“On the coast, you will travel to the Cliffs of Moher. Braced against the ocean, on the coast of County Clare. Here you will stand on the dramatic 702ft (214m) high and 9 miles (14km) long cliffs, a Wild Atlantic Way signature discovery point, to gaze out on the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.”
This was the spiel for today I the itinerary.
What an incredible place. Patrick, a young man on the tour here with his wife on their honeymoon, said, “I’m relieved. I was scared the fog would roll in and it’d all be hidden.”
Here it is in all its glory.
Just to prove I was here.
Here’s what greeted me at the entrance to the Cliffs of Moher. A raven, cawing loudly. It seemed somehow appropriate.
The weather wasn’t kind to us. It was rainy and very windy. On the way, Ben reminded us a few times not to get too close to the edge of the cliffs. I wonder if many tourists have started to fly, or if it’s just a myth that the tour guides tell amongst themselves to feel a frisson of fear running down their backs.
Beautiful, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Remember when I had a Little Adventure there a year or so ago?
This little fort was interesting. Apparently when Napoleon was rampaging around Europe, they were scared he’d try and invade Ireland. They built a series of these forts all around the southern coast, enough forts so they collectively had eyes on every part of the coast. However, it was a wasted effort because Napoleon didn’t try to invade.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget how it felt to be there on the cliffs, my face being stung by the rain but seeing that incredible view stretching out before me.
My Antarctica jackets… both my warm and my cold… certainly proved their worth today, as I felt perfectly warm. Most people around me were miserable, with one woman on our tour saying, “Fastest trip ever. Walk up to the top, take a look, then straight down again!”
What a waste. When are we ever going to be here again?
So I stood there, leaning against the wall, soaking it all in. It was hard to ignore the excited Argentinians singing Happy Birthday to someone right beside me, but I did my best.
Even though the weather was wild, it seemed to somehow suit this place. It was stern and unmoving and beautiful.
The roads here are so narrow. There is a lot of tourism going on and the coaches are everywhere.
The Burren is a limestone area around 80 square miles wide. It used to be under the ocean near the equator in millenia gone by, as they’ve found fossils of warm water fish among the rocks.
In the 1640s, Cromwell’s surveyor Ludlow described it as “a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him.”
That didn’t stop him burning villages and then leaving the people nowhere to go but the Burren.
This is Kinvarra’s 11th century intact castle. That means that Cromwell was welcome. Any place that had Catholics living there had a very different response…
We drove past a memorial to the famine victims. This part of it is a little boy outside the workhouse doors. You can see the big hinges to the side.
This is a sacked Cistercian abbey. It was established in the 11th century, before Cromwell came over in 1649 to fuck things over for the Catholics. He only stayed a year, but he certainly made his mark on this country.
We passed by a golf course on both sides of the road. Ben mentioned “the love grass.” When someone asked what that was, he said, “They call it the Love Grass, because if you go in there you’re fucked!
I bought some stainless steel earrings with some Connemara marble in them.
We stopped at Adare village for half an hour.
(Incidentally, if you’re a member of my family reading this, please send me a message on Messenger.Just curious to see if anyone is following me on this trip. )
It’s such a pretty place. I think we all wished we could have stayed longer.
We headed off for 2 nights in Kilarney. This is Ben’s home town. You could almost see him swell with pride as we entered the town.
Not a bad welcome. This was right outside our hotel.
This was when sickness started to rip through our coach. Over the next few days, as many as 10 people were staying back at the hotel to spend a day in bed. Of course, when people started feeling bad, they didn’t wear masks to protect the rest of us. I woke up this morning not feeling 100%, so I popped a mask on. I was hopeful that the Cliffs of Moher had blown the germs right out of me, but no such luck. I didn’t have to miss any days on the bus, but I was certainly putting in marathon nights’ sleep for the next few nights. No going out and partying for Frogdancer Jones!
Connemara was beautiful and wild. It’s harder country here than where we’ve been so far. Ben was telling us about the Connemara ponies, small white hoses, legend has it, were brought over by the Spanish Armada. They are highly prized for their jumping and racing abilities. Their foals are born brown and then turn white as they mature.
Along the way, we passed by two big hotels. “ Normally we’d stop at one or t’other for a toilet break,” said Ben, “ but we can’t now. They’re full of Ukrainians fleeing from the war.”
It brings it home a bit, how close everything is here to one another.
As the sun came out, it lit up the colours on the shore on the other side. The heather was glowing a reddish/brown colour, the grass was – of course- green and the bleating of the sheep wanting to be fed by the tourists and the sound of the wind was the only things I could hear. ( I blocked the tourist chatter out.)
There were a couple of houses on the road with big picture windows looking out over the lake. What a view to see every day!
Ben said that the EU are paying farmers to run sheep on the Connemara hills. They have to state how many head of sheep they have and are paid accordingly. The EU keep a watch on them by using satellite technology. “ But the farmers, if they’ve over-estimated their sheep, they do things like paint the rocks white, or borrow some sheep from a neighbour.”
After our lit stop by the lake, we were off to Kylemore Abbey. This place has an interesting history.
A rich politician called Mitchell Henry, who was a really good landlord and fought for the rights of his tenants, fell in love with this place and decided to build a grand estate for his wife Margaret.
He certainly did.
The house looks like a fairytale castle as we crossed the bridge towards it. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that we all gasped when we saw it. It’s worth enlarging it to have a good look at it. Stunning.
He built the grand house – which, disappointingly, was a little boring when I went into it – but the gardens would have been superb. They were still amazing, even though the passing of time has not been kind to the scope they used to have.
Sorry about the weird photo. I’m learning how to transfer photo’s from my phone to my iPad because they haven’t all synched. Once I put them here I can’t delete them, so here is one I had second thoughts about but can’t get rid of. You’re welcome.
This is a portrait of his wife.
They lived there happily until, on a family holiday in Egypt, his wife died of dysentery. She was only 45. My grandmother, who was a superstitious woman, would have said that the family was asking for misfortune, by having peacock feathers inside the house.
He ended up losing his fortune and, after changing hands a few times, the property came to the attention of a group of Irish Benedictine nuns who used to have an abbey in Ypres. They were evacuated to England by some Irish fusiliers when their abbey was bombed into oblivion, and in 1920 they came to what is now called the Abbey.
The Benedictines are an enclosed order. It was suggested to them by the Irish Archbishop in 1921 that the mountains be their walls. I like that. They still live here today, though their numbers are fewer.
They make heather honey, which has same healing properties as Manuka honey; handmade chocolates and they bake for the cafe. I had the best blueberry muffin I’ve ever eaten in my life here!
After looking at the house, I took the shuttle bus up the hill to the gardens. There, I saw a pig and them made my way towards an unassuming doorway towards the walled gardens.
This was what greeted me when I went through the gate.
Herbaceous border, anyone?
The gardens seemed to go on forever.
They have pops of turquoise which looks really good. I’m filing this away for use in my own garden…
A Monkey Puzzle tree. Originally from South America, for some reason they became a real “must have” in fashionable Victorian gardens. I’m not really a fan, myself, but I grew up reading about Monkey Puzzle trees and at least now I know what they look like.
The roof in the back is the groundskeeper’s house. Not a bad job to have.
Naturally, I spent a lot of time wandering through the vegetable gardens, feeling a bit guilty that mine isn’t anywhere as beautifully tended as this one.
Nuns evidently eat a lot of rhubarb, just saying.
