Home Alone

Arriving in the UK I touched down at 9.15am and, after a very quick transfer through immigration and customs I headed strait for Budget Car hire. I had just travelled for eight days, six on a ship followed by over 16 hours of flying, and now I had to drive to Bristol, to what would be an empty house. I just wanted this over with so I could sit down and relax. The car hire gave me a small glimpse of what was to come, the problem with living on St Helena for three years is that essentially, on UK computer systems you don’t exist! What is your house number Sir?” “ I don’t have one”!!! As has been the usual response Bev’s parents address, where our bank accounts are registered, provided something to put into the computer and after lots of fiddling eventually the computer said yes and I was on my way.

How strange, not long ago I was crossing the Atlantic, now I was driving up the M4 towards Reading. Reading was my first stop to get some food and catch up on some free WiFi. My first meal back in the UK, a Greg’s Sausage Roll, you cant beat them! It was very odd sitting in the services, the sun was shinning it was a lovely day, but as I sat on my own I realised that not one of the hundreds of people passing by knew, or cared who I was, they didn’t know the journey I had been on and just how significant my Greg’s Sausage roll was, or the story I had to tell.

That night I spent at Bev’s parents house, who were away on holiday. A week ago I was quite pleased the house would be empty but as I opened the front door and no one was there to greet me it just felt a bit sad. Bev’s sister later arrived and it was wonderful to see a smiling face, with a cuddle for me. A Chinese take away that night filled me up and my best intentions of watching the Europa League final were ruined when I fell asleep at 8.30 in front of the TV and promptly took myself to bed an hour later!

The next day was more driving up to North Wales to see my parents. This was a hugely welcome break and despite more driving I was ever so glad I fitted in an all too short trip. Dinner cooked for me, a familiar bed and the love of my parents was just what I needed to settle my nerves and bury some of the woes and sadness that has followed me since I left St Helena.

Two days on and I’m once again on the motorway, this time taking 8 1/2 hours to get to Plymouth. Bank holiday traffic ensured that it took me longer to travel 205 miles to the South Coast, than it did to fly over 3000km from Istanbul to London.  Packing the car was weird, 17 years ago I was packing a car with a couple of suitcases to go to University, now, coming full circle I was doing it again. This time however it felt very wrong, I’m married, a Dad, and I was packing to go and move to a new flat on my own. My drive was fairly traumatic, not just because of the horrendous traffic, but because of the sadness that filled me. I had no excitement, just sadness as I drove to my new home, on my own. If nothing else this whole thing has taught me just how much Bev and the kids mean to me, turns out they are my world and without them I feel lost and empty.

Arriving late I met my new landlord and lady, a lovely couple Chris and Deborah, and after signing a contract and going through the particulars I bided them good bye and moved into my flat. Nothing could cheer me that night, not even the Pork Pie and Wild boar Sausage roll that I bought from the new farm shop at Gloucester services, amazing by the way. Even Britain’s Got Talent failed to raise a smile from me.

The next morning I realised that my first shop for myself, done the day before, was something of a failure as I had remembered beer but forgotten Cereal. I had cheese but nothing to wash with! So, with my first full day in Plymouth I set about finding local shops, stocking up my cupboards and getting my barrings. After arriving in the UK I have ticked off Greg’s Sausage Roll, McDonald’s, Chinese take away and bacon butties, I thought therefore that I should probably attempt to shop healthy or Bev may not want me back once she does arrive. My fridge is therefore filled with healthy choice of ready meals, salad………and beer. The day was fine, the evening lonely, something I will have to get used to. The next priority was finding my local Richer Sounds to order my new home cinema system, of vital importance of course, and next, my local pub. The Waterloo Inn is descent enough and only 1 minute away, so a winner for me.

Returning to the UK has certainly come as a bit of a shock for me. Not long ago every minute was surrounded by people. On St Helena no one is alone, no one arrives alone, the community, particularly fellow ex-pats gather to ensure new arrivals are welcome and at home with dinner invites, barbecues and bring and share parties.

Wandering into the Waterloo Inn was the first time Id walked into a pub and didn’t know anyone for nearly three years and as I sit writing my blog tonight the evening is long and the flat is deathly quiet. Leaving St Helena was always going to be hard, I hadn’t contemplated the extra loneliness that leaving my family behind would bring.

One Night in Cape Town

I’m sat in a very comfy seat, my complimentary home made lemonade tastes lovely and a nice man in a white hat has just taken my dinner and breakfast orders I’ve not long had a nice hot shower after enjoying my free beer and soon Ill be sipping champagne and a nice single malt Scotch. I have 10 1/2 hours ahead of me but my seat recline fully flat and if I get board of watching films on my 12” Hi-definition screen, or listening to music through my Denon headphones I may have a nice comfortable sleep.

As you may of guessed by now I am travelling business class  aboard  Turkish Airlines flight TK045 to Istanbul. A special offer at the check in desk was enough to convince me to upgrade. I have never, in my adult life, had the opportunity to do so, and may not have the chance to do so again, why not enjoy a bit of indulgence I thought. If I have to return t the UK, lets do it in style.

As we taxi to the end of the runway I am once again filled with sadness, (although the forthcoming champagne may help). I wish Bev was here to share the experience of course, but the reality of another final goodbye sets in. The manner of this journey has meant that several “final goodbyes” have occurred, leaving the Island, leaving the RMS and now, leaving Cape Town.

Cape Town at NightIf you have followed this blog from the start you know how much I love Cape Town, a wonderful city full of life and vibrancy despite its obvious problems.My time in Cape Town this time has been short and not like any other. After picking up a bug and suffering with aches, pains and an upset stomach on my last few days aboard the RMS I was glad to arrive at my hotel. We had been held in Cape Bay due to heavy fog, which, although lifting from the bay it persisted in the harbour well into late morning. It had taken 4 1/2 hours from arriving in Cape Bay to arriving at my hotel.

_MG_8979

Cape Town and Table Mountain break out of the fog.

Travelling alone I had opted for a small boutique hotel in one of the oldest parts of the city, an area of colonial buildings, street side bars and coffee shops and a stones throw from the central business and shopping districts.

My first night was a write off. I spent an hour and a half trying to track down a pharmacy to get some drugs to calm my ailments, in a desperate rush to find something before the shops shut. One thing is for sure, it would be a very difficult flight the next morning if I didn’t find something to stop my numerous trips to the toilet!! Eventually said pharmacy was found and I retired to my hotel room with a take away dinner ( very nice one) and a film on TV. Now I know these are first world problems and retiring to my hotel room is no great hardship, but it is not how I wanted to spend my last night in Cape Town and was disappointing.

After a good night sleep and some medication I woke feeling much better and set about spending my last five hours in Cape Town taking in some history, an opportunity not afforded to me in the past, travelling as I have with the children. I take time to visit the Slavery Museum, housed in a old slave lodge where, in the 17th Century, slaves on which Cape Town was built were held in cramped, inhumane conditions. As I always do in Cape Town I wrestle with my conscience. South Africa was one of the last nations on Earth to grasp the equality of man, hanging on to racial segregation, discrimination and brutality as late as 1996 through the legalised Apartheid years.

But it is the present day that still concerns me. Huge numbers of beggars walk the streets of Cape Town, or sleep in parks. In the late 1600’s the Dutch East India company, having established Cape Town as a watering stop on route to the East, required food and soon set about cultivating in an area now known as the Company’s Gardens. Today one may roam these gardens , which are still cultivated, and be surrounded by the grandeur and opulence of the former Dutch Parliament buildings. Whilst the wealthy elite of the country, and tourists from around the world buy seeds or nuts to feed the pigeons or brazen and well fed squirrels, the homeless lie asleep on the well kept lawns.The contrast could not be starker.

The country has come a long way however, while young black women lie in the sun taking advantage of the late Autumn weather, a young white lady, well dressed, cleans a syringe with disinfectant, the inequality of life in South Africa is clearly not just down to race or colour. Just over 21 years ago the black, middle class which enjoys feeding squirrels and sunbathing in the gardens,  would not of even been allowed to walk here or indeed many parts of the urban centre unless holding a work pass.

Despite the obvious progress there is a long way to go, even in the relatively enlightened Cape Town. As generations of black South Africans were denied an education there is a huge skills gap and it is the black majority who are inevitably working in restaurant serving food to the white business men and women of the city.  A short drive out of the city centre towards the airport presents a stark image of mile upon mile of slums where the poor black majority eke out an existence, travelling into Cape Town to beg or find what ever work they can.

