So we’ve reached the end of our first week on Saint Helena, and are pretty much exhausted. Its hard to comprehend the amount of changes, and things we have organised and accomplished in the last few weeks. Charlie, who is three years old, left his home a month ago, lived with my parents, lived with Bevs parents, went on a 11 hour flight (his first ever) and all that entails, spent a night in Cape Town, Spent five nights at sea, moved to a new Island, moved to a new house and started school for the first time! It’s a lot to take in for a three year old!
After arriving last Wednesday I have learnt to tackle the local roads, especially as my new found role on the Island is as Dads Taxi. Drivers are on the Island are, in the main, very friendly and it has become customary to give a quick wave when passing other drivers, or pedestrians, or those sat watching the world go by, or cats, birds and anything else really. In essence if you pass by it, its nice to give it a quick wave.
As a general rule if you are heading down a hill you give way to those coming up it. On Saint Helena you will only ever be doing one or the other of those two options, speeds are limited to 30mph or less, largely due to the frequent sharp bends, and steep roads. As a result of this, hitting fourth gear heading slightly down hill on the only strait road we have yet encountered, was greeted by cheers from all those in the car. It is often said that the Islands cars are a throw back to the 70s and 80, a time of Ford Cortina’s, but sadly, whilst there are a few dotted around, the Island has caught up in that respect and is now dominated by Ford Focus or various Four by Fours, including the popular “six pack” the local expression for a Toyota Hylux.
In my role as house husband I have been getting to know Jamestown, a bustling little town full of character. The town really is, barring the odd exception, such as the local media provider, a throwback to some older time. It would not feel at all strange to see Darwin, King George, or Napoleon himself strolling through town searching out which shop had the freshest fruit. But I think I like this age gone by. There are no ATM’s on the island, instead, you go to the bank and converse with an actual person, there is no danger of your fingers being taken off as you make a cash deposit.
The post office is wonderful, reminiscent of Post Offices in old Western films, with individual booths and Iron bars separating you from the polite and friendly postal worker.
A particularly interesting quirk of the island is the ability to phone a company, and have them answer the phone and speak to you. They do this without the need to navigate through a multitude of push button options, repeat a security password to three different people in Bangladesh, and subject ones ears to an endless repeat of copy write free musical trash. They just answer the phone, we should look into such revolutionary out of the box thinking back in the UK.
Finding food and goods is more of a challenge than the UK, but is not the Ray Meers style expedition we had been led to believe. Shops are stocked with a wide range of dried goods from Tesco and Asda, as well a South Africa, and more and more fresh local produce of vegetables and meats are generally on hand. Although choice is much reduced we have eaten well and dined on home cooked fish, chicken and pork thus far and enjoyable family meals have become the norm. Local restaurants serve well cooked food, although they are undoubtedly lacking in culinary imagination and variety. This is due in the main to the lack of dining out experience of the Saints and I expect there are many opportunities for a good restaurateur on the Island.
People on the Island are friendly and welcoming. There is a definite curiosity around the Islands latest new arrivals and one can feel eyes upon you when walking down the street. Our conversations and scrutiny with locals of who, what and why are often rapidly passed on to waiting friends and colleagues and whomever else wishes to know about us. At first, I confess, this bothered me, and I thought back to small villages in the UK and the scorn and deride that an incomer can often generate, is it the same in Saint Helena? After careful though I conclude that no, on Saint Helena finding out who someone is and what they do is an essential part of the functionality of this small community. This Island of just four thousand people has the facilities, and infrastructure that would serve a much larger community in the UK. Name me a village in the UK, of four thousand people, that has the tools and expertise to provide a hospital, doctors, banks, garages, shops, fishermen, emergency services, conservation, builders and planners, policing etc etc. Yet this is achieved despite real difficulties in communications, lack of available resources, roads that are slow at best and impassable at worse, street names and house numbers are often not present and many houses don’t actually have an address. The island works because everyone talks to each other, they find out what each other’s role is, what they can do and contribute, how they can work with and for each other. To find out where to buy something, get something fixed, recruit a service, you do not go on-line, you speak to people, you find out. And I believe this is the main reason that new comers to the Island generate such curiosity, what do they do, can they help me or I them? Well, that and a certain degree of checking out the new neighbours!
Oliver, Charlie and Bev all started school in varying capacities. Bev started at the Prince Andrew secondary school. Unfortunately her Marine roll is on hold until the new Science teacher arrives in January, but she has plunged strait into a full science teaching time table. Oliver has started at Pilling School, one of three primary schools on the Island. Starting year two he has adjusted remarkably well, and despite a little wobble today he appears to be making friends and is generally happy to be there.
Charlie is presenting more of a challenge. His first day I left him screaming and crying, this heart breaking experience leaving me feeling glad that Bev had not been there for it. Walking away I could not look back at him and shed a tear hearing his cries, fully understanding his confusion and rejection at being left with strangers against his will. Whilst Im sure this has been a common experience for parents across the world this week, few three year olds have experienced the enormity of change that our Charlie has.
While our first full week draws to a close I look forward to our already regular Friday night at Donnies, a water front bar, and with huge excitement to our first boat trip to search out the resident Dolphins and breeding Humpback Whales and their Calves.
* I must apologise for the lack of accompanying photos for today’s post, I have simply not had time to carry a camera around with me, but my aim for tomorrow is to make up for that so keep your eyes peeled for a blog full of images tomorrow night.As I have no photos the cover photo is an extra one from our journey over when leaving Capetown.