Even the walls were used, with espaliered fruit trees to catch every bit of the warmth from the sun on the bricks.
Could you grow enough to feed a family in a garden this size? I think so.
A fine lot of cabbages with marigolds interplanted within them. I started doing interplanting with flowers last year. Looks like I’m onto a good thing.
Another nicely ordered bed. Butwhat is that furry looki Branch poking in at the top left side?
It’s an apple tree. I’ve seen one that’s covered with fur like this.
Can you imagine the nuns working in their garden, seeing the mountains surrounding them and feeling safe and enclosed?
The sound of swiftly running water made me peer through the fuchsia hedge. There was a stream.
There’s something about the sound of running water, isn’t there?
I saw my second robin red breast in the kitchen garden. It was happily flying in and out of the fuchsia hedge. I talked with an Irish couple who laughed when I said that I was excited to see the robin. “They’re all over the place in Ireland,” he said. It seems that I should keep a sharper look out.
I’m going to buy a red and purple fuchsia when I’m home. It’ll remind me of the fuch Hedge where I saw my robin.
This garden has everything – even Connemara ponies.
You can see the difference in the colour between the mother and her baby.
As I sat in the sun, waiting for the shuttle bus, I began to think of what life must have been like for the people who built this place.
The 27 hot houses where the ladies could take their walks when it was cold and wet. They’d likely take a pony trap or something to get them up here. It’s quite a hike for ladies with long skirts to do.
When they were in the hot houses they could eat a home-grown banana, which would be my idea of hell, but for them would be an unbelievable luxury.
There are only 2 hothouses here now and they’re tiny. But in his day, they were huge and were heated by pipes of hot water, which was also used to heat the house.
There were no trees here before he started the garden.
The hills around us are bare of all but grass, heather and sheep, but around the house and gardens are hundreds of trees. He certainly had the long game in mind when he planted this garden. One hundred and fifty years later, we’re getting the benefit.m
We slowed down beside the only fjord in Ireland, Killarney Fjord. During the Second World War, pilots would use the fjord as a line to guide them through to Europe.
Once during the war: there was a huge storm in the Atlantic and a British submarine took refuge in the fjord. They got a ping that a German submarine was right beside them. Neutral waters so they didn’t fire on each other, and when the storm abated, they went their separate ways.
Ferry used to travel faster and the dolphins used to play with them. Now that petrol is so high, the ferries have slowed down and it’s no fun for the dolphins anymore.
Peahen and chicks, just wandering around the road in front of us.
Lines in the land means potatoes. The people who lived on these hills were a driven-down race of people who were driven from their ancestral lands and ended up here. It was poor land, so the displaced people were left alone.
They used to drag seaweed up to the top of the mountains to fertilise the potatoes. Over time they became experts on growing potatoes and that’s all they grew. When the Famine hit, they were decimated.
In the famine, 2 million people died and 2 million left. Those who could afford to, left. Those who couldn’t were left to take their chances. The population of Ireland hasn’t yet recovered since the famine. They’re still a million people short, even now.
The queen sent an envoy who wrote that the Irish were simply being lazy. Ben pointed to the lines in the mountains and said, “People who wouldn’t farm like this, do you think they would be lazy?”
Queen Victoria sent a shipload of corn. The trouble was, that corn was totally unfamiliar to the Irish. She helpfully included recipes, but they were written in English when everyone only spoke Irish. Plus they were illiterate, because they were forbidden to go to school.
The Choctaw Indians sent $450. They’d been through their own troubles with white settlement. Then during Covid, the Choctaws set up a Go Fund Me Fund an A million and a half euros sent back to return the favour. I guess the Irish never forget.
Village of Cong, where The Quiet Man was filmed.
This place was doing a roaring trade with people just wanting to sit at the bar and drink a pint of Guinness.
Gayle was so happy. ‘The Quiet Man’ is her favourite movie so she was pretty much in heaven.
Cong is certainly living off the back of this movie! It’s a pretty little place though.
Turn your head to the side…
I bought this little card. It reminds me of the photo at the top of this post.
Today was the day I’d been waiting for. Today was the day that I was finally going to stand on Henry VIII’s grave. This was the deciding point of the question, “Where do I want to go for my birthday?”
My main wish was to stand on his grave on my actual birthday, which is September 6. Unfortunately, this fell on a Wednesday this year and the chapel is closed on Wednesdays. Momentarily dashed by this news, I rallied and so today- on Friday – I was finally going to fulfill the dream of a lifetime.
Windsor Castle is the oldest working castle in the world.
Windsor Castle is conveniently located right outside the train station. Nice of William the Conqueror to put the castle here back on 1066. So easy for the tourists.
On my way towards the castle I saw an art gallery with prints by Billy Connelly. I filed that information away to use on the way back.
I had a ticket for 10 o’clock, so I wandered around the streets for a bit.
I stood chatting to a nice policewoman for a few minutes. “See down there?” She said, pointing. “Fortescues has the best ice cream in Windsor, in my opinion.”
Finally it was time to go in. I presented my ticket to the guard, queued for my audio guide and then I emerged into the open space within the castle walls. If I went up, I’d be going to the castle state rooms. But if I headed down the hill, I’d be walking towards St George chapel, where Henry is buried. So are 11 other monarchs, including Elizabeth II last year.
I saw this on the way. Then I saw another changing of the guard…
But enough of that! Time for the chapel.
The chapel was incredibly beautiful.
It also had my signs saying NO PHOTOGRAPHY. Fortunately I only got caught right at the end.
The first thing I did was to light a candle for my great grandfather, who died in France in the trenches of WWI. Just thought I’d let him know I was back.
when I told you about Princess Charlotte dying in childbirth and bring forth the race for her royal uncles to produce an heir? The race which resulted in Victoria being born.
This statue was paid for by donations from the public, who were apparently distraught at the princess’s death.
She’s lying at the bottom of the statue, under a shroud, while above, her spirit is soaring to heaven. Angels are either side of her, one holding her stillborn baby.
I think this statue is wonderful. It’s tucked away in an alcove of the chapel behind a barrier. You’d walk straight past it if it wasn’t on the audio guide.
History would probably have been very different if Queen Charlotte had’ve inherited the throne instead of Queen Victoria.
Now this was a thrill!
Here are the graves of Edward of York and Elizabeth Woodville.
She must have been incredibly hot. Legend has it that she was waiting at the side of the road to petition the king for some money to support herself and her 2 sons, because her husband had died in the war of the roses, fighting for the other side.
He took one look at her and was absolutely smitten and married her in secret, which really annoyed a powerful nobleman called Warwick, who was engaged in negotiations with the French king for Edward to marry one of his daughters. Embarrassing…
They ended up having 6, (I think) children, with the 2 boys becoming the lost princes of the Tower of London.
Yes, when Edward died at the ripe old age of 41, probably from too much carousing and fornicating, the oldest boy became king. The boys were put into the Tower “ to keep them safe “ and were never heard from again. Suspicion is on their uncle Richard II, who became king, but no one really knows for sure what happened.
The altar is stunning. It faces east, which is apparently a thing in churches, because Christ said that he’ll popping back to earth in the morning.
I had a feeling that I was getting close to my life goal of standing on Henry VIII’s grave. I spoke to a guide who, when I asked if I was near, smiled and said, “You’re about 10 feet away.”
Then he said, “I’ll show you something,” and he brought a photograph of the contents of Henry’s grave.
