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.

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

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

Boobies

I will never forget the hard work, sweating through the Gates of Chaos, making our way to Lot’s Wife, to be rewarded by the amazing site of boobies everywhere, sitting motionless waiting for me hold them, measure them and record their vital statistics. With my wife alongside me, just as eager to join in, it is a day I will never forget.

In this story, the Gates of Chaos is a steep sided, dry valley running inland from the coast, an offshoot of St Helena’s own Grand Canyon. Twisted, folded rocks, cracks in fissures define the edges of these deeply eroded cliffs, the red brown earth punctuated by patches of bright lime green of the endemic plant Baby Toes.

Looking back down the Gates of Chaos. The Large rock in the distance is called Lot. Husband to Lots Wife!

Looking back down the Gates of Chaos. The Large rock in the distance is called Lot. husband to Lots Wife!

Lots Wife is a huge pinnacle of rock, a plug of larva which rose up through conduits in the existing rock forming pillars of the weather resistant rock trachyte and phonolite. Phonolite so called because of its resonance when struck, sounding like metal tubes as rocks fall upon one another.

Walking Up to Lots Wife, Graham leading the way.

Walking Up to Lots Wife, Graham leading the way.

Boobies (Sula dactylatra) are of course magnificent Seabirds, (what else would they be?). A diving marine bird, feeding on fish, a key indicator species for the health of local fish stocks and as such the subject of ongoing tagging and monitoring to assess population trends. They are also the reason that Bev and I found ourselves sat on a high ridge, with extraordinary views of Sandy Bay, Lots Wife ponds, the Atlantic Ocean and ever present Diana’s Peak, feeling like David Attenborough on the BBC’s latest big budget natural history documentary.

I love the piecing eyes of the Masked Booby. Perfectly designed fro predators.

I love the piecing eyes of the Masked Booby. Perfectly designed fro predators.

Masked Booby St Helena

Birds cant sweat, so to cool down they pant rapidly.

Birds cant sweat, so to cool down they pant rapidly.

Maskd Booby with two eggs St Helena

Our morning started with a drive down the infamous road to Sandy Bay, having earlier and gratefully dropped Oliver and Charlie children off with a friend (Thank you Lindsay). The roads on St Helena are extreme with steep inclines and descents being the norm. Sandy Bay Road however is something else, and as the only road on the Island that has a Warning Sign such is the angle of its incline its notoriety is well deserved.

Arriving at Sandy Bay we teamed up with Annalea of the Marine Conservation Team and Graham Sim, resident Jacques Cousteau  of St Helena. The Marine Team, under the Environment Natural  Resources Directorate (ENRD), have been monitoring this population of Boobies for a number of years, tracking their breeding efforts and populations as well as assessing their condition. The birds feed on fish in local waters and as such their population is a direct indicator of the health of local fisheries stocks. The work is important therefore in terms of both conservation of the birds themselves and in planning and regulation of fishery activities in St Helenian waters.

Graham led the way up Broad Gut and then into the Gates of Chaos and ultimately up a broad, scree covered ridge to the tagging site at Lots Wife. Graham Sim is, in short incredible. At 77 years of age he led the way up the extreme terrain, rising from sea level to 600 meters. Graham has been involved in marine conservation in one form or another for over fifty years, and was half of a pair of the very first people in the World to dive and explore St Helena’s waters.

Broad Gut, the Gates of Chaos and the South West Corner of St Helena are an incredible landscape, blending somewhere between the Grand Canyon and the foothills of Everest they are formed of volcanic eruptions and subsequent years of weathering and erosion from extreme flash floods. Now dry, we followed the scars of a river bed before veering to the left to ascend the scree slope that led to the Booby nesting grounds.

As we reached our summit I stood, wide eyed and smiling like a school child with a bag of sweets. Rows of nesting birds sat, protecting their eggs or young, watching our movement carefully, the sea breeze rose up the slope from the Atlantic Ocean cooling our brows and providing welcome rest bite from the sun.

Our first sight of a Masked Booby on her nest.

Our first sight of a Masked Booby on her nest.

When all members of the party had arrived the business of data recording began. New nests were tagged and recorded, previously tagged birds were recorded and the presence of eggs or chicks noted. Dividing into roles Bev found herself recording data, and myself tagging new nests.

