Letting Go

Bev and the boys are finally back in the country. I have missed them desperately but at least they are not 6 days away from me. They are however, still not living with me. We made the decision hat until Bev finds work then she and the boys would live in Bristol, with her parents, two hours from my lonely flat. This is sensible for many reasons, without Bev having a job we don’t know exactly where we will live when she does have one. We cant afford to rent a family home on my salary alone, and we don’t want to be tied into a 6 month contract when we don’t yet know where we want to live. After the upheaval of leaving St Helena, we don’t want to disrupt the boys by placing them in a school only to have to move them again six months later. All in all, Bev temporarily living in Bristol is the sensible, if not difficult thing.

Of course I see them on my days off, but this has meant lots of driving and lots of tearful goodbyes, saying goodbye for another week becoming increasingly difficult each time I have to do it. Oliver too is finding the situation difficult and unsettling, he has always been an emotional sop just like his Dad!

My first few weeks as you know were very difficult, but as Bev pointed out, how can you let go of somewhere when your life is still there. As soon as my family were on the ship it felt easier. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to let go. I should do, or Ill never resettle., but letting go is admitting I don’t live there any more, that I’m not just on leave and wont be going back any time soon. I still follow the news and gossip coming out of the Island with great eagerness. The strangest thing is the sadness I feel when I hear of others who have left or are leaving St Helena now. Somehow it still hurts that friends have left, even though in most cases it means I get to see them sooner rather than later.

Im reminded of the transient nature of St Helena. Already I see facebook comments from people I don’t know, who have become friends with my friends and I feel rather indignant about it. I wonder how it felt for the friends I made who left St Helena a year or more ago, who watched my life on the Island move on without them, new friends and experiences which people whom I shared the first twelve moths with are absent from. As I’ve reflected on many occasions before, how long will it be until we are a distant memory. At the moment there enough people still on the Island whom we are good friends with, but before too long they will of left. The Saints of course remain, and I hope many of them will remember us and think fondly of us, but the every day presence will fade.

But my life here is becoming more normal. I’m settling back into the place and things are less daunting. My shopping trips are becoming more productive and I’ve managed to buy cereal and stuff to wash with, as well as beer. I still find the choice overwhelming and unnecessary. St Helena teaches you that you don’t need most of the things we often feel we couldn’t do without (although the Royster’s T-bone steak crisps I’ve just eaten were pretty damn good!) . In terms of letting go there are some things that I really don’t want to let go of, and the appreciation for what you have is one of those things. Too often in my life I dwell on negatives and this period has made me realise and be grateful for the many wonderful things I do have. My friends, my career, my family and above all my wife and children whom I have grown to love and appreciate more in the past four weeks than I have ever done before.

I’m settling too into life in work. Although some clarity is still needed, Im finding my place in the organisation and beginning to have an influence and be able to make some positive impact and changes. I’ve found a confidence in myself, in my knowledge, skills and experience. I made the move to Plymouth National Marine Aquarium to learn new skills, and have started to do so already, but Ive also had my previous knowledge solidified in a way that is very pleasing, turns out I do know some things.

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The view from outside the aquarium.

Ive started my first dives as a professional diver, carrying out maintainence and feeding on a large temperate marine exhibit, diving with large conger eels, rays and other species, feeding them by hand to the enjoyment of an audience. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this is the audience itself. A hundred or so people watching you through the glass whilst you are effectively in training at something that is very new is daunting to say the least. The public expect to see professional divers, and as yet I don’t feel quite as polished and steady as my colleagues. But its all part of the learning curve and one the reasons why, for my career to progress, I had to find new challenges and gain new skills within the aquarium world. The salary is poor (and industry wide problem) and the work and hours can be challenging, but I have been reminded that I absolutely love it, and to work somewhere that others pay to come and visit is something of a privilege. Many of those who pass through our doors would the love the opportunities I have and I must remember that and be grateful for it.

