Monday, February 22, 2010

My Boy

My boy was cleared from house arrest today. I drove into Stanley in horrendous weather to get him passed by the vets and pay our dues. Even with all the rain I couldn't deny him his first proper walk in over 8 weeks. As you can see, he is now smiling, the wet legs were definitely worth that happy face. He has slept non stop since we got home.

A few small victories today, there were crisps in the West Store that were in date (this is a major find in Stanley) plus I managed to get the girls to eat a mild chicken korma tonight and they actually ate it without much fuss.

I watched the Reader tonight and now feel slightly lost, I can't seem to find a placement for my feelings. I enjoyed it but it has thrown up so many lines of contemplation in me.

Tomorrow I am helping at the preschool in the morning, I offered my art services with their weather study, not sure what I have let myself in for.

Still haven't had chance to edit the Volunteer photos but I will. I know you are all dying to just see some more penguin pictures!

Love to all Helen x

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Friday nights in the Officers mess they hold a happy hour for the families where the children can come in with their parents and have some food and watch a DVD while the adults get to relax. Best part for me is that I don't have to cook for at least one night of the week! Over the last month the base has been busy with a large exercise so the usual activities have been cancelled. This week they were resurrected and the Rock Climbing on a friday night was opened again for the children. When we arrived, we were the only family there and my three quickly got themselves into special harnesses and shoes and got on the warm up wall. Both Ellie and Euan has done rock climbing before when we went to Portsmouth navel musuem, this was Maddie's first time and she surprised me with her enthusiasm.
She very quickly rocketed to the top of the wall without a peep or worry or upset. Ellie had already shot up and down and seems to be a natural in this activity. Euan was next and he did very well but took a while to understand the principle of leaning back as he headed back down the wall. I think some of it was due to them being counter weighted in Portsmouth and literally just hopping back from the wall and floating down.

Ellie went off for a second shot and was more than happy to pose for Mum. I will have to take my tripod next week as the lighting was a bit to low to get a focused picture and I hate using flash.

Sisters in action. Ellie was told not to bop her sister on the head as she went past!

Since there was no one else around I asked if Mummy could have a go! I really wanted a go at Portsmouth but it was so busy that I didn't want to embarass myself and was rather self conscious about my weight. The instructors were lovely and helped me sort out my harness and set me on my way. I tell you it is not as easy as it looks. With the children you can easily see where they should put the next foot and hand hold from below, when you are up there it is not so simple. I fell off the wall twice but didn't ask to come down, I was determined to get to the top.
And that I did!!!! My arms were shaking by the time I got up there, I made the starter error of using mostly my arms and not my legs to lift myself up. I was so chuffed though that I finally gave it a go. They run an adult night on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I am tempted to give it a go.
On Saturday we headed into Stanley to go and learn about the mine fields. I had met Josephine Swanson in Stanley when I went for the craft coffee and after chatting found out that her husband Robin supervises the demining program in the Falklands. He works alongside Bactec and is running a pilot scheme to clear 4 of the 122 mine fields left after the Argentine war. We have been trying to go since Thursday but unfortunately the weather has been against us.

The area we went to is Surf Bay which is out past Stanley towards the peninsula by Cape Pembroke.

We had a very informative brief from the head of Bactec in the Falklands. He is ex army and has been working in the demining field for over 10 years. The area at surf bay has mine fields on either side of the road. It was a strategic placement as they believed the British would land at Cape Pembroke and head into Stanley past the airport along this road. They placed minefields on either side of the road with 559 (AT) anti-tank mines and 486 (AP) anti-personnel mines or toe poppers as they are known in the industry. Apparently the toe poppers are not meant to kill but merely maim the soldiers, they need just 8kg of pressure to be set off. Under the road a large bomb was placed which would have been detonated to force the vehicles into the mine fields. There are 15 runs of mine fields and each started and end with an AT mine. They are placed roughly around 2 metres apart.

