A Hard Stexit – My Final Blog Entry

It’s been nearly five months since I left St Helena, and it is time to draw this story and my blog to a close. Leaving St Helena has undoubtedly been the hardest long term thing I have ever had to do. Still now, I have days where my heart aches like I have lost a loved one. Moving back to the UK has proved difficult to say the least, although when I paint a picture of things to myself, never mind others, I can’t help feeling I sound like a spoilt brat such is the relatively mild nature of my hardships compared with many in the world.

Since my last entry, Bev has found a job, working as a Science teaching in a local school, this is only temporary however but at least it enabled us to all move back together and reunite our family. In August we came to move empty our storage container in North Wales and move all of our stuff down to the South West. When we left three years ago the majority of our belongings, clothes, furniture, and personal things were put into storage for the duration. We hired two large transit vans and made the long drive to North Wales. With great sadness however, we discovered that due to a leak, the majority of our belongings were ruined, found to be riddled with mould and fit only for throwing away. We couldn’t  take anything straight to a refuse site and had to proceed in bringing all of our stuff back to the South West for sorting and disposing of. It was heartbreaking, clothes and furniture I could deal with, but throwing away photos and the boy’s first school work and paintings was particularly tough. The mould was so bad in places that it made me ill, a theme that would continue for weeks.

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It seems, since not having experienced a UK autumn for several years that I have no immune system and I have contracted bug after bug falling ill over and over again, this in itself has been somewhat miserable.

I then discovered that my credit rating was somehow through the floor and that I had a county court judgement against me. For those who don’t know, in the UK the county court is often used for cases of debt, where bills or fines have not been paid. After a couple of weeks of agonising I discover that the culprit was Npower, who, whilst I was out of the country took me to court, and in my absence found me guilty of not paying a bill, that they had never even issued, oh and they didn’t even bother to tell me I was going to court!!! After some seriously long phone calls, the judgement was rescinded, and the battle for compensation has ensued!!

At the end of August, with Bev about to start work, and the boys going back to school we decided a family break was in order and we spent three lovely nights in North Devon in the coastal town of Woolacombe. It was just perfect and exactly what I needed to draw my thoughts away from St Helena. Oliver had surfing lessons and we all enjoyed four days of glorious sunshine, walking, beaches fun and a few beers.

The beautiful North Devon Coast.
Oliver’s surfing lessons were a highlight.
Not to be outdone Charlie had a go a wave boarding.

There has been lots of fun, of course, the National Fireworks championships are held every year in Plymouth which was quite a treat, and my job has begun to throw up some highlights as I’ve got to grips with things.

But time and time again my thoughts wander back to St Helena. Over September I finally got back to my photography as I set about editing the photos from my good friend’s, Lisa and Johan’s, wedding. This was really difficult, seeing some of the people we have grown to love and whom we miss greatly in my photos was hard going, it’s still too soon just look back with fond memories and the pain is very real.

On St Helena, we saw our friends not just daily but often several times a day, every day. Back in the UK, our friends are spread about so far and wide, and people live such busy lives that meeting up is difficult and sporadic.

Oliver and I enjoyed some father-son time and learnt to fly falcons for my birthday.

We have begun to form some sort of routine, the boys have found themselves a football club, and have had coaching in school. Charlie has embraced everything from the choir and recorder to the schools xfactor competition, which of course he won!  Oliver has been away for two nights on a school camp and has become enthralled with the Second World War which he is studying in school.

Our first venture onto Dartmoor.

I, however, have been thoroughly upset with myself as the stress and upset of the move and adjustments to the pace of life, have pushed me back towards the intolerant shouting father I was before I left for St Helena, and in my first few months there. When I greet the boys from school, all too often is it accompanied with my moaning and nagging about the things they have forgotten or the mud on their newly washed school uniform. My expectations of Charlie I know are too high, he is only six, and I know he will not be thinking about getting the washing dry when he is playing football with his friends. Yet when I see him with mud all over his trousers and I contemplate the three days it took to get his uniform dry at the end of last week it fills me with rage. I’m so desperate to not fall into a hole and return to the days when I would really did rather the children were not in my life. I have come to love and appreciate them so much more in the past two years and the recent months in particular, that I cry to think that I can once again be so cross with them.

As we fall into the swing of things it will get easier I’m sure, and I know deep down my relationship with the boys is better than it ever was, I love them with all my heart, and appreciate the joys they bring to my life. When I reflect on the month I spent without them I know all too well the pain it caused to not have them around. And bit by bit things do settle and improve. My work has had some progress as I and the team settle into my role and what the new team structure is about, and how we all fit together.

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Me, professionally wrestling a spotted eagle ray for an ultrasound to confirm her pregancy! All in a days work.

 

Bev has found returning to full time teaching in the UK to be incredibly hard. Teaching is in something of a crisis in the UK, teachers are leaving in droves as the balance between teaching and paperwork falls all too far on side of the paperwork. Targets and observations, pressures and no time to teach, take their toll. 6 nights a week Bev’s spends planning and marking, it is draining for her, and all of us. Finish school, sort out the boys, do homework with them, tidy the house or cook dinner and then, when the boys are in bed and we should be sat relaxing, Bev is tied to her work, often till 10pm before going to bed to start it all again the next day. This article in the Times explains exactly how Bev, and so many teachers are feeling in the UK. https://www.tes.com/us/news/breaking-views/i-cannot-be-both-a-good-mother-and-a-good-teacher

Removing St Helena from our thoughts has become more difficult in recent weeks as we have edged towards a momentous day in the history of the Island, the commencement of commercial flights. Saturday, the 14th October 2017 will forever be a part of St Helena history as the first, SA Airlink flight with paying customers touched down. As part of the infrastructure to this, Mantis, a South African based boutique hotel and eco-retreat firm have built the Islands newest hotel. For my part, I had the privilege of selling my photos to the hotel which are now proudly on display in the hotel’s bedrooms, lounges and lobby’s. I am enormously proud that my work has been valued and honoured in such a way. I have become good friends with the builds project manager and his wonderful wife, and they are both thrilled with the impact my photos have had to the hotel. It is a truly amazing feeling to know that the first of St Helena’s airline tourists may be sleeping with one of my photos above their heads. Without doubt, this is my greatest photography achievement and a wonderful honour to know I have left something of myself behind on the Island for others to enjoy.

It is five months since I left St Helena and it is now time to draw my blog to a close. I went to St Helena not knowing what I would do or discover. I would not, in a million years have been able to guess at the extraordinarily wonderful experience we have had, the skills I have learnt, the people I have met and the friends I have made.

St Helena is and always will be a part of me now, although my life, for the time being, will move forward in the UK, a part of me will always be left behind on my Island home.

As for my blog, since August 2014 my blog has been read over 160,000 times. It has been seen in 175 countries of the World, my photographs through the blog, the facebook page and various media outlets I am confident have been seen millions of times by people around the World. I have had the most touching comments from people who have been travelling to St Helena, who once lived or worked on the Island, and for those whose memories I have re-kindled. It has been a privilege to write for you all and I hope I have touched a few people on the way. For now, I bid you farewell, but perhaps, one day I will turn this into a book, and who knows it might be available in an Airport just a few thousand miles away!

