Antarctica is a unique continent in so many ways, just one of which is the fact that no nation owns or governs the White Queen. This has been entrenched in the international Antarctic Treaty, an agreement which is periodically revised and renewed. In case this treaty is not renewed when it is next due, countries still hold territorial claims. Some countries have done this by having children conceived or born on the continent, but Britain, being the nation it is, established the Penguin Post Office at Port Lockroy, the world’s most southern public post office.
P..P..P..Pick Up a Penguin
The Penguin Post Office is looked after by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and manned during the White Queen’s Summer for a period of four months by four volunteers. The intrepid volunteers maintain the scientifically and historically important buildings they inhabit as well as hand-franking the thousands of post cards sent through their box. Recently, the BBC filmed a lacklustre documentary about life at the Penguin Post Office, there was neither a detailed life-cycle of a penguin nor a full account of the hard work done by the volunteers in such a brutal environment. It is a little piece of Britain, Christmas Pudding cans, photos of the Queen and all, at the end of the world worth travelling to.
As British as the Post Office is, so is tartan. As such, naturally the two have come together. The broad definition of tartan is that two coloured lines should intersect at right angles, this means tartan patterns can be applied to anything from Scottish kilts to mugs. Traditional Scottish ceremonial tartans are in impressive hues of red, whilst for camouflage reasons, hunting tartans are ordinarily in green. As you might expect therefore, the tartan of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust is directly inspired by the White Queen it watches over. To describe the specially designed tartan it is best I quote the Trust:
“With a large square of white at the centre, representing the ice covered continent, a thin cross of blue represents the four compass points and where they bisect at the South Pole. The grey rock of nunataks and partially buried mountain ranges were symbolised by a band of grey within the white of the continent, whilst rocks emerging at the edges of Antarctica were represented by a broader band of grey. On these rocks orange lichens grow and so a band of orange lies adjacent.
This together with the following bands of yellow, black and white also represent the colours of the Emperor Penguin’s plumage, and the black and white of other penguins and marine life. The thin band of white also represents the thin ice shelves covering the shallow continental margins, the pale blue that follows the blue ice shelf, whilst the dark blue adjacent represents the deep Antarctic ocean. The thin band of white on the outside symbolises the Antarctic front. Finally the dark colour of the ocean surrounding the light colour of the continent is symbolic of the sombre darkness of the Antarctic winter against the enlivening light of the summer.”
The day I crossed the Penguin Post Office threshold was the last day of its service before the volunteers return home to modern comforts. I of course sent a couple of cards which will have to ‘winter over’ with the White Queen until they make the 6-8 week journey to their receiver via the Falkland Islands and the UK. I also bought a flat cap made of the Antarctic Tartan, both purchases directly support the work of the Trust. Although I have never wished to own a flat cap it was the only garment available with the specially designed tartan, I managed to style it with something on one of the first days of Spring.