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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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.

One Week Down, one hundred and three to go!

So we’ve reached the end of our first week on Saint Helena, and are pretty much exhausted. Its hard to comprehend the amount of changes, and things we have organised and accomplished in the last few weeks. Charlie, who is three years old, left his home a month ago, lived with my parents, lived with Bevs parents, went on a 11 hour flight (his first ever) and all that entails, spent a night in Cape Town, Spent five nights at sea, moved to a new Island, moved to a new house and started school for the first time! It’s a lot to take in for a three year old!

After arriving last Wednesday I have learnt to tackle the local roads, especially as my new found role on the Island is as Dads Taxi. Drivers are on the Island are, in the main, very friendly and it has become customary to give a quick wave when passing other drivers, or pedestrians, or those sat watching the world go by, or cats, birds and anything else really. In essence if you pass by it, its nice to give it a quick wave.

As a general rule if you are heading down a hill you give way to those coming up it. On Saint Helena you will only ever be doing one or the other of those two options, speeds are limited to 30mph or less, largely due to the frequent sharp bends, and steep roads. As a result of this, hitting fourth gear heading slightly down hill on the only strait road we have yet encountered, was greeted by cheers from all those in the car. It is often said that the Islands cars are a throw back to the 70s and 80, a time of Ford Cortina’s, but sadly, whilst there are a few dotted around, the Island has caught up in that respect and is now dominated by Ford Focus or various Four by Fours, including the popular “six pack” the local expression for a Toyota Hylux.

In my role as house husband I have been getting to know Jamestown, a bustling little town full of character. The town really is, barring the odd exception, such as the local media provider, a throwback to some older time. It would not feel at all strange to see Darwin, King George, or Napoleon himself strolling through town searching out which shop had the freshest fruit. But I think I like this age gone by. There are no ATM’s on the island, instead, you go to the bank and converse with an actual person, there is no danger of your fingers being taken off as you make a cash deposit.

The post office is wonderful, reminiscent of Post Offices in old Western films, with individual booths and Iron bars separating you from the polite and friendly postal worker.

A particularly interesting quirk of the island is the ability to phone a company, and have them answer the phone and speak to you. They do this without the need to navigate through a multitude of push button options, repeat a security password to three different people in Bangladesh, and subject ones ears to an endless repeat of copy write free musical trash. They just answer the phone, we should look into such revolutionary out of the box thinking back in the UK.

Finding food and goods is more of a challenge than the UK, but is not the Ray Meers style expedition we had been led to believe. Shops are stocked with a wide range of dried goods from Tesco and Asda, as well a South Africa, and more and more fresh local produce of vegetables and meats are generally on hand. Although choice is much reduced we have eaten well and dined on home cooked fish, chicken and pork thus far and enjoyable family meals have become the norm. Local restaurants serve well cooked food, although they are undoubtedly lacking in culinary imagination and variety. This is due in the main to the lack of dining out experience of the Saints and I expect there are many opportunities for a good restaurateur on the Island.

People on the Island are friendly and welcoming. There is a definite curiosity around the Islands latest new arrivals and one can feel eyes upon you when walking down the street. Our conversations and scrutiny with locals of who, what and why are often rapidly passed on to waiting friends and colleagues and whomever else wishes to know about us. At first, I confess, this bothered me, and I thought back to small villages in the UK and the scorn and deride that an incomer can often generate, is it the same in Saint Helena? After careful though I conclude that no, on Saint Helena finding out who someone is and what they do is an essential part of the functionality of this small community. This Island of just four thousand people has the facilities, and infrastructure that would serve a much larger community in the UK. Name me a village in the UK, of four thousand people, that has the tools and expertise to provide a hospital, doctors, banks, garages, shops, fishermen, emergency services, conservation, builders and planners, policing etc etc. Yet this is achieved despite real difficulties in communications, lack of available resources, roads that are slow at best and impassable at worse, street names and house numbers are often not present and many houses don’t actually have an address. The island works because everyone talks to each other, they find out what each other’s role is, what they can do and contribute, how they can work with and for each other. To find out where to buy something, get something fixed, recruit a service, you do not go on-line, you speak to people, you find out. And I believe this is the main reason that new comers to the Island generate such curiosity, what do they do, can they help me or I them? Well, that and a certain degree of checking out the new neighbours!

