Sunday, November 29, 2009

Plumbing Urgency

This afternoon his Lordship and I were a little preoccupied, when the phone rang.

"Hello St Jude residence,"

"Hello madam I'm calling about your recent plumbing emergency,"

His Lordship sighed and whispered, "What do they want?"

My hand over the receiver, "something about our plumbing urgency" I whispered back.

"We're a little busy at the moment is it important?" I enquired

"It won't take long, I just need a little more information"

I'm a woman, I can multitask, so I carried on with the call. "What would you like toooo knoow?"

"Well we were just wondering how happy you were with our plumbing service?" he enquired

"Oh very happy dear... down a little, is it on the highest speed setting?" His Lordship gave me a thumbs up.

"I'm sorry madam, I, I didn't quite get that,"

"I'm sorry dear I was talking to my husband, deeper, deeper, dear, aaahh oh that's the spot" I urged

The young mans voice had turned a rich baritone, "ah hem, and would you recommend our service.."

"Yes, oh yes,"

"Thank you madam, and I was.."

"Oooh yes, that's it, NO don't stoOP YES, YES, OH GOD YEESSSSSSSS,"

"Er madam, madam I, er, I,"

A short while later when I returned from the moment in which I had been lost I realised that the young man had disappeared from the end of the phone. Ah well at least the terrible knot in my right shoulder is now gone thanks to the wonderful little massage thingy, expertly wielded by his Lordship I might add.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hit The Road Jude...

Well I thought that I would give you a rest from polar bears, thought you might be getting a little fed up with the cold of the Arctic.

Since relocating to the new office just over a month ago, my commute has gone from an hours journey to an hour and a half to two hours every morning and evening. So with up to four hours of my day being taken up with sitting on buses I decided to return to using the car. Now my journey takes about an hour each way. It is a ten mile journey!

That's the joy of living in a city and travelling during the rush hour, nose to tail traffic. You get time to observe your fellow commutors when sitting in traffic. Yesterday a young man in the car behind me decided to carry out his ablutions whilst creeping along in the traffic. A quick tickle round the ears and face with a wet wipe, followed by brushing his teeth, rinsing with water and spitting out of the car window. The woman in the lane next to me was multi tasking, talking on her phone whilst doing her make up using the rear view mirror. Oh traffic was not at a complete standstill we were moving slowly and we were approaching a very busy junction where two more lanes of traffic join into one lane. The chap in the car in front had his newspaper spread out over the steering wheel, catching up on the latest news and drinking his coffee.

Every morning, and I mean every morning there are scrapes, bumps, shunts and outright smashes. My journey is punctuated by traffic bulletins announcing 'incidents' and road closures whilst the emergency services clean up the mess. Every morning I sit there watching people who clearly feel totally secure in their little metal boxes being completely distracted from the task at hand, driving. Yesterday morning as we got to the busy junction a large van from a well known courier company sped out of the lane joining ours. He probably assumed, as he did every day that he was in a large vehicle and that people would let him in, afterall they all come equipped with brakes don't they. Unfortunately for everyone involved the chap in the car in front was engrossed in his paper, and the woman in the lane next to us was applying her mascara. Result, newspaper man was shunted into make up lady by courier man. All lanes of traffic blocked it took over an hour to shift the carnage.

Fortunately non of them was injured, only their cars suffered as a result. They all began to argue who was at blame. Finally newspaper man and make up lady decided to 'gang' up on courier man, I was asked by them if I would provide a witness statement for their insurance. I informed them that I would happily oblige, not a problem. However I became public enemy number one when I mentioned that I would have to be honest and point out that neither of them was paying attention to the road and both were distracted as a result of their in car activities. They didn't require my assistance after that.

