I Was There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Years in Shorts!

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

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

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

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

The view from our balcony at night.

The view from our balcony at night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Saw Whales!!!

So last weekend we took our second trip out to look for the, as yet elusive, Humpback Whales and Dolphins.  Our morning would be spent on a new vessel to the Island, the Enchanted Isle. Still barring the web address from its previous life, she wasEnchanted Isle fresh from duties as a tour boat taking sightseers to the Islands of St Kilda in Scotland. Built in 2005, this 42ft vessel has a degree of comfort and style for the 12 passengers and, like the passengers on board, she has taken an epic journey from the UK, ultimately arriving on the Island aboard the decks of the RMS St Helena.

After struggling with life jackets and some scenes reminiscent of Mario Ballotelli’s now infamous attempt to don his training vest, we waiting for  the right wave to push the boat towards the wharf and stepped across the gap holding tightly to the swinging ropes.

Just out of shot is a large group of people all trying to figure out how to put a life jacket on!

Just out of shot is a large group of people all trying to figure out how to put a life jacket on!

Our excitement at the trip had been tempered somewhat by the previously disappointing and ultimately fruitless outing. None the less, being on the Sea in any capacity is always enchanting for me and being the first passengers on board St Helena’s latest addition to the flotilla gave an added sense of privilege.

Ten minutes or so into our trip the Enchanted Isle made a sudden and quick turn, the more experienced passengers realising that the skipper, Johnny, must of spotted something in the distance. Sure enough we soon started to spot small, black fins breaking the water some 500 meters away. First one, then two, then around ten Bottlenose Dolphins were breaking the waves. One, more curious than the others, came within a few feet of our starboard side before diving below the boat not to be seen again.

A Bottlenose dolphin who broke the surface just yards from us.

A Bottlenose dolphin who broke the surface just yards from us.

As quickly as they appeared all was quiet again and we continued our journey along the Northern coast line. With an exclamation of excitement our first Humpback whale mother and calf were soon spotted. Engine slowed to a dead calm so as not to spook, them we watched the giant family surfacing and blowing jets high into the air before promptly diving below leaving us fantastic views of a 5m tail disappearing back into the blue. One could argue, given the limited view of the whale, a mere ice berg of tail and hump with the majority of the animal remaining hidden below the waves that the experience does not justify the hype. This is most definitely not the case, there is something undeniably wonderful and enchanting about the privileged view of this enormous tail slipping silently into the waves. Despite their size these animals are not commonly seen and an indescribable sense of awe is shared amongst the onlookers on the Enchanted Isle.

The magnificent site of a Humpback Whale disappearing back into the ocean.

The magnificent site of a Humpback Whale disappearing back into the ocean.

These magnificent animals spend the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer months around St Helena in calm tropical waters to give birth to their young. These behemoths of the animal world, growing up to 16m and 30 tonnes, will fast in the nutrient poor waters of the tropics for several months, allowing time for the calves to suckle and grow fast on mother milk containing 40% fat. In St Helena they remain in the calm Leeward waters for several months from July to October, although solitary adults can be seen from June to December. Growing quickly, the calves soon become strong enough to complete an epic journey North of some several thousand miles to feeding grounds in more productive temperate seas.

Knowing they can dive for up to 35 minutes, and travel some distance in that time, we move on, soon spotting a pod of resident pan tropical dolphins. Sadly they kept their distance and our views of them were not spectacular. Further down the shore our second mother and calf came into view, this time stopping around for a little longer and seemingly hanging motionless for a time, before once again disappearing into the blue with a splash of a gigantic tail.

Mother and calf

Before putting on the burners we were instructed that it would not be safe to remain at the bow of the boat where the best observations were to be had and the party moved back to the rear. It soon became apparent why, this boat can shift up to 26knots (around 30mph) and we soon found ourselves holding on to the rails, with wind and spray in our hair. John, a fellow passenger on board the RMS and new Maths teacher to the Island, nearly took a tumble into the sea such was the acceleration of the boat. John has become a good friend on the Island, moving here on his own and with a sense of adventure he has travelled extensively, but nowhere it seems quite like St Helena. He has quickly involved himself in the numerous sporting opportunities on the island, from Cricket to football, badminton to golf you will find John taking part, and claiming to be “not great at it” whilst more than holding his own at most things he turns his hand to.

