Thursday, 31 December 2009

Looking back on 2009

That 2009 would be an eventful year was already obvious in January, when Jen became the youngest ever recipient of the T. S. Eliot prize

5 days later, I turned my own life upside down, by taking in 3 cats - Rupert, Zephyr and Rasha-Ba.  The house hasn't been quite the same since.

At the start of the year I joined a new choir in Amsterdam.  12 months later, I'm still happy with my choice, though missing the contact with my friends from my old choirs in The Hague and Bowdon, neither of which I've been in touch often enough with.

I also finally got round do something I've been thinking about for a few years - starting the RSCM Voice for Life program.  I'm still very proud of my little bronze medal!

With the encouragement of friends Emmy and Emily, I took up running again.  I managed to clock up 124km and completed two 5K events, a 6K, a 10K and, biggest achievement of all, the 16K Damloop. 

On the studying front, I kept myself more than busy (too busy, in all honesty) with two Open University courses, in Human Biology and Biological Psychology.  The Human Biology course finished with an exam, the Biological Psychology course with a rather bizarre experiment involving chocolate digestive biscuits.

In terms of milestones, I was shocked to realise that 2009 marked 15 years since I left school and 10 since I graduated from university with my Masters degree.  (This also rather alarmingly means almost 10 years in gainful employment.  I think this means I'm supposed to be grown up now.  But I'm not entirely convinced!) 

It was also my first full year of house ownership, and I've traveled less this year than any other year recently.  By my reckoning I made:
  • 4 trips to the UK (London for the TS Eliot, two birthday visits, and a week long trip to York with the choir)
  • a trip to Slovakia, for a landscape photography course
  • a trip to Canada, to see family and to photograph wolves
  • a trip to Prague with Auntie Janet
  • and of course, the biggie, the trip to The Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica, with a (very) brief stop in Argentina

    Wednesday, 16 December 2009

    Cape Petrels

    Accompanied by albatrosses and giant petrels, the cape petrels were to be found flying alongside the ship for most of our travels.

    Friday, 11 December 2009

    Back Home

    So, we disembarked from the boat at 8 yesterday morning, and 3 flights later, I've made it back home, where the cats are very pleased to see me!  I still have plenty of photo editing work to go, but here are a few photographs that I put in our trip slideshow as a taster:

    Falklands Thrush, Falkland Islands

    Stone on Beach, Falkland Islands

    Adelie Penguin, Antarctic Peninsula

    Gentoo Penguin, Antarctic Peninsula

    Chinstrap Penguin Chase, Antarctic Peninsula

    King Penguin, South Georgia

    Friday, 4 December 2009


    So, after a couple days trying to find a way through the pack ice, we
    arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula around midday, and made our first
    landing this afternoon, at a place called Brown Bluff, on the tip of the

    We've seen so many beautiful things today - giant icebergs, Adelie and
    Gentoo penguins porpoising and cruising on icebergs, and we were blessed
    with fantastic weather. My first experiences of the continent of
    Antarctica have truly lived up to my expectations. Tonight we are going
    to sail back around the tip of the Peninsula and down the west side, and
    we hope to make two landings tomorrow, weather and ice permitting.

    Sunday, 22 November 2009

    At sea

    We left the Falklands two days ago, and are due to arrive in South
    Georgia sometime tomorrow. This morning we crossed the Antarctic
    Convergence, and are now in Antarctic waters. The seas are relatively
    calm, which is to say that everything needs to be pinned down, and that
    quite a few passengers are still battling sea sickness. Still,
    apparently, it could be a lot rougher!
    During the last couple of days, we have had lectures on
    histograms and digital exposure, Photoshop, Lightroom, sea birds in
    general, and albatrosses in particular. Darrell Gulin also showed a
    selection of photographs he'd taken during our stay in the Falklands
    (slightly depressing, when I see all the photos I could have taken!), along with photographs he's made on previous trips
    to South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Plenty to whet the
    This afternoon we had a briefing about South Georgia, particularly the
    regulations in place to protect wildlife. Afterwards we all congregated
    in the lounge to be vacuumed - everything that goes on shore with us,
    camera bags, dry bags, rainwear, hats etc must be vacuumed to remove any
    traces of seeds which we might have brought with us from the Falklands.
    As expected, my bags and clothing needed an extra good vacuum because of
    my tendency to photograph from ground level.

    Saturday, 21 November 2009

    The Falklands

    We boarded the ship on Monday afternoon and set sail at about 6pm for the
    Falkland Islands. My cabin mate and I woke up during the night to find that
    our cabin door had flung itself open as the ship rocked violently from side to
    side. As might be expected in such conditions, about half the passengers were
    sea sick, but fortunately I wasn't one of them. Since we have a good few days
    of rough sailing ahead, I plan to continue with the sea sickness tablets and
    keep my fingers crossed.

