On Sunday I Swam With Whale Sharks

On Sunday I swam with a whale shark, this is how an amazing week on St Helena started, as Bev the boys and myself embarked on my first whale shark watching trip of the season. By St Helena standards this season has been disappointing, poor sea conditions and the sharks basing themselves to the North East of the Island have meant difficult conditions for swimming and for travelling for those of a delicate stomach. Although in good numbers around the Island as a whole, the sharks have been in smaller groups than last year. Coupled with their new tendency to feed just below the surface as opposed to breaking the surface as they did last year, they have been difficult to spot. Our first trip out proved to be a disappointment, a strong swell, members of the group with sea sickness, and a confusion over the booking numbers meant that I was already disappointed before a shark was even found. Once the solitary male was found, three boats and one shark, meant that our time in the water was very limited, and a brief glance of a shark swimming away from me was all I had. But that is nature, it cannot be predicted or harnessed, and neither would you want it to be, and undeterred I booked for a second trip on Wednesday morning.

On Monday I started my PADI Rescue Diver Training, in the water role playing rescue scenarios, and pretending to give mouth to mouth whilst dragging my instructor through the water proving both amusing and damn hard work. It is just another privilege of being here that the value and shear accessibility of diving means that just over 12 months since passing my open water, I have embarked on my Rescue Diver course*

On Monday evening I was diving again, but this time in my favourite capacity, a night dive. With great excitement we travelled to a site North East of James bay and, my excitement grew as our dive leader explained the cave that we would first enter, before taking a drift dive down the coast line. This time with my won dive torch I looked forward to a bright light to unveil the night’s mysteries I descended with the last light of sunset still showing the way ahead. We swam towards the cave and, once given the all clear from the dive leader popped up inside the air pocket. As gentle swell compressed the air pocket we needed to keep equalising, a strange experience when sat with you head out of water with mask and regulator off. Another strange product of the swell was the intermittent fog, generated in the air as the pressure rose, and disappearing just as quickly as the swell dropped away. With each swell the fog reduced visibility in the air to near zero, before quickly revealing the depths of the cave just as quickly as it had disappeared.

We descended back into the water and headed off along the coast line, a visual theatre of glowing eyes, strange worms, crayfish and octopus. More at ease than my last night dive I took it upon myself to find a quite space and turn off my dive torch, to once again experience the kaleidoscope of glitter around me as bioluminescent bacteria in the water glow and twinkle like stars all around.

After more than an hour in sheer amazement we rose to the surface and back onto the boat. Diving is a strange experience in that the group all share the experience, but it is not until the experience is over that we can talk about it. Did you see the octopus, how big was that lobster and, much to my disappointment, “did anyone else see the turtle”? I didn’t, but as I drank soup and retreated into my own thoughts on the journey home I reminded myself once more of how lucky we are to of had the opportunity to live on this Island.

On Tuesday, I was back in the water, completing my rescue diver course, Im proud to say I am nowe a qualified rescue diver, and have subsequently started my Dive Masters course, having racked up over 40 dives since we arrived.

That afternoon I was diving again, my week moving from the ridiculous to the sublime. A lovely dive to one of my favourite sites at Robinson’s valley. This time with an relatively inexperienced group, or those who dive infrequently, and including 13 year old Harriot who has just passed her open water.

On Wednesday I had another opportunity to swim with the whale sharks, and this time, far from being disappointed I was left somewhat speechless at a wonderful experience. Once again the sea conditions were poor, and as a result, by the time we found a shark many of the party were feeling too ill to swim. This left me, and just three others keen to jump in the water.

We swam with a huge female shark, some 11-12meter in length. As she swam gently feeding near the surface she provided ample opportunity for me to swim all around taking photos, video and generally hanging in awe as one of the most stunningly beautiful animals in the animal kingdom did its best to enthral and entertain. I leave you not with words, but with the video that hopefully goes some way to showing just how incredible an experience this is.

On Sunday I swam with a whale shark, that was just the start of another extraordinary week, on this extraordinary Island.

