Six weeks, and hundreds of Miles

We touched down in Brize Norton, near Oxford, and, following some confusion at the public entrance gate, we met up with Bev’s Mum and Dad who were there to welcome us and take us to Bradley Stoke, Bevs family home just outside of Bristol. Whilst it was lovely to see family, the suburbia of Bristol filled me with horror. Traffic is almost without exception terrible. The M5 is a car park and it seems that those roadworks that were present 12 months ago are still not finished, and yet new ones have sprung up everywhere, clearly UK highways have money to burn as they seem to have erected cones and 50 mph speed limits on every section of every motor way we travelled on. We spent two days shopping and spending money like it was going out of fashion. Now I quite enjoy spending money, but I don’t enjoy shopping, and find myself scowling at hundreds of people, strangers, whom I have a preconditioned dislike for in the jungle of Cribs Causeway retail park.

My mind turns to our final return to the UK and I don’t like it, I don’t like the row upon row of red brick housing, the people in the street whom ignore you as you pass them, or the weather, the world renowned British weather. As I hear tales of the continued Indian summer back on the Island, I check the weather forecast and hear the bemoaning’s on social media of people questioning where the British summer has gone.

After a few days with Bev’s parent we travel to North Wales to see my folks. This is something I was dreading, not of course seeing my parents, whom I of course miss greatly. But I dread the drive ahead, having not driven more than 20 minutes on the Island I now have to tackle 4 hours of British motorways. Quite how more people don’t die on our roads is beyond me, the tail gating and under cutting is terrible. Maybe I have become soft, maybe it has got worse, but I genuinely felt nervous for much of the journey, as BMW after Audi took a fancy to my rear end and felt the need to drive within a few feet of me. Roadworks, roadworks, and roadworks, full of speed restrictions and cones and yet noticeably devoid of anyone actually working. Perhaps we should just re-name them roads, as there never seems to be any works taking place.

Ok, so as you can probably tell my first week or so in the UK did not fill me full of joy for our eventual return in twelve months, but it did get better. We spent a lovely week in the Llyn Peninsular, a week in Yorkshire and the East Yorkshire coast, ate in nice restaurants, and had lovely days out. The weather improved, considerably, and the British summer reared its head, basking us in 32 degrees of lovely sunshine. We caught up with some wonderful friends, friends whom reminded us that there are people, aside from family, whom we miss greatly and who will always, no matter where in the world we live, or how long the intervals we see each other, be our best of friends. And of course we felt the love of our families, it is so clear just how much we are missed and how much the boys being away leaves a gap in our parents’ lives. It was wonderful to see how well they played with their cousins, and how quickly and easily the chaos ensued.

A lovely week spent on the Llyn Peninsular in North wales, lots of time on the beach, crazy golf, swimming, football and even sunshine.

 

Chester Zoo, always a must for us when we are in the UK, and one of the best zoo’s in the country if not Europe.

 For my birthday we spent the day in the seaside town of Llandudno, exploring the oldest copper mines in Europe, fascinating and fun.

Off to Yorkshire to visit my brother and his family, more sunshine and more fun.

North East Yorkshire with Bev’s sister and family. A wonderful part of the country that I had not visited before. Stunning views, lovely people, country parks and seaside villages. A real gem in the British Isles.

Air Trail, a high rise playground of ropes and Ariel challenges. Great fun, although a little tame for me!

Having travelled many miles, through dales and coast, hills and fields I found myself thinking “ I could live here, this is nice, and maybe coming home wouldn’t be so bad.” Within three weeks of being back in the UK St Helena starts to seem a million miles away, we discuss what jobs we might like to do, and Bev insists that we will move to the Isle of White. We settle in, Bev moans about the amount of dog poo on the streets, I become grumpy again, and get annoyed if the cash machine takes more than 30 seconds to dish out my money. Normal service is resumed.

I could list the days out and places we went, but filling the pages of my blog with eight weeks worth of, “we went here, we saw that, we did this” would not make good reading, (and the photos tell the story anyway) but suffice to say we all had a lovely trip home, it went quicker that I expected, and was more enjoyable than expected. There are some beautiful places in the UK, and if we can manage to move to one of them, maybe living back in the UK wont be so bad after all.

