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!

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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_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.

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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!!!

Splendid Isolation?

The past two weeks I have started the process of coming to terms with my imminent (maybe) departure from this wonderful Island. Were we to stay longer we would be delaying the inevitable, many of our friends would of left, and both mine and Bevs work skills would be in decline, now is the right time to go, and Im at ease with it.

That’s not to say I wont miss the place nor that leaving wont be traumatic and upsetting. Last night we had dinner at a friends house, the Gonsavles’s, who, through a strange twist of events which I shall discuss later are leaving tomorrow, rather unexpectedly. This meant a great night of food and booze, ended by tears all round as we said good bye to two of our greatest friends, not just on St Helena but anywhere, they will be back, we will not.

The past two weeks have not been helped with a degree of uncertainty over the functioning of the RMS St Helena, our lifeline to the outside world, which had been in dry dock for two weeks with essential repairs to the starboard (I think) propeller. Following the cancellation of voyage 255 it was with some relief that I welcomed the news that the repairs had been successful and that the ship was on its way to Cape Town to collect passengers and cargo bound for St Helena, my 15th May start date at the National Marine Aquarium was looking good. Good that is until the ship promptly broke again with rumor of seals not sealed and an official announcement stating that one of the engines was stuck in full forward and had to be shut down.

The RMS is currently in Cape Town, whilst passengers shore side are hurriedly moved into hotels, unsure of how they will get to St Helena, and those of us Island side unsure of how we will get off. To make matters worse, Ascension Island government announced that the RAF runway was closed due to the unsafe condition of the Tarmac. As I speak there are around 800 people stranded on Ascension Island, 140 or so in Cape Town, a good number in the Falklands and of course those of us on St Helena who have no idea how or when we might be travelling.

So what’s the significance of Ascension. Well St Helena has an airport that could, in theory, be used by small planes to bridge the gap until the RMS is fixed. However, any plane travelling anywhere must be able to reach the nearest other available airport in case of emergency. Up until three days ago, for St Helena, this was Ascension, now its not, and the nearest functioning airport is somewhere on the West coast of Africa, 1800 miles away!

The significance for me is that I won’t make my 15th May start date, nor, when I do get to the UK will I have my planned time with family that I haven’t seen for almost a year, I will have to start work immediately. Things have been made worse by this all landing on the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend making it difficult, however we have been assured that Saint Helena Government and others are doing everything they can to assess the problems with the ship and asses other options for transporting people and goods on and off the Island, be in on small aircraft or by another vessel, somehow, I’m sure I will get home, and hopefully not too delayed.

It is the first time I have felt Isolated on St Helena. We are reminded all the time through tourism and social media, and when looking out of the window that we are indeed a very small dot in a very vast ocean, but it has never concerned me. The RMS turns up reliably and we have never had any concerns. Only now, as I ready myself to leave the Island, and find that maybe I cant does it hit home just how reliant we are on the one ageing Royal Mail ship and as I look out of my window the Atlantic Ocean ahead of me feels just that bit bigger.

In the mean time we make the most of our last few weeks on the Island. Having already had  my leaving jolly boys outing, my last (or not) card game, the Tyson’s “Bring and Bye” and goodbye dinner with the Bridgewater’s, I am racking up the leaving do’s and still have some planned. I have also missed a few weeks of diving but have managed to plan a few and on Saturday spent over an hour with the marvelous animal you can see below. Punctuate that with a stag do and my first game of golf on the Island and as per usual I have been pretty busy.

The highlight of our “lasts” has been our last walk to Lots Wife ponds, this time with a bunch of nobbers in tow. The scenery of Sandy Bay, trekking through the gates of chaos and along the coastline across narrow paths with shear drops is both staggeringly beautiful and a little nerve wracking. Like no where else on the Island you are immersed in Grand Canyon like orange escarpments, sharp ridges and deep, steep valleys. As the sun beats down heat waves rise from the ground, causing more than a little exhaustion for some of the group.

 

The reward at the end of the trek, once the vertical rope lined drop is navigated, are the ponds, beautiful turquoise crystal clear pools, cut off from the raging Atlantic beyond by a steep volcanic rock wall. The water in the pools is warm, and very salty and the experience feels very tropical as five finger fish dart around and bright red and yellow crabs cling to the rock walls of the ponds.