Its all about the Coffee

 

“It’s all about the coffee” or so Jill Bolton told me twelve months ago when I was doing some work for the tourist office. Twelve months on and I had the pleasure of photographing the coffee plantation and the various stages of production that turns a red berry into one of the most expensive and exclusive coffee’s in the World. The Rosemary Gate estate is one of two plantations on St Helena, the other, ran by Solomon’s produces larger quantities for export, Rosemary gate however produced hand crafted coffee for the local market and exports only to Harrods, London where it sells for around £60 for 100g. Thankfully it’s much cheaper on island and I have become quite a fan of a coffee and cake at the St Helena Coffee shop._MG_0020_MG_0003_MG_0017_MG_0024-2

The coffee is highly prized because of its purity, a Green Tipped Bourbon Arabica bean introduced to St Helena in 1732 and completely pure and unchanged since. Unlike most coffee growing regions of the World, St Helena’s isolation ensures the coffee plant does not cross or fertilise with any other varieties maintaining its original gene line.

I was asked to produce some photos of the process by Jill for some point of sale marketing in Harrods, London, the thought that my work may be on display in this prestigious London store is very exciting.

I met with Jill and photographed the pickers, the first stage in the annual crop and coffee production. Although it might be the first stage this year, the process of picking these plants started 20 years ago when Jill and husband Bill started the Rosemary Gate Planation. Coffee was produced on St Helena hundreds of years ago, indeed Napoleon himself is once said to exclaim that “The only good things about St Helena is the coffee”. Such high praise brought a surge in demand and in 1839 it was described as being of very superior quality and flavour and sold my merchants Wm Burnie and Co for 1d per lb making it the most expensive coffee in the World at the time. In high demand in 1851 at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, coffee grown at the Bamboo Hedge estate in Sandy Bay (still an active coffee plantation) won a Premier Award but despite this in later years production slowed and eventually ceased altogether, plants were neglected and the industry collapsed._MG_2429-Edit

In 1994 however it was revived and Jill and Bill have now been growing coffee for twenty years. It was however, seven years after the first plants were sown on the estate that the first berries were ready for picking and an annual production could be made. The picking itself is done, like every step o0f the process, by hand. Locals, expats and holiday makers enjoy spending time picking the berries under the strict supervision and quality control of Jill. The berries must be exactly right in colour, a stunning crimson red, anything more or less and they won’t be right. The berry has taken eight months to get to this stage and picking takes place between December and February in a frantic race against time to collect the crop before they over ripen.

Once picked, the berries must be pulled, again this is done by hand as the red berries are poured through a beautiful and rather old looking pulping machine. Turned by hand with a constant supply of water the fleshy part of the fruit is removed and the hard seed, or parchment is separated out. Nothing goes to waste, the discarded pulp is composted and used back on the plantation. The parchment is the washed and left in buckets of water to ferment. Natural sugars and yeasts remove the outer sticky layer on the beans and they are then rinsed and left to dry.

Bill takes over from here, he meticulously checks the moisture content of the beans, getting it down from 50% to 11%. It’s not strait forward as Bill is constantly checking humidity in the air. I hear him shout, “is that rain, can you feel rain” as he rushes over to the drying beans ready to pull them inside. “If they get wet it puts us back several hours or days” he tells me. Cheap, mass produced coffees are artificially dried, but the traditional way of drying in St Helena sun ensure a better quality product at the end, and it’s worth the extra time and effort.

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One Bill is happy with the moisture content the parchment is hulled, removing the silver skin from the coffee and leaving behind what is known as the green bean. The green bean is size sorted to remove any defective beans and is ready for roasting, and is also the form it is exported in._MG_2458

Bill has some roasting as we speak, the smell wafting from the small shed is magical, a sweet, almost chocolate smell that as Bill says, drifts down through the plantation and has passers-by stop and sniff the air.  Talking to Bill is an education, his enthusiasm for the process and the care and craft is infectious, “I could talk about it all day”, and Im sure he could. This is what makes the product so special, not just the isolation and special beans, but the attention to detail, the love that goes into it, and the steadfast refusal to step away from a traditional process that has been in use for hundreds of years.