The highlight of our trip was a visit to Warner Brother’s Harry Potter studio tour. A chance to walk around the actual sets used in the films, see the costumes and models. We spent a fascinating five hours here and I could of stayed a lot longer. I’m not a particular fan of Harry Potter but to see how these films are made and walk in the footsteps of Dumbledore was an amazing experience. Wonderful fun for kids and grown ups.

HMS Ascension

So its been a while, many of you have perhaps thought I have given up on the writing, but in truth I have plenty to tell you, only I have been away from a computer for eight weeks, and only now, as I sit on the RMS starting our journey back to St Helena do I have time to really sit down and think about another passing of time. Eight weeks ago we were on the RMS heading towards Ascension Island. We had thought our time aboard this wonderful ship had come to an end, but with continued delays to the airport we had this, and at least one more trip across the Atlantic Ocean. This time however we headed North West, across the relatively short 700 miles to Ascension Island. Bev and I love Cape Town, but I have to say we were very pleased to have the opportunity to visit and explore this other remote Atlantic Island.

Leaving St Helena was strange, our original two years are up, and, many others who started their journeys with us, would be gone from the Island by the time we get back. I have been to many leaving breakfasts at the coffee shop, but this time it was the Tyson’s saying goodbye, not to the Island, but to people who have been close friends and family all rolled in to one, who have been laughs and smiles and support for our time here. I can honestly say it was a very difficult morning as we hugged and cuddled and tried to hold back the tears.

But soon we were on the RMS, with its uplifting atmosphere and family feel, saying hello to crew whom by now we have become very familiar with and feel like friends.

We travelled towards the equator, the temperature rising with each passing day as we left the cold Benguela current and headed into the South Equatorial current bringing with it warmer air. As we approached Ascension on our third and final day it struck me how much bigger the Island was than I expected, next I noticed the size of the waves crashing its shores on this relatively calm day. We had been warned about the treacherous swimming on most of the Islands coast, with only two of the many glorious beaches safe to swim in, and even then only on good days. The 20ft waves bouncing of the barren rock indicated why!

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Ascension comes into view

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Ascension Island Panorama. Click to open and see in full resolution.

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RMS at Ascension. The view as we waiting to be processed through immigration.

Ascension is, like St Helena a volcanic Island, formed some million or so years ago by huge eruptions from an undersea volcano. Eventually, after maybe hundreds of years of eruptions, sufficient rock built up to break the surface of the water, and a new Island was born. Its highest point, Green Mountain now stands at 2817 feet high, perhaps just half of the height it was before nearly a million years of weather and erosion have taken their toll. Looking at the Island, it is unmistakably volcanic, its most recent eruption was just a blink of a geological eye ago, some 600 to 1000 years, and as such not only is the Island still classed as potentially active, it has also limited the amount of time that vegetation has had to establish itself. Its remoteness makes it difficult for plants to reach the Island naturally, and its searing temperatures and lack of soil, prevent those plants that do arrive from establishing themselves.

Much of Ascension Island is barren, with black basalt rock from recent eruptions, and mountains of ash, and volcanic craters dominating the sky line

As we sail round from the South approach to the Island capital, George Town on the North Western flank, we see towering hills of barren red and black sands and rock, craters left from recent eruptions. The only area of green lies atop Green Mountain, a cloud forest created by man following decades of plant introductions to establish a more permanent water supply to the Island. The few remaining endemic plants and ferns cling to existence on the damp slopes of this high point, almost permanently shrouded in its moisture giving cloud. The rest of the Island is barren, from a distance completely devoid of life. The Island was first discovered in 1501, by the same chap as discovered St Helena, Admiral Joao de Nova, but such is the foreboding nature of the Island that both he and several other captains since, decided not to even step ashore. It was not until 300 years later in 1815 with the arrival of Napoleon on St Helena that Ascension Island became inhabited. Rear-Admiral Cockburn, charged with ensuring the captivity of Napoleon, ordered a garrison to be stationed on Ascension to dissuade the French from launching a rescue mission from this “nearby” land.

Ascension Island is actually named, HMS Ascension and bizarrely is classed as a stone frigate, a title bestowed on the Island by the British Navy in order to instil a greater level of discipline on the troops stationed there.

