May Celebrations

So May was going to be the biggest Month in St Helena’s history, the opening of St Helena Airport, Prince Edward was booked and St Helena day, normally celebrated on the 21st, was moved to the 20th to accommodate the grand opening. As those of you who follow St Helena news outside of my blog will know, it didn’t happen. Apparently wind shear, only discoverable with real world data from a landing aircraft, that could not have been predicted in advance of this,  (hhmmm) has been discovered at the runway.  Essentially this means that as things stands it is dangerous to land a large Boeing type aircraft on runway 20, I am yet to figure out how an airport with one runway becomes runway number 20!). It is not for me to comment on this, everyone on the Island is currently an aircraft expert and have suddenly finished their degrees in meteorology, so Im not going to add to this with my own ill-educated opinion on things here.

Despite the setback for me personally I’m not too concerned, my hope is a sufficient delay in the opening will allow me one final journey on the RMS St Helena, and maybe another stop over in Cape Town, as you may of gathered I love Cape Town! And it is not as though May became dearth of celebration and event.

Earlier in the month, Prince Andrew School hall was once again full to see thirteen of Saint Helena’s young ladies compete for the title of Miss St Helena 2016. Two weeks prior I had nothing to do with this. I was then asked if I could do some photography for the event, to which I of course agreed. Then, a week before I was asked to put together a graphical presentation to display above the stage and introduce the contestants, again I agreed, although someone else would have to manage the presentation as I was to be taking photos, right?

Finally, just four days before the event itself, and having heard me sing at the New Horizons concert I was asked to provide, along with two others, some entertainment whilst the judges went off to deliberate. Hhhmmm, no rehearsal time, no band behind me for comfort, a poor quality backing track, “Im not sure about this one” I said! However, never one to shirk the opportunity to be in the lime light I agreed. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t.

The show itself was fantastic, if a little longer than necessary. As compare John Wallocot declared the shows’ cat walk to be the one and only open runway on St Helena to the amusement of the crowd, we eventually saw 13 girls, through a series of questions and costume changes, whittled down to the winner. What a fantastic time to be Miss St Helena, no doubt at the front of many exciting opening ceremonies and events over the next two years. As for me, well, unfortunately there was no one else to make the changes on the graphic presentation during the show, meaning I had to give up my privileged photographer’s position and settle for a balcony view point. My musical performance was, for me, horrible. I stood on my own, on the cat walk with the backing music far to quiet feeling very vulnerable and although people told me afterwards that I had done well, this was no New Horizons Concert for me.

Not to be outdone the younger generation of Saint Girls took part in the Annual May Queen celebrations. Like many people I have mixed feelings about the beauty pageant type show, but this was somehow more innocent, just some young people wanting their opportunity to feel important and to play a part in the upcoming St Helena Day celebrations. Before the May Queen contest Pilling Primary school, Oliver and Charlie’s school held their May Day fate. Bev and I ran two stalls all to help raise money for the Pilling Parent Teachers Association. It was a great turn out and everyone had fun taking part in the various stalls, games and activities. Including our new Governor who turned up to see what was going on and watch the May Queen Contest. Watched eagerly by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed Miss St Helena ladies, the young contestants did their best to show their style and answer questions thoughtfully and intelligently. They all did very well and we were very pleased that Katie Gonsalves, daughter of good friends Frankie and Dean came an admirable second place.

With May still just two thirds through, it was time for the Islands next big event as St Helena Day was declared open.

Each year on or near the 21st May, the Island celebrates the anniversary of its discovery, music, sports, games, fireworks and more music, washed down with copious beer and good spirit it was a day to remember. All of the Tyson clan were involved, Bev kicked off with a mini Marathon.

A gruelling run up hill, in searing heat before a knee jerking descent back to town. Although it was a small line-up this year Bev did well, and looking somewhat exhausted claimed her gold medal as the fastest lady. Next up were Bev and the boys in the annual fun sports, as series of team events such as egg and spoon, four legged races (yes four) tug o war and lots of water. The boys in particular loved this but alas, the team did not claim a medal this year, the honours going to teams less predominated by people under ten years old!

Next was my turn, having organised a bunch of friends into a makeshift five a side football team. Wearing all white, the” whites in white” dubiously found our way to the final by way of a dodgy headed goal. My own contribution to the team effort started badly, scoring a classic own goal with my first touch of the ball, but, moving forward for the last two games I managed to score the goal in the final to take us to penalties. We faced a team from the merchant navy ship, RFA Gold Rover, visiting the Island on its last tour of duty. _MG_0019_MG_0016As is traditional for visiting Navy ships we were presented with a crest of the ship and a flag, and as captain of the team I’m pleased to say I got to keep them, another memento of our time on the Island. Unfortunately the final did not go to plan, and although we made it to penalties we lost out to the cool heads of the Navy team. A silver medal was mine though and a thoroughly enjoyable three hours of football was had.

