Last week’s blog entry was intended as a bonus, an additional blog full of pictures, it turned out of course to be my only entry for a week quite simply because I can’t keep up. Life is full to say the least, and as we approach what is for us a very strange Christmas, it is seemingly becoming fuller and fuller.
Eight solid evenings of events have left I and the family in something of an exhausted spin. As Christmas day itself approaches, it’s safe to say that although full of fun, even as Bev sits wrapping presents, it does not truly feel like Christmas, at least, not as we know it!
Our eight days began on Tuesday the 16th, with our second closed water dive. Definitely a step up in terms of un-pleasantries, but also in our feeling of control. This session involved the inevitable removing of mask underwater, an unpleasant feeling, with bubbles rushing past ones eyes, but ultimately a required skill and one which Bev and I both passed. Whilst we dive, Charlie and Oliver enjoy an evening with Suzie and Mike, two New Zealanders who, having left Pitcairn Island find themselves in the metropolis of St Helena. With several grown up children themselves, it seems they enjoy the occasional company of our boys, and the boys certainly enjoy their time playing rugby and watching ET!
The following evening saw the second of Pilling Primary Schools Christmas events. There is undoubtedly a healthy competition between the Islands primary schools to outdo each other in the scale and number of events that can be staged during Christmas. The Pilling School Christmas bonanza saw a night of stalls and
food, crafts and children’s face painting, as well as live music from a, suffice to say, wide standard of participants, including a never to be forgotten performance by the schools Head teacher and staff together. Christmas favourites such as “Last Christmas”; “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree”; “Santa Claus is Coming to town”, and of course the old Country and Western melodies, “Please Daddy don’t get drunk this Christmas” and “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” could all be heard to varying levels of tone and pitch!
Pilling Primary school is lucky to have Mrs Elaine Benjamin at the helm, the most capable and formidable of ladies, who combines great authority with great tact and a gentle touch. She also has an incredible ability to get everyone involved and working hard, whether paid member of the teaching staff or passes by. I seem to end up carrying or lifting something almost every time I set foot onto the premises. Great amusement a
few weeks back as I was leaving the school, the head teacher called after me only to have one of the teachers call “Run Paul Run” in jest at the endless requests that befall many of the willing parents. Of course I am delighted to help where I can, and for the Christmas bonanza I had the job of photographing Children with the schools very own Father Christmas.
The evening of the 18th saw my place as official photographer (it was written on my chair) at the Prince Andrew Schools fashion Show. Part of the 25th Anniversary events for the schools 37 pupils took part in a spectacular and very professional production. All showing clothes designed and made by pupils and exhibited to the 300 strong crowd with great professionalism, style poise and beauty from both Saints and Ex Pats. It was fantastic to see search great community support for an events, with queues outside the door, in the rain some hour or so before doors opening. Maybe this eagerness is down to a relative lack of entertainment on the Island, but I feel more likely is the strong sense of community spirit, of support for each other and wishing well of others. Unfortunately I cannot yet show you any of the 600 or so photos that were taken as I am seeking parental permission before doing so, but the results were fantastic and I hope the children enjoy seeing themselves under lights looking every bit the professional model once the commemorative CD is produced.
The evening of the 19th saw a parents and children event at a local building for hire, Drakes lodge. I say parent and children but in this case the Children were adults and the parents with, well, more adult as visiting families, here for Christmas got together for a bring and braai a South African term for a barbeque, an adopted by Saints. Having presumed a start time of six to seven pm, the norm for St Helena, we were disappointed when we found out, two hours too late, that the party started at five pm!! But we carried on into the night until the stars of a crystal clear sky lit our way home.
The 20th was the annual Hog Roast at Anne’s, place, a local
Jamestown Restaurant. Having seen this advertised, and with a particular liking for meat, I decided to organise a group outing and, after a fair amount of toing and froing ended up with a booking for twenty four people, a considerable chunk of the eighty two that eventually booked on the night. Despite talking to what can only be described as a flustered and marginally concerned Anne the week before, the whole night came together extremely well. The food was excellent and varied, the company was great, the boys well behaved, and a thoroughly good Christmas feast was had by all.
The food had been well earned by the Tyson family after our afternoon walk. Having not ventured to the high peaks for some weeks it was with great pleasure that we took a couple of short walks around the Blue Hill district of St Helena. It is important to take in the central ridge of St Helena on a regular basis. As our day to day lives settle in, and the holiday feeling of being here diminishes it would be easy to forget the stunning beauty of this Island and a good walk helps to reaffirm that this really is one of the most incredible places I have ever witnessed. Once again looking down on the Sandy Bay amphitheatre the views remain breath-taking, the scenery ranging from the lush green of the cloud forests to barren reds and purples of the dry valleys within one extraordinary view. Endemic plants, seen nowhere else on earth sit side by side with the familiarity of gorse and heather as cows and sheep roam the very Welsh fields on the way to Blue Point.