As I sit in my business class seat, sipping champagne as we cruise over Namibia the inequality of my own riches is not lost on me.

_MG_9397

England’s Green and pleasant land.

 

Moving On the RMS St Helena

Moving On

I have, on day four, started to re-appreciate the many charms of the Royal Mail Ship St Helena. Last night I took part in a “Fancy Hat” competition. Not normally one to take part in such events the prospect of a £5 reward simply for wrapping some paper around my head was too great a reward to pass up.

Saints have a remarkable capacity for sitting, just sitting, during the five night voyage, and many continue to confine themselves to their cabins for almost the entire duration. Despite this, a fancy hat competition it seems draws them out and the main lounge was packed out with onlookers. A parade of hats, and the declaring of “Everyone’s a winner” was followed by silly party games,  I retire with my dignity only partly intact after one or two beers too many!

Of course last night saw the start of the RMS quiz, during which only a badly timed, point doubling joker prevented team Bernie and Rob (so called after the two members who defected) from taking the first round.

Cricket this morning saw “The Saints” some what demolish “The Rest of the World” team. I have the bruises to show for it as I fearlessly and selflessly threw myself in front of well hit balls of twine. Despite the best efforts of our team motivator Bernie, we lost 135 runs to 91.

Despite all this, and the genuine improvement in my mood I have begun to contemplate and reflect on the leaving of St Helena in a new way. Up until three days ago I lived on one of the most remote, inhabited Islands on earth. A place that takes a five day sea voyage to reach. I lived on an Island that many have not even heard of , with a unique story of history and discovery, where animals and plants found no-where else on earth can be found. Until three days ago I swam with Whale Sharks or dived with Devil rays before dinner. Until three days ago I was unique and special. But as we pass the the two thirds (67%) mark of my journey I am no longer unique. I return to society, to the norm. When I pass people in the street they will not wave or say hello. When I tell people where I live they will simply believe me, instead of looking at me in disbelief, my home address will have a house number and street name, when I say where I live it will be of no consequence at all.

And as for St Helena she will carry on without me, her people will wave and smile at others. New people will come in and make their own temporary mark as my own impact will fade. Despite words of kindness of the difference I have made and the impression I have left I will soon disappear from peoples conciousness initially fading to memory before being dropped completely.

In my isolation however, whilst I may no longer be a part of St Helena, she will always be a part of me. Her beauty and isolation, her rugged cliffs and green peaks, and her people most of all will forever be in my heart and soul.

The Royal Mail Ship St Helena.

Its my last day aboard the RMS, tomorrow at 8am we will arrive in Cape Town and shortly afterwards I will step ashore and leave the life I have known for nearly three years behind.

This has been a tricky voyage for me, for many reasons, some of which I care not to mention. The combination of marking my final goodbye and not having my family by my side to share it with has led to a journey full of sadness for me.

But as the days have gone by the ship has inevitably sucked me in. Today, St Helena day, marks the 515 anniversary of the Islands discovery and special celebrations on deck have included a crazy morning of “sports”. Most events were either humiliating, wet and messy or both. It was well attended and I was pleased to take part and have a bit of a laugh. My quiz team, Bernie and Rob has been renamed Barney and Bob thanks to the consistent mispronunciation of Bernie and Rob name’s. We enter the final round tonight, lagging behind, Im not holding out for much although we are still with an outside chance.

Of course the RMS should of been of of service and decommissioned some 12 months ago and my final departure should of been on a plane. Despite my troubles I am, in the end, glad that it wasn’t, and had had the opportunity to have one last voyage aboard this unique vessel. The RMS is special and has a hold over most people who sail on her.

The RMS is a through back in time, Cricket on the deck, traditional furnishings and fine dining. Time is spent in a leisurely way, sunbathing on the deck, reading, or enjoying a glass of wine or cold beer with good company. The RMS does not claim to be the hight of luxury, or at the cutting edge of modern transport, she is leisurely, making her way steadily across the Atlantic time and again. Everyone aboard the RMS has a story to tell, everyone has a reason for being there, not just that they are on holiday, but an adventure, or starting or finishing a way of life, or perhaps a medical evacuation or return for treatment the people aboard, make the journey.

The staff are second to none, nothing is too much trouble and each and every one of them makes you feel like you are part of their family. Travel once and they will remember your name._MG_8878

Travelling on the ship also gives a sense of its importance to the Island. It is the heartbeat of St Helena, the passage of time is marker by her arrival and departure. Everyone and everything on the Island has been aboard. In the days following her arrival shops of full of new stock, slowly dwindling down as time passes and her next arrival is eagerly awaited. When the RMS is in port, shops and bars often open longer, or just open where they don’t normally, she is a powerful kick start to the Island each time she arrives. I wonder how this pulsating way of life, dictated by the Rhythm of the RMS will change once she is finally replaced by a weekly flight. People will arrive every week, good every 6 weeks on another ship. As someone who travelled to the Island to start a new life, the RMS is a wonderful introduction to the pace of life, the people and of course to those whom would become good friends. Arriving on a plane will not give time for ex-pat workers to integrate and make friends with Saints before they arrive, how will this affect the mixing and community spirit of the Island, will the divide between Saint and Ex-pats become wider? Only time will tell.

Tomorrow I will awake early to watch Cape Town come into view. The RMS is an extension of the Island  and it is not until I step onto land that I will of truly left behind St Helena’s special charm. Some 100,000 words after I wrote my first ever blog post I am writing the last words on “St Helena”. I will continue my blog for some time to come, to record the emotions and adjustments to be made coming back to the real world. But for now I wish to say thank you. Thank you Saint Helena, to the many people who have touched my life and crossed my path. To those I have photographed, bought food from, laughed and drank with, to those I have dived with and worked with. Thank you to you all.

It is time for me to move on now. I shall return one day, no doubt by plane. I will see changes I’m sure, but fundamentally St Helena will be the same, its people will ensure it. Until such time as I touch down on runway 20 HLE airport I bid you goodbye and I take with me memories that will last a lifetime.

Goodbye

St Helena disappeared from view a few hours ago and with it goes my Atlantic Adventure, those words in themselves are very difficult to write. I flit from holding it together when in company to tears of sadness when alone, a strange emptiness fills me that is hard to describe. I hope that writing will, as it has done before, prove therapeutic, but at present it is hard.


For several weeks I’ve thought about travelling on the RMS without the boys, sad to be leaving but looking forward to the freedom. But as I sit here now I just wish I didn’t have time to write because Charlie is bored, or Oliver wants to show me a passing tropic bird.
It feels so very wrong and incomplete to be leaving without my boys and of course Bev. We have lived, loved, cried and shared every second of this journey and leaving them behind is the hardest thing I have ever had to do

_MG_8860-Pano

My last Panorama of St Helena

The day started in usual RMS fashion, a wake of departing at the coffee shop, only this time the wake was in my honour. So many times before I have hugged and kissed goodbye to people from those wooden benches, now, it was my turn.
So many friends turned out and I forgot to take any photos of people. As we reached 8.50 I couldn’t take any more and I had to leave, I couldn’t sit chatting any longer. Running round saying goodbyes to a host of people it was so difficult but I kept my composure to the last.
Ian Johnson and Lisa Rhodes tested me. Two very good friends who’m I have shared so many laughs and memories with. Susie Nixon then broke me. Susie, a kiwi, was with us on day one of our journey, booked into the Commodore hotel in Cape Town a life time ago. Saying goodbye was hard, very hard.
As I turned to say goodbye to Paul and Jenna Bridgewater I couldn’t speak. I had nothing I could say that would do justice to how I felt saying goodbye to them. Paul and Jen and at the time baby Myles, were also with us from the start, sat on our dinning table on the RMS as we set sail for St Helena and a new life nearly three years ago. I will never forget how nervous and insecure they appeared as they started a journey into the unknown, and how incredibly brave I thought they were to be doing it with a young toddler, just finding his feet.
As we sat for dinner that first night Jenna asked “so do you believe in the Loch Ness monster?” and with that wonderful opening line began a lifelong friendship.
I’m sure, as my last journey across the Atlantic progresses I will come to reflect and take positive stock, looking forward to the next adventure. But as I sit here now, just woken from my mid afternoon sleep (my RMS tradition) I’m heartbroken and empty. I genuinely cant believe that I’m writing the last pages of my blog. I had always continued to write well past our departure but as I hear the familiar dinner time jangle of the RMS I wonder whether to continue writing will just be too difficult.

