Ive concluded that my life on St Helena is in no way what I expected, not that I really knew what to expect, but I did not expect this.
I am, to all intense and purpose, running my own business in photography and design. How on earth has that come about? Granted there has been a lot of hard work and now, money, gone into the photography, and Ive always dabbled in producing posters and playing with adobe software, but when I left the UK I was a Marine Biologist/aquarist, since then I have become a communications manager, a business owner, and, photographer (I still find it difficult to say that as I feel very much an amateur and suspect I will be again on returning to the UK)
In recent weeks I have been somewhat overloaded with work, whilst this is obviously a good thing, the house looks like a tip as my house husband duties have been somewhat neglected and regrettably I have had to relinquish my duties at the National Trust. I simply haven’t had time to devote to Trust work and do not wish for people to be relying on me when I cannot deliver. I have much unfinished work at the Trust and who knows if my business does not continue to thrive I may be back there.
My work has been extremely interesting; a contract to photograph sites connecting to Napoleons exile on the Island has been very exciting. My work will be the sole photographic contribution to a new guide book for the Island. More recently I have been photographing sites across the Island for a development portfolio and I am in the midst of a big project for the Environment and Natural Recourses Directorate, providing a stock of images of the various activities and work that fall under their umbrella. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me, visiting sites I would not normally have access to. Watching large trees being felled has been the highlight thus far but lined up for me is a trip with the rock guards, brave men who abseil down cliffs to create controlled rock falls, trips with the Peaks conservation teams, visits to farms sites around the Island and lots more. It’s a large project but I cannot wait to get out there and stuck in.
The other side of my business has recently taken off with a contract to produce the logos for a new start-up company,Saint Travel. This local firm are hoping to take advantage of a new era of tourism for the Island when the airport opens. From what I know of the business owners it will be a huge success Im sure, and any of you thinking of travelling to St Helena when the airport opens should look out for them once they become operational.
Back to the photography and I have started a new line of products for the St Helena youth, photographing and retouching cars. Many young Saints take a huge amount of pride in their vehicles, and I hope this will prove a success. Some of my photos will soon be on sale in the local arts and crafts store, and one of my first photos on the Island is to feature in a new St Helena calendar. With another photography course under way I am indeed kept very busy at the moment.
Not that my time is restricted to work. I have now completed my advanced diving certification and will soon start my rescue diver course. Thursday evenings are very busy as I continue to train junior football and finally as winter sets in the new football season starts on St Helena and Oliver and his team mates will have the opportunity to compete in competitive football with three other junior teams on the Island. New Horizons, a youth development organisation on the Island are fantastic, and the team there, managed by Nicky and Tina Stevens, work tirelessly to provide opportunities for St Helena’s young people. The fact that the various ages of the Junior leagues will have 90 players competing this year, (on an Island of 4000 people remember) is incredible and just goes to show how hard the team there work. As a side note, one of my team, whilst walking down to the pitched explained to me that “some people believe that the World is God’s House”, I agreed that, although not my personal belief, yes, some people do believe that to be the case. With a short pause for thought, the young man mused, “I don’t, I think he lives in the Consulate hotel”!! a fine recommendation for a hotel if ever there was one.
Sadly I fear my own football days are behind me. Somewhat unbelievably I am still having problems with my groin, more than five months after it last ruptured. Under pressure from Bev I finally conceded that I need to see a doctor, the appointment has been made. Unfortunately, such is the way of things here, whilst the doctors and nurses cannot be faulted, the waiting times can, and despite phoning on the 24th May, I could not get an appointment until the 12th of June. Ill let you know then if Im still available for Brenden Rogers to sign.
I am, as you can see rather busy, but I am not the only one. With the Marine Conservation Team starting their bird tagging again, Bev had a rather wet night on Egg Island. Starting at 4pm and going through till 1am the idea is to catch nesting Storm Petrels as they return from feeding trips to Tag and record their vitals before releasing. It is hoped this work will provide information on their population trends, and interestingly, whether two species, one potentially an endemic species actually exist on the Island. Bev is also now teaching Marine Biology O’level classes two evenings a week, (between the two of us we now do not have one mid-week evening where we are not out doing something in the community) preparing resources, lesson plans and materials for the new Marine Biology A’level which will start next year, carrying out her normal teaching duties and, most recently teaching science at a local primary school suffering from a major staffing crisis. I don’t mind telling you that despite claims from the government of the importance of Education on the Island, teacher wages are appalling. A Saint can currently earn more baking bread, or working the checkout, than they can educating the children of St Helena. This terrible situation has led to serious recruitment and retention problems. On an Island where unemployment is at virtually 100% it is people, not jobs that are in short supply, and if people aren’t rewarded sufficiently for what is a very difficult and highly skilled job, they simply go elsewhere and who can blame them. There are rumours abound that indeed this may change and that the teacher pay and benefits structure is being looked at and revised, I hope for the future of the Island that they get it right.