After a few hours, some swimming, photos, sandwiches and a beer the trek back beckoned and before I knew it my last walk to Lots Wife Ponds was done. Its hard to know what or how to feel right now. One moment I am all set for a 27th April departure, now I don’t know when Im going.

This morning my first port of call was the Solomon’s shipping office to see if when and how I can leave St Helena and make my way to the UK, I am provisionally booked on the 17th May voyage to Cape Town, but there is no news as to whether this voyage will go ahead, or if indeed an alternative will be found before then. Whilst this probably sounds like a criticism of the powers at be, it is not. It’s a right mess they have found themselves in, two broken airports and a crocked old ship, but I have no doubt that people have been working round the clock to find potential solutions over the bank holiday weekend, and I’ve been impressed, on this occasion, at the regularity of communication. Having spent several hours this morning wandering round town, in a useless daze waiting from bread to appear in the local store, the current rumor is that the Queen Elizabeth Cruise ship may be made available for passengers to get to St Helena and for some to leave. If I leave the Island on a luxury cruise ship I wont be at all disappointed, if on the other hand I leave on the wonderful RMS I will be equally happy. Right now I’m still here, and until the point comes that I get on board something and wave good bye I shall just have to continue to enjoy this land of splendid Isolation.

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My quote featured in the Times this week!

Weddings, who’d of though it

We left the UK on a new adventure just over two years and four months ago. Although Bev had work and would be teaching (albeit in very different circumstance), I was stepping into the complete unknown, no job, no plan, no clue. I knew I would have some time on the Island, and I had always wanted to take up photography as a hobby, so, equipped with an amazon kindle book, and a £500 second hand canon with kit lens I started learning what all the buttons did.

Some of my earliest shots before I left the UK

I had no idea that it would take me anywhere. Shortly after we arrived on the Island I secured my first job with the tourism office, taking photos of the local restaurants and B&Bs etc. I had to get a work permit and register my business, Paul Tyson Photography (creative eh!?!) .

Photos of mixed standards of tourism establishments required creative thinking when it came to angles and lighting. Now I know why those glossy hotel brochures always look better than the real thing!

My landscape work was already quite well known and established by then, it seems I arrived at a  good time when excellent professional photographer Darrin Henry was busy travelling the world, and there were no other commercial photographers on the Island. Realising there was a gap in the market I promoted my new business, I remember Bev telling me, that “Any money I made from photography, I could spend on photography, but “(quite understandably) I wasn’t to spend any of the money she was earning!

Early St Helena Landscapes

Fair enough, but this provided me all the motivation I needed, the more money I make, the more toys I can buy. Inspired, and slightly jealous of friend David Higgins and his big lens for photographing St Helena’s wildlife, I bought a 120 – 300mm f2.8 Sigma lens. It was one of those ones that people look at and think “he must be making up for something” or simply, “what a tosser”!

My new f2.8 300mm lens allowed me to take these shots.

But I loved it and I could afford it, largely because of a new contract, and one I was most proud of, a commission from French Consul to St Helena to take exclusive photographs for a new guide book to Napoleonic sites on St Helena.

Photos and book cover from “On the Tracks of Napoleon” my first published images.

Next came night skies, we finally started to see the odd clear night sky and it was breathtaking, I simply had to get the gear to capture it on camera, another lens beckoned.

Some of my first Milky Way shots over our house in Half Tree Hollow.

In the mean time I was getting enquiries for studio type photo shoots, so thought I should pursue this and get some more gear. Backdrops, flash stands, wireless triggers and shoot through umbrellas followed. I think by now Bev may of been starting to regret telling me  I could spend anything I earnt on photography!!

The studio work didn’t automatically follow though, the requests continued, but, having set what I considered to be very reasonable prices given the outlay I had made, bookings did not come my way. My first studio shoot eventually came at the end of November 2015, it went well, very well, largely because of the gorgeous little girl I was photographing, and once the photos hit facebook the bookings came in.

My first studio shoot with the most gorgeous, smiling, happy young baby ever!

I soon began to realise that studio photo shoots, and portraits was a whole new ball game, not only did I have to know how to work a camera, and lighting, I had to know how to work a person! When amateurs come to you expecting to look like a super model you need to learn how to position and pose them, how to make them feel comfortable and relaxed with you, as a male photographer I think this is particularly challenging! Once again I took to you tube, and added to my 120GB of photography tutorials!

