So we have been back in the UK for almost four weeks now, in two days we will be flying back to Cape Town for our return journey on the RMS.
It has been a strange interlude in our time on St Helena, a period of reflection on the past year, on life in the UK and how it compares to St Helena, and thoughts have also turned to 12 months from now, when our return to the UK will be more permanent in nature.
As we travelled to Saint Helena a year ago we were told by another mid termer that their holiday had left them feeling in limbo. Never quite feeling that St Helena is home, knowing full well that their time on the Island is always to be limited, but equally feeling like they will never quite belong back in the hustle and bustle of life in the UK. I share that feeling.
The past few weeks have allowed time to think and realise that there are things that I miss about the UK, but there are things that I am happy to leave behind.
I miss good food, cheese, a choice of restaurants and of beer. Ahh beer, a wide selection of ales and European lager. Don’t get me wrong, Windhoek is fine, but when it is one of just two beers on offer, for a full eleven months the taste of a Fursty Ferret, or Green King IPA is most welcome indeed. In fact, I have put on half a stone since leaving St Helena after five weeks of unadulterated gluttony, at one stage having eaten a cooked breakfast for ten out of fourteen days! Depsite my appreciation of the choice and quality of food and beer, I have not enjoyed the prices, my first real shock coming when I paid over £6 for a pint of pale ale and a tub of nuts!!! The bar man actually apologised, as if he had just realised for the first time exactly what he had done.
I absolutely don’t miss the traffic. The past four weeks has been sheer hard work. As we left Heathrow I expected to be a relaxed driver, a new me, less concerned with the inadequacies of other drivers around me. Within five minutes I was yelling at the middle lane drivers, I was saddened that no one had waved at me, and despite driving 20mph faster than I had done for 11 months, I was infuriated by the 50mph restrictions due to road works!! Road works, every where we drove the journey was blighted by men in hi-vis jackets stood around doing nothing, absolutely nothing!! Most stretches of the motorway in the UK is now lined with orange cones, such is the frequency of their use it seems to me that they are just left at the side of the road ready for the next time some inexplicable road works are put in place!
Above: A lovely few days away with Bevs family in beautiful Dorset and seaside town of Charmouth.
I have missed the rolling country side of Dorset, although truth be told it’s a long time since I lived there. But the green hills, coastal towns, sand stone cliffs and beaches full of fossils brought back wonderful memories and reminded me that parts of the UK are simply stunningly beautiful. Likewise our visit to Menai Bridge and subsequent drive through Snowdonia took my breath away. This wonderful corner of North Wales has always felt like home being my university home land for five years or more. Despite everything that has transpired since I left a decade ago as I drove along the coast, and Puffin Island came into view a part of my soul felt at peace.
Above: A Trip to the Welsh Mountain Zoo with friends.
We saw equally beautiful scenery on a camping trip to Mid Wales. Set in a glorious valley near Bwlth Wells we enjoyed a lovely and relaxing few days eating barbecued food, swimming in lakes, watching stars and eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. All in the comfort of a lovely Bell Tent, this was camping, but not as I knew it, I believe its called Glamping!!
Above: Lovely holiday at Forest Fields Camp site in Mid-Wales.
We were lucky during our camping trip that the clouds parted and afforded us at least a few days of sunshine, but on the whole the weather, in August may I remind you, was unseasonably wet and cold. It was two weeks before we saw the sun at all and it reminded me of another thing I don’t miss, the UK weather. At its best, the sun shining in the UK, or a crisp winters days with blue skies and frost touching the green grass cannot be bettered. But all too frequently our days are cold, wet damp and grey, I do not miss that at all.
Wandering around the UK felt strangely lonely, there are people everywhere, but we don’t consider each other anymore. No one stops to say hello, no one waves across the street. It felt strange not knowing everyone as we went about our business. No doubt the small communities in the UK still hold onto the precious thing of human kindness, but for me it felt sadly lacking. I saw more people in one supermarket than I would see in 6 months on the Island, and yet not a single face did I recognise.
Above: Red Kites at a Feeding Station in Mid-Wales.