 

 

 

Fourth Time, Third Time, Second Time, First Time.

 

I have so much to catch up on, my blog will, as a consequence brush over many things and not in any way get across how full the past few weeks have been.

Our time on St Helena is measured by events, I don’t imagine Saints see things like this, but for us the past few weeks have heralded our third, of lot lots of things. Our third Harvest, third boys day out, festival, third cancer awareness event, third Halloween, third World Wide Photo walk, Third Cruise ship season, the list goes on.

The event and social merry go round is non-stop on St Helena, there are times when I’d like to jump off, and have a breather, but then someone will phone and ask “what are you doing on Saturday” and with a fear of missing out, then we are there.

The month started with my third World Wide Photowalk, a day when photographers all over the world go, and walk and take photos. This year’s location, decided upon by the tourist office was Peak Dale, a delightful walk through flax slopes, grass lands, deciduous forest and pine trees. Becoming more popular year on year, over thirty people turned up, on what started as a cloudy blustery day to play their part, enjoy a nice walk and hopefully capture some photos. It soon became very clear that some people were not really in it for the photography, as one group, of avid photographers, myself included, were quickly left behind, each of us hoping to be the first to spot and bag “the shot”. I decided to try something more abstract this year, and looked for form, texture and shape in objects, rather than the wide sweeping landscape views. It was an interesting challenge and I was pleased with my results.

 

Whilst on the subject of walking Bev and I tackled a new post box walk this month, to Lot! Lot is an oddly named large pillar of volcanic, phonolithic rock. It was formed some 7 1/2 million years ago, when the major eruptions of St Helena had subsided and the Island had formed. Later eruptions forced magma up through gaps and fissures in the existing rock, but never quite broke through the surface. Surrounded by an insulating layer this larva cooled much more slowly than the rock laid down in earlier eruptions, and hence formed more solid, resistant rock. As St Helena’s soft volcanic slopes have washed away over time these phonolithic rocks are left to stand proud over their surroundings._mg_4419-pano

The walk itself was a challenge for sure, much of it down perilous slopes, with electrical wire in place to hold on to!! But it was great fun, and made even more pleasurable by the impromptu nature of thing. It was half term, and Bev and I had booked a day off work to spend with the boys. At short notice they were both invited to a birthday party for the day and as such, Bev and I enjoyed our first day alone together for months. It was bliss.

October also saw several charity events, and it seems I have become the go to photographer for doing things for free. “Paul, you know it’s the carnival, do you think maybe you could do some photos”? And my answer is always, yes I’d love to. And I mean it I do love it, I love being asked to help and contribute in some way, but it does mean I have spent most nights on the computer editing and sorting through reams of photos.

And so it is that the past three weeks have contained our Third SHAPE fund raising event, a Masquerade Ball at Plantation House, closely followed by New Horizons Children version, in Halloween costume. The Ball was spectacular in its entertainment as it was in its costume, as all 140 people attendees slowly slipped, sipped, danced and drank into one of the best parties this Island has seen. Over £2000 was raised for one of St Helena’s most important and valuable charities, and everyone had a thoroughly good night. Although I was happy to play my part, I was more than a little envious of having to work when surrounded by such joviality.

It’s not often on St Helena, that I am surprised anymore, but an hour into the night, I was somewhat taken a back as a masked man approached the door and asked me if I was Paul Tyson, “Ummm yes” I replied, “Did you go to Rhyl High School?” “ummm yes” I replied, “Do you recognise me”, “Ummm take off your mask”! And there he was, Mr Cottle, a former design tech teacher in my old school, he, on the door step of Plantation House, on St Helena, I could not believe it. There may not be an airline service yet, but I’m sure there’s a bloody bus that comes here three times a week!

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Mr Cottle on the right, former teacher at Rhyl High School with family.

The arrival of flight TZ 1XS, an Arvo RJ100 jet plane was, for a time the most talked about thing on the Island. The flight, operated by Tronos Aviation Leasing was on its way, in a very convoluted path to Chile were it was being sold, but thanks to the efforts of Atlantic Star is came to St Helena on route to fly some test flights, gather more wind shear data, and test the suitability of this aircraft for ST Helena. Atlantic Star have been a prominent player in the Airport SAGA, insisting from very early on that they will be able to operate a direct service from the UK to St Helena. To their credit they have no wavered from this standpoint,  and, although this particular aircraft type does not have the capacity to reach the UK, it is seen as an option in the short term for the Island due to its particular profile and ability to land in poor conditions and in short distances. Atlantic Star jumped at the chance to test the theory and worked with Tronos to enable the flight to arrive at its destination via St Helena.

From an untrained eye it was a huge success, lucky enough I was to be on my fourth trip to photograph aircraft, I watched and immaculate landing, right on the money, without a hint of wobble, and stopping well short of the vertical cliff that greats a plane that overshoots!

Will it be the answer? Well, no, not in the long term, with the modifications needed to carry additional fuel, this aircraft could only fly to St Helena with around 40 passengers, not enough to build a tourist industry on, but what this flight has done is raise moral, provide some positivity surrounding the airport, and may, just may, provide a short term solution to getting things off the ground as it were. Here’s hoping.

The airport on St Helena has received some terrible press in the UK and worldwide, the most expensive cock up in history, the airport with no air planes, £300mil of wasted UK tax money are the normal headlines. My photos of the airport have subsequently popped up all over the world in everything from aircraft magazines to tourism websites. It was no surprise therefore when some large newspapers came knocking. It was something of a surprise however when I received a phone call from the photo editor at the Times Newspaper. Asking for photos of the airport I enquired what was the article about, already of course knowing the answer. Knowing the article was not going to be a positive one I was torn, do I want my photos used to provide negative press to the Island I love? After some thought I figured, my photos are already over lots of press articles slagging off the airport, what difference does one more make, and at least I was going to get paid, and credited. And so it is that two and a half years after picking up a camera I can now claim to be a professional photo journalist. Well ok, that might be pushing it, but not many people can say their photos have been published in the Times newspaper!!TysonPic.jpg

On to more concerning news and for the second time in just 4 years the Island is experiencing a drought, this time, a severe one. We have had no significant rain fall for months, months and months. The normal winter rains came and went with nothing more than some low lying mist and the situation is now quite serious. We will still have drinking water, even if we rely on bottled water, but without drastic measures, or some serious rain the Island is rumoured to run out of any significant and usable water in a matter of days. Whether it will come to that I don’t know, water is currently being tankered from a bore hole, once used by Basil Read during airport construction, to keep reservoirs marginally topped up, but they are all looking very empty, some with just puddles of muddy water in the bottom. Please and warnings have been offered by all and sundry to reduce consumption, and the Tyson household is playing the, if its yellow, let it mellow rule. I’m also doing my bit by drinking beer instead of water!!

And so it was that against a back drop of drought and prayer for water that St Helena experienced what is, so it seems, a once in a life time event, an electrical storm, or thunder and lightning to you and me. As I sat, in my usual evening position at the computer, I heard a rumble, knowing that St Helena never gets thunder storms I shook my head, told myself it couldn’t be and continued with my work. Even the flash of light outside, did not trigger any thought process that it could be lightning. The second rumble however really got my attention as it rattled the roof above our head. Opening the door to the lounge I said to Bev, “did you hear that? I think its thunder and lightning”. Really!!!

