Letting Go

Bev and the boys are finally back in the country. I have missed them desperately but at least they are not 6 days away from me. They are however, still not living with me. We made the decision hat until Bev finds work then she and the boys would live in Bristol, with her parents, two hours from my lonely flat. This is sensible for many reasons, without Bev having a job we don’t know exactly where we will live when she does have one. We cant afford to rent a family home on my salary alone, and we don’t want to be tied into a 6 month contract when we don’t yet know where we want to live. After the upheaval of leaving St Helena, we don’t want to disrupt the boys by placing them in a school only to have to move them again six months later. All in all, Bev temporarily living in Bristol is the sensible, if not difficult thing.

Of course I see them on my days off, but this has meant lots of driving and lots of tearful goodbyes, saying goodbye for another week becoming increasingly difficult each time I have to do it. Oliver too is finding the situation difficult and unsettling, he has always been an emotional sop just like his Dad!

My first few weeks as you know were very difficult, but as Bev pointed out, how can you let go of somewhere when your life is still there. As soon as my family were on the ship it felt easier. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to let go. I should do, or Ill never resettle., but letting go is admitting I don’t live there any more, that I’m not just on leave and wont be going back any time soon. I still follow the news and gossip coming out of the Island with great eagerness. The strangest thing is the sadness I feel when I hear of others who have left or are leaving St Helena now. Somehow it still hurts that friends have left, even though in most cases it means I get to see them sooner rather than later.

Im reminded of the transient nature of St Helena. Already I see facebook comments from people I don’t know, who have become friends with my friends and I feel rather indignant about it. I wonder how it felt for the friends I made who left St Helena a year or more ago, who watched my life on the Island move on without them, new friends and experiences which people whom I shared the first twelve moths with are absent from. As I’ve reflected on many occasions before, how long will it be until we are a distant memory. At the moment there enough people still on the Island whom we are good friends with, but before too long they will of left. The Saints of course remain, and I hope many of them will remember us and think fondly of us, but the every day presence will fade.

But my life here is becoming more normal. I’m settling back into the place and things are less daunting. My shopping trips are becoming more productive and I’ve managed to buy cereal and stuff to wash with, as well as beer. I still find the choice overwhelming and unnecessary. St Helena teaches you that you don’t need most of the things we often feel we couldn’t do without (although the Royster’s T-bone steak crisps I’ve just eaten were pretty damn good!) . In terms of letting go there are some things that I really don’t want to let go of, and the appreciation for what you have is one of those things. Too often in my life I dwell on negatives and this period has made me realise and be grateful for the many wonderful things I do have. My friends, my career, my family and above all my wife and children whom I have grown to love and appreciate more in the past four weeks than I have ever done before.

I’m settling too into life in work. Although some clarity is still needed, Im finding my place in the organisation and beginning to have an influence and be able to make some positive impact and changes. I’ve found a confidence in myself, in my knowledge, skills and experience. I made the move to Plymouth National Marine Aquarium to learn new skills, and have started to do so already, but Ive also had my previous knowledge solidified in a way that is very pleasing, turns out I do know some things.


The view from outside the aquarium.

Ive started my first dives as a professional diver, carrying out maintainence and feeding on a large temperate marine exhibit, diving with large conger eels, rays and other species, feeding them by hand to the enjoyment of an audience. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this is the audience itself. A hundred or so people watching you through the glass whilst you are effectively in training at something that is very new is daunting to say the least. The public expect to see professional divers, and as yet I don’t feel quite as polished and steady as my colleagues. But its all part of the learning curve and one the reasons why, for my career to progress, I had to find new challenges and gain new skills within the aquarium world. The salary is poor (and industry wide problem) and the work and hours can be challenging, but I have been reminded that I absolutely love it, and to work somewhere that others pay to come and visit is something of a privilege. Many of those who pass through our doors would the love the opportunities I have and I must remember that and be grateful for it.

Plymouth is proving to be a fantastic and beautiful city. I spent last Friday on the waterfront drinking a few beers, before catching the ferry across the bay to continue with a few more pints in the setting sun. The weather last week was tropical and has helped my transition. I’ve also got connected and have a mobile phone again for the first time in nearly three years. Whilst I enjoyed being out of contact on St Helena, they do have their advantages, and a camera with me at all times is one of them.


