On not quite wanting to get festive with carols

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

14th December

HAPPY BIRTHDAY dear Isobel!!!!!

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

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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 engine in my chest

January 2, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Journey | Leave a comment

12th December

There was a ship nearby all night. I could feel the engine in my chest, but no-one else did. No visitors until four today so porridge in bed. Helen is poorly, slumped on her pillows, Rick is up and at it, and I’m somewhere in-between. Start unpacking the stuff Helen carried up yesterday (during first part of egg count) and folding t-towels (they come in big clumps of ten) and straightening up lines of postcards. Helen, who should have stayed in bed, and I, go to boatshed to search for a rogue box hidden, we suspect, in the depths of third row back. Much humping and grunting on my part (very warming) and systematic diagram drawing (for future reference) on Helen’s. Find Large Steel Blue T-Shirts and reconfigure the stacks. Good job! Walk up through the gentle snow for a cup of something hot. Fold the new National Geographic satellite maps into quarters – the perfect task for a bookbinder and her bone-folder – and settle them into a slot on front counter. Fiddle about moving s tickers and books through from science room until curry soup for lunch. Type and type away (about a week behind) until battery runs out. Multanovskiy arrives on schedule. A ‘People to People’ charter, extra space filled with an assortment of passengers, including some booked on Explorer. Barbeque invite taken up by Rick and I, but Helen feels like a QNI, rather than talking outside on deck. We leave her with instructions to do nothing. Kind Tula sends me to the sauna for a shower, assuring me that it would be empty. Walk in naked and am greeted by a bathing-suited couple ooops. Chat, then scrub and lather. Straight out to prow for favourite steak, chorizo and salad. Talk with ex-BAS, NZ, Argentinian and Brits on holiday, also IPY stuff with Geoff. Drink gluwein until too cold and crew are hosing down the deck. The doctor has promised me a bath (in the medical room) next visit ha ha hurray. Into bar for a quick drink and then Geoff drives us home, laden with boxes for other Qu ark ships, a box of barbeque leftovers and a box full of DVDs to borrow. Helen’s fine. Out into the calm night for a pee. We heard a thunderous noise a few minutes ago; our protectrice iceberg is no more! Toppled and divided, it is reduced to two chunks and a welt of brash. Splash marks on landing site rocks indicate quite a wave. I’m sorry she’s gone. We can’t hide anymore.

Things are looking up for the penguins!