It was, and for the next 6 hours you could find me outside, like a small child enjoying the spectacle. For the first hour I told myself it was passing over, it was not worth getting my camera out. As I realised I was wrong I hurriedly rummaged for my tripod and trigger and headed outside. For the next five hours, until 1.30am I watched and listened with giddy excitement, dancing for joy when I knew a fork of lightening had been within the view finder of my camera. I started shooting out at sea, as the storm passed over and beyond us, but as the night went on pockets of the storm opened up all over, until I was provided the ideal shot, with lightening forking behind High Knoll Fort. Photography conditions were tricky, with low lying cloud surrounding me, forcing me to wait for the occasional breaks. But it was well worth it. I was aware that this was potentially the first storm on the Island for many years (I’ve heard anything from 40 to 10) and that maybe, just maybe I was getting THE photographs to record it. As I uploaded the images to Facebook that night I could not believe the response. Three days later and over 16000 have viewed, clicked, liked, loved and shared these photos. What an amazing experience, and amazing night, and amazing response, and one which I will never forget.

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High Knoll Fort St Helena, Silhouetted against the fork of lightning.

Unfortunately the storm did not bring with it the rains, and after threatening to pour down the storm provided virtually no rain at all.

I guess I shall have to carry on drinking beer!!!

Two Years and a Carnival!

Two years ago it was Carnival, 2014, a bi-annual event held to raise money and awareness of Cancer on the Island. We hadn’t been on St Helena all that long, and, as this extract from my blog at time will show you, it wasn’t, for us, all it was cracked up to be….

“Apparently carnival would be an afternoon of colour, music and celebration as hundreds of clowns, fairies, queens, kings and other exuberant costumes or scantily clad ladies parade down main street of James Town. Gathered crowds cheer and take photos before all of St Helena enjoy an evening of food, music and celebration, all in the aid of cancer awareness. That at least, is how it was supposed to be. Our morning started in much the same way as many other’s, preparing our costumes. Bev and I were sorted, with grass skirts, Hawaiian Leis and for me, a fetching bow tie to accompany my Hawaiian shirt. The boys wanted to be pirates and as such Bev was busy sewing material into pirate waistcoats. This is where it went downhill, a tantrum initiated over the availability of just one pirate hat quickly descended into a full on end of the world level of disparity. When eventually we left the house, having once again decided that our own day shouldn’t be ruined in punishment of Charlie’s behaviour, we missed the procession and arrived at town feeling stupid in our costumes (at least I did), with two miserable children, and hungry. Although cup-cakes helped to break the mood for a short time we had arrived so late that waiting times for real food were by now so long we decided to cut our losses and returned home after having a thoroughly miserable afternoon!”

 Two years on, and it was Carnival time again, and it felt like a real marker of just how far we have come. Looking back we already felt settled in 2014, we had been on Island all of two months and felt we knew the score, but Carnival 2016 was a whole different ball game. Although Charlie threatened to set the day off in the same manner as two years ago, he failed, we arrived on time, and in good spirits to be met by hundreds of fairies as this year’s theme, Take Flight, was clearly on show.

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Two years ago we didn’t really know anyone, and those we did were generally ex pats, this year was very different, we knew almost everybody as we paraded down through Historic Jamestown, dancing to music and soaking up the wonderful atmosphere. The sun shone brightly and as we reached the Waterfront cold beer was on hand to help quench the thirst.

We have now seen lots of people parading down through town for one event or another, it’s a regular and enjoyed part of St Helena culture, and somehow this was different. Perhaps it is because Carnival is only two years, maybe it is the costumes and colour, but I think it’s the cause. Cancer affects everybody on St Helena. In such a small, close-nit community, there is no one that hasn’t in some way been affected by cancer, and the passion of the organisers, carnival goes and spectators reflected that.

Carnival 2016 was fantastic, the costumes and exuberance of it all was brilliant, was it Rio, or New Orleans, no, but in its own, very special St Helena way, it was every bit as much fun.

The Most Beautiful City in the World?

I was filled with excitement to be heading back to Cape Town, man I love Cape Town. This time, fearing it may be our last time we had booked two extra nights giving us three in total. Which, as ever, just was not enough.

Our mini break did not start well and we watched the luggage conveyor belt at the airport spin round and round with no sign of the boys big bright red suitcase. Eventually we were told “there are no more bags to come off”, and the reality that one of our suitcases was missing hit home. We logged a missing bag report and would have to wait and see where it was but for the time being, the boys had nothing but the clothes they were standing in!

Determined not to let this ruin our time here, we left and met the ever lovely Julian, waiting outside to transfer us to our hotel. Having previously stayed in the tourist trap water front, and in the city centre, this time we opted for a beach side suburb of Cape Town called Camps Bay._MG_3356 Our hotel, Place on the Bay was lovely, and what it lacked in finishing touches in made up for in location, sat as it was just across the road from white sand beach, rolling Atlantic waves and the palm tree lined promenade of one of Cape Towns most beautiful districts.

Our time in Cape Town was amazing, we played on the beaches, paddled in the sea, shopped in local markets and went exploring in the rock pools. The highlight however was our day trip safari to Inverdoon Game Reserve. Reliably informed that the reserve was a two and a half hour drive away we set out to arrive at 10am, by leaving at 8 am, not as you will notice, on time! Traffic leaving cape Town was slow, and the whole of South Africa was, it seemed, covered in a thick blanket of fog. Despite having directions to the reserve, we did the usual thing and plugged our destination into the Sat Nav, and blindly followed it despite it taking a different route than that which was recommended. It wasn’t long before, in terms of time, we realised this was a mistake and we climbed higher and higher through steep mountains up into Bains Klooff Pass. Late we may have been, but speed was not an option as we travelled through stunning scenery of forest and cliffs with shear 400ft drops to the side of us.

Its hard to express just how incredible the landscape was, and unfortunately, already now very late for our safari I had no time to stop and photograph the area, but I was breath taken at its beauty. As a troop of baboon crossed the road ahead of us we reached the summit of the pass, and looked down the valley ahead of us, the twisted layers of rock, lush green trees and rivers cutting its way down hill as waterfalls either side of the valley crashed down to meet it.

Leaving the pass behind us we reached Cares, a medium sized town and the first in South Africa we had seen that felt like Africa, the shop signs were largely in Afrikaans and white man was all but absent. As we passed through, there seemed to be a protest of some sort going on, a large gathering of people and two or three police cars made us a little wary as we slowly drove through the crowds. We needn’t of worried it was all very peaceful, and we do not really know what the commotion was all about, but as we left town and came across another of South Africa’s shanty towns it was a stark reminder that behind the sheer beauty of the country and friendliness of it people there is still a troubled country. Thirty years after apartheid has ended the country is still divided by class and race and the ruling, majority black ANC party have some way to go before this country is at peace with itself and there is anything approaching equality in this beautiful land.