Strangely I have not wanted to pick up my camera much since getting back. Photography felt like something I did on St Helena, not in the UK, who would be interested in photos here? I lost all passion for it. But a trip to West Wales rekindled some of that. Camping with wonderful friends from my university days in a beautiful part of the country was a timely reminder that St Helena is not the only beautiful place in the world, and that we have many wonderful friends who are dotted all over the World. That being said it was quite a trip.

My days off work have been spent travelling to see Bev and the kids.


This latest trip involved 7 hours of driving each way to spend a few hours with them, without which I wouldn’t of seen them for a fortnight, needs must. Saying goodbye though continues to be hard, and is actually getting harder each time. A solid cuddle from Charlie was enough to make me shed a few more tears as I once again wished my family goodbye for another week.


You’ll recall my friends the Gonsalves’s who, after their horrific ordeal on Ascension Island were back in the UK recovering. The good news is they are recovering well, and in two weeks we are getting together for a weekend of camping and no doubt a lot of beer. I cant bloody wait, but I wonder how I will feel when I say goodbye to them, as they will shortly be heading back out to St Helena. I suspect a large part of me will be hugely jealous. Its hard to let go when you have friends still on the Island, even more so when good friends are about to head back out there. A time will come no doubt when St Helena is resided into that place where wonderful memories are kept, the part of your brain that just keeps holds of things in laughs, and recollections over a drunken reunion. But for now it is still too close, it is still too fresh, and if I’m honest I really don’t want to let go, not just yet, its too important and too soon for me.







Two Weeks in the English Channel


So I’ve been in Plymouth two weeks now and I guess I’m beginning to settle into things. Its still a very strange feeling that I wont be heading back to St Helena in two months time, but I’m becoming more accepting of my new life back in the UK. How strange that living in the UK now feels like the strange, alien place and that I am starting my “new” life here. We had always wanted St Helena to change things for us, one way or another, be it financial, spiritual who knows, but something. We particularly didn’t want to move back to our old house, old jobs, old lives, as if nothing had ever changed. In reality our time on St Helena has changed everything.

We have been able to save money on St Helena, sufficient we hope to enable us to move out of the very cheap area of North Wales, and buy a new home here in the South West. I learnt to dive, and achieved my dive masters, which has enabled me to secure my post at the National Marine Aquarium, a place I have always wanted to work. I have developed my photography which has enabled me to build a portfolio which I hope will lead to wedding photography here I the UK. Bev has developed new skills, new experience in management which has boosted her CV and will hopefully enable her career to progress still further. Our boys have developed into real people, they have learnt about diversity, experienced new lives and have had to learn to do without, this will all be wonderful grounding for later life.

But my experience on St Helena has also brought, what may turn out to be some negative changes. I am a different person now, I am more sociable. But I have also developed greater expectations of how I and others should be toward one another, which, so far have left me somewhat disappointed. Within just two days of arriving in Plymouth, my car window was smashed and my wallet stolen. Having spent the past three years in one of the safest places where people leave keys in their cars and front doors open, this absolutely saddened me. I was quickly reassured that this is not common in Plymouth, and indeed some people whom I spoke to have never heard of it despite living here many decades. I have since found out that the suspect has been arrested and he has been targeting many vehicles in the area.

Of course I also arrived home to the news of 23 dead in a terrorist attack at a concert in Manchester, followed up not long after by the second attack in London. Life on St Helena is so far removed from this world I had returned to. A fleeting glance at world news is all that one does on St Helena. Its not important, and instead people bury themselves in the problems of the Island and local politics (which are fascinating). With Bev and the kids soon to be joining me, it all seemed a little bit daunting and unnerving.

Socially things have not quite met my expectations either. Promising first encounters with my flat mates have not led to any invites for a drink, and my work colleagues, whilst perfectly lovely ave also seemingly failed to pick up on my isolation and loneliness. Despite them knowing it was my first weekend in Plymouth, and that my family were far away, social invites have been obvious in their absence. How unexpected that I should feel more isolated back in the UK than I ever did in St Helena. I am not trying to be critical at all, of my work colleagues or anyone else. It is simply that I have come to expect something different. On St Helena it would be unheard of for someone new to the Island to spend their first weekend alone.


