The Goose got fat, and was eaten…

Well its been our third Christmas on St Helena, and once again it was new faces but the same fun. We have gotten used to St Helena traditions, and although the warm weather and sunshine always prevents us from gaining that warm Christmas build up feeling, we never the less enjoy our time here. Christmas in St Helena is less complicated than in the UK, there is no shopping rush for example, in fact, if you haven’t ordered it by mid October, then it aint coming for Christmas. No mad rushing round town on Christmas eve for me. And whilst we always miss our families enormously this time of year, not having the pressure of which family will miss out on our company is a relief.

We do miss home more than any other time of year though but the constant trickle of Christmas themed events help to stave this off. The traditional Pilling Primary School Christmas service is a welcome treat. This year our boys had prominent roles, Oliver, a rowdy local berating the presence of Roman Forces, and Charlie, the Star of the show, well, yes, actually the star of the show.

 

christmas-card

For me this year was extra special, with having no permanent job on St Helena, I have always struggled with those close relationships with the locals, I know lots, say hello to lots, but rarely am I thought of or included in local dinner invites, parties or other traditions. And as such it was lovely this year to be invited to the New Horizons Christmas dinner. I have been volunteering with New Horizons for as long as I have been on the Island, providing photographs of their regular youth sporting events, and coaching two junior footballs teams and refereeing games on Sundays through a very long season. It was lovely to feel that I have been accepted by this dedicated group of people. As is traditional at Christmas parties on St Helena a Secret Santa was in force, this time a naughty one, and my gifts of fluffy handcuffs compliment nicely the mistletoe adorned boxer shorts I received at my actual works do. Bev also had her own works Secret Santa to provide for and creatively came up with this shortbread portrait of the recipient.dsc01606

Oliver this year was chosen for the schools traditional Christmas carol singing service, held outside of the Canister (Tourist office) in town each year. Oliver it seems has begun to follow in his Dads footsteps in developing a love for performing in public, something about the crowds and applause seems to tick some boxes for the both of us. It was lovely to see and hear him enjoying himself with some of his close school friends.

dsc01600dsc01597dsc01595dsc01591

Events and parades are the number one thing in what St Helena refers to as festival season. The highlight of these for me and for many is the festival of lights. Primary schools on the Island are very competitive and all strive to provide the biggest and best shows on the Island, but I think with Festival of Lights Pilling Primary school takes the accolade as biggest and best, with hundreds of people, cars and vehicles dressed from metaphorical head to toe in Christmas lights, parade through town with music and fake snow aplenty. Its a sight to behold and the hundreds of spectators were treated once again to a wonderful Christmas sight.

I was thrilled this year to be invited by Governor Lisa Phillips to photograph her and Rusty, her lovely Labrador for the official Christmas Card, and, Rusty’s twelve tiny black puppies, what a joy. I had such fun although over 140 photographs were needed to create this one card, I had a lot of photos of bums and tails and precious few of puppies sat still facing the camera.

Colourful bokeh of Christmas lights with a bauble

The Governor provided a wonderful Christmas address this year, which, I was very pleased to hear thanked the partners of TC offices for their contribution to the Island. We are often berated by locals for “taking Saint jobs” and the like, but the truth us us forgotten partners contribute and awful lot to St Helena in the way of volunteering for projects and charities.

Christmas eve was very different to that in the UK as I took part in the annual Christmas dive with Sub-Tropic adventures, a dive in Christmas hats presenting its own challenges!

15675920_1499644503383836_9106151723642361111_o.jpg

The afternoon was spent with good company playing games in the Sun on Rosemary Plain. A tradition started by our friends the Days and Davids and which we have tried to carry on, hoping that others will take this up when we leave. It certainly makes for a different Christmas when tropical sun shine is the theme. That evening we enjoyed a more traditional time, as we settled down, just the family, to watch The BFG, a wonderful film, highly recommended. After reading “A Night Before Christmas” a tradition in my family since I was a small boy, the boys went to bed and, with the fear of Father Christmas going home if they were still awake, fell asleep very quickly. Bev and I then nervously wrapped and placed the presents in their stockings.

The next morning was Christmas like many others, presents, mess and pancakes for breakfast! The boys opened their presents, Oliver in a considered, taking his time manor, Charlie with a more youthful, rip it open and move to the next one approach. Santa brought them their requests for desks, not perhaps the most normal requests for 8 and 5 year old’s, but they loved them non the less. Grandparents from afar were well remembered with toys and gifts a plenty under the tree, all of which were gratefully received by the boys and ourselves. Thank you.

And so on to the afternoon, and this year, we were not hosting, but instead joining 18 others for a bring and share Christmas in the sun. Our contribution pushed my culinary skills, with Paxo stuffing and pigs in blankets! Although I also made some Whisky glazed roast carrots, Parsnips and spiced red cabbage, whilst Bev provided the traditional Yule Log. All arrived at the party on time and before long a feast fit for a king was unwrapped from its silver lining and we all dug in. Lots of food and drink fueled a party which lasted into the night and caused me to miss my boxing day dive the next morning. But boy was it worth it.

Boxing day was another get together, this time with the Bridgewaters for another full on Christmas dinner, followed by an early night! I was exhausted. And so that was our quiet St Helena Christmas for 2016. I still cant quite believe its our third on the Island, time has flown. When we arrived in September 2014 we would never of guessed what lay ahead. As Summer settles in we look forward to the New Year, and we await to see what the next three Christmas’s will bring

 

Miss St Helena Photoshoot

Just before Christmas I had the privilege of a photo-shoot with Sinead Green, non other than Miss St Helena. This was an opportunity for me to practice and enter a place I had not done before, fashion photography. Sinead is not a professional, but she has had some experience of photo-shoots before, and in her role of Miss St Helena is comfortable in front of a camera.

