The Leaving of St Helena

In just four short months our time on St Helena will come to a close as we board the RMS one last time, and look behind us to see our wonderful home disappear into the distance. Coming out here was difficult, but we always knew it would be temporary and we would soon see the faces of the people we love again. Leaving St Helena is far far harder, and will seem very permanent.

At least, it would be if we were actually leaving, but Im thrilled to say, Bev has been offered an extension to her contract, and we have an additional year here. And a bloody good job too, whilst I know this news is difficult to hear for our loved ones back at home (don’t worry, this isn’t the way they have found out, we did tell our family first) the prospect of leaving now is just plain wrong, in so many ways it feels as though we have only just arrived. St Helena is strange, you very quickly feel at home and get settled, and yet 18months on it feels as though we just took our first steps onto the wharf. Its been 6 months since we returned from our mid-term break in the UK, 6 months, how can that be, Im still trying to lose the wait I put on drinking all that real ale!!

Despite the fact we are not leaving, it has brought the prospect firmly into our heads. Coming to St Helena, it turns out, was very strait forward. The government found us a house, enrolled our children in school, put the first months wages into our St Helena Bank account, which took the filling of one form to set up. We were met at the Wharf and driven to our new home. Our belongings were collected at the wharf and brought to our house, and unloaded for us. Although it seemed like a gigantic momentous thing to be doing, it was largely stress free and uneventful, everything was done for us and we just had to turn up at Heathrow Airport on time.

Leaving on the other hand is a much bigger job. We have to find work, and get that work without being able to interview, we don’t know where will be living and no-one is going to find a house for us. We need to enrol the boys in school, and do so months in advance without actually knowing what part of the country we will be living in. We will not be met at the airport and taken to a nice new house, and our belongings will not empty themselves from storage and magically find themselves at our new home. Quite frankly the logistics of going home are too big to contemplate so for now, Ill concentrate on Whale sharks and diving and leave my feable mind alone.

The past few weeks have been some of my most difficult on the Island. From day one I have had ups and downs, the ups due to St Helena, the downs due to me, and my role here. The last few weeks have been particularly difficult. Those who read the post a few weeks back will recall I was applying for a position on the Air Traffic Control training course, a long lengthy process that would result in a job for life when we get home. I fell at the second hurdle, despite having put everything I could into it (most of which it turns out was irrelavent). I failed, and not even a long way into the process, but at the second step, a relatively simple online test stage. I was devastated, in my head I was already on the course, and I had pinned so much of our future on it, and so much of my thoughts, efforts and time had gone into preparation it left me feeling empty and worthless. I have always done well academically, getting more out that the effort I had put in, but this was different. I had worked as hard at this as anything I have ever been tested in, and failed. It felt like a hammer blow, and has left me wondering what I will do in the UK, and more importantly what I actually can do. The combination of my qualifications and experience only leave me good for work in aquariums, and good ones are few and far between with vacancies a rarity and wages poor.

For the first time in my life I feel pretty useless, at pretty much everything. I had been working so hard on test preparation that I hadn’t noticed the photography work dropping off. There was suddenly a big gap and I went from being over worked to having nothing to do. Day after day felt like a pile of washing and endless cleaning, broken by scrolling through pages and pages of facebook trash and status updates. So much of my time was spent cleaning that when Bev and the boys got home I resented them being here, brining messy shoes and dropping bags on the floor of my nice clean floor. One day I spent a full 8 hours cleaning, the house was spotless, you could of licked the floor behind the washing machine, and dishwasher, and fridge, and freezer and, well you get the idea, it was clean. Within minutes of the boys getting home a trail of mud ran from the door the lounge and I wanted to cry. Mum, Im sorry for all those times I didn’t understand, I truly am.

It has all been affecting me much more than it should, hours have been spent worrying about what it is Im actually capable of doing when we get home. I always knew coming to St Helena would change something, and I knew being house husband would be a challenge, but I didn’t expect it to fundamentally change how I view myself. Once full of ego and my own ability I feel lost in a pit of self-doubt right now. I always promised that my blog would reflect how I feel and live this adventure, people tell me it’s what makes my blog different,  so although this is uncomfortable to write, I shouldn’t now shy away from it.