In other goings on it turns out I am allergic to Sea Water!!! Not a great situation for a Marine Biologist (if indeed I am still one of them) nor for someone with ambitions of achieving a Dive Master status. It dawned on Bev and I that I had had sinus problems for weeks and months, indeed, when we thought carefully, those problems have persisted since I started to dive. If I miss a couple of weeks of diving its starts to clear up. I have now taken to Anti-histamines before a dive, which seems to be helping alleviate the problem. Diving over the past two weeks has taken a considerable turn to the cold side, with seawater temperatures dropping to around 22C, enough to make a difference. What makes more difference however is the turn in the weather making the return journey a chilly one as winds have swept in and what feels like a continuous blanket of cloud has shrouded the Island for two or three weeks now.
A long dry summer has given way to winter, and I do not like it. A few weeks ago Connect, our local, and only utility provider issued stark warnings over the levels of water supply on the Island, insisting that if people did not severely limit their use then we could run out of water by July. It seems the weather gods heard their plea and promptly switched on the rain, and it has not stopped since. Despite the huge amount of rainfall we have had, water restrictions have been legally imposed on the Island this week, much to the bemusement of everyone concerned. The problem it seems lies not with the amount of rainfall, but with capturing and retaining that rainfall (see Ceri Samson’s blog for a great write up on how works to the natural environment can help this situation). Broken pipes and reservoirs empty for repairs don’t help, but in all honestly the situation is ridiculous and Connect frankly need to get a grip of things. I believe problems of aging reservoirs and leaks have been inherited by the current directors but being told we may run out of water as rain lashes down around us is bemusing at best and downright incompetent at worst.
The strange goings on do not stop there, after the announcement of the final voyages of the RMS ST Helena, and a string of “special” voyages were announced and tickets went on sale on a first come first served basis to those living on the Island. Such is the regard that this ship is held in that people queued outside the Solomon’s shipping offices from 4am, with even those at the front of the queue not being served until 9.30am. They say the British like to form an orderly queue and it seems that has rubbed of on Saint Helenians. Im am convinced however that waiting five hours before the offices even opened was not the sensible approach, and turning up at 9am most likely would of seen you getting your tickets an hour or two later.
My final story of this strange world we call home is that of the Prince Andrew School Annual Dinner Dance, a very posh black tie affair………or so we were told. After getting ready in our best attire (I don’t have much other than shorts and T-shirt on St Helena), my wife looked quite simply incredible and was sure to be turning heads. We turned up at the dubiously named Godfarther’s Rockclub which had been turned over to the school for a night of glitz and glamor. Sure enough as we arrived the ladies were dressed in their best gowns and the men looked suitably smart in black ties. The venue looked superb and the elegant table cloths suitably hid the plastic garden furniture underneath. However, this is where the façade fell down as we were called to collect our food from the buffet. A Buffet! I thought this was a posh dinner dance, I was expecting table service at least. Once at the buffet table the menu was bizarre to say the least, Beef Curry, Chips, cold ham and pork slices, breaded chicken pieces, and salad leaves. A weird combination at the best of times (Bev’s Mum and Dad would of loved this strange mix) and even stranger when being served as a buffet at a black tie event. Still, I went back for a second plate, and enjoyed the jelly and ice cream desert too! Despite the comical nature of it all we had a fantastic night with good company, music and dancing to my favourite band of all time, the Big Easy.
When I look back to our first two months on the Island I recall a time of confusion and feeling lost. Climbing Jacobs Ladder provided my goals for the week, and my blog was everything to me at that time. I was lost, not knowing why I had come to St Helena and what it was I was supposed to do here. It turns out I am still lost, still unsure of what I am supposed to do here, and it’s wonderful. I could not be busier and still have no idea what I will be doing next. Somehow I am running a business, which even saying still sounds bizarre, and even more bizarre is that I am a photographer. In a few weeks’ time we will be moving house, what will come my way then I have no idea but I cant wait to find out.