Winter has arrived in earnest here on St Helena, for what seemed like a biblical time span the Island was soaked with continual misty rain and low hanging cloud. Much to the delight of our utilities supplier, Connect, the solid downpours have raised water levels and averted a water shortage. The Island took on a different atmosphere for a while, cloud hung to the peaks and ridges forming a permanent barrier to the sun. The acclimatised Saint in me is cold, the Brit in me is still wearing shorts and determined that 15C is still warm weather and nothing to whine about. When we arrive on St Helena in August last year we arrived to similar temperatures, and I was ashamed at the ex-pats who were complaining about the cold weather, having got used to months of 26C plus however, this sudden drop in temperature has come as a surprise. It has been compounded by our house move, as we have once again uprooted and moved house. Oliver, at seven years of age is now on his eight home as we packed up and moved across the Island to the wonderfully named, Alarm Forest. We have also moved up in the world, and our home sits around 500m altitude, and is on the cold side of St Helena. This move coupled with the cooler weather has meant a drop in temperature in the evenings of around 10C and we sit wrapped in blankets on our new and distinctly chilly leather sofa’s.
I insist on wearing shorts and have now set myself the goal of going a full 12months wearing shorts every day, something that will no doubt be put to the test as we return to the UK in a few days time. We had decided to hold Oliver’s Birthday party in our new home, it is well suited with a large garden and huge front room that is not less than 42ft long. This had forced us to empty boxes and sort the house out in double quick time and just three days after moving we were all settled in.
Our new home is lovely, and old Saint house, possibly over a hundred years old, made of stone walls some 2ft thick. A large grass lawn opens out to simply stunning views across the North of the Island, Jamestown, Ruperts Valley and the peaks of Flagstaff are all clearly visible, as is St Helena first airport beacon, a red light sat high on the Barn as a symbol of the change that is about to hit all of St Helena. Although a little colder now, it promises to be an ideal place for most of the year and I cant wait to enter into Spring and Summer in a few weeks time.
Of course winter also brings the football season, and Oliver and I now have a team, as I was in the UK I am now coaching my own little group of Steven Gerrards. Oliver is loving his first taste of competitive football, and by all accounts is doing ok, scoring a few goals in his first few games and with a good sense of positioning and space for a seven year old. Our first match was reminiscent of British football, cold grey and wet, with parents huddled into their thick jackets hurling instructions and encouragement to their bewildered looking children. Bev, previously critical of such competitive behaviour found herself admitting, “you just cant help but get excited and shout at them”.
With the change in seasons comes a change in the Wildlife as the Humpback Whales return to ST Helena to calve and feed their young. We caught our first glimpse of these majestic animals whilst at the beach at Ruperts Bay, the weather having taken a turn for the better in the last week or so. This spotting prompted our first boat trip of the season and although we didn’t see the whales, we were treated to a large pod of Dolphins.
James Bay itself is busy at the moment as ships from the Ministry of Defence arrive in town to extract oil from the sunken wreck the Darkdale. It was Torpedoed off St Helena on the 22nd October 1941 and now lies as a top diving attraction some 30meters below the waves. Ceri Samson writes about the history of the ship here, and there are plenty of other sites with historical information on the ship formally known as Empire Oil, so I wont go into it on my pages, but suffice to say the bay is busy and the MoD diving crew has caused something of a stir with the ladies during their stay on St Helena, like I said, St Helena has a way of making celebrities out of people.
We rapidly approach the end of our first year on St Helena, and on Thursday this week we will board the RMS St Helena for our five day journey across the Atlantic to Cape Town. I approach this journey with mixed emotions, joy of course at seeing family and old friends, but tempered by the fact this journey heralds the half way point, we count down from here. It feels all the more poignant as the Days, a wonderful family and friend who featured heavily in our story will travel with us on the RMS for the last time. We met the Days on board the RMS last as they returned from their own mid-term break, it seems fitting that we journey with them as we reach half way and their own St Helena story comes to an end. I wonder who will be aboard the RMS when we return in August, who will we introduce to the Island, I wonder if they will have read my blog.
I wonder too what I will be doing upon our return. Charlie starts main school for the first time, giving me full days to fill. There is lots of opportunities on the horizon for me, but none are yet certain it is a time of unknowns.
It is also a time to look back, on our first 12 months living on St Helena. What have I learnt, what have I achieved, have I changed?
I have changed, I have changed for the better, I am more sociable, and it turns out Ive learned to like people, and that conversation with others is to be cherished and enjoyed, and not seen as an inconvenience. I have learnt to appreciate things in life, to enjoy simple pleasures, and although we are by no means deprived, I have learnt that there are many material goods in this world we simply don’t need. Have I become more patient? in some ways yes, I don’t expect my goods to arrive from Amazon the next day, and waiting an hour for food in a restaurant is to be expected and in some regards enjoyed, but I still loath waiting in queue and have not quite got used to sitting in my car waiting for other drivers to finish their conversation in the road!
I have learnt not to judge, on appearances, on rumours, or on first impressions. I have learnt that people should be given a chance, and that first impressions are almost always wrong, I have discovered good friends in people that I wouldn’t have given the time to get to know in my past. I have learnt to say hello, to speak to people, and to listen (although I still can’t remember names).
I have accomplished a great deal, from starting out feeling lost, with no purpose or meaning to my time here, I have developed a successful photography and design business. I have built the business up through word of mouth and good service. I have learnt to dive, and will soon start my rescue divers course. I have learnt things about myself, some good, some bad. I have learnt that I am more needy than I realised, and yet I have learnt that I overcome dark times and low emotions and come out stronger.
Am I closer to Charlie and Oliver, yes, although it has not come as easily as I had hoped. I have come to admire them, and be proud of their achievements. They have taken everything in their strides, made friends and adapted so very well to their new lives, better than perhaps their Dad when we first arrived. Have I become a house husband, no, I have learnt that I simply could not be. But I have learnt also that there is a balance to be found, and that having the love and admiration of my children, is more important than the love and admiration of anyone else, apart from my wife, who continues to hold me up when Im weak and push me further when Im strong. I have learnt also the things I still need to work on, the things I need to improve to be a better father, to provide Charlie and Oliver with good guidance and not just firm guidance. Maybe the next twelve months can help me get there.
As I sit here now, I cannot picture myself in the UK, it seems a strange and alien place and as far away from St Helena as the journey we are about to take suggests. St Helena is in me, it is part of me now and I hope that I am part of it. And yet I fear that once we get back to the UK, it will be all too familiar. We will arrive at Heathrow and drive for four hours, when my longest drive for 11 months has been twenty minutes. There will be more people in the airport than I have seen for nearly a year and I will be annoyed with most of them. They will not wave at me, nor say hello, just because Im a fellow human being. Most will not even give me a glance. I will wave at people as we drive and they will think I am strange. I will have more options of food and drink than I will know what to do with, but I am looking forward to a choice of beer!!!