He said that there was some debate about whether Charles I was in there with him, so they lifted the slab and had a look.
The coffin in the middle was Henry VIII. The coffin was damaged, probably by Cromwell’s troops. To his right was Jane Seymour, the only wife who succeeded in giving him a legitimate son. ( She died 11 days later, poor thing.)
The coffin on the left had a body whose head had been cut off, so that was a big hint that it was actually Charles I. Someone had tried to sew the head back onto the body, which I felt was a bit sad.
A stillborn baby of Queen Anne was in there too.
The guide then told me about the stalls which were on either side of the altar. These were for the Knights of the Garter. Each knight gets his own stall, with a brass plate, a sword and a banner. If the knight is a woman, they get a brass plaque, a hat and banner.
Prince William is the 1,000th Knight of the Garter. Nice round number.
I was strangely reluctant to move further, so I sat down and gazed around at the beautifully carved stalls and all of the colours of the chapel. No wonder the Queen wanted to be buried here.
Forgot to mention that I saw her final resting place on the way into the main part of the chapel.
Here it is. A simple marble slab set into the floor of the chapel. This wasn’t at all how Henry planned to be interred. He’d planned a huge memorial tomb with lifelike figures of himself and Jane, but he died before work could really get started.
I sat there for quite a while, looking at the grave and pondering life.
On my way out, I stopped to read another marble slab. Omg – it’s Charles Brandon. He was one of Henry VIII’s best friends. He was entrusted with taking Henry’s little sister over to France to marry the old king there. She wasn’t happy about this match at all, so she got Henry to promise that she could choose her next husband herself. On the way over, she and Brandon fell in love.
She proceeded to marry the French king and spent the next year trying her hardest to push him into an early grave by exhausting him every day.
It worked, and she and Brandon married in secret. When they came clean, it was a dangerous moment. Henry was FURIOUS because a marriageable princess was a useful bargaining chip for a king to have. After a few months, he missed his friend’s company, so he graciously forgave them and bought them back to court.
I had to show you this. He must have been very talented to capture the devil in this way!
I succumbed and bought an Anne of Cleves Christmas tree ornament. She was his fourth wife, who had the brains to accept his proposal of divorce. She was given lots of money and many properties. She wasn’t allowed to marry, but really, I’d imagine that once you’ve escaped the snare of marrying Henry, you’d be keen to keep your freedom.
Outside Prince Albert’s last resting place, I saw this ancient graffiti.
This is a little look at the world outside. See how thick the walls are?
Like a toy soldier.
I walked back up the hill towards the queue to the staterooms. Gazing up at the Round Tower, I reflected that in a couple of hours, I’d be climbing to the top.
Everywhere I looked was amazing. It’s like I was in a movie.
I’m loving it.
The first thing I saw was Queen Mary’s doll house.
This was never intended as a toy, but as a demonstration of British craftsmanship. It’s a 1:12 scale and was impressive. Built in 1924, it has running water and electricity. Even the gramophone player can play the records.
They were adamant about no photos in the staterooms, and in the main I respected it. I already had the important pictures of the chapel. But now and then something came along that was all too tempting.
Grand reception room. WOW. it was stunning. There was gold leaf everywhere! It was fantastic,
The room was extensively damaged in the fire that ripped through Windsor Castle in 1992. The ceiling, in particular, was destroyed and has been totally restored.
They certainly did a great job. It was wonderful.
In another room I saw these portraits. One was of a young Princess Elizabeth, with a couple of books beside her showing that she was intelligent and learned. The underskirt and sleeves are made of material used only for royals, while again, she’s wearing pearls.
The other was of her half=brother, Prince Edward, before he became king when his father, Henry VIII died. There’s a definite family resemblance, isn’t there?
All of Henry’s plotting and planning to get a male heir was all for nothing. Edward died when he was just 16, probably of tuberculosis.
And here’s the portrait of King Richard III. The king in the car park, Shakespeare’s evil villain. But I’ve always had a soft spot for him, after reading Sharon Penman’s novel ‘ The Sunny in Splendour.’
I had to take a shot of this one. It’s Charles II’s official bed, where he was ceremoniously put to bed and woken up each day.
What a colossal waste of time! He was a notorious philanderer, so as soon as the gentlemen putting him to bed had left, he would have been up and moving onwards to one of his mistresses rooms.
The shots that follow are of the Grand Quadrangle. During the fire of 1992, priceless works of art, furniture and books that are so precious that it would normally take weeks to work out how to move them, were hastily grabbed and thrown on this patch of grass, simply to stop them from being destroyed.
Queen Victoria once invited a circus to come and perform for the inhabi Of the castle, and they were located here.
In earlier days, this was where jousting was held.
I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that my climb up the 200 steps of the Round Tower was a guided tour. Again, no photos were permitted before a certain point, which made sense as it’s a working part of the castle so they need to be careful about security.
But I took this sneaky pic of the first entry point of the tower.
You can see that the stairs get progressively more narrow the further up you go. This is to create a bottleneck of knights and soldiers, making it easier for the defenders to pick them off.
if you enlarge the picture, you’ll notice that in the middle of the wall at the end is a small cannon sticking out. It was put in in the 1640’s. it’s designed to shoot grapeshot. It’s never been used, but I guess it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it,
Once we were past a certain point, we were allowed to take photos.
I don’t think any enemy would be able to sneak up on the castle unawares!
This is a view of the Long Walk It takes people straight to the racetrack at Ascot.
It turns out that I was here on the first anniversary of the Queen’s death.
This is not the place to drop your phone.
Our guide explained that the stones that Windsor Castle are made of contain silica. Whenever it rains, and in England it often does, the stones self clean. It always looks clean.
William the Conqueror built a ring of castles 25 miles apart, all to protect London. Twenty five miles is the average day’s ride for an army. Windsor is one of them.
I tried to get a picture of one of the planes flying over the castle. The juxtaposition of old and new. Tried and tried…
Until at last, just as I left the gate, I had my chance!
And of course I went back to the ice cream shop.
It was delicious.
As if this day wasn’t already amazing, I also saw the perfect painting to represent this trip to the UK. The story behind this series is that the artist is saying that all of the important, iconic things in your childhood get gradually buried under the day-to-day lives we all lead. But they’re still reaching out to us, saying, “We’re still here… Don’t forget us….”
I’ve warned Ryan28 to expect a very large parcel. It turns out that they’re shipping it to me in the frame!
People who’ve been reading my blogs for a while have probably picked up on the fact that, up until now, I’ve found it impossible to say no to a day’s work. Even though at the end of 2020 I retired, since February 2022 when the school reallly needed help, I’ve been turning up to do CRT days, (Casual Relief Teaching), or some longer contracts.
I haven’t wasted a dollar. It has all gone towards travel for me, helping with a house deposit for Tom31, helping with David29 and Izzy’s wedding, and helping with Clown College in France for Evan26.
It’s nice that I can point to all of these big projects, but…
… to be honest, 2022 and (so far) 2023, haven’t been nearly as much fun as the year i had all be myself – 2021.
Ahhh, 2021! Even in the midst of many lockdowns, 2021 was fantastic. Turns out that having total freedom at my fingertips is really wonderful.
The last couple of years while I’ve been working I’ve been driven partially by a feeling of loyalty towards my school, a loyalty forged by nearly two decades of working there. It’s engrained that if the school needs you, you do your best to help. Also, it can’t be denied that when the school’s need for teachers coincides with my children’s need for help with various big goals, it’s extremely hard to walk away from such an easy and lucrative way to help them.