Before coming back to the UK I thought I had missed choice, choice of food , ingredients, going to a supermarket and finding a whole range of fresh food and ingredients from around the world. Others told me the choice would be daunting, but I felt neither daunted nor excited. Instead I felt it unnecessary. I did not require a choice of 15 cold cuts hams, I just needed one. I didn’t need to choose from Olives stuffed with anything you could imagine stuffing into an Olive, I just wanted some Olives. The choice wasn’t over whelming, I just didn’t want to have to make it. It turns out that shopping in St Helena is simple and effective. There are times when Id love to find that missing ingredient, but on the whole I just don’t want for more, its only when presented with such a choice of things do we long for it. Take the choice and opportunity away and we just get on with it.
Did I mention I hate the traffic, I have not missed the traffic?
It transpires I have really missed watching football in pubs. I have not found yet that St Helena is a big football in pub type place. The atmosphere of men shouting, the banter the laughter, cries of joy and of despair, all washed down with some good beer and a packet of crisps. However, I do not miss the cost of watching football in the UK, it seems now to watch football from your own doorstep you have to sign up to sky sports, BT sports and a number of others and it costs an arm and a leg. 24 hour a day, live premiership action from South African SS sports will do me thank you.
On St Helena I miss convenient communication, I miss texting to send a quick message, I do not miss carrying the internet around with me 24 hours a day. And yet I have fallen strait back into the trap, having resurrected my mobile phone, of checking facebook at every opportunity, checking my e-mails whilst sitting on the toilet, or checking the latest football gossip transfer gossip whilst standing in a que. The power of convenience is amazing, its in my pocket so why not take a quick look. When we get back to St Helena, the Island first mobile phone service should, I believe, be operational. Although it will be some time before it is affordable Im sure, I will not be signing up. Freeing myself from the constant temptation of the internet is a good thing for me, and I will be grateful to leave it behind me for another year.
For anything I miss in the UK whilst on St Helena, there are a catalogue of things I miss from the Island when I am back in Blighty. Most of all miss me. I am a nicer, better person on St Helena. I stop and talk to people, I enjoy the company of others and I am less stressed. As we return to St Helena we know we are on a count down. Month by month our time will be running out. I have already started to worry about what we will do on our return, will I find work, where will we live, and will St Helena have made fundamental changes to our lives, or just fade to a pleasant memory. Of all the things I do and learn on the Island I hope most of all that the changes I have seen in myself in the past 12 months, become embedded over the next twelve, so that I return to the UK and keep the spirit of St Helena within me. I have not prepared myself for being in the UK this time round, next time I shall have to prepare for leaving St Helena behind, and I think that preparation will start just as soon as we board the RMS, for one last time.
I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself mate. This always looks like a tricky 4 weeks to me – lots of rushing about the country trying to see everyone, battling through the summer traffic and weather. All this after 9 months of new experiences, plenty of time available and the wonderful community atmosphere that it seems St Helena has. The perception of how much time we have available to us seems to create stress if it’s not enough. You have most certainly changed considerably in that time and the UK hasn’t. It seems that you may just need to really think about how and where the new you fits into this place now.
There are plenty of places where life is slower and people are kinder; our little village in Devon is very much like this with most people knowing everyone else etc etc. However, to get this requires me to drive 10 hours a week to get to and from work to earn the money to make it possible. It’s not perfect, but we’re making it work. I’m sure you can bring back or recreate some of the things and attiudes that you love about St Helena but it may require some planning and compromise
Really sad that we didn’t get to see you but hope all is well. Enjoy this second spell there mate 🙂
Yeah, the time we spent in Dorest was lovely, we would love to move back that way and as you say maintain some aspects of our life on the Island. But there is a lack of work round there. Id love to do what you do, but dont think we could afford for me to go through the training and not earn. Im sure something will come up, although what that will be I have no idea right now!! Real shame we didnt get chance to see you guys, but the next 12 months will fly quicker than the last and we will put you to the top of our list next time!
Couldn’t have put it better myself Paul. It seems that you and I have found being back in the UK a very similar experience!
I hope you have enjoyed the contrast of life on a small island and being back in the rat race. In general I think everyone adjusts to life back here but it is unsettling for a while. Enjoy the rest of yr time here. It’s been great to see your photos and read yr blog albeit in a different UK that you left!
Mixed feelings, lovely seeing family and friends, and parts of the UK are so beautiful, but there is so much Im happy that I dont deal with every day!