Indian Summer

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

_MG_9961-Pano_MG_9946-Pano_MG_9928_MG_0879-Pano_MG_0878

 

The Sunsets in June have been spectacular.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

How long have you got?

…….Or should I say how long have we got, because our time here continues to be simply brilliant and quite frankly I wish it would never end. Normally family ups and downs aside, when I sit back and think about the times we are having it becomes a little astonishing. Tonight’s blog entry is no exception and my ability to keep our stories to a reasonable length will be tested such is the diversity and frequency of good times we are accumulating .

For the past two weekends have started with a morning walk, nothing exceptional there of course. However the walk is along a section of the central ridge, with stunning views down to the Atlantic Ocean on either side, this walk is not a normal walk, when you then factor in the fact that we are walking, or should I more correctly say being walked by Donkeys, then we see that nothing in St Helena is normal, and few things are less than exceptional.

You can tell by peoples clothes that the central ridge is almost always chilly due to the high winds.

You can tell by peoples clothes that the central ridge is almost always chilly due to the high winds.

The island of St Helena, given its extreme topography, had relied for many years on the use of donkeys to haul goods, food, water, fish and lots of flax around the island and up and down extreme cliffs, mountain paths and just about anywhere they were needed. As little as twenty years ago it seems that donkeys were still in very regular use across the Island. Thankfully with improved roads and more significantly, improved cars and trucks, the donkeys are largely surplus to requirements and a good number of them have now found refuge in the St Helena Donkey Sanctuary. Set up some four or five years ago to provide a restful retirement for these lovely animals and providing, each Saturday, the opportunity for the public  to take them for a walk.

Like me Oliver loved Prince.

Like me Oliver loved Prince.

This is one of the unique things about St Helena, a large group of people, locals and expats alike, and from all walks of life, gathers to enjoy the simple pleasure of walking a donkey.

I was lucky enough to walk Prince, a grand old boy, weak in the knees, almost blind, and absolutely lovely. One of the few donkeys to of still been working as little as a few months ago he is now enjoying his leisurely life in the sanctuary, Prince and I bonded well.

Prince did have his stubborn moments when he would just point blank refuse to move.

Prince did have his stubborn moments when he would just point blank refuse to move.

Wonderfully gentle animals.

Wonderfully gentle animals.

Donkey Sanctuary St Helena

We also took in our first post box walk as a family. Across the Island there are numerous walks, and a few years back attempts were made to open up some of the walks, at varying difficulties to make them accessible to tourists and locals alike. Each is finished at a small post which contains a stamp with which the accompanying guide book can then be marked upon successful completion of the walk. We took on one of the easy walks up High Peak, one of the highest peaks on the Island but little distance from the nearby road. Taking a route through steep slopes of thick flax some 2m or more high,  the boys felt like explorers cutting through a thick jungle. Past a spring full of tadpoles and eventually up onto a high ridge with extraordinary views of Sandy Bay.

As we passed through the flax jungle, Charlie started to scratch his backside, nothing as it happens of any particular surprise when Charlie is concerned. After a while I told him to leave himself alone and he exclaimed, “but I have something in my bum!” . Somewhat dismissively I agree to check and sure enough, reaching into his shorts I pulled out a  small round shiny object, a Trolley Pound! How on earth a trolley pound found its way into Charlie shorts on an Island that does not even have trollies I will never know!! Reaching the summit we saw our first endemic St Helena Tree ferns. These ferns are prehistoric and although only in isolated stands on High Peak they still take you back to another time or world.

High Peak. Marking the start of the walk.

High Peak. Marking the start of the walk.

Sandy Bay Amphitheatre and Arum Lilly

Looking down on Sandy Bay Amphitheatre from High Peak

Looking down on Sandy Bay Amphitheatre from High Peak

The morning of the 9th of November, was spent, like many others paying our respects to those who gave their lives for the freedom of all, and somehow even this was different on St Helena. Held at the island’s cenotaph on the water front a large crowd had gather to pay respects and watch the ceremony led by acting Governor Burns. The sound of waves crashing behind us added to the atmosphere and the boy’s impeccable behaviour helped to make the morning an enjoyable and somehow appropriate one.IMG_9984

Good friend John playing at the remembrance service.

Good friend John playing at the remembrance service.

IMG_0005

IMG_0034

IMG_0020

The afternoon was spent in the sunshine in James Bay, rock pooling and testing out my new wetsuit with a little snorkelling in the bay. Bev and I have now passed our diving theory course, the pool is almost full and we can expect our practical lessons to commence in the next couple of weeks. Given the quality of snorkelling just yards from the town centre I simply cannot wait to don my cylinders and step out into deeper water and the numerous shipwrecks around the Island.

Friday night saw our regular evening at Donny’s bar watching the sun go down. This Friday however took a new turn and I stayed out late, drinking Gunpowders (Spice Rum, Lime and Lemonade) and treating the crowd to my karaoke talents, friends at home will know how I love a bit of karaoke. Along with ex-pats and Saints alike we all partied into the night and after much singing, dancing and many many drinks a great night out Saint style was had by all. It is a long time that evenings have been warm enough in the UK to be out under the stars till past 1am, but I suspect it will not be an uncommon occurrence on St Helena!

Oliver has joined in with one of the local junior football teams on a Thursday night. Lack of numbers on Island  and the season coming to a close means he currently is the youngest player amongst a group of players up to twelve years in age. After a tentative start he thoroughly enjoys going up against “the big boys” and I hope it will help him learn and develop and increase his confidence. I am also enjoying the opportunity to coach again, (I coached an under 6 team back in the UK, one of the things I miss most) helping out with the local coach of all sports here on the island.

Finally I am especially pleased to report that I have started work with the St Helena National Trust. Although the post is unpaid due to the limited budget of the trust I will be working part time as Director of Communications. The St Helena National Trust, like that of the UK and other nations is a non-government organisation, a charity, established for the protection of the Islands built, natural and cultural heritage. The work they do and plan to do is vital to the Island and I am very proud to be a part of it. A fantastic opportunity for me to develop many of the skills I had already established in previous roles I will be responsible for company branding, internal and external communications, developing interpretive material for historic and natural sites on the Island and will have the enviable opportunity to work on the production of a guide book and photo book, featuring my own work. If I am able to leave the Island with a book I produced to help others gain the enjoyment I am, then I will be very happy indeed. Keep your eyes peeled here for how you can help with this exciting and important project.

So another two weeks has passed by, and once again I have the opportunity to sit and recount the story of my family on St Helena. Writing a blog has become very important to me for many reasons, to reflect and realise the wonderful opportunities we are lucky enough to be enjoying is, I think, the most important of those and I can scarcely believe .that three months into our adventure I still have so much to talk about.