I know exactly why it’s so hard for me to knock back work. After all, anyone who’s read my ‘About” page would also put two and two together without much difficulty. So many years of being poor, struggling to make ends meet, and grabbing every chance of earning money to support the boys and I have definitely left their mark.
So every time the phone rings and the offer of work is there, the pressure to accept it is huge. Especially in this time of a teacher shortage. It’s not as if by accepting work I’ll be taking the food from another family… the schools are literally finding it difficult to get enough bodies in front of classes.
I’ve discovered that if I’m asked directly, I find it impossible to say no if I don’t have something definite planned for the day. If I do have something planned, then no problem. After all, it’s rude to change plans if something else comes along!
But if the calendar is clear and it’s ‘just’ a day totally for myself, then the school gets me and my time.
But last week I tried something different.
When I was working in the new school about a month ago, I heard CRTs being offered work for the coming week by the Daily Organiser and – gasp! – they were turning her down if it didn’t suit them. (You know, just like a CRT has every right to do.)
“No thanks Donna,” they’d say. “I’m already working 3 days next week. That’s enough.”
Wow. So THAT’S how it’s done, hey? Mind blown. Donna wasn’t upset or annoyed. She’d nod and then ask the next person.
At that stage, I was still earning the money for Clown College so I was grabbing every day of work I could get, but I filed these conversations away for when I hit that goal.
A week ago I walked away from work knowing that I’d earned enough to send my boy to France. As I drove home I did some thinking.
I worked full-time in term 1 this year after the school contacted me in a mad panic because they hadn’t covered a teacher going on long service leave. I said yes, partly to help my old school and partly because I could allocate that money towards my birthday trip in September to the UK.
It was a hard slog, but I kept thinking that I’d take the whole of term 2 off to compensate. I had decided that working a day or two a week mightn’t be such a bad thing. Maybe I could get a house cleaner? Maybe I could just throw money towards expensive holidays?
Then Evan26 needed help for Clown College in France, so I swung into gear and accepted every day of work that was offered to me, thinking that I’d rather earn it as quickly as I could. I’ve lent him $6,500, which yes, I could have just drawn from my investments. However, while I’m (relatively) young and the work is there, I’d rather just get off the couch and earn it for things like this, rather than take from Future Frogdancer Jones. Who knows? She might need it down the line.
So, two weeks before the end of term 2, I hit the Clown College goal. I had already committed to working the Wednesdays in term 2, so I had 2 more days of work that I was contracted to do. But apart from that… my days were free.
Complicating this state of affairs is that I was asked if I’d work in term 3 to cover another teacher going on long service leave. I flinched as the prospect of another stint of full-time work flashed before my eyes.
It must have been obvious because the woman talking to me _ yes, I was being approached directly, which as you already know is my Achilles heel – hurriedly said, “Her position is only part-time. Three days a week.”
ARGH! How dare they offer me – IN PERSON – something so reasonable! I immediately thought that I could put that money towards North America in 2024, which is definitely not going to be a cheap holiday. I looked at the teacher’s allotment, saw that it was playing pretty much to my strengths, and said I’d do it up to a full week before I left on my trip.
I may as well totally write off 2023 to work.
I decided to carve out some time for myself for the rest of term 2 this year. Eight days just for me, not counting weekends. But it was already clear that i can’t be trusted with resolutions like this. I needed to try something different.
I rang the new school and told her that I wouldn’t be accepting work for the rest of the year. I KNOCKED BACK WORK! I don’t want to work any more than the 3 days per week next term, so I decided I might as well totaly take this new school off the table, at east for 2023.
Turns out, I can wak away from work if I pre-empt any direct offers. Nice to know!
I felt so empowered. I rang my original school and said pretty much the same thing, except for the Wednesdays that I’d already commited to. Ryan28 has some medical bills, so I may as well work towards those. Though with this school, my original school, I was nice enough stupid enough to offer the following subordinate clause… “unless you’re desperate.”
Just before 7:20 this morning my phone rang, waking me from a dead sleep. I nearly knocked it off the bedside table as I grabbed it. I looked at the name, then croaked, “Are you desperate?”
So that’s why I’m here in a Science class on a Friday, instead of on the dog beach or up a ladder painting and listening to an audiobook.
Still, on the bright side, I’m learning to say no to paid employment, which is a huge step forward for me. I can’t tell you how proud I was of myself after I finished the calls to the schools, taking me out of consideration for work.
I’ll know that the shine has well and truly gone from CRT work when I start refusing face-to-face offers of work. Obviously, I’m still not quite there yet. History is hard to shake.
As a parent, I want to encourage my boys to follow their dreams and have a darned good crack at everything they want to do. Evan26 and his mate Will heard about a school for clowns in France, run by a 94-year-old man. This school is way famous in entertainment circles, with many big names in acting having been through its doors.
The boys are going for a short course for a month over our winter. They’ve been scrimping and saving for a year and everything was going well for Evan26 until he came back from a month working at the Adelaide Fringe and found that he’d lost his day job.
“I’ve become a full-time comedian, without meaning to!” he said.
I’ve decided that I’ll be picking up some CRT work next term to fling some cash to him. Clown College doesn’t come cheap and he’s already committed to going. There’s no point letting him do it with not enough money – it’d ruin the whole experience.
Where I’ve been:Parent/Teacher Interviews.
Two very long days – I’m doing the second one today but Monday’s one was loooong.
Five-minute interviews, all on Google Meets (like Zoom), running from 10am – 6pm. Each interview has time in between the next one to set up the next interviews and send the link to the kids and parents. By the time the last one was finished, my eyes were spinning like catherine wheels.
Today’s interviews aren’t as long. They finish at 4:30.
Luckily, we can do them from home, so that makes a huge difference in the quality of our days. Poppy and Scout appreciated the ball-throwing between interviews.
Where I’m going: To see ‘Long Play’ at the ComedyFestival.
If you’re anywhere near Melbourne over the next couple of weeks, please go and see Evan26 in his first solo show Long Play.
It’s a show all about music. He’s a very clever, funny guy who has a beautifully quick wit – you’ll definitely enjoy yourself. I’m heading over on Easter Sunday with Ryan28 and some friends and I’ll be popping in on some other nights as well.
This is a memoir with a difference. O’Farrell, in 17 short stories, tells of 17 times she dodged death. I read the first one and I was hooked. I’m about 4 stories in and I’m enjoying it very much.
What I’m watching: the last 3 days of my term 1 contract zip by.
I’ve nearly made it!
(This holiday in September had better be worth it!)
What I’m listening to:The same audiobook I was listening to last week.
I’m loving it.
What I’meating: Uncle Toby’s Oat bars with chocolate chips.
I was running late for work after a HUGE day of Parent/Teacher interviews the day before. Not the best breakfast I could have chosen, but it kept body and soul together until lunchtime.
What I’m planning:David29’s wedding day morning.
Suddenly, all the boys are meeting at mine for the photos to be taken of them getting ready. We’re the first stop for the photographer, because boys are much quicker to organise and set up shots with than the girls.
Then – get this! – I get to ride in the limousine with the boys to the church! I’m the luckiest Mother of the Groom ever!
Who needs a good slap:Whoever put me on bus duty at the end of the day.
Ugh. The one duty where good kids turn feral!
What has made me smile:Kids.