Leaving Cares was my opportunity to make up some time, as the most wonderful, strait road opened up for miles ahead on the flat, wide, river valley floor. High mountains boarded us and my foot hit the floor with the speed gauge hitting 150kph it was exhilarating to scream through the valley on the empty road in my little Hyundai! If we arrived at Safari past 10.30am there was a chance they would leave without us, it was now looking to be impossible to make up the time and as the tarmac road ended, and a gravel track lay out ahead of us our only hope was that the group was small and kind and that they would be gracious enough to have held off and waited for us.

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Long Strait Roads, paved in gravel made for exciting driving!

With clouds of dust behind me, and stones flying about I took the little car to its limits across the gravel, only slowing down when we came across the most wonderful road sign, “Caution, SLOW, Tortoise in road!!! Turning into the safari reserve we saw our first wild African animals, Springbok, the national animal of South Africa, grazing peacefully in fields adjacent to the gravel road. We were welcomed at the reserve and quickly hopped onto a safari 4×4 which shot across the African bush, shaking and bouncing us to catch up with the main tour group had already departed.

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Springbok are very common.

A wonderful three hours was then spent out on the reserve catching a privileged look of Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Buffalo, Zebra and the delightful tortoise crossing the road, before the highlight in the Cheetah reserve.  A game reserve is not 100% wild, it is a managed environment, many of the animals have been rescued from hardship or exploitation, and the animals are fed during times of drought, but they are free to roam, to hunt and live an all but wild existence on the 15000 hectare estate. The flat valley floor and grassy plains stretched for mile upon mile bordered by a circle of mountains on the far horizon, it was a true privilege to be there and a day we will all remember, a big thanks to Gran Mitch for the gift that allowed us to do it.

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Relaxing by the pool. If the boys look cold, its because they were, the water was icy and Bev and I were going no where near it!

All too soon our time was done and we headed back to Cape Town. Surrounded by the 2000+m mountains of the Matroosberg Range, and following the wide flat Breede River valley through vineyards and mountains past lakes and streams the drive back was as stunning as the drive there, only this time I stopped to take some photos. This area is simply stunning and left me dreaming of returning one day for a more extensive exploration.  Returning to Cape Town we felt strangely at home in this foreign land, like we were somehow returning home from a day out, rather than returning to a hotel following a day on safari.

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Matroosberg mountains

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Vineyards of the Breede River Valley

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View from the car as we wound along the Breede Valley. (No I didnt take the photo whilst driving!)

 

Our last days in Cape Town went too quickly, more beach, more rockpools, more sun and more good food. Before long we were back in the now very familiar Seamans Mission, passing our luggage over to the handling crew, and waiting to once more board the RMS St Helena. We had been a little apprehensive about our new final year in St Helena. Many good friends had left the Island whilst we had been away, and I was due to start a new job. Just before leaving St Helena some 8 weeks ago I had interviewed for and been offered a post with the Airport Landscape and Ecology Mitigation Program as a Team Leader, supervising staff in the field, managing various outsourced contracts and assisting with the project management of the Islands largest ever conservation project. What would this last year hold for us, many changes in store, two parents working full time, Charlie starting in year 1 (proper school) and friends leaving the Island. Boarding the RMS is always special, but this time held even greater significance for us, as, just like two years ago, we stepped into something of the unknown.

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One of my favourite photos of all time. Taken with a self timer on a stunning beach in Clifton. I sometimes have to pinch myself at how lucky we are, and how lucky I am. Moments of peace and beauty allow one to remember the good things in life, I will never forget this moment.

As always the RMS has a calming influence and before long we had met new friends heading to St Helena for the first time, and old friends heading back following periods of leave or medical. The nervous and excited questions of our new friends helped to re-assure us, we were the old hands, and although changes were afoot, no doubt St Helena will be the same place, and as Cape Town disappeared into the sea mist a feeling of contentment came over me. St Helena we are coming home.

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Two Hundred Years and Ten Months

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 on-the-tracks-of-napoleonexcept 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.

RMS St Helena HMS Lancaster in James Bay St Helena

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

I Was There

I was there, I can tell my Grandchildren that on the 15th September, 2015 I shared in a piece of history. It is a remarkable co-incidence that on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, one of the most important days in aviation history of the British Empire, that another, far flung out post of the Empire should join the rest of the World and take its first step in its own aviation history.

At 13:47 GMT (according to my watch) a small, Beachcraft King Air 200 aircraft touched down on St Helena. Years of planning, and thousands of man hours have brought us to this point where St Helena is no-longer one of the most isolated places on earth. And as the plane touched down I was there, stood alongside other members of St Helena’s photography and media community, just 100yrds from the runway.

There is much written about the airport, its construction, and planning, incredible feats of engineering so I will not go into it here, but instead hope to convey what it feels like to be here during this momentous and historic occasion. I am of course incredibly fortunate, not only to of been granted ringside seats today, but to even be here on this little Island in the first place. From my initial few months of self-doubt and worry, I have worked very hard to establish myself here, an ex-pat without a contract, trying to gain peoples trust and confidence in my work and to spread the word of what I hope I can deliver for the Island and its people. It was therefore incredibly disappointing when I was, at first, turned down from my opportunity to photograph this great event. But, as a testament to, “if you don’t ask you don’t get” I contacted Basil Read directly and to my great surprise I was granted access, alongside the Islands media photographers, to get within touching distance of the runway.

With insider information on the exact time of arrival I met the others at Basil Reads offices in Longwood and found a busy gathering of media, Island dignitaries, Councillors and others who, like me, had convinced someone to allow them special access. I was, to say the least, feeling a little over whelmed and perhaps out of place, after all why did I deserve to be here amongst such company when many many hundreds of others, some would argue more deserving than myself, were left to watch from distant vantage points across the South East corner of the Island.

The media and photographers were ferried by shuttle bus to three pre-designated sites along the runway. Having been myself for a preview of the sites I knew the location I wanted to be at, but had no idea if I would get my choice. As chance happened I did, and by just after 12.30 myself, representatives from South Atlantic Media Services and the Independent, Basil Reads HR officer and his daughter (a photographer) were each selecting our own little spot on our vantage point and chattering away about what would happen next, which direction the plane would come from, who would get the best photo etc.

With radio communication we knew that touch down would be very close to 13:35 so with an hour to go we settled down to wait. Prosperous Bay plain, the site of the airport is an incredible landscape, moon like sands and rocks of purple and red dominate, the desert landscape now punctuated by the pale concrete runway and rather Isolated and lonely looking terminal building. The wind, though light by St Helena standards, whipped up the occasional swirl of dust, and I sat watching the run way wind sock anxious that the weather didn’t deteriorate.

Having ignored the advice I give my children on going to the toilet before leaving the house, I became increasingly desperate to relieve myself. As time ticked by I knew that holding on could result in me missing the big event, and so I wandered off to find myself a little boys room behind a rock. As time went by I noticed that at least two others in our party did the same and I began to realise the nerves that we all felt. Was it nerves that we would miss the big photo, that something would go wrong, of the enormous change that the next ten minutes would signify, I don’t know, but we were definitely nervous.

We had a radio call stating that the Beachcraft was now just 100 nautical miles away, approximately 20 minutes by our calculations, and would approach from the North East, right over the imposing black rocks of the Barn, dominating our view. Silence fell upon us, we sat listening for the sound of propellers, the silence broken only by the odd nervous joke about shooting right past and missing the Island altogether.