Oliver, Charlie and Bev all started school in varying capacities. Bev started at the Prince Andrew secondary school. Unfortunately her Marine roll is on hold until the new Science teacher arrives in January, but she has plunged strait into a full science teaching time table. Oliver has started at Pilling School, one of three primary schools on the Island. Starting year two he has adjusted remarkably well, and despite a little wobble today he appears to be making friends and is generally happy to be there.

Charlie is presenting more of a challenge. His first day I left him screaming and crying, this heart breaking experience leaving me feeling glad that Bev had not been there for it. Walking away I could not look back at him and shed a tear hearing his cries, fully understanding his confusion and rejection at being left with strangers against his will. Whilst Im sure this has been a common experience for parents across the world this week, few three year olds have experienced the enormity of change that our Charlie has.

While our first full week draws to a close I look forward to our already regular Friday night at Donnies, a water front bar, and with huge excitement to our first boat trip to search out the resident Dolphins and breeding Humpback Whales and their Calves.

* I must apologise for the lack of accompanying photos for today’s post, I have simply not had time to carry a camera around with me, but my aim for tomorrow is to make up for that so keep your eyes peeled for a blog full of images tomorrow night.As I have no photos the cover photo is an extra one from our journey over when leaving Capetown.

The Tysons Arrive

Well, my intention of being up at 6am to see St Helena as a dot on the horizon did, rather predictably, fall by the way side. So, crawling out of bed at 7.30am, we made our way to the deck and there she was. The Island, the focus of our attention for the last 5 months, the vision in our heads for what feels like a life time St Helana. What a wonderful exciting moment, shared with others emerging on deck to see their new home for the first time, whispers and murmurings of emotions giving way to a tide of noise and chatter as eventually all 125 passengers appear on deck wide eyed.

St Helena as approached from the South.

St Helena as approached from the South. Our first view of the Island

I peered at this rock emerging from the sea, imagining myself in the opening scenes of King Kong. As we approached the barren  rocky cliffs, the Islands  secret lush interior is revealed only by the sight of a loan tree sat on the Island’s highest point, Diana’s Peak (823m). Two things struck me; mostly, I thought that this is a small island, a very small island, a spec in an endless ocean. My mind turned to the pioneering explorers, the Christopher Columbus’s of this World, the excitement and sheer overwhelming joy that must have greeted those brave men who crossed Oceans with no maps, in the hope of forging brave new worlds.  St Helena, although a British Territory for hundreds of years, was discovered in 1502 by Portuguese navigator João da Nova, on his voyage home from India and what must he of felt when, like me, he first saw the looming sea cliffs ahead of him?

The second thing that struck both Bev and I was its apparent lack of any recognisable inhabitants. Approaching the South side of the Island a huge wall of rock and sheers cliffs is all that can be seen, this imposing structure changes and becomes more welcoming as we move East round the island, the barren rock face gives way to welcoming peaks and troughs with lush green valleys and dry peaks. Eventually the ship approaches the North of the Island, the capital Jamestown and the first clues of the Islands inhabitants and long history comes into view as we weigh anchor to disembark.

Moving round the Island from South to North

Moving round the Island from South to North

We move around to the North of the Island a steep impassable cliffs give way to stunning high ridges and velleys

We move around to the North of the Island a steep impassable cliffs give way to stunning high ridges and velleys

As we approach our anchor point the Capital, Jamestown and the suburb of Half Tree Hollow on the "flat" plateau come into view

As we approach our anchor point the Capital, Jamestown and the suburb of Half Tree Hollow on the “flat” plateau come into view

From our steady anchor point the capital, Jamestown is clearly visible, a narrow town of colourful houses rising up following the line of a steep sided valley. We get our first glimpse of Half Tree Hollow, a residential suburb of Jamestown perched high on a plateau and our soon to be new home town. We can even see our new house from here and thoughts of evenings spent looking out across the setting sun over the Atlantic Ocean fill my head.