We went up to High Knoll Fort and arriving early I set up my lighting and waited nervously. I needn’t of been nervous at all, Sinead was fantastic and put me at ease. I explained to her that I was no pro, and that if I spent half my time fumbling around not really knowing what I was doing, that was because I didnt really know what I was doing, this was a whole new ball game._MG_8633-Edit-2

_MG_8658-Edit_MG_8599-Edit_MG_8609-Edit-EditThe shoot went well in the more shaded parts of the Fort, with easy, subtle ambient lighting, but I wanted to challenge myself and shoot directly into the setting sunlight. This proved to be difficult, and full or errors. At the time I did not know what I was doing wrong, but the shoot served its purpose after I went away and figured things out, where I went wrong and what to change next time.

Still, at the end of the day the point of photography is to take some nice pictures, and I think I accomplished that. I went away and tried a bit of editing, with some new techniques and with an attempt to experiment with different styles, colours and moods. They are not without fault, and I have a long way to go, but for my first ever fashion type shoot, I could not be more pleased. 2015 High Knoll Fort,  St Helena, 2016… London, Paris, Milan, or maybe Ill just stay here for now!!!

_MG_8621-Edit

Not a usual pose or shot but I wanted to try something different with a bit of drama!

 

_MG_8774-Edit_MG_8776

_MG_8646-Edit

This was just a test shot, to check my lights were working,  hence the crop isnt great, but I loved it.

_MG_8752-Edit_MG_8633-Edit_MG_8776-2_MG_8758-Edit_MG_8718-Edit-2_MG_8718-Edit

_MG_8710-Edit

So many technical errors, but I think it works??

_MG_8683-Edit

Blown out highlights and not enough light on the subject, but it looks nice!

_MG_8706-Edit

_MG_8718-Edit-Edit

1960’s postcard?

Christmas 2015!

So it’s New Year’s Day, the first day of 2016, and I sit with tired eyes following my 3.30am finish last night, Old Years Night as it is fondly know on St Helena. I look back on 2015 with huge joy and pleasure, what an incredible year, a brief look back through my blog titles shows just how packed with everything it has been. And as I look forward to 2016 I can only hope it comes close to the year just gone.

Despite the unseasonably poor weather we have had some fantastic sunny days during the holidays.

Christmas has been lovely once more. It started with the festival of lights, and culminated on Christmas day with twenty seven people under gazeebo’s on our lawn. We organised a Christmas themed bring a share, a regular tradition on St Helena where everyone brings a few dishes to share amongst the guests, it certainly takes the hard work out of feeding that many people. We had food of all types and although generally themed around a Traditional Turkey dinner the vegetarian options and Baked Sweet Potato with Marshmallow added definite variety and interest!

Christmas on St Helena is, like anywhere else in the World a time for family, and as such, it can be difficult for the Ex-pat families here, missing loved ones back in the UK. With Saints celebrating with their own families, Ex-Pats band together in groups of variable sizes on Christmas days itself, and our group was simply the best, what great friends we have made here with a true sense of companionship. Christmas last year was spent with the David’s, they were missed this year, but like everything else time moves on and I looked arou8nd to see so many new friends that have arrived in the last year.

This year I missed my family more than last, everything was new last year and in many ways I was still on holiday, but this year, Bev and I both had thoughts of home with us as Christmas approached. Our huge extended family on St Helena made the Christmas holiday such wonderful fun, filled with warmth and laughter that it helps to ease the pain of missing loved ones.

Boxing Day was, as per usual filled with Turkey Sandwich, sitting down, and lots and lots of football, a typical boxing day for me. What has not been typical however is the unseasonably poor weather, days filled with cloud and drizzle when it should be tropical sunshine. Sympathetic to the blight of many people in the UK right now, I don’t wish to bemoan the weather too greatly, but we are all waiting for the summer to truly break here. That being said it’s not many a year that I am able to continue to wear shorts, have Christmas Dinner on the lawn and spend days splashing and swimming in the Sea.

Rupert’s Valley is not by any stretch of the imagination a beautiful tropical beach, however, it is a beach, and the only easily accessible beach, that you can safely swim from on the Island. Rupert’s valley is the site of the new Wharf under construction, and of the main fuel storage on St Helena, as such it is an industrialised area, but it is not without its own charm, and in warm weather Islanders flock here in numbers to enjoy a barbeque, swim and sand castles. Following Old Years Night, Rupert’s is the premier spot for washing off the hangover on New Year’s Day and we were no exception. The boys love it here, jumping into the waves as they roll and crash. You will often hear that there are no safe swimming beaches on St Helena, this is, as you can see, un-0ture, but this may be a new phenomenon as we are told that Rupert’s Valley, just two years ago did not have a permanent beach. The construction of the Wharf appears to of changed that and sand is building up rapidly such that we have noticed a huge difference in the short time we have been on this ever enchanting Island.

Despite being called the Christmas holidays, I have never been busier, and in fact If I recall correctly, Christmas Days itself is the only day thus far that I have not been working. Suddenly, and out of no-where I have been getting requests for studio photoshoots, people seemingly wishing to give photos as Christmas gifts. My first was back at the beginning of December, a paper advert and Facebook promotion later and things took off in a big way and I’m delighted to be using my new studio equipment and developing a brand new arm to my photography. It genuinely boggles my mind that I am doing this, me, a photographer, earning a living from taking photos, it is amazing how the World can change around you. Not that I haven’t worked hard for it mind and December has seen regular 15 hour days of editing to get photos ready for gifts in time for Christmas. It has of course been a lovely way to meet new people and I hope it continues into 2016.