The ridge in the shadow of Lots Wife lined with Masked Booby nests

The ridge in the shadow of Lots Wife lined with Masked Booby nests

Annalea and Graham of course set to the job of catching new birds, measuring morphometric data and applying tags to their legs. Itching to have a go, I was elated when, after some half hour or so Annalea asked if we wanted to have a go at holding the birds. Bev went first (I’ll leave you to decide if I was a gentleman or a wimp!) and once the bird was secured by Graham, Bev nervously manoeuvred herself to take hold of the bird. Body and wings held under one arm, with the head and more importantly the six inch, serrated blades of the dagger like bill held firmly, but gently away from the hands of Annalea taking the measurements. Once all the data is recorded, the less than straight forward task of releasing the bird, ensuring they and you remain safe takes place. Point the bill away, release the wings first and a split second later the bill, and be sure the bird has room to spread its wings without damaging them.

Bev holds her Booby gently but firmly.

Bev holds her Booby gently but firmly.

The moment of release.

The moment of release.

Soon after it was my turn, and I was asked if I wanted to catch the juvenile bird ahead of me. Slowly I moved round and gently and carefully lowered the net atop of the Booby. Once secured, I was able to handle the youngster, allow the measurements to be taken and a ring to be applied before releasing safely back to his nest. The placid nature of this young bird led me into a false sense of security and my next attempt was less straight forward. An adult bird being larger, stronger and more determined as it protected the eggs in his nest. I could feel my heart racing a little as the beak stabbed at the net, and then at me as I edged closer to try and gain a good hold and free him from the confines of the twisted mesh. Once in my grasp he continued to wriggle and squirm in an attempt to turn his sharp beak on me. Thankfully neither I nor the bird came to any harm and I released him promptly, leaving him to take off and ruffle his feathers.

Me, holding a booby!

Me, holding a booby!

After two hours of shear enjoyment sadly Bev and I had to depart, subjecting our friend to Oliver and Charlie for seven hours we considered to be quite enough. Leaving the professionals to it they thanked us as we departed and headed back down a new scree slope and onto the Gates of Chaos.

There was of course no need to thank us, as I remarked, “thank you, it has been an absolute privilege.”

An apparently unusual sight to see both parents at the nest.

An apparently unusual sight to see both parents at the nest.

Mother and chick.

Mother and chick.

They fly so fast, capturing one in flight was difficult. I think a dedicated trip may be needed at some point.

They fly so fast, capturing one in flight was difficult. I think a dedicated trip may be needed at some point.

Only on St Helena – Part 1. The Park at the End of the World.

During the course of my blog I intend to have a series of “Only on St Helena” articles. The Island is full of people, places, systems, politics and events that you will only find on this remote Island. The people are unique, the environment is unique, the wildlife is unique and an account of life on Island would not be complete without referencing some of this uniqueness.

During a trip to Millennium Forest (more on Millennium Forest Later)  we bumped into a fellow Ex-Pat, the wonderful and creative Lindsay McGinnety. She and friend Tim Tromen were heading to a park for lunch and asked if we wanted to join them. After they went ahead we followed their directions and eventually came to the end of a road, with nowhere to go save a small track that dropped off the end of a ridge we presumed a wrong turn had been taken. “Let me just get out and check” I said “ Lindsey did say it was at the end of the World”.

Returning back to the car hurriedly I exclaimed, “you won’t believe this, the park, is down there, at the bottom of the track that runs off the end of the ridge”.

And so it was, a park, so remote, so precariously placed it was hard to believe. Quite why it was here and not further up the road amongst the houses I will never know, but here it was, at the end of a road, at the end of the World, in Levelwood, St Helena.

Park at the end of the World St Helena

Not only a park but the most extreme football pitch I have ever witnessed. A dry, dust bowl, who’s outer touchline is marked by a shear drop down a cliff into a steep ravine. In a setting that resembled the Grand Canyon, Oliver and I took a few shots and played a game. Just so we can say we have played football on the World’s most remote football pitch. I do not know if it is the World’s most remote football pitch. But it is a football pitch, at the edge of a ravine, at the end of a track, at the end of a remote road, a junction from the remote hamlet of Levelwood on one of the most remote Islands in the World, I therefore believe it is a good candidate.