Bactec are contracted to clear the area up to 20 cms deep but some of the mines have been found at 47cm deep on the beach where sand has been building up over the years. The deminers have the Argentinian plans for the placement of the mines and although there have been some anomalies they are fairly accurate. Each deminer starts on an entry lane into the mine field. He checks the ground over with a detector and once the intial area seems clear he then digs this part down to 10cms. He checks again and then digs this area once more to 20cms. Once he is sure that the area is clear he moves forward and starts again. He marks his progress with coloured sticks and string so that anyone coming into the mine field is certain of what has been checked and to what level. They wear kevlar jackets and gloves which a special face mask that rests on the jacket so no debree from an accidental explosion can shoot up in their faces. Last week they had one such explosion and the gentleman walked away with only a few minor scratches on his head.

You can see from the second information board an aerial shot of the area and also the coloured sticks they use. Most of the deminers are from Zimbabwe and even the most junior has over 4 years of experience. Once they find a mine, they know they are on a trench and start to move along it. Depending on which type of mine they find first they know whether they have to move out in both directions. Once the mines are detected they are exposed by several cms around the top and a charge laid next to them. The mines are blown up in situ ever two days. The ground surrounding the mines varies greatly from area to area, some are in loose sand while others can be tightly wrapped in roots from the white grass in the area. Only on occasion has the odd mine moved when close to a water source or if it has been exposed and tumbled into a new position.

At the start of each day the miners check their detection equipment in the pit below. The AT mines only hold a minute amount of metal, around the size of half an earring back which makes them very difficult to detect without special equipment. At the start of a shift the miners place a blue peg where they start. At the end of the day they check their equipment again. This is to make sure that it has not failed during the day. If it does they can then go back to the blue peg and recheck the area without having to redo the whole run.

Each run is around 1 metre wide. The rate at which it can be cleared depends on the soil and weather conditions but also the depth of each mine.

While we were waiting for the charges to be laid we made our way to a safe viewing platform on top of the hill. There was alot of shell cases left over from firing practices. Euan was absolutely fascinated with them but unfortunately we were not able to bring any home as it is a chargable offence for J to have them in his possession!!

There were seven explosions that day and they were blowing up around 50 mines. Euan absolutely loved it and you could feel the boom under your feet.

Mud flew hundreds of metres into the air, expecially with the AT mines as they hold higher amounts of explosive.

Euan particularly liked the big holes left in the ground after the explosion. The deminers will now go back and refill each of these holes by hand. The plants that they scrapped off the surface will also be replaced once the mine field has been cleared. At present they have cleared just over 60% of the mines from this field.

It certainly wasn't your usual Saturday afternoon activity but it was fantastic to understand the planning behind the mine fields and to see what damage they could actually cause. Part of me came away with a disgust for our human race, that we could do such damage to another human being. I don't know whether we are just desensitized with all we see on the news these days but up close and personal it definitely made an impact on me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Hey Mum this one is for you. As promised your new chicken picture for your egg boxes. I have scanned and emailed it to you and I will pop it in the post which will hopefully make the air bridge later this week. Love you lots Helenx


I forgot to upload an image of the spotty flower on its own yesterday. It is rather wacky but it brings some colour into this old magnolia house.

Today was book character day at school and my three new exactly what they wanted to be. Euan unfortunately was rather miserable this morning and decided that his fake fur skull cap I made wasn't spikey enough and itched. We were therefore unable to get any photos of him smiling the way Mummy wanted!

Ellie went as Silky the fairy from the Far Away Tree. She has expensive (ahum) wings made from paper dollies and laminated sheets. They were pain stakingly hand sewn with elastic and ribbon and a labour intensive (not) scrapbook flower helped to finish off the hair band. We might have had a temper tantrum or two that Maddie had the only pair of white tights in the house and she needed them for her outfit. I finally managed to persuade her that the turquoise ones were a much better match. Not so sure about the white sandals and tights but I wasn't going to venture down the road this morning.

Maddie went as Plop the owl who was afraid of the dark, by Jill Tomlinson? I found a pattern on the internet for a super quick owl outfit. I altered a standard white pillow case by sewing on feather shapes to the front. A bit of ribbon through the top to act as straps worked a treat. We had planned to paint her face with eyes but Mum wasn't so sure about her face painting skills so we went for a mask stuck to her sunglasses so she didn't have to worry about elastic pinging off her head. She is giving you a very good pre-flight wing flap demonstration above. She didn't have any tantrums this morning thankfully but did manage to pour cocopop milk all down the front of the outfit over breakfast :)

As mentioned above Euan was less than happy with his skull cap and wanted to know if we could cut some cardboard hair spikes with about four minutes to go to catch the bus. Why he didn't speak up last night when all this was completed and he seemed happy is beyond me.