Sat up on the plateau i Half Tree Hollow, accessible by a steep cliff side road which traverses  the right side of the volcanic valley of the capital Jamestown

Sat up on the plateau is Half Tree Hollow, accessible by a steep cliff side road which traverses the right side of the volcanic valley of the capital Jamestown

6.7 Half Tree Hollow - Our House

Before we know it our time aboard the RMS is over, and we disembark onto a small shuttle boat which takes us to the Wharf. Waiting for a favourable wave to lift our boat high enough to step onto the dry land we have a nervous excitement and butterflies in our stomachs. A short shuttle bus journey to the customs post is filled with the chattering’s of expectant and nervous new Islanders.

We left the RMS via this set of steps onto a shuttle boat.

We left the RMS via this set of steps onto a shuttle boat.

After the necessaries through customs and immigration control we are greeted by Bev’s new boss and some work colleagues. On board the ship with us were the St Helena’s Commonwealth Games team, the returning heroes welcomed by a good crowd of local Saints and songs from pupils of the local primary schools. It was difficult not to feel as though somehow the cheers were for us, the Tyson’s, who have completed their epic journey and who’s new and fascinating life lies ahead of them.

Oliver is already off looking at the first of the Islands wildlife, aptly names Lightfoot crabs and Nimble Spray Crabs scuttling across the rocky breakwaters, with curious and beautiful Fairy Terns swooping by to investigate the Islands new residents.

After more form filling and waiting, we are taken to our hire car, a surprisingly normal Ford Focus, and followed the guide to our new home. This is the first of my island adventures, the incredible, steep road traversing across the shear face of Ladder Hill. Rising from sea level to around 400m along a narrow, winding road with cliffs to our right I am glad to be on the inside of the road. I learn very quickly that the Island is brutal on a car, but walking any distance is not an option. With a touch of Colin McRae, kicking up dust behind me we turn a sharp bend and Half Tree Hollow is laid out across the hill side ahead of us.

We had been told that the habitat and climate varies enormously across the Island, and that our home was on a dry arid plain, but nothing prepared me for the site that confronted us. Like a scene strait out of a Texan Western, our small home was surrounded by Cacti on all sides. We climbed a steep, dry, dusty track that leads to our home and as I look back down the hill I find myself dumbstruck at the most incredible view, looking out across the Ocean. Somehow, the endless blue we have seen all too well for 6 days has not lost any of its ability to impact the senses.

Can this be true, that we are here; that this surreal dream is a reality; that I and my family now live, on an Island, six miles wide and ten long. 1200miles from Africa, 1800miles from South America in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; that we live, on the Island of Saint Helena.

 

 

Final Night Aboard the RMS

Day five and our final full day aboard the RMS St Helena. Despite the long days, time has flown by and we are now turning our thoughts to what our first days upon the Island may bring. The RMS St Helena has a reputation for leaving a lasting impression on people, and it’s easy to see why. A throw back to a bye gone era with games of dominoes and shove half penny, to sitting on deck quietly reading or conversing with fellow passengers. A place where dress codes still apply and staff take pride in the correct attire for the correct time of day.

The journey has not been without its troubles and challenges, not least of which has been trying to occupy our two boys, Oliver (6) and Charlie (3). The limit space for them to run and play has led to a build-up of unspent energy and trying to find creative ways to express this has been difficult, but we have neared the end of the journey without annoying the other passengers too much. A daily attempt to relieve the boredom has been a dip in the pool. This ritual has involved Oliver and Charlie pacing around the pool for some time, demanding that Mummy or Daddy get in. When we eventually cave in and jump into the waters, Oliver follows gingerly stepping in, before jumping right back out again and is not seen to return to the water until the following days ritual begins again. The reason for this this rapid departure is the icy temperature of the water, due to the pool being filled with Sea Water taken from the Atlantic Coast of Cape Town but Oliver certainly does not seem to mind his foolish parents getting into the freezing water on his behalf!

5.2 Charlie

The passengers and crew on board are what makes this journey truly special and interesting. And endless list of nationalities, personalities and stories. Each person with their own narrative and tale to tell.