With that said, my saviour came on Friday night when I ventured to the Stoke Inn, another of the many many pubs that are on my doorstep. Two lovely locals took pity on me an invited me to join them for a beer. What a night that turned out to be, great company and great fun. One of the guys, Jezz, is a professional armourer, making swords, shields and other fighting tools for films and drama. Conversations of his work and several beers led to a quick exit by Jezz, shortly followed by his return with two swords. Much of the rest of the night was then spent sword fighting in the beer garden, a surreal and highly memorable evening.

On Saturday I spent my time walking off my hangover. Arriving at the Plymouth waterfront in an area known as the Hoe, I was hugely encouraged to see people fishing, diving, swimming and drinking in the sunshine. There was also a group of young lads, jumping in the sea from high walls, thoroughly enjoying themselves and providing a great image for the kind of life we can eventually establish here.

After a lot of heart ache and emotion, my second week in Plymouth has felt much more settled. I still struggle with my lonely evenings, but I have stopped dwelling on things and more involvement in work has helped. The general election has proved a wonderful distraction and evening shave been spent either following the election debates or reading up on aquarium water chemistry, the joys of pH and alkalinity, calcium and carbonates and their reactions with dissolved CO2 have certainly jogged my fishy brain back into action.  I also managed a two hour game of football, which, needless to say has left me aching and in considerable pain, but my groin is still intact! This new found settlement has also brought some negatives as I have found my self falling into old habits of angry driving, shouting and swearing to myself at others minor mistakes  such as not signalling to exit a roundabout. (which is very rude). But most of all my wife and kids are on their way home, boarding the RMS for their own final journey. The morning they left St Helena I felt strangely and significantly more content, an ease came over me. I’m now longer counting how many days we have been apart and I excitedly countdown the days left. Not long now.

In the long run things are sent to test us and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, plus a number of other proverbs I could refer to. But I think the experience of leaving on my own, the distance between my children, Bev and I will turn out to be a hugely beneficial thing. We moved to St Helena with, in part, the intention of me getting closer to the boys. It turns out it was being absent from them which was needed to really make me appreciate them and fall in love with them all over again. I have been surprised, and hugely encouraged by how much I have missed Oliver and Charlie. As for Bev, well they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. If you had told me two months ago that when you are alone in Plymouth you will fall even more for your wonderful wife, Id of told you it was not possible, and yet here I sit, more in Love than I have ever been, and like a teenager I am bursting with excitement to be re-united with my sweet heart.











Home Alone

Arriving in the UK I touched down at 9.15am and, after a very quick transfer through immigration and customs I headed strait for Budget Car hire. I had just travelled for eight days, six on a ship followed by over 16 hours of flying, and now I had to drive to Bristol, to what would be an empty house. I just wanted this over with so I could sit down and relax. The car hire gave me a small glimpse of what was to come, the problem with living on St Helena for three years is that essentially, on UK computer systems you don’t exist! What is your house number Sir?” “ I don’t have one”!!! As has been the usual response Bev’s parents address, where our bank accounts are registered, provided something to put into the computer and after lots of fiddling eventually the computer said yes and I was on my way.

How strange, not long ago I was crossing the Atlantic, now I was driving up the M4 towards Reading. Reading was my first stop to get some food and catch up on some free WiFi. My first meal back in the UK, a Greg’s Sausage Roll, you cant beat them! It was very odd sitting in the services, the sun was shinning it was a lovely day, but as I sat on my own I realised that not one of the hundreds of people passing by knew, or cared who I was, they didn’t know the journey I had been on and just how significant my Greg’s Sausage roll was, or the story I had to tell.

That night I spent at Bev’s parents house, who were away on holiday. A week ago I was quite pleased the house would be empty but as I opened the front door and no one was there to greet me it just felt a bit sad. Bev’s sister later arrived and it was wonderful to see a smiling face, with a cuddle for me. A Chinese take away that night filled me up and my best intentions of watching the Europa League final were ruined when I fell asleep at 8.30 in front of the TV and promptly took myself to bed an hour later!

The next day was more driving up to North Wales to see my parents. This was a hugely welcome break and despite more driving I was ever so glad I fitted in an all too short trip. Dinner cooked for me, a familiar bed and the love of my parents was just what I needed to settle my nerves and bury some of the woes and sadness that has followed me since I left St Helena.

