The Goose got fat, and was eaten…

Well its been our third Christmas on St Helena, and once again it was new faces but the same fun. We have gotten used to St Helena traditions, and although the warm weather and sunshine always prevents us from gaining that warm Christmas build up feeling, we never the less enjoy our time here. Christmas in St Helena is less complicated than in the UK, there is no shopping rush for example, in fact, if you haven’t ordered it by mid October, then it aint coming for Christmas. No mad rushing round town on Christmas eve for me. And whilst we always miss our families enormously this time of year, not having the pressure of which family will miss out on our company is a relief.

We do miss home more than any other time of year though but the constant trickle of Christmas themed events help to stave this off. The traditional Pilling Primary School Christmas service is a welcome treat. This year our boys had prominent roles, Oliver, a rowdy local berating the presence of Roman Forces, and Charlie, the Star of the show, well, yes, actually the star of the show.

 

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For me this year was extra special, with having no permanent job on St Helena, I have always struggled with those close relationships with the locals, I know lots, say hello to lots, but rarely am I thought of or included in local dinner invites, parties or other traditions. And as such it was lovely this year to be invited to the New Horizons Christmas dinner. I have been volunteering with New Horizons for as long as I have been on the Island, providing photographs of their regular youth sporting events, and coaching two junior footballs teams and refereeing games on Sundays through a very long season. It was lovely to feel that I have been accepted by this dedicated group of people. As is traditional at Christmas parties on St Helena a Secret Santa was in force, this time a naughty one, and my gifts of fluffy handcuffs compliment nicely the mistletoe adorned boxer shorts I received at my actual works do. Bev also had her own works Secret Santa to provide for and creatively came up with this shortbread portrait of the recipient.dsc01606

Oliver this year was chosen for the schools traditional Christmas carol singing service, held outside of the Canister (Tourist office) in town each year. Oliver it seems has begun to follow in his Dads footsteps in developing a love for performing in public, something about the crowds and applause seems to tick some boxes for the both of us. It was lovely to see and hear him enjoying himself with some of his close school friends.

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Events and parades are the number one thing in what St Helena refers to as festival season. The highlight of these for me and for many is the festival of lights. Primary schools on the Island are very competitive and all strive to provide the biggest and best shows on the Island, but I think with Festival of Lights Pilling Primary school takes the accolade as biggest and best, with hundreds of people, cars and vehicles dressed from metaphorical head to toe in Christmas lights, parade through town with music and fake snow aplenty. Its a sight to behold and the hundreds of spectators were treated once again to a wonderful Christmas sight.

I was thrilled this year to be invited by Governor Lisa Phillips to photograph her and Rusty, her lovely Labrador for the official Christmas Card, and, Rusty’s twelve tiny black puppies, what a joy. I had such fun although over 140 photographs were needed to create this one card, I had a lot of photos of bums and tails and precious few of puppies sat still facing the camera.

Colourful bokeh of Christmas lights with a bauble

The Governor provided a wonderful Christmas address this year, which, I was very pleased to hear thanked the partners of TC offices for their contribution to the Island. We are often berated by locals for “taking Saint jobs” and the like, but the truth us us forgotten partners contribute and awful lot to St Helena in the way of volunteering for projects and charities.

Christmas eve was very different to that in the UK as I took part in the annual Christmas dive with Sub-Tropic adventures, a dive in Christmas hats presenting its own challenges!

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The afternoon was spent with good company playing games in the Sun on Rosemary Plain. A tradition started by our friends the Days and Davids and which we have tried to carry on, hoping that others will take this up when we leave. It certainly makes for a different Christmas when tropical sun shine is the theme. That evening we enjoyed a more traditional time, as we settled down, just the family, to watch The BFG, a wonderful film, highly recommended. After reading “A Night Before Christmas” a tradition in my family since I was a small boy, the boys went to bed and, with the fear of Father Christmas going home if they were still awake, fell asleep very quickly. Bev and I then nervously wrapped and placed the presents in their stockings.

The next morning was Christmas like many others, presents, mess and pancakes for breakfast! The boys opened their presents, Oliver in a considered, taking his time manor, Charlie with a more youthful, rip it open and move to the next one approach. Santa brought them their requests for desks, not perhaps the most normal requests for 8 and 5 year old’s, but they loved them non the less. Grandparents from afar were well remembered with toys and gifts a plenty under the tree, all of which were gratefully received by the boys and ourselves. Thank you.

And so on to the afternoon, and this year, we were not hosting, but instead joining 18 others for a bring and share Christmas in the sun. Our contribution pushed my culinary skills, with Paxo stuffing and pigs in blankets! Although I also made some Whisky glazed roast carrots, Parsnips and spiced red cabbage, whilst Bev provided the traditional Yule Log. All arrived at the party on time and before long a feast fit for a king was unwrapped from its silver lining and we all dug in. Lots of food and drink fueled a party which lasted into the night and caused me to miss my boxing day dive the next morning. But boy was it worth it.

