Slugs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

I start today’s post by referring back to the last, my footballing exploits and performance in last Sundays thrilling match. Albeit truncated by injury, the match gave me one of my greatest ever achievements, an appearance on the back page of a newspaper, referenced by my surname just like a real footballer. Read the report here.

Moving away from my own exploits, I turn attention to our children, Oliver and Charlie, two boys in every sense of the word. A source of endless amusement for our friends they are energetic, troublesome, sometimes rude, boisterous and always fighting and arguing with each other. Our good friends Paul and Jen believe them to be hilarious, I only hope their next baby is a boy, a younger brother to their son Miles, and I hope to be there to witness the ensuing chaos.

John, who also journeyed with us to the Island, often refers to their behaviour with the phrases such as “ahh bless” in reference to our excuses that they are always tired. John himself has unwittingly taught Oliver some lovely phraseology, as he can now be commonly heard telling his younger brother to “watch and learn” and expresses surprise with the, thankfully truncated, phrase “what the!!!”

Our boys have both it seems now settled quite well into Island life, making new friends and heading off to school on the bus barely looking back, the days of a kiss goodbye it seems are already behind us.This week saw the schools Harvest Festival, in which Oliver and Charlie played a full role. We have all been learning Charlie’s harvest song, but Oliver’s roll as a giraffe came as something of a surprise.Olivers Class Pilling School Harvest Festival Charlies Class  St Helena Pilling Harvest FesivalDolphin St Helena Pilling Harvest Fesival Charlie Sings St Helena Pilling Harvest Fesival

For the first few weeks Oliver, troubled with school and adjusting to life, presented us with some truly awful behaviour, seemingly carrying the world on his young shoulders with fits of outrage interspersed with extreme sadness. During this period Charlie saw his opportunity, presenting himself as the most well behaviour three year old, full of affection and love for his parents and responding to Oliver’s turmoil with his own brand of sucking up. Thankfully, Oliver has found his feet and whilst far from perfect, his behaviour is back to a normal level of six year old boy. Charlie of course responded accordingly, and he has reverted to the artist formally known as “the naughty one”.

This weekend was a case in point with Charlie seemingly determined to single handedly ruin things for everyone concerned. Saturday was Carnival 2014 a bi-annual event that had been building in anticipation, excitement and curiosity over the past few weeks. Apparently carnival would be a afternoon of colour, music and celebration as hundreds of clowns, fairies, queens, kings and other exuberant costumes or scantily clad ladies parade down main street of James Town. Gathered crowds cheer and take photos before all of St Helena enjoy an evening of food, music and celebration, all in the aid of cancer awareness. That at least, is how it was supposed to be. Our morning stated in much the same way as many others, preparing our costumes. Bev and I were sorted, with grass skirts, Hawaiian Leis and for me, a fetching bow tie to accompany my Hawaiian shirt.

Charlie looking very unhappy at the prospect of walking to Carnival, despite getting the hat.

Charlie looking very unhappy at the prospect of walking to Carnival, despite getting the hat.

The boys wanted to be pirates and as such Bev was busy sewing material into pirate waistcoats. This is where it went downhill, a tantrum initiated over the availability of just one pirate hat quickly descended into a full on end of the world level of disparity. When eventually we left the house, having once again decided that our own day shouldn’t be ruined in punishment of Charlie’s behaviour, we missed the procession and arrived at town feeling stupid in our costumes (at least I did), with two miserable children, and hungry.

Although cup-cakes helped to break the mood for a short time we had arrived so late that waiting times for real food were by now so long we decided to cut our losses and returned home after having a thoroughly miserable afternoon! After the boys went to bed, Bev and I cheered ourselves up with a take away of steak and chips and a few glasses of well-deserved of Kia Royal!

A cup cake helps to break Charlie's mood even if just for a moment.

A cup cake helps to break Charlie’s mood even if just for a moment.

Sunday followed a similar pattern. We headed out for our first walk on the Island, a nice family outing to Flag Staff, a peak in the North East Corner of the Island affording a gentle walk whilst offering spectacular views at the end. Charlie however had other ideas, not wishing to walk at all and feeling the effects of a blustery wind. Given that his parents had forgotten his jumper we conceded to another nearby walk in a more sheltered but equally spectacular part of the Island.

The paint pallet sands of Banks Valley offer a landscape like no-where else on this remarkable Island. Formed by sands which blew up the valley when sea levels were lower, the landscape is made up of consolidated dunes of fine mud and sand. Sharp ridges dominate, casting shadows which serve to further enhance the mix of oranges, reds and purples in the sand, flowing in bands and broken only by bright green shrubs and the arid loving spikes of English Aloe. A sense of the unknown and untouched exists, the only footprints in the sand being our own, like the first steps breaking fresh fallen snow. The high peaks of the central ridge, look down on this colourful desert with their covering of tree ferns and fields of flax, one feels as though we are existing in a bye gone era, an time of prehistoric reptiles, and giant soaring birds.