Two days on and I’m once again on the motorway, this time taking 8 1/2 hours to get to Plymouth. Bank holiday traffic ensured that it took me longer to travel 205 miles to the South Coast, than it did to fly over 3000km from Istanbul to London.  Packing the car was weird, 17 years ago I was packing a car with a couple of suitcases to go to University, now, coming full circle I was doing it again. This time however it felt very wrong, I’m married, a Dad, and I was packing to go and move to a new flat on my own. My drive was fairly traumatic, not just because of the horrendous traffic, but because of the sadness that filled me. I had no excitement, just sadness as I drove to my new home, on my own. If nothing else this whole thing has taught me just how much Bev and the kids mean to me, turns out they are my world and without them I feel lost and empty.

Arriving late I met my new landlord and lady, a lovely couple Chris and Deborah, and after signing a contract and going through the particulars I bided them good bye and moved into my flat. Nothing could cheer me that night, not even the Pork Pie and Wild boar Sausage roll that I bought from the new farm shop at Gloucester services, amazing by the way. Even Britain’s Got Talent failed to raise a smile from me.

The next morning I realised that my first shop for myself, done the day before, was something of a failure as I had remembered beer but forgotten Cereal. I had cheese but nothing to wash with! So, with my first full day in Plymouth I set about finding local shops, stocking up my cupboards and getting my barrings. After arriving in the UK I have ticked off Greg’s Sausage Roll, McDonald’s, Chinese take away and bacon butties, I thought therefore that I should probably attempt to shop healthy or Bev may not want me back once she does arrive. My fridge is therefore filled with healthy choice of ready meals, salad………and beer. The day was fine, the evening lonely, something I will have to get used to. The next priority was finding my local Richer Sounds to order my new home cinema system, of vital importance of course, and next, my local pub. The Waterloo Inn is descent enough and only 1 minute away, so a winner for me.

Returning to the UK has certainly come as a bit of a shock for me. Not long ago every minute was surrounded by people. On St Helena no one is alone, no one arrives alone, the community, particularly fellow ex-pats gather to ensure new arrivals are welcome and at home with dinner invites, barbecues and bring and share parties.

Wandering into the Waterloo Inn was the first time Id walked into a pub and didn’t know anyone for nearly three years and as I sit writing my blog tonight the evening is long and the flat is deathly quiet. Leaving St Helena was always going to be hard, I hadn’t contemplated the extra loneliness that leaving my family behind would bring.

One Night in Cape Town

I’m sat in a very comfy seat, my complimentary home made lemonade tastes lovely and a nice man in a white hat has just taken my dinner and breakfast orders I’ve not long had a nice hot shower after enjoying my free beer and soon Ill be sipping champagne and a nice single malt Scotch. I have 10 1/2 hours ahead of me but my seat recline fully flat and if I get board of watching films on my 12” Hi-definition screen, or listening to music through my Denon headphones I may have a nice comfortable sleep.

As you may of guessed by now I am travelling business class  aboard  Turkish Airlines flight TK045 to Istanbul. A special offer at the check in desk was enough to convince me to upgrade. I have never, in my adult life, had the opportunity to do so, and may not have the chance to do so again, why not enjoy a bit of indulgence I thought. If I have to return t the UK, lets do it in style.

As we taxi to the end of the runway I am once again filled with sadness, (although the forthcoming champagne may help). I wish Bev was here to share the experience of course, but the reality of another final goodbye sets in. The manner of this journey has meant that several “final goodbyes” have occurred, leaving the Island, leaving the RMS and now, leaving Cape Town.

Cape Town at NightIf you have followed this blog from the start you know how much I love Cape Town, a wonderful city full of life and vibrancy despite its obvious problems.My time in Cape Town this time has been short and not like any other. After picking up a bug and suffering with aches, pains and an upset stomach on my last few days aboard the RMS I was glad to arrive at my hotel. We had been held in Cape Bay due to heavy fog, which, although lifting from the bay it persisted in the harbour well into late morning. It had taken 4 1/2 hours from arriving in Cape Bay to arriving at my hotel.


Cape Town and Table Mountain break out of the fog.

Travelling alone I had opted for a small boutique hotel in one of the oldest parts of the city, an area of colonial buildings, street side bars and coffee shops and a stones throw from the central business and shopping districts.