I was sitting in a classroom yesterday, observing a student teacher, when he asked a kid giving a presentation on coastlines, “What have you learned from doing this project?”
“That Indonesia has a coastline!” he said.
I broke the news to my classes that they’ll be having a different teacher for the rest of the year. The number of requests I’ve had to come out of retirement and continue to take their classes was phenomenal.
I wasn’t tempted, though!
Dad joke of the day:
Police have arrested the world tongue-twister champion.
A few days before, the principals of both campuses gathered the staff together for briefings and told us that a year 12 student had died. When he said the name, I gasped. I knew him. I taught him and his older brother, both in year 8 English.
English teachers get to know our kids pretty well. We teach them for 5 periods a week and we often talk about things that happen in their lives and well… just life in general. When we’re reading and discussing texts that talk about issues and themes, it’s inevitable.
So yeah… that day was a hard one. I teach 3 classes of year 8s, and that day I looked at them all, so funny and full of life, happy to be sitting and being with their friends, exactly as he used to be when I knew him. When you’re taught for as many years as I have, after a while you forget a lot of the names of kids you’ve taught. Not surprising – every year I’d teach 5 X 28 kids. That’s = 140 kids. I taught for 24 years as a full-time teacher all up, which = 3,360 kids. That isn’t counting the work I’m doing now.
But there are always some that stay with you. These brothers, (let’s call them Jacob and Braden), were like that.
When I saw that the funeral was going to be literally 10 minutes drive from me, I decided that I wanted to go. Well, maybe “wanted” is the wrong word, but you know what I mean.
On the morning of the funeral, I discovered that I wear hardly any black – and I live in Melbourne! I put together an outfit that, while only having a black top, was sombre enough for a funeral. There would have been at least 60 kids from year 12 there, the boys all in suits that they would have light-heartedly bought for their Formal, only a few weeks past. The chapel was packed, with most of the kids having to stand at the sides.
There were teachers too, most of them year 12 teachers, with our past and present principals there as well. They kept an eye on the kids, offering support and tissues where needed.
Then there was the family. His mother, as you can imagine, was brokenhearted. There didn’t appear to be a father in the picture and she had lost half of her family. His older brother, Jacob, now at uni, was composed and strong. He was looking after his Mum, greeting friends and family and looking after the last-minute things that always crop up. Once we were all seated, he stepped to the front and delivered his brother’s eulogy.
It was the best eulogy I’ve ever heard. I’ve never been prouder of anyone. He shared his love for his little brother, some stories about their relationship and his shock and grief that this has happened out of the blue. Then he said something that I’m sure he’d want me to share.
He’d gone through the plans they’d made to travel together after their exams were finished at the end of this year, and how his brother wanted to live in Japan for a year next year.
“These were not the plans of a man who didn’t want to live. My brother wanted to live. He died from doing the “Choke Challenge” from Tiktok. This was a mistake. My brother wanted to live.”
I gasped in horror, as did many around me. I didn’t even know what the Choke Challenge was, though the name is self-explanatory. I saw a few clips yesterday of kids standing up, choking themselves, and then falling down unconscious to the floor, sometimes hitting walls or furniture as they fall. Kids all over the world are doing it, some are taken to hospital with head injuries and a few are actually dying from it.
What a horribly tragic thing to happen.
We were then invited up to the front to light a candle for Braden. His friends went first, with Jacob standing there next to a couple of photos of his brother, greeting everyone who came up. When I walked up to the front, I discovered that I was attending my first open-coffin funeral. I looked at Braden and sighed. He looked beautiful, as if he was sleeping. His long, thin fingers were covered with rings. It was heartbreaking.
When I reached the head of the line, face to face with Jacob, I pulled my mask down and said, “It’s me!” then gave him a hug and said, “You absolutely did him proud.” I hope he remembers that, because it’s true. I’ll never forget how stong and brave Jacob was. He is a truly impressive young man.
Afterwards, according to their custom, the pallbearers shouldered the coffin and walked all the way to the crematorium, with the mourners all walking behind, escorting Braden on his way. As I walked, I could see the coffin up ahead of me, visible over the heads of those who walked in front of me. I think this will be an image that will stay with me.
After the funeral, I kept driving to Mum and Dad’s. I was taking them to the Comedy Festival to see Jenna’s show, Underwire. They haven’t seen the kids on stage before, so this was their chance to see them in an easily-accessible space.
Talk about the Circle of Life.
Anyone who has young people in your life, don’t be complacent about what they’re viewing on social media. Braden made one decision – one that didn’t seem all that important at the time, I’m sure. Just a harmless bit of fun.
That one small decision is already reverberating across the lives of all who knew him. He was a sweet, funny, beautiful boy.
I’ll leave this post with a passage I read the next day from Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘I Am, I Am, I Am.’ It resonated with me.
“We are, all of us, wandering around in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, unaware of when the axe may fall. As Thomas Hardy writes of Tess Durbeyfield, ‘There was another date… that of her own death; a day which lay sly and unseen among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it; but not the less surely there. When was it?’ “
What’s top of my mind:Getting all my correction done.
This is so much ‘top of mind’ that it wasn’t until I was getting into bed last night that I realised what day it was and that I’d forgotten to put out a Wednesday W’s post on time. Poppy woke me at 5:30 AM so I’m tapping away on my laptop now. Better late than never!
Where I’ve been:Mooroopna.
After 7 weeks, my little doggie visitors are back with their Mum. I drove them down on Saturday – a round trip that takes 7 hours – and they were all so happy to be together again. Silver danced through the house like a puppy.
Where I’mgoing:to look for a wedding dress.
I ordered a lovely silk dress online at the beginning of January to wear to David29 and Izzy’s wedding. Unfortunately, it’s in China and all the covid lockdowns have clearly affected the company, because 10 weeks later, I still don’t have the dress.
Mum said she saw some dresses at a shop in Southland that she said “looked like me”, so I’m going to go after work one day soon to have a look for myself. The wedding is only 4 weeks away.
I’m listening to this as an audiobook and it’s quite good. Interesting enough that it makes the commute seem to go faster, to the point where I look forward to hearing the next installment as I approach my car.
In another note, DON’T read the latest John Irving novel, The Last Chairlift. Dear God in heaven, it was dull. It’s a 900 page book that should have been edited down to about 600 pages. It has interesting moments, but it was an incredibly hard slog to finish. Be warned!
What I’m watching:The latest season of ‘Outlander.’
I was so happy when season 6 unexpectedly dropped on Netflix. I adore the books – apparently there’s one more to come – but they’ve also done a good job with the tv show. I love some Jamie and Claire!
What I’m listening to:Jeffrey snoring.
The dogs have all gone back to sleep.
What I’m eating:Not beans.
I was watering the veggie garden on the weekend and I got to the bean vines on the wicking bed at the back. I was idly looking at it, looking to see how many beans were left, when I saw a tiny whiskery face at eye level with me within the tangle of vines.
I yelped and threw the cucumber I was holding at it. It disappeared.
Now I know who ate all my apples in the backyard. Still, as you can see from the photo above, my pumpkins all survived in the front yard. 🙂
What I’m planning:the rodent’s demise.
Deep Green Permaculture has a couple of really good posts about trapping and baiting rodents.
“Rather than risk pets and wildlife, a better option is to bait rats and mice using an environmentally safe, home-made bait that uses bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). This exploits a unique feature of rat and mouse biology, their inability to burp or vomit, to create an effective rodent control.”
This might be the go, as I don’t want the dogs to get hold of a poisoned rodent.