So thankfully another year of book character has come and gone now which is great as I hate sewing costumes. Today the power was switched off again from 8:20am until 1:30pm which was a pain in the behind as I had a clear full day to get on with things and had forgottent they were doing it. All of these unfortunately needed power to complete. My kitchen floor looks nice and shiny for the next hour before the kids get home and I have managed to paint a chicken logo for my Mum to put on her egg boxes, so it wasn't totally wasted. I still haven't found my mobile phone which has been missing for weeks or the power cable to the portable vacuum. I am beginning to think we have a black hole in this house.
Tonight I plan to edit the photos from the weekend trip to Volunteer and I will post these once they are done. Keep safe Love Helen x

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Time has a way of disappearing!!

Time seems to have passed rather too quickly around here lately. The last fortnight has been full of events and lots of blog posts going on in my head but just not making it onto the computer. We have had some beautifully warm and freezing cold miserable weather of late. The upside of this is that we have had some stunning skies at night. These clouds were shot over the fence in our back garden just as the sun was starting to set. I still find the openess and height of the sky here breath taking.

A fortnight ago we found ourselves off for a walk to Bertha's again. The day before friends of ours had been swimming with the dolphins and I had been gutted to have missed out. I planned to go down and see if I could do the same however, the weather was somewhat different on the day we went. It was blowing a hoolie and the sand and sea spray was wiped into a frenzy.

Even John had a hard time standing upright when the gusts blew. For the children it is not much fun as they are just at the right height to get a face full of sand. Ellie spent most of her time walking backwards to avoid the danger. In the background you can see white around the rocks, this isn't sea it is the sand whipping about.

Euan got caught in a particularly bad blast and came away with a gritty mouthful! Thankfully he was in a cheery mood that day and just laughed it off.

We decided to head down to the rock outcrop to see if there were any seals about and if the dolphins were swimming in the bay just past the point.

Ellie decided she had, had enough after she ended up getting wet trying to save her sisters croc which blew into the sea. Give her her dues she was like grease lightening and she managed to save said article and return it to her less than happy sister. About 5 mintues later it all got to much as she was starting to feel rather cold and wet. As you can see Dad was very sympathetic but did give her a hug as consolation.

On the way out to the sand stretch you have to walk through the wet flats and this one below had a massive hissy fit when we wouldn't go and get her and carry her over it. I believe Mum and Dad were quoted saying "buck up your ideas it is only a bit of water and sand" well something like that but probably not so sweet. She spent around 20 minutes screaming in a squat position as we carried on walking down the beach without her. Ellie was a very good big sister and eventually went back to help her. Maddie spent the rest of the walk sulking.

Needless to say I didn't get out to swim with the dolphins that day either! John and Euan did see a few further around the bay while I was busy walking back to the car with the moaning minnies :)
Sunday morning saw us head up to Heli Ops to see if we could get a ride out to Volunteer point to see the King Penguins. Unfortunately the weather was out of limits and all the trips that day were cancelled. Dad did manage to give us a guided tour around the Sea King Hanger though which was rather cool. J has been lucky enough to get out on a few trips and do a bit of winching, which apparently is not as simple as it looks!

Monday saw me heading off to this destination below. This is where our boy has just spent the last few weeks making his way from Kennels in South Hampton to Ascension and then on to us. He shared the bridge with crew and a little and apparently mad jack russell. The crew said it took him a good few days to get used to the environment but he was soon to be found sunning himself on the deck.

The ship itself is huge. The one below is a picture of the ship our car came on but the ship Fergus came out on is very similar. You actually drive onto the ship to pick the dog up which was rather cool. These ships are over three stories high and probably about 8-10 containers wide. Even after seeing them at South Hampton I don't think I truely understood how vast they were.
Our boy arrived safe and sound and very well looked after by the crew. I cannot fault them at all, Fergus arrived very relaxed and happy. It was wonderful to walk onto the bridge and see him happily padding about. When he saw me he went mental and jumped, kissed, scratched and squeaked himself silly. The kids were also very excited to come home from school to see their boy.