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

11th December

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

Penguin paths/dots of nests/swathes of ice/glacier edge/mountain/high grey sky

January 2, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

10th December

Still water, crisp air. A penguin flip flups up ramp, seeking nest stones – pecks at Helen’s foot and stands on door mat looking up at her. Lovely to glimpse Europa’s rigged masts from our window, there past the control colony. Collected nine-thirtyish  and straight round to Jougla Point on Wiencke Island. Amazing to finally step ashore on land that we’ve viewed in the near distance, and never touched. Apart from numerous gentoo there is a colony of blue eyed shags (-twenty nests Rick counts.) Decide not to conduct a major count, as I believe Oceanites did one recently. And we have an hour and a half. Tjalling guides us on an uphill walk. Unbelievably good to step out and stride along for pure pleasure. Great views and a different perspective of our wee rock. An aerial view of land and coast, penguin paths, dots of nests, then reflections, swathes of ice, glacier edge, mountain, high grey sky. The snow is hard to move in; sometimes firm, sometimes sinking. Alpine graphics of  granite and white, muted lichen. Stand on rock at the top appreciating lines and ridges, hundreds of penguins massed in dark water, foggy clouds on the heights. Pause, biscuits handed round. Tip over onto Peltier Channel side – now I understand where it goes! More snow here, slight sastrugi, steeper. Move round the slope. Above Alice Creek there’s a swoopy dip which we slide down. A few snowballs, continue through deep snow to meet the boats (after several hilarious leg-in-up-to-the-crotch incidents.) Ten minute cruise in along the glacier, but not too close. Immense mysteries in cracks and crevices, indescribable spectrum of pale blues. Sit in the bar with a warm mug, until lunchtime. Most of the passengers and crew are struck with grim flu. (We pray to avoid catching it, with vitamins and Echinacea.) Delicious chicken empanadas with refried beans and some magic rye bread. Leave Port Lockroy under engine; we’re catching a lift to Damoy to check on the hut there. Exciting to  go beyond perimeters of our existence, even briefly. Say goodbye to Europa, who will sail slowly on, while two crew whisk us in to Dorian Bay. Avoid shallow reef. There’s a handful of penguins on the pebble beach. The new sign on door and snow machines removed signal recent BAS visit. Glimpse inside; bare bunkroom, basic kitchen – a historical pageant of foodstuff and memorabilia of guests past. Walk past smaller Argentine hut next door through still deep snow. Putter back to Goudier, intending to count penguins, but collapse into bed and sleep instead. Wake about an hour before the others. Force down boiled eggs on bread and scrummy nuts that Rick has toasted. All in the mood for slumping in front of telly; so we watch an episode of Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole that came free with a Sunday paper. Entertained by dusty exploits in the Sudanese desert, all tucked into Rick’s bunk, computer perched on table. Still only nine thirty… what shall we watch now? Slide in Rod’s (fro m Nat Geo Endeavour) rough cut DVD; a compilation of Super 8 footage from dog sledging Adelaide, Stonington and Fossil Bluff in the 50s and Deception eruption in 1969. Rick takes pre-emptive Lemsip. Last minute e-mail replies after everyone else has checked theirs. Last one to bed. It’s really light. Can’t get comfy.

The most delightful morning

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

9th December

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

Icebergs disperse into fresh configurations. Rick dreams of being a cowboy.

January 2, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress | Leave a comment

8th December

Yes, there’s the sound of an engine, and the sun’s full bright, but there’s no ship to be seen. Down slippery path to an ice garden spread over the smooth sea surface. Cold wind on bare skin! Since it’s glorious blue sky day, Rick encourages us up tower to take pictures of the ice. I’m third up, bringing radio, and still too scared to climb onto platform. Cling on with one arm, and shakily try to manoeuvre camera – there’s a great aerial view of the boat shed colony. A chunk falls from nearby glacier with a rumble and all the penguins hush for an instant. Radio crackles to let us know Mikheev is arriving. They are anxious about ice conditions, Port Lockroy looks inaccessible, we can reassure them. Climb down and loiter on solid ground, taking pictures of a chinstrap pair and the like. Sunny visit, lots of euros and no small change. Several Swiss, so I get to speak French. Diana, the EL, proposes an aperitif onboard – what a treat – slow zodiac ride through the icebergs, and straight to bar for a pisco sour (tantalising lunch smells wafting,) nuts, chat, quick tour of bridge ooh and the first Russian navigational charts I’ve ever seen. Back, glowing, to our veranda with Tabasco-ised stew. Wind has risen and changed direction, ice from the back bay glides by and out. Helen nips to top up medium t-shirt supplies, otherwise we’re all set. I admire surroundings and contemplate personal flaws. Rick mops bunkroom floor. We sweep and tinker. Helen attempts to remove two specks of dust from her camera’s innards. Sit out to transcribe base diary (from this one) next to Rick, who’s dreaming of being a cowboy. Andrea had radioed to say they were landing at Jougla Point first. (Half an ear for the buzz of zodiacs.) Look up to see passengers here already, walking up the ramp. Leap up, sell lots of stamps. Sixty-three visitors soon pass through. Find a pair of sunglasses as they’re leaving, run down to landing, where we three stay, for a long time, sitting on rocks, until I, chilly, go and put the kettle on. Icebergs are dispersing into fresh configurations just as photogenic as the last. Helen cooks up delicious chorizo pasta. Read aloud four days of blog for approval before e-mailing it off. Early bed for a decent read.

