It has taken longer than I expected, but I find myself contented in my new life. My retirement has turned out to be the busiest retirement one could imagine, an evening in with no work to complete has become something of a rarity as I juggle my photography work including projects for local schools, a maternity shoot, photography course and the work for the tourist office, with exciting projects for the National Trust, what I believe is my improved and balanced life with the children and of course diving and the odd encounter with forty foot fish, things really are hectic. But I finally feel as though I have a place on the Island and have found the right balance. Ive always needed to be busy, to be juggling many balls and I am certainly doing that now.
A sit down heart to heart with my ever incredible wife a few weeks ago, has helped to put my feelings of myself as a father into perspective, and coupled with the arrival of other meaningful work on the Island I feel my outlook of the boys and relationship with them has improved greatly, I am almost beginning to believe that they quite enjoy spending time with me!
Sadly, as I become more content, Oliver has become unsettled in school, friendships are presenting challenges and have the status “its complicated”. He is clearly upset at times and this has impacted his behaviour at home. The old me would of dealt with his behaviour with a stern telling off, but I am trying to offer support and understanding and we have come up with plans to help him re-settle, namely to invite his friends round to play as often as possible to help re-cement their relationships. It has taken me aback that Oliver has fell into problems at school, although I suspect it wont last long, and neither will it be the last period of turmoil with our Oliver.
Despite this blip in school I have no doubt that the boys are happy here. As Bev and I have learnt to dive, so have the boys learnt to snorkel, and even Charlie, at four years old has his set of fins, mask and snorkel. We spend many afternoons at the swimming pool, enjoying the open air and sunshine. Charlie, now swims round to his hearts content, jumping frpm the diving board with unreserved joy. Oliver is becoming more and more competent, and is now able to swim a full 30m length of the pool, making his parents very proud. The transformation in both of them in a few short weeks is incredible.
The Tyson’s have been dominating the local media here on St Helena, myself taking part in a twenty minute interview on photography and the courses I have been running, and Bev, in readiness for Marine awareness week has been talking about her new adult classes O’level in Marine Biology. Marine awareness week is an annual event held in St Helana to raise awareness for the Islanders of the fantastic and important world that surrounds and dominates the pulse of life on St Helena. For my part I am back within my comfort zone having set up an aquarium, now stocked with numerous endemic species, and next week delivering education sessions to local school children. The challenges of finding new roles in St Helena has been great, but I must admit it is lovely to be in and around an aquarium again and back in my world, covered in water and playing with pipework. For any of my aquarium friends out there, if you ever out together an aquarium on a volcanic Island, bare in mind the sand is magnetic and will find its way onto all your pump impellers!
This week I did my first photoshoot, with a person, an actual person, and not just a person but a pregnant person, my first ever photo shoot was a maternity one. Id like to say Im not sure who was more nervous, but Im fairly sure the answer was me. With sweat beading on my brow I was very aware of myself! But the client and I settled into things and despite a less than ideal setting and lighting I am on my way to producing some good quality images.
Saturday was one of yet another, most incredible days of my life. It started with my second dive since qualifying, a trip out with established divers to a natural rock formation known as Billy Maze. I found myself nervous for the first time whilst diving, not as a result of the dive, but as a result of the company, perfectly lovely people, but experienced, very competent divers. How would I compare, would I run out of air and ruin everyone’s dive, will I be welcomed into this little group. As it was I needn’t of worried, it was a fantastic experience with fantastic people, all of whom could vividly remember being in my position, and all of whom were encouraging and supportive. The dive took me a full ten meters deeper than I had been before as I followed our guide through a twist of rock channels with stunning fish a plenty and even a swim with a Hawksbill Turtle.
