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.

IMG_20170821_152400564

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.

22366310_10155897141030530_3757170239145819773_n

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!

 

 

 

Two Years in Shorts!

So, after a huge amount of hard work, with support from my family and friends, and through some difficult time I have done it, 365 days wearing shorts!!! Having survived a British summer still with shorts on each day I now aim for two years in shorts, and as the sun shines through my window I am confident of achieving this goal.

We are back on St Helena, after a mere eight days of travelling we reached home two weeks ago. Not that we traveled every single day as we enjoyed a wonderful two night stop over in Cape Town. Cape Town remains, second time round one of my most favorite places I have visited.

A city full of life, colour, sound, history and culture. A place of welcoming people good food and spectacular natural history. I was lucky enough this time to full fill a long held ambition and ascend Table Mountain. Not, as I would of liked, on foot, but via the famous cable car that ferried throngs of tourists up the mountain each year. Although undoubtedly less of a place of wonder as a result of the tourists lie myself, Table Mountain still holds a prehistoric feel to it, and a short walk takes you away from the crowds and out on your own across the huge rocky plateau. The views are truly spectacular as we looked out to the Cape of Good Hope and across to Table Bay. As we gazed the wonderful sight of the RMS St Helena coming into port greeted us, as we contemplated our third and likely our last voyage across the Atlantic. By the time we leave in 12months, the RMS will be no more an aeroplane will be our rather more boring mode of transport off the Island.

In may also be our last time in Cape Town and as such we were determined to enjoy it, we could not of been happier to watch a thunderstorm blow through Cape Town as we sat upon our balcony sipping Cape wine and taking in the sights and sounds of Cape Towns night life below.

The view from our balcony at night.

The view from our balcony at night.

Boarding the RMS was a strange experience. 12 months ago we past through immigration and port control, and climbed the ramp up to the RMS with great excitement, and a fair amount of fear and trepidation at the unknown world we were heading to. This time however the RMS provided a huge amount of security, a welcoming and familiar vessel to transport us not to the unknown, but to what is, for now at least, undoubtedly home.

Our crossing was smooth, fast and pleasant, a hugely appreciated upgrade ensured we enjoyed one of the larger cabins and the extra space was very welcome having spent five weeks in each others pockets. The conditions were a far cry from the rough seas we had encountered five weeks earlier and the journey was incredibly smooth and, as a result very quick, as quick as crossing the Atlantic can ever be.

It was a particular pleasure meeting new arrivals on St Helena, tourists and our new Doctor, full of questions, which we were now in a position to answer. Travel on the RMS St Helena is a wonderful experience. I allows new comers to the Island to form friendships and meet people before the set foot ashore, providing rea-assurance and dinner invites, particularly useful when arriving on a bank holiday weekend when all the shops will be shut for two days.

On early morning of our fifth day St Helena filled the view from our port hole, filling my heart with a warm sense of joy. The sun was shining and we were all looking forward to stepping on land. The sun shone for our first two or three days on the Island, before taking a turn for the worse, after all we are still just emerging from winter, but the days of are punctuated nicely by days of glories tropical sun.IMG_4056 IMG_4055 IMG_4048 IMG_4044 IMG_4039

Our first weekend back however reminded us of why we love the place so much. A walk up flagstaff to enjoy the spectacular views across the Island, a lovely dinner at a friends house, with a huge slab of T-bone steak, and a party on another night.

Our weekends have been instantly filled with good company, good fun and wonderful scenery. This weekend has been no different. A return to Sundowners drinks at Donny’s bar, a walk to Fairy Land, aptly named this time of year as you can see and swimming in the pool under baking tropical sun.

I have undertaken something of a fitness regime, climbing Jacobs ladder twice a week, and at present, swimming a kilometer twice a week before 9am!! This is, as my friends will testify, most unlike me. However 6 weeks of pure indulgence, drinking and eating takes an inevitable toll which was confirmed to me as we walked to the coffee shop following our disembarkation from the ship to be greeted with “you’ve put on weight” from one of our friends. Before we left the Uk 12 months ago I was determined, having reached my “middle age” that I would have something of a change of life style and eat better and exercise more. My good intentions were thwarted following my groin injury (plus complete lack of will power and a liking for beer) but I return more determined to keep fit and look the part for my gorgeous wife.

Life has been hectic, in one day I found myself climbing Jacobs Ladder, shopping, photographing ladies under wear, plumbing in part of a fish tank and writing a husbandry guide for colleagues back in the UK. All in a day’s work over here. At this point many of you will of thought “photographing ladies underwear”??? And yes, I have a contract with a new business who is importing sexy, Anne Summers underwear to the Island. At this stage I am just taking product shots for the website, however when my studio equipment arrives at the end of the month a model shoot will take place. Totally out of my comfort zone I am both excited and extremely nervous at my first actual photoshoot with models, and in skimpy underwear no less. OF course this has gone down well with my male friends and I have already signed up several police officers as security and at least seven people holding a flash for me!!