Jane (left) John, Lady Christine and Toby enjoying the exhilarating turn of speed

Jane (left) John, Lady Christine and Toby enjoying the exhilarating turn of speed

Sharing our journey with us is the effervescent Christine. Having now caught up with my blog, she rightly feels that I should hand to her a greater role and position within our story. With that in mind I shall now refer to our eminent scouser as Her Lady Christine, and her Ladyship looked every bit the dignitary as she held on for dear life, wind blowing her hair like a scene from a budget production of Titanic.

Looking every bit the Lady of the Island Christine hangs on for dear life!

Looking every bit the Lady of the Island Christine hangs on for dear life!

Like an action shot from some 1970's cop drama. The awesome Andy Day (left) and his son Toby (right) and John (centre)

Like an action shot from some 1970’s cop drama. The awesome Andy Day (left) and his son Toby (right) and John (centre)

My eldest Oliver enjoying his cruise

My eldest Oliver enjoying his cruise

Oliver enjoys the speed and waves.

Oliver enjoys the speed and waves.

My wonderful family Oliver, Bev and Charlie.

My wonderful family Oliver, Bev and Charlie.

We sped onwards to Speery Island, a colossal, jagged rock looming out of the sea and used by nesting sea birds and human fisherman alike. Here we turned back  and took a slow canter back East, passing close to several rocky islands including Egg Island, stained white with successive layers of guano. Here we watched as Black Noddies and the beautiful, pure white Fairy Turns swooped and chattered around us.Speery Point Speery Point Speery Point

Our slow cruise back to Jamestown was interrupted by a third sighting of mother and calf, this time further in the distance, but no less wonderful to see. Three mother and calf pairs on a single trip is apparently an uncommon occurrence.

Slowing down along the coast also permitted the opportunity to speak with Johnny, the Ship’s captain. A knowledgeable and affable Saint, happy to tell tales of history and geology of the rocky formations we viewed as we passed by. In typical style, Bev meanwhile had found herself befriending the crew, and before long was taking hold of the ships wheel. Luckily for Bev the pilot had not experienced her driving on the Island, and luckily for the passengers her piloting of the boat remained secret until she emerged back on deck!

Simply Stunning, Pure White Fairy Tern.

Simply Stunning, Pure White Fairy Tern.

With a final turn of speed we headed back to Jamestown. Our second journey out to look for Whales had been a success, and, with only a few weeks left before these giants leave for another year, our third trip is already booked.

After lunch that day we returned to the shore for a brief swim and snorkel in James Bay. Our first venture into the water was guided by Andy Day and his eldest son Toby, whom continue to help us, guide us and who’s company becomes all the more enjoyable as time passes. A twenty minute swim in the crystal clear water resulted in the sightings of six endemic species of fish, along with numerous starfish and giant conch shells. Oliver did not quite find the nerve to jump into the choppy waters, but our youngest Charlie, ably assisted by Andy, did take the plunge.  His first five minutes in the Atlantic Ocean was met with a combination of fear and hysterical laughter but I think a small wet suit, snorkel and mask of his own will be on the wish list following this adventure.

Black Noddies atop of years of Guano accumulation!

Black Noddies atop of years of Guano accumulation!

Our day was rounded off with home baked bread made by Bevs own hands, which I enthusiastically used to mop up gravy following our satisfying Roast Beef dinner.

For a first ever attempt at home baked bread this was phenomenal, proving there is no end to my wife's talents. Fresh out of the oven it was delicious!

For a first ever attempt at home baked bread this was phenomenal, proving there is no end to my wife’s talents. Fresh out of the oven it was delicious!

Days like today are the reason we took this move, they are to be cherished and not taken for granted. Good for the body and soul we wait anxiously to see what next weekend will bring us, if it comes close to the incredible day we have just had, we will be doing very well indeed.

A Saintly Life

Having lived on this incredible Island for a full three weeks  and  feeling as though I have been a resident for an age, I am now,  of course, an authority on the Island and its people!  With this in mind I thought it appropriate to dispel some myths, or at least misrepresentations, that I encountered before we travelled from the UK.