_MG_8862

Soon we are far enough away that the whole Island fits into a single frame shot

Day 2

Day two on the RMS has felt long. Although I’ve always though Id enjoy a journey without the boys, it turns out that without them the ship feels empty and quiet. The passage feels long and I don’t want to be here.
In reality the ship is very quiet. Two friends are with me and a handful if familiar faces, but the majority are strangers to me, and I have no wish nor need to change that. My usual need to make new friends, or pass on knowledge or advice to tourists has gone. I am heading away from St Helena, not to it, tourists don’t need my travel tips and the rest I will never see again.
My previous journeys have felt homely and comforting, this is neither. I don’t need nor want time to think and contemplate. I need to be in Plymouth starting work, to distract me and take me from my dark mood. Far from comforting the RMS feels like a slow prolonged wake, five days to say goodbye, I dearly wish that airport had opened.

PACKING IT ALL IN!

Before I continue from where I left off, I want to present a snippet of why I love this Island. Driving the children to school this morning, the sun is shining, but Charlie has just annoyed me to the point of shouting. As I drive I’m fuming, we sit silently in the car, the boys afraid to make noise for fear of re-awakening my wrath! We pass an elderly gentleman and with a piece of paper he flags me down. “Are you going to town” he asks, “yes, do you need a lift?” was my reply I have given more lifts to strangers in the past three years than the rest of my life put together. “No” he says, “but could you please deliver this letter to Sure (the Island’s telecom providers), it’s very important”. “Of course I can, no problem sir”, and with that a complete stranger trusts me with an important letter, and instantly lifts my moods and brightens my day.

I appologised to the boys for losing my temper, whilst re-iterating that they can’t leave their shoes in the rain all night, we cuddle, I tell them I love them and they walk into school happy, all friends again. Magic.

So back to the main story, after my last blog, things went from unusual (for St Helena) to damn right weird. An adventure cruise ship, fresh from taking bird watchers to the Antarctic is passing St Helena and agrees to call in to take approximately ten stranded, and urgent passengers to Ascension Island and beyond to Cape Verde, where they can then catch a flight to the UK. Crazy I know, but if you need to get off the Island, at this point in time, it’s your only option.

For me this was not a strait forward option, it gave me two days’ notice and may of cost a lot of money. After checking with my new boss, I decide to wait in hope the RMS is fixed, and I can travel on the 17th May, arriving just two weeks late for work. For friends of ours however this was not an option, with their passports expiring they were not able to travel through South Africa, and Ascension was their only option. But as I explained, Ascension Island runway is now also closed, so the MV Plancius, leaving in two days became their only option to get off the Island. With the ship boarding at 11am, Frankie and Dean Gonsalves were still rushing round town, trying to speak to one government official after another to get emergency documents sorted to allow them to travel. With the children in tow and the sun reaching its mid-day peak I offered my hand and took their children for toasties and slushes in the park, a welcome relief to the stressed parents.

Eventually the documents come through and, after a third goodbye I saw off some of my best friends on the Island, not sure when I would see them again. They travelled for two days before arriving on Ascension Island, and with a few hours stop over, headed to English Bay, a stunning white sand beach with clear blue waters. Now at this stage some of you probably know what’s coming next, yes that’s right, my friends were attacked by a shark. Are you f**king kidding me, you can’t make this up. As Bev and I are enjoying a wonderful wedding on the Island news comes through that our friend Frankie has been attacked by a shark, and although is alive and safe, will face months of surgery and rehabilitation as her Achilles tendon and other parts of her ankle have been torn to pieces. By all accounts Dean was something of a hero, punching said shark in the face repeatedly to get it to leave his wife alone, before fending it off from himself. Two other people worthy of a mention are Paul and Craig Scipio who selflessly ran to their aid pulling the couple from the water and administering essential initial first aid.

The children, thankfully not in the water, witnessed the whole thing and were understandably in pieces. The news left us all on the Island shocked and worried. With Frankie stable and in good care, she awaited an emergency flight to the UK (one way to get home quicker) whilst Dean and the children were dumped back on the Plancius to spend another ten nights at sea away from their injured wife and Mum.

Happily I can report that Frankie is doing well, operations have gone well and I’m sure she will be back with us before long, already able to laugh and joke about the events. The children and Dean remarkably got back in the sea at Cape Verde, something I think is pretty incredible. For us it was difficult, not only the trauma of getting trickles of information about friends in a very serious situation, but, having spent most of our lives as Marine Biologist peddling stories of how sharks are not dangerous and the oceans are safe and sharks should be protected, one of our closest friend’s bloody well gets attacked by one. It’s important to present some background though. For some time now Galapagos sharks have been encroaching on the island, encouraged by the discard’s of fishermen thrown freely into the shallow waters. These sharks have not only begun to relinquish their fear of man, but are actively seeking out shallow waters with people around, associating the situation with food. The Ascension Island government must make some changes. Although not a tourist destination, the two swimmable beaches on the Island are very very popular with the locals on the Island and those passing through, who now would risk swimming in their clear blue waters.

Back on St Helena the fall out for me was somewhat intense as the worlds media did their best to find out what is going on. A quick search on Frankie’s Facebook page reveals a photo of her swimming with a whale shark, taken of course by yours truly. This led to five national UK papers phoning me directly trying to get more information. Sticking to the facts as I knew them and correcting some inaccuracies it was a delicate situation. My friends still separated as Dean and the family travelled by sea, the extent of Frankie’s injuries not clearly known, and not wishing to upset anyone I told them as little as I could get away with and bided them a polite goodbye.

The photo itself though did appear in several national newspapers. One would never ever wish for anyone they care for to be injured in this way, but it’s a pretty cool photo and seeing it in the national press I must admit is exciting!Telegraph

Now, at two pages long already I should probably stop writing before boring you all to death, but if you’re with me so far I shall continue. Set as I was to leave on the 27th of April, our personal belongings were boxed and packed into shipping containers the week prior, on the 20th April ready for their long journey back to the UK on the MV Helena (the replacement cargo vessel commissioned to ensure supplies to the Island) . Now with over a month left on the Island, Bev and the boys even longer, we had no option but to move into someone else’s house. What we needed was a family, who were on leave and would be off the Island, whom perhaps had young children with toys for the boys. Whom could that be, yep, that’s right, Frankie and Deans house! And so it was that we left our lovely home in Alarm Forest and crossed the Island to Cleughs plain with just a suitcase each to last the next three months! The local news outlets were keeping us informed about how passengers, now stranded in Cape Town might get home and how in turn, those here might be able to leave. A plane, no plane, the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, no Queen Elizabeth Cruise ship, RMS on schedule, RMS needs more work, the stories and rumours went back and forth like a yo yo. Eventually confirmed, news from SHG that a plane had been commissioned to fly people now stuck in Cape Town for, in some cases 6 weeks, home to St Helena. So finally I had a confirmed route back to the UK that would get me to work on time.

I e-mailed the given address and was assured my name was on the list and more information would be provided when available. Waiting and waiting it was 2.30pm, the day before the flight before I phoned up Solomon’s Shipping office who were dealing with bookings. “Hi there, its Paul Tyson here, I think I’m on the flight, but Ive not heard anything more can you provide some information. What time will we depart, what time do we arrive, do I have a ticket, where do I get my ticket from, hat is the baggage allowance?” My questions went on and the response was a rather despondent “I’m sorry Sir, I don’t have any information to provide you, we haven’t been told anything yet”. I asked if I was still booked onto the 17th May RMS voyage, and had it confirmed I was. With that I asked them to call me as soon as any information is forthcoming. As I sit here now, the plane has been and gone and I still haven’t received that phone call. But never mind, my passage on the RMS is booked, the ship is repaired, has reached St Helena and is currently steaming towards Ascension Island.

I will arrive in the UK on the 24th May, ready to start work on the 29th. My sixth and final voyage on the RMS, a small piece of history of my own. In the meantime St Helena made its own history once more as, only 12 months late, the first commercial passenger plane landed and departed on St Helena. The boys and I went to watch this historic event. For most parts of the world, a plane with 60 passengers landing is not big news, but for the Island this is massive. The airport heaved with people, family and friends and curious onlookers like myself. The airport, baggage handling and oversubscribed restaurant all ran perfectly, and for the first time the airport operated as it was intended. The excitement was palpable, and I am thrilled for all the staff and people involved in the project. We are still some months away from the airport operating properly, but at least we now know it can. Will we ever get to the bottom on who cocked up along the way, I doubt it, and does it matter? Well yes it does, but we can move on and the successful landing of RJ85 Avro flight takes everyone a step closer.