I started to feel the need to buy more gear. This time, it was a brand new camera, my first full frame, entry level professional camera. Wow what a difference, it allowed me to push the boundaries of what I could do, particularly in low light photography. Following on from basic studio work I was asked for more complex fashion type shoots, and my first real maternity shoot.

Some of my more accomplished studio work. Many were no where like this, over processed and overdone in many cases, but all part of the learning curve.

Again it was a new commission that helped pay for the new camera. I was commissioned to photograph all of the work that falls under St Helena Government’s Environment and Natural Resources directorate. This was a fantastic job, allowing me to see the workings of everything from the forestry team to the abattoir, from renewable energy to waste management. It was a mammoth job but again thoroughly enjoyable as I got to meet Saints from all walks of life.

From pigs in the butchery to people planting endemic seedlings, ENRD does it all.

In September 2015 the airport project started to hot up, as first flight after first flight landed in succession. First ever plane to land, first jet powered plane, first airliner. By now I had grown in confidence as a photographer and on the Island in general and I was pushy enough to speak to the important people and get myself runway access alongside the Islands media representatives. The results of this have been amazing, and my airport photographs can now been seen around the World as St Helena became the new hot tourism destination. My shots our the Islands wonderful landscapes started to appear in prestigious travel sites such as Conde Nast.  Of course we all know that the airport did not open, but in terms of World media, the wind sheer disaster was now an even bigger story and I had contacts from major newspapers and media outlets around the world. My photos of the airport and various planes landing can now been seen globally on sites ranging from the Times, the Independent and the BBC in the UK to USA today. Shots of the first commercial plane to land were quickly put on my facebook page and received over 100,000 views, astounding!

The first landing and first commercial jet liner to land on St Helena

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One of my images as it appeared in the Time Newspaper.

Not only were my photos appearing in media outlets, I was now to be featured in World famous London store Harrods, as I was commissioned to produce point of sale images for St Helena coffee!_mg_2620-edit

Fancy a coffee? I have to admit this is one of my favorite photos, taken on a log in my lounge! The steam isn’t even real!

Photo shoots became a mainstay but a new and interesting job came up with Enterprise St Helena to produce interpretation panels for tourist spots around the Island. This was a brilliant new challenge, combining photography with graphic design and writing, as well as proving a fascinating journey through St Helena historical archives and old photos. Learning more about the history of the Island and getting paid was great, but more importantly its wonderful to know that when I leave St Helena there will be something I produced, left behind for others to enjoy.

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One of 14 interpretation panels soon to be erected across St Helena.

As an aside I was also able to use my graphic skills when I was commissioned to produce the Governors official Christmas card. This was a test in itself, as the request was for a card featuring Lisa Phillips, her lovely black Labrador, dusty, and all twelve of Dusty’s new puppies!! Over 140 photos were taken to produce this card, mostly consisting of dogs bums and tails. But it was a huge pleasure, and the puppies were just lovely.

Colourful bokeh of Christmas lights with a bauble

Governor Lisa Phillips and her adorable Labrador pups. As a thank you for this job the boys were able to go and meet the puppies and spent over an hour cuddling and playing with them. They are fabulous.

Another “first” hit St Helena in October 2016 as an electrical storm shot lightening bolt after lightening bolt down upon us. thunder and lightening is a rare occurrence on St Helena, with some reports stating its over twenty years since the last one, making this storm the first ever to be photographed and shared around the World from St Helena.

These shots received over 20,000 views on facebook!

And so in December and January 2016/17 I find myself as a wedding photographer, with four bookings in as many weeks. Not my first I have done a few here and there, but as I have improved along with my gear these have been the first that I have charged sensibly for (relative to the amount of work) and that I feel accomplished in my work. I am enormously proud of the photos I have taken during wedding season. It is certainly a challenge, working fast, adjusting to rapidly changing light conditions, the photography is a challenge in itself, but its only now that I realise a wedding photographer is also the wedding director, and is looked upon to direct people from venue to venue, into groups, and to help ensure the day runs smoothly. It is daunting, hard work, but immensely rewarding.

If you’d of told me back in July 2014, as we packed our bags for the unknown that I would be a professional wedding photographer before I left St Helena Id of laughed at you, but as the New Year arrives and I look back on my time here I have come a long way. I am building both experience and a portfolio, and who knows where this may take me.

My readers can help me out here, have you recently got married in the UK, or been a close part of a wedding? How much did you pay the photographer, and please, how do my images compare to this. Id love to hear some open honest critique so I can better gauge exactly where I am.