That afternoon we went on our next Whale Shark trip. A group organised by Bev, of colleagues from Prince Andrew School ,it was a lovely opportunity to get to know, not just Bevs work mates, but some Saint families and spend time in their company. Setting off from the wharf under grey skies and a sizeable swell it did not look good for Shark spotting. The conditions and dark looking seas had put Oliver off, and Charlie was already falling asleep. It was a relief therefore when I spotted the tell tale shadow of a Whale Shark under the waves and, after shouting our captain to make an about turn the first group were soon in the water. Bev jumped in along with other parents and their children and it was with great disappointment to myself that they soon returned to the boat having watched the shark disappear into the depths. As I sat brooding like child on his brothers birthday, I was bitterly disappointed and jealous that I missed out.
With everyone back on board, we continued on, in constant communication with other boats on the water in the hope of finding another shark. With the weather deteriorating, and, by this point many people, including Oliver feeling seasick, I looked around the boat at children laid out upon their parents laps, tired and unwell and felt sure the best course of action would be to cut our losses and head home. However, as is normal for the boat operators here, their determination to deliver a great experience meant that we continued our quest to find another animal. After what felt like an age we received a call from another boat and quickly headed off in the direction of another Whale Shark. Anthony, skipper, dive tutor and general water man told me to get kitted up, it was a big one. I felt a surge of excitement and anticipation and sure enough, before long we were just feet away from a truly huge animal. Almost before the boat had even stopped I was in the water, and swimming as hard as I could alongside a stunning, 12m long (40ft) male shark, cruising at speed with giant sweeps of its tail. With go-pro in one hand I swam as hard as I could but ultimately I am no match for a 12 foot fish and eventually he disappeared ahead of me, his huge dorsal fin still visible through the waves. Turning around I found myself not only a long way from the other swimmers, but a long way from the boat. I sat steady and waited for the inevitable pick up, knowing it is quicker for them to come to me.
Back aboard it was not long until we had caught up with the whale shark, and soon enough the next group were in the water. With Charlie still asleep, and Oliver still unwell, I stayed aboard as Bev jumped in for her second swim. The whale shark by now had become curious about us, and instead of swimming off in the distance was turning and swimming around the boat, the swimmers were so close to this magnificent animal and it was with great pleasure that one of our good friend Jon, came leaping back onto the boat barely able to catch a breath shouting, “it bumped into me, it bumped into me!!!!” like an excited and nervous school child. I was equally pleased as Jons departure from the water gave me the opportunity to get back in, as the whale shark approached the back of the boat I lowered myself into the water just feet from the 5ft mouth of this goliath. Swimming within feet of me I could not contain my joy. I spent a further 20 minutes swimming with this animal, 40ft of magnificent, stunning animal, peacefully and gracefully swimming though the waves, a true privilege to spend time in its presence. Another in what is becoming a long list of unforgettable moments on St Helena.
Monday evening saw another dive, and Bevs first since qualifying. Another trip to the SS Papanui saw unfathomable numbers of fish. So many Butterfly fish that it is, without exaggeration, difficult to estimate how many hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of fish that we saw that day. Another Hawksbill Turtle just topped off a magical 40 minutes under the sea.
On Tuesday I had the great pleasure and honour to be invited for lunch with at the home of Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, French consul on the Island and in charge of the Napoleonic sites on St Helena. Michel’s home has been built based on original plans for a home that was never built for Napoleon himself, and I have to say it was simply exquisite. Splendour and elegance coupled with style and intrigue and no shortage of incredible art work by Michel himself. Our lunch was the finest food I have eaten in months, with rare roast beef, smoked salmon, fine cheese and fine wine it was a true indulgence. With great company and the chance to meet Pascal Sean Laparliere, a great promoter of my photography in Paris I had a wonderful afternoon. Perhaps the greatest pleasure for me was the invite itself. An invite because someone wanted my company, not as a plus one, or because of a work function, nor because my camera was wanted, but because I was.
I am finding my place on this little Island, I am finding my relationship with Oliver and Charlie, I am finding friends and I am finding a role (well many actually), I am finding contentment, and it feels wonderful.