Plymouth is proving to be a fantastic and beautiful city. I spent last Friday on the waterfront drinking a few beers, before catching the ferry across the bay to continue with a few more pints in the setting sun. The weather last week was tropical and has helped my transition. I’ve also got connected and have a mobile phone again for the first time in nearly three years. Whilst I enjoyed being out of contact on St Helena, they do have their advantages, and a camera with me at all times is one of them.

 

Strangely I have not wanted to pick up my camera much since getting back. Photography felt like something I did on St Helena, not in the UK, who would be interested in photos here? I lost all passion for it. But a trip to West Wales rekindled some of that. Camping with wonderful friends from my university days in a beautiful part of the country was a timely reminder that St Helena is not the only beautiful place in the world, and that we have many wonderful friends who are dotted all over the World. That being said it was quite a trip.

My days off work have been spent travelling to see Bev and the kids.

 

This latest trip involved 7 hours of driving each way to spend a few hours with them, without which I wouldn’t of seen them for a fortnight, needs must. Saying goodbye though continues to be hard, and is actually getting harder each time. A solid cuddle from Charlie was enough to make me shed a few more tears as I once again wished my family goodbye for another week.

 

You’ll recall my friends the Gonsalves’s who, after their horrific ordeal on Ascension Island were back in the UK recovering. The good news is they are recovering well, and in two weeks we are getting together for a weekend of camping and no doubt a lot of beer. I cant bloody wait, but I wonder how I will feel when I say goodbye to them, as they will shortly be heading back out to St Helena. I suspect a large part of me will be hugely jealous. Its hard to let go when you have friends still on the Island, even more so when good friends are about to head back out there. A time will come no doubt when St Helena is resided into that place where wonderful memories are kept, the part of your brain that just keeps holds of things in laughs, and recollections over a drunken reunion. But for now it is still too close, it is still too fresh, and if I’m honest I really don’t want to let go, not just yet, its too important and too soon for me.

 

 

 

 

 

Indian Summer

So winter has set in on St Helena, the Winter Solstice arrived and was accompanied by wind and rain and cloudy skies, but other than that one day, the weather has been exceptionally wonderful. Day times have seen clear blue skies, warm sunshine and blue waters, whilst evening shave been pleasant and cool. We waited a long time for summer to arrive this year but it is without doubt hanging on in for us as we count down to the end of our second year on the Island.

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The Sunsets in June have been spectacular.

I wasn’t sure how to tone title this blog entry, and in some ways I feel things are becoming a bit repetitive as week by week and month by month we continue to have an incredible time here on our little Island. The past three weeks are no different, and it was only a conversation with a friend back home in the UK that made me think about how wonderful “normal” everyday life here is.

I was asked, “so are you enjoying it there, what do you get up to”? To which my response was, well the weather is normally great, we go diving once a week, walking through stunning landscapes, see friends for dinner or parties, drink beer watching fantastic sunsets, play football, swimming, snorkelling, swim with whale sharks, watch dolphins dance in the waves the list is endless. It sounds like the world’s best holiday, only it is our normal life here.

We took advantage of the continued summer by taking a walk to Sandy Bay Barn. A spectacular walk that takes you through green grass and conifer trees, out to a barren, mars like landscape with its fair share of climbing and hairy moments, and no shortage of breath-taking views looking along the coastline and back in towards the lush green interior of Diana Peak. I have to admit though I was reluctant to do the walk, having planned it a week before I had not accounted for twisting both my ankles playing football the day before.

 

It was my first start of the St Helena Football season as my team, The Bell Boys took on the Wolves. In a more competitive game than the final score suggests we ran out 4-0 winners as I put in a man of the match performance and scored my first goal for the team, a lovely 25 yard volley over the stranded goal keeper. Having a job that requires weekend work back in the UK, I haven’t had the opportunity for eleven a side football for many years before arriving here, and I thoroughly enjoy it. The enjoyment made all the more when you read your name and exploits on the back pages of the papers, and your name on the radio sports section.