Worlds most remote fotball pitch Oliver in the Worlds most remote fotball pitch

Poise, precision.

Poise, precision.

Oliver shoots, and scores. Because the goalkeepe was taking a photo!

Oliver shoots, and scores. Because the goalkeeper was taking a photo!

Only in St Helena!!!

Slugs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

I start today’s post by referring back to the last, my footballing exploits and performance in last Sundays thrilling match. Albeit truncated by injury, the match gave me one of my greatest ever achievements, an appearance on the back page of a newspaper, referenced by my surname just like a real footballer. Read the report here.

Moving away from my own exploits, I turn attention to our children, Oliver and Charlie, two boys in every sense of the word. A source of endless amusement for our friends they are energetic, troublesome, sometimes rude, boisterous and always fighting and arguing with each other. Our good friends Paul and Jen believe them to be hilarious, I only hope their next baby is a boy, a younger brother to their son Miles, and I hope to be there to witness the ensuing chaos.

John, who also journeyed with us to the Island, often refers to their behaviour with the phrases such as “ahh bless” in reference to our excuses that they are always tired. John himself has unwittingly taught Oliver some lovely phraseology, as he can now be commonly heard telling his younger brother to “watch and learn” and expresses surprise with the, thankfully truncated, phrase “what the!!!”

Our boys have both it seems now settled quite well into Island life, making new friends and heading off to school on the bus barely looking back, the days of a kiss goodbye it seems are already behind us.This week saw the schools Harvest Festival, in which Oliver and Charlie played a full role. We have all been learning Charlie’s harvest song, but Oliver’s roll as a giraffe came as something of a surprise.Olivers Class Pilling School Harvest Festival Charlies Class  St Helena Pilling Harvest FesivalDolphin St Helena Pilling Harvest Fesival Charlie Sings St Helena Pilling Harvest Fesival

For the first few weeks Oliver, troubled with school and adjusting to life, presented us with some truly awful behaviour, seemingly carrying the world on his young shoulders with fits of outrage interspersed with extreme sadness. During this period Charlie saw his opportunity, presenting himself as the most well behaviour three year old, full of affection and love for his parents and responding to Oliver’s turmoil with his own brand of sucking up. Thankfully, Oliver has found his feet and whilst far from perfect, his behaviour is back to a normal level of six year old boy. Charlie of course responded accordingly, and he has reverted to the artist formally known as “the naughty one”.

This weekend was a case in point with Charlie seemingly determined to single handedly ruin things for everyone concerned. Saturday was Carnival 2014 a bi-annual event that had been building in anticipation, excitement and curiosity over the past few weeks. Apparently carnival would be a 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 stated in much the same way as many others, 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.

Charlie looking very unhappy at the prospect of walking to Carnival, despite getting the hat.

Charlie looking very unhappy at the prospect of walking to Carnival, despite getting the hat.

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! After the boys went to bed, Bev and I cheered ourselves up with a take away of steak and chips and a few glasses of well-deserved of Kia Royal!

A cup cake helps to break Charlie's mood even if just for a moment.

A cup cake helps to break Charlie’s mood even if just for a moment.

Sunday followed a similar pattern. We headed out for our first walk on the Island, a nice family outing to Flag Staff, a peak in the North East Corner of the Island affording a gentle walk whilst offering spectacular views at the end. Charlie however had other ideas, not wishing to walk at all and feeling the effects of a blustery wind. Given that his parents had forgotten his jumper we conceded to another nearby walk in a more sheltered but equally spectacular part of the Island.

The paint pallet sands of Banks Valley offer a landscape like no-where else on this remarkable Island. Formed by sands which blew up the valley when sea levels were lower, the landscape is made up of consolidated dunes of fine mud and sand. Sharp ridges dominate, casting shadows which serve to further enhance the mix of oranges, reds and purples in the sand, flowing in bands and broken only by bright green shrubs and the arid loving spikes of English Aloe. A sense of the unknown and untouched exists, the only footprints in the sand being our own, like the first steps breaking fresh fallen snow. The high peaks of the central ridge, look down on this colourful desert with their covering of tree ferns and fields of flax, one feels as though we are existing in a bye gone era, an time of prehistoric reptiles, and giant soaring birds.

