Our life on the Island continues, my new found routine is taking shape efficiently, cleaning and shopping. I have Island shopping down to a tee now, Thursdays are meat day along with a fresh vegetable basket, Mondays and Wednesdays bread, wonderful and incredible cheap Tuna available daily, eggs from our neighbour weekly, although inflation has set in and we now pay a full £1.20 for them. Given that food is less readily available it is a pleasant surprise that my diet has improved immeasurably since living on St Helena. The sporadic availability of fresh fruit and vegetables makes them somehow more appealing and my retirement allows for home cooked meals with the family, (including local dishes such as Pilau, pronounced “Plo”, a Paella type dish with Bacon and Pork) instead the processed radioactive decay of ready meals eaten hurriedly at varying points in the evening we experienced back home. Our meals are then generally followed up by home baked cakes or biscuits lovingly prepared by my wonderful wife. Oh the virtuous life we lead. So as not to worry friend and family too much at this stage I will add that I have found a source for English Pork Pies and my cupboard has several packets of pork scratchings which are rapidly diminishing in number.
The RMS continues to excite upon its arrival, bringing with it a glut of fresh fruit to the island, which inevitably is snapped up rapidly just days after it lands on the shop floor. To that end we have also set up a fruit order with a local shop, who, upon receiving their quota from the ship, will divide the fruit up and pre bag it for their list of waiting customers. When the RMS arrives from Cape Town, Thursday is the day when the town goes a little mental, for a few hours at least. Rumours can be heard of Strawberries available at the Queen Mary store, as shoppers busily hurry from one shop to another hoping to grab their slice of pie. Alas, I was too late at Queen Mary’s but soon heard that there may be a punnet or two left at the Victoria, rushing over I was delighted to pick up two punnets of strawberries and some overpriced blue berries. Coupled with numerous Bananas, Mandarins, Oranges, and Apples I felt proud of a good days foraging like the hunter gatherer returning home with a rich bounty to feed his family. I hadn’t however accounted for the volume of food I would later collect on my regular afore mentioned fruit order which combined with our weekly vegetable order resulted in the largest quantity of fresh fruit and veg my eyes had ever seen in a household!
The RMS’s arrival this week also heralded the arrival of our meat order, a shipment of choice meats from South African to fill up our deep freeze. Such is the exuberance and low price, of meat from South Africa that we have used up the remaining fillet steak on our St Helena Beef Curry, essentially a traditional stew with curry powder, now made with choice Fillet Steak!
My fitness continues to improve, shopping twice a week means more in one go, I now carry multiple bags of shopping, as the convenience of a supermarket and all under one roof approach has not yet reached St Helena, thankfully. Walking back to the car I remind myself of days gone by, trying to keep up with my own Mum, who would walk back from town with an impossible number of shopping bags with two children behind asking her to slow down. St Helena is, in many ways just like the UK twenty years ago, and, in many ways is all the better for it. I have reached a respectable time of 8 minutes 30 seconds to climb Jacobs Ladder, although I seem to have hit a block and getting below this is going to take more work, meaning my wife still leaves me behind when it comes to climbing stairs! I have however had more success with the now routine football warm up, cross bar challenge, hitting the bar at the full length of the five a side pitch with both right and left foot!
My new timetable of walking and bird tagging took a hit this week when I left my first competitive game of eleven aside football with a groin injury. Called up to local football team Axis, to play alongside my good friend Paul
(Liverpudlian with whom we shared our RMS dining table) in a must win Semi Final against the Fugees. A close game saw us leading one nil as we reached mid-way through the second half. A demoralising equaliser by the Fugees was followed shortly after by a tackle on my right leg which pulled my groin into places it didn’t want to go. This left the Axis with ten men and soon enough we were 2-1 down. A gallant effort by the boys saw a late equaliser take the game to extra time and then penalties, with everything resting on it, sadly two spots kicks were missed and we went crashing out of the tournament! Despite my injury, and following a very tentative start to my first competitive game of football in seventeen years, I thoroughly enjoyed the match, sadly I must wait several months for the new season, but with my face on the footballing map I feel confident I can find a team for the new season.
This week saw us invited round to the Governor’s home, Plantation House for a traditional drinks reception, welcoming the new teachers and celebrating the retirement and long services of some of St Helena’s finest and longest serving teachers, who, between the three of them have given over 110 years’ service to school children on the Island. A pleasant evening was made all the more enjoyable after Bev met with a surprise guest at the occasion. Following a mistake in the invitation, two holiday makers, on the Island for just eight days found themselves at the prestigious occasion, surrounded by councillors, government officials, distinguished guests and indeed Governor Capes himself. I only wish I could find out who’s invitation they had received, and whether, upon seeing an incorrect name they made any protestations at all, or just took their chances.