Throughout Ascension’s History it has been a working Island, and, up until 2014 it was not even possible to set foot on her soil without a work permit or forward travel. Even if you are born on Ascension, without continued work beyond the age of 18 you are removed and required to live elsewhere! As such the Island is strange to say the least, its inhabitants all serve to serve each other, each has a specific role and the comings and goings are dictated by the particular service the Island can provide at any given time. For many years of course it was a military outpost, non-more so than during the World Wars through which time the US built an air strip for launching campaigns into Northern Africa. Later, and to this day, the Island acts as a telecommunications relay point, the BBC, amongst others, using the network of radio antennae and other metal works of art to bounce the BBC World service across the Atlantic and on to South America and Africa.

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Arriving on St Helena is even more treacherous than arriving on St Helena, transferring to a small boat we were then transported to the landing steps. Built in 1823 they are worn, slippery, sloping and narrow. It is a leap of faith in good conditions as the ship lines up its exit doorway with the steps, and three men stand waiting to grab your arms and pull you ashore when the right waves lifts you up and in, rather than down and out!

After a long wait through customs we were delighted to be met on the other side by no less than two families who had travelled to see us arrive. One, a Saint family who’s children have appeared often in my blog, moved to Ascension from St Helena some months before, the Bennets. Oliver being best friends with their eldest, Blaine and Charlie having already declared his engagement of marriage to both of their twin daughters, Bethany and Georgia, largely because he cant tell them apart! It was lovely to see them there and great to see how at ease the children were with each other after some time apart. We would see the Bennett’s twice more during our time on Ascension and enjoyed time at the beach and swimming pool with them. I really hope we see them again and our friendship can continue over the years.

At customs we were also met by the Gonsalves’s, Frankie, Dean and their troublesome twosome. They were returning to St Helena at the end of their mid-term break.They were by now, old hands at this Ascension game, and were able to take us to the hotel and point us in the direction of various useful shops and amenities. The very short drive from customs to our hotel, the Obsidian, took us through the centre of George Town, a strange, empty “capitol” of the Island where one expects to see tumble weed and one does see donkeys wandering the streets in greater numbers than people.  Virtually everyone on Ascension are working during the day, so the streets are devoid of children, whom are in school, or pensioners, who don’t exist, or the jobless or shift workers with time during the day to spare, everyone is working, and so no one is around! The town itself is a mix of buildings built by successive military garrisons for one purpose or another, the area is tarmac in the main, with wide roads, almost to the point where road, car park, pavement and garden all merge to form a large car park with buildings sat on top at random intervals.

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The view of George town shows the tarmac landscape with buildings built upon it.

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Like St Helena, Ascension is fortified with canons, in this case protecting Georgetown from possible invasion!

Despite having been forewarned of the short comings of our home for the next four nights we were pleasantly surprised by our accommodation in the Obsidian hotel, air conditioned, large, comfortable with good food, a nice atmosphere, a good selection of beer and friendly staff. I’m not sure what all of the noise surrounding this place had been for, we found it very pleasant indeed.

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Dinner at the Obsidian

 

Returning to the UK always gives a perspective to the things we like most about our Island home, and a particular occurance on Ascension helps to hammer home some of the differences. We hired a car whilst on Ascension, it was fine, nothing fancy but it went and got us where we wanted to go. I collected it from a pleasant man who personally came to meet us at customs on arrival. He took no deposit, explained the cars quirks, and handed over the keys. In order to pay for the hire of this vehicle we had to go to the Islands only fuel station, where, on our last day we filled up the car, and paid for its hire. But we continued to use the car after this time, with the polite request that for any further mileage we do, we leave 20p per mile in the car. We were permitted to leave it at the airport when we flew and someone would collect it from there later. As a service this is second to none, met at arrival, leave the vehicle at departure and leave some small change in the car to cover petrol, fantastic.