Who needs a good slap:Me, for being an English teacher.
Remember all of that marking I mentioned earlier? Half of my classes are English; half History. Guess which set of marking is FAR quicker?
What has made me smile: Payday.
I’ve now earned the money for my 2-week tour of Ireland. Next payday will be taking care of accommodation in the last week and some spending money. Yay!
Today is day 35/50 of the term. I’m on the downhill slide now!
Dad joke of the day:
Pretty boozy at last night’s Middle Earth masquerade.
From the moment the taxi pulled up at the hotel to take me to Ushuaia airport, my luck ran out. I was running low on Argentine pesos, so I asked the receptionist to confirm that a taxi would take a card instead of cash. I already tried Uber, but none were available.
I got to the airport, then had an argument with the taxi driver when he wouldn’t accept my card, OR all my Argentine plus Chilean pesos for the fare. There was a lot of “I don’t speak Spanish; this is all the money I have” and lots of Argentinian head shaking and muttering.
Finally, he relented and took the two types of pesos – I grossly overpaid him but I didn’t care – and I grabbed my suitcases and went into the terminal. It didn’t matter that I had no cash for Chile – in a few hours’ time I was going to be in and out of Santiago airport in an hour. I’d filled my (once pee bottle, now water) bottle with water before I left the hotel and eaten a hearty breakfast, so I could exist on plane food until New Zealand.
I strolled in, walked past a café and there, with his side to me, was SamFrank. Ugh. After the taxi driver thing, I was in no mood for more bullshit, so I turned my head and pretended to be very interested in a shop as I walked around the corner and found a seat. There was NO WAY he didn’t see me, but he clearly didn’t want to talk to me either. Phew!
I whatsapped the group. “SamFrank is here at the airport. We both pretended not to see each other.”
Corinna messaged back: “He’s probably right behind you.”
Turns out Ming was on Corinna’s flight into Buenos Aires, both in the same row. Ming was still in her yellow jacket. It was nearly 27C.
Everything on my itinerary was going to plan. I was in and out of Buenos Aires airport like a dream. It was when I hit Santiago that it all went to shit.
If I’d just had carry-on luggage, everything would have been fine. But my plane landed at the same time as around 47 other planes and I had to queue for over an hour to get my suitcase. When I got to the check-in counter to get to Aukland, they wouldn’t let me board, even though I was there an hour and a half earlier than the plane was scheduled to leave.
It was one in the morning. I was ropeable. They put me on a flight that was leaving 24 hours later. They told me I had to go to Air Argentina to get them to book a hotel room because my previous flight was late. (It wasn’t late, so I knew they wouldn’t help. It was all the fault of the airport itself.)
It was the middle of the night. My eyes welled with tears… and then I remembered my Australian travel agent’s stuff-up.
In a previous version of this trip, I was supposed to stay in Santiago for another night and day. That had changed. But she forgot to cancel the booking at the Pullman.
Fortunate Frogdancer made a brief comeback, right in the nick of time. WHO JUST HAPPENS TO HAVE A ROOM BOOKED IN A CITY WHERE THEY’RE UNEXPECTEDLY DETAINED?????
Me, that’s who. My tears dried instantly. I walked downstairs, haggled with a driver who would accept a card payment, and then I was whisked to a luxurious bed for the night. Check-out was at midday, too, which was a bonus.
Next morning I had a huge breakfast, then secreted three bread rolls in my pockets. I was going to get to the airport (after I had a nap in my room until midday) and I was going to do a Tom Hanks in the terminal. Goddammit – I wasn’t going to miss that plane again!
I had 3 bread rolls, 2 packets of peanuts from previous flights, 3 packets of chocolates from the ship’s welcome package, and my huge wee bottle was full of water. I had my iPad with plenty of books. All of this was more than enough to sustain me while I waited 12 hours for the plane!
By 2 PM I had my precious boarding pass. I found a seat, put my suitcases in front of me, pulled out my iPad and began to read. Two and a half books later, my flight was called. I made it up to the boarding gate… where my flight was delayed for 3 hours.
I got to Aukland with 40 minutes to board. When our carry-ons were being checked, mine was pulled out.
“Stand over there, I’ll check it shortly,” the guy said.
Five looong minutes later, he pulls out my tube of sunscreen. “Oh, it’s 100g. It looked bigger on the x-ray,” he said.
I make it onto the plane and fly to beautiful Melbourne. I also picked up a mighty fine deal on the duty-free as I went through. 2L of gin for $60. Not bad.
At the airport, I sat myself down on the Skybus and asked if it went to Frankston. No. I had to get off at Southern Cross station and get a train home. But it was ok; this was my plan B. I had my Myki with me in case this happened.
When I got to Southern Cross, I couldn’t see a Frankston line train scheduled on any platform. Weird, but oh well. I’ll just take a train to Richmond and swap from there. No problem. I love dragging these cases around.
Richmond. Every other train line in Melbourne was running through, but not Frankston. FINE. I’ll just take a Dandenong line train to Caulfield nd jump onto the Frankston line there. Sheesh!
To pass the time, I sent penguin videos to people, letting them know I was back.
I roll into Caulfield station. I hear a garbled announcement, “Buses garble arble Mordialloc.” Bloody hell, was I ever going to get back home?
They were doing works on the Frankston line. Buses instead of trains between Caulfield and Mordialloc. Lovely! I needed an automobile to make up the whole ‘Planes, Trains’ set. I wheeled my suitcases to the back of the bus and sat there as we made the long trip down Nepean Highway to Mordy station.
Then, after a long wait, I rode the train to my station. I wheeled my suitcases the short way back to my gate. I was home – only 27 hours late.
I clicked the gate latch. Poppy and Scout went NUTS. Ryan27 let them out and the three of us had a rapturous reunion at the front gate.
I went inside. Tom30 had come over to see me and he was sitting on the couch with Jeff sleeping on his lap. I let Jeff smell my hand. Three deep breaths, then he sat up, blinking and looking around. Then he saw me. Another rapturous reunion.
The boys said they were pleased to see me, too, though they didn’t follow me around like the dogs did, not letting me out of their sight for days.
This, my first trip overseas in 4 years, has tested me physically and mentally. This is the first time that I’ve travelled by myself, without a friend waiting for me at the other end.
I don’t speak or read Spanish, and both Chile and Argentina are Spanish-speaking nations. I knew I’d be fine on the cruise, as English is the language used there, but getting there and back had its challenges that I had to solve by myself, or with the help of new friends or kind strangers.
How fortunate I was to meet such lovely people in my YPT travel group. I was the oldest person in our little group by far, yet they embraced me into their lives and we experienced this whole amazing thing together.
I was definitely not expecting this. When I saw, from our Facebook group, that everyone was in their 20’s and 30’s, I downloaded 22 books so that I’d have something to occupy myself with when we were onboard.
Turns out I didn’t need them. I’m only up to book 7. We had wonderful conversations, in-jokes and so much fun. These travellers are definitely able to look past the exterior of someone and deal happily with the person within. That’s pretty special, I think.
Everyone who knows me is aware that I don’t have a love for exercise. To me, going for a walk only makes sense if you have a definite purpose in mind, while as for going to a gym? Forget it.
There was only one walk that I didn’t do on the landings, and that was on the first day when I was still paranoid about my level of fitness. After that, I did everything that was put in front of me and I’m proud – and slightly surprised – that I accomplished every single one.