This time last night Bev and I had just returned home from a lovely party, and put the children to bed. We opened a bottle of bubbly and saw in the New Year just the two of us, it was lovely. Sometimes, on an Island so full of people, parties and get togethers, it’s nice to be alone with the one you love. We kissed, and wished each other all the best for 2016. What will it bring, I do not know, but you can be dam sure it will not be dull, and I simply can’t wait to find out. Thank You St Helena, thank you 2015, you have been bloody brilliant.

The Light Fantastic.

Christmas must be round the corner because once again St Helena took to the street for the annual Festival of Lights. This relatively new event has become the highlight of the Christmas event calendar as half of St Helena’s population take to the streets to watch and participate in a parade through Jamestown . With the town dressed up like a huge moving Christmas tree the precision winds its way slowly down through the centre of town with floats, cars, bike, people, prams and pushchairs all kitted out with fairy lights.

This time last year we turned up with a pair of glow sticks each, in what turned out to be an embarrassingly poor show. This year we would not make that mistake again. I wore a total of 100 fairy lights, spiralled around my body from tip to toe. Bev donned blue lights around her boots and skirt, cleverly held in place with clothes pegs. And the boys had fairy lights around their heads and enjoyed their “light saber” flashing glow sticks.

As we strolled slowly through town, dancing to Christmas tunes played loudly from the backs of the floats we had Christmas snow fall on and around us as we watched the statue of liberty, and Air Traffic Control Tower and the RMS St Helena pass us by.

Saints community spirit embrace these events like no other and what is achieved on an Island where stuff is hard to get hold of is remarkable. A truly brilliant and inspiring night of fun, frolics and festivities. I can’t wait for the next one.

Christmas on St Helena

So Christmas Day 2014, our first on St Helena and our first in the Southern Hemisphere, which makes for a different day than we are used to that’s for sure. Christmas morning started in usual style, with presents from Father Christmas. As we had forgotten stockings, Oliver and Charlie made their own this year, and they were a little small, meaning that the boys both had an extra surprise when they found a second pile of presents from Santa in the lounge.

After the usual chaos of opening presents, arguments over who has this and who wants that, and after our Christmas breakfast of homemade pancakes had been eaten, we set to work on Christmas dinner. This year being different again as we were to be spending Christmas dinner with good friends at someone else’s house. With absent family, Christmas for ex-pats on St Helena can be a difficult time, one that reminds you of loved ones back home, where Christmas traditions are a little out and family are a thousand miles away. So the usual practice is for ex-pats to gather in groups at someone’s house, each family contributing to the Christmas dinner. Our Christmas was spent with the Davids; Julie, Martin and their girls, the Grahams; Trevor, Charlotte and the gang, and Andy Crowe, acting as Grandad for the day!

For our part we prepared the Turkey, roasted veg, Paxo sage and onion stuffing (it has to be paxo), Turkey gravy, carrots and cauliflower and a pudding of apple and pear crumble. All prepared and only 30minutes late we arrived at the David’s where our offerings were combined with the Gammon, Pork, Tuna Bake, Chocolate log, Christmas Cake and orange sorbet, and various other sides. All in all a very splendid feast leaving everyone full, and a little sleepy. Everyone except of course the Children, who had great fun charging round the garden.

To awaken ourselves from potential slumber it was decided that a game of garden boules was in order, and the competitive streak came out of everyone as you can see by the look of determination on faces. The garden fun also gave me the opportunity to try out my new lens, and very pleased with the results I am too.

As afternoon turned to evening we naturally settled into a more normal Christmas tradition, sat round the TV watching Christmas specials, this year taking the form of the Vicar of Dibbly Christmas  episode. A thoroughly enjoyable day with great company came to a close as we headed home, full of food, tired, but more than happy with our first Christmas day on the Island.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now our normal boxing day in the UK would take the form of Turkey sandwiches, relaxation, lots of chocolate, and maybe a walk in the winter sunshine to take the edge off the calories. This year was once again a little different, involving a waterslide, lots of food and another party. This time at Debbie Whale’s house. Such is the mix of people on St Helena that whilst Christmas day was spent at the prison officers house, boxing day would be spent with one of St Helena’s lawyers . (I hope I have the right Debbie?). The water slide was great fun, the children had a fantastic time, as did some of the adults, and once again my new lens proved its worth.

As they say there is always one, and normally, that is me,(or my brother eh Wayne?) and I did not disappoint. Launching myself at the water slide I made it from one end to the other bouncing along, and seeing a challenge. On my second attempt I jumped and, touching the wet rubber only twice on my 25ft journey into the plunge pool, splashed down at the other end with a wave of water and bubbles. Of course, if I could achieve the length of the slide in two, Im sure I could take it in one, and, under the challenge of Trevor and Andy I took my run up, hoping to make the leap in one bounce. Onto my right foot for the launch I felt the inevitable shooting pain through my leg as my groin ruptured again. In great agony the remainder of the afternoon was spent sipping cold beers and sat watching the fun.

waterslide

With Christmas over, I took myself to the hospital the following day. My groin now severely swollen and very bruised following three tares in four months. This time physio and strict care needs to be taken if I am to prevent a football injury becoming a permanent problem.