I wonder what joys await me this morning.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Arctic Odyssey Part 3

Did I tell you that polar bears are somewhat elusive? They are also damned hard to spot in the Arctic, it's that whole white bear, white background sort of thing. Actually polar bears are not truly white, they are an off white creamy colour. It's the seal fat that does it, the more creamy their fur the more seals they have eaten.  I'm blathering aren't I. Well sitting on an icebound ship in dense fog with limited 'facilities' can do that sort of thing to a person and we had been sitting icebound for two days, and going nowhere fast. Actually it wasn't so much the ice as the fog, thick smothering freezing fog. Sucking in a breath of this stuff made your lungs start to panic as the freezing damp air plummetted to their depths, a few minutes outside and your chest hurt from the constant effort of doing the most natural of things, breathing.

There was of course another reason for not being on deck a far more frightening reason. The ice around the ship is constanly moving and as it moves pressure ridges rise around the hull of the ship. They make handy steps for an inquisitive polar bear who can smell the human rations onboard. So for fifty four hours we hunkered down and passed the time with out fellow passengers listening to talks about the possible effects of the depletion of the oozone layer, (devastating to polar bears), baby gliders, (more on that later), and the arctic fox. Whilst most of us had our hearts set on an encounter with a polar bear her Ladyship was desperate to see the arctic fox.

It was mid afternoon when the fog finally vanished it took only a matter of minutes as a wind from the north swept down and rolled it southward. Eager to get some fresh air most people returned to their cabins to kit up. As his Lordship and I were heading for the deck a hushed message came over the intercom, "There's a polar bear on the ice directly ahead of us, everyone silent please as we are going to attempt to get closer to it."

So as we crept up onto the deck our heartbeats were pounding so loudly it was all I could do to stop myself from sshing everyone I passed. Peering over the side my breath caught in my throat, right there just a matter of a few hundred feet away lay the most amazing creature I have ever encountered. It was sleeping, just curled up on the ice... sleeping. The engines had been cut and with everyone on board holding their breath the silence was intense. All eyes taking in the huge bear, sleeping, totally unphased by the bulk of the ship or the voyeurs it carried. This was his kingdom and he knew it. An icy thread laced my cheek and I realised that I was crying.

He lay there for a while, just sniffing the air and taking it all in his stride, then he simply looked around at his paparazzi and got up and sauntered away.

My breath still catches when I see him.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Arctic Odyssey Part 2

At 3.20am the polar bear watch paid off. The shipboard intercom crackled into life, "attention all crew, attention all crew, polar bear spotted off the port side, muster stations, muster stations." Polar bear, a real polar bear, I threw off the duvet and swung my legs out of bed, unfortunately in my sleep dazed state I forgot that I had taken the top bunk and my legs connected with the side of his Lordships head as he too swung out of his bunk, sending him sprawling to the deck. I then added further insult to injury as I happlessly plummetted from my bunk my fall being broken by the now prostrate Lord. After a rather undignified scrum to find a crumb of deck space to get some footing we managed to extracate ourselves and headed for our outdoor gear.

After layering up, not an easy thing to do with sleep still in your eyes and a cabin the size of a rabbit hutch. We raced to the port side, stumbling out onto deck I noticed that several people were already on there and I wondered if perhaps they had slept in their outdoor gear. We definitely needed to organise our dressing drill better. I stared out over the ice searching for the polar bear, I noticed a woman standing next to the rail peering through binoculars. I followed her gaze, in the distance I could make out a rocky escarpment but nothing else. Peering through my binoculars my eyes accustomed themselves to the lay of the land and I noticed a small pale creamy dot moving slowly over the rocks. My first polar bear.

I know you'd need binoculars too to see it but believe me it was there and the shot above was taken at 3.32am.  The polar bear gone his Lordship and I grabbed a hot chocolate and headed back to our cabin. After grabbing a couple more hours of sleep we headed off for breakfast. Mealtimes on ship were important, not just for the wonderful food served up by the Argentinian chef, but they were also important points of reference in the twenty four hour daylight. It is easy to slip into unscheduled sleep patterns in this environment.  Breakfast over it was time to head to the meeting room for the morning briefing. We were intending to land at a cove some miles north of our current position. A female bear and her cubs had been sighted there a couple of days earlier so it would be a good starting point.  Just as we got back to our cabin an announcement came over the intercom.