Not that I am the only Tyson to be grabbing the headlines. Charlie has now started his first steps in competitive football, joining the beginner’s league on the Island with one of two teams I coach and manage, aptly named the mini BellBoys. Charlie and his friends thoroughly enjoyed their first game in a hard fought 2-2 finish. Meanwhile, Oliver’s team has taken the step up from the beginners league to the primary league, and are the youngest team of a very widely split age group. Jungle Rangers, made up of year 3 children will find themselves on the end of a big defeat most weeks as they take on children three years older than them. But in their first game, against Skull Fire they gave an incredible account of themselves. Oliver took on the role of the most experienced player on our team and stepped up to the plate in outstanding fashion scoring a goal, earning man of the match and driving his team on like a young Steve Gerrard. There was a time when I wasn’t sure if Oliver had it in him to be a descent football but as he stood out there facing children twice his size he showed skill, drive, determination and leadership and I was bursting with pride at the final whistle, genuinely holding back tears as I congratulated his and all the teams performance.

We leave for our midterm break in a few days, and Oliver is currently quite sad to be leaving and missing his football. Of course it will be wonderful to see our friends and family back home, but the timing is something of a blow as we are all set to miss eight weeks in the middle of the season.

As the weather holds up I continue to dive regularly, the most spectacular of recent dives being a warm sunny morning at Sugar Loaf Point. The dive itself follows an underwater valley packed full of life from fish to crayfish, from starfish to Devil Rays. As we look towards our next break we will travel to Ascension Island, a place not on the regular travel and tourists routes, thanks to some friends made on St Helena I hope I get chance to dive in new waters and see more and new unique endemic species.

 

And so we came to Oliver’s 8th Birthday, and by all accounts we had planned very little and had a fairly normal weekend in store. It is only when you then look back and recount that weekend that you realise how special our time here is. Oliver’s Birthday weekend started with Donkey Walking.  Those of you who have followed from the start will recall our regular donkey walks. We haven’t been for a while and it was lovely to get back out there and see the weekly event well supported with lots of new faces. The walking itself is a gentle walk along the central ridge of the Island, with spectacular views to Sandy Bay to the South and Thompson’s wood to the North. The Donkeys are a lovely added extra and provide good company as we amble along the road chatting and taking in the views, and the children love it.

For the afternoon it was a hastily arranged barbecue fun at Rupert’s Beach with two other birthday boys. Sun, sea, sand and food, what more could you want. I took a snorkel round the bay and enjoyed a prolonged swim with a curious Green Turtle, the boy’s dug a hole and everyone was happy!

 

On Sunday there was more football to be played, and an afternoon spent filling our bellies at St Helena first ever Rib Off. Four chefs, (three amateurs and one professional) battles to provide the 140 or so guests with the best, stickiest, tastiest ribs they could. At a pricey £20 a head, everyone was determined to get their fill of the food and drink, and with over £3200 raised for local charities it was a great day. Winner of course was Mike Harper, professional chef, closely followed by Colin Owen, Financial Secretary and Paul McGinnety, Assistant Chief Secretary. Sadly, coming in last place was the competitions only Saint representative, Councillor Eddy Duff with a somewhat embarrassing result as the only contestant with no votes on the day. But it was not about the competition it was about the day, and as the sun shone once more everyone went home with bellies full of food and a smile on their face after a thoroughly enjoyable in what is hoped to be the of what will becomes an annual event.

The last event for Oliver’s, now somewhat drawn out, Birthday was his highlight, and something he had been looking forward to for many weeks, a trial scuba dive in the pool with his school friends. Known as the Bubble Maker, this allows children to try out scuba gear and swim underwater in the pool. Oliver and his three friends were clearly nervous to start, the gear feeling heavy and cumbersome to them. But they all soon got the hang of things and before long were swimming underwater like fish in the sea doing laps around the pool and playing search and recovery games. We finished the evening with a fantastic Whale cake by one of our friends on Island, Tina Johnson. If you need any cakes making on St Helena she is your lady.

 

As we come to the end of our second year on Island it amazes me how fast time has flown. With just six days until we board the RMS once more it is unfathomable to think that we may have been heading back to the UK for good at this stage, how has two years go by so quickly?