 

 

 

 

Fourth Time, Third Time, Second Time, First Time.

 

I have so much to catch up on, my blog will, as a consequence brush over many things and not in any way get across how full the past few weeks have been.

Our time on St Helena is measured by events, I don’t imagine Saints see things like this, but for us the past few weeks have heralded our third, of lot lots of things. Our third Harvest, third boys day out, festival, third cancer awareness event, third Halloween, third World Wide Photo walk, Third Cruise ship season, the list goes on.

The event and social merry go round is non-stop on St Helena, there are times when I’d like to jump off, and have a breather, but then someone will phone and ask “what are you doing on Saturday” and with a fear of missing out, then we are there.

The month started with my third World Wide Photowalk, a day when photographers all over the world go, and walk and take photos. This year’s location, decided upon by the tourist office was Peak Dale, a delightful walk through flax slopes, grass lands, deciduous forest and pine trees. Becoming more popular year on year, over thirty people turned up, on what started as a cloudy blustery day to play their part, enjoy a nice walk and hopefully capture some photos. It soon became very clear that some people were not really in it for the photography, as one group, of avid photographers, myself included, were quickly left behind, each of us hoping to be the first to spot and bag “the shot”. I decided to try something more abstract this year, and looked for form, texture and shape in objects, rather than the wide sweeping landscape views. It was an interesting challenge and I was pleased with my results.

 

Whilst on the subject of walking Bev and I tackled a new post box walk this month, to Lot! Lot is an oddly named large pillar of volcanic, phonolithic rock. It was formed some 7 1/2 million years ago, when the major eruptions of St Helena had subsided and the Island had formed. Later eruptions forced magma up through gaps and fissures in the existing rock, but never quite broke through the surface. Surrounded by an insulating layer this larva cooled much more slowly than the rock laid down in earlier eruptions, and hence formed more solid, resistant rock. As St Helena’s soft volcanic slopes have washed away over time these phonolithic rocks are left to stand proud over their surroundings._mg_4419-pano

The walk itself was a challenge for sure, much of it down perilous slopes, with electrical wire in place to hold on to!! But it was great fun, and made even more pleasurable by the impromptu nature of thing. It was half term, and Bev and I had booked a day off work to spend with the boys. At short notice they were both invited to a birthday party for the day and as such, Bev and I enjoyed our first day alone together for months. It was bliss.

October also saw several charity events, and it seems I have become the go to photographer for doing things for free. “Paul, you know it’s the carnival, do you think maybe you could do some photos”? And my answer is always, yes I’d love to. And I mean it I do love it, I love being asked to help and contribute in some way, but it does mean I have spent most nights on the computer editing and sorting through reams of photos.

And so it is that the past three weeks have contained our Third SHAPE fund raising event, a Masquerade Ball at Plantation House, closely followed by New Horizons Children version, in Halloween costume. The Ball was spectacular in its entertainment as it was in its costume, as all 140 people attendees slowly slipped, sipped, danced and drank into one of the best parties this Island has seen. Over £2000 was raised for one of St Helena’s most important and valuable charities, and everyone had a thoroughly good night. Although I was happy to play my part, I was more than a little envious of having to work when surrounded by such joviality.

It’s not often on St Helena, that I am surprised anymore, but an hour into the night, I was somewhat taken a back as a masked man approached the door and asked me if I was Paul Tyson, “Ummm yes” I replied, “Did you go to Rhyl High School?” “ummm yes” I replied, “Do you recognise me”, “Ummm take off your mask”! And there he was, Mr Cottle, a former design tech teacher in my old school, he, on the door step of Plantation House, on St Helena, I could not believe it. There may not be an airline service yet, but I’m sure there’s a bloody bus that comes here three times a week!

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Mr Cottle on the right, former teacher at Rhyl High School with family.

The arrival of flight TZ 1XS, an Arvo RJ100 jet plane was, for a time the most talked about thing on the Island. The flight, operated by Tronos Aviation Leasing was on its way, in a very convoluted path to Chile were it was being sold, but thanks to the efforts of Atlantic Star is came to St Helena on route to fly some test flights, gather more wind shear data, and test the suitability of this aircraft for ST Helena. Atlantic Star have been a prominent player in the Airport SAGA, insisting from very early on that they will be able to operate a direct service from the UK to St Helena. To their credit they have no wavered from this standpoint,  and, although this particular aircraft type does not have the capacity to reach the UK, it is seen as an option in the short term for the Island due to its particular profile and ability to land in poor conditions and in short distances. Atlantic Star jumped at the chance to test the theory and worked with Tronos to enable the flight to arrive at its destination via St Helena.