The Island is, without question dependant on financial grant in aid from the UK government, from UK tax payers. This is often portrayed as though the local Saints are reliant on hand-outs, in the same way that many people back home are reliant on our welfare system. You will read that the Island has no natural resources to speak of, no agriculture or productivity and that it is dependent on the UK taxpayer to “keep” people on the Island. I have even encountered comments to the effect that people should not be permitted to live here if they cant “fend for themselves” and should be deported from the Island. The extreme end of these views angered me in their narrow mindedness before I left the UK, and now leave me bewildered by the inaccuracy of portrayal and authority in which they are given with little or no regard to actual research of the truth.

Upon our arrival in Jamestown we came across this sign in the local gardens. Feeling perplexed as to why exactly one could not sit, or wander and generally linger doing nothing, in what seems like an obvious place for such behaviour. As it happens the locals agreed entirely and after a series of complaints this inexplicable sign has been removed!

Upon our arrival in Jamestown we came across this sign in the local gardens. Feeling perplexed as to why exactly one could not sit, or wander and generally linger doing nothing, in what seems like an obvious place for such behaviour. As it happens the locals agreed entirely and after a series of complaints this inexplicable sign has been removed!

Saint Helena is a UK Dependant Territory, arguments can be made as to what this means but essentially, it is, and has for most of its long history been part of the United Kingdom. The East India Trading company and later the UK government directly, stationed people on the Island. They brought African slaves, Chinese labours and other ethnic peoples from their homes and forced them to this isolated outpost of the empire. After generations on Saint Helena the people here are proud to be part of that United Kingdom (poignant given the pending referendum across the Scottish border), and yet in 2014 we should then abandon the Island and absolve ourselves of responsibility because the Island costs us money. Should we equally absolve ourselves of the burden of the unemployed, disabled, or infirm!

The people of the Island do not rely on hand-outs, they work, and dammed hard. Most Islanders have at least two jobs, unemployment is very low on St Helena but so are wages. Unfortunately though there is little export and much to import, therefore UK government grant in aid is provided to maintain government services, education, welfare etc. In order to generate capital, an Island, community or country must have something that others wish to buy and simultaneously must reduce its need to purchase goods from elsewhere, hence bringing money into the economy in greater quantities than it leaves.

The two exports remain tourism and fisheries, both of which are historically very small in scale. Recently, huge efforts are being put into expanding both of these commercial areas as well as developing  in new areas such as extremely successful enterprises in coffee production and products from the Islands unique distillery.  Agriculture is also being advanced and has increased by 355% since 2010/11, reducing the need to import foodstuffs from abroad. The private sector economy as a whole is on the rise, and, combined with localised food production helps to recycle capital brought to the island and reduces the leakage of wealth back to the UK or South Africa. Many of the Islanders have great entrepreneurial spirit and St Helena certainly provides opportunities a plenty for those prepared to invest time and money to fill the numerous niches that are available.

The Island suffers from lack of a competition in its service sector, only one supplier of water and electricity exists, ditto for communications and media. Whilst providing an excellent service, the result is artificially high prices, but attracting a competitor to supply, for example, electricity, to a customer base of little over four thousand people (approx 2000 homes) is neigh on impossible, and would in all likelihood require a foreign Service provider and hence increase money leakage to overseas shores.

Low wages, coupled with a lack of corporate or council tax largely due (as far as I can tell), to a historical lack of central service provision, results in very low income generation for local government. A cash economy exacerbates the problem with hidden or absent paper trails for those earning more than the tax threshold. Change is required with increased rates and new taxation required, but vicissitude of this kind is always painful and is sure to be met with resistance if indeed it is proposed.

Our weekend walks continue. This time to the beginning of the ridge of Mount Eternity although sense prevailed and we did not attempt it with a three year old in tow!

Our weekend walks continue. This time to the beginning of the ridge of Mount Eternity although sense prevailed and we did not attempt it with a three year old in tow!

I continue my slide toward domestication, today getting excited at finding a hessian shopping bag, and even venturing to a friend’s house for tea and “a chat” this week. Those of you who know me well will appreciate the only time I arrive for a chat is if it is preceded by a pint or two. Caroline, my host for the morning, is an adopted Scottish woman, who left her home in California twenty years ago to start a new life in Scotland. In her own words Scotland has only just caught up to where California was twenty years ago, and now she and her lovely family have stepped back in time a further twenty years to start a new life on St Helena.