"we're sorry to announce that there is a problem with the plumbing, the pipes on the lower deck are blocked and therefore we would ask that anyone needing to use the facilities please use only those in the upper deck cabins. Thank you"

Five minutes later there was a knock on the door. I opened it to a rather flustered looking chap, who, explaining whilst jigging said that he was desperate to use our facilities. He was the first of several. Mid morning arrived and his Lordship and I had relocated to the lounge for coffee... actually that is somewhat of a fib. We actually had to evacuate the cabin after a rather forlorn lady begged entry to our facilities, it quickly became apparant that she was not fairing well with the Argentinian chefs culinary delights so we gave her some much needed privacy and beat a hasty retreat.

Just as we downed the last of our coffee it was announced that we had arrived at our landing point. We needed to kit up again and be on deck ready to launch in the zodiacs in twenty minutes. Now why is it that as soon as people get their outdoor gear on they need the toilet? It took not inconsiderable restraint on our part to smile politely to the constant stream of bods travelling through our cabin as we attempted to perfect our dress drill. Finally kitted up we headed up on deck to await departure.

Zodiacs are brilliant little vessels, once you have mastered the art of getting into and out of them it's great fun zipping about in them. It can be doubly exciting if the fog descends and you suddenly happen upon one of these...

Add a polar bear hitching a lift on the old iceberg and you could be in for some hairy moments. So when fog descended the zodiacs and landings were out of the question.  But for now we had clear weather and headed off to the cove.  There are some amazing places in the Arctic circle, and I loved getting off the ship to go ashore.  This particular cove was an old whaling station and although it brought sadness at the death of so many beautiful creatures it also had a strange beauty of it's own. There was a hut with grey weathered wood walls that had been there for over one hundred and fifty years. The bacteria that rots  wood normally cannot survive in these conditions and so the hut still stands just as it did when last used.

What appears to be a drift of snow on the shore line is in actual fact the remains of over seven hundred beluga whales.  Not killed for their meat or blubber, they were killed for their hides beluga leather was much prized as it was softer and more supple than any other leather.  Those bones have laid there for over a hundred years it is now an offence to touch them so who knows how long they will be laying there for into the future. Long after my bones are gone I think.

Whenever we went ashore scouts would be on the look out for polar bears.  Of course we were eager to see them, however it would have been another matter to come face to face with one whilst ashore, they can outrun a human and when all said and done we were just another part of the food chain. So the scouts never went ashore without their guns. I on occasions took on the role of scout as I can shoot a rifle with pretty good results. I have to confess however if one of my fellow passengers had left the group and put themselves in danger through straying I would have been tempted to shoot that silly beggar rather than the bear! But of course I never disclosed this to my fellow travellers, I figured it might not go down too well with some of them.

Even with the kit  we were all dressed in it was nigh on impossible to stay out for longer than an hour or so, the cold would eventually begin to seep up through your feet and the constant icy wind would freeze your breath and in turns your throat and lungs. So no polar bears sighted today we headed back for the warmth of the ship and another round of hot chocolate to warm our hands and our hearts. The twenty four hour polar bear watch began again.

Needless to say his Lordship when taking his watch, stamped his own inimitable style on his polar bear tracking...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Arctic Odyssey Part 1

The Captain, (my dad), has always been interested in Polar exploration. I grew up with the great explorers, Franklin, Amundsen, Scott, to name but three. I myself have been interested in the Franklin expedition to navigate the North West Passage for some time.

So when his Lordship and I were discussing our holiday plans eighteen months ago it seemed like a reasonable leap to undertake our own polar exploration. We decided to go to the Arctic.

Unsurprisingly it is not quite as simple as making a quick call to Thomas Cook and booking a package. There are medicals to be done to make sure you are up to the task, insurance to cover the event of being eaten by a Polar Bear or being struck by an iceberg.  Oh and I have to warn you, should you ever come across them, walrus are a tad grumpy too.

Our journey began the first week in July last year. We flew from Gatwick to Oslo, then onto Tromso in the north of Norway. From there we flew on to Longyerben in Spitzbergen. Here we picked up our ship, a Russian Akademick class exploration and scientific vessel.