And then, in the distance, a flash of sunlight on metal first caught my eye and then a black dot appeared. Very shortly after we could hear crowds on the distance slopes, the many hundreds of people watching shouting cries of “there it is” in unison. The airport brings about mixed feelings and emotions for the locals here, but undoubtedly today has shown me that along with concerns there is huge excitement and support for the airport and the changes it may bring.

The plane moved in closer, following the line of the runway as it made its first fly past. A twin engine propeller plane, it was larger than I expected and I found that even at normal flying speed I was able to pan and follow the flight path with my camera, much to everyone’s relief.

The first fly past with the Barn on the Right and Flagstaff protruding to the left.

The first fly past with the Barn on the Right and Flagstaff protruding to the left.

Another fly past and finally, the moment of truth, from past the Barn to my right I followed the plane in as it dropped and glided along the runway, touching down several hundred yards from where we had expected. I had picked the wrong spot and new instantly that the money shot of tyres screeching belonged to someone else.

Beach King Air 200 comes in to Land at St Helena Airport.

Beach King Air 200 comes in to Land at St Helena Airport.

And then it was done, a moment of silence returned as we all looked at each other, as if it were important to remember who we were stood with at that moment in time. The airport was interesting but insignificant to me just thirteen months ago, now, as I stood looking around it brings about all sorts of emotions and feelings. It is different here now, and there is no going back.

Sequence shot of the final touch down showing the moon like setting and terminal building still under construction.

Sequence shot of the final touch down showing the moon like setting and terminal building still under construction.

We waited to be collected by our shuttle bus and we bemoaned our choice of positioning, cursing those who had taken the “secondary” spots and joked that the pilots should have known better and perhaps could even do the whole thing again.

Before long we were ferried off to the parking area and had our opportunity to photograph the plane up close, its crew, and even have our own photographs next to the first airplane ever to land on St Helena. A joyous occasion it was also a little chaotic, reporters, photographers, staff and dignitaries all wanting their own photos, interviews, their own moments of history. A few quick photos and I stood back to allow the “more important” people to get on with things.

Since returning home I have felt something of a come down, strange given that I didn’t know I was on an “up”. But being part of something so huge gives you a high. Social media has gone crazy this afternoon as everyone rushed to get the first or best photos out there for the world to see. As I speak my own photos on facebook have just hit 20,000 views, in seven hours!!! Collectively between the different sources and social media avenues I guess that photos of this Beechcraft King Air 200 landing on St Helena have probably been viewed around 100,000 times since touch down.

What the future holds now we don’t know, in many respects that is up to the Saints and whether they embrace the changes that are about to occur. Time will tell, but for now, today history was made, and I was there.

Two Years in Shorts!

So, after a huge amount of hard work, with support from my family and friends, and through some difficult time I have done it, 365 days wearing shorts!!! Having survived a British summer still with shorts on each day I now aim for two years in shorts, and as the sun shines through my window I am confident of achieving this goal.

We are back on St Helena, after a mere eight days of travelling we reached home two weeks ago. Not that we traveled every single day as we enjoyed a wonderful two night stop over in Cape Town. Cape Town remains, second time round one of my most favorite places I have visited.

A city full of life, colour, sound, history and culture. A place of welcoming people good food and spectacular natural history. I was lucky enough this time to full fill a long held ambition and ascend Table Mountain. Not, as I would of liked, on foot, but via the famous cable car that ferried throngs of tourists up the mountain each year. Although undoubtedly less of a place of wonder as a result of the tourists lie myself, Table Mountain still holds a prehistoric feel to it, and a short walk takes you away from the crowds and out on your own across the huge rocky plateau. The views are truly spectacular as we looked out to the Cape of Good Hope and across to Table Bay. As we gazed the wonderful sight of the RMS St Helena coming into port greeted us, as we contemplated our third and likely our last voyage across the Atlantic. By the time we leave in 12months, the RMS will be no more an aeroplane will be our rather more boring mode of transport off the Island.

In may also be our last time in Cape Town and as such we were determined to enjoy it, we could not of been happier to watch a thunderstorm blow through Cape Town as we sat upon our balcony sipping Cape wine and taking in the sights and sounds of Cape Towns night life below.

The view from our balcony at night.

The view from our balcony at night.

Boarding the RMS was a strange experience. 12 months ago we past through immigration and port control, and climbed the ramp up to the RMS with great excitement, and a fair amount of fear and trepidation at the unknown world we were heading to. This time however the RMS provided a huge amount of security, a welcoming and familiar vessel to transport us not to the unknown, but to what is, for now at least, undoubtedly home.

Our crossing was smooth, fast and pleasant, a hugely appreciated upgrade ensured we enjoyed one of the larger cabins and the extra space was very welcome having spent five weeks in each others pockets. The conditions were a far cry from the rough seas we had encountered five weeks earlier and the journey was incredibly smooth and, as a result very quick, as quick as crossing the Atlantic can ever be.

It was a particular pleasure meeting new arrivals on St Helena, tourists and our new Doctor, full of questions, which we were now in a position to answer. Travel on the RMS St Helena is a wonderful experience. I allows new comers to the Island to form friendships and meet people before the set foot ashore, providing rea-assurance and dinner invites, particularly useful when arriving on a bank holiday weekend when all the shops will be shut for two days.

On early morning of our fifth day St Helena filled the view from our port hole, filling my heart with a warm sense of joy. The sun was shining and we were all looking forward to stepping on land. The sun shone for our first two or three days on the Island, before taking a turn for the worse, after all we are still just emerging from winter, but the days of are punctuated nicely by days of glories tropical sun.IMG_4056 IMG_4055 IMG_4048 IMG_4044 IMG_4039

Our first weekend back however reminded us of why we love the place so much. A walk up flagstaff to enjoy the spectacular views across the Island, a lovely dinner at a friends house, with a huge slab of T-bone steak, and a party on another night.

Our weekends have been instantly filled with good company, good fun and wonderful scenery. This weekend has been no different. A return to Sundowners drinks at Donny’s bar, a walk to Fairy Land, aptly named this time of year as you can see and swimming in the pool under baking tropical sun.

I have undertaken something of a fitness regime, climbing Jacobs ladder twice a week, and at present, swimming a kilometer twice a week before 9am!! This is, as my friends will testify, most unlike me. However 6 weeks of pure indulgence, drinking and eating takes an inevitable toll which was confirmed to me as we walked to the coffee shop following our disembarkation from the ship to be greeted with “you’ve put on weight” from one of our friends. Before we left the Uk 12 months ago I was determined, having reached my “middle age” that I would have something of a change of life style and eat better and exercise more. My good intentions were thwarted following my groin injury (plus complete lack of will power and a liking for beer) but I return more determined to keep fit and look the part for my gorgeous wife.

Life has been hectic, in one day I found myself climbing Jacobs Ladder, shopping, photographing ladies under wear, plumbing in part of a fish tank and writing a husbandry guide for colleagues back in the UK. All in a day’s work over here. At this point many of you will of thought “photographing ladies underwear”??? And yes, I have a contract with a new business who is importing sexy, Anne Summers underwear to the Island. At this stage I am just taking product shots for the website, however when my studio equipment arrives at the end of the month a model shoot will take place. Totally out of my comfort zone I am both excited and extremely nervous at my first actual photoshoot with models, and in skimpy underwear no less. OF course this has gone down well with my male friends and I have already signed up several police officers as security and at least seven people holding a flash for me!!