This journey was meant, more than anything, to bring me closer to the boys, to make me a better Dad, and I feel farther from that goal now than at any point. When I reflect honestly, and without a heavy heart I recognise that I do spent more time with them, I do play with them more, but the past few weeks have been so hard. I have failed in every sense to be the Dad I want to be. I have failed to see any good in my own children, hating their presence in my clean house, and their noise disturbing me from my facebook stories. It has been quite unhealthy.

Excuse after excuse has been given as to why I have not resumed my swimming and my days have been a mix of chocolate and tinned ham sandwiches, whilst my evenings have been about beer. Two nights ago as I write, Bev and I watched Love Actually, now this is perhaps the hardest thing to admit of all, but Im a sucker for a romantic comedy. This probably does not come as a great surprise to my Mum who has seen me grow up as an awkward teenager hopelessly moving from one unrequited love to the next. As we watched I thought to myself, why can’t my boys be as lovely as that one, why can’t they bond with me like that, and respond to me like that? Only that morning the magic wands that I ordered months ago had arrived, and I left them on the floor so that Oliver and Charlie got home they would find them. Their reaction was to thank Mum, not me. Why can’t my children like me and look at me the way he does on Love actually.

It was then that it dawned on me, it was not the boy in the film that was any better than my own, it was the way his Dad looked upon him that was better, instead of wanting my boys to be different, I need to look at them through different eyes. Again when I reflect honestly, I know there have been good portions of time here that I have done, that this has been a low time, and I need to remember that, but the cloud hanging over me has made it very difficult to see past the fog.

I hear you all screaming at me and I have now built myself a ladder upon which I am going to climb out of my hole. This morning I went swimming, exercise they tell me is good for the soul. I spent some spare hours with my camera, taking photos, just for the pleasure of taking photos. It has been so long since my camera was used for its own joy and not work, that I had forgotten how I used to spend my time, studying and documenting this beautiful place I call home. I sat for two hours, in the rain photographing waves crashing into Jamestown wharf (more photos to follow). It was liberating and reminded me that I don’t have to spend hours cleaning. In fact, I haven’t cleaned for two days, and you know what, the house is still hygienic, and the trail of mud from the door to the lounge did not bother me today. Ill clean it tomorrow. I took the boys to play football before collecting Bev. I haven’t done that for several weeks, it was more important to see the next status on facebook whilst pushing away the children for disturbing me. I don’t believe Facebook to be bad, I think it’s a wonderful tool for sharing across the world, and I have many friends that I would simply not be in touch with were it not for facebook. But like anything when not used correctly it can become unhealthy. Next month our internet allowance is being cut (by us), facebook will be a ten minute in the evening thing, not a ten hour a day thing. So we played football in the rain, we laughed as Oliver fell on his bum, more than once and we got wet through to our socks. Charlie came home, changed his socks, went back outside and got them wet again. It didn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it won’t matter again.

If our adventure to St Helena was going to change things maybe it is the negatives, the down times, that will change me the most. I don’t know what I will do when I get home, I don’t know what I am able to do, and worry about whether I am able to make our families dreams come true in the way that I always just assumed I would be capable of doing. But I do know I have to change, I have to evaluate myself, and look at how well I do my most important job, being a Dad. For now I don’t have to think about what I might do back in the UK, it is the here and now that counts. We now leave in the (UK) summer of 2017 and up until that point I need to remember the privilege I have, to be able to be a real Dad, and how many fathers would die for the chance I have been given.

Am I out of my hole? no. Am I a brilliant Dad? no. But I have a ladder now, I have a foot on it, and I want to climb it. This is not the first time I have promised myself to be a better Dad, I hope it will be my last.

As a little side note, I have to give a mention to someone at home. Those of you with me from the beginning will know the Bridgewaters; Jenna, Paul and their son Myles. They came, they went, and they came back again. Only this time there is more of them as Scousers take over St Helena and Pauls Brother, Jamie and his family arrive on Island. Its my understanding that Jamie’s  wife, Hayley has a father, and that he has been reading my blog with interest. Well hello Mr Haley’s Dad, I hope reading my blog allows you to feel closer to Hayley and the family, and I promise to feature photos and stories as they settle into their own new adventure.

