book art, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

18th January

Sarah’s Happy Birthday! xxx

Staggered start. Multanovskiy radios, alerting us to their -2 status, but they’ll be a little while yet. Kettle on and outside to see that big bergs are still there and a new one is still closer. The original chicks at hut corner are standing together in the nest as their parent loiters watchfully nearby. Somehow I’m caught on the back foot and easily narked and disgruntled by passenger’s requests ie. ‘Could I have a receipt?’ ‘If you insist…’ Delphine is relaxed; happy not to be EL this trip, which is the last of the season for Martin Enkell. He buys some of the marvellous crocheted snow flakes sent down from Florida by a previous year’s supportive visitor. Tired and dozy. Frank. Helen restocks clothes, I do books and all the stuff up here, help carry boxes, then slink off for a lie down instead of lunch. Multanovskiy kindly removed a lot of our waste, but also left sackfuls of stuff for another ship. Rick and Helen sort it all out and many boxes are emptied in the process. Explorer II had radioed to say they’d start landing at two pm our time, but actually send staff ashore at one thirty, so my nap is curtailed. Helen holds fort while I rustle a salmon sandwich together and hence start work smelling of fish. This ship has brought post for us from Stanley – stamp supplies and a few parcels which wait tantalisingly, tucked away at the foot of my bunk. Very nice visit, culminating in slight frenzy at the end, good pace, neither rushed nor slow. Two leopard seals on floes near chains landing. HMS Endurance have located Explorer on the sea bed with their super solar beams. We will leave here in seven weeks and one day – looking at time in that context makes me appreciate the extraordinariness, and wonder about the things I meant to do in these five months. Missing small things. So: Six o’clock, tools down. Open parcels. Helen has a bag of porridge oats and wholesome goodies. I have a lovely funny parcel of treats from sister Jule, including a painted penguin from Sebastian – brilliant! Great to see photographs of both nephew and niece. Pat Law – the love – has filled a box with thoughtful gifts. And the first instalment of The Archers has made it from Sarah and Geoff – essential. Cards from Aileen and Peter Parker, amongst others. So sweet. Silently go frank, cash up and restock in the lightly falling snow. Rick responds to weary summons, carries boxes and refills t-shirt cubicles. Helen has a headache… we both dream of a bath, a long hot soak. Once all done, it is nine o’clock.

Rick heads to sleep in lounge. I had been quite looking forward to another night on the PO counter… There is a yacht moored here and a paper cut out iceberg. Affix glow-in-the-dark stars on the underside of black shelf above bunk and shimmy into bag, laying out clean socks for the morning.

Avoid colouration of fingers. Fill head with meteorites.

April 7, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Book art, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

17th January

Crevasse lines appearing on Mount Jabat as the summer continues; ‘invisible ink’ writing revealed. If I was a serious artist person, I would have taken the same picture, from the same spot, at the same hour, on each of the 126 days we are here. Hmmm. Capt Peter asks us to breakfast on Corinthian II, but we need a chance to regroup before their visit. And are still bundling postcards and eating cereal when the staff arrive, ahead of Rick returning from his 8:15 talk. French staff lady adds the wool Antarctic Tartan scarf to her collection (she’s looking good in the silk one,) and waits as we accomplish the counting of three hundred postcards and five hundred stamps. A large family contingent are friends with the Jeldwen firm, who have taken over Boulton and Paul – the company who manufactured our building, and many other huts on the Peninsula. Jeldwen sponsored the production of our funky new information leaflet, so it’s great to make the connection. It’s the Captain’s last trip, so I send over a set of postcards. Good to see John and Trevor again. Passengers are also landing at Jougla Point. The Emperor is visible on the shoreline rocks, already a celebrity. We’re alerted to fact that French from a yacht are too close to the penguins, our exceptional visitor in particular. A Francophone issues reprimand and apologies made; it’s their first landing, and, in their excitement, had not been fully briefed on IAATO guidelines. Elevenses on deck, with half a mug of M
+Ms (chucked straight down the throat, avoiding colouration of fingers.) Start writing up belated base diary, but Pen Duick VI land, and I attempt a brief introductory speech in French, and answer questions about penguin monitoring, which stretches my vocabulary somewhat. Helen and Rick push on with exterior maintenance while I serve in the shop, mostly postcards and stamps. Hungry! Lovely ham from Delphin, with mustard on rye. Linger on sunny deck. Wash up as Rick starts to snore. Spend an hour and a half franking. Just when I’d considered all done, I discover the red post box is full of more from Shokalskiy as well as Corinthian II. Listen to J.P. Courmier.