After six weeks in each other pockets the Wednesday the boys started back at school was a joyous day for us all. Charlie has now started full time schooling and seems to be relishing in this new, “big boy” environment, part of the main school and not within the annexed nursery building. Oliver on the other hand has struggled to settle back in and reform the friendships that he left behind eight weeks ago. However, two weeks in, and with the help of taking a football to school it seems to be improving for him. Of course both boys now have a warped perspective of our life in the UK. Having spent the past month being spoilt by grandparents, having days out at the zoo, park and generally living a life of riley, they are now convinced that our lives in the Uk are one great big party with grandparent. Convincing them of the realities of our previous life in the UK being different from the holiday we just enjoyed has taken some doing, and Charlie is still not convinced. However a boat trip with dolphins, swimming, football, friends and sunshine has convinced them that another year here will be ok!!

Leaving the UK was difficult for everyone this time, but particularly for Bev, who’s sister was induced into labour the day before we left the UK. Knowing that our new niece would be born as we were travelling, and that she would be twelve months old before we get to meet us is of course hard. It reminds us of the precious things we have left behind. But I would not change it for the World. We are on a countdown now, 12 months to go, 11 months, 10 months etc, and yet we return feeling at home. I am no longer searching for my place here, desperately fighting for some feeling of importance and worth. I am slotting back into my place here and the sacrifices we make are more than worth it.

As we reach mid-September St Helena is about to enter a whole new age, and history is being made. The very first mobiles phones were sold on the Island on the 1st of the month, the network due to be operational before the month end. And, on Tuesday 15th of September 2015, St Helena will no longer be an isolated Island in the Atlantic, as the very first Aeroplane lands here. With it come mixed emotions for Saints and Ex-pats alike. What will this new age herald for the Island as it undertakes the most significant change since its discovery in 1502? Time will tell, and I will hold comment and judgement until such time as I could give a balanced and informed comment. Until then the island undoubtedly excited to welcome its first test flights next week, and no doubt huge crowds will be in place to witness the event. Whatever the long term future for the Island it is a privilege to be part of life here at this momentous time, and we could not be happier to be back.

Back in Blighty

So we have been back in the UK for almost four weeks now, in two days we will be flying back to Cape Town for our return journey on the RMS.

It has been a strange interlude in our time on St Helena, a period of reflection on the past year, on life in the UK and how it compares to St Helena, and thoughts have also turned to 12 months from now, when our return to the UK will be more permanent in nature.

As we travelled to Saint Helena a year ago we were told by another mid termer that their holiday had left them feeling in limbo. Never quite feeling that St Helena is home, knowing full well that their time on the Island is always to be limited, but equally feeling like they will never quite belong back in the hustle and bustle of life in the UK. I share that feeling.

The past few weeks have allowed time to think and realise that there are things that I miss about the UK, but there are things that I am happy to leave behind.

I miss good food, cheese, a choice of restaurants and of beer. Ahh beer, a wide selection of ales and European lager. Don’t get me wrong, Windhoek is fine, but when it is one of just two beers on offer, for a full eleven months the taste of a Fursty Ferret, or Green King IPA is most welcome indeed. In fact, I have put on half a stone since leaving St Helena after five weeks of unadulterated gluttony, at one stage having eaten a cooked breakfast for ten out of fourteen days! Depsite my appreciation of the choice and quality of food and beer, I have not enjoyed the prices, my first real shock coming when I paid over £6 for a pint of pale ale and a tub of nuts!!! The bar man actually apologised, as if he had just realised for the first time exactly what he had done.

I absolutely don’t miss the traffic. The past four weeks has been sheer hard work. As we left Heathrow I expected to be a relaxed driver, a new me, less concerned with the inadequacies of other drivers around me. Within five minutes I was yelling at the middle lane drivers, I was saddened that no one had waved at me, and despite driving 20mph faster than I had done for 11 months, I was infuriated by the 50mph restrictions due to road works!! Road works, every where we drove the journey was blighted by men in hi-vis jackets stood around doing nothing, absolutely nothing!! Most stretches of the motorway in the UK is now lined with orange cones, such is the frequency of their use it seems to me that they are just left at the side of the road ready for the next time some inexplicable road works are put in place!

Above: A lovely few days away with Bevs family in beautiful Dorset and seaside town of Charmouth.

I have missed the rolling country side of Dorset, although truth be told it’s a long time since I lived there. But the green hills, coastal towns, sand stone cliffs and beaches full of fossils brought back wonderful memories and reminded me that parts of the UK are simply stunningly beautiful. Likewise our visit to Menai Bridge and subsequent drive through Snowdonia took my breath away. This wonderful corner of North Wales has always felt like home being my university home land for five years or more. Despite everything that has transpired since I left a decade ago as I drove along the coast, and Puffin Island came into view a part of my soul felt at peace.

Above: A Trip to the Welsh Mountain Zoo with friends.

We saw equally beautiful scenery on a camping trip to Mid Wales. Set in a glorious valley near Bwlth Wells we enjoyed a lovely and relaxing few days eating barbecued food, swimming in lakes, watching stars and eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. All in the comfort of a lovely Bell Tent, this was camping, but not as I knew it, I believe its called Glamping!!

Above: Lovely holiday at Forest Fields Camp site in Mid-Wales.

We were lucky during our camping trip that the clouds parted and afforded us at least a few days of sunshine, but on the whole the weather, in August may I remind you, was unseasonably wet and cold. It was two weeks before we saw the sun at all and it reminded me of another thing I don’t miss, the UK weather. At its best, the sun shining in the UK, or a crisp winters days with blue skies and frost touching the green grass cannot be bettered. But all too frequently our days are cold, wet damp and grey, I do not miss that at all.

Wandering around the UK felt strangely lonely, there are people everywhere, but we don’t consider each other anymore. No one stops to say hello, no one waves across the street. It felt strange not knowing everyone as we went about our business. No doubt the small communities in the UK still hold onto the precious thing of human kindness, but for me it felt sadly lacking. I saw more people in one supermarket than I would see in 6 months on the Island, and yet not a single face did I recognise.

Above: Red Kites at a Feeding Station in Mid-Wales.

Before coming back to the UK I thought I had missed choice, choice of food , ingredients, going to a supermarket and finding a whole range of fresh food and ingredients from around the world. Others told me the choice would be daunting, but I felt neither daunted nor excited. Instead I felt it unnecessary. I did not require a choice of 15 cold cuts hams, I just needed one. I didn’t need to choose from Olives stuffed with anything you could imagine stuffing into an Olive, I just wanted some Olives. The choice wasn’t over whelming, I just didn’t want to have to make it. It turns out that shopping in St Helena is simple and effective. There are times when Id love to find that missing ingredient, but on the whole I just don’t want for more, its only when presented with such a choice of things do we long for it. Take the choice and opportunity away and we just get on with it.

Did I mention I hate the traffic, I have not missed the traffic?

