Christmas is in full swing in St Helena and schools are busying up with various events including the traditional Church Service. Bev was lucky enough to be able to join me at the Church for a wonderful display featuring all of the children from Pilling Primary School, lots of singing and a good amount of humour as the Church was filled with parents and Islanddignitaries. Oliver played his part as one of the kings, and looked very pleased with himself in his rather large hat. Charlie looked more bewildered, but despite this he did make some contribution to the singing, and looked pleased as punch when he spotted his Mum and Dad amongst the crowd. I say crowd, in what is becoming more usual style I had ensured my spot at the front with my camera, having arranged to take the official photos of the service! I was also then asked to take the official school photo and given that I had no prior warning, preparation and the batteries were failing in my flash I was pleased with the result.
For me, Christmas has started early and takes the shape of a gift to myself, my first major business purchase. I say business purchase, others would call it a toy, as a fabulous new telephoto camera lens starts its journey from the UK to me. Now of course this is for the business because the small fortune, sorry, considerable fortune, spent (you have to spend money to make money right?) will allow me to photograph the Governor’s Cup. For those not in the know the Governor’s cup is an annual yacht race from Cape Town to St Helena, a long enough journey via the RMS and an incredible feat in a yacht! Sadly this year will be the last, and it would be quite some honour if I could take the photos.
So my lens has started its own journey. Tested and helped on its way by good friend Steve Webb (Hi Steve) back home, an overnight courier will ensure its arrival at Bristol tomorrow. From there it will hopefully fly by military plane to Ascension Isle, some 750km to the North West of us, and arrive there in time to be collected by the RMS St Helena before spending three days at sea and arriving on St Helena on the 21st of December.
Ascension Isle is like a sister to St Helena, our closest land mass, home to many Saints working on the Island, and a regular stop off for the RMS. One almost feels as though Ascension is just off the horizon, but in reality is a three day journey at Sea. How strange then that somewhere that takes three times as long to get to as Australia does from the UK, can feel so close.
This weekend was, for the first time I believe, fairly uneventful, by St Helena standards anyway. Largely spent relaxing at home, we did take an outing on our monthly community planting work arriving an hour after the start, due in the main to my late rise and sore head (more on that shortly!) We travelled across to the far east of the Island, beyond a district known as Longwood, and to the site of a forest of rare Gumwood trees, Millennium Forest. Some 300 years ago, during settlement of St Helena, and like many of the local habitats, the largest forest expanse on the Island was destroyed, the land subsequently turning to desert. In 2010 work started to re-establish this forest, and ever since, thousands of trees are planted each year. It is a privilege to be involved in work like this, to have a hand in restoring one of the World’s rarest habitats.
Gumwood trees also provided the nectar for what must be one of the World rarest Honeys, donated to us by a very kind neighbour who has hives at the Island’s last remaining stand of natural Gumwood trees. With the import of Honey restricted , it is a very rare commodity on the Island and our precious jar of honey has made a good number of people very jealous as well as tasting amazing on toast!
And so why did we arrive late to our community planting, why did I have a sore head, somewhat embarrassingly this was due to our attendance at a Children’s party. Oliver was invited to a party for one of his classmates and, upon our arrival we met, amongst others, a friendly Saint with his son. After chatting for a while we spotted the new, pop up water front bar and decided, whilst the children were happy playing on a bouncy castle, and under the watchful eye of friends or family, we could take a quick cool down beer. As I should have expected one turned to several, sat in stunning sunshine watching boats in the bay and enjoying good conversation I returned to the party asking Bev to drive home! I should stress at this point that I was not drunk (and neither was my companion), but importantly to the story I was very well lubricated for the evening, and the Rum and Whisky that followed later that night, the result of which was a late start and sore head the following morning!
Returning to the subject of Christmas our first post arrived on the Royal Mail Ship St Helena. Th last Royal Mail ship doing its job and brining in the post. In the UK, the arrival of the post man normally means bills or junk, and is not perhaps all that welcome. On St Helena however there is no door to door postal service, no one is going to pop something through our door only for it to be thrown straight in the bin. Despite all the junk mail, the lack of postal service is one of the things I have missed most. But this is more than made up for by the excitement that builds on the arrival of goods on the RMS. In general, unless rushed through military style like my lens, it takes around 6 weeks for items to leave the UK and arrive at the wharf in Jamestown. Our first packages consisted of two boxes of nicely wrapped Christmas presents from my parents (Hi Mum an Dad) and what a wonderful thing to search through a shipping container to spot your name on a package, and open it up to see a box full of Christmas. Christmas this year might be strange for us, but at least we are safe in the knowledge that Oliver and Charlie will have goodies from their Grandparents to open on the day. I should mention at this stage the incredible forward thinking of Bev’s Mum, who ensured their presents for the boys were wrapped and travelled with us, in August!!
Christmas continues this week, the boys finishing school on Friday for their four week summer holidays!! (yes weird for us too). Tomorrow is school barbeque day with a tropical theme for dress (still weird) and lights have been erected throughout town, in readiness for the festival of lights. Advent calendars are opened and our Christmas tree and decorations are up. Our spare room is full of gifts, chocolates and other goodies, and I have even found myself a packet of Fox’s Brandy Snaps, which, as my family will know, is all I really need for my traditional Christmas!!