My life on the Island has settled to a routine of taxiing, shopping, coffee, household chores and an undue amount of plumbing thanks to the requirements of a new dishwasher and the accident prone feet of my youngest.

It seems my awkward demands of one and a half sugars in my coffee, have led to a quick transition from new comer to regular, at the St Helena coffee shop, where one of  the world’s most expensive coffees, (excluding those defecated from various animals) is prepared for me before my arrival at the counter.My FamilyFor the first time in my life I have a pocket notebook, necessary for planning my foraging trips, recording names and numbers, and for penning memory jogging notes on subjects ranging from where to purchase sandals for Bev to Christmas presents for the boys. On Christmas I am gobsmacked to find myself thinking of the subject in early September, in stark contrast to my usual Christmas Eve panic. However with last postal orders to be made by mid-October, present procurement is something we must start to think about. Unlike us mere mortals Farther Christmas is not limited by the availability of the RMS! For any family reading this, my own Christmas list is short this year and consists simply of a Go Pro camera, or money for thereof.

The coffee house provides a regular spot to read the two local newspapers. On this small Island newspapers and the two local radio stations are vital sources of information for both saint and expat alike. And on the subject of radio I have become an avid follower of the BBC World Service, which I am certain places me on an equal echelon to those listeners of Radio Four! I shall be listening eagerly tomorrow as the results of the momentous vote in Scotland come in.

My polite waving reached a new peak this week when I found myself giving a casual, but friendly wave, to a cat!! This has made me reassess the sincerity of my automated hand twitching and I am beginning to discover that, although still very friendly and partial to a wave, it was myself as opposed to the locals who instigated said waving during each passing of a car, pedestrian or feline. Under the suspicion that some Islanders are perhaps a little fed up of the stupid British man who keeps waving at people they don’t know I have decided to hold fire in future until I see the first and instigating hints of movement from the hand of those passing by!

My wife continues to impress me, and I have become in

The My Nemeis Jacobs Ladder as seen at night. Bev shattered my time by a full two minutes and has left me questioning my manliness! I must beat her before we leave the Island!

The Descent down my Nemeis Jacobs Ladder as seen at night. Bev shattered my time by a full two minutes and has left me questioning my manliness! I must beat her before we leave the Island!

awe of her ability to developed her professional aptitude, instigate positive change in her department, dedicate herself to the care of her pupils and yet still maintain her position as number one Mum, the apple of her children’s eyes and the glue that holds the household and family together. Bev is now being asked to help raise standards and implement change in the Science department, and she seems to be happy with the challenge of this role, although we are both mindful of her main objectives of introducing Marine Biology to the school curriculum and hope that the opportunity to do this is forthcoming in the new year. Add to the above the fact that my wife tackled Jacobs Ladder, not just beating my time but knocking a full 2 minutes off my attempt with an unbelievable time of eight minutes eight seconds and a picture of a pretty incredible woman who fills me with pride emerges.

Exploring the Island further continues to leave me fascinated and often without words to describe the stunning scenery, diversity of landscape, fauna and climate. A sense of history pervades every turn, road, building and view point. Whether it be centuries old canons from shipwrecks washed up upon the shoreline, my gruelling walk up Jacobs ladder, World War Two gun garrisons or the long succession  of historical statesmen  to of trodden the old wooden floors of the Consulate Hotel, this settlement in the South Atlantic has maintained its long and important links with the past. The sense of connection to the mariners and explorers, admirals and emperors, captains and scientific scholars of the past is a heady charm of this unique place.

A stunning sight at night anchored in James Bay

A stunning sight at night anchored in James Bay

Maintaining its own place in history is the RMS St Helena, arriving back in James Bay today following its latest trans-Atlantic journey to Cape Town. The Last Royal mail ship has a magical effect on the Island. A life line to the outside world it may be, but more importantly is the connections with virtually each and every person on the Island. Most of the people have travelled upon her and walked her decks. Many of us arrived on the Island aboard her and those who fall outside of those categories have seen friends, family and loved ones depart and alight on her. An unexplainable sense of completeness spans Jamestown when she is in port and I suspect I am not alone in feeling as though it is my ship back home when she anchors in James Bay.