Of course, the Polar Plunge is the pinnacle of this. Even disgustingly healthy people opted out of that one!
A trip to Antarctica was always going to be special. It’s such a wild, desolate and relatively untouched part of the world. But when I add these other, far more intangible things, this is a trip that is vastly different from anything I’ve done before.
This is the reason why I focused so hard on retirement. There are so many amazing places to see and different things to do. I want to be able to see and do as many as I can before my time runs out.
I hope you enjoyed seeing Antarctica through my eyes. Let’s hope that it won’t be another 4 years before the next trip!
To end this series about Antarctica, please enjoy this fun video that Charlie from America made about our trip. Everything in here (except the orcas) I saw as well, but he’s much better at putting everything together.
Straight after breakfast this morning, we were called into the lounge for a briefing. There were two women from Port Lockroy.
This port used to be a whaling station back in the day and there are still chains near the entry, along with whale bones left lying in the water.
The port is open for 6 months and every year over 4,000 people apply for the 4 available positions. This year 4 women are there, performing a mix of scientific, postal and public relations jobs.
Every day they are visited by 2 cruise ships, so their only quiet times are early in the mornings and after dinner, where they sit and stamp that day’s amount of the 70,000 postcards that they receive over the course of the season.
I only sent two. Didn’t want to overwork them. I would’ve sent one to James from Ireland, seeing as we sent each other postcards from Pyongyang, but I didn’t have his address.
This time, instead of being split into two groups, we passengers were split into three. Over the course of the morning, we’d have a landing neat gentoo penguins, a zodiac cruise around the bay for around 45 minutes, and a trip to the actual base at Port Lockroy. Which order anyone got to do all of this was completely luck of the draw.
Naturally, this worked in my favour. Again.
In the early parts of the morning, the guides were very conscious of time. I jumped on a zodiac which happened to be doing the landing on Jougla Island first. When we made our way up the dug out snow staircase, Rose grabbed me, made me sit on a barrel and she put my snowshoes on. They were hustling people along – no mucking around!
I didn’t realise it at the time, but they had to ensure that all of us had seen Port Lockroy and were all back on the ship before the next cruise arrived.
You can see in the photo how the landing teams put everything on a tarp, which is sterilised after we get back on board. They are really very worried about avian flu coming down here from the northern hemisphere. It could decimate the bird populations here.
Then we were off, trudging our way along the path laid out by the red poles the guides had planted earlier.
It was a cracking morning. The sun was so bright that I had to keep reminding myself to wear my sunglasses. I didn’t want to experience snow blindness like Baptiste did a couple of days ago.
It wasn’t a particularly long walk, just across a flat patch and then up a small hill where there were a couple of penguin colonies, along with a wonderful view of the bay. I took it slowly though, conscious that this was my last day.
The Gentoos were making the “hee-haw” sound that had already become so familiar. The air was cool and the sky was brilliantly blue. The penguins, the sound of snowshoes on snow and the murmuring of people talking were the only sounds I could hear.
I stayed up here for what seemed like ages. It was unutterably beautiful. The penguins were busily doing their own thing, with the occasional bird swooping around.
At one point, down the hill near a penguin colony, a stupid group of Vietnamese people strayed off the path, just to get a photo opportunity holding up their flag.The guides were quickly onto it.
“It’s not the flag I object to,” said one of the guides when I mentioned it later. “It’s the crevasses that are in the area.”
With conditions so perfect, I guess it’s hard for some people to keep in mind that we’re not in a tame place. But seriously, if you want to come to one of the most untouched and isolated places on Earth, do your research! Stepping into a crevasse could kill you.
After a while, I snowshoed my way back down the hill and got into a zodiac. Turned out, this one was on a cruise. Our last one…
We were lucky enough to see two seals out sunning themselves. Zoom in on the second photo – the seal’s on the rocks.
I was sitting in the front of the zodiac again, and I was so glad the sea was calm. I could have my iPhone out all the time without being concerned about waves splashing.
We passed by colonies of Antarctic/Blue-Eyed Shags building their nests from seaweed. Every year they come back to the same place and build on top of the nest they had before. Right in the middle, you can see one nest getting precariously tall.
None of us wanted the cruise to end. We went further afar, looking at the amazingly sculpted icebergs and gazing at the glaciers spilling into the bay.
Eventually the call came for our group to go to the steps carved into the snow to reach the base at Port Lockroy.
I didn’t know it then, but this was to be extra special, especially for all of us who were on the last zodiacs to arrive.
Port Lockroy is home to thriving colonies of Gentoo penguins, who make robust use of the buildings on the base. This means that when the people who live on the base each October arrive, the penguins are already well established.
They live under the old post office, all around the storage shed and there’s even a colony that has parked itself directly under the flag pole.
This means that for the first time on this trip, the 5 metre rule couldn’t be adhered to. I took this video as I was queuing up to go into the post office. I couldn’t believe how close the penguins were coming to us.
When we first arrived, I was charmed to see the penguins nesting under the old building, but I was more focused on getting inside and looking around.
The museum is set up as if it was the 1950s.
It was very utilitarian.
There was a stamp that we could get for our passports with ‘ Port Lockroy’ on it. I’d already got the ‘Ushuaia’ and ‘Antarctica’ stamps from the tourist office in Ushuaia, which may or may not make some countries’ immigration people dislike me, so I thought I may as well get the whole set while I was at it.
I had a quick look at the museum, but it was outside where the real magic lay.
Remember how I said that the guides were really conscious of time with this landing?
Now that we were on the last round, that urgency melted away. We were there for well over an hour and a half.
Ninety minutes in a place where the penguins were literally all around us. What a way to finish the landings!
And, as I said, they were so close.
It was crazy. I’d be standing, looking at penguins coming back to the base along their penguin highways, when I’d hear a quiet little “shuffle, shuffle “ noise coming up behind me.
I’d turn, and there would be a penguin literally 1 foot behind me, making his way back to the bay.
It was incredible.
They were totally focused on building their nests, with many birds waddling along clutching a pebble with their beaks.
They were all around us, walking, ( and tripping and falling), while we were marvelling at our incredible luck to be here at this place and time. What an absolutely precious hour and a half that was.
As the guides with the other groups dropped their zodiac groups back on the ship, they’d come across to the base.
Every time someone asked if it was time to go back to the zodiacs, they’d say, “There’s no rush…”
Liga and I looked at each other. We didn’t need to be told twice!
I took more videos here than I did on the rest of the trip combined. By now, the sound of the Gentoos was utterly familiar, as well as their waddling gait and optimism in the face of everything.
But this was the last time I’ll be here with them. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
Just before we finally left, a bird stole an egg. I was at the wrong angle to take a shot of the actual theft, but as we were walking back to the zodiacs I snapped THIS SHOT.
The sheathbills sneak in, peck a hole in the egg and come back later to eat the insides. If you zoom in you can see the hole in the egg. It’s sad. The penguins only lay two eggs.
But of course, the skuas and sheathbills also have families to raise. Plus the egg would taste a lot better than the sheathbills’ normal food – penguin poo.
As we were enjoying lunch that was definitely tastier than penguin poo or penguin eggs, the ship began to move out of the bay. We were on our way home. Two days at sea, crossing the Drake Passage, and then we’d be back at Ushuaia.
At the briefing that night before dinner, Pippa asked if we wanted to get the weather forecast for the Drake. Would it be a shake or a lake?
She put up a picture of the weather chart.