So Christmas in St Helena, whilst missing family greatly, was brilliant, fun, food, parties and sunshine (although not as much as we’d hoped), sadly an injury to go with it. We look forward now to seeing what New Year on this fantastic little island brings us.

A Very Saint Christmas.

Last week’s blog entry was intended as a bonus, an additional blog full of pictures, it turned out of course to be my only entry for a week quite simply because I can’t keep up. Life is full to say the least, and as we approach what is for us a very strange Christmas, it is seemingly becoming fuller and fuller.

Eight solid evenings of events have left I and the family in something of an exhausted spin. As Christmas day itself approaches, it’s safe to say that although full of fun, even as Bev sits wrapping presents, it does not truly feel like Christmas, at least, not as we know it!

Our eight days began on Tuesday the 16th, with our second closed water dive. Definitely a step up in terms of un-pleasantries, but also in our feeling of control. This session involved the inevitable removing of mask underwater, an unpleasant feeling, with bubbles rushing past ones eyes, but ultimately a required skill and one which Bev and I both passed. Whilst we dive, Charlie and Oliver enjoy an evening with Suzie and Mike, two New Zealanders who, having left Pitcairn Island find themselves in the metropolis of St Helena. With several grown up children themselves, it seems they enjoy the occasional company of our boys, and the boys certainly enjoy their time playing rugby and watching ET!

The following evening saw the second of Pilling Primary Schools Christmas events. There is undoubtedly a healthy competition between the Islands primary schools to outdo each other in the scale and number of events that can be staged during Christmas. The Pilling School Christmas bonanza saw a night of stalls and

food, crafts and children’s face painting, as well as live music from a, suffice to say, wide standard of participants, including a never to be forgotten performance by the schools Head teacher and staff together.  Christmas favourites such as “Last Christmas”; “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree”; “Santa Claus is Coming to town”, and of course the old Country and Western melodies, “Please Daddy don’t get drunk this Christmas” and “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” could all be heard to varying levels of tone and pitch!

Pilling Primary school is lucky to have Mrs Elaine Benjamin at the helm, the most capable and formidable of ladies, who combines great authority with great tact and a gentle touch. She also has an incredible ability to get everyone involved and working hard, whether paid member of the teaching staff or passes by. I seem to end up carrying or lifting something almost every time I set foot onto the premises.  Great amusement a

Oliver and Charlie with "Father Christmas"

Oliver and Charlie with “Father Christmas”

few weeks back as I was leaving the school, the head teacher called after me only to have one of the teachers call “Run Paul Run” in jest at the endless requests that befall many of the willing parents. Of course I am delighted to help where I can, and for the Christmas bonanza I had the job of photographing Children with the schools very own Father Christmas.

The evening of the 18th saw my place as official photographer (it was written on my chair) at the Prince Andrew Schools fashion Show. Part of the 25th Anniversary events for the schools 37 pupils took part in a spectacular and very professional production. All showing clothes designed and made by pupils and exhibited to the 300 strong crowd with great professionalism, style poise and beauty from both Saints and Ex Pats. It was fantastic to see search great community support for an events, with queues outside the door, in the rain some hour or so before doors opening. Maybe this eagerness is down to a relative lack of entertainment on the Island, but I feel more likely is the strong sense of community spirit, of support for each other and wishing well of others. Unfortunately I cannot yet show you any of the 600 or so photos that were taken as I am seeking parental permission before doing so, but the results were fantastic and I hope the children enjoy seeing themselves under lights looking every bit the professional model once the commemorative CD is produced.

The evening of the 19th saw a parents and children event at a local building for hire, Drakes lodge. I say parent and children but in this case the Children were adults and the parents with, well, more adult as visiting families, here for Christmas got together for a bring and braai a South African term for a barbeque, an adopted by Saints. Having presumed a start time of six to seven pm, the norm for St Helena, we were disappointed when we found out, two hours too late, that the party started at five pm!! But we carried on into the night until the stars of a crystal clear sky lit our way home.

The 20th was the annual Hog Roast at Anne’s, place, a local

The Hog

The Hog

Jamestown Restaurant. Having seen this advertised, and with a particular liking for meat, I decided to organise a group outing and, after a fair amount of toing and froing ended up with a booking for twenty four people, a considerable chunk of the eighty two that eventually booked on the night.  Despite talking to what can only be described as a flustered and marginally concerned Anne the week before, the whole night came together extremely well. The food was excellent and varied, the company was great, the boys well behaved, and a thoroughly good Christmas feast was had by all.

Anne carving the Roast Hog.

Anne carving the Roast Hog.

Oliver and Charlie who, with great amusement on their part, enjoyed chewing on the pigs ears!!

Oliver and Charlie who, with great amusement on their part, enjoyed chewing on the pigs ears!!

A new friend, Jo, sadly leaving the Island, her Ladyship Christine, and Tourism Marketing Manager Channelle at the hog roast. Sorry about he closed eyes Christine, best I had!!

A new friend, Jo, sadly leaving the Island, her Ladyship Christine, and Tourism Marketing Manager Chanelle at the hog roast. Sorry about he closed eyes Christine, best I had!!

The food had been well earned by the Tyson family after our afternoon walk. Having not ventured to the high peaks for some weeks it was with great pleasure that we took a couple of short walks around the Blue Hill district of St Helena. It is important to take in the central ridge of St Helena on a regular basis. As our day to day lives settle in, and the holiday feeling of being here diminishes it would be easy to forget the stunning beauty of this Island and a good walk helps to reaffirm that this really is one of the most incredible places I have ever witnessed. Once again looking down on the Sandy Bay amphitheatre the views remain breath-taking, the scenery ranging from the lush green of the cloud forests to barren reds and purples of the dry valleys within one extraordinary view. Endemic plants, seen nowhere else on earth sit side by side with the familiarity of gorse and heather as cows and sheep roam the very Welsh fields on the way to Blue Point.