Jamestown at Night. Showing Jacobs Ladder rising steeply to the left ad the RMS St Helena anchored in James Bay

Jamestown at Night. Showing Jacobs Ladder rising steeply to the left ad the RMS St Helena anchored in James Bay

Landscapes Part One

So throughout my blog you have seen lots of photos. Every so often I will include a post that is not much more than photos, like this one! This Island has some incredible landscapes, animals, plants, people and buildings and I hope to capture that in my images. Ive not had great opportunity thus far to get out in good light (golden hour) and with a tripod, so these images are all handheld in the middle of generally overcast days but I hope they give an impression of the magnificent landscape that is St Helena.

Looking back towards New Ground, a leafy suburb of Half Tree Hololw

Looking back towards New Ground, a leafy suburb of Half Tree Hololw

Mount Etenity Ridge with Half Tree Hollow and The Fort in the Background

Mount Etenity Ridge with Half Tree Hollow and The Fort in the Background

These images are all captured around one small part of the Island namely Half Tree Hollow, Lemon Valley and Mount Eternity I hope they show the diversity of landscape and flora on the Island with all of these views within 2 miles of each other.

The start of the ridge of Mount Eternity. Too narrow to take the boys with us today!

The start of the ridge of Mount Eternity. Too narrow to take the boys with us today!

The Island of St Helena is the remnants of two extinct volcanoes, which formed the Island through a long succession of eruptions lasting millions of years and finally dying out around 7 million years ago. The Island as we see it today is actually the tiny peak of a huge mountain stretching over 5000 meters down to the seafloor and over 130km across at its base.

Mount Eternity Ridge. A sharp, Crib Goch type ridge hat I cant wait to explore.

Mount Eternity Ridge. A sharp, Crib Goch type ridge hat I cant wait to explore.

Since that last eruption, erosion and weathering have reduced the high of the Islands peaks and cut away at its sides creating truncated spurs, huge cliffs which get wider and taller year on year. Freshwater streams cut down through the layers of rock, ash and soil to create an incredible topography of sharp ridges and deep valleys all across this stunning landscape.

This is the view from the back of our house. A small church perched on top of a hill of Cacti

This is the view from the back of our house. A small church perched on top of a hill of Cacti

Trials of Life

At the end of our second full week on the Island we are adjusting to our new life. We are already facing turbulent times, but reflection (and blog writing) permits me to put things into perspective and to contemplate these challenges in a way we seldom permit time for in our real lives.

Charlie finds one of the numerous Gecko's outside and occasionally inside our house. We love them

Charlie finds one of the numerous Gecko’s outside and occasionally inside our house. We love them

Charlie is slowly settling into school, but appears to spend most of his time with the teacher and not so with the other young boys and girls in his class. His early years, have been surrounded by older children and its clear he finds it much easier to play with and, in reality copy, children some years his senior. The move however, and indeed starting school, does not seem to of given him any great cause for concern and he is apparently handling things far better than his parents and sibling.

Charlie striking a pose outside of his nursery.

Charlie striking a pose outside of his nursery.

I think the biggest and most important part of Charlie’s life has always been his older brother. Whilst fighting and arguing with Oliver, like all siblings, he simply idolises his older brother, copying his every move and hanging on his every word. In effect the important elements of Charlie’s world have not been altered, Mum and Dad are still Mum and Dad, and Oliver is still by his side.

Oliver on the other hand is finding change difficult, like many young children and in fact his Dad, he finds making friends a challenge and his school days are filled up ups and downs. Happy whilst in class learning and discovering new things, but we suspect sad and a little lonely when play time comes round.

Oliver's Classroom.

Oliver’s Classroom.

Along with making his parents very sad, this is bringing with it a serious downturn in his normal good behaviour and kindly thoughts and at times this week he has pushed Bev and I to our limits. Time, support and cuddles will no doubt see him through this difficult period. A few humpback whales to watch, scorpions to unearth and rock-pooling at the weekends we help will help too.

Bev is settling into work and getting to grips with new, and often inadequate resources and systems . Prince Andrews School is one full of friendly people and dedicated staff, but still very much in development and a period of betterment.  With results improving year on year, and investment in good teachers such as Bev and her new colleagues there is no doubt that the challenges the school faces can be overcome with time.