Crowds gather waiting for the plane to arrive.

_MG_8662-Pano

The airport seen from Millenium Forest
_MG_8715-Pano_MG_8697-Pano_MG_8705The airport was heaving with excited friends and family.

Anyone wishing to read more about the airport and this historic day should take a look at Darrin and Sharon Henry’s terrific blog, What the Saints Did Next. Fantastic photography and writing.

So what’s with the title, “Packing it in”, obviously I have eluded to our personal belongings being packed away, but, set as I was to leave on the 27th April, the past three weeks have truly allowed me to pack it in, and my weeks have been nonstop fun. People are now asking me, “how many leaving do’s have you had? Six!!” The undoubted highlight of which was an awesome party with our neighbours who put on a mini festival involving a swimming pool and bouncy castle, barbecue and cooking on a fire pit, lots of beer, a live band and a stunning sunset to boot. Oh what a night. A huge thanks to Hayley and Jamie Bridgewater for a memory lasting night.

_MG_8623-HDR-Pano

Aside from hangovers I have also managed to start, at long last, playing golf. My game is not good, but improving, and with that I played my first (and last) Texas Scramble tournament, a doubles game where the use of whichever ball is hit best, allows for my way wood shots to be discounted! Alas my teammate Tina Johnson and I came last, or joint third as I prefer to call it, but it was a great day and was followed up with another barbecue and more drinking. There is a solid theme of the past few weeks and beer has been central to that theme, I shall have to re-asses my habits wen I’m back in the UK, but for now I’m on holiday and shall enjoy it!18275118_10156089632834829_1014096313409788607_n.jpg

I have also fitted in three post box walks. Post box walks are  list of 21 walks, of varying difficulty across the Island that, at the end of the walk, have a post, containing a stamp for you to mark ones guide book at the completion of each walk.

The first was a walk to Great Stone top, with friend Gordon Brodie. Gordon has not yet featured in my blog, which is strange as he has been something of an ever present. Cards, Golf, Snooker, drinking and barbecues all, inevitably are shared with my unique and characterful friend. Some (well he) would call him powerful, his friends affectionately tend to call him Gordie Bollocks. I could tell you a hundred stories from our time here together, most of which involved beer and often the breaking of something or someone, or other inappropriate behaviours. But for now I’ll leave the stories to his company as a walking companion for the week!

Leaving the Bell Stone (an ancient phonolithic volcanic rock that rings like a bell when struck) we started out through forests of pine before the path opens out with spectacular views across Prosperous Bay and the airport. With another drinking engagement in the afternoon we soon made the decision to forego the full walk to Great Stone top and instead settled for its little brother, Little Stone Top! A pleasant walk with enough out of breath moments to make one feel as though they have done some work, but short enough to get back in time for a party . We all enjoyed the views, the climbing and the company.

Gordon and his son William also joined us a few days later as we tackled Sharks Valley. A longer walk through a steep sided Gorge that falls deep into a ravine and opens out onto the rugged rocky coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. This was something more of a challenge as much of the walk traverses along very narrow loose paths across the steep sided rock face of the gorge, with a precipitous drop below. Oliver in particular struggles with this, the combination of exposure and loose grit below his feet, understandably unnerving him. We edged along, hand in hand, for what felt like an eternity as his nerves undoubtedly rubbed off on me. But we made it, down to the sea where we were faced with what I personally can only describe as a shocking scene. Here we are, 800 miles from the nearest other land, 1400 miles from the nearest continent, on a rocky beach simply covered in the world trash. Rubbish, carried on the current for hundreds or thousands of miles and washed up on our isolated Island. You would struggle to find somewhere more remote than this beach, and yet Mans’ mark has been left. Humanities collective contempt for our planet never ceases to amaze me, and here it was laid out before me in the form of bottles, sandals, ropes, nets and trash.

Next up was a tour with a difference as Arran Legg, of Arran 4×4 tours met us in the morning for an off road drive through the Islands off beaten tracks. We spent six enjoyable hours in the company of the very knowledgeable, and thankfully skilled Arran as we wound through hill and dale, across lush pasture land to dry deserts. The highlight of which for me was a lengthy, often unnerving, drive through Fishers Valley and to our picnic sight overlooking the airport.

This spot and track (if you can call it that) are only used by Arran himself, and the National Trust when monitoring the Islands endemic Wirebird population. It was as remote as it was stunningly beautiful. The recent rains have brought colour to this arid landscape. The feeling of isolation and privilege was wonderful. My mind wandered as I contemplated the huge amount of change this apparently static landscape has seen. Once the location of a huge woodland of endemic Gumwood trees (large Daisies that grow as trees!!) the landscape has been eaten bare by centuries of wild goats, brought to the Island by successive Portuguese ships as a food source for their long journey on the Indian trade routes. More recently of course, a valley has been filled in, and an airport has been built. The site of which will soon become normal, but at this stage still presents a somewhat surprising image of this concrete strip perched perilously on a bizarre, remote rock plateau miles from any other human habitation!

One of the most challenging Post Box walks”. “Walking on St Helena is different and challenging…..confident and regular walkers from elsewhere in the world have found that they are not able to cope with the local terrain”. “For walks rated 5/10 and above it is important for walkers safety that they are accompanied by a knowledgeable guide”. Are the words I read once safely back in my car, AFTER, taking on the infamously named “The Barn”. I should of read that earlier!!

Perhaps the most notorious of walks on the Island with difficult path finding, vertiginous (I love that word, it means vertigo inducing) drops and exposure, shear cliffs and 300ft drops. No problem I thought, Ive spent many years scaling Peaks in Snowdonia, this will be fine, besides, Bev has done it before!!

As I crossed the first few fields and the sight of the Barn presented itself it crossed my mind that maybe, I shouldn’t of gone alone. But my ego, which has led me into many silly situations before, would not let me turn back and leave the Island having not “done the Barn”._MG_8751

It stood out ahead of me, a massive dark formation of hard rock, eroded on all sides as the softer landscape around it has dropped into the sea after millions of years of South Atlantic winds batter the cliffs. The guidebook suggests that paths may be difficult to follow following heavy rains, “we’ve had a lot of that” I thought. But the start of the path was easy to find and I followed into onto the first early challenges, traversing a grey mud cliff and gorge where the 6 inch wide path had been often filled in with an angle of mud, or obscured by sharp gorse bushes, all the while accompanied by what turned out to be an almost ever present feeling of impending doom.

_MG_8726-2

Looking back towards the crazy mud “path” that crossed the steep slope of mud!

One false step and you’re in serious trouble here mate. After crossing this first challenge the path reaches a wide broad ridge, welcome relief and impressive in its beauty, sharp edges eroded and crumbling in the wind with sands of orange, red and purple. The view stretched across Flagstaff Bay, looking towards Prosperous bay in all its glory.

_MG_8808

“Maybe that’s the difficult bit over with” I thought but before long the knife edge “Knotty Ridge” was before me and a challenging scramble down to meet it ensured. Now I felt like Oliver as I tiptoed steadily down the slope, aware of the looseness of volcanic ash and gravel below my feet.

_MG_8731

The guide book became a little unclear, do I follow the ridge, or traverse across its flank following the very obvious scar to the base of the Barn itself. “Follow the path Paul” were my reassuring words to myself. It wasn’t long before I thought I had made a mistake as in places the path was not a path, but a slope, upon which I gripped the mud above as I dug my toes in and edged across, foolishly looking between my legs to see the 300ft drop below me!! Others have done this walk with no problem, Bev included. Either I am not the mountain man I thought I was, or the paths have become seriously degraded and filled in as the regular rains have washed sand and mud down the slopes to smooth out contours.

After what felt like a very long time my drained and tense body found flatter ground on which to rest, take a sip of water and re-group. From a distance the next challenge looked to be the worst, but I now saw ahead of me some familiar territory. With renewed confidence I climbed upwards, with good hand holds and solid rock below my feet. I was now on the Barn itself and the loose gravel and sand that led me here has given way to solid volcanic rock, both secure and grippy. The narrow path, or complete absence of path no longer bothers me. This is proper climbing, this is my world.

