December Already!!

I can scarcely believe that December is upon us. Now don’t get me wrong, like most of you, every year that December comes around I have that same feeling, where has the year gone etc etc but the 1st of December 2014 will forever be etched on my mind. Like a whirlwind, picking me up swirling me round and dropping me upon the Wicked Witch of the West we are not in Kansas anymore. To think that just a handful of weeks ago I was taking pleasure in the shaded canopy of my local woodland, whilst screaming at a dog who had disappeared into the trees and here I sit, with blue skies and sunshine, a tropical afternoon heat accompanying Christmas music on the radio, contemplating the enormity of how a life can change in a blink of an eye.

I could live in the Southern Hemisphere for another ten years and still not be used to talking about a Christmas in the sun. “All I want for Christmas” is different when not accompanied by grey skies and drizzle. Bev’s pupils are in constant fear of the threat of “Summer” exams, believing that the end of year exams have been brought forward to Christmas, the reality being simply that Bev is equally as confused by the seasons as I.

I believe December 2014 may prove to hold great significance for my career, somewhat disbelievingly,  and with great humility I announce that I am a photographer, having registered my business and securing several photography contracts for clients ranging from private weddings to government offices in London!!  As I have said before, it does funny things!

St Helena and its locals love Christmas, and surprisingly, just like the UK the shops are gearing up early; no sooner than Halloween is over and along with the next arrival of the RMS the shops become full of Christmas gifts, decorations and, most importantly mountains of chocolates, cakes, biscuits and sweets. We wait to see if others predications come true and indeed we will find essentials in short supply over the coming month as toilet roll makes way for Foxes Finest Selection, and Cereal is replaced with Roses and Quality Street, one thing is clear, the RMS can only carry a finite amount of goods, and something has to give.

One the subject of deliveries we await a new fridge freezer, seemingly sat on a dock in Cape Town and requiring some Sherlock Holmes type investigations. Our new, family sized and required fridge freezer has it seems gone missing! As the weather warms and fresh food arrives once a month or so our tiny fridge is not holding up, packed to the rafters with fresh fruit and vegetables it quickly stops any hope of air circulation and warms inefficiently until our fresh food is no longer fresh, as goes it in St Helena, I’m sure “it will be on the next ship”!

The Christmas stock up has confirmed something we already knew, Saints love their food. Now I must do my best to avoid any offence and make it clear, Saints are not fat but they have a propensity for nibbling all day long. Breakfast, a bite at 10.30am, Lunch, Snack time, Tea, Evening meal and supper are not abnormal. Bev has embraced this attitude to food, not perhaps for her own eating habits, but in so much as the amount of baking she now does. It is a disappointment to me if I do not have access to the Worlds stickiest, gooiest and ultimately best flapjack at all times, and when ordinarily accompanied by a tin of Ginger biscuits or Banana Bread I shall not go hungry. Like many things on this wonderful Island, traditional ways, when they make sense, have been maintained and baking is a great Island tradition with afternoon teas, lunches, and dinners normally accompanied with home baked cake.

Despite growing accustomed to our new home we still take great pleasure it its small peculiarities, the radio stations are one such example. Not only are they are source of music and entertainment, they are a vital resource for local news, job adverts, and much to our amusement local adverts. Shops and cafes take the opportunity to spread the word of special offer, such as Tesco’s crackers at 17p, and Angel Delight at 78p at Chads store, or perhaps the Bank, happily informing customers that they will be indeed be open tomorrow (A Friday as it happens).

Start of the Heart Shaped Waterfall Walk

Start of the Heart Shaped Waterfall Walk

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The descent into the jungle.

Last weekend was busy as usual, the family walk, this time to Heart Shaped Waterfall proved to be a lovely and relatively pain free walk through what, to the boys at least, was a dense dark jungle. Opened up only a couple of years ago this walk descends some rather steep steps to the valley floor to meet the stream that ultimately runs down though Jamestown.Much of the walk is through dense vegetation or twisted wild mango trees, complete with a large number of the fascinating Orb Weaver spiders. Following the stream upwards we eventually arrived at the waterfall to a crescendo of frogs but alas no water, the waterfall seemingly running dry. Now we were told that the water had been diverted to fill up the swimming pool, after initially dismissing this as nonsense I am now a little unsure of the truth of the matter.