Bev’s  greatest  trial of our new life is that of a change in family dynamic, with my new role as “primary care giver” and Bev’s reduced contact with the boys. In reality this change is, I believe, more perceived than reality and once we settle into our new way of life I hope Bev will see her importance and central role in the boys life has, and will not change. Working an additional day a week is made up for with real quality time with the family when not glued to lesson planning and book marking. Despite my extra contact with the boys, thus far at least, it is still their wonderful Mum that they undoubtedly long for in her absence and turn to in their need.

As of for me, my days are filled with shopping, cooking, cleaning, household DIY and other such things. Finding my way round town I am becoming more experienced when it comes to shopping, and familiar with what to find where and when. I remain however some way of achieving my full qualifications in Saint Helena foraging. I am enjoying a return to a previous passion and today’s culinary delights consisted of reasonable Leek and Potato and the best Carrot and Coriander soup I ever did taste.

My own adjustment to life is, as I expected, undramatic but not without its own bumps and occasional downturns. I often find myself feeling strangely inadequate in my “retirement”, searching for a greater contribution to this small island, a sense of my place, and a feeling of greater self-perceived importance.  My adjustments to being the Dad I think I should be is still far from complete.

It would be easy to blame our move for these difficulties, and to question the choices we have made, especially when concerning our children and the adjustments we are asking them to make. But is anything I have described above unique to our life on St Helena, are they issues we have not come across before? Is finding the right family balance, of parental roles, work life balance, and growing pains of children something that is not familiar to all the parents back at home reading this blog? I suspect not, and I take comfort in the relative normality and familiarity of our tribulations on this otherwise remote Island. The problems we must overcome are not ones of change of culture, wealth, health or other misfortune, but are commensurate with those faced by all families irrelevant of where they live.

A final thought on the subject of change and our necessary adjustments is the perception of time. It seems to me incredible that this is the end of only our second week. Having prepared and travelled for such a period as to put two weeks into near irrelevance, it should be clear that two weeks alone is no time for Bev, nor I and certainly not our children to have adjusted to our new life. And yet somehow it feels as though we have already been here a lifetime, and what was once a search on google earth and images, is now just our normality.

One final aim and challenge for myself  is to improve my level of fitness. To that end I have joined the local “veterans” five a side team, commence badminton next week, and twice weekly I near kill myself upon the steps of Jacobs Ladder.

Constructed in 1829 to haul manure up the steep slopes of James Town valley , the 699 steps rise 640ft at a 1:1 incline. My aim is to complete this gruelling trial twice a week and see how close I can get to the current record time of 5 minutes 16 seconds set in 2013. With an initial time of 10 minutes 26 seconds and a near heart attack upon completion I have some way to go, but I have two years to accomplish my challenge.

The gruelling and inspiring Jacobs Ladder. 200m of pain!

The gruelling and inspiring Jacobs Ladder. 200m of pain! The photo does not begin to give this justice!

Wonderful Weekends

I didn’t and don’t expect the current pace of my updates to continue, but at the present time there is a continuation of new things to speak of and discoveries to be made such that I cannot help but feel obligated to continue writing with the same celerity.

We have just finished our second week on “Our Island” (as Charlie continues to call it), and we are already establishing that weekends and the activities thereof are the reason we have taken this move.

Our weekends start early on Fridays at Donny’s bar on the waterfront. A friendly bar frequented in early evening by families and ex pats. Our ship mates also take the opportunity to meet up and discuss their week’s, share stories’ and exchange information on discoveries of new shops, the availability of fresh fruit or vegetables and new parts of the Islands yet to be explored. Although I am yet to witness it myself the opportunity to observe a breaching Humpback Whales whilst enjoying a beer certainly adds to the attraction.

Food is served at the local takeaway where we are rapidly learning the Saints propensity for shortening time and that 15 minutes is usually more akin to 45, and subsequently that tomorrow or “soon” generally means at some point in the future.

Following that, weekends have been spent with a morning outing followed by a social nicety of one sort or another. Our first weekend introduced us to the huge diversity and fascinating world of St Helena flora. During a walk through the grounds of Plantation House, the Governors Island residence, we encountered endemic flowers, lush green carpets of moss thick enough to bounce on, Eucalyptus trees and stands of Bamboo 12 inches thick and 15m high. After a time of exploration and further research I shall no doubt dedicate several pages and numerous images to the Islands fascinating fauna and flora.