The contents of this blog entry contains just three weeks’ worth of stuff. It does not include the walk and bike ride we had today, the other birthday barbecue at Rupert’s Beach,  nor the other two games of football we enjoyed. Nor does it include the regular cards nights I have every other Thursday, the drinks and food with friends watching the progression of England and Wales in the Euro’s; my photography work; Bevs full time teaching during the High Schools GCSE period; or the boys school trips to the fire station or forest school. It does not include anything of the stag do I went on touring round the Islands pubs by bus, nor the leaving party Bev went to, the two other dives I have done or the afternoon at the Island first pop up cinema. It does not speak of the Governor coming round for a few drinks with Bev and some of her friends, or the wonderful night I had listening to the big easy at the Mule Yard or the brilliant night out we had last night, as 150 people gathered for a joint 60th and 50th Birthday party bringing saints and ex-pats together for drinks and the big easy band.

So, why is it that time flies here on St Helena? Well that is why, the endless list of fun that we have here, packing so much in to such a short space of time, and best of all, it’s just a normal month in the middle of winter.

The end of two years on St Helena brings with it some sadness. People who travelled with us on the RMS to start our adventure together all those months ago are about to leave, and for some, unlike us, they will not be coming back. We are about to lose some truly wonderful friends from our lives that have been bedrocks of support friendship and laughter and who have shared every step of this incredible journey with us. Living on the Island they probably won’t read this, but if when you are home you take a nosey at my blog, then I say goodbye to Jon Lambdon, The Parkinsons, half of the Grahams, The Durkins, half the Hathways, and one more of the Hannahs. I will miss you all immensely and life here will really not be quite the same without you. Twelve months ago we closed the first chapter on our time here, as one set of friends departed, this week marks the close of the second chapter. But we are, in my view, the lucky ones. We get to open a new chapter, probably our last one on St Helena. We return to the UK looking forward to seeing friends and family, but with our first weekend back on St Helena already planned. I cant wait for it.

The Best Yet

I pointed my torch upwards, my hand above my head as I watched the bubbles dance and flash in the beam of light. We broke the surface to the sound of gasps, a short silence was quickly broken by chattering’s of delight after what was, to all of us, an amazing experience. As I look at a solitary star breaking the cloud we head back to shore, the excited conversation fuelled by our shared experience and a degree of cold chattering.

Night diving is a unique experience, the lack of sound, tunnel vision and inability to communicate makes diving a very insular personal experience at the best of times. As you descend into complete darkness, the sound of your own breathing is all you can hear, the flash of torches around you all you can see, night diving is on a whole new level of alone in your own thoughts.

A group of eight descended together at Long Ledge, a slowly descending wall of rock running perpendicular from St Helena, and home to one of the most diverse dive sites on the Island. Only my second night dive I could feel my rapid breathing, as I keep a very close eye on my dive buddy, and for today, dive leader Ross. The advanced dive book tells me it is important to keep in close contact with your buddy on a night dive, but in reality, the light from a torch, in complete blackness can be seen from a long way away. Nevertheless I maintained eye contact as we descended slowly, the bottom of the ocean only revealed as my torch beam moved across the blackness like a search light looking into a night sky.

Once at the depth of our dive, the group re-convened before moving off. Following our pre-dive briefing and having dived the site before, I knew we were heading towards a cave. The experience is surreal; you concentrate on the small circle of light from your dive torch, black all around with the exception of the other search lights moving like a disco glitter ball all around you. Like a moth I am drawn to my own beam of light, drifting off into my own world I forget about the world around me, my breathing disappears into my sub conscious and all that exists in the world is the flash of colourful fish, or ghostly elongated worms that sway in the swell. My dream state is broken by the waving of light in front of my eyes, my buddy checking I am ok and still with the world I give the typical “ok” hand signal before we move on together into the mouth of the cave.

At the mouth of the cave the bright white light of my buddy’s torch lands upon a huge red octopus, startled by our appearance his colour and texture flash and change as he decides his next action, take off and jet propel away, or camouflage and slowly slink off into the gloom. Wracked with indecision he sits, motionless, waiting for his new and unexpected adversary to make its move.