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Its a Funny Place After All

It’s a Funny Place After All.

Its been a funny couple of week aboard the Island. As usual my blog entry is late, I continue to have much to write about, but alas my time continues to be extraordinarily and unexpectedly busy. My retirement of fishing, swimming and relaxing is not going to plan!

The weather here these past two weeks has been particularly strange, lurching from 30C heat and blazing sunshine to a moderate 22C with cloudy skies and drizzly to heavy rain, and back again in the space of twenty minutes. There are two things to blame for the weather. One of course is that St Helena is a British Territory; if when it was discovered in 1502 the Portuguese had decided to keep hold of the place I’m sure we would be feeling the benefit of sustained sunshine now. The other reason the weather has taken a considerable turn for the worse is the hose pipe ban, issued by Connect St Helena which of course brought on days of rain! (the ban has now been lifted)

Despite my earlier blog suggesting I am content, I remain in some turmoil regarding what I should do here on the Island. Part of me wants a job, a defined role, filling my time and contributing to the Island, this would be the best thing for our futures beyond St Helena, adding to my CV and saving money. Part of me wishes to further explore my photography and design work, to see if, with a little promotion and some investment of time I could make more of it. And of course part of me wonders if I would regret not taking the opportunity to not work for two years, which will surely never present itself again.  There is also the children and Bev to think of, what is best for them now, and in the future. I switch from one reasoning to the other as quickly as rain turns to sun. I fear in reality I will continue in this vein for some time until something presents itself that just falls into place.

Bevs work has taken off in earnest this past fortnight. I am incredibly proud of her and the difference she is now making to _MG_0156people. Her adults Marine Biology O’level is in full swing, has attracted a good number of Saints and Ex-pats and has been extremely well received. This past fortnight has also seen the fruits of Bev’s labour with local children having the opportunity to take their place in the water swimming alongside whale sharks. Despite our now numerous encounters with the incredible Whale Sharks, the same experiences are not commonplace for St Helenians, being for many too expensive or for others too frightening. Bevs massive effort has seen young Saints witness first hand some of the amazing wildlife upon their doorsteps. We cannot expect future generations to care for our Oceans and the wonders therein if they do not have the opportunity to see them for themselves, and Bev has provided that.

Unfortunately however the next strange happening is the arrival of rough seas, common place in February but this year largely absent, until now. This has meant that some of the trips have had to be cancelled much to the disappointment of everyone concerned. The photos below speak for themselves as to why it has not been possible to take children onto the high seas. The waters do make for a fantastic exhilarating experience from the shore however, watching huge rolling waves some up to 15ft high pounding the breakwater in James Bay. Just watching them was a little over whelming for our sensitive Oliver who was nervous at the sight of them, Charlie however loved them, avoiding the splashes and screaming with delight, until of course the inevitable happened and he got wet, followed shortly by tears and tantrums and screams of delight replaced with cries of wishing to go home!

The relentless pounding of the sea helps to remind oneself of our situation, this tiny spot in a massive and powerful Ocean, which has been slowly grinding down the shorelines of this Island for millennia, returning it to rubble and the sea floor from whence it came. The past couple of weeks have also reminded us of our isolations from our family and loved ones, as illness and loss has sadly affected our families back home. There are times when travelling is hard, you have to sacrifice much to enjoy these experiences and whilst given the option I would do it again, it is hard to be so far away at times of need. It is particularly hard to know that you cannot be there to offer comfort, a shoulder to cry on and to support people, especially those people who have done so much to support us. You know who you are, we think of you always, we miss you and wish we could do more.

Life is also strange on St Helena in that I am finding I miss football games, and do not care! I spend my weekend doing things other than fretting about the form of Sterling, and whether Sturridge can get back to his best following a long lay-off. I still watch when I can and follow closely of course, and no doubt when I return home I will be as fanatical as ever, but I missed two games the past three weekends, and couldn’t give a dam! There are more rewarding things to be had and I shall continue to have them. One, less than rewarding afternoon however was spent plying my wares to the latest cruise ship to arrive. Feeling as though I had missed a trick last time a cruise ship, the MV Voyager was in town, I wanted to ensure I was there, at the market to sell my photos to wealthy and unsuspecting cruisers.