    We arrived in the Falklands during the night on Tuesday, and woke to find that
    the ship was rocking gently, nothing like the violent side to side movements
    we'd experienced previously. The pattern for the next couple of days was to be
    6.30am breakfast, and zodiac landings beginning at around 8am. All in all we
    made 5 landings on 4 different islands.

    The first landing, on New Island, took us to a colony where we found rockhopper
    penguins, black browed albatrosses and king (blue eyed) cormorants. The latter
    are striking birds with blue eyes and yellow crest that looks a bit like an
    outlandish eyebrow. From a photographic point of view, the colony proved a
    challenge, as the lighting was quite harsh when we arrived, and the birds were
    intermingled, making good composition difficult.

    In the afternoon we landed on the opposite side of the island at Coffin
    Harbour, where we were welcomed by the Chater family who were on hand to greet
    us, and selling nature books, calendars and stamps. I took the opportunity to
    buy myself a field guide. The harbour is attractive, and contains a rusty
    shipwreck, perfect for some abstract work. Although there was an option to
    walk to another colony, I spent the afternoon in and around the cove,
    concentrating my efforts on a night heron, the stunning long tailed meadowlark
    and the kelp geese.

    On our second day in the Falklands we visited another settlement at West Point.
    The main attraction here were another shipwreck and amongst others, caracaras,
    turkey vultures, meadowlarks, tussock birds and Falklands thrush. We were also
    invited up to the settlement for an impressive tea, featuring a full spread of
    cakes (11 varieties), biscuits and scones. The seas were quite rough that
    morning, and the zodiac trip back to ship was a great experience, made all the
    more exciting by the fact that we were accompanied by dolphins!

    After lunch we visited the attractively named Carcass Island, where we saw our
    first gentoo penguins. I spent an hour or so on the beach with the gentoos,
    before deciding that it was a little busy for my taste, and heading back to the
    beach where we landed the zodiacs to see what I could find there. I kept
    myself busy with an oystercatcher and some abstract shots of stones on the
    beach. At this point in the trip it appears that I've already gained a
    reputation for getting down and dirty, lying on my belly in the grass and on
    the sand. I suspect that once we reach South Georgia I'm not going to make
    myself too popular this way, as I'm most likely to end up covered in penguin

    Our final day in the Falklands dawned rather foggy, and we waited anxiously for
    the return of the reconnaissance party to see if a landing would be possible.
    Fortunately we were given the go ahead and we all lined up on deck to travel
    out to the beach at The Neck, on Saunders Island. This was to have been our
    last change to see rockhopper and magellenic penguins, as well as the black
    browed albatrosses, however, due to the high wind, we weren't able to go out to
    these colonies. As we landed it was beginning to rain, but we continued in the
    hope that the weather would improve. I spent a little time photographing the
    dolphin gulls, which have a beautiful deep red bill and legs, and then headed
    up to the gentoos. By this point the rain was turning into sleet, which
    combined with the high wind made photography almost impossible. I took a
    couple photographs of my first king penguin sighting, and then decided to call
    it a day. According to the original schedule, there was still an hour until
    the first scheduled zodiac back to ship, and three hours until the last zodiac
    was planned. When I neared the beach, though, I saw a long line of people, and
    a zodiac heading shipwards. By 10am, we were all back on ship, and the extra
    time before lunch was filled with a lecture and a debrief session.

    By this point in the trip, I'm beginning to settle into ship life and am
    beginning to get to know people. I've already managed to pick up some tips
    from people, both in the field, and back on board at the computer. That is
    certainly a real advantage to travelling with a group of fellow photo

    We've now set sail for South Georgia, a trip which will take about two and a
    half days. During our time at sea, the tour leaders will be giving some
    lectures, and we have time to do some work processing our images. The ship
    also has a library on board (to which I have already donated the two books I
    bought at Schiphol, and had read by the time I arrived), so there is also
    reading material available.

    Monday, 16 November 2009

    Getting ready for the off

    There's a flurry of bags arriving in the lobby of the hotel, ready for loading onto the ship.  I'm going to go on a tour of the Tierra del Fuego National Park before we board ship this afternoon.  The tour leaders have the fun job of standing guard over all the bags until we leave!

    Sunday, 15 November 2009

    Southern-most city in the world

    My bags and I have now arrived safely in Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world.  Despite having the smallest amount of luggage of the group I checked in with, I was the only one got stung for excess baggage charges.  Still, at 96 pesos (about 30USD) it wasn't enough to really complain about, and the good news is that no-one questioned the weight of my camera bag.

    I've met up with a number of members of the tour group now, including one of the leaders who I met on my trip to Spitsbergen, 4 or 5 years ago.

    I've taken a small wander around town, enjoying the fresh air and now I've come back to the hotel to take advantage of the last little while of internet connectivity before heading off to sea tomorrow.

    Saturday, 14 November 2009

    It's Spring in Buenos Aires

    25 hours after I left home yesterday, and after a two hour delay in Paris, my flight touched down in Buenos Aires, and for the first time, I put my feet on South American soil.