From an untrained eye it was a huge success, lucky enough I was to be on my fourth trip to photograph aircraft, I watched and immaculate landing, right on the money, without a hint of wobble, and stopping well short of the vertical cliff that greats a plane that overshoots!

Will it be the answer? Well, no, not in the long term, with the modifications needed to carry additional fuel, this aircraft could only fly to St Helena with around 40 passengers, not enough to build a tourist industry on, but what this flight has done is raise moral, provide some positivity surrounding the airport, and may, just may, provide a short term solution to getting things off the ground as it were. Here’s hoping.

The airport on St Helena has received some terrible press in the UK and worldwide, the most expensive cock up in history, the airport with no air planes, £300mil of wasted UK tax money are the normal headlines. My photos of the airport have subsequently popped up all over the world in everything from aircraft magazines to tourism websites. It was no surprise therefore when some large newspapers came knocking. It was something of a surprise however when I received a phone call from the photo editor at the Times Newspaper. Asking for photos of the airport I enquired what was the article about, already of course knowing the answer. Knowing the article was not going to be a positive one I was torn, do I want my photos used to provide negative press to the Island I love? After some thought I figured, my photos are already over lots of press articles slagging off the airport, what difference does one more make, and at least I was going to get paid, and credited. And so it is that two and a half years after picking up a camera I can now claim to be a professional photo journalist. Well ok, that might be pushing it, but not many people can say their photos have been published in the Times newspaper!!TysonPic.jpg

On to more concerning news and for the second time in just 4 years the Island is experiencing a drought, this time, a severe one. We have had no significant rain fall for months, months and months. The normal winter rains came and went with nothing more than some low lying mist and the situation is now quite serious. We will still have drinking water, even if we rely on bottled water, but without drastic measures, or some serious rain the Island is rumoured to run out of any significant and usable water in a matter of days. Whether it will come to that I don’t know, water is currently being tankered from a bore hole, once used by Basil Read during airport construction, to keep reservoirs marginally topped up, but they are all looking very empty, some with just puddles of muddy water in the bottom. Please and warnings have been offered by all and sundry to reduce consumption, and the Tyson household is playing the, if its yellow, let it mellow rule. I’m also doing my bit by drinking beer instead of water!!

And so it was that against a back drop of drought and prayer for water that St Helena experienced what is, so it seems, a once in a life time event, an electrical storm, or thunder and lightning to you and me. As I sat, in my usual evening position at the computer, I heard a rumble, knowing that St Helena never gets thunder storms I shook my head, told myself it couldn’t be and continued with my work. Even the flash of light outside, did not trigger any thought process that it could be lightning. The second rumble however really got my attention as it rattled the roof above our head. Opening the door to the lounge I said to Bev, “did you hear that? I think its thunder and lightning”. Really!!!

It was, and for the next 6 hours you could find me outside, like a small child enjoying the spectacle. For the first hour I told myself it was passing over, it was not worth getting my camera out. As I realised I was wrong I hurriedly rummaged for my tripod and trigger and headed outside. For the next five hours, until 1.30am I watched and listened with giddy excitement, dancing for joy when I knew a fork of lightening had been within the view finder of my camera. I started shooting out at sea, as the storm passed over and beyond us, but as the night went on pockets of the storm opened up all over, until I was provided the ideal shot, with lightening forking behind High Knoll Fort. Photography conditions were tricky, with low lying cloud surrounding me, forcing me to wait for the occasional breaks. But it was well worth it. I was aware that this was potentially the first storm on the Island for many years (I’ve heard anything from 40 to 10) and that maybe, just maybe I was getting THE photographs to record it. As I uploaded the images to Facebook that night I could not believe the response. Three days later and over 16000 have viewed, clicked, liked, loved and shared these photos. What an amazing experience, and amazing night, and amazing response, and one which I will never forget.

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High Knoll Fort St Helena, Silhouetted against the fork of lightning.

Unfortunately the storm did not bring with it the rains, and after threatening to pour down the storm provided virtually no rain at all.

I guess I shall have to carry on drinking beer!!!

