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.