    This is my third visit to the southern hemisphere, but the first time that the shift in seasons has been truly evident. After all, when you visit Africa, you expect it to be hot and sunny, no matter whether it's winter or summer. This time, however, I left the leaves hanging on to the trees by a mere thread, and arrived to find everything in bloom again! There may have been torrential rain in Buenos Aires yesterday, but there is no sign of that today.

    So, I went for a wander around town,

    ... admired the flowers ...

    ... spotted some trains for Dad ...

    ... found a whole bunch of palm trees ...

    ... watched a tango demonstration ...

    ... managed to order myself an ice cream (lemon and chocolate mousse) ...

    ... watched the local wildlife, hard at work ...

    ... visited the cemetary,

    and then went back to the hotel at 5.30 for a short nap, and didn't wake up until 2am.

    Friday, 13 November 2009

    Chilling out in Charles de Gaulle

    I was surprised when I arrived in Paris just how little I recognized of the airport.  And then I remembered that last time I transited through here, I was met at the gate and personally escorted through across the airport, given priority through all the security controls and driven to the aircraft in a Mercedes.  Ah, the joys of traveling first class.

    Unfortunately, the airmile bank is now empty.

    It's Christmas at Schiphol!

    OK, so I admit it.  There have been plenty of occasions in the past when I've been a bit Scrooge like about Schiphol's Christmas decorations, primarily because they tend to appear in the middle of autumn, when I'm least expecting them, first thing on a Monday morning.  Today, I was actually quite cheered by them.

    Considering the ridiculously long queue at security (which I was able to bypass thanks to my trusty privium card), the departure lounge was amazingly quiet.  I found myself a nice peaceful spot at the Chocolate Cafe and curled up on a (chocolate brown) sofa with a book.  Yes, I admit it, my no book policy lasted only as long as it took me to get my camera bag past the eagle eye of the check in assistant (who actually hardly gave the bag a second glance).

    I spotted this strange thing on the way out of the cafe. You squeeze the bulbs and get a whiff of whatever is in the jars.  I think it was supposed to be a pleasurable experience, but honestly, I wasn't convinced.

    Final Countdown

    For the last fortnight, I've been counting the days until my trip - every day a new picture.

    Wednesday, 11 November 2009

    Something warm to wear whilst I'm away

    I finished the scarf I started on the weekend. But as a lesson, next time I should remember that it's better to stop before you run out of yarn. I'm quite pleased with the two tone effect, but it's a shame about the slightly holey bits, especially the scruffy end where I tried to rectify my running out of yarn mistake.

    Saturday, 7 November 2009

    Choral Evensong - 7th November 2009

    My last choral evensong before the holiday - when I return it will be time for Christmas music! It was nice to have mum in the congregation, perfectly visible from afar in her bright pink coat.

    • Introit: Come my way, my truth, my life Harris
    • Responses: Nardone
    • Office Hymn: Lucis Creator
    • Psalm: 138
    • Canticles: Moore 3rd service
    • Anthem: Expectans expectavi, Wood

    Friday, 6 November 2009


    Mum has come to visit for the weekend, and one of our first jobs this afternoon, as part of Antarctic preparation was to visit the knitting shop to buy yarn for my Antarctic project (Boogie Vest). Of course, we couldn't leave the shop without Mum picking up something too - the makings of a couple scarves.

    On the train up to Amsterdam for choir practice we took out the needles and the trusty instruction book, and learnt how to make cables, which fortunately turned out to be easier than I had anticipated. Along the way, Mum picked up a mistake I was making, which also explained the odd effects I'd noticed in my practice pieces the last couple nights. It just goes to show that if you haven't done something in a while, it's maybe good to double check the instructions again!

    Tuesday, 3 November 2009

    How to dress for the Antarctic

    just add thermal underwear and sunglasses!

    Monday, 2 November 2009

    Knitting is fun...

    ... especially if you're a kitten.

    Way back when, round about this time of year, Jen, Dad and I took a trip up to Churchill, Manitoba to see the polar bears. We travelled from Toronto - spending 3 days on the train. On the way, Jen taught me how to knit, patiently putting down her own knitting (a hat for Dad) every time I dropped a stitch. My plan had been to make a scarf to wear whilst we were in Churchill, but I didn't actually manage to finish it until we were back in Winnipeg.

    Anyhow, after that I started a sweater, and actually made some decent progress with it, until a certain point when I got confused, put it to one side in the hope that someone could tell me how to fix it, and forgot about it.

    Now that I'm about to head off to Antarctica, I'm contemplating having a go at a new knitting project. Nothing too complicated (famous last words) but something to get my teeth into on the "at sea" (and hopefully not seasick) days. First of all, though, I thought I should take out the knitting needles again and see if I could actually remember how.

    After a few false starts, I finally managed to cast on, only to discover that Rasha had chewed the yarn right through. Another attempt, and I manage to create a few rows of stockinette stitch, before giving it to Rasha to kill.