Banks Valley St Helena Banks Valley St Helena

Prehistoic Landscape of Banks Valley St Helena

Prehistoric Landscape of Banks Valley St Helena

Wasted on Charlie, the spectacular views and otherworldly sand formations presented no enjoyment for him; at least his mood prevented any enthusiasm from escaping. More moaning and general disquiet ensued until such point that we reluctantly and much to my dissatisfaction at having had our morning once again cut short, returned to the car.

Charlie happy that our fist walk has been cancelled!

Charlie happy that our fist walk has been cancelled!

Start of Walk number two, still smiles at this point.

Start of Walk number two, still smiles at this point.

Charlie begins to contemplate whether this walk is any better than the last.

Charlie begins to contemplate whether this walk is any better than the last.

"Nope, this walk is rubbish, just like the last!"

“Nope, this walk is rubbish, just like the last!”

Our day was thankfully saved as we continued our conviviality with a late lunch date with the David’s family, Julie, Martin, Phoebe and Lottie, and friends Ian and Fiona Smyth and their children Oscar and Rachel. Martin, prison officer on the Island has become my regular breakfast date, as we enjoy belly buster sandwiches and real St Helena coffee at the Coffee Shop on a weekly basis. The David’s have good course for inviting people round for lunch. An agreement to purchase some of the remaining stock from a now closed butcher has left them with twenty six bags of sausages, each bag containing ten sausages. Gratefully I was able to do my bit and help them out with this problem. A long afternoon of great company, good conversation and of course the sausages was enjoyed by all, our children revelling in the opportunity to play in a large lawned garden, getting dirty and caring for garden snails.

And so we arrive at our first half term on the Island, despite my new positive thinking, the restrictions created by my groin injury, coupled with the thoughts of entertaining my children for five days has inevitably lowered my mood somewhat. School holidays are, it is reported, normally a time for enjoying the sunshine by the pool. It seems though we are lacking in both at the present time. Although the weather has improved summer is not here yet and the pool, despite all the rain, has no water. Drained and stripped, the pool has been due for a paint job and for some two or three months now has been waiting expectantly for the paint to arrive on the normally trustworthy RMS St Helena. The paint however has failed to turn up on successive shipments and the lifeguards still sit with no lives to actually guard save their own. The latest rumour, source unknown, is that the paint is now on Island but that the large brushes purchased to speed the act of painting, do not fit in the tins and we look towards Christmas for swimming and dive training to now commence.

This week will be a testing time for me as I spend long days in the company of said troublesome twos. I have always found being a Dad to be difficult. Troubling to write, and to admit, I find it hard to relate to our children’s young minds, finding their company to be often tedious and trying. Constant misdemeanours and boundary pushing leaves me exhausted and tired of their company. I am very aware that they provoke my temper and despite my sincere attempts to remain calm in situations, I am also very aware that our children’s occasional bouts of rage and anger have most likely come from the example set by their father. I am often left feeling out of control and unable to deal with their guidance and care, their constant needs and demands wearing me down and their silly requirements for inexplicable things that I have neither the desire nor means to seek out.  I vacillate between feelings of utter disdain and immense guilt and meander along between the two as I figure out how it is I am going to be the Dad I wish I could be.

Of course the feelings and emotions described above are in the extreme, felt at those times where my days have been long and unfulfilled, where all I can see before me are cleaning and an absence of meaningful work. Having reached the end of day two of our week together I am holding it together, today enjoying a fabulous walk with the children and feeling immensely proud at the mountaineering feats achieved by the little legs of my youngest, even enjoying his company for periods of the day. I hope it is these times that I can concentrate on, that I can learn to glean fulfilment and enjoyment from. I hope that remembering Charlie’s mammoth effort will help to ease my rage next time the bath has become an Ark, floating on the biblical flood that the boys are intent on creating each bath time.