After six weeks in each other pockets the Wednesday the boys started back at school was a joyous day for us all. Charlie has now started full time schooling and seems to be relishing in this new, “big boy” environment, part of the main school and not within the annexed nursery building. Oliver on the other hand has struggled to settle back in and reform the friendships that he left behind eight weeks ago. However, two weeks in, and with the help of taking a football to school it seems to be improving for him. Of course both boys now have a warped perspective of our life in the UK. Having spent the past month being spoilt by grandparents, having days out at the zoo, park and generally living a life of riley, they are now convinced that our lives in the Uk are one great big party with grandparent. Convincing them of the realities of our previous life in the UK being different from the holiday we just enjoyed has taken some doing, and Charlie is still not convinced. However a boat trip with dolphins, swimming, football, friends and sunshine has convinced them that another year here will be ok!!

Leaving the UK was difficult for everyone this time, but particularly for Bev, who’s sister was induced into labour the day before we left the UK. Knowing that our new niece would be born as we were travelling, and that she would be twelve months old before we get to meet us is of course hard. It reminds us of the precious things we have left behind. But I would not change it for the World. We are on a countdown now, 12 months to go, 11 months, 10 months etc, and yet we return feeling at home. I am no longer searching for my place here, desperately fighting for some feeling of importance and worth. I am slotting back into my place here and the sacrifices we make are more than worth it.

As we reach mid-September St Helena is about to enter a whole new age, and history is being made. The very first mobiles phones were sold on the Island on the 1st of the month, the network due to be operational before the month end. And, on Tuesday 15th of September 2015, St Helena will no longer be an isolated Island in the Atlantic, as the very first Aeroplane lands here. With it come mixed emotions for Saints and Ex-pats alike. What will this new age herald for the Island as it undertakes the most significant change since its discovery in 1502? Time will tell, and I will hold comment and judgement until such time as I could give a balanced and informed comment. Until then the island undoubtedly excited to welcome its first test flights next week, and no doubt huge crowds will be in place to witness the event. Whatever the long term future for the Island it is a privilege to be part of life here at this momentous time, and we could not be happier to be back.

Contented

It has taken longer than I expected, but I find myself contented in my new life. My retirement has turned out to be the busiest retirement one could imagine, an evening in with no work to complete has become something of a rarity as I juggle my photography work including projects for local schools, a maternity shoot, photography course and the work for the tourist office, with exciting projects for the National Trust, what I believe is my improved and balanced life with the children and of course diving and the odd encounter with forty foot fish, things really are hectic. But I finally feel as though I have a place on the Island and have found the right balance. Ive always needed to be busy, to be juggling many balls and I am certainly doing that now.

A sit down heart to heart with my ever incredible wife a few weeks ago, has helped to put my feelings of myself as a father into perspective, and coupled with the arrival of other meaningful work on the Island I feel my outlook of the boys and relationship with them has improved greatly, I am almost beginning to believe that they quite enjoy spending time with me!

Sadly, as I become more content, Oliver has become unsettled in school, friendships are presenting challenges and have the  status “its complicated”. He is clearly upset at times and this has impacted his behaviour at home. The old me would of dealt with his behaviour with a stern telling off, but I am trying to offer support and understanding and we have come up with plans to help him re-settle, namely to invite his friends round to play as often as possible to help re-cement their relationships. It has taken me aback that Oliver has fell into problems at school, although I suspect it wont last long, and neither will it be the last period of turmoil with our Oliver.

_MG_0103Despite this blip in school I have no doubt that the boys are happy here. As Bev and I have learnt to dive, so have the boys learnt to snorkel, and even Charlie, at four years old has his set of fins,  mask and snorkel. We spend many afternoons at the swimming pool, enjoying the open air and sunshine. Charlie, now swims round to his hearts content, jumping frpm the diving board with unreserved joy. Oliver is becoming more and more competent, and is now able to swim a full 30m length of the pool, making his parents very proud. The transformation in both of them in a few short weeks is incredible.

The Tyson’s have been dominating the local media here on St Helena, myself taking part in a twenty minute interview on photography and the courses I have been running, and Bev, in readiness for Marine awareness week has been talking about her new adult classes  O’level in Marine Biology. Marine awareness week is an annual event held in St Helana to raise awareness for the Islanders of the fantastic and important world that surrounds and dominates the pulse of life on St Helena. For my part I am back within my comfort zone having set up an aquarium, now stocked with numerous endemic species, and next week delivering education sessions to local school children. The challenges of finding new roles in St Helena has been great, but I must admit it is lovely to be in and around an aquarium again and back in my world, covered in water and playing with pipework. For any of my aquarium friends out there, if you ever out together an aquarium on a volcanic Island, bare in mind the sand is magnetic and will find its way onto all your pump impellers!

This week I did my first _MG_0215photoshoot, with a person, an actual person, and not just a person but a pregnant person, my first ever photo shoot was a maternity one. Id like to say Im not sure who was more nervous, but Im fairly sure the answer was me. With sweat beading on my brow I was very aware of myself! But the client and I settled into things and despite a less than ideal setting and lighting I am on my way to producing some good quality images.