“Of course, seeing as it’s you guys, the weather forecast for our entire crossing is blue,” she said, and started to laugh as we all cheered.
She pointed to the lower left-hand corner of the chart.
“You can see here that there’s a purple monster blizzard heading this way, but this will affect the group that’s coming after you. Your group has been truly blessed with unprecedented good weather.”
She went on to say, “ The one landing we had where it was grey and snowing, I had a few of you asking if it was safe to go out.” She laughed. “ It was safe. That’s considered great weather for landings in Antarctica.
“ The last group we had was a 21-day cruise including the Falkland and South Georgia Islands. The weather was so bad that they only had ONE landing for the entire trip. You guys have been incredibly lucky.”
Wow. I already knew from Morgan that the trip I was originally meant to go on last year had pretty bad weather, but this was on another plane of terrible. I sat there thanking all of the gods that my tour company picked this out of all possible weeks to go.
Ross, the guide from Cornwall, then announced the photo competition. There were 3 categories: Landscape, Wildlife and Fun. People had a few hours to enter, then the whole ship would vote, with the 3 favourites from each category ending up in the finals to be announced on the last night of the cruise.
There was no way I was entering. I was actually pretty pleased with how well my iPhone 6 performed, but it’s no match for the latest iPhones and wildly expensive cameras and lenses that lots of people were using. I was definitely sitting this one out.
We stayed up late in the lounge, talking, reading and the card players doing their thing. SamFrank joined us as we were talking to an American guy who was in the military. He, (SamFrank), mentioned that he was a colonel in the special forces.
From memory, SamFrank is a captain, a colonel and a general in the FBI and Special Forces who is also a dance instructor, presumably in his spare time.
During lunch the ship repositioned itself in the middle of Port Charcot Bay. This area is known as the Icebergs’ Graveyard because the prevailing currents sweep the bergs here and then they can’t get out, so they slowly melt. because there are so many of them, it’s a spectacular place to go for a zodiac cruise.
We were there for 3 hours and it seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.
When we were here, I finally got to take a video of penguins swimming to show you!
Away in the distance, we saw an ice floe with a rock on it…
Best rock I’ve ever seen.
Isn’t this the most perfect Antarctic nap you could imagine?
I had to snap a shot of these mountains. Just look at how pointy they are? In Ushuaia they were like icecream scoops; here they’re like Madonna’s bra in the 90’s.
… and Baptiste being sun smart… the French way! (They could’ve asked me for some sunscreen.)
Then, we sped back to the ship and had 15 minutes to prepare for the Polar Plunge. The next part was written a couple of hours after I did it:
When we were talking about it beforehand, someone asked me how I was feeling about it.
“Resigned… and angry with myself for saying I’ll be doing it, “ I said. “ I told my boys I’d do it, so now I have to… I hate my children…”
The afternoon was a sparkling one, full of sunshine and with hardly any wind. We were told that the water temperature was 2C, which was a FAR better day to do a Polar Plunge than yesterday. Thank God they cancelled it!
I’d already changed into my bathers at lunchtime, so I was all ready to go. I sat in our room watching Liga get ready, while Corinna was rapidly talking herself out of it.
Out on the zodiac, we sped towards the beach. Underneath the water, the ground was covered with rocks, so people were ungracefully lurching from side to side, trying to find a firm footing.
A girl was thigh high, then she launched herself sideways and disappeared under the water. Not a bad idea, I thought.
The Irish guy we were friendly with went under the water, then stood up, turned around and did a couple of backstrokes. A chubby German guy picked up a little chunk of ice and threw it, while a middle aged German couple made us laugh. She went under, he didn’t, so she pushed him under.
The shore was a hive of activity. People getting undressed, people getting dressed, towels being thrown.
All too soon, it was our turn.
“Walk along the rocks, put all your belongings on the tarpaulin, not on the rocks. Once you’re ready, walk into the water here. Grab a towel on the way out.”
That tarp was a hive of activity. There were people in all stages of undress, people stripping off, people frantically drying themselves and people throwing their clothes back on.
Liga was ready before me, so she made her way to the water while I was still struggling to get out of my boots and waterproof trousers. I saw her calmly walking into the water as I finally got rid of my clothing and stood up.
I had my iPhone in my hand. I knew that there was a staff photographer taking pictures but I really wanted a video. I know that no one would ever believe that I’d voluntarily dunk myself in freezing cold water unless they could see the actual evidence.
Once I’d handed my phone to a guide, I waded in.
Yes, the water was utterly freezing, but I was more concerned with finding my footing on the rocks. When I reached around knee height, Liga passed me on her way back in.
“Keep on going Frogdancer, you’re doing well,” she said.
A step or two further and I was at thigh height. Deep enough to dunk.
So I did. I dropped like a stone directly into the water.
The cold gripped me around the ribs. I stood up, gasping like a fish until I got my bearings. As I hobbled gracefully back to shore, I was elated.
I did it!
Before this trip I would never have believed I could do it.
Once back on the tarp, everyone was drying themselves and throwing on clothes at record speed. As I sat there, inching my waterproof trousers over my muck boots, I watched the next batch of Plungers moving into the water.
The main thing I was scared about the plunge was being icy cold on the zodiac on the way back to the ship and a hot shower. I should’ve remembered the advice I often give other people.
“Don’t borrow trouble.”
I wasted so much time being scared of being cold. I didn’t feel cold at all. I felt fantastic, as if I could conquer the world. Ok, so maybe I couldn’t feel my toes, but that was a minor thing. My body and mind felt like I could do anything I set my mind to.
My Polar Plunge moment even made it to the official slideshow of the cruise. I prefer to believe that it was because I looked like a goddess rising from the sea, not because I looked like a gasping guppy.
The people who were on the first zodiac really struck it lucky. As they were on their way back to the ship, their guide spotted a pod of orcas nearby, so they went after them. They got to see them really close and got some amazing pictures.
Meanwhile, oblivious to this, we sped back to the ship and into the showers.
At the daily briefing, Pippa said, “The program for tomorrow is that in the morning we’ll be visiting the southernmost post office in the world, on the British base of Port Lockroy. Of course, the weather tomorrow, being you guys, will be clear and sunny.
“Bring your postcards, already written, to be posted. When we’re inside the museum and the gift shop we’re going to be wearing masks, as the 4 people on the base have no access to outside medical care, so we don’t want to pass any bugs onto them.
“This will be the last landing of the cruise before we turn and start to head north.”
It was odd to think that tomorrow would be the last time we’d be pulling on our muck boots and waterproofs and heading outside.
I’m so glad I didn’t back out of doing the Polar Plunge. It would’ve been easy to, but I’m pleased that I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to weasel out. This trip has tested me in physical ways and this was a challenge both physical and mental.
I can do more than I thought I could. That’s good to know.
Then, as if this perfect day wasn’t enough, we had a barbeque thrown for us out on deck, with mulled wine thrown in. Here’s most of our group enjoying the meal, with SamFrank turning away from the camera at the last minute. Remember how he’s a spy (or a dance instructor, who knows?) and he isn’t supposed to be in photos?
He was nice enough to take the other photos of us all, though.
Pippa, the tour leader, said, “Every other tour, we have to force the guests outside. We bribe them with the mulled wine. We’re cooking outside, all rugged up, often it’s snowing. But of course, with you guys, the weather is perfect for a barbeque.”
Liga, Corinna and Morgan.
Yep, this bitter Antarctic weather was really getting hard to take!