Having spent the past four months in the almost solid company of ether my children, wife or both, I had a burning need for a boy’s day. As so I took to a fishing trip, which, more than satisfied my need to escape washing and cleaning and be a man. Having left Anne’s place at around ten at night, I was due to be awake in just four hours, for an early start to head out at four in the morning to catch our bait for the day. Leaving the wharf in drizzly rain I was disappointed that the spectacular sunrise I had anticipated had been replaced with cloud and grey skies. Not that this was to temper our enjoyment as four us set to work catching well over a hundred Mackerel for both the plate and the bait hold.

Fishing gets under way

Fishing gets under way

As dawn gave broke we attached three rods to the rear of the boat, and pulled a variety of lures behind. Within five minutes one of the reels gave a whirl, and the gears were pulled off by our first main catch of the day. Having not been fishing for many a year I was nervous when given the job of reeling in this first fish. After what I sadly cannot describe as a great battle I was none the less very satisfied to land a nice Tuna, around 4kg in weight.

Me, with my lovely Tuna

Me, with my lovely Tuna. (He had been sat on Ice for a while before this shot, we took him out for our Shashimi)

The quick start proved to be something of a false dawn and several fruitless hours were spent before finally a second catch was made. This time, after putting up a much stronger fight, a large (it seemed large to me) Wahoo, ( Acanthocybium solandri) was brought on deck.

Let battle commence.

Let battle commence.

Incredible fish

Richard Moores lands an incredible fish

Lunch of the freshest sashimi in the world followed and despite not being my favourite dish, there is something undeniably wonderful about eating fish as fresh as this that you have caught yourself. After lunch we headed off to shallower waters to hand line for grouper and moray eel, (locally known as Conger) and a successful hour or so followed with lots of catches, including an impressive Trevally caught on relatively light gear and giving a good fight.

Last to catch but still impressive Richard Wallis with this Trevelly

Last to catch but still impressive Richard Wallis with this Trevally

With a beer in hand, fresh fish in the hold, and chewing on biltong we headed home, my need for a boy’s day well and truly satisfied. Of course the day could not be completed in St Helena without some other wondrous thing occurring, and we were duly obliged as a pod of Rough Toothed Dolphins danced in the wake of the boat and followed us home.My thanks to Into the Blue for another fantastic day out.

A strange, alcoholic Vietnamese (If I recall correctly) drink adptly called "Tooth Water" was drank n celebration of our achievements!!

A strange, alcoholic Venezuelan (If I recall correctly) drink aptly called “Tooth Water” was drank in celebration of our achievements!!

Rough Toothed Dolphin breaking the waves at the bow of the boat

Rough Toothed Dolphin breaking the waves at the bow of the boat

And so Christmas continued, now leading us to the next of Pilling’s School events, and the biggest of them all, the Festival of Lights. This wonderful occasion sees hundreds of people, cars and float coated in thousands of lights, parade down the main street of Jamestown dancing, singing and laughing, all for the entertainment of the throngs of people lining the streets. With a very meagre effort of a handful of glow sticks around our necks we joined the procession, and Bev, Oliver, Charlie and I marched down the road with the others. It was a truly wonderful occasion, full of great joy and another now typical example of the community spirit that pervades this tiny Island. Saints love Christmas, and this, of all the events we have been to sums up their attitude towards this wonderful time of year. It’s a party, a party for all the family, a party of joy, laughter and of exuberance.

My Monday had not started so well. My embryonic photography business and my confidence taking a bit of a knock as I found out I was not to be photographing the Governor’s cup. This prestigious event see’s hundreds of yachts competing to cross the Atlantic from Cape Town to James Bay. Had I got the job my photos would have been seen in high profile places and would have done wonders for my profile? I was later to find out that the booking I had for a wedding was also cancelled, due to a mix up with the Bride’s family. Two jobs and my pride knocked in a short space of time. My misery was compounded when I then found out my new, and very expensive camera lens, due to arrive on the RMS was not where it was supposed to be, and there was no record of it on the ships manifest. Great gloom came over me as I contemplated the loss of my lens and a lot of money. Thankfully this was short lived, and my lens turned up at the local post office, having unexpectedly gone strait there.  For those who know photography I am now the proud owner of a Sigma, 120-300mm f2.8 OS HSM lens. For those not in the know suffice to say it’s big, and looks cool!!

And so to today, our first event-less evening for a while and chance to upload some photos and write some words. Not that the day itself was event free. In what is perhaps my strangest Christmas experience yet I enjoyed the company of my co-workers at the St Helena National Trust as we held our Christmas staff do. Now a Christmas do for me is in a restaurant, followed by a pub, normally accompanied by running for taxis in the rain, or rushing from one building to the next in the hope that we don’t freeze on the way. If we make it, lots of alcohol is consumed before someone insults the boss and makes a fool out of themselves, sound familiar? But not this year, this year’s staff do was at Lemon Valley, snorkelling, fishing, sunbathing and enjoying home cooked food on an open wood fire!!! The strange bit is returning home from said Staff do, sober and in time for tea. Whilst unfamiliar, I could get used to it.

And so I close on the evening of the 23rd of December, Bev has wrapped the presents, Christmas lights are on and the boys are tucked up in bed, having accumulated a loss of sleep such that their mood has been on a downward spiral all day. Christmas Eve takes the form of a picnic, Christmas Day will be a garden party, and Boxing Day will involve a water slide. What a very Saint Christmas.

