Whether the same applies to Saints, living here all their lives I do not know, but for me, and indeed many travelling ex pats, St Helena does funny things to you. Having arrived on St Helena retired, expecting a laid back life for two years, indulging in hobbies and reading, I find myself now worrying about everything I have taken on, whether I can fulfil my obligations and meet my own newly defined goals, make the most of my time here on St Helena and indeed be the family man I intended before we left the shores of the UK.
I look back a few weeks, to a time where, despite falling in love with St Helena, I was not in love with myself, unsure of my place, my future on the Island and unable to see a way out of a hole of cleaning and domestication.
A recent conversation with a local left me pondering some things, to which I have not found an answer. The crux of my depression was in not having, what I regarded as a good answer when the inevitable question, “what are you doing here” came up. I would joke that I was retired, afraid of being judged by my profession, or lack thereof. But why is this, do I lack the confidence to just be myself, without the need to be something of importance? I don’t believe I judge people based on their profession, I have always strived to see the person and not the badge, so why do I assume others will judge me. I find myself playing up or down previous roles dependant on the profession of the person I am speaking to. But then it seems to me that it is often the case that people will ask what you do, before they ask your name, and indeed St Helena is a funny place for ex-pats where humble retiree’s like myself rub shoulders with those holding seats of government, lawyers, Prison Officers, Chief of Police, Doctors, Deputy Governors and the like, if there was ever an environment to make one feel inadequate, this I suspect this is it.
I find myself now more and more at ease with things, I no longer feel
the need to joke to cover up my own self judgment, opportunities are presenting themselves, and along with those opportunities are choices to be made. St Helena does funny things to people, ex-pats arriving without work, supporting loved ones are presented with opportunities to take part in the most wonderful and varied things, I have even been offered my own radio show, something which Im afraid I simply don’t now have time to do. It seems, having bought a cheap camera a few months ago, am now a photographer, my work is being recognised and appreciated and it is difficult to place in words how wonderful that feels.
Last weekend I attended a craft fare, and sold a few of my photos, even being asked for some signed copies, and today I sit having spent
most of the day producing a collage of my work for the St Helena Government representatives in London, having been called upon directly from London to see if I could help. I pinch myself that I have completed the necessaries and await confirmation to see if I am able to register my new business, Paul Tyson Photography! Now who’d of thought that as we stepped onto the RMS St Helena three months ago.
St Helena creates friends; this funny melting pot of peoples in a strange situation brings about close and powerful friendships. We find ourselves spending time with people from all walks of life and all professions. Why is it that dive Instructors become friends with housing planners, that prison officers become friends with videographers, that lawyers become friends with teachers, what is it that breaks down the normal barriers and creates friendships that would be unlikely to form back home, what is it that binds us? Ex pats on the Island all have one thing in common, and it seems so obvious as to almost not be worth stating, we all live in St Helena. It is not the living here however that brings a closeness, it is the spirit that brought us all here in the first place, a curiosity for the unknown and a sense of adventure for leaving the safety or normality at home and venturing out into something new, something exciting, something with huge potential to fail but huge potential for great reward. I have learnt to look beyond first impressions; St Helena does that to you. In the knowledge that the size of St Helena makes it inevitable that you will bump into people regularly, that you will share a drink and spend time in the company of others, you are forced to bide your time, to form friendships with people whom at home you may pass up, turning away based on an inaccurate and fleeting first impression. I hope I take this new found measured approach to people with me when I leave, just another in a long list of improvements I believe I am making.
Friendships on St Helena are also transient, as fleeting as our time here. Already three fellow passengers on board the RMS have departed these shores, and families we have become close to will be leaving in the New Year. Even those residents, the Saints themselves whom we are slowly making friends amongst, will remain when we depart. In the social bubble I find myself in, one remains ever aware of the RMS and the departure we and others will make.
Between my work with the National Trust, my burgeoning photography career, looking after the house and the boys I am clinging onto my time with the Marine Conversation team, just! This Monday had the huge pleasure of assisting in tagging Red Billed Tropic Birds on the aptly named Egg Island. A small group of us headed out to this small rocky outcrop, some 300 yards from the shore, and accessible only by a leap of faith from the back of a boat onto a vertical cliff face, all the while judging the movement of the waves and hoping the next wave pushes you closer to your target and not further away. After a full twenty minutes of ups and downs back and fourths, the team of four were safely onto the Island. From a distance Egg island looks white, closer inspection reveals it is indeed, the rock stained white from centuries of guano. Stepping across the rocks and climbing to the Island’s peak at around 70m, tens upon thousands of Black Noddies and Sooty terms flew around us, angry and upset by our disturbance and sure to let us know about it, their powerful beaks and quick head height fly pasts a constant reminder that we were on their turf.
The valuable work on Egg Island is revealing the secrets of these sea birds, potential new species being revealed and population trends being followed, all essential if these birds, residents of the Island for thousands of years are to survive a thousand years into the future. Our journey was also in preparation for next week’s adventures when the trip will be repeated in the pitch black of night, lit up by the stunning nocturnal skyline as we turn our attention to the resident, nesting Storm Petrol population. The short climb back down the vertical cliff to leap back onto our waiting boat left me nervously excited about attempting the same feat at 1 o’clock in the morning!
Three months into our time here I am at something of a cross roads, determined to help out with the amazing marine conservation I have become involved with, proud of my work with the National Trust, desperate to develop a new career in photography, and without losing sight of the family we have ventured here to become. Writing this blog has, from the very start helped me to make sense of things, but St Helena does funny things to people, and for the time being even my writings are not helping me to make sense in this sudden turn around. I am not quite sure how I make sense of all this and where I should go next. What I need is more time in the day, what I suspect I will end up doing is somehow just squeezing it all in, and seeing what pans out. What I do know is opportunities are coming my way, opportunities that would never of been afforded to me should I have stayed in the UK, what I do know is that St Helena does funny things to people, and I think I like it.
*Footnote. Please accept my apologies for the lack of updates for a week, I have been so busy with things it has simply not been possible. I will do my best to get back on track this week.
Best wishes with your work with the National Trust, Paul. David and I hope to help out with some voluntary habitat work (weeding etc) if there is a working bee in the nine days we are on the island. We have just joined the Trust in Australia and regularly volunteer in our local Friends group (as well as guiding at our Briars). Also best wishes with the new photography business – sounds like you may be too busy for that coffee in October next year. I hope not! Bronwyn
Hi Bronwyn, thanks again for your lovely comments, I’m sure there will be things you can volunteer with, remind me closer to the time and I’ll see what’s happening and who I can out you in touch with. And I can always make time for a coffee!
Coffee’s the important bit. Cheers, Bronwyn
Really pleased to hear of the opportunities that have come your way & your not just a house husband that you thought you may become. Keep us updated Paul with your blog, I for one love reading it
Thanks Dave, Im running a photography course on the Island now too! Hope all is well with you and yours.
It’s amazing how life can turn a different corner if you just let it, you certainly did that by upsticking to such a remote island & for that I commend you….yeah, alls good my end thanks