As I topped out I expected to be nearing the top of the Barn and some flat ground, instead what greeted me took me aback. From a distance I have looked at the Barn and dismissed its scale, unaware of where the path goes and thinking much of the walk would be across its flat barren summit. What greeted me however was the enormous Eastern flank of the Barn and a small narrow path proceeding steadily and endlessly upwards. This was not a challenge of vertigo, or tip toeing, it was simply exhausting. After a leg draining time I reached the plateau of the Barn. Empty, beautiful, barren and yet full of life. Recent rains whilst eroding paths have enabled small plants such as the colourful Ice plant to thrive. Lichens and mosses, some of which are hundreds of years old cling to rocks and give away the secrets of some of the cleanest air in the World.

As I turn to the East, I am one of the first persons on the Island to witness the joyous return of the RMS St Helena, as she steamed past the airport. A poignant image of an old ship, the life line of the Island for some many years still pushing on (just) against the empty sad face of a false dawn. In a few days I shall be on the ship once more, I’m glad that I will leave the Island that way, its just somehow more fitting.

_MG_8789

_MG_8782After stamping my book, eating a sandwich and having a drink I turned to face my return journey, quickly arriving at my nemesis, the traverse. I decide that this time I simply don’t want to try that again and instead, I look upwards and decide a risky scramble to the ridge is a better option. Again I was soon doubting my judgement as I took one slip backwards for every two steps forward. But I reached the ridge and scrambled for what I hoped would be solid rock. To my dismay, the first part of this knife edge ridge was crumbling, and it wasn’t long before I was once again clinging and edging inelegantly along. A rock gave way beneath my foot as I scrapped my arm and grabbed a very well placed Wild Mango tree to arrest my fall.

After a short while the ridge widened slightly, and more importantly became solid, I could stand up on it, arms out and balance along its top. A friendly Fairy Tern came to look at this strange creature that looked as though he wanted to fly, but who’s feet were firmly planted on the ground.

_MG_8800_MG_8797_MG_8795_MG_8792

A scramble uphill, and an easier uphill traverse (uphill is always easier on dodgy ground) across those same muddy slopes led me back to my car, and to my relief I was able to sit down and read the pages I should of done earlier. “Walking on St Helena is dangerous and challenging…ignoring advice and attempting the more difficult walks (without a guide) is likely to result in unpleasant experiences and is dangerous” I should bloody say so!!!

Black and White Sharks

It was the 8th of May, and I was about to embark on my first double dive, two dive sites, one trip. The first was my second dive onto the Darkdale Wreck. The Darkdale, formally called the Empire Oil was a 1st Dale Class Freighting tanker that was torpedoed in James Bay with the loss of 41 lives. On the morning of 21 October 1941 a U-boat was sighted but it was not taken seriously nor reported to the Master of the Darkdale. On 22nd October RFA Darkdale was torpedoed by German submarine U68, it was the first ship to be sunk south of the equator in WWII

She now sits in two pieces in 45m of water, and presents St Helena’s deepest commonly visited dive site. As a war grave the dive carries with it a certain restraint, a respect for those who lost their lives and whose bodies are left in the ship. As a isolated feature on an otherwise barren area of sand she offers sanctuary to a great array and number of fish species.

We explored the wreck and I reached my personal depth record and open water dive limit of 40m. There is something different about deep diving, it feels the same, and carries with it the same tools and techniques, but descending to a depth where you cannot see what is below, or when at that depth, what is above is strange, slightly eerie and exciting. At this depth mistakes can be fatal, there is no rushing to the surface if you panic, or something goes wrong, and although only more experienced divers venture this deep, there is still a feeling of trepidation.

 

 

The dive itself was great the highlight being a shoal of Wahoo (Barracuda) that stalked us during our 5m safety stop. Looking into their eyes one could not help but feel they were deciding if we were dinner or not.

DSC00622-Edit

Wahoo (barracuda) watching closely.

DSC00618-Edit

 

The dive was also an opportunity to test my camera case, rated as it is to 40m I was taking it too its limit. Although the case did not leak, the shutter button struggled to release under the pressure of 40m of water above, and the camera fired off useless shots rapidly. I resorted in the end to turning the camera off and on to take a photo. I wasn’t to realise the full consequence of this problem until later.

All back on board the dive boat we headed to our next site, Torm Ledge, another deep dive, a rock wall rising out of 35m of sand and ending in a pinnacle reaching all the way to the surface. Again the feature attracting fish of all shapes and sizes, and covered in encrusting algae, soft corals and feather stars. It has become something of a running joke that I have not yet seen a Devil Ray, despite their very regular sightings around St Helena, and having racked up 60 odd dives, they remained elusive to me. Having waited an hour before our second dive, we started to kit up when dive leader Anthony from Sub Tropic Adventures, already in the water shouted “No Devil Rays, but there is a Whale Shark here!!”. Abandoning all protocol and safety checks we rushed into the water, some people with fins in hand and not on feet.

Quickly descending to around 5m we watched as the huge 12m female shark decided not to stick around and fairly quickly disappeared into the waters away from us.

We continued our dive and much to my amazement a Devil Ray came into view. It may have only been fleeting, but it was a Devil Ray, I had seen one and was elated. Apart from anything I was no longer jinx. Now already pretty pleased with my morning, wrecks, Barracuda, Whale Sharks and Devil Rays, not too bad. But not a patch on what happened next. Had I not been wearing goggles I would of rubbed my eyes in disbelief as our Whale Shark return, with Devil Ray following on its tail just feet behind.

Devil Ray and Whale shark not just on the same dive, but in the same view, astonishing. Devil Rays are big, very big, over 6ft across the wing tips, but it looked tiny as it followed closely behind our Whale Shark.

At this point I return to my previous problems with the camera, firing off multiple shots. Catastrophically my battery had died, my camera would not turn on for love nor money. I was witnessing a once in a life time thing, that so few people in the World have seen and I couldn’t turn on my bloody camera!!

We then spent around 20 minutes at 15m of open water as Devil Ray and Whale shark swam around in circles, often coming within feet of us as we hung in mid water, astonished at what we were witnessing. Words, nor pictures can ever do this justice, it’s just not possible, but thankfully, I was not the only one with a camera and I have to thank Karl Thrower for these shots. Not that he can take all the credit, taken with a Go-Pro, which, despite common belief is very poor at taking photos underwater, they were rescued with some clever processing by myself and I think the black and white toning helps to capture the magical feeling that we felt as these incredible animals graced us with their time and presence.

After  a time that was all too quick and as air ran low we returned to the surface to chatter excitedly about what we had seen. And returning to the boat we took of our dive equipment and prepared to head for James Bay. But the Whale Shark is seems had not had enough of us, rising to the surface waters to entice us in to spend a further 10 minutes snorkelling in its company before finally, losing interest and descending to the depths.

Was this the best dive ever? It was certainly mine, and maybe the best dive I will ever have. I will treasure the memories and the feelings of the day forever. St Helena continues to amaze and enthral me and I bloody love it here!

 

 

 

May Celebrations

So May was going to be the biggest Month in St Helena’s history, the opening of St Helena Airport, Prince Edward was booked and St Helena day, normally celebrated on the 21st, was moved to the 20th to accommodate the grand opening. As those of you who follow St Helena news outside of my blog will know, it didn’t happen. Apparently wind shear, only discoverable with real world data from a landing aircraft, that could not have been predicted in advance of this,  (hhmmm) has been discovered at the runway.  Essentially this means that as things stands it is dangerous to land a large Boeing type aircraft on runway 20, I am yet to figure out how an airport with one runway becomes runway number 20!). It is not for me to comment on this, everyone on the Island is currently an aircraft expert and have suddenly finished their degrees in meteorology, so Im not going to add to this with my own ill-educated opinion on things here.

Despite the setback for me personally I’m not too concerned, my hope is a sufficient delay in the opening will allow me one final journey on the RMS St Helena, and maybe another stop over in Cape Town, as you may of gathered I love Cape Town! And it is not as though May became dearth of celebration and event.

Earlier in the month, Prince Andrew School hall was once again full to see thirteen of Saint Helena’s young ladies compete for the title of Miss St Helena 2016. Two weeks prior I had nothing to do with this. I was then asked if I could do some photography for the event, to which I of course agreed. Then, a week before I was asked to put together a graphical presentation to display above the stage and introduce the contestants, again I agreed, although someone else would have to manage the presentation as I was to be taking photos, right?