We have met many people from the UK in the same situation as ourselves off to St Helena for new work and a new way of life, sharing stories of excitement and fear is a great collective comfort for us all. Then off course we have our first experience of the local Saints, and we have experienced a warm, friendly and fascinating people, always with time to say hello and spin a yarn. Stedson, a former St Helenan head teacher, retired some 20 years ago was returning to St Helena following a scan for Cancer, sadly his prognosis is not good, but I shall treasure the half hour spent in his company learning more of life on the Island and hearing a life time of wisdom and will pray that I may enjoy still further time in his company when reaching the Island.

As for our fellow Brits, our dining table has been shared with a wonderful couple, Paul and Jen and their beautiful young baby boy Miles, nervous and excited about their three month adventure full of questions and unknowns, our conversations covering everything from the potential for shark attack to the existence of the Loch Nes Monster.  A life changing experience for them I expect and to be taking it on with a young baby is even more impressive.

Then there is the irrepressible Christine, a true Scouser, remarkably strong, and worldly wise with a wicked sense of humour. I envisage Christine becoming something of a rock for the group of newbies and I look forward to passing the nights away in one of the local bars we have been briefed upon.

Andrew Day, his wife Lucy and lovely young boys Toby and Lawrence are returning from the UK following their first 12 months on the Island. They have all, Andy particularly proved to be both a fountain of knowledge and a pillar of support for the new adventurers on the ship and I have no doubt their help and support will continue to be invaluable as we take our first steps to a new life tomorrow.

Life on board is one of routine, based around meal times, but in between, regular entertainment is provided. Innocent but fun in its nature we have played tug o war, cricket, evening quiz’s and pub games.

Oliver takes part in the not so traditional form of Horse Racing. We had 20p on him to win but sadly he was just pipped at the post!

Oliver takes part in the not so traditional form of Horse Racing. We had 20p on him to win but sadly he was just pipped at the post!

Our eventual family tally was quite successful and reads as follows,

Tug o War, Winning team

Quiotes – Bev runner up

Quiz – Runners up, although the winning team had significantly more players and more than allowed, a point that Christine was keen to stress.

Skittles – Semi Finals.

Our final night aboard was spent enjoying a fabulous feast on the deck, with barbecued meats, fresh fruit a plenty, and significant portions of cake.

We head off to bed, with mixed emotions, excited to arrive at the Island but sad to be leaving our extended family on board the RMS St Helena. When the airport arrives on St Helena in 2016, the RMS will be de-commissioned, this will be a sad day but at least we now have our own small place in the RMS archives. Tomorrow we intend an early start to see St Helena Island arrive into view following days of endless blue and empty horizons.  Our 2200 mile trip across the Atlantic is nearly over; our journey however, has only just begun.

Endless Blue

Well day three has hit, and day three has been a tricky one for Bev and I. It’s the first day we have had during which we have not had anything to do, no boat to embark or plane to catch, no packing or goodbyes, no stress or worry for the first time in weeks, and it has allowed us both to contemplate what lies ahead.

RMS St Helena 

Today we have both had worries and fears which centre around the same point but pull in different directions, our change in roles.

Ill introduce to the players and characters in our story some other time, suffice to say there are a good number of British people heading to St Helena to start or continue work, I on the other hand am not. I am heading to St Helena to support my wife, look after the children and see what happens from there. This troubles me, and I knew it would.

Bev on the other hand is taking a step back from the children, a step back from running the home, and whilst she has worked in teaching for many years, this is the first time in a long time that she will be the main bread winner, the first time eve as the sole money winner, she is working full time and I will be at home, making house.

Today I have felt like a spare part, “so, why are you heading to St Helena?” has been a common question, the answer to which I must defer to my wife. It’s a strange and unsettling feeling for me to not have an answer, for the reason to not involve me, to not feel useful or that I am making a valuable contribution. Of course supporting Bev and raising the children is important, but it does not make for an interesting or inspiring conversation for others, and time again the conversation has turned away from me. This may sound like a selfish way of looking at things, as if I want to be centre of attention. Those of you who know me well, will know of course that I always want to be centre of attention, but I’m happy to concede this to Bev on this occasion and, and of course I am thrilled for her, but today I wasn’t sure if I even had a part to play in the story.