My boys are just that, boys. They are wonderful, curious, inquisitive and busting with energy and enthusiasm. They are not badly behaved; they are just three and six years old. For every time of frustration, they provide a moment of real impress. Oliver in particular is fascinated with the World, taking inspiration from his parents, he has love for the natural World and shows respect for the creatures we share this planet with. Charlie is charming and cheeky in equal measure, providing moments of wonderful affection and caring. It is not at their behaviour that I should look but inwards, asking fundamental questions of myself and who I am, what I want to be and what is important in my life and for our family.

What is important to me, what do I want from this move to St Helena? I do not have the answers yet and remain in perpetual turmoil. Moving to St Helena has thrown up more questions of me than I expected.  I sit at a cross roads, on one hand immensely jealous of my wife, her importance and contribution to the island meeting with other adults to discuss work, projects, plans and training. Wishing I could also sit in a position of regard and I am eager to develop some of the opportunities that have recently presented themselves, leaving my children in the care of others whom in my own view would do a better job at their guidance than I ever could. On the other, feeling that I am here to build my relationship with them, to learn to enjoy their company, deal with the tests they present and give them two years in the Atlantic that will shape them and our family for the future. This half term will teach me a lot about whether I can achieve the latter, and perhaps will allow me to see a future which contains a balance of both worlds.

Summer starts to find its way into life at Half Tree Hollow.

Summer starts to find its way into life at Half Tree Hollow.

Waiting for Summer

Our life on the Island continues, my new found routine is taking shape efficiently, cleaning and shopping. I have Island shopping down to a tee now, Thursdays are meat day along with a fresh vegetable basket, Mondays and Wednesdays bread, wonderful and incredible cheap Tuna available daily, eggs from our neighbour weekly, although inflation has set in and we now pay a full £1.20 for them. Given that food is less readily available it is a pleasant surprise that my diet has improved immeasurably since living on St Helena. The sporadic availability of fresh fruit and vegetables makes them somehow more appealing and my retirement allows for home cooked meals with the family, (including local dishes such as Pilau, pronounced “Plo”, a Paella type dish with Bacon and Pork) instead the processed radioactive decay of ready meals eaten hurriedly at varying points in the evening we experienced back home. Our meals are then generally followed up by home baked cakes or biscuits lovingly prepared by my wonderful wife. Oh the virtuous life we lead. So as not to worry friend and family too much at this stage I will add that I have found a source for English Pork Pies and my cupboard has several packets of pork scratchings which are rapidly diminishing in number.

A new friend round for tea.

A new friend round for tea.

The RMS continues to excite upon its arrival, bringing with it a glut of fresh fruit to the island, which inevitably is snapped up rapidly just days after it lands on the shop floor. To that end we have also set up a fruit order with a local shop, who, upon receiving their quota from the ship, will divide the fruit up and pre bag it for their list of waiting customers. When the RMS arrives from Cape Town, Thursday is the day when the town goes a little mental, for a few hours at least. Rumours can be heard of Strawberries available at the Queen Mary store, as shoppers busily hurry from one shop to another hoping to grab their slice of pie. Alas, I was too late at Queen Mary’s but soon heard that there may be a punnet or two left at the Victoria, rushing over I was delighted to pick up two punnets of strawberries and some overpriced blue berries. FruitCoupled with numerous Bananas, Mandarins, Oranges, and Apples I felt proud of a good days foraging like the hunter gatherer returning home with a rich bounty to feed his family. I hadn’t however accounted for the volume of food I would later collect on my regular afore mentioned fruit order which combined with our weekly vegetable order resulted in the largest quantity of fresh fruit and veg my eyes had ever seen in a household!

The RMS’s arrival this week also heralded the arrival of our meat order, a shipment of choice meats from South African to fill up our deep freeze. Such is the exuberance and low price, of meat from South Africa that we have used up the remaining fillet steak on our St Helena Beef Curry, essentially a traditional stew with curry powder, now made with choice Fillet Steak!