Finally, just four days before the event itself, and having heard me sing at the New Horizons concert I was asked to provide, along with two others, some entertainment whilst the judges went off to deliberate. Hhhmmm, no rehearsal time, no band behind me for comfort, a poor quality backing track, “Im not sure about this one” I said! However, never one to shirk the opportunity to be in the lime light I agreed. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t.

The show itself was fantastic, if a little longer than necessary. As compare John Wallocot declared the shows’ cat walk to be the one and only open runway on St Helena to the amusement of the crowd, we eventually saw 13 girls, through a series of questions and costume changes, whittled down to the winner. What a fantastic time to be Miss St Helena, no doubt at the front of many exciting opening ceremonies and events over the next two years. As for me, well, unfortunately there was no one else to make the changes on the graphic presentation during the show, meaning I had to give up my privileged photographer’s position and settle for a balcony view point. My musical performance was, for me, horrible. I stood on my own, on the cat walk with the backing music far to quiet feeling very vulnerable and although people told me afterwards that I had done well, this was no New Horizons Concert for me.

Not to be outdone the younger generation of Saint Girls took part in the Annual May Queen celebrations. Like many people I have mixed feelings about the beauty pageant type show, but this was somehow more innocent, just some young people wanting their opportunity to feel important and to play a part in the upcoming St Helena Day celebrations. Before the May Queen contest Pilling Primary school, Oliver and Charlie’s school held their May Day fate. Bev and I ran two stalls all to help raise money for the Pilling Parent Teachers Association. It was a great turn out and everyone had fun taking part in the various stalls, games and activities. Including our new Governor who turned up to see what was going on and watch the May Queen Contest. Watched eagerly by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed Miss St Helena ladies, the young contestants did their best to show their style and answer questions thoughtfully and intelligently. They all did very well and we were very pleased that Katie Gonsalves, daughter of good friends Frankie and Dean came an admirable second place.

With May still just two thirds through, it was time for the Islands next big event as St Helena Day was declared open.

Each year on or near the 21st May, the Island celebrates the anniversary of its discovery, music, sports, games, fireworks and more music, washed down with copious beer and good spirit it was a day to remember. All of the Tyson clan were involved, Bev kicked off with a mini Marathon.

A gruelling run up hill, in searing heat before a knee jerking descent back to town. Although it was a small line-up this year Bev did well, and looking somewhat exhausted claimed her gold medal as the fastest lady. Next up were Bev and the boys in the annual fun sports, as series of team events such as egg and spoon, four legged races (yes four) tug o war and lots of water. The boys in particular loved this but alas, the team did not claim a medal this year, the honours going to teams less predominated by people under ten years old!

Next was my turn, having organised a bunch of friends into a makeshift five a side football team. Wearing all white, the” whites in white” dubiously found our way to the final by way of a dodgy headed goal. My own contribution to the team effort started badly, scoring a classic own goal with my first touch of the ball, but, moving forward for the last two games I managed to score the goal in the final to take us to penalties. We faced a team from the merchant navy ship, RFA Gold Rover, visiting the Island on its last tour of duty. _MG_0019_MG_0016As is traditional for visiting Navy ships we were presented with a crest of the ship and a flag, and as captain of the team I’m pleased to say I got to keep them, another memento of our time on the Island. Unfortunately the final did not go to plan, and although we made it to penalties we lost out to the cool heads of the Navy team. A silver medal was mine though and a thoroughly enjoyable three hours of football was had.

Next up was Oliver and Charlies turn to win themselves a medal by taking on the Jacobs Ladder time. The turnout was excellent for this popular St Helena day challenge. Contestants set off one by one, Bev volunteering to help the young ones up. Overall winner was Rhys, a local doctor, who turned up stating “well I might give it a go” and in flips flops climbed the 699 steps in a staggering 7 minutes 50 seconds. Now, barring in mind this winning time, both Charlie and Oliver managed less than 10 minutes 30seconds, pretty impressive. However, due to the fairly wide entry bands of “Primary School” Charlie 5, and Oliver 7 found themselves competing against 11 year olds and did not finish in the top three. After a bit of persuasion, and a look at two very sad looking faces, the judge was willing to present them a medal for taking part and we all went away happy.

Unfortunately, due to a mix up with my camera, my car, and my spare batteries I missed out on photographing much of the middle portion of the day, including the suburb float that paraded through town. The appropriately themed, travel through the ages clearly inspiring the contestants with some remarkable floats on show. It never ceases to amaze me how much effort and resourcefulness goes into these events.

As the sun went down, a fantastic firework display, featuring a reported £11,000 of explosions lit up James Bay. As the reds, greens, purples and blue reflected off the sea, and wizzes and bangs echoed of the valley walls it felt light the perfect setting for such a display.

_MG_0073-Edit text logoAs the last firework died, and the sparklers burnt out it was time to head home, but not before one last event for the day.Our car started fine, but soon, the clutch pedal was stuck to the floor, and the car was stranded, perpendicular to the road, blocking the streams of traffic leaving town! Lifting the pedal with my hand, I managed to engage first gear and turn the car round to roll it in neutral down a hill to a thankfully convenient parking space, where, a week later it still sits. As is expected on St Helena a kindly soul soon picked us up and took us home. One of the benefits of living in a small community is that is never long before someone you know passes by.

Before the month has finished we had time for one last evening of fun as we welcomed twenty two people for a thirteen dish Chinese banquet. As we approach the end of our second year on the Island there are a number of people who have played a huge part in our lives here, that will soon be departing these shores. We will miss them greatly and wanted to do something to say thank you for your friendship and goodbye, for now. And so it was that I started chopping and preparing at 10am, cooking everything from Asian Seared Tuna to Smoky Bacon Chicken, from Chilli Mushroom Beef to Sweet and Sour Wahoo. It was well received and declared to be much better that the Orange Tree, the local Chinese, I even received a round of applause. Most importantly though was the lovely night that was had as we sat chatted well into the night and the children, (and Matt Durkin), settled in to watch Greece on the big screen._MG_0111

And so that was May, another jam packed eventful month. It still amazes me that nearly two years on there is still so much to do, and so many wonderful memories to be made on this tiny Rock. But even now, the story of May isn’t quite over, as next time I describe the best dive experience, I , and many people here have ever had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little bit of everything!

My morning started with an early dive, to a new site called Devils Eyes, although the water temperatures have started to drop it was still a pleasant dive and we soon warmed up on the boat trip back to James Bay in glorious sunshine. After

Captain Charlie on a recent trip to Lemon Valley

Captain Charlie on a recent trip to Lemon Valley

rinsing our gear, we all took to the wharf for a barbeque and beer, sat in tropical sunshine for lunch. Shortly afterwards, Bev and the boys met me and we spent the afternoon swimming, snorkelling and buildings sand castles at Rupert’s Bay. After a day like that, one has to consider what we would be doing in the UK on a given Sunday, for a total cost of £20, and after giving that some thought it makes me consider whether indeed we would want to return. Now I don’t wish to upset my family, and of course we will return home, but it will be very hard, it is more daunting a prospect that coming to St Helena in the first place was. Although I have not had chance to update my blog all too regularly, that is not due to lack of content, and now I have the job of trying to catch up with all the goings on. It seems to me to be the season for events, just today we have returned home from Prince Andrews School 25th Anniversary Fun Day, after once again diving this morning. Two weeks ago saw a night of music as local talent took to the stage for an Abba and Beetles night. I was pleased to be asked to take photos for the event and I was happy to support anything that raises money for New Horizons. The night was a great success, the singing was ……mixed, but everyone had a fantastic night in what was another sell out event. The lack of cinema, theatre and other evening entertainment plus the obvious community support means evening events are almost always well supported and this was no exception. The highlight of the night saw the re-union of a group of ladies who last performed together for the school some twenty odd years ago; it was the performance of the night and met with rapturous applause.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thursday saw the annual St Helena day festivals, each year, on the anniversary of the discovery of St Helena the whole Island celebrates. Many have their own family traditions to celebrate this Bank Holiday, trips to Lemon Valley, fishing, etc. but for many, Jamestown becomes the centre of celebrations as the town is turned over to New Horizons to organise the celebrations. New Horizons is a fantastic local organisation providing sports, music, leisure and other opportunities to the Islands young people, it is a vital and under appreciated pillar of the St Helena community. St Helena Day has become their main fundraising day and what a day it is. When St Helena celebrates it is something special the sense of community and getting together is wonderful and infectious, when half of the Islands population gathers in one place it cannot help but be a great occasion. The day opened with a service to give thanks to everything the Island gives before turning itself to various sports events. Bev took part and came third in a gruelling 5km run, 2.5km of which is up the steep relentless side path road, rising from sea level 300 meters or so in an unforgiving and continuous 20 degree incline before a knee jerking quick descent back into Jamestown. Bev performed magnificently, finishing third just behind the two winners, not just for women, but overall.  She may well have finished second were it not for the unplanned water stop. Had Bev known in advance that the woman taking an age to find a bottle of water from a bag in the foot well of her car, was not in fact anything to do with the race, she may not of wasted five minutes waiting for her. But third it was and better still she was presented with a Gold Medal, we presume because she came in first out of the women, and not just because they had no bronze medals. 10622806_824249727651168_488433836947194784_n Our sporting achievement continued as we, and our team, No Expectations, came in third overall in the Islands Fun Games, a collection of high quality Athletic events from throwing water balloons to wheelbarrow races. Reaching the final of the Tug-O-War event propelled us to third overall and Bev and I both came away proudly with our medals. We shall have to change the team name next year to Great Expectations!!