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Our military flight home to take us to Brize Norton

There is much to be impressed with on Ascension Island. The presence of US and UK military helps to bring in funds which would otherwise not exists. On the evening of our departure we eat on the American Airbase, a place which wants for nothing or so it seems, a baseball arena, basketball courts and swimming pool surrounded the bar and restaurant complex we stopped at. An all American bar serving beer at 75p a bottle and showing sports from around the world on its numerous wide screen TV’s. This was an entirely modern and up to date world we had stepped into. So, where were you when Wales played in the Semi-finals of the European Championships? I was watching nervously in an American Bar, on a US airbase, on Ascension Island!

Ascensions wildlife is as unique as it is beautiful. The sea is warm and stunningly clear. Frigate birds patrol the skies and giant land crabs forage in the wild mango forests. Oliver turned his hand to fishing. But not the normal kind. He had a knack for literally reaching out and grabbing black trigger fish from the huge shoals that gather in shallow waters.

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We spent four nights on Ascension and I really wanted more, I loved it. We spent time on glorious tropical white sand beaches, surrounded by tracks of young turtles whom had made their way to the sea the night before. We swam in the clearest waters I have ever encountered and were surrounded by marine life of all kinds. We swam in one of three pools on the Island, drank in numerous bars which are open throughout the day ( a pleasant change after the experience of St Helena) and marvelled at the landscape of larva rock and red sands, jagged alien formations of sharp pinnacles littered with ever present radio wires and communications dotted about the Island. Up until our last day the weather remained beautiful and it is fair to say we were all sad to leave, but grateful for the opportunity to visit somewhere that almost nobody in the World has been lucky enough to visit.

The beaches on Ascension are stunning, even if a little odd with their backdrop of telecommunications everywhere. Comfortless cove is so called as it was used as a quarantine station for sailors with disease. Apparently once called comfort cove to hide the conditions here. A small cemetery is testament to the men who died here through the years in the barren, cove.

 

I hope for the continued extension of the RMS, from an entirely selfish point of view and not withstanding the obvious benefits to St Helena, I for one am grateful for the continued delays to the airport opening. Travelling on the RMS and opportunity to visit such marvels as Cape Town and Ascension Island, are, for us, once in a life time stuff, and the longer the ship continues to service the Island the more of these once in a life time opportunities we can enjoy.

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High up on the slopes of the aptly named green mountain the permanent cloud provides enough moisture for the landscape to become greener

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Wednesday

So its Wednesday afternoon and I sit, still on board the RMS, it has been a very long week, and the longest day maybe of my life, watching a clock tick by hoping that at some time soon Captain Rodney will announce that the winds have dropped sufficiently to allow us into Cape Town Port. Since Monday, and my last blog, the waves picked up considerably, slowing our journey and making our arrival in Cape Town very late. Immigration was closed, and we were told that an extra night on board the RMS would be the result. Bad news got worse as we were then told that high winds had closed the port to all traffic, and that, looking at the forecast it would be sometime around midday that we would be able to get onto dry land.

Alas even that claim was optimistic, and so it is that I sit, at 4.30pm, still doing circles out in Table Bay. Our flight will be missed, and it wont be until Friday, two days late, that we will eventually take our flights to London. The RMS is a long journey at the best of time, mentally an extra day feels like an eternity and the day has been a mix of long drawn out periods staring blankly, games of cards, and a good deal of TV. At one stage, two of our fellow travellers were engaged in a game of Guess Who, and, such was the boredom on board, were watched intently by five adults, awaiting the result of the hotly fort contest.

We are lucky to have on board Colin Owen, Financial Secretary for St Helena who has been in touch with St Helena Governments HR to re-arrange our flights. Others, have not been so lucky, missing flights, connections and starts of holidays. The Days now need an expensive taxi journey to catch up with holiday companions. Although the journey has been long, our spirits have been lifted by the ever staggering sight of Cape Town, sat under Table Mountain with its table cloth of white cloud flowing down the slopes. We are saddened that our time at home has been cut short, but must make the most of the circumstances and enjoy an extra night and day in the wonderful city of Cape Town.

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Robin Island, Table Bay at Sunset

Oliver and Charlie have behaved impeccably, I have been astounded at how well they have played and entertained themselves. The children have all provided each other with entertainment and companionship and have found an endless array of games to play and ways to keep themselves amused.

After spending the night in the bay, we woke to see Cable Mountain, clocked in its white table cloth. Cape Town really is a stunning city.