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Twisted Mango Trees form a dense canopy

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The pool is indeed now full and open, and in true Christmas tradition is full of children enjoying the festive season in swim wear, splashing and diving under glories sunshine!! Yes I know, Bev and I just can’t get used to this either. One of Bev’s work colleagues said today that she always feel Christmassy when it starts to get hot! Weird!!

MV Astor in James Bay

MV Astor in James Bay

Summer also heralded the first in a long line of cruise liners to stop over at St Helena. Seemingly a popular one day destination for hue ships travelling between Africa and the Americas. Although only a small cruise ship it appeared enormous anchored in James Bay and dwarfs the RMS. Around 200 passengers stepped onto dry land and even if just for seven hours the Island was buzzing with their arrival. It seems that I missed a great opportunity here as street sellers of all shapes and sizes took their chance to sell goods to the sudden influx of wealthy ocean goers. That reminds me of a time I was travelling with my sister through Sweden – and we got a little excessively intoxicated one night, and lost both our bags (though they could’ve been snatched now that I think about it – we were fairly drunk afterall). Those purses had all our stuff in it – including our credit cards. It was quite embarassing to need to call mom and dad and make them cosign for a local snabblån online the morning after such good times and with this kind of nasty hangover. Next time I will be amongst them selling photos of the Island and cashing in on the bonanza!

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Along with the good is always the bad, and the warmer weather has brought with it an unwelcome guest to our house, mosquitoes. Not dangerous in anyway, but with a virulent itchy bite. Charlie in particular reacted badly to the nightly onslaught and soon began to look like a pin cushion. Lashing of Deet and an ultrasonic emitter seem to be keeping them away, understandable given how we all now smell of pesticides when we go to bed!

Oliver grows up fast, this week losing his first tooth. With two more already wobbling it seems Oliver could become quite rich, the tooth fairy depositing £1 under his pillow in exchange for his pearly white. Charlie thought it was incredible that this was possible that a tooth could be extracted from its tissue wrapping, and replaced with a pound coin, all when using just a beak! I’m not sure if he was disappointed or not to discover it is of course Fairies, and not Fairy terns that deliver the money.

Last week, after eight weeks out I enjoyed my first game of football, enjoyed that is until I went over on my ankle and once again pulled my groin amidst screams of agony! I fear my football career may be over before it has started and that my appearance for the Axis may prove to be the first and last. The damaged leg also provided great concern for my trip to Egg Island. Following my practice run last week, both Bev and I were due to spend the best art of a night under the stars amongst the birds on egg Island.  Taking a chance I decided it was an opportunity not to be passed up and I nervously departed the wharf at around 4pm. When we approached Egg Island we transferred to a smaller vessel, capable of edging up to the vertical rock face that was to be our landing site. Taking it in turns we one by one waited for the right wave to lift us up to a small, one foot ledge to jump ashore.

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Collecting equipment on our way to the summit.

Once on the Island, we climbed to its summit, a peak climbed by less people than the summit of Mount Everest despite only being around 70m high! After setting up nets and equipment we settled down on our life jacket cushions and watched the sun set. Storm Petrol after

Fellow photgrapher Dave with his enviable lens on the summit of Egg Island surrounded by Noddies and Petrols

Fellow photographer Dave with his enviable lens on the summit of Egg Island surrounded by Noddies and Petrols

Storm Petrol flew into the nets and once delivered to our team the painstaking work of measuring and tagging the animals, all under red torch light could begin. My less than glamorous, but vital role was as a scribe, meticulous recording the details of over 200 birds through six almost solid hours.