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My sale did not go to plan, it rained relentlessly for the seven or so hours that I sat in the parade in Jamestown, and I watched as passenger after passenger passed by my stall, preferring instead a key ring, mug, or rather to by pass the stalls all together to hurry back to the shelter of the ship. I sold four photos in total, three of which went to Islanders, and at a loss of £160 for the day my first attempt at selling my photos was not a great success, and I have to admit was a blow to the ego. Some would say a dent in my ego would not be a bad thing, although much has already occurred on St Helena to suppress any ego I may of left the UK with.

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MV Voyager in James Bay

Thankfully, before the waves took a significant upturn, the Island was able to host its annual Marine Awareness week. Organised by the Marine sector of the Environment Natural Recourses division this week of activities sees hundreds pf school children and adults engaged in education and conservation and all things fishy. It was one of my most enjoyable weeks on the Island as I stepped back into my comfort zone and set up a successful Marine Aquarium for the public to enjoy amd led several school session in touch pool and other education activities. I felt right at home and even enjoyed the inevitable leaking pipework and other unexpected aquarium eventualities. For my friends and colleagues in the aquarium world back home, remember, if you are ever setting up an aquarium on a volcanic Island, the sand it turns out is magnetic, and will easily stick to each and every pump impeller in the vicinity.  It will require a significant time investment to remove fine, wet magnetic sand from the surfaces.

The grand finally of Marine Awareness week saw several hundred people take to the Wharf to enjoy water sports, swimming and lots of other water based fun.

I have also become more accident prone in St Helena, and have had more injuries here in a few months than in several previous years. Now my Mum will no doubt tell you that I have always been accident prone, but then of course she would be mistaking me for my brother. But this week, in an entirely avoidable act of stupidity, whilst cutting the rind of some bacon I sliced through my finger, cutting deep into the side and cutting part of the nerves inside. Much blood, and a degree of panic ensured, all under the oblivious eyes of Charlie, whilst I ran round contemplating my best course of action to stop the blood, clean the floor, take care of Charlie and finish the Pilau (pronounced Plo) I was making. I did in the end achieve all four and after a trip to the Hospital the following morning had I confirmed that I had indeed severed my nerve hence the loss of feeling down one side of my finger, but I should be reassured that it would, in all likelihood, heal with no lasting effects. I have concluded that if indeed my finger remains numb in parts this would not be the end of the world as I remain able to type my blog at sufficient speed.

And finally, in sporting news Charlie is now swimming without armbands and Oliver is swimming a full 33m length of the pool and has been selected to compete in the Islands swimming Gala. We are so very proud of them both and the change is remarkable.

Charlie also took part in his first sports day.  For nursery children only, the morning was more chaos than sports, but it was none the less great fun. With humorous and able commentary from her Ladyship Christine it was strange to say the least to hear the comedic tones of a scouser blasting across a playing field in the centre of an Island in the middle  of the Atlantic ocean, but then it’s a funny place after all.

I also had the privilege of a photo-shoot with Jonathan, the oldest land vertebrate on the plant at over 182 years old!

Lots Wife Ponds

Lot, is a huge pillar of rock, shining silver and emerging like Excalibur from the surrounding brown earth. Lots wife, is the nearby wife of Lot, a smaller pillar, eroded at the base such that its top appears as though it could topple at any moment. The ponds are the sheltered natural swimming pools that have formed on the wave cut platforms below Lots Wife, protected from the wild Atlantic ocean by huge walls, a seam of hard wearing rock now forming an impenetrable barrier to the relentless waves. Lots Wife Ponds were also the destination for Bev and I, on our first twenty four hours on our own, without the children, for over six months.