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.

Taking it in turns to be interviewed

January 2, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

6th December

Blink and hear snow falling. And a ship’s engine – Maryshev. Outside to find flat calm sea. Good porridge. Quick stock. Rick and crew go across for talk while we rush to be ready. Relaxed visit, fifty passengers, which does not last long. Cram in three slices of bread and butter before plodding through snow to boatshed. We’re taking it in turns to be interviewed, so I start amassing fleeces and children’s books into cardboard boxes and searching for grey caps, while Helen does the Post Mistress bit. She saves the day by coming down just in time to find the t-shirt varieties – her speciality. Interviewed cross-legged on bunk with hand-bound diary on knee. Fail to say anything sparkly or revelatory – they’ll only use it for snippets anyway. Limited moments to assemble disc of images for film crew to carry back to UK for Rachel Morgan. Rick stirs up lentil soup which hits the spot. Film crew generously lend us their satellite phone for a few minutes each – all I communicate wit h are ansa-phones, and a few fragmentary bursts with Barbie – a treasure nonetheless. As Helen has her go with technology, stamping outside on the snow, she sees a strange man (Richard actually) walk up from the landing – Endeavour had tried unsuccessfully to radio us, and so turned up to collect Rick anyway. While customary introduction is going on, Joe and Victoria capture some penguin counting on film, up at the mast colony. It’s blizzarding in my face (preferable to clogging up the lense) so I can’t see much. Doesn’t take long. Run down ready for visitor’s arrival in shop. Staff first, friendly faces and news. Some folk from Palmer Station (our nearest neighbours, eighty miles away) have come on a jolly. Lovely to meet them, especially Kim, their artist-in-residence, who made an inflatable iceberg in their bay (something I wanted to create for the launch of International Polar Year in Paris, but lacking a budget.) Desperate to talk icy art with her, simultaneously debating clothing sizes with Americans. We vow to keep in touch and swap addresses. I’m practising swing-vaulting out over the counter like a cowboy, without disturbing Helen, which amuses me (and worries Helen!) Kindly, funny Captain Oliver is going home for Christmas, and then off to supervise another ship; Goodbye and Farewell to him. Most brilliantly, Endeavour’s radio engineer smilingly arrives with his tool-box to fix our aerial. Absolutely particularly excellent as we can test communications with his ship and with Palmer too. Now we’re properly in touch with our immediate world. Hurray. Lisa, (Eareckson Trotter) another friendly face from KK trip, will be aboard Endeavour until March – it’s good to see her. Once all departed, I frank mail and discover a photo-postcard of Explorer sinking: A startling image as we have seen no newspapers or internet pictures. Because we anticipate a seven am visit, money must be counted and shop re-stocked. Rick heroically produces dinner – eve n popcorn – while Helen and I pluck garments, books and t-towels from various corners. There’s a ribbon of brash out in the Neumayer Channel. Last meal with Joe and Victoria Rockhopper; beer and tales from Outer Mongolia. Still a small amount of night sequence (lounging about reading/writing/knitting in pyjamas) to film, involving Helen lighting the Tilley lamp. Joe shoots inside and outside. A long, long day. Please turn the music off.