After spending the night in the bay, we woke to see Cable Mountain, cloaked in its white table cloth. Cape Town really is a stunning city. Click on the image to zoom in and see it in full detail.

As I type, the piolet has just boarded the vessel to take us into Port. I am reliably informed we have around an hours journey time left, a welcome relief that our seven day journey is nearly at an end. The journey has not all been bad, I have cemented old friendships, and made new. We shared our journey and dining table with a Sailor of World renowned, and heard tales of round the World Trips and trans-Atlantic rowing from a man who holds once held a World Record for rowing the Atlantic single handedly. Both Oliver and Charlie are now set on being sailors when they grow up.

RMS St Helena Part Two!

So we are back where it all began, on board the RMS St Helena, only this time we travel South East, across the Atlantic Ocean for five nights heading to Cape Town. The RMS has not changed, but the journey has. We sit not full of excitement and trepidation, but instead contentment and a little sadness at leaving our Island home, albeit for just a few weeks. The ship does not chatter with talk of St Helena and what lies ahead, there is no advice to be given from experienced hands, but instead there are good friends, comfortable in each other’s company having built strong relationships for the past 10 months.

Passing through customs at the Wharf we had to board a bus to travel 100yrds which are now very familiar to us. It seems ridiculous that we cant walk down the wharf considering the number of hours we have spent down there swimming off it. We stand on deck looking back at Jamestown for a significant delay in departure. This gave those people leaving the Island for good the opportunity for one last look at their soon to be former home. We were also treated to our first Humpback Whale sighting of the year, jumping and leaping and breaching over and over. A really special moment before we leave.

On board with us are twenty eight children, making life easier for parents given company and play friends, but I suspect distinctly less comfortable for the other adults on board. Our Captain is once again Rodney Young, an affable Saint who has been crossing the Atlantic for many years. His manor makes one feel assured and taken care of, and he has a knack of remembering faces and people. Captain Cocktails in the lounge provided me the rare opportunity to don my suit and tie, although it didn’t last long. Rodney tells me he has been reading my blog, and recommending it to passengers, high praise indeed.

The RMS remains a wonderful experience, a throwback to bye gone days, only this time round it is even more appreciated, the exuberance of food and drink being particularly welcome given the relative lack of variety on St Helena. I have drank my first pint of beer in ten months, and although not top of my list of beers a refreshing Heineken has been very welcome, as has the selection of cheeses!! As I write I look forward to the final night aboard, to include an afternoon nap, (making up for my 3am poker game last night) and the final round of the on board quiz, where our team, “What do points make” sit in a comfortable position just off the leaders.

Will I be sad to leave the ship? Less so than before would be the answer although once more I feel as though an extended family has been created on board, and I have enjoyed the company of old and new friends and learnt once more that people should be given a chance, and that quick judgement should never be made. It is wonderful also to see the children playing together and forming their own friendships. Saint, South African, Brit and Swedes, there is no thought to colour or creed, just to fun and friendship. Oliver and Charlie have grown enormously over the past ten months, able to make friends and socially comfortable. During our last journey, Oliver had to be pressed to take part in anything, and most of the activities found him watching from the sidelines. This past week however has seen him first in line to sign up for anything, competing against his peers in everything from deck quoites to tug o war

The crossing has, in the main, been reasonably smooth at the time of writing, although our first afternoon was pretty rough leading to a que of people outside of the ships doctor all looking for a bum numbing injection to calm the sea sickness. I was one of the lucky ones, seemingly not suffering. Although since that afternoon the crossing has been easy going, the predicted change in sea conditions has now arrived and as I write the ship is being buffeted by large waves and has entered into a washing machine movement rotating left and right, up and down like a corkscrew. Having been largely lucky to avoid any sea sickness until now, I can feel my stomach churning, the combination of movement and four days of over indulgence of rich food and beer now taking its toll.

Our last day aboard also turns my attention to island friends who are travelling on the RMS for the last time. Having waved god bye to several lovely people and families already, the departing of the Days from St Helena is difficult for us, we will miss them greatly, as will Oliver and Charlie. But at the same time we look forward to our return in a few weeks, meeting the next wave of people who will come to St Helena to start their own adventures.