Saturday was one of yet another, most incredible days of my life. It started with my second dive since qualifying, a trip out with established divers to a natural rock formation known as Billy Maze. I found myself nervous for the first time whilst diving, not as a result of the dive, but as a result of the company, perfectly lovely people, but experienced, very competent divers. How would I compare, would I run out of air and ruin everyone’s dive, will I be welcomed into this little group. As it was I needn’t of worried, it was a fantastic experience with fantastic people, all of whom could vividly remember being in my position, and all of whom were encouraging and supportive. The dive took me a full ten meters deeper than I had been before as I followed our guide through a twist of rock channels with stunning fish a plenty and even a swim with a Hawksbill Turtle.

That afternoon we went on our next Whale Shark trip. A group organised by Bev, of colleagues from Prince Andrew School ,it was a lovely opportunity to get to know, not just Bevs work mates, but some Saint families and spend time in their company. Setting off from the wharf under grey skies and a sizeable swell it did not look good for Shark spotting. The conditions and dark looking seas had put Oliver off, and Charlie was already falling asleep. It was a relief therefore when I spotted the tell tale shadow of a Whale Shark under the waves and, after shouting our captain to make an about turn the first group were soon in the water. Bev jumped in along with other parents and their children and it was with great disappointment to myself that they soon returned to the boat having watched the shark disappear into the depths. As I sat brooding like child on his brothers birthday, I was bitterly disappointed and jealous that I missed out.

With everyone back on board, we continued on, in constant communication with other boats on the water in the hope of finding another shark. With the weather deteriorating, and, by this point many people, including Oliver feeling seasick, I looked around the boat at children laid out upon their parents laps, tired and unwell and felt sure the best course of action would be to cut our losses and head home. However, as is normal for the boat operators here, their determination to deliver a great experience meant that we continued our quest to find another animal. After what felt like an age we received a call from another boat and quickly headed off in the direction of another Whale Shark. Anthony, skipper, dive tutor and general water man told me to get kitted up, it was a big one. I felt a surge of excitement and anticipation and sure enough, before long we were just feet away from a truly huge animal. Almost before the boat had even stopped I was in the water, and swimming as hard as  I could alongside a stunning, 12m long (40ft) male shark, cruising at speed with giant sweeps of its tail. With go-pro in one hand I swam as hard as I could but ultimately I am no match for a 12 foot fish and eventually he disappeared ahead of me, his huge dorsal fin still visible through the waves. Turning around I found myself not only a long way from the other swimmers, but a long way from the boat. I sat steady and waited for the inevitable pick up, knowing it is quicker for them to come to me.

A Huge, 12m male whales shark that I swam with!

A Huge, 12m male Whale Shark that I swam with!

Back aboard it was not long until we had caught up with the whale shark, and soon enough the next group were in the water. With Charlie still asleep, and Oliver still unwell, I stayed aboard as Bev jumped in for her second swim. The whale shark by now had become curious about us, and instead of swimming off in the distance was turning and swimming around the boat, the swimmers were so close to this magnificent animal and it was with great pleasure that one of our good friend Jon, came leaping back onto the boat barely able to catch a breath shouting, “it bumped into me, it bumped into me!!!!” like an excited and nervous school child. I was equally pleased as Jons departure from the water gave me the opportunity to get back in, as the whale shark approached the back of the boat I lowered myself into the water just feet from the 5ft mouth of this goliath. Swimming within feet of me I could not contain my joy. I spent a further 20 minutes swimming with this animal, 40ft of magnificent, stunning animal, peacefully and gracefully swimming though the waves, a true privilege to spend time in its presence.  Another in what is becoming a long list of unforgettable moments on St Helena.

Good friend Andy Day provides some perspective on this enormous animal!

Good friend Andy Day provides some perspective on this enormous animal!

Monday evening saw another dive, and Bevs first since qualifying. Another trip to the SS Papanui saw unfathomable numbers of fish. So many Butterfly fish that it is, without exaggeration, difficult to estimate how many hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of fish that we saw that day. Another Hawksbill Turtle just topped off a magical 40 minutes under the sea.

On Tuesday I had the great pleasure and honour to be invited for lunch with at the home of Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, French consul on the Island and in charge of the Napoleonic sites on St Helena. Michel’s home has been built based on original plans for a home that was never built for Napoleon himself, and I have to say it was simply exquisite. Splendour and elegance coupled with style and intrigue and no shortage of incredible art work by Michel himself.  Our lunch was the finest food I have eaten in months, with rare roast beef, smoked salmon, fine cheese and fine wine it was a true indulgence. With great company and the chance to meet Pascal Sean Laparliere, a great promoter of my photography in Paris I had a wonderful afternoon. Perhaps the greatest pleasure for me was the invite itself. An invite because someone wanted my company, not as a plus one, or because of a work function, nor because my camera was wanted, but because I was.

I am finding my place on this little Island, I am finding my relationship with Oliver and Charlie, I am finding friends and I am finding a role (well many actually), I am finding contentment, and it feels wonderful.