Austral autumn has arrived and with it comes a new lease and generation of life to Port Lockroy. Camouflaged Skua chicks darting between rocks on Bills Island, Sheathbill chicks emerging from beneath the buildings, Gull chicks beginning to flap their wings and the Penguin chicks sleeping everywhere. As well as avian fauna, we have also had increased mammalian wildlife with Weddell and Fur seal visits becoming more of a regular occurrence. This week we conducted our final penguin count of the season. We spent a morning walking around Goudier counting the number of chicks on the island, this involved four of us using clicking counters to count groups of crèching chicks. The total number of chicks this year is 539, which is a significant increase from last year.
While at Port Lockroy, aside from our daily duties and penguin counting, we have a work list of tasks to be completed throughout the season. As we near the end of the season the team is making progress with this list to get as much done before we depart. One of the high priority tasks to be completed was the installation of new posters in the museum used to describe the lives of the men who were here as part of Operation Tabarin and the Falkland Islands Dependence Survey, as well as interpreting the abundance of artefacts within the museum. As with most things at Port Lockroy, it always sounds easier and simpler that it is. Any duties carried out within either of our historic buildings, The Boatshed or Bransfield House, requires an extra degree of caution and care to assure nothing is damaged in the process. What was expected by some to be a quick job ended up taking four of us all afternoon, resulting in an abundance of tools strewn across the table and countless questions of “Are you sure it’s straight?”.
Life at Lockroy usually requires a degree of thinking outside the box and using what you’ve got to do the job at hand. Geoff, a member of our conservation team and resident carpenter, grimaced at our use of tools and recalled similar stories of Chippy Ashton, the Operation Tabarin carpenter, lending out his tools and receiving them back broken or damaged. Fortunately for Geoff, he has found a new apprentice in the form of a curious penguin, who has already begun to observe him to learn the tricks of the trade. Although, like Heidis’ rebuttal to the accusation of using the wrong tool, there may be a slight language barrier in terms of the tool names and carpentry jargon.
One attribute that Port Lockroy is most well known for is being the Penguin Post Office and the most southerly public Post Office in the world. Because of this there are various associated postal duties that have to be carried out. This, like every aspect of life at Port Lockroy, everyone gets involved with. It was a steep learning curve for those of us not versed and familiar with the philatelic world but we’ve all become accustomed and comfortable in the role.
Once a postcard has been put in the Royal Mail post-box and the obligatory photo has been taken, it will be cancelled, bundled and put into mail bags. It will then be carried down to the landing site (there are over 100 kg of post waiting at the moment to be carried), where it will go onboard a ship and travel to the Falkland Island Post Office in Stanley. From here it will be sent on a military flight to Brize Norton where it will go into the Royal Mail and be dispatched around the world. This process can be as swift as three weeks from Port Lockroy to its final destination. To hear that friends and family have received post and packages, which have been sent from the other side of the world, is proof that this elaborate system (and the Port Lockroy Team) works. As the first cog in this intricate system, we have processed over 350 kg of post which equates to around 58,000 postcards. Over the course of the past week we have reached a milestone through managing to finish the remaining First Day Covers that are sent to Port Lockroy from Stanley Post Office every year. These are a set of stamps on a collectable envelope, post marked on the first day of issue. This year, all of the team have participated in the task of cancelling thousands of these philatelic collectables. This combined with all of the other items to be cancelled will result in over 100,000 cancellations by the end of the season, with only one case of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) to mention, so far.
One of the most interesting and diverse tasks is processing and replying to the wealth of philatelic requests from around the world. These are sent from philatelists, interested in stamps and cancels, those who are curious about our work and life, to those who send us recipes, original artwork and good wishes. It can, at times, be an arduous task to reply to all of these requests but when you get a reply and see how much they mean to those that receive them it really does make it worthwhile.
As we continue into February, our final month in Port Lockroy, we start to consider and prepare for the imminent end of the season and closing the base. As I write this blog, Heidi and Lauren are trying to begin the end of season inventories. There are a lot of serious discussions, mess and noise. Big decisions are being made and they are trying to decide whether they are “pencils” or “fun pencils”. This could be the beginning of a very long winded and humorous process.