Banks Valley St Helena Banks Valley St Helena

Prehistoic Landscape of Banks Valley St Helena

Prehistoric Landscape of Banks Valley St Helena

Wasted on Charlie, the spectacular views and otherworldly sand formations presented no enjoyment for him; at least his mood prevented any enthusiasm from escaping. More moaning and general disquiet ensued until such point that we reluctantly and much to my dissatisfaction at having had our morning once again cut short, returned to the car.

Charlie happy that our fist walk has been cancelled!

Charlie happy that our fist walk has been cancelled!

Start of Walk number two, still smiles at this point.

Start of Walk number two, still smiles at this point.

Charlie begins to contemplate whether this walk is any better than the last.

Charlie begins to contemplate whether this walk is any better than the last.

"Nope, this walk is rubbish, just like the last!"

“Nope, this walk is rubbish, just like the last!”

Our day was thankfully saved as we continued our conviviality with a late lunch date with the David’s family, Julie, Martin, Phoebe and Lottie, and friends Ian and Fiona Smyth and their children Oscar and Rachel. Martin, prison officer on the Island has become my regular breakfast date, as we enjoy belly buster sandwiches and real St Helena coffee at the Coffee Shop on a weekly basis. The David’s have good course for inviting people round for lunch. An agreement to purchase some of the remaining stock from a now closed butcher has left them with twenty six bags of sausages, each bag containing ten sausages. Gratefully I was able to do my bit and help them out with this problem. A long afternoon of great company, good conversation and of course the sausages was enjoyed by all, our children revelling in the opportunity to play in a large lawned garden, getting dirty and caring for garden snails.

And so we arrive at our first half term on the Island, despite my new positive thinking, the restrictions created by my groin injury, coupled with the thoughts of entertaining my children for five days has inevitably lowered my mood somewhat. School holidays are, it is reported, normally a time for enjoying the sunshine by the pool. It seems though we are lacking in both at the present time. Although the weather has improved summer is not here yet and the pool, despite all the rain, has no water. Drained and stripped, the pool has been due for a paint job and for some two or three months now has been waiting expectantly for the paint to arrive on the normally trustworthy RMS St Helena. The paint however has failed to turn up on successive shipments and the lifeguards still sit with no lives to actually guard save their own. The latest rumour, source unknown, is that the paint is now on Island but that the large brushes purchased to speed the act of painting, do not fit in the tins and we look towards Christmas for swimming and dive training to now commence.

This week will be a testing time for me as I spend long days in the company of said troublesome twos. I have always found being a Dad to be difficult. Troubling to write, and to admit, I find it hard to relate to our children’s young minds, finding their company to be often tedious and trying. Constant misdemeanours and boundary pushing leaves me exhausted and tired of their company. I am very aware that they provoke my temper and despite my sincere attempts to remain calm in situations, I am also very aware that our children’s occasional bouts of rage and anger have most likely come from the example set by their father. I am often left feeling out of control and unable to deal with their guidance and care, their constant needs and demands wearing me down and their silly requirements for inexplicable things that I have neither the desire nor means to seek out.  I vacillate between feelings of utter disdain and immense guilt and meander along between the two as I figure out how it is I am going to be the Dad I wish I could be.

Of course the feelings and emotions described above are in the extreme, felt at those times where my days have been long and unfulfilled, where all I can see before me are cleaning and an absence of meaningful work. Having reached the end of day two of our week together I am holding it together, today enjoying a fabulous walk with the children and feeling immensely proud at the mountaineering feats achieved by the little legs of my youngest, even enjoying his company for periods of the day. I hope it is these times that I can concentrate on, that I can learn to glean fulfilment and enjoyment from. I hope that remembering Charlie’s mammoth effort will help to ease my rage next time the bath has become an Ark, floating on the biblical flood that the boys are intent on creating each bath time.

My boys are just that, boys. They are wonderful, curious, inquisitive and busting with energy and enthusiasm. They are not badly behaved; they are just three and six years old. For every time of frustration, they provide a moment of real impress. Oliver in particular is fascinated with the World, taking inspiration from his parents, he has love for the natural World and shows respect for the creatures we share this planet with. Charlie is charming and cheeky in equal measure, providing moments of wonderful affection and caring. It is not at their behaviour that I should look but inwards, asking fundamental questions of myself and who I am, what I want to be and what is important in my life and for our family.

What is important to me, what do I want from this move to St Helena? I do not have the answers yet and remain in perpetual turmoil. Moving to St Helena has thrown up more questions of me than I expected.  I sit at a cross roads, on one hand immensely jealous of my wife, her importance and contribution to the island meeting with other adults to discuss work, projects, plans and training. Wishing I could also sit in a position of regard and I am eager to develop some of the opportunities that have recently presented themselves, leaving my children in the care of others whom in my own view would do a better job at their guidance than I ever could. On the other, feeling that I am here to build my relationship with them, to learn to enjoy their company, deal with the tests they present and give them two years in the Atlantic that will shape them and our family for the future. This half term will teach me a lot about whether I can achieve the latter, and perhaps will allow me to see a future which contains a balance of both worlds.

Summer starts to find its way into life at Half Tree Hollow.

Summer starts to find its way into life at Half Tree Hollow.