It transpires I have really missed watching football in pubs. I have not found yet that St Helena is a big football in pub type place. The atmosphere of men shouting, the banter the laughter, cries of joy and of despair, all washed down with some good beer and a packet of crisps. However, I do not miss the cost of watching football in the UK, it seems now to watch football from your own doorstep you have to sign up to sky sports, BT sports and a number of others and it costs an arm and a leg. 24 hour a day, live premiership action from South African SS sports will do me thank you.

On St Helena I miss convenient communication, I miss texting to send a quick message, I do not miss carrying the internet around with me 24 hours a day. And yet I have fallen strait back into the trap, having resurrected my mobile phone, of checking facebook at every opportunity, checking my e-mails whilst sitting on the toilet, or checking the latest football gossip transfer gossip whilst standing in a que. The power of convenience is amazing, its in my pocket so why not take a quick look. When we get back to St Helena, the Island first mobile phone service should, I believe, be operational. Although it will be some time before it is affordable Im sure, I will not be signing up. Freeing myself from the constant temptation of the internet is a good thing for me, and I will be grateful to leave it behind me for another year.

For anything I miss in the UK whilst on St Helena, there are a catalogue of things I miss from the Island when I am back in Blighty. Most of all miss me. I am a nicer, better person on St Helena. I stop and talk to people, I enjoy the company of others and I am less stressed. As we return to St Helena we know we are on a count down. Month by month our time will be running out. I have already started to worry about what we will do on our return, will I find work, where will we live, and will St Helena have made fundamental changes to our lives, or just fade to a pleasant memory. Of all the things I do and learn on the Island I hope most of all that the changes I have seen in myself in the past 12 months, become embedded over the next twelve, so that I return to the UK and keep the spirit of St Helena within me. I have not prepared myself for being in the UK this time round, next time I shall have to prepare for leaving St Helena behind, and I think that preparation will start just as soon as we board the RMS, for one last time.

Half Term Hell

So, half term has been and gone, and you know what, it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it may have been. Bev booked a day of leave in the middle of the week, and worked a little flexibly around that, and between boobies, rock pooling, searching for insects and walks I, the boys and the family got on just fine, who’d of thought it.

St Helena is renowned for its walks. Back home many wonderful hours were spent on the hills and mountains of Snowdonia. Extreme scrambling and ridge walks are a particular favourite and I intend to tackle every walk, long and short, difficult and easy whilst here during the next two years. The first real walk I tackled since our arrival was the walk to South West Point, a relatively easy introduction to Island walking and one quite achievable with the children in tow.

Invited by some friends to occupy a half term day, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon taking in the spectacular views North and South across the Island as we worked our way along a narrowing peninsular. With lots of other children with us, Oliver, whom loves the outdoors was in his element, and Charlie, at just three years old tackled his first full walk, all three hours of it, spectacularly well, leaving me very proud of his efforts.

Oliver, in normal stance with walking stick!

Oliver, in normal stance with walking stick!

Charlie, normally terrible with walking any distance was utterly brilliant.

Charlie, normally terrible with walking any distance was utterly brilliant.

The kids reach the end of the walk.

The kids reach the end of the walk.

Our usual Friday night at Donny’s bar was finished off with a walk along the water front to join some locals fishing in the clear blue waters. Flying fish a plenty were being caught whilst younger members of the fishing family attempted to catch needlefish. Oliver and Charlie were of course fascinated, and fishing rods are now on the Christmas list. Myself, I can think of few better ways to spend an evening than in the warm sheltered cove at the wharf, deep blue waters shimmering under the moonlight and fishing boats at anchor in the bay bobbing gently with the ways. A few cool beers, some fish for tea, and reportedly the odd dolphin making an appearance, come to think of it those fishing rods may not last until Christmas!

Purple and blue sands dominate as we pass through Blue Hill

Purple and blue sands dominate as we pass through Blue Hill

Although I have said this before, summer is now definitely just around the corner and the season has begun to change. Wildlife around us has been our first sign of the warming weather. The thistle like nargie weed has died off, losing its bright orange flowers and green stems and turning brown. Other plants turn to flower, and leaves appear on trees in our garden that we previously had thought were dead. Most notably I have tan lines, the first of which for many, many a year.

Lots Wife

Lots Wife and Sandy Bay.

Along with the changing season is an increase in the number of ants, given that it seems our home is on top of an ant nest. Now for most people ants are a nuisance and better off gotten rid of. For Bev and I they present an unusual dilemma. Clean, and not carrying any disease, I greatly admire the work of the humble ant. Functioning in unison, each with specific roles,  together in simple robotic co-ordination to achieve extraordinary feats of engineering; I believe the human race could learn much from these little autonomous beings. Instead of wishing them ill I find myself hypnotised by the continual lines or marching ants, carrying off spilt crumbs and other food items across the Himalaya’s of our kitchen cupboards and concrete steps.

Another change of the season is evident in the clearing night skies and the arrival of a bright new moon. The thin atmosphere and non-existent light pollution means the moon is bright, very very bright, the likes of which I have never seen before. Stepping outside in the middle of the night one would imagine it is early morning, and driving is possible in the dead of night without the use of headlights, such is the illumination provided by the moon beams. (I only tried this for a short distance!). Looking out at the moon and the false daylight makes me grateful for the shared experience with my family. It is not possible to describe the night sky here, you may read this blog, I could post pictures, and when we return home I will doubtless tell friends and family of the crisp dark shadows cast by the midnight sun. But it is only Bev and the boys who will truly understand when we return home, just what it is to step out at night to see the earth bathed in this white glow. I feel blessed that in years to come I will have people that will remember and recount with the same enthusiasm I will have, the wonderful experiences that we are collecting here on this incredible Island.

Looking back from Southwest point with St Helena out in front of us.

Looking back from Southwest point with St Helena out in front of us.

Lots wife and Sandy Bay Panorama from the Start of the Southwest Point walk.

Lots wife and Sandy Bay Panorama from the Start of the Southwest Point walk.

As half term passed by the boys went back to school with surprisingly little fuss. After his first couple of days Oliver came home excitedly asking me if we could buy a puppy.  With much babbling I came up with some excuses as to why we could not get a puppy and enquired where and who was selling them. “The school” was his reply. As is customary for Oliver if one parent says “no” to a given request, the other is always worth a try and so it followed that Bev was also asked if we could have a puppy, this time however Oliver added the detail that the puppy costs just 10p, and they need the money in school tomorrow. It transpires of course that puppy’s cost more than 10p, and they are not available through the local school; poppies on the other hand are, much to Oliver’s disappointment when we worked out his mistake, one borne either of not listening properly or confusion with the saint accent. Either way a poppy was of course fine and after a little talking down, Oliver took his 10p to school the following day.

As the children return to school and Bev returns to normal working hours, my groin injury is still keeping me from my physical exertions. Football, badminton and Jacob’s ladder have all been off the agenda for some weeks now. However, far from going back to feeling empty with nothing to do to help me pass the time I am finding that my days are filling up rapidly. I spend as many hours as I can working on my photography, (don’t forget my images can be purchased from the gallery) and preparing my thoughts for the blog. The tourist office are working with me and using my images when and where appropriate, I have regular tagging expeditions with the marine team and other exciting opportunities and photography projects are on the horizon.