As we move into the cave it is narrower than I remember, the spot light of my torch brings the walls and ceiling in around me. I’m very conscious of my breathing now, knowing that a deep inhale will result in my head crashing into the delicate and beautiful sun corals clinging to the roof of the cave, whilst a sudden exhale will result in my stirring up the silt and mud on the cave floor, reducing visibility to zero. Crayfish are now all around us, the bright orange back drop of coral broken only by armies of crayfish, moving backwards and sideways but always with a gaze fixed upon us.

My dive buddy has bright yellow fins, a good job as otherwise I am clueless as to which light in the dark I should be staying in contact with, but the experienced leader knows where I am, and gives reassuring checks whenever he can get my attention. We move out of the cave and along the wall of Long Ledge. I have been here before, many times, but today the wall is bigger, it grows upwards and disappears into the haze. Now at 19m my torch will not reach the top of the wall, it goes on forever into the gloom. Its crevices and cracks are populated with black feather stars, twisting turning and waving their spider like arms in the current catching particles of plankton drifting in shore. Fish, startled by our lights dash from hole to hole, the sleep disturbed by these inconsiderate light bearers.

As I look closely at the wall, I see two small lights shining right back at me. Tiny and insignificant I am drawn towards these lights, until the twinkling becomes the reflective eyes of bright red dancing shrimp. Slipper Lobster are now dashing across the sand bed at the base of the wall, and a giant crayfish feeds obliviously on a nearby rock. I approach cautiously, resting my arms on the sea bed just behind the distracted armoured soldier. His foot long antennae brushes my arm and the crayfish realises he is not alone. With a flick of his tail he shoots backwards and is gone.

Following Ross’s lead we turn back, retracing our fin strokes back along the wall, when suddenly our path is veering off, into the black, featureless sand beds nearby. I look around, and others are following, so I trust that we are going the right way and after what seems like forever, time having been lost along with the sunlight, we stop. With some confusion I find myself turning off my torch, clearly the instruction Ross is giving. As they arrive others do the same, albeit with a good degree of “what on earth” going through people’s minds. Then, with a large swish of his arm we understand in an instant what we are doing sat in the dark. As we all start to flail our limbs frantically we see bioluminescent bacteria all around us. The absolute black is broken only by the twinkling of glitter all around. I wave my arms like a small child, mesmerised and delighted with a feeling of shear exhilaration. I imagine myself in a snow globe, a black one. I know of nothing around me, I feel claustrophobic but giddy; I am in a dream world. I do not know where any of my dive group are, I do not know which way I am facing, and only the sand at my feet gives away my orientation. I know that at some point a bright blinding torch light will come on, and my snow globe will be shattered, but for now I am alone, all around me is indescribable flashes of glitter and light and time passes beyond meaning.

Inevitably a light is turned on, and the group follows, I take comfort that I hadn’t just been left alone in the darkness and we set off back towards Long Ledge. I have no idea which way to go, but I follow the light and yellow fins of my buddy, trusting he knows more than me. As we journey back to our start I see more octopus, twirling ghostly worms, slipper lobster and armies of crayfish. Checking my air I start to think we must be reaching our ascent point. I suddenly see the light of Ross’s torch frantically waving in my eye line. As I turn round a huge white ghost appears out of the distant gloom. Slowly, and purposefully the ghost becomes reality as I realise that a huge green turtle is swimming purposefully, determinedly, toward me. My heart stops as he swims close by, his colours lost as he appears white in our torch lights. By now the group is all around, lights all fixed on the turtle as is slowly twists and turns around us. As it passes by my, I could touch, but I don’t. I remind myself of what I learnt in my theory course. You do not touch the marine life, I think about what the rest of the group will think should I stretch out my arm, just to see, just to touch.