Boeing 737-800

At 12:12 pm on the 18th April 2016, St Helena witnessed the next in a recent string of historic firsts, and once again I was there to witness flight MN8427 landing on St Helena soil. This was the first large jet aircraft and crucially the first landing of THE Boeing 737 British Airways Aircraft that will be flying on a weekly basis from Johannesburg to St Helena from the end of May. The plane is brand new, hot of the production line, and it glistened in the tropical St Helena sun shine on this perfect April lunch time.

The buzz has been around for several days, but reached new levels this morning as the first posts appeared on Facebook indicating that for the first time ever, St Helena was listed as a flight destination on an Airport departures board.

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And there it is, Flight MN8427 to St Helena.

As it flew North West to Namibia before heading out over the Atlantic, people tracked the location of the plane as I, and my photography colleagues made our way to the now familiar spot on Mole Spider Hill.

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Tracking the flight this morning

Schools and businesses closed as the Island gathered to witness the historic occasion. Bev was positioned along with the pupils of Prince Andrew School, and, unbeknown to me at the time Charlie, who had managed to gain permission to leave his nearby class mates and sit with Mummy as the historic events unfolded. Despite my privileged position I did feel a tinge of sadness that I wasn’t sharing this occasion with my family up on the hill.

But privileged I was. I’d like to think my hard work in photography and promoting the Island had warranted my spot amongst the media and other lucky few on our run way side vantage point, but I think in reality I would not have been invited had I not the nerve to simply ask enough people in the right positions as to whether I could join the more recognised local media. But lucky I was, and that privilege was and is certainly not lost on me given the hundred more deserving people watching from their distant points across the Island. Most however were just filled with excitement and pride that this day has arrived.

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Crowds gather to watch the historic event

We arrived in position well ahead of schedule and with a two hour wait we chatted and made small talk about the changes ahead that are about to be unleashed on the Island. Are we ready, do we have enough accommodation, how will this affect the unique culture and environment? The questions and doubts soon evaporated when someone shouted, “there it is, above the cloud, just coming past the Barn”.   I looked, but couldn’t see, and began to worry as to why it was only me who couldn’t see the shiny dot in the distance, at least I worried until Bruce Salt, Australian born to Saint patronage said, “I can’t see it”, relieved I was to turn around and find the only person who could see it, had binoculars and I needn’t of worried as before long the twinkling of a bright shiny aeroplane came into full view.

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Our first glimpse.

“It’s landing gear is still up” I heard, and sure enough it was, we hadn’t been warned about the fly past we were treated to, as the beautiful Boeing 737 flew past just feet from the tarmac.

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Stunning Boeing 737- 800 ZS-ZWG Flies Past St Helena Airport.

Leaving the Southern end of the run way she circled round, gear down for her landing approach. Much slower this time, she edged to the runway and kicking up dust in the jet stream she suddenly veered and then climbed steeply away, apparently aborted the landing. “Does she have enough fuel to return to J’berg” I asked, being told that Ascension would be her alternative landing in the event of problems. We had discussed the wind conditions whilst sat waiting for this landing. Looking to the South of the runway the wind blew strong in a North Easterly direction, at the opposite Northern end the wind blew South Westerly but, judging by the wind sock to a lesser extent, and, at our own vantage point mid-way along the run way it blew directly at us, westward with some force.

St Helena Commercial Jet Flight (11)We can only assume at this stage the challenging wind conditions led to the aborted first attempt, but before long the aircraft was once again close to the tarmac, this time several meters closer to the precarious start of the runway and we held our breath as the screech of rubber on concrete and the smoke plumbed from the tyres. Touchdown.

 

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In all her glory. Click on the image to see a full high resolution file. This is actually 15 photos stitched together to form a highly detailed image.

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360 degree panorama looking across St Helena Runway, Airport, my colleagues, Dianas Peak, the waiting crowds at Millennium Forest and the Barn. Click to view full size image.

I have to admit that at this point it was all quite emotional. It’s hard to explain just how significant this is. As I sat at the bus stop this morning I spoke with friend and Saint, Maria Thomas. “Well, today is the day” I said.  ”Yes, I can’t quite get my head round it” was the reply “It doesn’t seem real”. In the western world we take air travel for granted, but this Island has been cut off from the outside world since its discovery 500 years ago. Nothing has arrived her or left here unless by sea for contraries, the world was five days away. Now, it is five hours away. Speaking with Maria it became overwhelming to think about, I can only imagine what Saints are feeling today, and at that moment. Their world has just been turned upside down, for the better or worse. False dawns have come and gone, and the airport is now here.

