Two hundred years ago today, Napoleon Bonaparte stepped foot on St Helena following his transportation and exile under British capture on the HMS Northumberland. Little did he, nor his Grand Marshal General Count Hanri–Gatien Bertrand know that two hundred years later people would be celebrating that fact with events, markets, re-enactments and all manner of things on this tiny little Island. The Bi-centenary celebrations are in full swing and much of the Island is involved one way or another.
For my part I have been pretty much a bye stander and observer, that is except of course for the very proud moment when I saw a printed copy of the book, “In Napoleons Footsteps on St Helena”. The book details the places of importance to Napoleons exile and how they stand today, featuring text by Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, French Consul to St Helena, and exclusive photography by none other than yours truly. Had you told me 14 months ago that my photos would be featuring in a new book celebrating the time of Napoleon on St Helena Id of thought you were mad, and yet I have it here with me as I type.
Even the boys have been getting involved, learning all manner of Napoleon related facts and figures and teaching their Mum and Dad a thing or two. By co-incidence these celebrations have coincided with Cancer awareness week, and Scott Kelby’s World Wide Photowalk. Once again Oliver and I wanted to take part in the walk, it seem crazy that it was just 12 months ago we took our first walk up High Knoll Fort to take part in 2014’s walk, and yet there we were walking in less than ideal conditions around Longwood and the boundary walls of Napoleons captivity. Sadly, for me, neither the walk nor the weather held much photographic inspiration. As we were accompanied by several other children, including Charlie, and who, like Charlie, had no interest in taking photos much of the walk was more a matter of childcare than checking my exposure and concentrating on the rule of thirds.
Visiting the Island as part of the celebrations are the Royal Navy crew of the HMS Lancaster, which is moored up in James Bay for a week whilst on a tour of duty. Cocktail parties aboard the ship, football matches, tree planting, and a host of other activities and events have been arranged for and by the crew. Sadly, the cocktail party on board HMS Lancaster, undoubtedly the highlight of the weeks proceedings was invite only, and I, being a lowly unemployed person had more chance of an invite to Plantation House than getting on that ship. When one of the boat operator who ferried the crew, dignitaries and councillors back and forth from the ship does not get invited for a look around, there is, in my opinion, something wrong. That being said, I feel far more honoured and pleased to of have an invite with one of said local boat operators for a trip round James Bay and close up view of the war ship, a spectacular sight alongside the RMS St Helena with the sun setting beyond.
On Wednesday lunchtime I journeyed to Prince Andrew School to start photography classes with three Duke of Edinburgh award students. Upon arrival a large crowd of pupils and public had gathered around the school’s football pitches to watch International Football as a St Helena All Star Eleven took on the British Royal Navy crew. The students were determined to watch the football rather than take a photography class I protested very little and allowed the pupils to enjoy their lunch break as I settled down to watch the game myself. During the match the Royal Navy Helicopter did several fly pasts, much to the delight of the on-looking Prince Andrew School pupils. Airplane and Helicopter in the space of a few weeks, whatever next, mobile phones!!!
Speaking of which, mobile phones have reached the Island and the network was turned on at the end of September. I can fully understand the excitement amongst young Saints, and some older generations and the consistent ques outside the offices of Sure St Helena, the mobile providers, are testament to how much this services is wanted on the Island. But for me this is a sad day, one of the appeals of moving here was a lack of mobile phones, and I have already been passed by in the street by people who would normally stop and say hello as their heads have been buried into their new mobile technology.
Despite all and sundry seemingly going on around me I have found myself down in the dumps these past few weeks. Photography commissions have slowed, and, although I still have a couple of jobs on, I feel, as I did twelve months ago, unsure of my place and purpose here. Far from the chaos of the period from December to August when I felt as though I didn’t have time to breathe, I have instead found myself contemplating which cleaning job I should tackle today, or whether I should go shopping to get the milk we need. Once again St Helena’s ability to exaggerate life has come into play, as I feel as those all those around me are busily getting on with making positive changes on the Island, being invited to cocktail parties on board big boats, sorting out the small matter of a new airport and generally being important. Meanwhile my biggest daily decision to make is whether I should clean the car today, which, incidentally I still haven’t done.
Im sure this feeling will pass, September it seems always brings a flurry of new recruits to the Island, and I find myself re-explaining why we are here, or at least my lack of defined reasons for being here. I am also sure that work will pick up as the weather steadily improves, I have a new computer and new photography studio equipment arriving at the end of the month and Im sure round the corner will be a nice new project for me to embark upon. In the meantime though, I do really need to clean the car.
I have however created some positivity to the new found time on my hands and have been getting fit, swimming a kilometre three times a week, with my time reducing with each session. To my great pleasure my waist line has reduced back to its pre-midterm break size, and, if Im not mistaken my upper body is a little more defined. This was especially a good thing when, in fulfilment of a promise to Bev’s friends I served food at her ladies poker night wearing nothing but a small pair of boxer shorts and Charlies Gruffalo apron. The apron being the closest thing we had to the pinny that was promised. Having under gone physio in July I have been carrying out the exercises I was instructed to do to strengthen my injured groin, and I have been playing badminton for the past three weeks. On Saturday I hope to make my footballing comeback. Although the season here is drawing to a close, I hope that there is still time for me to find a team in need of a decrepit veteran and that I can still hold my own.
A recent facebook post had me deep in thought last week as Lisa Rhodes, Senior nursing manager announced her departure for a mid-term break after her first ten months on the Island. How on earth it is ten months already for her, Lisa is new, finding her feet, she hasn’t been here five minutes. Of course that is not true, Lisa has firmly found her feet and has not just set about, but completed the implementation of a great many positive changes to the Hospital and community nursing on the Island. It is just that, 11 months ago I had been talking with her on facebook, telling her to stick with her provided accommodation for now, until she gets here and decides where she would like to settle. Lisa had found my blog and I, having already been here fully two months, and by that time knowing the Island like the back of my hand, was dispensing sound advice to this potential new comer.
Although I felt I did at the time, I didn’t really at that stage know the Island at all, and like a great many things in life the more you get to know something, the more you realise how little you know. I recall vividly meeting Lisa on her first day, sat in Donny’s bar having spoken for several weeks across the World Wide Web. It doesn’t seem like five minutes ago, and I felt at the time as though I had been here for a great many years.
For Bev and I we have ten months left. It feels like a cross roads, still long enough to have plenty to look forward to and enjoy on St Helena, and yet no time at all in the grand scheme of things. Do I wish it were longer, yes, but above all I wish that the ten months ahead of me are as amazing as the ten months that are behind me