My first night was a write off. I spent an hour and a half trying to track down a pharmacy to get some drugs to calm my ailments, in a desperate rush to find something before the shops shut. One thing is for sure, it would be a very difficult flight the next morning if I didn’t find something to stop my numerous trips to the toilet!! Eventually said pharmacy was found and I retired to my hotel room with a take away dinner ( very nice one) and a film on TV. Now I know these are first world problems and retiring to my hotel room is no great hardship, but it is not how I wanted to spend my last night in Cape Town and was disappointing.

After a good night sleep and some medication I woke feeling much better and set about spending my last five hours in Cape Town taking in some history, an opportunity not afforded to me in the past, travelling as I have with the children. I take time to visit the Slavery Museum, housed in a old slave lodge where, in the 17th Century, slaves on which Cape Town was built were held in cramped, inhumane conditions. As I always do in Cape Town I wrestle with my conscience. South Africa was one of the last nations on Earth to grasp the equality of man, hanging on to racial segregation, discrimination and brutality as late as 1996 through the legalised Apartheid years.

But it is the present day that still concerns me. Huge numbers of beggars walk the streets of Cape Town, or sleep in parks. In the late 1600’s the Dutch East India company, having established Cape Town as a watering stop on route to the East, required food and soon set about cultivating in an area now known as the Company’s Gardens. Today one may roam these gardens , which are still cultivated, and be surrounded by the grandeur and opulence of the former Dutch Parliament buildings. Whilst the wealthy elite of the country, and tourists from around the world buy seeds or nuts to feed the pigeons or brazen and well fed squirrels, the homeless lie asleep on the well kept lawns.The contrast could not be starker.

The country has come a long way however, while young black women lie in the sun taking advantage of the late Autumn weather, a young white lady, well dressed, cleans a syringe with disinfectant, the inequality of life in South Africa is clearly not just down to race or colour. Just over 21 years ago the black, middle class which enjoys feeding squirrels and sunbathing in the gardens,  would not of even been allowed to walk here or indeed many parts of the urban centre unless holding a work pass.

Despite the obvious progress there is a long way to go, even in the relatively enlightened Cape Town. As generations of black South Africans were denied an education there is a huge skills gap and it is the black majority who are inevitably working in restaurant serving food to the white business men and women of the city.  A short drive out of the city centre towards the airport presents a stark image of mile upon mile of slums where the poor black majority eke out an existence, travelling into Cape Town to beg or find what ever work they can.

As I sit in my business class seat, sipping champagne as we cruise over Namibia the inequality of my own riches is not lost on me.


England’s Green and pleasant land.


Moving On the RMS St Helena

Moving On

I have, on day four, started to re-appreciate the many charms of the Royal Mail Ship St Helena. Last night I took part in a “Fancy Hat” competition. Not normally one to take part in such events the prospect of a £5 reward simply for wrapping some paper around my head was too great a reward to pass up.

Saints have a remarkable capacity for sitting, just sitting, during the five night voyage, and many continue to confine themselves to their cabins for almost the entire duration. Despite this, a fancy hat competition it seems draws them out and the main lounge was packed out with onlookers. A parade of hats, and the declaring of “Everyone’s a winner” was followed by silly party games,  I retire with my dignity only partly intact after one or two beers too many!

Of course last night saw the start of the RMS quiz, during which only a badly timed, point doubling joker prevented team Bernie and Rob (so called after the two members who defected) from taking the first round.

Cricket this morning saw “The Saints” some what demolish “The Rest of the World” team. I have the bruises to show for it as I fearlessly and selflessly threw myself in front of well hit balls of twine. Despite the best efforts of our team motivator Bernie, we lost 135 runs to 91.

Despite all this, and the genuine improvement in my mood I have begun to contemplate and reflect on the leaving of St Helena in a new way. Up until three days ago I lived on one of the most remote, inhabited Islands on earth. A place that takes a five day sea voyage to reach. I lived on an Island that many have not even heard of , with a unique story of history and discovery, where animals and plants found no-where else on earth can be found. Until three days ago I swam with Whale Sharks or dived with Devil rays before dinner. Until three days ago I was unique and special. But as we pass the the two thirds (67%) mark of my journey I am no longer unique. I return to society, to the norm. When I pass people in the street they will not wave or say hello. When I tell people where I live they will simply believe me, instead of looking at me in disbelief, my home address will have a house number and street name, when I say where I live it will be of no consequence at all.