I shall of course tell you how it all goes, but in the meantime, to everyone who reads my blog, to whom I am very grateful, to all of my friends and family, I wish you a very very Merry Christmas, where ever in the World you may be.

Warning, explicit material, parental guidance is advised!!

A bonus blog this week. I took a trip to a local disused fort and took some photos. Those of you who know the Island will know Mundens, if you don’t, this is an old Fort, updated during the second war and since left to ruin. A fascinating place full of mystery and intrigue and a lively sense of artistry from local youths down the years. This is not meant as a history lesson, but the fort was built, in several stages by the East India Trading company back in the 1860s and consisting of barracks, gun placements, search lights and other support buildings. It was last used in military terms in 1956 and 1961 to house three Bahraini political prisoners, Since the 1970s it has deteriorated but at the same time has become a tapestry for graffiti. Some of which comes with a health warning! To find out more about this, and other historical sites on the Island check out this very informative website.

The Goose is getting fat!

Christmas is in full swing in St Helena and schools are busying up withIMG_1445 various events including the traditional Church Service. Bev was lucky enough to be able to join me at the Church for a wonderful display featuring all of the children from Pilling Primary School, lots of singing and a good amount of humour as the Church was filled with parents and Islanddignitaries. Oliver played his part as one of the kings, and looked very pleased with himself in his rather large hat. Charlie looked more bewildered, but despite this he did make some contribution to the singing, and looked pleased as punch when he spotted his Mum and Dad amongst the crowd. I say crowd, in what is becoming more usual style I had ensured my spot IMG_1497at the front with my camera, having arranged to take the official photos of the service! I was also then asked to take the official school photo and given that I had no prior warning, preparation and the batteries were failing in my flash I was pleased with the result.

IMG_1465

Christmas Photo Snow

With some preparation I’d of ensured I had a ladder to look down on the Children. Sadly Oliver is hidden behind his friends! Charlie take pride of place!

For me, Christmas has started early and takes the shape of a gift to myself, my first major business purchase. I say business purchase, others would call it a toy, as a fabulous new telephoto camera lens starts its journey from the UK to me. Now of course this is for the business because the small fortune, sorry, considerable fortune, spent (you have to spend money to make money right?) will allow me to photograph the Governor’s Cup. For those not in the know the Governor’s cup is an annual yacht race from Cape Town to St Helena, a long enough journey via the RMS and an incredible feat in a yacht! Sadly this year will be the last, and it would be quite some honour if I could take the photos.

So my lens has started its own journey. Tested and helped on its way by good friend Steve Webb (Hi Steve) back home, an overnight courier will ensure its arrival at Bristol tomorrow. From there it will hopefully fly by military plane to Ascension Isle, some 750km to the North West of us, and arrive there in time to be collected by the RMS St Helena before spending three days at sea and arriving on St Helena on the 21st of December.

Working on behalf of the tourist office I have taken a series of photos to show the dining experience on the Island, an for me this sums it up, drinks in the sunset!

Working on behalf of the tourist office I have taken a series of photos to show the dining experience on the Island. For me this sums it up, drinks in the sunset!

IMG_1017

Local favourite of ours Tasty Bites provides good food and great views over the Atlantic Ocean.

Ascension Isle is like a sister to St Helena, our closest land mass, home to many Saints working on the Island, and a regular stop off for the RMS. One almost feels as though Ascension is just off the horizon, but in reality is a three day journey at Sea. How strange then that somewhere that takes three times as long to get to as Australia does from the UK, can feel so close.

IMG_1814

Oliver pauses for thought after some serious digging…with a pick axe. (Under close supervision)

This weekend was, for the first time I believe, fairly uneventful, by St Helena standards anyway. Largely spent relaxing at home, we did take an outing on our monthly community planting work arriving an hour after the start, due in the main to my late rise and sore head (more on that shortly!) We travelled across to the far east of the Island, beyond a district known as Longwood, and to the site of a forest of rare Gumwood trees, Millennium Forest. Some 300 years ago, during settlement of St Helena, and like many of the local habitats, the largest forest expanse on the Island was destroyed, the land subsequently turning to desert. In 2010 work started to re-establish this forest, and ever since, thousands of trees are planted each year. It is a privilege to be involved in work like this, to have a hand in restoring one of the World’s rarest habitats.

IMG_1839

Charlie takes a break from digging to do a spot of painting.

Gumwood trees also provided the nectar for what must be one of the World rarest Honeys, donated to us by a very kind neighbour who has hives at the Island’s last remaining stand of natural Gumwood trees. With the import of Honey restricted , it is a very rare commodity on the Island and our precious jar of honey has made a good number of people very jealous as well as tasting amazing on toast!

Millennium forest. More established Gumwoodtrees, now 14 years old with views across to the site of the new airport

Millennium forest. More established Gumwoodtrees, now 14 years old with views across to the site of the new airport

And so why did we arrive late to our community planting, why did I have a sore head, somewhat embarrassingly this was due to our attendance at a Children’s party. Oliver was invited to a party for one of his classmates and, upon our arrival we met, amongst others, a friendly Saint with his son. After chatting for a while we spotted the new, pop up water front bar and decided, whilst the children were happy playing on a bouncy castle, and under the watchful eye of friends or family, we could take a quick cool down beer. As I should have expected one turned to several, sat in stunning sunshine watching boats in the bay and enjoying good conversation I returned to the party asking Bev to drive home! I should stress at this point that I was not drunk (and neither was my companion), but importantly to the story I was very well lubricated for the evening, and the Rum and Whisky that followed later that night, the result of which was a late start and sore head the following morning!