History and celebrity

January 2, 2008 at 5:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

5th December

Sleep of the dead. Fair with many blue patches on high. Expecting an early visit from Polar Star. The Molchanov is already in the back bay landing at Jougla Point. The two ships pass each other about eight thirty am – the first and only time I’ve ever seen more than one vessel here. Because Rick’s talk is going to be filmed this morning, Helen and I go aboard too, for moral support. It goes well, and the landing that follows is particularly special, as John Williams, descendent of Operation Tabarin member, Gwion ‘Taff’ Davies, is amongst the visitors. He has come to see Port Lockroy and its history – he’s moved to see the museum and his uncle’s handwriting. The brilliant BAS/UKAHT detailed map of the peninsula is the morning’s top seller, thanks to a plug from Polar Star’s EL, Hannah. After franking, snack turns into lunch. The enormous pot of Dulce de Leche is opened and dived into. Stock shelves and down to the boatshed for fleeces and t-shirts, this time with camera trail ing. Many of the penguins now have three eggs, perhaps knowing how slim the chances are of first one hatching. We watch a skua fly off with a whole egg in its beak. Lots of the free new information/membership leaflets have dispersed over the last week – we hope that means more people becoming Friends of Antarctica. Sit soft and drink tea. Rick weary from talking all morning and being interviewed; he snoozes. Type to catch up. Fram announces their arrival. Step out into the cold to take some air and listen to ship’s anchor chain. More retail mayhem. Hilarious time speaking French and dealing with one particular lady’s expectations of me being her personal shopper. Ian slightly rushes the groups so that we can go aboard for dinner, but we can’t – work to do, and the camera wants to watch us cooking a meal in the bunkroom. Restock shop. Trashed. Perfect steak sandwiches cooked up by Rick, as we’re hyperglycaemic. We’ve all been under pressure today, with the added distraction of  pretending, to the camera, that there are just three people here. Too tired and wasted to act normal. After dinner and a drop of red, it’s time to film removing mail from the red post box and franking. The light is fading. Wrap it up (isn’t that what they say?!) and finally to bed about midnight.

An assortment of black commas

January 2, 2008 at 5:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4th December

*Happy Birthday and a bottle of Port for Sid! xxx

Muzzy start. The day is half bright, half not. More rock where yesterday was snow. I am less hungover than certain others. Grumpiness and tired heads held at bay with slices of bread and butter. Discover that historic newspapers in the museum lounge have been SCRIBBLED on in biro. Outrageous. Multanovskiy arrives bringing Olle Carlsson books and big bags of life jackets/camping gear for another ship. Swift and happy visit. Frank light-headed, assess stock, munch lunch – more bread, cheese and salad. Rev up for speedy restock; it’s painless. Rick deals with some waste. We take new supplies down to boatshed. Do everything that needs doing. Thirty minutes before Nordnorge is due, whip open computer and write a few lines then hear the door bang – it’s Marco, and the staff are all buzzing round shop! Lots of single dollar note transactions and mayhem at a steady pace. Three hundred passengers. Try to start franking, but if we’d like to go over to the ship for dinner, the last ten der is leaving now. Lovely to be onboard our familiar friend. The Rockhopper crew travelled down on the Nordnorge, and had fun filming en route. We sit together and discuss angles, histories, contexts. I’m dying to make a phone call – kind receptionist lends me a spare cabin – don’t get through the first time, then cut off on the second try. Hey but it’s good to talk, half way round the world. Back with Joe and Victoria, and all their camera kit etc. to our wee hut. Lots of Nordnorge post, which needs stamps sticking and franking. Helen cashes up and restocks all by herself. Rick and Joe help carry boxes. Our guests are made cosy in the lounge, on Thermarests and yoga mats, with sleeping bags, hats and a hot water bottle. It’s going to be interesting with cameras in our faces; Joe says he wants to film us doing EVERYTHING! The shop’s ready for an early start. H reluctantly writes up yesterday’s base diary. The penguins scattered on snow-covered island next to Bill’s look like  an assortment of black commas.