RMS in the  Bay 2 RMS in the Bay

My fitness continues to improve, shopping twice a week means more in one go, I now carry multiple bags of shopping, as the convenience of a supermarket and all under one roof approach has not yet reached St Helena, thankfully. Walking back to the car I remind myself of days gone by, trying to keep up with my own Mum, who would walk back from town with an impossible number of shopping bags with two children behind asking her to slow down. St Helena is, in many ways just like the UK twenty years ago, and, in many ways is all the better for it. I have reached a respectable time of 8 minutes 30 seconds to climb Jacobs Ladder, although I seem to have hit a block and getting below this is going to take more work, meaning my wife still leaves me behind when it comes to climbing stairs! I have however had more success with the now routine football warm up, cross bar challenge, hitting the bar at the full length of the five a side pitch with both right and left foot!

My new timetable of walking and bird tagging took a hit this week when I left my first competitive game of eleven aside football with a groin injury. Called up to local football team Axis, to play alongside my good friend Paul

The chap with my kit did not turn up until the second half, embarrassingly leaving me wearing a white vest over my red shirt to distinguish me from the opposition! Dad, I know you taught me not to stand with my hand on my hips but we had a break in play for an injury!

In action, photo courtesy of budding photographer, Oliver, my son.

In action, photo courtesy of budding photographer, Oliver, my son.

(Liverpudlian with whom we shared our RMS dining table) in a must win Semi Final against the Fugees. A close game saw us leading one nil as we reached mid-way through the second half. A demoralising equaliser by the Fugees was followed shortly after by a tackle on my right leg which pulled my groin into places it didn’t want to go. This left the Axis with ten men and soon enough we were 2-1 down. A gallant effort by the boys saw a late equaliser take the game to extra time and then penalties, with everything resting on it, sadly two spots kicks were missed and we went crashing out of the tournament! Despite my injury, and following a very tentative start to my first competitive game of football in seventeen years, I thoroughly enjoyed the match, sadly I must wait several months for the new season, but with my face on the footballing map I feel confident I can find a team for the new season.

This week saw us invited round to the Governor’s home, Plantation House for a traditional drinks reception, welcoming the new teachers and celebrating the retirement and  long services of some of St Helena’s finest and longest serving teachers, who, between the three of them have given over 110 years’ service to school children on the Island. A pleasant evening was made all the more enjoyable after Bev met with a surprise guest at the occasion. Following a mistake in the invitation, two holiday makers, on the Island for just eight days found themselves at the prestigious occasion, surrounded by councillors, government officials, distinguished guests and indeed Governor Capes himself. I only wish I could find out who’s invitation they had received, and whether, upon seeing an incorrect name they made any protestations at all, or just took their chances.

Prince Andrews School celebrated their 25 years Anniversary last week. Bev and the other new teachers took their place in a celebration, including a song that will last long in the memory of all those party to it. Words were spoken by the current and past Head Teachers. It seems despite continuing difficulties, the school has indeed made great progress over the past twenty five years, last year posting their greatest ever exam results. Going back twenty years presents an intriguing picture of a young boy Nicky, who, at just fifteen, with no formal training and having himself just completed his exams, started as the schools Physical Education teacher. Nicky now works on the Island doing an incredible job running the local extra curriculum youth club and sports association New Horizons, giving children on the Island sporting opportunities that were not open to himself twenty five years ago. The tireless work of New Horizons resulted in several of St Helena’s finest athletes representing their Island at this year’s commonwealth games in Glasgow, a first for this Island Nation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMKV5u2Jdkc

Oliver meets a new friend on our photo walk. I think it reminded him of our lovely dog Ned, whom we have had to leave in the good care of our parents. We miss him dearly.

Oliver meets a new friend on our photo walk. I think it reminded him of our lovely dog Ned, whom we have had to leave in the good care of our parents. We miss him dearly.

Our weekend was a less dramatic one than previous and I have no stories of gigantic marine mammals. Oliver and I joined a good sized group of photographers to join in with a worldwide event, Kelby’s Photo Walks. The timing however was such to encourage a good turnout, rather than to make for good photography, and whilst producing little in the way of good photos, I did enjoy good conversation and a pleasant walk with Oliver and the others.

View from High Noll Fort to Flag Staff showing the haul road built by Basil Read for the Airport. The St Helena tourist office have asked if I can provide some photographs so Ive developed a watermark and will be including their logo on some on my photos in the future.

View from High Noll Fort to Flag Staff showing the haul road built by Basil Read for the Airport. The St Helena tourist office have asked if I can provide some photographs so Ive developed a watermark and will be including their logo on some on my photos in the future.