Clouds are a feathery watercolour wash high above us. Investigate new berg with camera and find a Weddell seal stretched on nearby floe.

Retreat to synchronise February’s schedule dates. Helen and Rick have been taking pictures and measurements of Nissan Hut base, for possible future accommodation potential. Sit outside to finish transcribing diary. Rick is still pottering about in overalls, with a jam jar and a paint brush. I persuade him that yoga would be a good thing. Hold poses for longer and work hard. Helen is feeling emotional, having battled with scrape dust. Overtired. She does some stretching later, while I start on dinner. Go through with garlicy hands and crack her stiff back – her bones are like a birdcage. Use third of enormous salmon in a thick, creamy pasta sauce. Drop of good red, courtesy of Uli; sweetheart. Some time reading blog, bringing typing into the New Year, sending it off to dear Blogmeister… The others are already in bed, I follow quietly, and read, filling head with meteorites.

An Emperor penguin is here, exceptional.

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

16th January

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

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.

The Antarctica Dream has arrived.

April 7, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment
 
   

13th January

*Happy Birthday Julia!!!

RIP dear Melanie.

Coo that fleece eye mask is good. Wake sometimes, but relaxed. Rick brings tea through just before eight, with news that Andrea are offering us a shower and lunch, starting at eleven-thirty, which is ten-thirty for us… so much for morning off eh. Restock quickly, as necessary. Three army guys, including Meiyon, arrive to help Rick dig out the mud (shit) from behind the old genny shed, to aid drainage. 

Helen gets on with Post Mistressy things and even finishes remaining franking. Finally I sit down and type; one hour twenty mins = two and a half days… will I EVER catch up. Rick goes aboard Andrea and I give the labourers stale bread and waxen cheese sandwiches, which go down a treat with a can of Boddingtons. Helen brings out tea and biscuits for afters (including last of Palmer’s decorated Christmas biscuits.) Sit and chew the fat until Rick reappears. Passengers won’t be landing here for at least forty mins. Hands in the washing up bowl when we’re alerted to pax in the shop and Sam’s here to stamp passports. Run in and hop to it. A couple on Andrea were married at Jougla Point this morning. Helen and I, disenchanted, discuss outrageous gestures in order to catch people’s attention; they are so quiet and unresponsive, do nothing and carry on selling stamps. I’m starting to hate people who rip open t-shirt and fleece packaging, then bring a wrapped one to the counter, leaving the other screwed up, unwrapped, in the wrong pigeonhole. Franking next batch when Rick comes through to say Kotick II will visit any minute. A boatful of cheery Brazilians and then one guy, Dick, from Discoverer, who’s come for more postcards. He stays on to chat about expeditions and God children and buys a shopping bag for his mother. At last everybody’s gone. Start typing – another yacht radios, is it too late to visit?  er yes it is, there will be a chance tomorrow. Rick deals with e- mails. Fray Bentos, marrowfat peas and creamed mushrooms for tea. 

Very good. Antarctic Dream have arrived – do we desire supper/shower/ drinks? No energy, so decline, think about watching a film but it’s too late already. Rick declares that he’s starting to enjoy this season. GO and put out stock which Helen has carried up. It’s so cold (snowing) that we turn the heater on. I write to my friend B and listen to the others playing cribbage.

A chirpy lullaby of penguins.

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

12th January

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

Crispy salads, fish and ice-cream. Men appear on rocks.