Next up was Oliver and Charlies turn to win themselves a medal by taking on the Jacobs Ladder time. The turnout was excellent for this popular St Helena day challenge. Contestants set off one by one, Bev volunteering to help the young ones up. Overall winner was Rhys, a local doctor, who turned up stating “well I might give it a go” and in flips flops climbed the 699 steps in a staggering 7 minutes 50 seconds. Now, barring in mind this winning time, both Charlie and Oliver managed less than 10 minutes 30seconds, pretty impressive. However, due to the fairly wide entry bands of “Primary School” Charlie 5, and Oliver 7 found themselves competing against 11 year olds and did not finish in the top three. After a bit of persuasion, and a look at two very sad looking faces, the judge was willing to present them a medal for taking part and we all went away happy.

Unfortunately, due to a mix up with my camera, my car, and my spare batteries I missed out on photographing much of the middle portion of the day, including the suburb float that paraded through town. The appropriately themed, travel through the ages clearly inspiring the contestants with some remarkable floats on show. It never ceases to amaze me how much effort and resourcefulness goes into these events.

As the sun went down, a fantastic firework display, featuring a reported £11,000 of explosions lit up James Bay. As the reds, greens, purples and blue reflected off the sea, and wizzes and bangs echoed of the valley walls it felt light the perfect setting for such a display.

_MG_0073-Edit text logoAs the last firework died, and the sparklers burnt out it was time to head home, but not before one last event for the day.Our car started fine, but soon, the clutch pedal was stuck to the floor, and the car was stranded, perpendicular to the road, blocking the streams of traffic leaving town! Lifting the pedal with my hand, I managed to engage first gear and turn the car round to roll it in neutral down a hill to a thankfully convenient parking space, where, a week later it still sits. As is expected on St Helena a kindly soul soon picked us up and took us home. One of the benefits of living in a small community is that is never long before someone you know passes by.

Before the month has finished we had time for one last evening of fun as we welcomed twenty two people for a thirteen dish Chinese banquet. As we approach the end of our second year on the Island there are a number of people who have played a huge part in our lives here, that will soon be departing these shores. We will miss them greatly and wanted to do something to say thank you for your friendship and goodbye, for now. And so it was that I started chopping and preparing at 10am, cooking everything from Asian Seared Tuna to Smoky Bacon Chicken, from Chilli Mushroom Beef to Sweet and Sour Wahoo. It was well received and declared to be much better that the Orange Tree, the local Chinese, I even received a round of applause. Most importantly though was the lovely night that was had as we sat chatted well into the night and the children, (and Matt Durkin), settled in to watch Greece on the big screen._MG_0111

And so that was May, another jam packed eventful month. It still amazes me that nearly two years on there is still so much to do, and so many wonderful memories to be made on this tiny Rock. But even now, the story of May isn’t quite over, as next time I describe the best dive experience, I , and many people here have ever had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Another Month

April was just another month on St Helena, but what a month it was. Had I not been here for 20 months I would be a little blown away by it, but nothing surprises me any more on St Helena.

So April saw the first ever jet plane land on St Helena, then, the landing of a Boeing 737, and now, towards the end of the month, it was the Inauguration of the 68th, and first woman, Governor of St Helena. Lisa Phillips’s arrival has been much anticipated by most of the Island, the fact that it is our first woman Governor alone is news itself, but it is also the first governor of recent times that has worked her way up through the ranks of DFiD (Department for International Development) rather than the Foreign Commonwealth Office. This brings with it an expectation of a different approach, outlook and attitude, the hope of a new way of doing things here on St Helena.

I have to say my first impressions are very good indeed. In stark contrast to the previous Governor, when arriving on the RMS on the 25th April, Miss Phillips insisted on disembarking and arriving on the Island with the other passengers, not in a private vessel, she walked up the wharf rather than being driven, meeting and chatting with people on route, she clearly wanted to be seen as approachable and down to earth.

Her inauguration ceremony took place in front of the castle to a large crowd. Preceded by a parade of various departments and societies including the Beavers which Oliver was a part of. He marched well, even if he was a little bemused by the whole thing. The Governors speech was superb, hitting all the right notes and mentioning all the right things, and priorities, as well as reaffirming her open and approachable nature and her hopes of being a Governor that is part of the community and not just the face of Plantation House. After the ceremony she took a great deal of time to move round the various groups, societies and in particular school children and public to say hello and give a warm smile to expectant faces, a nice touch given that she had just stepped off the ship following a ten day journey at sea and must have been exhausted! All in all a great start, we now wait to see what her tenure will bring.

