05 Weekly News 11 December 1998

Dear all,

After our interminable whining about the weather last time I am glad to report a vast improvement. Days on end of sunshine and warmth and a bit of good luck have seen the cemetery work come on in leaps and bounds. The chain fence around the smaller ‘Town’ cemetery is complete and the remains of eleven crosses have been rebuilt and primed.

We had another try at the pot stove. Working on the assumption that the chimney needed to be hot before it would draw well, we put up with smoke for ten minutes or so and were rewarded by a toasty source of smoke-free heat. With a handy pile of coal discovered just up the track evenings are much more comfortable. Amazing what a difference to ones perception of personal comfort living at 12 degrees makes compared with 5 degrees!

With the fence around the Town cemetery complete, we turned our attention to the Country one. This is a nicer place to work with a few Gentoo Penguin colonies honking away a hundred metres away. They have lots of big fat chicks – two to a nest – which need feeding so the parents take turns going out to sea to fetch a gulletful of krill. Occasionally a returning adult stops off to watch the goings on in the cemetery. We notice a definite rush hour as the sun drops behind the mountains.

We had a dozen or so king penguins standing ten metres from the corner of the cemetery. They all finished moulting during the week and left us with a pile of feathers.

The reindeer are getting more used to us. Whereas last week they turned and ran as soon as we hove into view, they now look up from their grazing and watch us for a while, only running if we get to within twenty feet or so. Even then they do not really go far.

Reindeer graze by the Leith ‘Country’ cemetery before we start work on it.

We were pleased to discover, when dismantling the paling fence, that nearly all the angle irons holding it up were firmly rooted and in good condition. Indeed an attempt to uproot one nearly gave us both a hernia, so we opted to keep them. Luckily the chain lengths fit the original spacing so, other than a handful which needed to be repositioned upright, we got away without having to move posts. We saved days by not having to scavenge more pipe to cut to length to make new posts.

We make a good team. Pat is fetching fuel, water, lighting the fire whilst I am cooking. And at work we complement each other, mostly just getting on with it without the need to stop and ask what next.

I really appreciate Pat’s scouting skills. I can see a way around a problem, but Pat knows the right knots tie this to that, or how to lift a headstone neither of us could shift freehand. This was impressive. We built a sort of gantry and rigged two pulleys and loads of rope. You tie a string around the mammoth hunk of marble and then little Sarah gets on the end of the rope and can lift the thing on her own, allowing Pat to concentrate on positioning or getting it onto the rod we have drilled into it’s plinth.

I’m afraid all work and no play make Sarah and Pat dull boys, but with luck we get a lift back to Husvik whilst RFA Gold Rover is back in the area these next few days. At least that avoids the fur seals in one direction. We are ready for a rest, having worked damned hard and for long hours this past week. Still, we have made big inroads into the Leith work and should be able to get help from HMS Endurance to move camp to Stromness in the week before Christmas. After that we can slow down and do the two remaining stations in slow time, taking more time for ourselves to take a walk or a photograph.

We had expected to share a camp with two members of a group assessing the scrap potential of the whaling stations, but we heard they only got put in at Husvik yesterday. Hopefully they will still be there when we get there.

I am looking foward to washing my hair , even if it is only in a bowl in front of the fire, and baking some bread. Also to getting out of bed in the morning until I am good and ready and charged with at least one cup of coffee!

We had two visits this week. HMS Endurance’s helicopter popped in for a minute to say the ship had received our request for a lift with our gear. Also the yacht Sarah W. Vorwerk with a group of Swiss photographers aboard. She stayed overnight and a few people came to see how we are living and drink coffee. I was suprised how many cups I could find to serve it in! On seeing us at work, heaving on an angle iron to reposition it, one woman said “It’s a rather odd way you are spending your holidays”. It struck me she was right.

So, it’s friday night after rather a slow day. Rain stopped play outdoors but we had the crosses to fix and paint indoors. Fingers crossed that the weather stays nice and we get a lift back to the palace at Husvik this weekend.

Sarah paints refurbished crosses in the Leith workshop.

Loads of love from the island,

Pat & Sarah

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