Upon leaving the grounds of Plantation house we met a local Saint, who, with the customary combination of friendliness and intrigue took the time to say hello and engage us is conversation. To our own amusement the lady enquired if we knew of the gentleman from the UK her daughter had married, given that his surname was Wright it was expected that we may know him. We didn’t have the heart to tell her that on a somewhat larger Island of 60 or so million people its unlikely that we knew him just from his surname.

Evening was spent enjoying a home cooked dinner of Tuna steak and Barrracuda, or Wahoo as it is known locally, with enough fish to feed four of us for less than £3. Some things are undoubtedly more expensive, others are considerably cheaper!

This weekend has been even more enjoyable. Saturday morning was spent at an altitude of 750m in a cloud forest at High Peak, volunteering with a community conservation scheme. The children relishing the opportunity to become caked in mud whilst pulling up the invasive Ginger Root, planting native trees and shrubs and building paths. This also gave me the opportunity to speak with a resident expert on Island flora and start to add names to the amazing array of plant species we have encountered.

Huge areas of what should be native forests have been overrun with Giner root. Clearing this is hard work with huge roots to dig out of steep hillsides.

Huge areas of what should be native forests have been overrun with Giner root. Clearing this is hard work with huge roots to dig out of steep hillsides.

Restoration work is r-establishing the native forests. This area was planted two years ago. Some of the rarest plants of earth are here, with some species down to less than ten individual plants and one endemic tree down to one remaining specimen on earth before this work started.

Restoration work is re-establishing the native forests. This area was planted two years ago. Some of the rarest plants of earth are here, with some species down to less than ten individual plants and one endemic tree down to one remaining specimen on earth before this work started.

Oliver in an area of cleared Ginger Root

Oliver in an area of cleared Ginger Root

 

Even Charlie was able to get involved and do his bot for conservation, although he was more interested in just digging in mud!

Even Charlie was able to get involved and do his bit for conservation, although he was more interested in just digging in mud!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a hard working three hours we were rewarded with our first sample of local cuisine, a Paella type dish known locally as Pillau, and bloody lovely it was too! Lunch provided the experience of conversing with bug man Dave. Dave is a true geek in the best possible sense, and a fountain of knowledge when it comes to local fauna. During his time on Island he has discovered several new species of endemic insects, declared two extinct and is now in the process of listing 200 further species of insects on the IUCN Redlist.

Wonderful to do something positive for the environment, for tourism and that we could all get involved with together.

Wonderful to do something positive for the environment, for tourism and that we could all get involved with together.

Muddy Hands

The rest of the day was spent enjoying an afternoon Tea at Patsy’s house. This was enjoyable for so many reasons; firstly we visited Harlyn, a house of 186 years and the reference point of our own address, Near Harlyn! Of greater importance was the delightful time spent with one of the Islands most loved people. On Saint Helena it seems some people are held in great Esteem and respect. As a former head teacher, landlady of one of the Islands oldest houses, mother to the Captain of the RMS St Helena, charity fundraiser, coffee morning host and much more besides Patsy falls within that category. A wonderful lunch of home-made breads and cakes was followed with a tour of her fascinating house and long conversation about her family’s history on the Island and the encyclopaedic knowledge of the Island’s people and of bygone times.

Today (Sunday as I write) we spent the morning aboard a whale/dolphin watching trip. Alas, and against all expectations and prior enunciations we saw nothing, not a whale, dolphin or even Masked Booby! But the trip was still thoroughly enjoyable and afforded further opportunity to meet various people and, in true Saint tradition, find out what they do and how they may be useful to our stay on the Island.

The Tysons on their Whale Watching trip. Distinct absence of Whales, Dolphins or anything else for that matter

The Tysons on their Whale Watching trip. Distinct absence of Whales, Dolphins or anything else for that matter

Our afternoon was spent with the aforementioned Days family, Andy, Lucy and their two children Toby and Lawrence. A constant source of help and support aboard the RMS and during our feet finding first days on the Island, this afternoon was about developing friendship. We could not of had a more enjoyable afternoon with roast Chicken, walking, and construction of essential additions to a jungle tree house. When adding in superb roast potatoes to top off enjoyable conversation in lovely company, the day left both Bev and I feeling warm and fuzzy about making new friends and the good time to be had ahead of us.