Ladybird TextureBev and Charlie meanwhile went to walk Donkeys at the Islands donkey sanctuary. Once a vital part of the workforce, the donkeys are now retired and well cared for. Children are invited to walk and feed the donkeys at the weekend. Charlie however, through a combination of poor carrot feeding technique and a short sighted donkey, found his fingers being eaten along with the intended food. Much screaming ensued as the donkey sucked on Charlie’s hand, eventually releasing him after expert donkey whispering, and no shortage of wrestling from Mum. No harm was done other than mild psychological damage and no animals were harmed in the making of this drama.

Having finally managed to locate some children’s fishing nets on the Island, Oliver and Charlie were thrilled to be able to head back down to James Bay for a spot of rock pooling. But it was their Dad who triumphed, catching three fish and this impressive Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally Lightoot Crab

Amazing Ascension Sally Lightfoot Crab. Very very quick and difficult to catch as they skip across the rocks

Charlie Saves Bev

Charlie Saves Bev from falling in!

Bev Meets Crab

“Bev meet crab, Crab meet Bev”

Oliver Rockpooling

Oliver getting stuck in

James Bay Rockpools Looking West

Looking West showing the Rock pools at James Bay

And so, in Mid-October we await Summer to start, having been made promises that it is just around the corner for what now seems like months. Being British, it will be of no surprise that I am fascinated by the weather, even more so given that the weather and climate on St Helena are as extraordinary as the Island itself. The only surprise is that it has not come up in my writings more frequently. The general theme of the weather has been grey and overcast, with frequent mist rolling down of the central peaks. Speaking to one local revealed that this mild, occasionally rainy, inclement weather of a rather chilly thirteen to sixteen degrees centigrade, is the “worst and longest winter in his living memory” of sixty plus years. Given that description, I am pleasantly surprised and uplifted, as I have still been in shorts most days. However we would now welcome in the endless days of Sunshine and warmth we have been promised, especially by Bev, who spends her days in the somewhat cooler climbs of Prince Andrew School at Francis Plain, just below the central peaks.

Francis Plane Prince Andrew School and Diana's Peak

Before embarking on our trip, I’d read many quite clearly exaggerated reports, of extreme variations in weather, both across time and distance upon the Island. I am now going to give one such example of, it turns out, a not such exaggerated account. In one day I recorded on my car thermometer a high of twenty eight degrees centigrade in the lower reaches of Jamestown, the sun was beaming down and all was well with the world. Just three hours later, and less than a mile away, when collecting Bev from the school, the very same thermometer read twelve degrees. The rain and wind sweeping across Francis Plain confirmed this to be true as we waited for Bev to run to the car, still wrapped tightly in the bright blue bubble jacket that she has had to wear in the classroom just to maintain warmth on a daily basis since our arrival. Given that I spend my days in shorts, and just a stones through away Bev requires a bubble jacket nicely describes how the weather varies across this tiny Island.

I am confident however that the last couple of days have seen a serious upturn in our weather. Half Tree Hollow has been baked in sunshine and the blue skies and newly defined horizon are joyous to behold. They also herald the arrival of clear night skies, and our first glimpse of the stars that we have so eagerly awaited. Officially one of the darkest places on earth, the night skies here are famous. First put on the global astronomy map back in 1676 by Edmund Halley who set up an observatory on the Island and made the first scientific mapping of the Southern Sky, they now offer a new opportunity for exploration for this year’s traveller. They also open up a new avenue for my photography and last night as I write provided the first chance to view and photograph the Milky Way.Night sky Milky Way St Helena Night sky at Half Tree Hollow St HelenaThe experience left me a little awestruck. Despite it being just 9.30 in the evening, and just yards from my well lit house and the relatively high light levels of Half Tree Hollow the night sky was, like most things I have observed on the Island, extraordinary. I now cannot wait to get to Diana Peak, in the dead of night to view some of the most mind blowing skies I am ever likely to see.

Come on in Summer, you are most welcome.

*Footnote.

It may be that I spoke too soon about the weather, Wednesday has seen some of the strongest driving wind and coldest temperatures we have seen. One local described it as “English Weather”!!!