The RMS is important; of course it provides the vital life line, supplying the Island with everything from water to food. But it also provides a transition period, five days to leave St Helena and prepare oneself for the change of Worlds, which ever direction you are travelling. To leave or arrive on St Helena on a plane, whilst undoubtedly convenient, almost seems daunting, leaving the peace and comfort of the Island to arrive in London in less than eleven hours. The countdown has begun for the RMS, a clock shows the number of days until her decommission, which currently shows 361, just under a year from now the last remaining Royal Mail Ship will be no more. What will become of here? No one yet knows, a floating hotel has been one suggestion although this seems to present more challenges than solutions. The RMS serves a unique function, carrying both passengers and cargo and it is difficult to see where else this exacting requirement lies. She does not carry enough passengers to become a passenger cruise ship, and nor is her cargo capacity able to match a dedicated cargo ship, making her an expensive option to transport goods.

There is a strong will to find this wonderful ship a permanent home, but whether that will can be married with a practical and cost effective solution is, in my view, unlikely and sadly I can see here being consigned to a considerable scrap value. It is with great pride that I am able to say I travelled on board the RMS St Helena, the last of her kind.

All Change

Winter has arrived in earnest here on St Helena, for what seemed like a biblical time span the Island was soaked with continual misty rain and low hanging cloud. Much to the delight of our utilities supplier, Connect, the solid downpours have raised water levels and averted a water shortage. The Island took on a different atmosphere for a while, cloud hung to the peaks and ridges forming a permanent barrier to the sun. The acclimatised Saint in me is cold, the Brit in me is still wearing shorts and determined that 15C is still warm weather and nothing to whine about. When we arrive on St Helena in August last year we arrived to similar temperatures, and I was ashamed at the ex-pats who were complaining about the cold weather, having got used to months of 26C plus however, this sudden drop in temperature has come as a surprise. It has been compounded by our house move, as we have once again uprooted and moved house. Oliver, at seven years of age is now on his eight home as we packed up and moved across the Island to the wonderfully named, Alarm Forest. We have also moved up in the world, and our home sits around 500m altitude, and is on the cold side of St Helena. This move coupled with the cooler weather has meant a drop in temperature in the evenings of around 10C and we sit wrapped in blankets on our new and distinctly chilly leather sofa’s.

I insist on wearing shorts and have now set myself the goal of going a full 12months wearing shorts every day, something that will no doubt be put to the test as we return to the UK in a few days time. We had decided to hold Oliver’s Birthday party in our new home, it is well suited with a large garden and huge front room that is not less than 42ft long. This had forced us to empty boxes and sort the house out in double quick time and just three days after moving we were all settled in.

Our new home is lovely, and old Saint house, possibly over a hundred years old, made of stone walls some 2ft thick. A large grass lawn opens out to simply stunning views across the North of the Island, Jamestown, Ruperts Valley and the peaks of Flagstaff are all clearly visible, as is St Helena first airport beacon, a red light sat high on the Barn as a symbol of the change that is about to hit all of St Helena. Although a little colder now, it promises to be an ideal place for most of the year and I cant wait to enter into Spring and Summer in a few weeks time.IMG_1877-Pano IMG_1870-Pano IMG_1868

Of course winter also brings the football season, and Oliver and I now have a team, as I was in the UK I am now coaching my own little group of Steven Gerrards. Oliver is loving his first taste of competitive football, and by all accounts is doing ok, scoring a few goals in his first few games and with a good sense of positioning and space for a seven year old. Our first match was reminiscent of British football, cold grey and wet, with parents huddled into their thick jackets hurling instructions and encouragement to their bewildered looking children. Bev, previously critical of such competitive behaviour found herself admitting, “you just cant help but get excited and shout at them”.

With the change in seasons comes a change in the Wildlife as the Humpback Whales return to ST Helena to calve and feed their young. We caught our first glimpse of these majestic animals whilst at the beach at Ruperts Bay, the weather having taken a turn for the better in the last week or so. This spotting prompted our first boat trip of the season and although we didn’t see the whales, we were treated to a large pod of Dolphins.

