Curator Jayne and the importance of proper tea

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Revision as of 17:02, 3 March 2020

Streams of colour
Streams of colour

When you see South Georgia for the first time, all you see is the steep sided, snow-capped peaks that run straight down into the sea. For me, the most significant sight was the trees – or rather the lack of them. Captain Cook is quoted as saying, ‘there were no trees or shrubs, not enough for even a tooth pick’. The vistas are dominated by bare rock and snow. The only colour on South Georgia comes from the ancient lichen on the rocks and the mosses and grasses that trace the streams, rare forest mats on a microscopic scale. Vegetation is so unique and rare that the plants are an endless fascination; from the large humps of Tussac, the common sticky pompoms of the Great Burnet, to the rare and unusual ferns such as Adder’s Tongue. I’m often to be found searching the quiet slopes, bogs and tundra, away from the noisy wildlife and chaos of the shores. The invasive dandelions erupted in spring and dominated the slopes around Grytviken, providing a yellow colour treat for the eyes but also a regular supply of salad leaves. As we now enter autumn if you look closely mushrooms can be found.

The visiting ships are full of excited tourists, keen to ask lots of questions and make you feel very privileged to be here. The one thing that all the tourists ask is what is it like to live here? Where do you live? Do you have heating? What do you eat? So what do we eat? When I got the job - one of the big questions I wanted to ask but felt too stupid to ask was that very question; what do you eat? Will there be herbs and spices? Do I need to take curry powder? What about tea bags? I mean this is a serious issue - there are tea bags, and there are tea bags.

Talking to a visiting couple in the museum one wet and windy day, we got on to the usual questions about life on the island. The husband asked all the normal questions of where we live and what we do for recreation, how many people live on the island etc. But the wife exclaimed in a loud, strong Yorkshire accent, ‘yes, that’s all very well and good but what about the tea? I hope you have a good supply of teabags!’

I remember our first day stepping onto shore and meeting some of the BAS team, sitting in their kitchen with a spectacular snow filled view out of the window and being given a cup of tea. The island had tea bags, thank god, the popular pyramid variety. I put the cup to my lips and took a gulp, wow, what was that? It looked like tea, all be it a little on the weak side, but jeez, it certainly didn’t taste like tea. I did consider the possibility that it was the beautiful fresh mountain water - being used to London Thames water myself - maybe this is what fresh mountain water tastes like! But no, maybe it was the powdered milk? I then discovered that the bag was from a batch that was out of date. I had just sampled my first 8 year old tea dust. Don’t get me wrong, it is still technically tea but as Dr Spock once pointed out to Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise, ‘it’s life Jim, but not as we know it’.

Luckily for me, we had a supply drop later in the year, bringing with it tea bags, fresh tea bags. Normal service resumed.

Occasionally we get treated to evening dinner, invited onto a visiting ship for a bbq. The ‘locals’, are usually found hovering by the salad bar, crunching on cucumber, giving the teeth a good work-out or dismantling the large fruit displays for exotic delights such as bananas and melon.

We had a call from the Government Officer a few days ago, ‘I have box of cherry tomatoes here for the museum team if you want to send someone over to collect’. A rare treat from a visiting ship. Off Jerome went on the bicycle, speeding along the 1km track to King Edward Point. When we stopped for lunch we discovered the box was in fact a small bag. Being a democratic group, all rations are well shared; we each had 2.5 cherry tomatoes each, no more, no less. I set out my treat of a lunch on my plate, crackers (out of date and slightly soft), mild cheddar cheese (from the freezer, no flavour and slightly spongy – frozen cheese doesn’t need a grater as it just crumbles to the touch – I’ve come to the conclusion that if humans remained here for a few more eons we could probable evolve to have gummy mouths; there are not many occasions that require teeth) and my 2.5 violently red, delicious, plump, cherry tomatoes. Happy days!

Visiting ships are now slowing in numbers, the sunsets draw in earlier, the winds still blow but the sun has shifted. My bedroom faces Mount Duse and as I open my blind in the morning I’ve noticed the sun is rising later and later behind it as it tracks across the sky over the days and weeks. The cold is starting to penetrate again; the thermals are at the ready. It is hard to believe we only have 4 weeks left!