After several minutes he swims upwards and away, a few of us swim alongside for a while. His scale now becomes apparent as a grown man swims alongside and looks small, insignificant compared to our ghostly companion. I have seen Green Turtles before, but this was huge. The largest Green Turtle recorded was 5ft long, but I’m convinced this was longer, its huge shell carried upon his back.  As he swims we lose touch, unable to keep up, but like a petulant child attempting to make us play by his rules, he instantly misses the companionship and turns heal right back toward the group.

Before deciding to take a rest on one of the dive group’s knees, the turtle swims toward me once more. This time I have no choice, he swims right into me, his huge fin pushing down against my side as if to play with me. As I reach out my arm and stroke the length of his smooth shell I think about what the others might think, and then I think, “I just touched a Sea Turtle” who cares!!!

As quickly as he arrived our new friend has gone. Looking at our now depleted air we start our ascent. After a safety stop I point my torch upwards, my hand above my head as I watched the bubbles dance and flash in the beam of light. We broke the surface to the sound of gasps, a short silence was quickly broken by chattering’s of delight after what was to all of us an amazing experience. As I look at a solitary star breaking the cloud we head back to shore, the excited conversation fuelled by our shared experience and a degree of cold chattering.

We sip soup as we return to James Bay, grateful to be warming up. But my heart is already warm. They say that happiness is based on collecting experiences, not material goods. This was an experience, this will live with me forever, this, makes me very happy indeed.

Gravity Rush 2015

SHAPE (St Helena Active Participation in Enterprise) is a charitable organisation of St Helena who work tirelessly to provide opportunities and activities for St Helena’s disabled people. Providing work and activities cantered around crafts and business SHAPE recycle everyday materials to produce craft goods of surprising quality from soap to necklaces made of reused magazines! With the appropriate mantra “Enabled no Disabled” SHAPE receives government funding for its activities, but must make up a 30% shortfall each year and does this through sales of its products and, more recently in its annual find raising event, Gravity Rush.

For the past three years, SHAPE has invited people to hurtle themselves down a hill through Jamestown on homemade go karts with no short measure of thrills, spills and crashes the event proves to be a popular and lucrative day. Having donned my “official” high vis jacket to allow me close access without being questioned I was more than excited to take up residents near the finishing line with my new camera and “big” lens and snap away. Sadly a few spectators did get injured, although this appeared to be due to those people not standing behind the appropriate barriers, but, despite the obvious concern it did not dampen spirits as spectators cheered on the contestants as they hurtled down the hill. Thankfully no -one was seriously hurt, and the event was a huge success, with no shortage of drama, crashes, clowns, water balloons and even two front wheel falling of one kart, the thirteen teams became one winner.

My take home memory of the day is that of community. Where else would we attend a public fun day like this, and know virtually everyone involved. As I look through the crowd there is scarcely a face that I don’t at least recognise. The stewards, the contestants, the clowns, the police, the press, the commentator, and all those in between I knew by name. Gravity Rush 2015 would be a great event for anyone to attend, but when your here, and you are part of this Island, you are part of everything the Island does, and it is a true privilege to look around and see friendly faces at every turn.

Its Life Jim, But Not As We Know It

Ive concluded that my life on St Helena is in no way what I expected, not that I really knew what to expect, but I did not expect this.

I am, to all intense and purpose, running my own business in photography and design. How on earth has that come about? Granted there has been a lot of hard work and now, money, gone into the photography, and Ive always dabbled in producing posters and playing with adobe software, but when I left the UK I was a Marine Biologist/aquarist, since then I have become a communications manager, a business owner, and, photographer (I still find it difficult to say that as I feel very much an amateur and suspect I will be again on returning to the UK)

In recent weeks I have been somewhat overloaded with work, whilst this is obviously a good thing, the house looks like a tip as my house husband duties have been somewhat neglected and regrettably I have had to relinquish my duties at the National Trust. I simply haven’t had time to devote to Trust work and do not wish for people to be relying on me when I cannot deliver. I have much unfinished work at the Trust and who knows if my business does not continue to thrive I may be back there.