If Im honest, making home is not what I wish to be doing for two years, and I had dreams of diving, snorkelling, fishing and photography, helping out on volunteer projects and getting involved in a range of things. But the reality of having a dependant three year old in tow, and the restrictions that places on me have come to the fore of my mind set today.

Im sure when we have settled and I get to know the island and its peoples then opportunities will arise, but right now I am not sure of my place or my future.

Bev on the other hand has become quite daunted by the conversations, the responsibility and burden, the fear of not being the main care giver and not being the centre of our boy’s world. A crisis of confidence in her Marine Biology knowledge and the expectations of the local Saints has come across her and despite my attempted words of reassurance she feels anxious about her role and what lies ahead for he professionally, and personally.

We have both expected these feeling to come, they are not out of the blue or a surprise, but the middle day of our journey has somehow allowed us time to think and dwell on our thoughts. We know we both have to find ways to overcome our worries and embrace the challenges.

It is typical  that our biggest fears of this move away are the exact opposite, and right now we would both swap places in an instance. But we haven’t taken this plunge to be easy we haven’t moved across the globe, to miss our friends and family and the comfort and security of home to shy away from challenges.

Everyday challenges of changes to life, people, shopping, lack of convenience and home comforts we can take, fundamental changes to our roles, and place within our little family will be a bigger challenge, but one which I hope we can embrace. I hope I learn to care for my children, and not just tolerate them, and to value being a Dad as highly as I value my career, and I hope that Bev learns how capable, how incredible and how wonderful she is, I hope she learns to look upon herself as I and others do. 

Wandering Albatross have been following us for three days. I am thrilled to see these amazing birds, and never thought I would. They have been known to cover 6000km a week and will often spend years at sea.

Wandering Albatross have been following us for three days. I am thrilled to see these amazing birds, and never thought I would. They have been known to cover 6000km a week and will often spend years at sea.

I have no regrets or doubt we are doing the right thing and I relish what lies ahead, but today was a small taste of reality that this won’t just be plain sailing across and calm Blue Ocean.

On final word, to end on a lighter note, it seems we have become known as “Red Suitcase” amongst the staff.making me even more revealed of that little golden tag!

Leaving Cape Town, The Royal Mail Ship St Helena

So, as the second day of my adventure draws to a close I have time to add the second entry for my blog. I don’t expect a daily pace of writing will continue, but after the incredible day we have experienced a few more paragraphs won’t hurt.

The day started with breakfast in style, a spread of food fit for a king, from cold meats and pastries, to fresh fruit a plenty; varieties of sausage, bacon, potatoes and more; and omelettes, pancakes and waffles cooked fresh to order.

With a family full of food we set off on a taxi ride to the base of Table mountain, via a less than kosher money exchange shop and via the most stunning coastline of Clifton and Camps  Bay where the moneyed of Cape Town live. Table Mountain awaited but sadly time beat us and we could not take the cable car ride to the top, but the view across the city and the Atlantic Ocean from its base is a site to behold.

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Leaving Table Mountain we headed back to our transfers to the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, the last Royal Mail Ship in operation, and our home for the next five nights.

Our New (temporary ) home The Royal Mail Ship St Helena

Our New (temporary ) home The Royal Mail Ship St Helena

Our experience did not start well, as within an hour of embarking the ship a frantic search ensured for our lost luggage. After enlisting an army of staff, and inspecting every room on board, the lost bag was found in the ship’s hold. Expecting that I had wrongly labelled the bag and was due to buy a beer for each and every member of staff involved, not to mention the wrath of my wife, it was to my great relief I spotted the golden, and correct, label attached to the large red suitcase, and that the fault lay at someone else feet leaving me and my wallet to rest easy.

So, with luggage gate crisis averted we headed to the deck to watch Cape Town disappear into the distance, a stunning city that I vow to return to in 12 months with more time to explore. The ship is quiet tonight, with all but the hardiest of guests retiring early to adjust to the gentle but significant rocking of the ship and to find their sea legs.

Leaving Cape Town

Leaving Cape Town

I look forward to awakening tomorrow to blue skies, and endless miles of Atlantic Ocean abound.

Sun Down Over Cape Town

Sun Down Over Cape Town

Two Years in the Atlantic, what’s that all about?