World War Two Cannons sat at Ladder Hill, Stunning Views.

World War Two Cannons sat at Ladder Hill, Stunning Views.

So, half term has passed, and you know what it was indeed not hell. There were of course times, like all parents, that I couldn’t wait for the boys to go back to school. But there were also moments when I was grateful for their company, and felt that maybe, with the right balance and positive thinking I could survive the forthcoming Christmas holidays which are now be just a stone’s throw away. A holiday no doubt made easier by the soon to be usable swimming pool, now looking bright blue and ready to be filled as the paint and correct brushes evidently arrived on island last week.

Sunshine, swimming and the sightings of the first Whale Sharks in the bay herald the arrival of the next chapter in our story, bring it on!

Google Earth

Before moving to St Helena it had become a regular pastime of mine to use Google Earth, find the Island and zoom out, out and out and out until eventually another land mass came into view. I used to sit and wonder at what it would be to live on this spec in the ocean. I found great pleasure in this wonderment, enthusiastically showing friends and family that same remoteness. A few days ago , for the first time since our move, I repeated that routine,  only this time it is different, now I live here.  I do not have to wonder any more, at what it might be like to have the Atlantic Ocean dominate our views, what will the weather be like, what will the local people be like, how will we find food, how will we fare in the remoteness, will we make friends, what will I do with my time? I have the answers to all of those questions now. Has my childlike pleasure of finding St Helena on Google Earth, and zooming endlessly out diminished now we are here?

St Helena

We have been on the Island just over two months, I have of course had my downs, many of them, I have had days where I have felt lost and unsure of my purpose, but I have not once felt lost or unsure of the Island itself. My doubts have been related to my role in our family, the change of dynamic of my work or lack thereof, but I have utterly fallen in love with St Helena as a place, its peoples and environment. When I consider what we have done in those two months, we have been boating and seen dolphins and Humpback Whales with calves. We have climbed mountains and experienced a variety of climates and habitats fitting of a large continent. We have helped conserve endemic and rare plant species and witnessed numerous fish that few other people in the world will ever see, we have felt like David Attenborough whilst tagging Masked Boobies, started to learn to dive, felt and touched history that is alive around us. We have gazed at the Milky Way and witnessed so many stunning sunsets that we have come to expect them as the norm.  I have exclaimed “wow”, more times in the past few weeks than I had in half a lifetime previously. We have met people from all over the World, and spend our time with the most wonderful and varied people with rich histories. What will the next twenty two months bring?

Sunset over Half Tree Hollow.

Sunset over Half Tree Hollow.

For the first time since our arrival, our thoughts turned briefly to how it may feel to leave this enchanting place, expats come and go all the time on St Helena, but how will we feel when it is our turn. Leaving friends, family and loved ones at home was of course difficult, but it was done in the knowledge that two years will pass and we will return home, a reassuring inevitability of the end our adventure. But what about when we leave St Helena, will we ever return? The leaving will inevitably feel more real, more permanent. If you have experienced the holiday blues, that down time when an experience ends, when a time passes and inevitability and routine returns to your life following a joyous adventure, how it will feel after two years, the holiday blues to end all blues.

On Thursday I went shopping, food had not yet been unloaded from the RMS, so I instead sat down, and watched time pass by. Dreaming away, on the wharf, looking out at a rolling blue sea. A percussion orchestra of cascading pebbles, conducted by water falling back to the sea fills my ears and scuttling crabs playing games with the waves dance around me. I sat, I thought, I contemplated myself, have I changed, have things changed, am I different here, and if I am, why, what makes you different, what makes you change?

Contemplation.

Contemplation.

We adjust to life and the way of things here. Food availability is sporadic, Bananas for example have been difficult to impossible to find in the last week or two. They are of course still available to those in the know, but sadly, when it comes to Bananas, I am not yet in the know, and I cannot find any. In the UK I cannot imagine a scenario, where at any time day or night I could not find any food item I care to think about, but does this really matter, does it matter that I can’t buy a banana when I want it? Back in the UK I rarely ate bananas anyway, now, their elusiveness makes me appreciate the humble banana, I in fact appreciate almost all foods now more than I did two months ago, and seeing a ripe yellow Banana brings a joy that it never held before.

I went to the bank, and stood in line for a length of time, and I did not mind one jot. We wait for food, as one meal at a time is cooked in the local takeaways and eateries, a simple meal knowingly taking at least an hour from order to service. I waited a full fifteen minutes at the coffee shop for some cake (the best cake in the World by the way). But does any of this matter? Does it matter to me, well yes, I hate it! I hate waiting for things, or at least I did but on St Helena, quite simply I don’t, or at least I mind less, (I’m still British). If you know and expect life to take its time, there is no problem, why would you want to reduce your wait, when you may look out at to a blue ocean, with bright flowers and birds to occupy your mind and thoughts. If anything I could have wished for my wait, like the endless and timeless waves, to roll on forever

Arriving in town at nine o’clock the shops will be open, but time is often spent sitting, catching up with passing friends and watching the morning wake up. Shopping can wait, it can wait until the shelves are filled with the days produce with staff starting work at a respectable nine am and filling the shelves then, shopping therefore can start at ten.

In the UK of course low paid staff, are on the shop floor at seven am, ensuring the shelves are stacked before opening. I expect fresh bread, meats, milk, fruits, and vegetables to be available at nine am, in fact I expect it 24 hours a day, seven days I week. I expect all this and expect to pay less and less for it. My demands as a shopper having  been raised and pushed to extreme limits to be met by staff on minimum wage working hard to maximise efficient retail and profits for the corporation, the directors of which are still sat at home relaxing with their family watching the pennies and profits roll in.

There is a trust on the Island as a way of life, and we have begun to embrace it, or perhaps fall into it. Sometimes forgetting to lock the car, and often returning home, caring little to find our front door has been left ajar. At the wharf, a busy shipping area with the busy loading and unloading of containers, one can walk along, through the clamber of cranes to collect goods, or even just because. At home in the UK access would be forbidden, a panic of health and safety would ensue should a civilian walk outside of the designated yellow pathways. But on St Helena it is expected and judged that a grown adult has the ability to avoid a 40ft moving crane and will not amble along under its caterpillar tracks.

Forgetting my wallet and with no money, nor the number for our bank account I approached the counter of the bank and asked the young lady if she could provide me with the number for the Tyson account. With very little surprise on my behalf the lady, recognising who I was, not only provided the account number, but completed the cash slip for me, providing me with the money I required with a smile and no question that I might not be who I said I was, and no requirement for Id or a non-existent utility bill! It is a wonderfully refreshing experience to be treated as, adults, and an attitude and respect for each other that are dearly hope can be maintained in the future.

James Bay

James Bay

And so, has my childlike pleasure of finding St Helena on Google Earth, and zooming endlessly out diminished now we are here, now that I have the answers, no, not one little bit, I can’t believe it, we live on St Helena, ten months ago I had not heard of St Helena! Iit’s a maddening thing, a wonderfully crazy idea that we are living out. I look at that map, and then out of my window at the expansive ocean and I am giddy with pleasure and joy.

What a wonderful, wonderful feeling