My work has been extremely interesting; a contract to photograph sites connecting to Napoleons exile on the Island has been very exciting. My work will be the sole photographic contribution to a new guide book for the Island. More recently I have been photographing sites across the Island for a development portfolio and I am in the midst of a big project for the Environment and Natural Recourses Directorate, providing a stock of images of the various activities and work that fall under their umbrella. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me, visiting sites I would not normally have access to. Watching large trees being felled has been the highlight thus far but lined up for me is a trip with the rock guards, brave men who abseil down cliffs to create controlled rock falls, trips with the Peaks conservation teams, visits to farms sites around the Island and lots more. It’s a large project but I cannot wait to get out there and stuck in.

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The other side of my business has recently taken off with a contract to Saint Travelproduce the logos for a new start-up company,Saint Travel. This local firm are hoping to take advantage of a new era of tourism for the Island when the airport opens. From what I know of the business owners it will be a huge success Im sure, and any of you thinking of travelling to St Helena when the airport opens should look out for them once they become operational.

Back to the photography and I have started a new line of products for the St Helena youth, photographing and retouching cars. Many young Saints take a huge amount of pride in their vehicles, and I hope this will prove a success. Some of my photos will soon be on sale in the local arts and crafts store, and one of my first photos on the Island is to feature in a new St Helena calendar. With another photography course under way I am indeed kept very busy at the moment.

Before photo supplied by the client.

Before photo supplied by the client.

After photo with some re-touching, replacing the sky, playing with the colour tone.

After photo with some re-touching, replacing the sky, playing with the colour tone.

Not that my time is restricted to work. I have now completed my advanced diving certification and will soon start my rescue diver course. Thursday evenings are very busy as I continue to train junior football and finally as winter sets in the new football season starts on St Helena and Oliver and his team mates will have the opportunity to compete in competitive football with three other junior teams on the Island. New Horizons, a youth development organisation on the Island are fantastic, and the team there, managed by Nicky and Tina Stevens, work tirelessly to provide opportunities for St Helena’s young people. The fact that the various ages of the Junior leagues will have 90 players competing this year, (on an Island of 4000 people remember) is incredible and just goes to show how hard the team there work. As a side note, one of my team, whilst walking down to the pitched explained to me that “some people believe that the World is God’s House”, I agreed that, although not my personal belief, yes, some people do believe that to be the case. With a short pause for thought, the young man mused, “I don’t, I think he lives in the Consulate hotel”!!  a fine recommendation for a hotel if ever there was one.

Sadly I fear my own football days are behind me. Somewhat unbelievably I am still having problems with my groin, more than five months after it last ruptured. Under pressure from Bev I finally conceded that I need to see a doctor, the appointment has been made. Unfortunately, such is the way of things here, whilst the doctors and nurses cannot be faulted, the waiting times can, and despite phoning on the 24th May, I could not get an appointment until the 12th of June. Ill let you know then if Im still available for Brenden Rogers to sign.

I am, as you can see rather busy, but I am not the only one. With the Marine Conservation Team starting their bird tagging again, Bev had a rather wet night on Egg Island. Starting at 4pm and going through till 1am the idea is to catch nesting Storm Petrels as they return from feeding trips to Tag and record their vitals before releasing. It is hoped this work will provide information on their population trends, and interestingly, whether two species, one potentially an endemic species actually exist on the Island. Bev is also now teaching Marine Biology O’level classes two evenings a week, (between the two of us we now do not have one mid-week evening where we are not out doing something in the community) preparing resources, lesson plans and materials for the new Marine Biology A’level which will start next year, carrying out her normal teaching duties and, most recently teaching science at a local primary school suffering from a major staffing crisis. I don’t mind telling you that despite claims from the government of the importance of Education on the Island, teacher wages are appalling. A Saint can currently earn more baking bread, or working the checkout, than they can educating the children of St Helena. This terrible situation has led to serious recruitment and retention problems. On an Island where unemployment is at virtually 100% it is people, not jobs that are in short supply, and if people aren’t rewarded sufficiently for what is a very difficult and highly skilled job, they simply go elsewhere and who can blame them. There are rumours abound that indeed this may change and that the teacher pay and benefits structure is being looked at and revised, I hope for the future of the Island that they get it right.