Good friends and regular babysitters Suzanne and Mike have become something of life saver to us, looking after our boys on a regular basis when we both dive or, in this case when we need to find some time for us, to remember that we are a couple, in love and not just here as servants to the needs of our children, (or employers). And so in quintessential Tyson style instead of resting, relaxing or some romance, Bev and I took to a 9km round trip across rugged terrain in 28C heat to find the ponds, a much talked about beauty spot of the Island.

The walk to Lots Wife ponds features in the post box walks, a series of tourist trails across the Island, graded for their difficulty in both effort and technical difficulty. Having tried some low grade walks with the boys, Lots Wife Ponds sits at the upper end of the scale, with a  grade of 6/10 for effort, and 8/10 for technical difficulty. And such we set out, across the wide flat dry river bed of broad gut and up the zig zagging path of and old cart road across the steep sided scree slopes beyond. Broad Gut, the Gates of Chaos, Frightus Rock and other aptly named peaks, ridges, valleys and gorges form the Sandy Bay National Park, an area that inspires awe as the Mars like landscape, scarred into volcanic rocks rises in reds, oranges and purples to the lush green slopes of High and  Diana Peaks and the central ridge. Formed during volcanic eruptions some 14 million years ago this now dry and barren  surface was once green with trees and plants found no-where else on earth. The arrival of goats on the Island in the late 1500s led to severe deforestation and hundreds of years of rain and driving Atlantic winds have scoured sharp ridges like daggers across the unprotected rock, forming a  Lord of the Rings landscape.

Start of the walk up from Broad Gut

Start of the walk up from Broad Gut

Our route, upwards!

Our route, upwards!

The path is well marked from the feet of other intrepid explorers, and of countless years of fishermen and donkeys and leads us upward, winding across steep valley sides ever on to a ridge we can see in the distance. As other parents will know, when you have children and have the opportunity to relieve yourselves of them for a day you have to take your chances, and as such we pressed on in the less than ideal conditions. Dry and extremely hot, the winds blowing up from the blue waves below us provided welcome rest bite from the burning afternoon tropical sun. As our car disappeared into the distance and the blue waters of Sandy Bay became obscured by rocks of red and orange we finally arrived at our highest point, a ridge providing extraordinary views of Broad Gut behind and the rocky cliffs of Asses Ears, Gorrila’s Head, Man o’War Roost and of course Lots Wife loomed high above us.

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Gorilla’s Head is the square shaped rock on the right hand side, with one of the Asses Ears above it


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Descending from the ridge we encountered our first “technical” section, a narrow, loose path with a steep drop to our left. Although not overtly daunting, the presence of a fixed rope at this point is welcoming, reassuring to know that we are on the right track, and that the reportedly difficult final section may be equally well protected. As we descended, clear white lines of guano could be seen on the finger ridges that slope off from the main cliff side peaks. Sitting below the ridge where Bev and I had the great pleasure of helping to tag and record Booby nests some months before, we found ourselves on the lower ridges, where the secondary team had worked that day. We pass by a nest and chick now almost fledged and a far cry from the eggs and newly hatched fluffy grey chicks we had encountered back in October. By this time of the day booby’s can be seen returning to their nests, bringing food to hungry chicks from a day’s foraging. These striking white birds fly like a red arrows display team in acrobatic lines to various white target points marked upon the red rocks.

Masked Booby and chick,

Masked Booby and chick,

Bev looks on at the chick and its parent.

Bev looks on at the chick and its parent.

We arrive at our next way point, an arrow marking the way to, “Lots Wife Ponds” in stones on the ground. Curiously, pointing in the opposite direction we find marked the words, “Fizzled me”. Although curious and with a strong desire to be fizzled, we continue our path to Lots Wife Ponds. Further on and still some 50m above sea level we came to the curious white sands of a former beach, apparently blown up the valley gulley’s and deposited up the slope. A beach that over millennia had become compressed to form rock, sandstone, was now being eroded and weathered back to whence it came and  into a beach.  After fifty minutes of walking, we reach the post box, a white tube containing a visitors note book and a stamp to mark our trail book as proof that we had completed the walk._MG_0015

At this stage we were a little underwhelmed by the technical difficulty of the walk. Having spent many good times amongst the infamous ice covered ridges of Crib Goch in Snowdon, I am perhaps not an average walker, but in comparison to our other low grade walks I was still expecting something more of a challenge from our grade 8’er. Perhaps the “optional extra” beyond the post box and down to the ponds themselves would provide the challenge. Alas we would remain disappointed, undoubtedly a  bit of a nervous scramble under normal conditions, the last two steep descents are provided the safety of strong and well placed ropes giving secure hand holds to counter any loose footsteps.

