The phone for us expeditioners to use is located in a storage cupboard in the rear stairwell. You go into this little windowless room, shut the door, turn on the light (which causes a red bulb outside to light up and show that the booth is occupied) and try to make yourself comfortable on the upended milk crate (a good way of discouraging long calls, as you end up with a criss-cross pattern on your arse). You’re in there with the industrial-size packs of toilet paper, some kind of switch box and an information sheet that tells you how to make calls and what they will cost – anywhere from 30c a minute to $10 a minute if I’m remembering correctly, and depending on what method is used. It adds a certain frisson to the phone calls that you can’t work out (or at least I can’t) which method you’ve used to connect the call, so the prospect of a multi-hundred dollar chat looms.
I just spoke to my partner Andi for half an hour (hang the cost). We are missing each other now, and counting the sleeps till I get home (which won’t be for another ten days, as I’m sticking around Hobart after we dock for the Mawson centenary celebrations), and it’s hard not to get a bit sad in these calls. I notice that the someone has kindly placed a box of tissues next to the phone instructions. There must be a few quiet tears shed in this cupboard. Of course it’s all relative – some of the winterers returning with me have been away from home and loved ones for 18 months, so my mere six weeks is next to nothing.
Now that we’ve crossed the Antarctic convergence we’re more or less in home waters, just 1500km from Hobart. Tomorrow we have to return all DVDs to the ship’s library (which seems a bit harsh – what about the remaining three nights?) and then it’s only a few more sleeps till we get to land. They say you can smell eucalyptus before you even see Tasmania.
PS if you think the phone cupboard sounds claustrophobic, spare a thought for one of our number whose bathroom door lock jammed in her cabin bathroom yesterday. She was banging and yelling for several hours before finally someone heard and came to let her out…