In other goings on it turns out I am allergic to Sea Water!!! Not a great situation for a Marine Biologist (if indeed I am still one of them) nor for someone with ambitions of achieving a Dive Master status. It dawned on Bev and I that I had had sinus problems for weeks and months, indeed, when we thought carefully, those problems have persisted since I started to dive. If I miss a couple of weeks of diving  its starts to clear up. I have now taken to Anti-histamines before a dive, which seems to be helping alleviate the problem. Diving over the past two weeks has taken a considerable turn to the cold side, with seawater temperatures dropping to around 22C, enough to make a difference. What makes more difference however is the turn in the weather making the return journey a chilly one as winds have swept in and what feels like a continuous blanket of cloud has shrouded the Island for two or three weeks now.

A long dry summer has given way to winter, and I do not like it. A few weeks ago Connect, our local, and only utility provider issued stark warnings over the levels of water supply on the Island, insisting that if people did not severely limit their use then we could run out of water by July. It seems the weather gods heard their plea and promptly switched on the rain, and it has not stopped since. Despite the huge amount of rainfall we have had, water restrictions have been legally imposed on the Island this week, much to the bemusement of everyone concerned. The problem it seems lies not with the amount of rainfall, but with capturing and retaining that rainfall (see Ceri Samson’s blog for a great write up on how works to the natural environment can help this situation). Broken pipes and reservoirs empty for repairs don’t help, but in all honestly the situation is ridiculous and Connect frankly need to get a grip of things. I believe problems of aging reservoirs and leaks have been inherited by the current directors but being told we may run out of water as rain lashes down around us is bemusing at best and downright incompetent at worst.

The strange goings on do not stop there, after the announcement of the final voyages of the RMS ST Helena, and a string of “special” voyages were announced and tickets went on sale on a first come first served basis to those living on the Island. Such is the regard that this ship is held in that people queued outside the Solomon’s shipping offices from 4am, with even those at the front of the queue not being served until 9.30am. They say the British like to form an orderly queue and it seems that has rubbed of on Saint Helenians. Im am convinced however that waiting five hours before the offices even opened was not the sensible approach, and turning up at 9am most likely would of seen you getting your tickets an hour or two later.

IMG_0608-Edit-2 IMG_0608-EditMy final story of this strange world we call home is that of the Prince Andrew School Annual Dinner Dance, a very posh black tie affair………or so we were told. After getting ready in our best attire (I don’t have much other than shorts and T-shirt on St Helena), my wife looked quite simply incredible and was sure to be turning heads. We turned up at the dubiously named Godfarther’s Rockclub which had been turned over to the school for a night of glitz and glamor. Sure enough as we arrived the ladies were dressed in their best gowns and the men looked suitably smart in black ties. The venue looked superb and the elegant table cloths suitably hid the plastic garden furniture underneath. However, this is where the façade fell down as we were called to collect our food from the buffet. A Buffet! I thought this was a posh dinner dance, I was expecting table service at least. Once at the buffet table the menu was bizarre to say the least, Beef Curry, Chips, cold ham and pork slices, breaded chicken pieces, and salad leaves. A weird combination at the best of times (Bev’s Mum and Dad would of loved this strange mix) and even stranger when being served as a buffet at a black tie event. Still, I went back for a second plate, and enjoyed the jelly and ice cream desert too! Despite the comical nature of it all we had a fantastic night with good company, music and dancing to my favourite band of all time, the Big Easy.

When I look back to our first two months on the Island I recall a time of confusion and feeling lost. Climbing Jacobs Ladder provided my goals for the week, and my blog was everything to me at that time. I was lost, not knowing why I had come to St Helena and what it was I was supposed to do here. It turns out I am still lost, still unsure of what I am supposed to do here, and it’s wonderful. I could not be busier and still have no idea what I will be doing next. Somehow I am running a business, which even saying still sounds bizarre, and even more bizarre is that I am a photographer. In a few weeks’ time we will be moving house, what will come my way then I have no idea but I cant wait to find out.