And as for St Helena she will carry on without me, her people will wave and smile at others. New people will come in and make their own temporary mark as my own impact will fade. Despite words of kindness of the difference I have made and the impression I have left I will soon disappear from peoples conciousness initially fading to memory before being dropped completely.

In my isolation however, whilst I may no longer be a part of St Helena, she will always be a part of me. Her beauty and isolation, her rugged cliffs and green peaks, and her people most of all will forever be in my heart and soul.

The Royal Mail Ship St Helena.

Its my last day aboard the RMS, tomorrow at 8am we will arrive in Cape Town and shortly afterwards I will step ashore and leave the life I have known for nearly three years behind.

This has been a tricky voyage for me, for many reasons, some of which I care not to mention. The combination of marking my final goodbye and not having my family by my side to share it with has led to a journey full of sadness for me.

But as the days have gone by the ship has inevitably sucked me in. Today, St Helena day, marks the 515 anniversary of the Islands discovery and special celebrations on deck have included a crazy morning of “sports”. Most events were either humiliating, wet and messy or both. It was well attended and I was pleased to take part and have a bit of a laugh. My quiz team, Bernie and Rob has been renamed Barney and Bob thanks to the consistent mispronunciation of Bernie and Rob name’s. We enter the final round tonight, lagging behind, Im not holding out for much although we are still with an outside chance.

Of course the RMS should of been of of service and decommissioned some 12 months ago and my final departure should of been on a plane. Despite my troubles I am, in the end, glad that it wasn’t, and had had the opportunity to have one last voyage aboard this unique vessel. The RMS is special and has a hold over most people who sail on her.

The RMS is a through back in time, Cricket on the deck, traditional furnishings and fine dining. Time is spent in a leisurely way, sunbathing on the deck, reading, or enjoying a glass of wine or cold beer with good company. The RMS does not claim to be the hight of luxury, or at the cutting edge of modern transport, she is leisurely, making her way steadily across the Atlantic time and again. Everyone aboard the RMS has a story to tell, everyone has a reason for being there, not just that they are on holiday, but an adventure, or starting or finishing a way of life, or perhaps a medical evacuation or return for treatment the people aboard, make the journey.

The staff are second to none, nothing is too much trouble and each and every one of them makes you feel like you are part of their family. Travel once and they will remember your name._MG_8878

Travelling on the ship also gives a sense of its importance to the Island. It is the heartbeat of St Helena, the passage of time is marker by her arrival and departure. Everyone and everything on the Island has been aboard. In the days following her arrival shops of full of new stock, slowly dwindling down as time passes and her next arrival is eagerly awaited. When the RMS is in port, shops and bars often open longer, or just open where they don’t normally, she is a powerful kick start to the Island each time she arrives. I wonder how this pulsating way of life, dictated by the Rhythm of the RMS will change once she is finally replaced by a weekly flight. People will arrive every week, good every 6 weeks on another ship. As someone who travelled to the Island to start a new life, the RMS is a wonderful introduction to the pace of life, the people and of course to those whom would become good friends. Arriving on a plane will not give time for ex-pat workers to integrate and make friends with Saints before they arrive, how will this affect the mixing and community spirit of the Island, will the divide between Saint and Ex-pats become wider? Only time will tell.

Tomorrow I will awake early to watch Cape Town come into view. The RMS is an extension of the Island  and it is not until I step onto land that I will of truly left behind St Helena’s special charm. Some 100,000 words after I wrote my first ever blog post I am writing the last words on “St Helena”. I will continue my blog for some time to come, to record the emotions and adjustments to be made coming back to the real world. But for now I wish to say thank you. Thank you Saint Helena, to the many people who have touched my life and crossed my path. To those I have photographed, bought food from, laughed and drank with, to those I have dived with and worked with. Thank you to you all.

It is time for me to move on now. I shall return one day, no doubt by plane. I will see changes I’m sure, but fundamentally St Helena will be the same, its people will ensure it. Until such time as I touch down on runway 20 HLE airport I bid you goodbye and I take with me memories that will last a lifetime.