Having spent the past four months in the almost solid company of ether my children, wife or both, I had a burning need for a boy’s day. As so I took to a fishing trip, which, more than satisfied my need to escape washing and cleaning and be a man. Having left Anne’s place at around ten at night, I was due to be awake in just four hours, for an early start to head out at four in the morning to catch our bait for the day. Leaving the wharf in drizzly rain I was disappointed that the spectacular sunrise I had anticipated had been replaced with cloud and grey skies. Not that this was to temper our enjoyment as four us set to work catching well over a hundred Mackerel for both the plate and the bait hold.
As dawn gave broke we attached three rods to the rear of the boat, and pulled a variety of lures behind. Within five minutes one of the reels gave a whirl, and the gears were pulled off by our first main catch of the day. Having not been fishing for many a year I was nervous when given the job of reeling in this first fish. After what I sadly cannot describe as a great battle I was none the less very satisfied to land a nice Tuna, around 4kg in weight.
The quick start proved to be something of a false dawn and several fruitless hours were spent before finally a second catch was made. This time, after putting up a much stronger fight, a large (it seemed large to me) Wahoo, ( Acanthocybium solandri) was brought on deck.
Lunch of the freshest sashimi in the world followed and despite not being my favourite dish, there is something undeniably wonderful about eating fish as fresh as this that you have caught yourself. After lunch we headed off to shallower waters to hand line for grouper and moray eel, (locally known as Conger) and a successful hour or so followed with lots of catches, including an impressive Trevally caught on relatively light gear and giving a good fight.
With a beer in hand, fresh fish in the hold, and chewing on biltong we headed home, my need for a boy’s day well and truly satisfied. Of course the day could not be completed in St Helena without some other wondrous thing occurring, and we were duly obliged as a pod of Rough Toothed Dolphins danced in the wake of the boat and followed us home.My thanks to Into the Blue for another fantastic day out.
And so Christmas continued, now leading us to the next of Pilling’s School events, and the biggest of them all, the Festival of Lights. This wonderful occasion sees hundreds of people, cars and float coated in thousands of lights, parade down the main street of Jamestown dancing, singing and laughing, all for the entertainment of the throngs of people lining the streets. With a very meagre effort of a handful of glow sticks around our necks we joined the procession, and Bev, Oliver, Charlie and I marched down the road with the others. It was a truly wonderful occasion, full of great joy and another now typical example of the community spirit that pervades this tiny Island. Saints love Christmas, and this, of all the events we have been to sums up their attitude towards this wonderful time of year. It’s a party, a party for all the family, a party of joy, laughter and of exuberance.
My Monday had not started so well. My embryonic photography business and my confidence taking a bit of a knock as I found out I was not to be photographing the Governor’s cup. This prestigious event see’s hundreds of yachts competing to cross the Atlantic from Cape Town to James Bay. Had I got the job my photos would have been seen in high profile places and would have done wonders for my profile? I was later to find out that the booking I had for a wedding was also cancelled, due to a mix up with the Bride’s family. Two jobs and my pride knocked in a short space of time. My misery was compounded when I then found out my new, and very expensive camera lens, due to arrive on the RMS was not where it was supposed to be, and there was no record of it on the ships manifest. Great gloom came over me as I contemplated the loss of my lens and a lot of money. Thankfully this was short lived, and my lens turned up at the local post office, having unexpectedly gone strait there. For those who know photography I am now the proud owner of a Sigma, 120-300mm f2.8 OS HSM lens. For those not in the know suffice to say it’s big, and looks cool!!
And so to today, our first event-less evening for a while and chance to upload some photos and write some words. Not that the day itself was event free. In what is perhaps my strangest Christmas experience yet I enjoyed the company of my co-workers at the St Helena National Trust as we held our Christmas staff do. Now a Christmas do for me is in a restaurant, followed by a pub, normally accompanied by running for taxis in the rain, or rushing from one building to the next in the hope that we don’t freeze on the way. If we make it, lots of alcohol is consumed before someone insults the boss and makes a fool out of themselves, sound familiar? But not this year, this year’s staff do was at Lemon Valley, snorkelling, fishing, sunbathing and enjoying home cooked food on an open wood fire!!! The strange bit is returning home from said Staff do, sober and in time for tea. Whilst unfamiliar, I could get used to it.
And so I close on the evening of the 23rd of December, Bev has wrapped the presents, Christmas lights are on and the boys are tucked up in bed, having accumulated a loss of sleep such that their mood has been on a downward spiral all day. Christmas Eve takes the form of a picnic, Christmas Day will be a garden party, and Boxing Day will involve a water slide. What a very Saint Christmas.
I shall of course tell you how it all goes, but in the meantime, to everyone who reads my blog, to whom I am very grateful, to all of my friends and family, I wish you a very very Merry Christmas, where ever in the World you may be.