Although I have not had any involvement I can’t help but feel proud, proud for the Island and its people, proud for Basil Read, Halcrow and the numerous others involved. Proud of every Thai worker living near the site at Bradleys. What an incredible job, truly it is inspiring. The rest of the World seems to agree. As I write the photos I posted to my Facebook page have been viewed by 18,000 people in less than 8 hours! In total, between the various outlets you can probably make that 100,000! It’s quite something for this tiny little sleepy Island that no-one apparently has heard of!

Whilst I was lucky enough to have ring side seats today, I was also lucky enough to have a nosey round the airport, with my camera last week. It’s a lovely building, small but aesthetically at least, perfectly formed. Clad with local blue stone, it reminds me of a Snowdonia art gallery built of black slate. Perfectly in keeping with the rugged like surroundings of this Mars like corner of St Helena.

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Arriving at St Helena Airport

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Saint Helena Airport

Inside the airport is modern with clean lines and finished with oak effect panelling and brushed steel signs. Fantastic views over the runway and taxi area are afforded to both passengers and family and friends alike, and I suspect a cup of coffee whilst waiting for the next flight to arrive will become a popular pastime for a while. I stood with Bruce today, and said to him “It’s incredible to think that many people on St Helena have never seen a jumbo jet before”. Much to my surprise he replied, “Yes, like me”.  Even with weekly flights it will be some time before the novelty of watching a plane arrive on St Helena wears off.

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First view of St Helena as you leave the Airport. Diana’s peak will be in view on a clear day.

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And welcome to St Helena. Please enjoy your stay.

We look forward now until the next big day, opening ceremony. 21st of May is St Helena Day, the day that the Island was discovered, how fitting that that same day should herald a new dawn. Of course St Helena day was always chosen to be the opening day, it makes complete sense. The fact that it will still be going ahead on St Helena Day, as planned some two or more years ago is nothing short of incredible, and I’m so glad that I will be there once more.

Onwards and Upwards

Since my last post things have certainly returned to some sense of normality, at least, normal for us on St Helena. Out of no-where I am extremely busy again, and all of those little jobs that I really should of done when I had nothing to do, and didn’t, are now staring me in the face making me wonder when indeed I am going to do them!

Photos of the Jamesbay Waves I promised in the last blog.

The response to my last blog entry has been somewhat overwhelming. It seems I am not alone in my feelings of self-doubt and miss-direction and that many people have appreciated what I wrote, whilst others have offered sympathy and support. It is an odd thing barring your heart to the world, particularly to those who are in your day to day life, who then know how your feeling and, understandably want to help. But it turns out writing is easier than speaking, and my usual response has been “I’m fine” when someone asks if I’m ok. In reality I am a lot better than I was. I don’t suppose to think I have suddenly gotten over everything, but being busy helps immensely, as does having supportive family, good friends and good times. There is also a real therapy to writing down your thoughts. Confronting yourself and feelings, and attempting to apply a logic to them so that others can read and understand, helps to box them up and rationalise your feelings, you can then start to break down the problems and fix them.

The first thing I have to do in future is to recognise when I have less work on, and do productive things with the time that is freed up, for now however that is not a problem.

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Sunset Behind High Knoll Fort viewed from our garden!

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Sunset over JamesBay, Stunning.

 

In terms of photography out of the blue I had numerous photoshoots, I am resuming some product photography for a local jewellery designer and I finished editing the shots from my first wedding shoot. The wedding took place a few weeks ago. I was incredibly nervous, after all, when the day is over all that is left are the photos and memories, and I didn’t want to screw this up. I am thrilled with the results and the feedback has been fantastic. You can see for yourself here, and here. It was a wonderful experience, to be invited in to someone else’s special day, strangers to all intense and purpose is a true privilege. As the photographer you spend the whole day with the couple, you are the only one who does, you build a relationship with them and in many ways direct many elements of the day. I have a new found respect for wedding photographers, next time you see the cost of a wedding photographer, give some thought to the responsibility that lies on their shoulders. Plus the hours of work that will go into editing the shots once everyone else on the day has finished their work, I know I will never look at them in the same light again.