Now clearly  this was not the QE2, (I have partied across the atlantic on the old gal). His Lordship and I had a cabin with en suite facilities. Don't look bored, only four of the rooms had this 'luxury'. The rest had to share bathrooms, and bunks!! Ok, ok, a girl has to have certain standards even in the Arctic.  The Russian plumbing I have to say was erm, somewhat interesting. The en suite bathroom consisted of a cupboard in the corner of the room that had huge cast iron pipes running through it. The shower was in one corner and the toilet was opposite. The entire floor of the room was the shower tray. A hole in the floor next to the toilet was where the water, eventually ran out. It was I have to say an interesting experience attempting to use the toilet after taking a shower, especially in rough seas!! You may be asking yourself at this point, 'why is she rattling on about the plumbing arrangements?' The Russian plumbing was to be a constant theme throughout our journey.

Our first night, (obviously not as in dark, 24 hour daylight at that time of year), was spent doing the mandatory ship safety briefing, climbing into the survival capsule. Not as easy as it might appear with umpteen layers, a life jacket and wellies. However it did allow us to get on 'intimate' terms with our fellow passengers, 22 of them. We were also introduced to the ship's Doctor who turned out to be an ER surgeon from Los Angeles. She had been on many explorations and it soon became apparant that unless it was bleeding profusely, dropping off from the cold or not breathing there would be no sympathy.

It was not difficult getting to sleep that night even in sub zero temperatures and with daylight outside. The cabin was insulated with layers of thick curtains and the bunks also had curtains to shut out the light and keep in the warmth. The following morning found us making our way around a southern cape of the island, now in open water the sea was throwing some heavy waves our way and the small ship tossed about like a childs toy. His Lordship, myself and her Ladyship were among an elite little band of seven at breadfast as the rest had not yet found their sealegs. As the morning progressed the sea ice got increasingly more compact and the horizon disappeared in and out of fog banks as we forged further north.

This was Polar Bear habitat and this year the ice cap had not receeded as far as it had in other years, this was good for the Polar Bears, and good news for us searching for them. From now on there would be a twenty four hour Polar Bear watch.  Once sighted no matter what the hour we would be at our muster station and ready to hit the ground ice fully prepared.  This was it, this was what we had come here for and the excitement was palpable.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I Smell

I normally like to pride myself on my personal hygiene and grooming. I don't like to leave home without a little squirt of something pretty behind my ears.

I am concious that eau de perspire is not the most welcoming fragrance.  In my line of work it is a daily occurance to walk into a room only to be greeted by an overwhelming odour of unwashed clothes and bodies. Now don't get me wrong, it is not a prerequisite of the morally challenged to have poor personal hygiene.

There are however other smells that linger around the offices in which I work. Rather pungent and sweet the unmistakable aroma of bud, weed, skunk, marujiana and whatever else you may wish to call it. I often find myself sitting in interview rooms with my eyes watering the smell is so overpowering. The worst thing is that it lingers, it seals itself inside your nostrils, it hangs in your hair, it clings to your clothes.

Not the best thing to happen just before a visit to Head Office when you have to travel by train. What do they have in train stations? Yes sniffer dogs. Thanks to one of my morally challenged bods I was today given a rather intense pat down and search curtesy of the local transport police. They ingnored my protestations of innocence, they ignored the fact that they didn't find anything incriminating on me, they ignored the fact that I am a fellow professional, I had my ID on me, quite simply the pooch never lies... his nose said that I was guilty.

I was guilty, I did indeed smell of the sickly weed, but the lovely plods on the station could simply not comprehend that in my line of work it is not uncommon to be 'contaminated' by such means. It took several telephone calls, which finally culminated in my Chief Officer contacting their Chief Officer who then radioed the plods to demand they release me and apologise. They grudgingly did so and I continued on my journey.

Ho hum, what was waiting for me on the platform at my journeys end... you've guessed, yet another pooch with a fascinating attraction to little old me.

(By the way did you know that there are several different spellings of Marujiana, Marijuana, Marugiana.... it's true, depends where you live, apparantly! )  Ok sorry simple things.
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