And so it was we reached our destination, Lots Wife Ponds. A huge pillar of rock greeted us to our left, the gap between it and the cliff face providing views of an elevated and tranquil pool. To our right, waves surged into a gully, racing up and increasing in size before spilling over into a second, lower, and somewhat turbulent pool. The sounds of huge waves bellowed against the rock wall that had now become apparent at the edge of this rocky platform, holding back the Atlantic on one side, and holding in our tranquil swimming pools on the other.

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The more choppy of the two ponds. The rock wall which holds back the Atlantic can be seen on the left of the image, but the wall has been breached on the right.

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Water surges up the gulley through the gaps in the natural barriers.

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Knowing we were short on time we stripped to our swimwear and waded into the most still of the two waters. The water appeared cloudy, and green, our became feet sore with sharp snail shells under foot was we crossed the rocks to reach the waters. Was this the beauty we had been promised? As I moved into the water the sandpaper rocks gave way to soft velvety algae covered slopes, rounded by years of waves splashing ashore and softened by a thick layer of cushion soft seaweed. The water was warm, incredibly warm, like walking into a bath. I could see fish further out, but wondered how they could be surviving in such unusually hot conditions, easily 35C plus. As I moved further into the pool the answer became apparent as my feet suddenly felt a severe chill, enough to make an involuntary squeal come out of me. The hot sun beating down on the pool had created a thermocline, a sharp transition from hot, saline water above to cooler water below. Donning my mask I dived out and down, across to the deeper part of the pool and down through the hazy mirage of the thermocline and into the cool, clear waters below. Reversing the previous experience, my feet now warm and head cold, I delighted like a small child in this amazing experience with fish swimming all around me, trapped to the bottom of their pool by the warm waters above them.

Having not seen a single soul on our entire journey, and feeling secure that we would not be disturbed, I longed to remove all my clothes and enjoy the freedom of skinny dipping in our own slice of paradise. Nerves and British restraint however got the better of me, and the five finger fish, parrot fish and surgeon fish were all saved any embarrassment, and starved of a potential meal. We moved to the second, lower and cooler pool, bouncing up and down with the waves that crossed the waters as each new breach from the Atlantic squeezed its way through a gap in the wall in the distance. In no danger we swam amongst the fish and revelled in the pools and gullies.

With time running short we dried off, regrettably having to leave our little Eden behind. But not before I ventured onto the rock wall to witness the Atlantic below. Very aware of the spray shooting upwards some 20ft and the deep, bellowing of air being trapped and squeezed upon this natural barrier I cautiously climbed up the wall and poked my head up above the parapet. Gaining in confidence I could see the concave wall, worn away at its base and now forming the curve so commonly seen in man-made breakwaters. Waves hitting the base of the wall were deflected in a huge curve back out to sea. The power was extraordinary, 15ft waves booming and shaking, punching at the wall and then sucking back, as if trying to pull the wall down, angry, determined and relentless, and yet the unyielding wall stood firm, protecting Bev and I and stopping the waves from cutting down yet more of St Helena’s cliffs.

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We had to leave, we packed our bags and once more started to climb the steep sides of St Helena’s Southern Cliffs. The sun was setting, lights streamed through gaps in the rocks, creating striations of black and orange. The green slopes on the central ridge came into view in the distance, like an oil painting of colour, the greens of the peaks framed by deep blue above and orange, purples and reds of Sandy Bay amphitheatre below.