James Bay itself is busy at the moment as ships from the Ministry of Defence arrive in town to extract oil from the sunken wreck the Darkdale. It was Torpedoed off St Helena on the 22nd October 1941 and now lies as a top diving attraction some 30meters below the waves. Ceri Samson writes about the history of the ship here, and there are plenty of other sites with historical information on the ship formally known as Empire Oil,  so I wont go into it on my pages, but suffice to say the bay is busy and the MoD diving crew has caused something of a stir with the ladies during their stay on St Helena, like I said, St Helena has a way of making celebrities out of people.

 

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Please click on this photo and zoom in to see the detail and the ships in James Bay

We rapidly approach the end of our first year on St Helena, and on Thursday this week we will board the RMS St Helena for our five day journey across the Atlantic to Cape Town. I approach this journey with mixed emotions, joy of course at seeing family and old friends, but tempered by the fact this journey heralds the half way point, we count down from here. It feels all the more poignant as the Days, a wonderful family and friend who featured heavily in our story will travel with us on the RMS for the last time. We met the Days on board the RMS last as they returned from their own mid-term break, it seems fitting that we journey with them as we reach half way and their own St Helena story comes to an end. I wonder who will be aboard the RMS when we return in August, who will we introduce to the Island, I wonder if they will have read my blog.

 

I wonder too what I will be doing upon our return. Charlie starts main school for the first time, giving me full days to fill. There is lots of opportunities on the horizon for me, but none are yet certain it is a time of unknowns.

 

It is also a time to look back, on our first 12 months living on St Helena. What have I learnt, what have I achieved, have I changed?

 

I have changed, I have changed for the better, I am more sociable, and it turns out Ive learned to like people, and that conversation with others is to be cherished and enjoyed, and not seen as an inconvenience. I have learnt to appreciate things in life, to enjoy simple pleasures, and although we are by no means deprived, I have learnt that there are many material goods in this world we simply don’t need. Have I become more patient? in some ways yes, I don’t expect my goods to arrive from Amazon the next day, and waiting an hour for food in a restaurant is to be expected and in some regards enjoyed, but I still loath waiting in queue and have not quite got used to sitting in my car waiting for other drivers to finish their conversation in the road!

 

I have learnt not to judge, on appearances, on rumours, or on first impressions. I have learnt that people should be given a chance, and that first impressions are almost always wrong, I have discovered good friends in people that I wouldn’t have given the time to get to know in my past. I have learnt to say hello, to speak to people, and to listen (although I still can’t remember names).

 

I have accomplished a great deal, from starting out feeling lost, with no purpose or meaning to my time here, I have developed a successful photography and design business. I have built the business up through word of mouth and good service. I have learnt to dive, and will soon start my rescue divers course. I have learnt things about myself, some good, some bad. I have learnt that I am more needy than I realised, and yet I have learnt that I overcome dark times and low emotions and come out stronger.

 

Am I closer to Charlie and Oliver, yes, although it has not come as easily as I had hoped. I have come to admire them, and be proud of their achievements. They have taken everything in their strides, made friends and adapted so very well to their new lives, better than perhaps their Dad when we first arrived.  Have I become a house husband, no, I have learnt that I simply could not be. But I have learnt also that there is a balance to be found, and that having the love and admiration of my children, is more important than the love and admiration of anyone else, apart from my wife, who continues to hold me up when Im weak and push me further when Im strong.  I have learnt also the things I still need to work on, the things I need to improve to be a better father, to provide Charlie and Oliver with good guidance and not just firm guidance. Maybe the next twelve months can help me get there.

 

As I sit here now, I cannot picture myself in the UK, it seems a strange and alien place and as far away from St Helena as the journey we are about to take suggests. St Helena is in me, it is part of me now and I hope that I am part of it. And yet I fear that once we get back to the UK, it will be all too familiar.  We will arrive at Heathrow and drive for four hours, when my longest drive for 11 months has been twenty minutes. There will be more people in the airport than I have seen for nearly a year and I will be annoyed with most of them. They will not wave at me, nor say hello, just because Im a fellow human being. Most will not even give me a glance. I will wave at people as we drive and they will think I am strange. I will have more options of food and drink than I will know what to do with, but I am  looking forward to a choice of beer!!!