The afternoon concluded with a parade of wonderful floats including some truly fantastic efforts, the highlights of which were undoubtedly the New Horizons Pirate Ship, complete with smoking cannons, and model of Johnathan the Tortoise, complete with the ability to rise up on his legs and stick out his neck.

As afternoon turned to evening fireworks, beer and music rounded off a wonderful day and one which for me brought a realisation that we are really becoming part of this community. All day long was a continuous stream of welcoming conversation, greetings and hellos. A party of two thousand people, where everyone knows each other, at very least to wave and say hello to, and many many of which we now call friends.

Although we have been welcomed from the start, it has been a sudden realisation just how many people we now know here on St Helena. A walk through town is a constant stop start of hello and how are you, of friendly faces and welcoming smiles. Had I been in the UK and found myself interrupted a thousand times on my way through town, Id of hated it, but here it is an inescapable way of life and the only way to be. It has rubbed off on me and I am a changed man because of it, all for the better.

Whilst we are happy to be making friends of course, like everything there is always another side to things, and on St Helena, that other side is losing friends as they leave the Island. Many Saints leave their families and friends to find work or make a new life on Ascension, the Falklands or the UK, and of course families’ from the UK must leave as their contracts expire. It’s hard, and undoubtedly affects some Saints more than others. Some adapt well to the transitional way of life, others have admitted to me that they find it hard to let ex-pats into their lives, to make close friends in the knowledge that those friends will soon leave the Island. It is a sad story but is the way of life on this remote Island. Thankfully we are being welcomed in, and not just in the day to day friendly and welcoming nature of Saints, but something more real, we are making genuine friends and I’m sure now that what is starting a first family meal together, or an evening drinks in the bar, will turn into friendships that will be very hard to leave behind. The weather has been wonderful the past few weeks, and despite taking a definite turn this week we have been treated to glorious sunshine and the most stunning breath-taking sunsets I have ever seen. Night after night oranges turn to red, and reds to purples and the dipping sun paints a masterpiece across the sky. The extended summer however has not been without its pitfalls as the Island is gripped in a serious water shortage. Threats of cutting water supplies off have been issued by Connect (local utilities) in an attempt to avoid the drought that hit the Island two years ago. Thank fully this week has seen a lot of rain and hopefully severe control measures should be avoided. The problem on St Helena is not one of lack of rain, but of poor distribution, poor storage and most of all a lack of ability to capture and retain the water that falls. If successful a capital project should improve this situation, and it is imperative it is solved before the first flights arrive next year. Sunset St Helena Island Sunset St Helena Island Sunset St Helena Island On the subject of flights we were lucky enough to have a private, guided tour of the airport site by Basil Reads quality assurance manager. It was a real privilege and the work that has been carried is phenomenal. The whole idea of an airport is controversial, and although a referendum voted in favour of its construction it is still met with great scepticism and fear, only natural for a people who have been isolated from the world for so many generations. But whatever people views on the value of an airport, it is undeniable the fantastic job that is being done. Let me paint a picture of the enormity the project.

180 degree view from the controltower

180 degree view from the control tower

Build and airport on St Helena they say. Ok but where, there is no flat land where will the runway go? Over here, this valley will do, we could fill it in and make some flat land.

Ok, where will we get the rock to fill in this valley? Over there, those hills, we will flatten them and use that for the rock. The land will also provide the space for the accessory buildings. Right, but if we fill in this valley, where will the water go from the stream? No problem cut a new valley over there and divert the stream.

Great, but, what about all the machinery and equipment we will need, St Helena doesn’t have a dock, no ship is able to land here? So build a new dock of course, simple. We will build a temporary one at first so we can start construction, then we will replace it with a new permanent wharf so that container ships can still bring goods to the Island.

Ok, that’s all well and good, but your dock is five miles from the airport, how will our trucks get from the wharf to the airport? Come one, that won’t stop us, we will build a new road, up that huge steep sided valley wall over there.

One last thing, the airport will need fuel? Ok, so we’ll install a new bulk fuel installation that will supply the airport and rest of the Island’s needs.

And that is what they have done, nearly! It’s highly impressive and it was real privilege to see all this close up and personal.

To me, the uneducated, Basil Read have done and continue to do a fantastic job, considerate of the local environment, the Island and its people and working on time and as far as I know, on budget. So it is with the thought of the airport that I leave you. What will it bring to the Island? Prosperity maybe, change definitely. Will it be a good thing, I honestly don’t know, I do know that as thoughts turn to our midterm break and our next voyage on the RMS St Helena, that I am sad that our eventual end to the adventure will be on a plane, and not, after two years being intimately connected to sea, on board a ship.

Milky Way

Well, first I must apologise that I have not had the opportunity to add an entry for a couple of weeks, and second, I must apologise that I still haven’t got time to update you all now. I have in short been extremely busy working, taking photos and working on some new graphic design projects.

But just to keep everyone interested I did manage to go out and take some of my most successful night time imagery yet, here are the results.

Church at Sandy Bay. This image is the result of 12 photos stitched together. The foreground is illuminated using a technique called light painting, whereby a torch is used to gently  light the subject during a long exposure.

Church at Sandy Bay. This image is the result of 12 photos stitched together. The foreground is illuminated using a technique called light painting, whereby a torch is used to gently light the subject during a long exposure.

Another shot of our neighbours. This time an 16 shot panorama with a double exposure for the car.

Another shot of our neighbours. This time an 16 shot panorama with a double exposure for the car.

Our house, a tiny spec in the endless galaxy.

Our house, a tiny spec in the endless galaxy.

View from the back garden!!

View from the back garden!!

The night skies the past two weeks have been breathtaking. For the shot below I left home around 10.30pm and drove to Sandy Bay. I knew it would be magical as I drove down the narrow steep rode that leads to the bay. The smell of flowers were heavy on the air. Leaving the car I walked, in absolute darkness down to the bay. Above me, a million billion stars in an endless sky, the milky way clearly visible stretching across the sky and marking the entrance to the bay. I lay motionless, listening to the sound of the waves, and frogs ribbiting in the back ground. The air was still, not the slightest breeze. I was alone, on planet earth, but one could not help thinking something, or someone else must be out there in the countless planets that surround us. It was magical.

This complicated photo involved a lot of work and is by no means perfect. The foreground requires a lot of light to be cast on it, so during a 20 second exposure, two off camera flashes are fired twice each to through some light on the foreground and distant rocks. Second exposures are then used to captre the skies. Finally a third set of images were needed to get the very nearby rocks in foucs against the distant stars. All in, 22 photos are then layered and stitched into this large panorama.

This complicated photo involved a lot of work and is by no means perfect. The foreground requires a lot of light to be cast on it, so during a 20 second exposure, two, off camera flashes are fired twice each to throw some light on the foreground and distant rocks. Second exposures are then used to capture the sky. Finally a third set of images were needed to get the very nearby rocks in focus against the distant stars. All in, 22 photos are then layered and stitched into this large panorama.