Millenium forest starts off life as samplings planted in their tens of thousands.

Millenium forest starts off life as samplings planted in their tens of thousands.

Returning to the subject of Christmas our first post arrived on the Royal Mail Ship St Helena.  Th last Royal Mail ship doing its job and brining in the post. In the UK, the arrival of the post man normally means bills or junk, and is not perhaps all that welcome. On St Helena however there is no door to door postal service, no one is going to pop something through our door only for it to be thrown straight in the bin. Despite all the junk mail, the lack of postal service is one of the things I have missed most. But this is more than made up for by the excitement that builds on the arrival of goods on the RMS. In general, unless rushed through military style like my lens, it takes around 6 weeks for items to leave the UK and arrive at the wharf in Jamestown. Our first packages consisted of two boxes of nicely wrapped Christmas presents from my parents (Hi Mum an Dad) and what a wonderful thing to search through a shipping container to spot your name on a package, and open it up to see a box full of Christmas. Christmas this year might be strange for us, but at least we are safe in the knowledge that Oliver and Charlie will have goodies from their Grandparents to open on the day. I should mention at this stage the incredible forward thinking of Bev’s Mum, who ensured their presents for the boys were wrapped and travelled with us, in August!!

IMG_1804

Just like the UK local restaurants gear up for party season.

Christmas continues this week, the boys finishing school on Friday for their four week summer holidays!! (yes weird for us too). Tomorrow is school barbeque day with a tropical theme for dress (still weird) and lights have been erected throughout town, in readiness for the festival of lights. Advent calendars are opened and our Christmas tree and decorations are up. Our spare room is full of gifts, chocolates and other goodies, and I have even found myself a packet of Fox’s Brandy Snaps, which, as my family will know, is all I really need for my traditional Christmas!!

December Already!!

I can scarcely believe that December is upon us. Now don’t get me wrong, like most of you, every year that December comes around I have that same feeling, where has the year gone etc etc but the 1st of December 2014 will forever be etched on my mind. Like a whirlwind, picking me up swirling me round and dropping me upon the Wicked Witch of the West we are not in Kansas anymore. To think that just a handful of weeks ago I was taking pleasure in the shaded canopy of my local woodland, whilst screaming at a dog who had disappeared into the trees and here I sit, with blue skies and sunshine, a tropical afternoon heat accompanying Christmas music on the radio, contemplating the enormity of how a life can change in a blink of an eye.

I could live in the Southern Hemisphere for another ten years and still not be used to talking about a Christmas in the sun. “All I want for Christmas” is different when not accompanied by grey skies and drizzle. Bev’s pupils are in constant fear of the threat of “Summer” exams, believing that the end of year exams have been brought forward to Christmas, the reality being simply that Bev is equally as confused by the seasons as I.

I believe December 2014 may prove to hold great significance for my career, somewhat disbelievingly,  and with great humility I announce that I am a photographer, having registered my business and securing several photography contracts for clients ranging from private weddings to government offices in London!!  As I have said before, it does funny things!

St Helena and its locals love Christmas, and surprisingly, just like the UK the shops are gearing up early; no sooner than Halloween is over and along with the next arrival of the RMS the shops become full of Christmas gifts, decorations and, most importantly mountains of chocolates, cakes, biscuits and sweets. We wait to see if others predications come true and indeed we will find essentials in short supply over the coming month as toilet roll makes way for Foxes Finest Selection, and Cereal is replaced with Roses and Quality Street, one thing is clear, the RMS can only carry a finite amount of goods, and something has to give.

One the subject of deliveries we await a new fridge freezer, seemingly sat on a dock in Cape Town and requiring some Sherlock Holmes type investigations. Our new, family sized and required fridge freezer has it seems gone missing! As the weather warms and fresh food arrives once a month or so our tiny fridge is not holding up, packed to the rafters with fresh fruit and vegetables it quickly stops any hope of air circulation and warms inefficiently until our fresh food is no longer fresh, as goes it in St Helena, I’m sure “it will be on the next ship”!

The Christmas stock up has confirmed something we already knew, Saints love their food. Now I must do my best to avoid any offence and make it clear, Saints are not fat but they have a propensity for nibbling all day long. Breakfast, a bite at 10.30am, Lunch, Snack time, Tea, Evening meal and supper are not abnormal. Bev has embraced this attitude to food, not perhaps for her own eating habits, but in so much as the amount of baking she now does. It is a disappointment to me if I do not have access to the Worlds stickiest, gooiest and ultimately best flapjack at all times, and when ordinarily accompanied by a tin of Ginger biscuits or Banana Bread I shall not go hungry. Like many things on this wonderful Island, traditional ways, when they make sense, have been maintained and baking is a great Island tradition with afternoon teas, lunches, and dinners normally accompanied with home baked cake.

Despite growing accustomed to our new home we still take great pleasure it its small peculiarities, the radio stations are one such example. Not only are they are source of music and entertainment, they are a vital resource for local news, job adverts, and much to our amusement local adverts. Shops and cafes take the opportunity to spread the word of special offer, such as Tesco’s crackers at 17p, and Angel Delight at 78p at Chads store, or perhaps the Bank, happily informing customers that they will be indeed be open tomorrow (A Friday as it happens).

Start of the Heart Shaped Waterfall Walk

Start of the Heart Shaped Waterfall Walk

IMG_0723

The descent into the jungle.