February 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

11th January

Conscious at five. Rustling. Rick up at six, says National Geographic Endeavour are ‘just coming in now’ when actually they’ve swung off the Neumayer. It’s grey and flat out. Another wee yacht in the back bay, oh it’s Discoverer back again. So, over to Endeavour for breakfast – lovely. I wrote to EL Matt asking if I could make an appointment with the hairdresser. Sadly Vidal Babboon’s sterling shearing effects have worn off. Only yesterday Helen was commenting on how ‘bouffant’ my style had become. So at nine am, while Rick is talking through his introduction Lim, from the Philippines, cuts my hair. She gave Rick a severe trim last time, so I’m nervous, especially when she turns electric clippers on the back. Lovely Lisa Trotter Lady refuses to let me pay for it. It’s quite short; should last the season now. Make it back to base before first passengers and trade is brisk. Ah ha! We’ve been invited back for lunch as well, so catch last zodiac and zoom to dining room for crispy salads, fish and ice-cream. Zip up to bridge and say goodbye. Draughty neck all afternoon ha ha. Orlova steams in early, Rick radios a plea to go slow. Men appear on rocks as we’re cashing up and franking – they’re from the yacht Esprit d’Equipe. Have to work around them, talk French and stamp. Helen stocks up on garments with Rick. A few minutes in the bunk room, but spy a figure wandering blithely into Control Colony (because the fence/rope has fallen down.) Go out and yell, he returns, no harm done. Then Roger and Orlova are here, more inter-ship parcels to store, another artist-in-residence with his sketchbook, enjoying plethora of sights and subjects. Many fleece purchases, particularly Baby Blue. And some young travellers. A mighty care package from Palmer Station is delivered by Commitment – thanks Tony and son! – ah granola, I’m so happy. Lots of postcards sent, so I keep on top of the franking by setting to stamping straight away. Whiteing out with tiredness. Helen  has cashed up and started in the boatshed by the time I’m done. Down to replenish fleeces; a new box is required, (the only one left in this particular size and colour-way,) and is, surprise surprise at the bottom of a stack, partially covered by sacks of concrete. To avoid further inflaming Helen’s poor shoulder I shove stuff around myself, phew. The others bring up more boxes of books. Then, and only then, a wee relax aaaah. Shut eyes for an hour and think about fidelity. Helen and Rick head onto the rocks for beer and crisps. Come to when they arrive back to heat up soup, excited by sheathbill pecking hole in the tin and fluttering after as it rolled down the slope. Radio scheds. Eat my bowlful propped up in bed. Wash up. Read out Christmas bit of blog. Helen puts stats on computer and I send off updates. Outside the ice crackles and tinkles. Milky hues with some azure and grey. Sing and want to go higher, but bed is calling.

Rick’s on the rocks, glass in hand – watching.