He has been spoilt wrotten since arriving and has had his tummy tickled at every opportunity. He is currently under house arrest for two weeks after which he has to be cleared by the vets and then we can start taking him out and about. Personally I cannot wait to take him down the beach. I am not sure who is training who around here.

The power was off in the house from Monday to Wednesday while they changed the circuit boards which were out dated and apparently unsafe! Nice, I was told they were being changed as there was a chance we could be electricuted whilst in the shower, oh deep joy hey.

I spent my time playing as J would say in my office with some needle felting. I have had an idea brewing for some time about making some larger than life size flowers and decided to just ignore the leaning tower of laundry and take some time for me.

These are the results of my labours. I plan to make three of the daisys to sit in the spotty vase in my kitchen since fresh flowers here are nearly none existant.

The poppy was the quickest to take shape and I remembered as I was putting it together that I had some stamens in my beading box. It was just the right thing that I needed for the center of the flower.

Originally I had planned to just use pipe cleaners for the stems but they weren't strong enough to support the heavy flower heads. Since I didn't bring any of my wire with me I found I was struggling to work out what to use. The tumble dryer was busy beeping at me to change it out when I saw some metal coat hangers about which thankfully worked a treat. One of my neighbours was getting rid of 40 or so which I very quickly helped myself to.

The daisy was slightly slower to come together. I started it in the evening while watching one of the many dvds we have borrowed from the comprehensive film library here. I felt the petals looked a bit like sausages or fingers and wasn't sure whether to continue with it. In the end I did and I am glad. It wasn't smooth sailing as once I needle felted the center it looked a bit bland. I decided to add a few french knots around the edge which soon became most of the flower head as just a few looked very odd. I am rather pleased with the results now and at nearly 6 inches across they certainly make an impact.

They go rather nicely with my new fabric stash that was delivered last week from Purlsoho. I plan to inject some yellow into my rather boring bathroom. A delivery arrived from next also with some new towels, a lovely bright yellow pedal bin, some sea grass baskets and some tops for the girls. I am planning on adding a bit of green into the mix as well probably my signature lime green knowing me.

Unfortunately this week I also managed to scrap the bumper on the new car, thankfully J didn't divorce me and was rather sympathetic. All around the base there are stone rocks marking the edges of the roads, car parks and gardens. I had been to school for the kids settling in review and reversed back out of my space not seeing the one sitting in the middle !!!! of the car park. Not good.
Thursday and Friday were spent trying to work out how to make the kids book character costumes and preparing for J's 40th. J had to work in the morning but came home to find a stack of choc chip cookies with a candle in them. We had attempted to make some cupcakes but the mixture kept curdling. It would seem that the eggs in the families shop come from Chile and can be up to 4 months old! Lovely hey, so cupcakes were off the menu as no fresh ones could be found anywhere. J just about managed to open his presents before dashing off to the living room to be disappointed by the Scotland Rugby game! In the evening the kids went over to our neighbours where Bev our wonderful babysitter looked after all six children. Their parents and two other couples and Weena (Wayne, J's deputy) headed into Stanley with us to celebrate J's birthday for a valentines meal at the Brasserie. We had a super meal and I think I definitely lucked in with my menu choices. The salmon en croute main course was divine. Unfortunately like a dummy I forgot to take my camera with me so sadly there are no pictures from the evening. I did return with three helium balloons and a bunch of roses amassed from the surrounding tables in the restaurant though. The kids have really enjoyed hanging lego characters and bunnies from them.
Sunday saw the kids and I head back to Heli Ops with hopes of getting out to Volunteer. J was unable to come with us as he was on duty and needs to be within 10 minutes of work. We were successful this time and had a bumpy ride out to Volunteer Point which is about 25 minute heli ride north east of the base. I have some more wonderful penguin pictures to bore you with and hope to get them edited and up soon.
Right I had better head to bed as tomorrow is book character day and I need my face painting skills for Maddie's outfit. Love to all, stay safe Helen x