The work itself was undoubtedly tedious, but to be on a remote island, under the stars and moon in the company of dedicated experts and of course tens of thousands of beautiful birds was joyous and although tired we arrived at midnight before I knew it. Walking back down to the landing site across a rocky path I eventually  found myself a little nervously stood on a small ledge waiting for the small boat to rise to my feet, sure enough my opportunity arose as I jumped across and landed safely back on board. Our return to shore gave me another opportunity to pinch myself, and remind myself of the incredible lives we now lead.

Beautiful Brown Noddy

Beautiful Brown Noddy

Tropic Birds with their stunning 70cm long tail feathers.

Tropic Birds with their stunning 70cm long tail feathers.

I leave with the excitement that these incredible lives are, about to get a whole lot more wonderful. As the pools opens we commence our PADI open water scuba course and both Bev and I enjoyed and passed our fist confined dive on Tuesday. Under moonlight we learnt how to breathe properly, clear our masks, remove, find and replace our mouth piece and achieve neutral buoyancy. This is a lifelong ambition of mine and circumstance has dictated that it is only now that I am embarking on something that I feel I should have been doing all my life. Like a small child I am giddy with excitement as I look forward to swimming with devil rays and Whale Sharks in just a few short weeks.

It Does Funny Things!

Whether the same applies to Saints, living here all their lives I do not know, but for me, and indeed many travelling ex pats, St Helena does funny things to you. Having arrived on St Helena retired, expecting a laid back life for two years, indulging in hobbies and reading, I find myself now worrying about everything I have taken on, whether I can fulfil my obligations and meet my own newly defined goals, make the most of my time here on St Helena and indeed be the family man I intended before we left the shores of the UK.

I look back a few weeks, to a time where, despite falling in love with St Helena, I was not in love with myself, unsure of my place, my future on the Island and unable to see a way out of a hole of cleaning and domestication.

The lack of cisual content to accompany this entry leads me to just post some pretty pictures. As the weather continues to improves the nights become clearer as this shot of Half Tree Hollow at night shows only too well.

The lack of visual content to accompany this entry leads me to just post some pretty pictures. As the weather continues to improves the nights become clearer as this shot of Half Tree Hollow at night shows only too well.

A recent conversation with a local left me pondering some things, to which I have not found an answer. The crux of my depression was in not having, what I regarded as a good answer when the inevitable question, “what are you doing here” came up. I would joke that I was retired, afraid of being judged by my profession, or lack thereof. But why is this, do I lack the confidence to just be myself, without the need to be something of importance? I don’t believe I judge people based on their profession, I have always strived to see the person and not the badge, so why do I assume others will judge me. I find myself playing up or down previous roles dependant on the profession of the person I am speaking to.  But then it seems to me that it is often the case that people will ask what you do, before they ask your name, and indeed St Helena is a funny place for ex-pats where humble retiree’s like myself rub shoulders with those holding seats of government, lawyers, Prison Officers, Chief of Police, Doctors, Deputy Governors and the like, if there was ever an environment to make one feel inadequate, this I suspect this is it.

I find myself now more and more at ease with things, I no longer feel

A little bit of abstract macro work on a walk around plantation wood.

A little bit of abstract macro work on a walk around plantation wood.

the need to joke to cover up my own self judgment, opportunities are presenting themselves, and along with those opportunities are choices to be made. St Helena does funny things to people, ex-pats arriving without work, supporting loved ones are presented with opportunities to take part in the most wonderful and varied things, I have even been offered my own radio show, something which Im afraid I simply don’t now have time to do. It seems, having bought a cheap camera a few months ago, am now a photographer, my work is being recognised and appreciated and it is difficult to place in words how wonderful that feels.

Last weekend I attended a craft fare, and sold a few of my photos, even being asked for some signed copies, and today I sit having spent

One of my first new ventures as Paul Tyson Photography. Little more than five months after first picking up a camera I am offering beginners courses!

One of my first new ventures as Paul Tyson Photography. Little more than five months after first picking up a camera I am offering beginners courses!

most of the day producing a collage of my work for the St Helena Government representatives in London, having been called upon directly from London to see if I could help. I pinch myself that I have completed the necessaries and await confirmation to see if I am able to register my new business, Paul Tyson Photography! Now who’d of thought that as we stepped onto the RMS St Helena three months ago.