I have also been helping out on the Enchanted Isle, the stellar sightseeing boat on the Island, helping primary school groups on a dolphin watching trip, and with Bev’s Marine Biology A level class. Bev has signed up for a global project to test for plastics in the worlds oceans, taking water samples at depth with a special piece of kit called a niskin bottle. Great fun was had and the day was followed up with more swimming in the sea at Lemon Valley. This gave ma great opportunity to test my new underwater camera kit. Unfortunately the underwater flash (strobe) that I had purchased second hand showed its value in the bath the night before by leaking and breaking on me, but the camera is great and in better conditions and with some practice I’m hoping to get some good shots with it during dives around the Island.

The family and I have also enjoyed our first night at Banyan Cottage. Nestled in the bottom of the Valley of Sandy Bay, this 100 year plus cottage can be hired out for the princely sum of £20 for three nights. Those of you who have followed from the begging may remember a birthday party we attended there some 12 months or more ago, this time we were there for the night, and I don’t mind saying we were in fact dreading it. A stone cottage equipped with the basics, a few beds, pots and pans, running water and lots of nearby wood for fuel. With no electricity fire and candles are the order of the day. The children loved it, what an adventure and experience for them and despite our worries, Bev and I had the most wonderful night with great company and many laughs. Banyan cottage shows the diversity that exists on St Helena. Here I am on my computer typing away, editing photos and uploading my blog to the world on St Helena, whilst in other parts of this tiny Island, less than a few miles away, people still live in this subsistence manor. There are not many in 2016 without electricity, but I have no doubt there are some, and many more without electric ovens who rely on fire wood for cooking and heating and who’s way of life is from a simple, some would argue, nicer time.

Whatever the pros and cons of modern life, to escape from it entirely for a night is wonderful. We cooked food on a fire, roasted marshmallows and drank beer until the early hours of the morning. 3am to be precise, and with the sun waking us up before 7am there was little sleep to be had.

And so it was that I rushed off the next morning, barely awake to ensure that I arrived on time for another huge milestone in the life of St Helena, the first Jet Engine Airplane to Land here. Following a wonderful piece by fellow blogger, what the Saints did Next, I was inspired to contact Air Access to see if it were possible for me to gain access to the newly finished terminal building to take some shots to show you all. Unfortunately that request has been temporarily turned down I was invited to be part of a small group of media representatives to photograph the arrival of the Bombardier Challenger 300 as it arrived to complete further tests for the airport. With it arrived members of ASSI, the Air Safety Support International personal who are here to conduct final audits on the airport, and, with fingers crossed, give it the all clear for the commencement of commercial flights. Just saying that in quite extraordinary. I don’t wish to out a jinx on things, but we are so close now, within a few weeks people will be able to fly here. I will save my feelings on this until it happens, but to take a quick look at what has been achieved is valid right now.

In 2011 permission and funds from the UK government were provided to enable St Helena to build an airport, to open the Island up to tourism and to reduce its dependency on overseas aid. With that in mind, Basil Read, a South African company were announced as the successful bidders. £210 million was granted for construction. But there was a problem, there was no flat land, solution, dynamite a mountain and use the rock to fill in a valley to create the flat land, simples. But wait, the area ear-marked for this airport had no road, ok, so they built a road, up some of the most difficult and steepest terrain you can imagine. But before they could build a road, they needed to get equipment, supplies and the like onto the island, and there is nowhere for a ship to dock. No problem they said we will build a temporary wharf, allowing the first ship to actually dock on the island in its 500 years history, and eventually replace it with a permanent wharf to provide access for container shipping once the RMS is de-commissioned. And so they did, apparently on budget and on time, to the very day if the last tests are successful. For £210 million pound Basil Read have achieved the impossible, they have built a wharf (having never built one before) built an access road, built bulk fuel installations to supply the airport, built infrastructure to support the build (such as a garage, and workers accommodation), flattened a mountain and filled in a valley, built a runway, terminal building control tower and all navigation equipment ( all of which they hadn’t done before), they have built an airport on one of the most remote and challenging places on earth. They have done all this on time, on budget and with an Island full of cynicism and lack of belief behind them. Having been let down with many false dawns before few on the Island really ever thought they could do it, that this day would come, and no one thought it would be ready on time. By all accounts it will be, and we are now a tiny step away from something incredible, everyone involved should be incredibly proud regardless of the outcome of the tests this week.

We have witnessed so many firsts in our time here, first docking of a ship, first mobile phon