February 28, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

10th January

Wake at six in a strange mood. Ocean Nova is on GMT -2, we have been invited for breakfast before Rick’s talk. Too early for me, but Helen is perky and eager, so they depart at seven-fifteen, with instructions to sweep throughout. Buy the time I’m dressed and swept, visitors are here and I haven’t finished chopping breakfast fruit. Superb weather; passengers bask and ask if it’s always like this. Chicks already panting in the heat. Sheathbills provoking defensive hissing from the penguins. A cacophony of tweets from all over the island. Since the snow cover has all but gone, the gentoos slide-surf down the steeper rocks – they must have reinforced soles – comical to watch. Nice cuppa on deck soaking up the warmth (and finishing delayed breakfast.) Helen is hungry for egg, so I whip them up scrambled for everybody, and we eat on our knees outside. Rick clears away snow and gubbins from back wall so that I can join Helen’s painting efforts (she’d do the whole thing single-hand edly otherwise.) Slap on the bitumen, don’t feel like singing, have to concentrate on not frowning, though I’m happy enough. Make it round past the back door and Helen overtakes to start on the middle gap, in between new and old genny sheds. Balancing on a stack of wood to reach the facia, I see great views of sparkling ice, blue skies, mountains, wisps of cloud. Suddenly notice a person atop the palatial berg over in Peltier Channel’s mouth. There’s an inflatable moored beneath it, several other figures appear, some ice-climbing. What a thing to do?! Carry on painting. There’s a sharp contrast between shadow and direct light. Helen goes to fetch ladder to do the strip we can’t reach. Precarious on uneven slope on soft snow. After covering a few more metres we need lunch and stop for fishy salads. I stay out, enjoying the air, and reflections, and think how it will be to look back on this. Rick joins me with tea. Euronav would like to visit. We make them wait forty-five minutes, for a decent break. Theirs are the voices I heard last night, and they were gallivanting on the big blue berg earlier. Finish painting in the middle, yachties arrive as I’m peeling out of overalls. Helen’s come over all tired, lay down to eat lunch then stayed there. Nice Belgian skipper Dixie, and crew appear, and start chatting to Rick and I – they had been in touch via e-mail over the last year. Notice that we’re being filmed. This team are tracing de Gerlache’s route; In The Wake of the Belgica. Funds have been raised by selling postcards at boaty exhibition/events, signed by all the crew, with a rubber stamp, the ink glows in the dark to illuminate voyage of the original explorers – cool. 300 to post from here (quite a few philatelic,) and 197 more stamps needed. We stick them all on. Rick chats about Alaska, dog racing and friends who’ve changed gender. Get down to franking once they’ve gone, and fill whole counter, and the lounge table. Brain ticks with future fund -raising plan for Port Lockroy. Helen is boiling stock for soup and restocks a few bits from the boatshed. Tinker so that shop is ready for Endeavour. Euronav have lent us a kayak! Wow. Work til all is done (relieved that we don’t need to wash floor. Rick finishes puttying new window panes in the science room. We eat hearty bowl of chicken broth. H and I dress up in waterproofs. Rick sees us off and kindly spots us all the way. So exciting to paddle off round the island, oars dripping globules on the sea’s surface for a second. pass Jougla Point and the yacht Esprit d’Equipe who’ve just come in this evening. Not too close to the cliffs. Stop and glide then spurt forward, alternating energetic bursts with pure relaxing. Think about Woogie Island, but that’s too far for tonight, slip over to express our thanks to the Belgians. Rick’s on the rocks, glass in hand, watching. Only half an hour but SO theraputic. Zinging. I’m starting to consider Rick’s daily waste management chore as penance for snoring. We hear an engine but see nothing.

Good day for a chick count.

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

9th January

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

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.

Empty day – bright sun, swimming, a quiet place to sleep in

February 28, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey, Life in the snow, Observations in Antarctica | Leave a comment