Last weekend was busy as usual, the family walk, this time to Heart Shaped Waterfall proved to be a lovely and relatively pain free walk through what, to the boys at least, was a dense dark jungle. Opened up only a couple of years ago this walk descends some rather steep steps to the valley floor to meet the stream that ultimately runs down though Jamestown.Much of the walk is through dense vegetation or twisted wild mango trees, complete with a large number of the fascinating Orb Weaver spiders. Following the stream upwards we eventually arrived at the waterfall to a crescendo of frogs but alas no water, the waterfall seemingly running dry. Now we were told that the water had been diverted to fill up the swimming pool, after initially dismissing this as nonsense I am now a little unsure of the truth of the matter.

IMG_0734

Twisted Mango Trees form a dense canopy

IMG_0731 IMG_0737 IMG_0742

The pool is indeed now full and open, and in true Christmas tradition is full of children enjoying the festive season in swim wear, splashing and diving under glories sunshine!! Yes I know, Bev and I just can’t get used to this either. One of Bev’s work colleagues said today that she always feel Christmassy when it starts to get hot! Weird!!

MV Astor in James Bay

MV Astor in James Bay

Summer also heralded the first in a long line of cruise liners to stop over at St Helena. Seemingly a popular one day destination for hue ships travelling between Africa and the Americas. Although only a small cruise ship it appeared enormous anchored in James Bay and dwarfs the RMS. Around 200 passengers stepped onto dry land and even if just for seven hours the Island was buzzing with their arrival. It seems that I missed a great opportunity here as street sellers of all shapes and sizes took their chance to sell goods to the sudden influx of wealthy ocean goers. That reminds me of a time I was travelling with my sister through Sweden – and we got a little excessively intoxicated one night, and lost both our bags (though they could’ve been snatched now that I think about it – we were fairly drunk afterall). Those purses had all our stuff in it – including our credit cards. It was quite embarassing to need to call mom and dad and make them cosign for a local snabblån online the morning after such good times and with this kind of nasty hangover. Next time I will be amongst them selling photos of the Island and cashing in on the bonanza!

IMG_0552 IMG_0558

Along with the good is always the bad, and the warmer weather has brought with it an unwelcome guest to our house, mosquitoes. Not dangerous in anyway, but with a virulent itchy bite. Charlie in particular reacted badly to the nightly onslaught and soon began to look like a pin cushion. Lashing of Deet and an ultrasonic emitter seem to be keeping them away, understandable given how we all now smell of pesticides when we go to bed!

Oliver grows up fast, this week losing his first tooth. With two more already wobbling it seems Oliver could become quite rich, the tooth fairy depositing £1 under his pillow in exchange for his pearly white. Charlie thought it was incredible that this was possible that a tooth could be extracted from its tissue wrapping, and replaced with a pound coin, all when using just a beak! I’m not sure if he was disappointed or not to discover it is of course Fairies, and not Fairy terns that deliver the money.

Last week, after eight weeks out I enjoyed my first game of football, enjoyed that is until I went over on my ankle and once again pulled my groin amidst screams of agony! I fear my football career may be over before it has started and that my appearance for the Axis may prove to be the first and last. The damaged leg also provided great concern for my trip to Egg Island. Following my practice run last week, both Bev and I were due to spend the best art of a night under the stars amongst the birds on egg Island.  Taking a chance I decided it was an opportunity not to be passed up and I nervously departed the wharf at around 4pm. When we approached Egg Island we transferred to a smaller vessel, capable of edging up to the vertical rock face that was to be our landing site. Taking it in turns we one by one waited for the right wave to lift us up to a small, one foot ledge to jump ashore.

IMG_1094

Collecting equipment on our way to the summit.

Once on the Island, we climbed to its summit, a peak climbed by less people than the summit of Mount Everest despite only being around 70m high! After setting up nets and equipment we settled down on our life jacket cushions and watched the sun set. Storm Petrol after

Fellow photgrapher Dave with his enviable lens on the summit of Egg Island surrounded by Noddies and Petrols

Fellow photographer Dave with his enviable lens on the summit of Egg Island surrounded by Noddies and Petrols

Storm Petrol flew into the nets and once delivered to our team the painstaking work of measuring and tagging the animals, all under red torch light could begin. My less than glamorous, but vital role was as a scribe, meticulous recording the details of over 200 birds through six almost solid hours.

The work itself was undoubtedly tedious, but to be on a remote island, under the stars and moon in the company of dedicated experts and of course tens of thousands of beautiful birds was joyous and although tired we arrived at midnight before I knew it. Walking back down to the landing site across a rocky path I eventually  found myself a little nervously stood on a small ledge waiting for the small boat to rise to my feet, sure enough my opportunity arose as I jumped across and landed safely back on board. Our return to shore gave me another opportunity to pinch myself, and remind myself of the incredible lives we now lead.

Beautiful Brown Noddy

Beautiful Brown Noddy

Tropic Birds with their stunning 70cm long tail feathers.

Tropic Birds with their stunning 70cm long tail feathers.

I leave with the excitement that these incredible lives are, about to get a whole lot more wonderful. As the pools opens we commence our PADI open water scuba course and both Bev and I enjoyed and passed our fist confined dive on Tuesday. Under moonlight we learnt how to breathe properly, clear our masks, remove, find and replace our mouth piece and achieve neutral buoyancy. This is a lifelong ambition of mine and circumstance has dictated that it is only now that I am embarking on something that I feel I should have been doing all my life. Like a small child I am giddy with excitement as I look forward to swimming with devil rays and Whale Sharks in just a few short weeks.