As were traced our footsteps I knew I had to return, I needed to witness the light streaming up Sandy bay and waking up this extraordinary Island at Sun Rise. I shall return, I shall return with my camera and, at 5am, perhaps without my swimwear

Contented

It has taken longer than I expected, but I find myself contented in my new life. My retirement has turned out to be the busiest retirement one could imagine, an evening in with no work to complete has become something of a rarity as I juggle my photography work including projects for local schools, a maternity shoot, photography course and the work for the tourist office, with exciting projects for the National Trust, what I believe is my improved and balanced life with the children and of course diving and the odd encounter with forty foot fish, things really are hectic. But I finally feel as though I have a place on the Island and have found the right balance. Ive always needed to be busy, to be juggling many balls and I am certainly doing that now.

A sit down heart to heart with my ever incredible wife a few weeks ago, has helped to put my feelings of myself as a father into perspective, and coupled with the arrival of other meaningful work on the Island I feel my outlook of the boys and relationship with them has improved greatly, I am almost beginning to believe that they quite enjoy spending time with me!

Sadly, as I become more content, Oliver has become unsettled in school, friendships are presenting challenges and have the  status “its complicated”. He is clearly upset at times and this has impacted his behaviour at home. The old me would of dealt with his behaviour with a stern telling off, but I am trying to offer support and understanding and we have come up with plans to help him re-settle, namely to invite his friends round to play as often as possible to help re-cement their relationships. It has taken me aback that Oliver has fell into problems at school, although I suspect it wont last long, and neither will it be the last period of turmoil with our Oliver.

_MG_0103Despite this blip in school I have no doubt that the boys are happy here. As Bev and I have learnt to dive, so have the boys learnt to snorkel, and even Charlie, at four years old has his set of fins,  mask and snorkel. We spend many afternoons at the swimming pool, enjoying the open air and sunshine. Charlie, now swims round to his hearts content, jumping frpm the diving board with unreserved joy. Oliver is becoming more and more competent, and is now able to swim a full 30m length of the pool, making his parents very proud. The transformation in both of them in a few short weeks is incredible.

The Tyson’s have been dominating the local media here on St Helena, myself taking part in a twenty minute interview on photography and the courses I have been running, and Bev, in readiness for Marine awareness week has been talking about her new adult classes  O’level in Marine Biology. Marine awareness week is an annual event held in St Helana to raise awareness for the Islanders of the fantastic and important world that surrounds and dominates the pulse of life on St Helena. For my part I am back within my comfort zone having set up an aquarium, now stocked with numerous endemic species, and next week delivering education sessions to local school children. The challenges of finding new roles in St Helena has been great, but I must admit it is lovely to be in and around an aquarium again and back in my world, covered in water and playing with pipework. For any of my aquarium friends out there, if you ever out together an aquarium on a volcanic Island, bare in mind the sand is magnetic and will find its way onto all your pump impellers!

This week I did my first _MG_0215photoshoot, with a person, an actual person, and not just a person but a pregnant person, my first ever photo shoot was a maternity one. Id like to say Im not sure who was more nervous, but Im fairly sure the answer was me. With sweat beading on my brow I was very aware of myself! But the client and I settled into things and despite a less than ideal setting and lighting I am on my way to producing some good quality images.

Saturday was one of yet another, most incredible days of my life. It started with my second dive since qualifying, a trip out with established divers to a natural rock formation known as Billy Maze. I found myself nervous for the first time whilst diving, not as a result of the dive, but as a result of the company, perfectly lovely people, but experienced, very competent divers. How would I compare, would I run out of air and ruin everyone’s dive, will I be welcomed into this little group. As it was I needn’t of worried, it was a fantastic experience with fantastic people, all of whom could vividly remember being in my position, and all of whom were encouraging and supportive. The dive took me a full ten meters deeper than I had been before as I followed our guide through a twist of rock channels with stunning fish a plenty and even a swim with a Hawksbill Turtle.