7th January

Couldn’t sleep through snoring, so tiptoed out with sheepskin, pillow and bag to try out the Post Office counter. Long and wide enough, but much lighter and closer to squawking penguins. Wake at three, cold, as top cover has fallen on the floor. Consider graciousness, patience and turning situations to win/win through the early hours. Because Fram is off this trip, we have an empty day. Sun is bright again. I hear Rick and Helen putter out onto deck with tea and breakfast. (Helen calls it ship’s breakfast because we have so much lovely fruit.) Not really in the mood to eat, so frank whole counter’s worth of post. And then carry up new pack of maps to fold. Rick comes in and we agree to take turns sleeping out. Restock bookshelves with the new boxes Rick brought up. So sunny that Helen continues roof painting in fetching (thinner) neo orange overalls. We go for a run, all in shorts around Goudier Island and then Bill’s. Some rock clambering as the tide is not very low, then in circles. Helen’s chest is hurting so she limbers and stretches instead. Rick and I decide to swim. He fetches towels while I run ’til the last minute to be warm enough. Keep running gear on, which reminds me of WildFitness in Kenya, only the temperature is a million degrees different! Swiftly in off long flat limpet covered rock, it’s clear and icy. Breaststroke for at least fifty seconds before lungs seize up and Rick pulls me out. Jump around elated as Rick swims too. “Take note,” he says “I’m really enjoying this!” We laugh. Sit on rocks in the sun, but breeze is picking up. Adorn ramp with wet stuff and savour cheese n’avocado for lunch. Rick’s in shorts again. Increased wind sends us scuttling inside for tea. After washing up, I fold more maps while Rick takes down Christmas decorations and Helen frets about money – the last forty-eight hours have been so hectic what with yachts in between and too much hurry. At three pm six Discoverer chaps visit (the others are on Mo unt William, inc. friend Connor.) Learn about their various missions and expeditions. They need sixty-two postcards for sending thanks to sponsors and supporters. Send them off with a box of fruit. They’ve kindly invited us for dinner. Helen returns to roof. Rick snoozes. I belatedly write Base diary for the fourth and finish up in the shop. Relieved to hear from Jackie, best ex-neighbour – a long message assuring me that home is still standing and she’s managing the mountain of post; oh thank-you THANK-YOU. Helen had been waiting on the roof for Rick to bring more paint, but he’d fallen asleep… she’s cold, weary, and not too pleased. He goes on up and they finish the job, then go on a mission to find grey caps, even more exhausting. It takes over an hour, so our army-taxi-driver is at the door before we’re ready. He was also delivering post – all 62 cards written! Discoverer is exactly the same kind of yacht as Xplore. There’s only room for us because four chaps are on Mount William. They’re delighted with the quality of our red wine gifts. Splendid thai green curry, ingeniously served in Barbie lunch boxes (lids keep food hot and er contained… black Dr.Who ones reserved for a different watch.) Eat, drink and make merry. Tales of great hospitality at Vernadsky, their sauna with steps leading directly into the icy sea. Rick tells of tricky unwelcome visitors… one menacing group with a dog. See a quick clip of orcas pursuing a penguin, who wisely hops into zodiac-full of delighted (if not so wise) tourists. By ten we’re all yawning, so wish them (the British Army Antarctic Expedition) farewell, manage not to fall into MIB despite impeded flexibility of our orange and blue suits. As agreed, Rick carries bedding through to shop, but the counter is still covered with work paraphernalia, which Helen hastily sweeps off. A blissfully quiet room to fall asleep in, for the first time.

We’re pretty much exactly half way through.

February 28, 2008 at 1:16 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Journey | Leave a comment

4th January

HAPPY BIRTHDAY special Ellen!!!

Can tell there’s blue sky beyond those check curtains (red gingham, sweetly sewn by Jo.) Breakfast out on deck. Ring Ellen for birthday wishes and speak briefly with Saz too. Bremen, the model of German efficiency, here this morning, punctually. Fine weather brings smiles, and the Captain, wearing shorts. Start at seven thirty, finish at eleven thirty. A brimming crate of festive goodies appears. Philatelic Doctor reminds me to stamp his mail carefully, again. Helen is sniffing and has sore sinuses. It’s warm in the shop, no need for long johns. Goodbye to big tall Gerhard who gives good hugs. Torture to be inside in this weather. The penguins are panting and standing up to air the chicks. Sit out on deck to write up base diary. Rick joins me with an early lunch, he’s going up on the roof, taking advantage of the weather, but gets waylaid by e-mails. Just have to try for some baby chick photographs before anything else. Beguiled by the soft bags of skin, still egg-shaped, al l sleepy. Frank and re-stock. Helen eats cereal in bed, overcome with weariness. I don’t mind. Love sitting in the sun for a snatched lunch. Antarctic Dream starts landing at three. Several Swiss, so enjoy speaking some French. We girls have both been eating too many sweets. Maria Agnes is sweet. Julio too busy to come ashore. Down to the boatshed for more fleeces, I lose the plot a bit, slashing up new boxes when there’s already one open. Rick is on the roof, singing away to his i-Pod. Revel in the warmth. Tinker until shop ready to roll. Rick paints til late. Type for two hours, only five days worth. All eat separately – me early with salmon mayo. Should have exercised, but no motivation. Ioffe has replied – won’t bend schedule so that Coz Katie can visit, because the managing company disagrees with visitor proximity to the penguins here. Rick washes floors. Earlyish night, although heavenly outside. Fourteen degrees in the bunkroom – the others complain of stuffiness. We’re pretty much exactly half way through – these diary books are never going to last.

A barbecue in the snow. The night is sublime.