Prince Andrews School celebrated their 25 years Anniversary last week. Bev and the other new teachers took their place in a celebration, including a song that will last long in the memory of all those party to it. Words were spoken by the current and past Head Teachers. It seems despite continuing difficulties, the school has indeed made great progress over the past twenty five years, last year posting their greatest ever exam results. Going back twenty years presents an intriguing picture of a young boy Nicky, who, at just fifteen, with no formal training and having himself just completed his exams, started as the schools Physical Education teacher. Nicky now works on the Island doing an incredible job running the local extra curriculum youth club and sports association New Horizons, giving children on the Island sporting opportunities that were not open to himself twenty five years ago. The tireless work of New Horizons resulted in several of St Helena’s finest athletes representing their Island at this year’s commonwealth games in Glasgow, a first for this Island Nation.
Our weekend was a less dramatic one than previous and I have no stories of gigantic marine mammals. Oliver and I joined a good sized group of photographers to join in with a worldwide event, Kelby’s Photo Walks. The timing however was such to encourage a good turnout, rather than to make for good photography, and whilst producing little in the way of good photos, I did enjoy good conversation and a pleasant walk with Oliver and the others.
Bev and Charlie meanwhile went to walk Donkeys at the Islands donkey sanctuary. Once a vital part of the workforce, the donkeys are now retired and well cared for. Children are invited to walk and feed the donkeys at the weekend. Charlie however, through a combination of poor carrot feeding technique and a short sighted donkey, found his fingers being eaten along with the intended food. Much screaming ensued as the donkey sucked on Charlie’s hand, eventually releasing him after expert donkey whispering, and no shortage of wrestling from Mum. No harm was done other than mild psychological damage and no animals were harmed in the making of this drama.
Having finally managed to locate some children’s fishing nets on the Island, Oliver and Charlie were thrilled to be able to head back down to James Bay for a spot of rock pooling. But it was their Dad who triumphed, catching three fish and this impressive Sally Lightfoot Crab
And so, in Mid-October we await Summer to start, having been made promises that it is just around the corner for what now seems like months. Being British, it will be of no surprise that I am fascinated by the weather, even more so given that the weather and climate on St Helena are as extraordinary as the Island itself. The only surprise is that it has not come up in my writings more frequently. The general theme of the weather has been grey and overcast, with frequent mist rolling down of the central peaks. Speaking to one local revealed that this mild, occasionally rainy, inclement weather of a rather chilly thirteen to sixteen degrees centigrade, is the “worst and longest winter in his living memory” of sixty plus years. Given that description, I am pleasantly surprised and uplifted, as I have still been in shorts most days. However we would now welcome in the endless days of Sunshine and warmth we have been promised, especially by Bev, who spends her days in the somewhat cooler climbs of Prince Andrew School at Francis Plain, just below the central peaks.
Before embarking on our trip, I’d read many quite clearly exaggerated reports, of extreme variations in weather, both across time and distance upon the Island. I am now going to give one such example of, it turns out, a not such exaggerated account. In one day I recorded on my car thermometer a high of twenty eight degrees centigrade in the lower reaches of Jamestown, the sun was beaming down and all was well with the world. Just three hours later, and less than a mile away, when collecting Bev from the school, the very same thermometer read twelve degrees. The rain and wind sweeping across Francis Plain confirmed this to be true as we waited for Bev to run to the car, still wrapped tightly in the bright blue bubble jacket that she has had to wear in the classroom just to maintain warmth on a daily basis since our arrival. Given that I spend my days in shorts, and just a stones through away Bev requires a bubble jacket nicely describes how the weather varies across this tiny Island.
I am confident however that the last couple of days have seen a serious upturn in our weather. Half Tree Hollow has been baked in sunshine and the blue skies and newly defined horizon are joyous to behold. They also herald the arrival of clear night skies, and our first glimpse of the stars that we have so eagerly awaited. Officially one of the darkest places on earth, the night skies here are famous. First put on the global astronomy map back in 1676 by Edmund Halley who set up an observatory on the Island and made the first scientific mapping of the Southern Sky, they now offer a new opportunity for exploration for this year’s traveller. They also open up a new avenue for my photography and last night as I write provided the first chance to view and photograph the Milky Way. The experience left me a little awestruck. Despite it being just 9.30 in the evening, and just yards from my well lit house and the relatively high light levels of Half Tree Hollow the night sky was, like most things I have observed on the Island, extraordinary. I now cannot wait to get to Diana Peak, in the dead of night to view some of the most mind blowing skies I am ever likely to see.
Come on in Summer, you are most welcome.
It may be that I spoke too soon about the weather, Wednesday has seen some of the strongest driving wind and coldest temperatures we have seen. One local described it as “English Weather”!!!