So Two Years in the  Atlantic, what’s that all about? Well apparently this is a blog, I say apparently as I don’t really know what a blog is, not because I’m some grey haired retiree (more on retirement later) who doesn’t use technology, or  god forbid social media, far from it I can’t get off Facebook, but because I’ve never read or written a blog. From what I can gather it’s like a diary, but one which the whole world could potentially read. That being the case, unlike Adrian Mole and his not so secret diary I won’t be discussing the number of pubic hairs I have. Moreover, for the first few entries I shall discuss the topic of trains, plans and automobiles, or in my case, a plane and a boat, for a bloody long time.

Now, I think I’m right in saying that blogs should not just be about the art of blogging, but should have some content that the reader consider worth reading, in this case I’ve eliminated most of the world and I consider my target audience to be my friends, family and people who may be considering the prospect of a job offer they have been made on the tiny, remote Island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.

I say this because a little under 6 months ago my wife was considering accepting a job offer on the tiny, remote Island of St Helena in the South Atlantic, and now, having accepted that job offer, I am sat here, in the Commodore Hotel in Cape Town, next to my eldest Son Oliver (6) who is snoring, writing the first few lines of this blog.

If you are still with me and haven’t got bored of my obvious attempt to make this blog in some way witty, then I shall get down to the point of it all. My incredible wife, Bev, has been offered a job as a Marine Studies Advisory Teacher on St Helena, a remote British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic. I could tell you lots about this Island and its incredible history, but I suspect that google is your friend and could do a better job. Suffice to say this, for me and my family is an epic journey and life change to an island accessible only by Sea, in the South Atlantic.

That’s the background done, rather than tell you about me, my wife and our two children, I shall tell you about our adventure, and the rest I hope with unravel along the way.

Tonight I sit in a hotel bed, my wife and youngest son in the room next door, not how I planned my first (and only) night on a new continent. We departed Heathrow Airport a little over 24hrs ago, flew through the night and arrived in Cape Town this morning.  I’ve always wanted to visit Cape Town, to see South Africa and to learn first-hand of the effects of the shameful years of apartheid and how the country has changed since.

 I have been here only a few hours but I have felt more at home and welcomed than any destination I can thus far care to mention. A city of stunning beauty equalled only by the welcome and friendliness of its peoples.  I have experienced hospitality, fantastic food, pickled crocodile, vuvuzelas and local beer.

 

 

I have toured the tenth greatest aquarium in the World (you’ll no doubt hear more of aquariums as time passes) with an exclusive behind the Scenes Tour of the superb Two Oceans Aquarium and spoken at length with a wonderful Scouser (there is no escaping them) about the problems of education in the UK. We are staying in the hotel with several other adventurers off to start new jobs and new lives on the Island, and Christine is one of the first we have bonded with, a warm hearted lady full of scouse humour, wit and attitude. I think I shall make firm friends with her

I have spoken to some  of the  most welcoming people, the local Afrikaans, that  have met anywhere in the World and feel as though leaving this city tomorrow will feel more of a wrench than one night should wreak. But alas leave I must, bound for St Helena on the last remaining Royal Mail Ship, RMS St Helena a 6 day 5 night voyage across the Atlantic.

But before I close my opening blog I shall end at where I began, what is a blog and why am I writing it. To me this is a diary; it’s a diary of a period of my life full of unknowns, of excitement and trepidation in equal measure. Although my wife now refers to me as unemployed, I consider myself retired (at the age of 34) or at least retired for two years, and retired people do things that the rest of the population have neither the time nor the inclination to do, hence a blog. I warn you for those who appreciate the written word, this is as good as it gets, and my longer term intention is for my blog to become a showcase for my new found passion, photography. But until such time as my skills move from point and click (or P mode for the photographers out there) to photos I am proud to share then my late night ramblings may have to suffice.

So thanks for reading and I hope to keep my updates to less than an undergraduate dissertation in future, I look forward to my second and last day in this unique, fascinating and wonderful city of Cape Town and set off with the Words, “I’d be surprised if you don’t see Southern Right Whales on your journey” ringing merrily in my giddy head.