February 28, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

3rd January

Ear plugs ineffectual. Helen has also been kept awake by similar noises from the lounge. Confusion with teabags, not peppermint, remedied. Ricky also responsible for carrying four cups through to the Ukrainians. Hurry outside for a wee before too many people are about (and out of sight from the Orlova too.) It snowed in the night; penguin and boot prints. Our guests have already had sardines for breakfast so refuse offers of pappy cereal. At eight o’clock, Rob (from Discoverer) brings zodiac round to collect Vernadsky-ites, at the same time as Vlad arrives from Orlova for Rick. We wave them off with a gentle suggestion to let us know if they plan to drop by again. They were no trouble! Half an hour flies by before fleece frenzy and much enthusiastic visiting. When that’s over and we’re re-stocked, cashed and franked, Helen makes perfect egg, bacon and tomato. The yacht Australis would like to squeeze in a landing, and so they do, with a couple of young stamp collector’s to boot. (And two climbers on Jabat, Helen’s envious.) I deal with the punters while Helen goes to the boatshed for those other goodies. I’m pooped. Snoozle for an hour. Usuhaia are due at four thirty and radio when entering the Peltier Channel. Students on Ice; promises to be a youthful, bouncy visit. Eighty-nine pax. Whoah indeed, LOTS of questions and purchases. Straight away after the film interview in old kitchen is wrapped up – no-one told us! – we leave on the last zodiac. Barbecue is in full swing. Berenice hands us a plate, shows us where the crew mess is, and hints that the best meat may be found at the source – the grill on deck. Hunks of meat, fresh nuggets of bread, salsa and guacamole. Rick has gone to shower and ends up dining with the kids, while we share a bottle of wine with the captain. Boisterous up-beat re-cap session led by Geoff. (Helen takes time out for a shower.) Rick and I answer questions including “Do penguins always smell?” and what degrees do we have?
Manage to locate the scribe of two unaddressed postcards and accumulate some final deliveries. Ian Tamblyn sings to an acoustic guitar. The kids whoop and clap as directed. We interrupt a lecture from a Russian astronaut (translated from Russian to Spanish) as we leave. Rick’s been interviewed by a student of Antarctic tourism. Peppers and any other thing from the kitchen we might desire are pressed on us – my pockets are full of lemons. The night is sublime and Berenice drives slowly, our very own cruise, no rush. Only an agony of incredibleness. Rounding the corner, we divert towards Boogie Island (or Woogie, I can never be sure,) and notice some text engraved in the rock ‘B.W. Larvik 1911’ – Rick says he has never seen this before. Do we want to go ashore? Well yes of course, but we’ve got work to do. I have not seen the mailbox so full. I frank while Helen and Rick restock. Listen to Astrid Williamson from Shetland. Helen and I spend a moment outside.

Helen and I step out into the night

January 24, 2008 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey | 1 Comment