On Sunday I Swam With Whale Sharks

On Sunday I swam with a whale shark, this is how an amazing week on St Helena started, as Bev the boys and myself embarked on my first whale shark watching trip of the season. By St Helena standards this season has been disappointing, poor sea conditions and the sharks basing themselves to the North East of the Island have meant difficult conditions for swimming and for travelling for those of a delicate stomach. Although in good numbers around the Island as a whole, the sharks have been in smaller groups than last year. Coupled with their new tendency to feed just below the surface as opposed to breaking the surface as they did last year, they have been difficult to spot. Our first trip out proved to be a disappointment, a strong swell, members of the group with sea sickness, and a confusion over the booking numbers meant that I was already disappointed before a shark was even found. Once the solitary male was found, three boats and one shark, meant that our time in the water was very limited, and a brief glance of a shark swimming away from me was all I had. But that is nature, it cannot be predicted or harnessed, and neither would you want it to be, and undeterred I booked for a second trip on Wednesday morning.

On Monday I started my PADI Rescue Diver Training, in the water role playing rescue scenarios, and pretending to give mouth to mouth whilst dragging my instructor through the water proving both amusing and damn hard work. It is just another privilege of being here that the value and shear accessibility of diving means that just over 12 months since passing my open water, I have embarked on my Rescue Diver course*

On Monday evening I was diving again, but this time in my favourite capacity, a night dive. With great excitement we travelled to a site North East of James bay and, my excitement grew as our dive leader explained the cave that we would first enter, before taking a drift dive down the coast line. This time with my won dive torch I looked forward to a bright light to unveil the night’s mysteries I descended with the last light of sunset still showing the way ahead. We swam towards the cave and, once given the all clear from the dive leader popped up inside the air pocket. As gentle swell compressed the air pocket we needed to keep equalising, a strange experience when sat with you head out of water with mask and regulator off. Another strange product of the swell was the intermittent fog, generated in the air as the pressure rose, and disappearing just as quickly as the swell dropped away. With each swell the fog reduced visibility in the air to near zero, before quickly revealing the depths of the cave just as quickly as it had disappeared.

We descended back into the water and headed off along the coast line, a visual theatre of glowing eyes, strange worms, crayfish and octopus. More at ease than my last night dive I took it upon myself to find a quite space and turn off my dive torch, to once again experience the kaleidoscope of glitter around me as bioluminescent bacteria in the water glow and twinkle like stars all around.

After more than an hour in sheer amazement we rose to the surface and back onto the boat. Diving is a strange experience in that the group all share the experience, but it is not until the experience is over that we can talk about it. Did you see the octopus, how big was that lobster and, much to my disappointment, “did anyone else see the turtle”? I didn’t, but as I drank soup and retreated into my own thoughts on the journey home I reminded myself once more of how lucky we are to of had the opportunity to live on this Island.

On Tuesday, I was back in the water, completing my rescue diver course, Im proud to say I am nowe a qualified rescue diver, and have subsequently started my Dive Masters course, having racked up over 40 dives since we arrived.

That afternoon I was diving again, my week moving from the ridiculous to the sublime. A lovely dive to one of my favourite sites at Robinson’s valley. This time with an relatively inexperienced group, or those who dive infrequently, and including 13 year old Harriot who has just passed her open water.

On Wednesday I had another opportunity to swim with the whale sharks, and this time, far from being disappointed I was left somewhat speechless at a wonderful experience. Once again the sea conditions were poor, and as a result, by the time we found a shark many of the party were feeling too ill to swim. This left me, and just three others keen to jump in the water.

We swam with a huge female shark, some 11-12meter in length. As she swam gently feeding near the surface she provided ample opportunity for me to swim all around taking photos, video and generally hanging in awe as one of the most stunningly beautiful animals in the animal kingdom did its best to enthral and entertain. I leave you not with words, but with the video that hopefully goes some way to showing just how incredible an experience this is.

On Sunday I swam with a whale shark, that was just the start of another extraordinary week, on this extraordinary Island.