This past couple of weeks have seen a few changes in our lives (just this two weeks he says!), and hopefully things are taking a turn for the good. Despite our weekend adventures, the amazing opportunities we have had, the friends we have made and spectacular landscapes we have seen, we have all, for one reason or another had times of wow, and have struggled to adapt to our change of lives. I hope that my writings provide interest because they are open and honest, at times it proves difficult to write knowing family and friends will be reading, much of what I write below falls into that category.
Charlie has been exceptional, coping better with the change than the rest of his family. For a three year old his journey has been incredible, leaving home, flying for 11 hours, (his first time on a plane), a night in a hotel in a new country (his first night in a hotel and first night abroad), 5 nights aboard the RMS St Helena (his first time on a boat), a new place to live, a new house, a new routine with regular excitement at weekends punctuated with school. School, just four days after arriving on the Island at the end of our journey I left him crying in a classroom, alone with strangers for the first time in his life.
But Charlie is now very settled, taking the Bus to school and home, making new friends and receiving his first ever invite to a birthday party, that wasn’t from his brothers friend. Reluctant to be put in a situation where he would have to try and play with new people again, he did not want to go, but once settled in he had a great time. We are learning that Saints like their food,
regular snacking throughout the day is the norm, and parties are never short of a good spread. Arriving at the party and seeing a table of cakes, a few sandwiches, crisps and the normal array of party food I exclaimed to Bev that I wondered if there would be enough to go round, and questioned what I might eat to calm my complaining stomach. I needn’t have worried, before long the first course of barbeque chicken, sausages and fries was unveiled. This was soon followed by beef curry and rice, before Ice cream was served. At that stage, we all started on the cakes, sandwiches, crisps and other goodies that had first presented themselves. This was a party St Helena style, and I loved it!
Oliver has, this week, made huge progress. Struggling to break into well-established friendship circles his enjoyable lessons have been broken by difficult break and lunch times. Breaks have often been spent on his own, sometimes finding comfort by seeking out his younger brother for companionship, providing a heart breaking sight for his Dad to witness when driving past the school. But after a goliath effort on his part he has this week, established himself amongst some local boys, even having one round for tea and two more on the list waiting to come. Like his Dad, Oliver has always found it hard to approach people, to know how to join in with other groups, his success has made me incredibly proud, and I’ve no doubt it will make him a better, stronger person in this World, learning how to make friends with people from different cultures races and backgrounds. Break times have become times of fun and play, and collecting a smiling, happy boy from the bus has gleefully become a more regular sight.
Bev is, at present, teaching science and making steps to improve the department, tackling department meetings and organising practical changes to delivery, coursework and homework. Given her expectations of developing Marine Biology within the curriculum the lack of early opportunity to do so was initially disappointing. However, continuing in the vein of the title of this blog, this last week has seen reassurances given for the new year, Marine Biology courses have been identified, and a grant has been made available to buy resources to aid the new teaching when the time comes. Although January seems a long way away, the odd meeting here and there, and the knowledge that she can at least start to pay some attention to the new qualifications she hopes to introduce, I hope will allow her to maintain positive thoughts until the real job begins.
As expected Bev is finding it hard spending less time with the children, having myself spent more time with them, I can’t think why, but none the less it’s a difficult change for her. My own thoughts are the quality of time spent with the children, watching whales, digging forests and the like more than makes up for the slight reduction in time spent with them, in their eyes at least. As the weather improves and weekends and evenings can be spent snorkelling, at barbeques, rock pooling, walking and other such fun I have no doubt our family time will continue to improve further still.
And so to me, despite the tales of whales, dolphins and wonderful weekends, I have found the past two or three weeks some of the hardest of my life. To the readers of this blog this may sound ridiculous given the general theme of stunning landscapes, extraordinary nature, Friday drinks and sport activities, but those good times have centred around the weekends, and I have found mid weeks to be very difficult, especially since the initial excitement and exploration of our new island has worn off. Shopping, that was at first a genuine novelty and provided the excitement of discovery, is now a chore and tedium.
Collecting Charlie at midday, my days have been a limited routine of cleaning, shopping, washing clothes and drinking tea. My afternoons with Charlie spent largely not being the Dad I intended when we took this move, leaving him to his own creative devises whilst I play at being too busy cleaning to really spend time with him. Sunday evening would fill me with gloom at the prospect of another five days, stuck in the house with no time to do anything positive, and nothing to do but clean. I have most of all missed a sense of importance and responsibility, from managing people and budgets and being responsible for a myriad of delicate animals in my care I find myself responsible for nothing more than ensuring bread is available, at least that’s how I saw it.
My downward spiral accelerated last weekend, when back at home in Liverpool, my aquarium in World Museum Liverpool was hosting the UK’s largest aquarium conference. Friends and fellow professionals descending on Liverpool for three days, for a conference organised to a large degree by myself before I left the UK, ably continued by other colleagues in the industry since I departed. Meanwhile I was organising nothing more than the evening’s dinner, at least that’s how I saw it.
My depressed thoughts came to a head on Monday, when a bowl of spilt cereal left me sat on the floor with my head in my hands, crying at the thought of cleaning the kitchen for the second time that day. Any of you back home that know me well, will not identify with the person herby described.
By coincidence I had met a new ex-pat in her second year on the Island, and via the miracle of e-mail and facebook I found myself releasing a lot of pent up thoughts and feelings, finding an ease in speaking with someone who has experienced the change that the Island brings, and yet was not close to my own personal circumstance. Realising how low I felt has been the first step to me turning a corner.
It dawned on me that my fixation on collecting Charlie at 12pm each day had become a block to finding things to do, believing there was no time to do anything. In reality I have three and a half hours each morning, if that is time enough for me to climb Snowdon back home, then it is certainly time enough for me to do something more with my time over here on St Helena. I also realised that my daily chores were not being approached with my usual sense of efficiency; the same sense that I approach my work life with. I need to take in every positive, enjoy the freedom provided by my temporary retirement, learn to understand the importance of my role here, and the responsibility I have to my family and to support my wife.
To make a positive start, I have set myself a timetable, limiting my cleaning and shopping and other household duties to shorter periods of work. I now shop two days per week, as opposed to six, allowing myself mornings free for walks, photography or whatever takes my fancy, including tagging seabirds with the Marine Conservation Team. Most importantly I have scheduled time to spend with Charlie, learning how to enjoy his company, and moving towards being the Dad I wish I could be. As I write I have just finished my first such day, I have still cleaned and shopped, but I have done so efficiently. I have achieved more cleaning in half an hour than half of yesterday, and I bought more in two hours of shopping, than two days previously.
Most importantly I played with Charlie. When your three year old tells you, “I know you don’t really like playing games with me, but I’d love to play zoo” then you realise something must change. Its day one of a new, positive thinking me, and having moved to St Helena nearly two months ago, its day one of starting to live here.