2nd January

Tiredness lingers, although all we need to do is get dressed, assemble bags of dirty laundry and be at the landing site by eight am. Nordnorge have invited us for breakfast – aah bliss – hello hello friends. Fresh fruit and the smoked salmon I’ve been craving. Our favourite waiter beams and can’t pour us enough coffee/tea/juice. Manage to send brief New Year’s text message… not many replies… All too soon we must rush to return before the pax. Zodiac driver passes me a parcel – assumed it was mail – it’s chocolate for me! Karen’s already on the deck all cheery, keeping an eye on Jougla landings round the corner. Jovial visit overall. Couple of tricky customers, arriving at counter with armfuls of goods yet no money to pay for them. Sigh. Clean clothes – ah, I was beginning to smell like a homeless person. Helen and I stick stamps on all the postcards collected from the ship this am, so that they’re ready to frank straight away. Rick takes advantage of drier conditions to mop through house where guano muck accumulates faster than you can say penguin. Helen boils eggs (semi-successfully) and deals with the lost digit cc transactions from the end of November – four cards whose last four numbers didn’t make the slip. Oh dear, they were all mine, must have been done in a hurry. Surprise e-mail from bestest dearest friends who married in Pitlochry on 31st, so delighted for them, and so sad not to have been there. While Rick is over on Polar Pioneer, Helen takes a radio call from the (Joint British Forces) yacht Discoverer; they have four Ukrainians from Vernadsky who have come to stay the night with us and when would be convenient to drop them off? ! ! ! Helen regains composure rapidly and cautiously agrees to a plan, with the proviso that Rick will need to confirm the details. I feel like singing, so I do, in the genny shed, which Rick hears as he walks up the path – it reminds him of the Storr experience; a lone singer amongst rocky crags (on Sky e, produced by the visionary NVA.) Polar Pioneer visit goes well, jolly Ozzies. All I can think of is ‘We’re having four Ukrainians to stay! How mad.’ Crack open the M+Ms and crunch on handfuls. Once the visit is over we have about an hour to frank/cash up. Just going down to the boatshed as a zodiac disgorges our (un)invited guests. Run down to welcome them and blow me, if it isn’t Connor (the geologist PhD student/partner civvy in the SRM on Endurance) holding the painter. I never imagined we’d manage to meet, even though I knew he was around here with the army. The whole lot of them will come for ‘a proper British visit’ next week. Hurrah. The four Ukrainians look very sheepish and offer to help in any way. I hide to write this up and occasionally check on progress and pressure levels in the kitchen. Bring beer. Gently encourage prospective purchases to be selected now, as we’ll be busy tomorrow. They sweetly choose t-shirts for their ladies and amass piles of orders from their colleagues. Very keen on the t-towels, which is endearing. Stew is ready, Christmas tunes on, table laid. Enjoy dinner, with questions about our life here and Wordie House (near them) and how it all fits into the historic scheme of things. Helen stirs custard for cake. While she and I wash up – there’s no place to put anything – Rick shows a slideshow of sledging times in Antarctica and Alaska. Rick goes to bed. Helen and I step out into the night and walk around with the Verdansky guys, pointing out chicks and picking up bits of egg shell. They’re impressed by the whaler’s chains, and take pictures of everything. We leave them around eleven and tiptoe into bunkroom. Two yachts in the back bay: Discoverer and Australis. Not sure why we’re quiet as snoring has commenced.

Crazy busy queues in all directions

January 24, 2008 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Life in the snow | Leave a comment

1st January 2008

Rick’s up first, shaving and eating his breakfast like a snuffling badger. I worried that the ferocious sound of his throat vibrations indicated a dangerously dry throat, and woke him up to drink some water. Helen doesn’t dare move. I’m happy lying still as long as possible. Quietly eating a Bovril sandwich when Explorer II announces their arrival (an hour early – must be on Argentine Summer Time) her captain wonders would we like to go aboard for lunch? Affirmative from Rick and I, Helen too er delicate. Quite choppy water and the gangway not affixed, so having been signed in, there’s only twenty-five mins for lunch, which is delicious. Prawn kebabs and salad salad salad. Spoon in a quick chocolate roulade and run back down to pull on suits, dash across the sea, wake Helen up and get behind counter. Don’t think we’ve ever made so many credit card transactions. Crazy busy queues in all directions and a couple of mid-visit trips to boatshed for tartan ties and pink ladyfits.

Meet Ron Lewis-Smith; long-time BAT (British Antarctic Territory) stamp committee person – he took some of the iceberg pics. Helen, pale, has to disappear several times and just wants everybody to leave. When they do she goes to bed and stays there. I do the franking business and catch up on diary writing from yesterday. Can’t settle as snoring is too loud, so I restock shop and make a list of all the clothes. Rick goes to and fro, carrying it back up and helps fill the compartments, for which I am grateful. Tired and hungry now; it’s nearly nine pm. Nordnorge steams in to anchor here tonight. Rick chucks a tin of stew in the pan – perfect. Helen conscious but limp. Suzanne Vega tuneful. Outside to check on chicks; many nests now have two wee ones cheep cheeping away. Re-erect penguin fence, well the control colony rope, which is difficult with no snow to keep the support posts standing. Peek over at Xplore, not a peep from them today. Ok that’s it then. Takes an age to fall asleep.

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