Frank in the half light

December 17, 2007 at 8:48 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Dreams and imagination | 5 Comments

3rd December

Moved my bed 180 degrees, so that the midnight sun may pass over head instead of into eyes. Not sure if it’s an improvement. Flash of metallic sun through open curtains. We’re ready for Mikheev. Take some time to further absorb facts and figures on the information posters in anticipation of film crew’s questions. Helen cleans the Loo Bucket Salon – pine fresh! and also fashions blocks of wood to stop her stack of Thermarests sliding off. One passenger tries to buy a wooden plank from a 1944 expedition crate – she’s very surprised when we explain that it’s not for sale. Lots of Spanish visitors. There’s a seal again, on the island with no name, I can’t tell what kind, even with binoculars, and walk down to look – an emaciated weddell. The Ushuaia steams in from Peltier Channel at two thirty. We are ready, just about. Monica the (lovely) Matriarch and her staff arrive. Rick carries her bag (full of passports and her delightful watercolour postcards) up to the hut. Cups of tea all round. The ship has been chartered by a group of Japanese who are cruising round the world. They are very excited about shopping and bring a fantastic translator, who patiently explains everything as well as helping me add up and bag up all at the same time. Quite an onslaught, in a good way. By the end, we have sold a lot of stamps, and penguin USB charms. In an extraordinary random act of kindness, one gentleman, who appears to be sporting a pair of oven gloves (in place of the more usual polar hand warmers) bows and donates them to us! The amazing thing is, we were really wishing we had some, as folded thin tea towels are not quite heat proof enough. Well wow. We have one hour to turnaround before dinner. Monica and Captain are so kind, they have been deliberating on wine choices to go with our meal, and arranged the loan of cabins with fresh towels too. Rick and I frank, Helen cashes up. Make stock list, whiz to boat shed, and it’s already immersion-suit-donning-time.

A well-lubricated funny night, with numerous passenger photo ops. We have been given the most enormous tub of dulce de leche (I could fit my whole face into it,) a crate of fruit (Rick reluctantly had to send two back) and two huge chunks of meat… when we mention that a bit of bread would go down well… THREE boxes, with SEVENTEEN loaves in, is secreted ashore. Oh thank-you for everything. The Japanese have written about a hundred more postcards since their landing. Tip back up to our hut, frank in the half light, climb into bunk

Penguin calculators

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

2nd December

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

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.

Box-toppling in the boatshed

December 17, 2007 at 8:45 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Life in the snow | Leave a comment

30th November

Still bright, fresh north-easterly breeze. A floe of four weddell’s floats past Bill’s Island slowly. Take pictures of Helen’s rolls of notes, looking like a dollar forest, and bundle yesterday’s mail too. Rick is hungry for porridge, which we eat before Shokalskiy radios over inviting us for breakfast – doh! – Rick goes aboard to give his talk. A moment to plan some letters with special stamps on – mail will be dispatched on 2nd December I think. Wind whistling and pressure falling… oh no is that a storm brewing? After Rick promised that every day would be sunny from now on ha ha! Scrape sheathbill deposits from ramp; an ongoing futile endeavour to prevent it spreading through museum on people’s soles. And then spot one of them with a sock (!) disappearing beneath the generator shed – Helen sprints round in hot pursuit and rescues the singular article. (Rick’s, set to dry outside, after running yesterday.) Shokalskiy pax appear, including several jolly folk who join up as  Friends of Antarctica – hurray! And a Swedish camera woman taking footage of everything for a national news channel. She films me cancelling mail and is interested to see all aspects of our life, charmed by the bunkroom, and delighted when Rick agrees to play the gramophone for her. Oh but we’re hungry so bye bye tea and toast, too impatient to wait for ‘proper’ food that Rick is making – veggy noodle soup… Make up more mint sets and package more First Day covers (the ones we’re running short of.) Fix shop ready for next visit. Re-stock: Quite a few heavy things. First box-toppling incident in the boatshed – but no damage done – won’t be the last. Finish putting commemorative coins into fiddly plastic pockets. Stomach has been cramping. Prepare envelopes for my special people, with whole penguin sheetlets – so cool being able to frank them too! Rick snores loudly for duration of his afternoon nap. Helen’s mini woollen bobble hats are brilliant. Start cooking at six-ish, wh ere did the afternoon go? How relaxing not to know? Chicken and spinach stew, which refuses to thicken – serve in a bowl with wedge of carrot and potato mash iceberg… Type up a couple of days. See how penguin highway is developing into quite a rut. Shimmy into sleeping bag worrying about the week ahead – two ships a day, film crew coming, Rick to Damoy with BAS and the first penguin count to do…

