A Hard Stexit – My Final Blog Entry

It’s been nearly five months since I left St Helena, and it is time to draw this story and my blog to a close. Leaving St Helena has undoubtedly been the hardest long term thing I have ever had to do. Still now, I have days where my heart aches like I have lost a loved one. Moving back to the UK has proved difficult to say the least, although when I paint a picture of things to myself, never mind others, I can’t help feeling I sound like a spoilt brat such is the relatively mild nature of my hardships compared with many in the world.

Since my last entry, Bev has found a job, working as a Science teaching in a local school, this is only temporary however but at least it enabled us to all move back together and reunite our family. In August we came to move empty our storage container in North Wales and move all of our stuff down to the South West. When we left three years ago the majority of our belongings, clothes, furniture, and personal things were put into storage for the duration. We hired two large transit vans and made the long drive to North Wales. With great sadness however, we discovered that due to a leak, the majority of our belongings were ruined, found to be riddled with mould and fit only for throwing away. We couldn’t  take anything straight to a refuse site and had to proceed in bringing all of our stuff back to the South West for sorting and disposing of. It was heartbreaking, clothes and furniture I could deal with, but throwing away photos and the boy’s first school work and paintings was particularly tough. The mould was so bad in places that it made me ill, a theme that would continue for weeks.

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It seems, since not having experienced a UK autumn for several years that I have no immune system and I have contracted bug after bug falling ill over and over again, this in itself has been somewhat miserable.

I then discovered that my credit rating was somehow through the floor and that I had a county court judgement against me. For those who don’t know, in the UK the county court is often used for cases of debt, where bills or fines have not been paid. After a couple of weeks of agonising I discover that the culprit was Npower, who, whilst I was out of the country took me to court, and in my absence found me guilty of not paying a bill, that they had never even issued, oh and they didn’t even bother to tell me I was going to court!!! After some seriously long phone calls, the judgement was rescinded, and the battle for compensation has ensued!!

At the end of August, with Bev about to start work, and the boys going back to school we decided a family break was in order and we spent three lovely nights in North Devon in the coastal town of Woolacombe. It was just perfect and exactly what I needed to draw my thoughts away from St Helena. Oliver had surfing lessons and we all enjoyed four days of glorious sunshine, walking, beaches fun and a few beers.

The beautiful North Devon Coast.
Oliver’s surfing lessons were a highlight.
Not to be outdone Charlie had a go a wave boarding.

There has been lots of fun, of course, the National Fireworks championships are held every year in Plymouth which was quite a treat, and my job has begun to throw up some highlights as I’ve got to grips with things.

But time and time again my thoughts wander back to St Helena. Over September I finally got back to my photography as I set about editing the photos from my good friend’s, Lisa and Johan’s, wedding. This was really difficult, seeing some of the people we have grown to love and whom we miss greatly in my photos was hard going, it’s still too soon just look back with fond memories and the pain is very real.

On St Helena, we saw our friends not just daily but often several times a day, every day. Back in the UK, our friends are spread about so far and wide, and people live such busy lives that meeting up is difficult and sporadic.

Oliver and I enjoyed some father-son time and learnt to fly falcons for my birthday.

We have begun to form some sort of routine, the boys have found themselves a football club, and have had coaching in school. Charlie has embraced everything from the choir and recorder to the schools xfactor competition, which of course he won!  Oliver has been away for two nights on a school camp and has become enthralled with the Second World War which he is studying in school.

Our first venture onto Dartmoor.

I, however, have been thoroughly upset with myself as the stress and upset of the move and adjustments to the pace of life, have pushed me back towards the intolerant shouting father I was before I left for St Helena, and in my first few months there. When I greet the boys from school, all too often is it accompanied with my moaning and nagging about the things they have forgotten or the mud on their newly washed school uniform. My expectations of Charlie I know are too high, he is only six, and I know he will not be thinking about getting the washing dry when he is playing football with his friends. Yet when I see him with mud all over his trousers and I contemplate the three days it took to get his uniform dry at the end of last week it fills me with rage. I’m so desperate to not fall into a hole and return to the days when I would really did rather the children were not in my life. I have come to love and appreciate them so much more in the past two years and the recent months in particular, that I cry to think that I can once again be so cross with them.

As we fall into the swing of things it will get easier I’m sure, and I know deep down my relationship with the boys is better than it ever was, I love them with all my heart, and appreciate the joys they bring to my life. When I reflect on the month I spent without them I know all too well the pain it caused to not have them around. And bit by bit things do settle and improve. My work has had some progress as I and the team settle into my role and what the new team structure is about, and how we all fit together.

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Me, professionally wrestling a spotted eagle ray for an ultrasound to confirm her pregancy! All in a days work.

 

Bev has found returning to full time teaching in the UK to be incredibly hard. Teaching is in something of a crisis in the UK, teachers are leaving in droves as the balance between teaching and paperwork falls all too far on side of the paperwork. Targets and observations, pressures and no time to teach, take their toll. 6 nights a week Bev’s spends planning and marking, it is draining for her, and all of us. Finish school, sort out the boys, do homework with them, tidy the house or cook dinner and then, when the boys are in bed and we should be sat relaxing, Bev is tied to her work, often till 10pm before going to bed to start it all again the next day. This article in the Times explains exactly how Bev, and so many teachers are feeling in the UK. https://www.tes.com/us/news/breaking-views/i-cannot-be-both-a-good-mother-and-a-good-teacher

Removing St Helena from our thoughts has become more difficult in recent weeks as we have edged towards a momentous day in the history of the Island, the commencement of commercial flights. Saturday, the 14th October 2017 will forever be a part of St Helena history as the first, SA Airlink flight with paying customers touched down. As part of the infrastructure to this, Mantis, a South African based boutique hotel and eco-retreat firm have built the Islands newest hotel. For my part, I had the privilege of selling my photos to the hotel which are now proudly on display in the hotel’s bedrooms, lounges and lobby’s. I am enormously proud that my work has been valued and honoured in such a way. I have become good friends with the builds project manager and his wonderful wife, and they are both thrilled with the impact my photos have had to the hotel. It is a truly amazing feeling to know that the first of St Helena’s airline tourists may be sleeping with one of my photos above their heads. Without doubt, this is my greatest photography achievement and a wonderful honour to know I have left something of myself behind on the Island for others to enjoy.

It is five months since I left St Helena and it is now time to draw my blog to a close. I went to St Helena not knowing what I would do or discover. I would not, in a million years have been able to guess at the extraordinarily wonderful experience we have had, the skills I have learnt, the people I have met and the friends I have made.

St Helena is and always will be a part of me now, although my life, for the time being, will move forward in the UK, a part of me will always be left behind on my Island home.

As for my blog, since August 2014 my blog has been read over 160,000 times. It has been seen in 175 countries of the World, my photographs through the blog, the facebook page and various media outlets I am confident have been seen millions of times by people around the World. I have had the most touching comments from people who have been travelling to St Helena, who once lived or worked on the Island, and for those whose memories I have re-kindled. It has been a privilege to write for you all and I hope I have touched a few people on the way. For now, I bid you farewell, but perhaps, one day I will turn this into a book, and who knows it might be available in an Airport just a few thousand miles away!

 

 

 

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.