Jamestown

The capital of St Helena, home of government, banking, retail, and a bustling metropolis, relatively speaking. Like all major capitals Jamestown is a congested, convoluted, disorganised and densely populated sort of place. Snaking up a narrow strip at the base of a steep sided valley, the buildings push and shove each other for space, leaning on one another and spill out onto the divergent estuary of roads which split from the main road at the top of the town into several smaller tributaries as the tarmac flows towards the sea.

Jamestown snakes its way to the sea

Jamestown snakes its way to the sea

Jametowsn Rooftops

Streets and junctions are marked with these wonderful wooden signs.

Streets and junctions are marked with these wonderful wooden signs.

Jamestown is hot, dusty and dry most of the year, it has a distinctly topical climate and is the one part of the Island that truly betrays the Tropical latitude, sat as we are at 15.95 degrees South. The volcanic valley walls rise high and steep, rock falls were a constant danger and hence wire mesh and strategic fences scar across the valley sides. St Helena is a particularly unstable place in general, hard igneous rock sandwiched by soft pyroclastic muds and sands do not make for firm foundations and the Island as a whole has been pretty much on a steady slide into the sea ever since its creation some fourteen million years ago.

At the top of the Valley sits St Helena’s Hospital, a lovely looking building, surrounded by tropical flowers and a pleasant atmosphere. Moving down the road the sapphire blue Sea at the foot of the Valley dominates the eye line, as Mediterranean looking buildings line the road, the odd shop and a fridge repair centre start to reveal the commercial nature of the town.

Looking down Market Street towards the Bridge

Looking down Market Street towards the Bridge

Barrack square arrives on the right, the first sense of the history of the town, being once a home for Island Soldiers, and now for Island residents. Further down the road Pilling Primary school, also a former Barracks, is the daytime home for Oliver and Charlie. A delightful building, which seems very much a military design on the outside, but very much a school as you pass through the old wooden doors.

Pilling Primary School and Former Barracks.

Pilling Primary School and Former Barracks.

Olivers Yr 2 classroom

Pilling school and upper Jamestown as the mist rolls descends from the central peaks.

Pilling school and upper Jamestown as the mist rolls descends from the central peaks.

Founded in 1659 by The East India Trading Company, Jamestown, named after King James II is full of history, the buildings vary in style, age and condition, but all in Jamestown are old, and most well over one hundred years in age. Most are built out of volcanic rock and many are of World importance as examples of Georgian Colonial Architecture.

Moving down the aptly named Market Street and the hustle and bustle of the Islands only real shopping district (that consists of more than two shops together) becomes evident. Thorpes Grocery store, one of the oldest and most established retailers on the Island, sit alongside The Queen Mary and Queen Victoria Stores, one a former pub, the other once a cinema. Tinkers provides sliced cold meets and across the way the Hive, selling a variety of goods from Diving regulators to chocolate willies with some stationary in between.

We now approach the bridge, not obvious but in fact, an actual bridge as the Jamestown “Run” flows beneath the road here. The Run is a small stream running the length of Jamestown that was constructed to bring freshwater to the residents, and after serious flooding was widened in an attempt to provide an efficient run off for heavy rains. The bridge does not appear to be a bridge, and is instead a wide square section of road, bordered by the market selling fresh fish and veg daily, and meats on Thursday mornings, and by the towns main Pubs, the Standard and the White Horse. Jamestown apparently (so I’m told) once had more pubs and houses of Ill repute per capita than anywhere else on earth, but (sadly) only these two remain. Very traditional, one can imagine sitting here a hundred and fifty years ago mulling over the failings of the Governor, taxation, British rule or the price of beer just as today.

Around the corner Market street meets Napoleon Street, which has wound its way down the west side of the valley and

View down Napoleon Street looking across Jamestown to Ladder Hill Road

View down Napoleon Street looking across Jamestown to Ladder Hill Road

ultimately leads to Longwood and the Briars, no doubt Napoleon was led to his temporary home in the Briars up this road when he first arrived, just as many visitors do now. Where Napoleon and Market Streets merge, they become Main Street, a wide concourse and the very essence of Jamestown. The grand Consulate Hotel, like something dropped right out of Colonial times inside and out takes pride of place. On the left, the post office is a major hub of town. St Helena does not have a postal service, and as such mail must be collected from the post office, along with administration of almost all licenses and records on the Island, car taxation, and pensions and benefits the post office plays an essential role in everyday life on St Helena.

The Canister, now the Tourist office and craft centre.

The Canister, now the Tourist office and craft centre.

The Post Office.

The Post Office.

The Consulate Hotel on the right looking down Main street

The Consulate Hotel on the right looking down Main street

_MG_0059

The Consulate Hotel

The Consulate Hotel

The Star is one of the main, and most modern grocery stores on the Island, and reminds me of the old Co-op local store in my home town. Mum you will remember it well, I used to sit outside with Shep whilst you proceeded to fill what seemed like in the region of 300 bags of shopping!  It is owned by Solomons, a company which traces itself back to Saul Solomon who was put ashore in 1790, gravely ill, from a merchant ship on its way to India; he recovered, decided there was money to be made in St Helena, and persuaded his brothers Benjamin and Joseph to come from England to join him.  He is also reputed to have tried to help Napoleon escape, which I guess would have been an opportunity to make serious money in St Helena.  The shops are a small part of Solomons’ operations on the island which include banking, insurance, agent for the shipping line and, a lot of outsourced work from government.


Moving down the Main street it becomes wider still, 2 on Main currently houses one of the best restaurants on the Island, this training restaurant will soon make way for a brand new hotel, comprising this building and its appropriately named neighbours, 1 and 3 on Main. Next door sits Harris’s Guest House and nearby, the Wellington Guest House. As the street widens it becomes the parade, and the seat of St Helena Government, the Castle, sits alongside the road adjacent to the town walls.

The Castle.

The Castle.

The Castle was originally, in 1860, a Wooden Fort, but was reconstructed in 1710 as the original construction had become rotten with termites. Part of this 1710 construction is still present, but numerous additions and alterations have been made since. Alongside the Castle sits the castle gardens, a small but perfectly formed park. The grounds man does a superb job ensuring a variety of colour and flowers year round, making the Gardens a lovely spot for lunch and to pass the time of day.

Jamestown ends or begins at the Castle Gates, an arch in the substantial Town Walls that once stood as a fortress to protect the town from invasion. St Helena is (or was) one of the most fortified places on Earth, and the remnants of the fortifications and Barracks can be seen everywhere. From the water front in Jamestown, one can see High Knoll Fort, Ladder Hill Fort, Mudens Battery, and a further two gun battery’s, as well as the numerous gun ports that line the Main Town walls themselves. The waterfront retains the historic feel that all of Jamestown does, a walk along the wharf revealing old warehouses and storage buildings. The wharf is now the main entrance and exit to the Island. When the RMS is in the bay, the Wharf busts into life as a frenzy of containers are loaded and unloaded, retailers and individuals excitedly collecting new goods, presents, and all manner of things.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Like much on St Helena the wharf runs on the Darwin Principle, that if you are stupid enough to stand under a 20 tonne container, it’s your own fault. Refreshingly and somewhat  surprisingly for a UK resident one can walk amongst the cranes and containers, the fork lift trucks and good lorries. Funnily enough, no one dies, and it’s very refreshing to be treated as an adult in such matters. Not that everything on the Wharf makes sense. Understandably swimming from the wharf is restricted when the RMS is in the bay, but it is also restricted if some goods have been left in the loading area. But swimming is permissible when other boats and vessels are back and forth from the wharf, so long as no goods are resting on the concrete, I will never understand it, but do as Im told!

On a weekend evening the wharf and waterfront come to life. The Wharf becomes a magnet for young men and their cars, like something out of Fast and Furious (old people may need to look that one up!) all manner of supped up cars with large noisy exhausts and lights in strange places pump music out whilst their owners gather to discuss the latest in sub woofers (or something like that). Meanwhile, families have a rare treat and fill up the two waterfront bars, Donny’s and the Mule Yard, enjoying a drink from the bar and food from the local take aways whilst watching the sunset, knowing children are safe to play nearby. As early evening turns to late evening the families go home and the towns beautiful people (well, most of them)  take over, music drink and dancing in the warm tropical air tale over until the early hours.

Donny's Bar-2 542544_307174759360337_2082701812_n _MG_4501 _MG_4472

Jamestown is hot and dry, its overcrowded and parking is a night mare, but it is also fascinating, bustling, full of history and atmosphere and its people are wonderful I love it.