It seems that beyond the spectacular landscape, the fascinating flora and fauna, the challenges to overcome and opportunities to be had, this trip is about people. It may yet turn me into a gregarious human being instead of the socially awkward and positively miserable git that I currently am.

Finally, if the weekend could not get any better our scooter has arrived having passed its MOT, Oliver, following in his fathers footsteps with his new found love of photography saw fit to take some photos of my first, somewhat wobbly, steps on our new Island toy. I must add by the end of the weekend I was heading off at close to 40mph (downhill of course)

Valentino Rossi eat your heart out!

Valentino Rossi eat your heart out!

Oh, and we may also be buying a boat!

Jamestown and Half Tree Hollow

Ok as promised some photos to accompany the last entry, not the best photos, the weather has been grey and overcast which hasn’t leant itself to stunning photos, but it gives you a good idea of where we live. Hope you enjoy.

In direct contrast to workmen in the UK, these guys work all day, and rest half hour for lunch. Friendly banter preceded this shot and I hope to catch them in the pub one night!

In direct contrast to workmen in the UK, these guys work all day, and rest half hour for lunch. Friendly banter preceded this shot and I hope to catch them in the pub one night!

Jamestown is simultaneously a bustling centre for shopping, services and work, and a restful place for sitting and chatting and passing the time of day.

Jamestown is simultaneously a bustling centre for shopping, services and work, and a restful place for sitting and chatting and passing the time of day.

The Sunsets from our house are already good. When we get a clear evening they will be spectacular.

The Sunsets from our house are already good. When we get a clear evening they will be spectacular.

The afore mentioned Post Office, a throw back to another era, and still a vital part of the Island. The post office also serves as the local car and driving licence and registration authority. Our car was registered as 4090, the 4090th car on the Island, the register of all vehicles is a hand written A4 book, held at the post office. Myself and a fellow ex-pat ran a short competition to find car number 1, we found it within two days, a Old Style Landrover!

The afore mentioned Post Office, a throw back to another era, and still a vital part of the Island. The post office also serves as the local car and driving licence and registration authority. Our car was registered as 4090, the 4090th car on the Island, the register of all vehicles is a hand written A4 book, held at the post office. Myself and a fellow ex-pat ran a short competition to find car number 1, we found it within two days, a Old Style Landrover!

The view from our small terrace. An amazing view over the South Atlantic Ocean.

The view from our small terrace. An amazing view over the South Atlantic Ocean.

Another view of our front "garden". The weather has not been inductive to good sunsets, but I know when we get a clear night this will be incredible.

Another view of our front “garden”. The weather has not been inductive to good sunsets, but I know when we get a clear night this will be incredible.

This is not superimposed.  The image is taken through two lobes of the same cacti. One which has died revealing its intricate network of capillaries which help to store masses of water.

This is not superimposed. The image is taken through two lobes of the same cacti. One which has died revealing its intricate network of capillaries which help to store masses of water.

The Capital Jamestown as viewed from Half Tree Hollow. A fascinating town running along a narrow valley. The centre of life on the Island

The Capital Jamestown as viewed from Half Tree Hollow. A fascinating town running along a narrow valley. The centre of life on the Island

This is a view from the top of Ladder Hill Road. An incredible steep, narrow road traversing up a cliff face linking Jamestown to its main suburb Half Tree Hollow. I love driving this road.

This is a view from the top of Ladder Hill Road. An incredible steep, narrow road traversing up a cliff face linking Jamestown to its main suburb Half Tree Hollow. I love driving this road.

The house sits near an old (1828) house called Harlyn. Our address therefore is simply, Near Harlyn, Half Tree Hollow. There is no number, no name, no street, its just near Harlyn, as are at least another 15 houses near by. The postman just has to know where you live!!!

The house sits near an old (1828) house called Harlyn. Our address therefore is simply, Near Harlyn, Half Tree Hollow. There is no number, no name, no street, its just near Harlyn, as are at least another 15 houses near by. The postman just has to know where you live!!!

This is the view from the back of our house. A small church perched on top of a hill of Cacti

This is the view from the back of our house. A small church perched on top of a hill of Cacti