That afternoon we went on our next Whale Shark trip. A group organised by Bev, of colleagues from Prince Andrew School ,it was a lovely opportunity to get to know, not just Bevs work mates, but some Saint families and spend time in their company. Setting off from the wharf under grey skies and a sizeable swell it did not look good for Shark spotting. The conditions and dark looking seas had put Oliver off, and Charlie was already falling asleep. It was a relief therefore when I spotted the tell tale shadow of a Whale Shark under the waves and, after shouting our captain to make an about turn the first group were soon in the water. Bev jumped in along with other parents and their children and it was with great disappointment to myself that they soon returned to the boat having watched the shark disappear into the depths. As I sat brooding like child on his brothers birthday, I was bitterly disappointed and jealous that I missed out.

With everyone back on board, we continued on, in constant communication with other boats on the water in the hope of finding another shark. With the weather deteriorating, and, by this point many people, including Oliver feeling seasick, I looked around the boat at children laid out upon their parents laps, tired and unwell and felt sure the best course of action would be to cut our losses and head home. However, as is normal for the boat operators here, their determination to deliver a great experience meant that we continued our quest to find another animal. After what felt like an age we received a call from another boat and quickly headed off in the direction of another Whale Shark. Anthony, skipper, dive tutor and general water man told me to get kitted up, it was a big one. I felt a surge of excitement and anticipation and sure enough, before long we were just feet away from a truly huge animal. Almost before the boat had even stopped I was in the water, and swimming as hard as  I could alongside a stunning, 12m long (40ft) male shark, cruising at speed with giant sweeps of its tail. With go-pro in one hand I swam as hard as I could but ultimately I am no match for a 12 foot fish and eventually he disappeared ahead of me, his huge dorsal fin still visible through the waves. Turning around I found myself not only a long way from the other swimmers, but a long way from the boat. I sat steady and waited for the inevitable pick up, knowing it is quicker for them to come to me.

A Huge, 12m male whales shark that I swam with!

A Huge, 12m male Whale Shark that I swam with!

Back aboard it was not long until we had caught up with the whale shark, and soon enough the next group were in the water. With Charlie still asleep, and Oliver still unwell, I stayed aboard as Bev jumped in for her second swim. The whale shark by now had become curious about us, and instead of swimming off in the distance was turning and swimming around the boat, the swimmers were so close to this magnificent animal and it was with great pleasure that one of our good friend Jon, came leaping back onto the boat barely able to catch a breath shouting, “it bumped into me, it bumped into me!!!!” like an excited and nervous school child. I was equally pleased as Jons departure from the water gave me the opportunity to get back in, as the whale shark approached the back of the boat I lowered myself into the water just feet from the 5ft mouth of this goliath. Swimming within feet of me I could not contain my joy. I spent a further 20 minutes swimming with this animal, 40ft of magnificent, stunning animal, peacefully and gracefully swimming though the waves, a true privilege to spend time in its presence.  Another in what is becoming a long list of unforgettable moments on St Helena.

Good friend Andy Day provides some perspective on this enormous animal!

Good friend Andy Day provides some perspective on this enormous animal!

Monday evening saw another dive, and Bevs first since qualifying. Another trip to the SS Papanui saw unfathomable numbers of fish. So many Butterfly fish that it is, without exaggeration, difficult to estimate how many hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of fish that we saw that day. Another Hawksbill Turtle just topped off a magical 40 minutes under the sea.

On Tuesday I had the great pleasure and honour to be invited for lunch with at the home of Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, French consul on the Island and in charge of the Napoleonic sites on St Helena. Michel’s home has been built based on original plans for a home that was never built for Napoleon himself, and I have to say it was simply exquisite. Splendour and elegance coupled with style and intrigue and no shortage of incredible art work by Michel himself.  Our lunch was the finest food I have eaten in months, with rare roast beef, smoked salmon, fine cheese and fine wine it was a true indulgence. With great company and the chance to meet Pascal Sean Laparliere, a great promoter of my photography in Paris I had a wonderful afternoon. Perhaps the greatest pleasure for me was the invite itself. An invite because someone wanted my company, not as a plus one, or because of a work function, nor because my camera was wanted, but because I was.

I am finding my place on this little Island, I am finding my relationship with Oliver and Charlie, I am finding friends and I am finding a role (well many actually), I am finding contentment, and it feels wonderful.