On a personal note April was packed with stuff, our social life has been relentless, barbecues, parties, days out, diving, snorkelling, swimming walking, all a bit non-stop.

Fun with my new camera.

Two things featured heavily in my life in April, my underwater camera, and the second

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Bridgwaters and Tysons!

Bridgewater family who arrived in March. A dinner, barbecue party, and two boat trips have been the highlights, the latter allowing me to combine great company, with some excellent fishing, my first experience of spear fishing, and, of course my new camera. Travelling with Johnny Hearne on the Enchanted Isle is always a pleasure. A touring boat capable of high speed that was once a US Coastguard vessel, and latterly a tour boat operating off the Shetlands Isles’ in the UK, this wonderful boat finds herself operating tours, whale shark trips, bird watching cruises, sight-seeing, stargazing and booze cruises around St Helena. A particular highlight of this trip was the pod of 300 or more Pan Tropical Dolphins that joined us for a time. Dolphins of course are a regular sight on our boat trips but it has been a long time since we have seen this many, jumping spinning and displaying all around us. Everywhere you turned a dolphin was in view and the pod, including hundreds of young calves, was performing admirably for its enthralled audience.

After a magical ten minutes, the show suddenly reached it finale as all at once hundreds of dolphins broke the water surface at once and spread out in a huge circle around us, I’ve never seen a sight quite like it as dolphins jumped in unison, and in huge numbers all around us before disappearing. Our knowledgeable host Johnny explained that there was probably a large predator in the water and this circle of spreading dolphins was a defensive tactic to confuse the predator and prevent it from pin pointing a target prey animal. It was amazing to watch and my only regret was not having my pro camera and telephoto lens with me.

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The undoubted highlight for me this month, and if I’m honest, many months was the New Horizons concert. Last year you may recall I was asked to photograph this annual show which raises money for New Horizons, a local sports and leisure youth group. Whilst watching last year I knew that if I were able then I had to take part and this year was my chance.

I’ve always enjoyed singing, and love a bit of karaoke as my friends will testify, but I haven’t been on stage since 6th Form. Several weeks have been spent rehearsing with a local band. This in itself has been a great experience singing with a live band and such incredibly talented musicians has been a whole new thing for me and I loved every second of it. And so, on Saturday we came to the day of the performance, and from about midday the butterflies started to grow and I spent most of the afternoon pacing up and down itching to get going. I went along to help put the finishing touches to the stage and my nerves were not helped by the sight of people queuing at ten to five, a full two and a half hours before the performance.

Community shows and events like this all always well supported and well attended, the lack of cinema, theatre and other evening entertainment enhancing the expectation and desire for these local events. By the time Bev and the boys arrived 450 people packed out the hall at Prince Andrew School as over 10% of the Islands population turned up. After a less than convincing rehearsal two nights before, and a significant part in the finale song which I had never heard before I was, needless to say, extremely nervous.

The show was briefly interrupted by the late arrival of our new Governor, late only because she had been taking part in a walk for cancer awareness before rushing over to support New Horizons. Her arrival caused something of a stir so compare Ben Hathway thought best to introduce her formally to the crowd. Asking how she should be introduced, “right honourable”, “ladyship” or something else Lisa Phillips replied with, you should introduce me as Lisa, Lisa Phillips is fine, almost bemused at the suggestion there should be any great fuss made at all.  Word also has it that after the show she was seen dancing at Donny’s  bar, she continues to impress me.

Back to the show I stood in the wings watching the other performers nail it and up their game for the live show I worried that I was just get it all hopelessly wrong. But I needn’t of worried, excusing a couple of minor tonal errors my rendition of Elton Johns “I guess that’s why they call it the blues” went off without a hitch, and Walk the Moons – “Shut Up and Dance” has been described as the shock performance of the night (in a good way) on local radio, and as many peoples favourite song of the night, I was even mentioned in a tweet by our Governor Lisa Phillips no less. I came off the stage absolutely buzzing, what a thrill as my children told me they thought I was brilliant.

Me as Elton JohnShut Up and Dance

Photos courtesy of Barry Hubbard, Thanks Barry

April has been a bloody brilliant month, I cant wait for next years concert and to see what May 2016 now has in store for us. It is only two months until we return to the UK for our second break to see friends and family. If Bev had not been granted an extension then our journey would be perilously close to the end, thank fully I know I have at least one more concert in me, and a few more dolphins to watch yet.

Finally, what do you do on St Helena when your car is in the garage and you need to pass the time, drink coffee, have a beer, read a book, or maybe just go and swim in clear blue waters with beautiful fish and a friendly Green Turtle. Not a bad way to pass the time!