St Helena creates friends; this funny melting pot of peoples in a strange situation brings about close and powerful friendships. We find ourselves spending time with people from all walks of life and all professions. Why is it that dive Instructors become friends with housing planners, that prison officers become friends with videographers, that lawyers become friends with teachers, what is it that breaks down the normal barriers and creates friendships that would be unlikely to form back home, what is it that binds us?  Ex pats on the Island all have one thing in common, and it seems so obvious as to almost not be worth stating, we all live in St Helena. It is not the living here however that brings a closeness, it is the spirit that brought us all here in the first place, a curiosity for the unknown and a sense of adventure for leaving the safety or normality at home and venturing out into something new, something exciting, something with huge potential to fail but huge potential for great reward.  I have learnt to look beyond first impressions; St Helena does that to you. In the knowledge that the size of St Helena makes it inevitable that you will bump into people regularly, that you will share a drink and spend time in the company of others, you are forced to bide your time, to form friendships with people whom at home you may pass up, turning away based on an inaccurate and fleeting first impression.  I hope I take this new found measured approach to people with me when I leave, just another in a long list of improvements I believe I am making.

IMG_9631 Friendships on St Helena are also transient, as fleeting as our time here. Already three fellow passengers on board the RMS have departed these shores, and families we have become close to will be leaving in the New Year.  Even those residents, the Saints themselves whom we are slowly making friends amongst, will remain when we depart. In the social bubble I find myself in, one remains ever aware of the RMS and the departure we and others will make.

Between my work with the National Trust, my burgeoning photography career, looking after the house and the boys I am clinging onto my time with the Marine Conversation team, just! This Monday had the huge pleasure of assisting in tagging Red Billed Tropic Birds on the aptly named Egg Island.  A small group of us headed out to this small rocky outcrop, some 300 yards from the shore, and accessible only by a leap of faith from the back of a boat onto a vertical cliff face, all the while judging the movement of the waves and hoping the next wave pushes you closer to your target and not further away. After a full twenty minutes of ups and downs back and fourths, the team of four were safely onto the Island. From a distance Egg island looks white, closer inspection reveals it is indeed, the rock stained white from centuries of guano. Stepping across the rocks and climbing to the Island’s peak at around 70m, tens upon thousands of Black Noddies and Sooty terms flew around us, angry and upset by our disturbance and sure to let us know about it, their powerful beaks and quick head height fly pasts a constant reminder that we were on their turf.

Egg Island, stained white with years of bird poo!!

Egg Island, stained white with years of bird poo!!

The valuable work on Egg Island is revealing the secrets of these sea birds, potential new species being revealed and population trends being followed, all essential if these birds, residents of the Island for thousands of years are to survive a thousand years into the future. Our journey was also in preparation for next week’s adventures when the trip will be repeated in the pitch black of night, lit up by the stunning nocturnal skyline as we turn our attention to the resident, nesting Storm Petrol population. The short climb back down the vertical cliff to leap back onto our waiting boat left me nervously excited about attempting the same feat at 1 o’clock in the morning!

Three months into our time here I am at something of a cross roads, determined to help out with the amazing marine conservation I have become involved with, proud of my work with the National Trust, desperate to develop a new career in photography, and without losing sight of the family we have ventured here to become. Writing this blog has, from the very start helped me to make sense of things, but St Helena does funny things to people, and for the time being even my writings are not helping  me to make sense in this sudden turn around. I am not quite sure how I make sense of all this and where I should go next. What I need is more time in the day, what I suspect I will end up doing is somehow just squeezing it all in, and seeing what pans out. What I do know is opportunities are coming my way, opportunities that would never of been afforded to me should I have stayed in the UK, what I do know is that St Helena does funny things to people, and I think I like it.

*Footnote. Please accept my apologies for the lack of updates for a week, I have been so busy with things it has simply not been possible. I will do my best to get back on track this week.