Thinking about Ali Smith’s enthusiasm for the spare and simple

December 17, 2007 at 8:43 am | Posted in Assistant Post Mistress, Book art, Dreams and imagination | Leave a comment

29th November

Sunny bright morning. Crunchy snow down to landing, where whaler’s chains are emerging from the melt. Quick porridge (extra milk) and prepare for Clipper’s eight am arrival. They come with news that Andrea is also visiting this avo. Make mental note to ask for an updated ship’s scheduler. Ah I’m extra-grateful for yesterday’s nap. Nice visit – mostly due to relief that they were not in Drake’s Passage… They love the museum and the well-stocked shop! Some lingering, but I’m starving and another ship is due, so disappear to refill shelves. Helen fries up potato patties to go with last night’s casserole. Rick erects our new comfy garden chairs and we eat watching the mountains. Tropical fruit in tropical weather. V. tempting to strip off and swim… but no sign of a shower for days, and er, there’s a likelihood of heart-stopping chilliness. Drag myself inside to frank mail. Rick drags me outside to drink tea. Whisk to boatshed for fleeces and caps. Help cash up and sit in the  sun. Andrea lands at Jougla first, which gives us some breathing space. Fifty-eight pax. Right at the end a few crew come in; one says he hasn’t time to look properly this trip, but I insist on showing him our digs and the radio room. He says it’s very like Macquarie and I say D’you know Mary Ann Lea? And he says she’s my partner! So I give him a big hug. Wow. She was ace aerobic ping-pong player and Marine Biologist on the KK… Good to meet you Sam. Once we’ve waved them goodbye, the last of the sticky toffee pudding and sauce is warmed up, which we eat basking in the sun, and plan a run. The pingu are doing a lot of their loud yodel/gurgle thing today; because it’s hot? Or because the unborn chicks need to hear how to recognise their parents? I’m reading Tove Jannson’s book ‘Fair Play,’ and thinking about Ali Smith’s enthusiasm for the spare and simple. Special chance to see how light and cloud changes Mount William. And the rippling water reflecting a million sparkling s tars. At five we’ve agreed to exercise, and change into shorts and t-shirt it’s that warm. Helen prefers to practise corpse pose. Me and Rick run around rocks and mini-islands, Have to concentrate on foot placement and not think of twisted ankles, or fall in the water – it’s SO clear. After twice round Bill’s (and crawling under wet dripping ledge once, tramping through soggy snow once) my knees are twanging. Rick continues all the way round and I find a warm flattish spot to stretch and breathe in the glory. Stand still so that the penguins aren’t afraid when they flop and whap out of the sea, and stand themselves, plumping up feathers and shaking off the wet. Back to find Helen prepping Fajitas and it’s Pisco Sour night. Climb slightly further along past landing chains to find the perfect rock that’s facing the not-at-all setting sun. Sit and drink and soak up the quiet ripple, gilded outlines, many ranks of penguins porpoising in wave upon wave. The talk is of love and age – the only subject on a night like this. Slush up through porridgey snow, past an empty egg shell discarded by a skua. Dinner is superbly chickeny with jalapenos. Hurriedly fill in yesterday’s base diary entry so that Rick can write today’s fresh. Finally send Sarah belated birthday love and thoughts. Helen is knitting something small, blue and fiddly, which amuses her. We’ve been listening to Brothers in Arms and now Eddie Reader. Bright wide awake light outside. Sleeping bag tired in this corner bunk. Rick reads us more ‘Of Dogs and Men.’.

Eggs!

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

28th November

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

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