Boxing day was another get together, this time with the Bridgewaters for another full on Christmas dinner, followed by an early night! I was exhausted. And so that was our quiet St Helena Christmas for 2016. I still cant quite believe its our third on the Island, time has flown. When we arrived in September 2014 we would never of guessed what lay ahead. As Summer settles in we look forward to the New Year, and we await to see what the next three Christmas’s will bring

 

A Very Saint Christmas.

Last week’s blog entry was intended as a bonus, an additional blog full of pictures, it turned out of course to be my only entry for a week quite simply because I can’t keep up. Life is full to say the least, and as we approach what is for us a very strange Christmas, it is seemingly becoming fuller and fuller.

Eight solid evenings of events have left I and the family in something of an exhausted spin. As Christmas day itself approaches, it’s safe to say that although full of fun, even as Bev sits wrapping presents, it does not truly feel like Christmas, at least, not as we know it!

Our eight days began on Tuesday the 16th, with our second closed water dive. Definitely a step up in terms of un-pleasantries, but also in our feeling of control. This session involved the inevitable removing of mask underwater, an unpleasant feeling, with bubbles rushing past ones eyes, but ultimately a required skill and one which Bev and I both passed. Whilst we dive, Charlie and Oliver enjoy an evening with Suzie and Mike, two New Zealanders who, having left Pitcairn Island find themselves in the metropolis of St Helena. With several grown up children themselves, it seems they enjoy the occasional company of our boys, and the boys certainly enjoy their time playing rugby and watching ET!

The following evening saw the second of Pilling Primary Schools Christmas events. There is undoubtedly a healthy competition between the Islands primary schools to outdo each other in the scale and number of events that can be staged during Christmas. The Pilling School Christmas bonanza saw a night of stalls and

food, crafts and children’s face painting, as well as live music from a, suffice to say, wide standard of participants, including a never to be forgotten performance by the schools Head teacher and staff together.  Christmas favourites such as “Last Christmas”; “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree”; “Santa Claus is Coming to town”, and of course the old Country and Western melodies, “Please Daddy don’t get drunk this Christmas” and “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” could all be heard to varying levels of tone and pitch!

Pilling Primary school is lucky to have Mrs Elaine Benjamin at the helm, the most capable and formidable of ladies, who combines great authority with great tact and a gentle touch. She also has an incredible ability to get everyone involved and working hard, whether paid member of the teaching staff or passes by. I seem to end up carrying or lifting something almost every time I set foot onto the premises.  Great amusement a

Oliver and Charlie with "Father Christmas"

Oliver and Charlie with “Father Christmas”

few weeks back as I was leaving the school, the head teacher called after me only to have one of the teachers call “Run Paul Run” in jest at the endless requests that befall many of the willing parents. Of course I am delighted to help where I can, and for the Christmas bonanza I had the job of photographing Children with the schools very own Father Christmas.

The evening of the 18th saw my place as official photographer (it was written on my chair) at the Prince Andrew Schools fashion Show. Part of the 25th Anniversary events for the schools 37 pupils took part in a spectacular and very professional production. All showing clothes designed and made by pupils and exhibited to the 300 strong crowd with great professionalism, style poise and beauty from both Saints and Ex Pats. It was fantastic to see search great community support for an events, with queues outside the door, in the rain some hour or so before doors opening. Maybe this eagerness is down to a relative lack of entertainment on the Island, but I feel more likely is the strong sense of community spirit, of support for each other and wishing well of others. Unfortunately I cannot yet show you any of the 600 or so photos that were taken as I am seeking parental permission before doing so, but the results were fantastic and I hope the children enjoy seeing themselves under lights looking every bit the professional model once the commemorative CD is produced.

The evening of the 19th saw a parents and children event at a local building for hire, Drakes lodge. I say parent and children but in this case the Children were adults and the parents with, well, more adult as visiting families, here for Christmas got together for a bring and braai a South African term for a barbeque, an adopted by Saints. Having presumed a start time of six to seven pm, the norm for St Helena, we were disappointed when we found out, two hours too late, that the party started at five pm!! But we carried on into the night until the stars of a crystal clear sky lit our way home.

The 20th was the annual Hog Roast at Anne’s, place, a local

The Hog

The Hog

Jamestown Restaurant. Having seen this advertised, and with a particular liking for meat, I decided to organise a group outing and, after a fair amount of toing and froing ended up with a booking for twenty four people, a considerable chunk of the eighty two that eventually booked on the night.  Despite talking to what can only be described as a flustered and marginally concerned Anne the week before, the whole night came together extremely well. The food was excellent and varied, the company was great, the boys well behaved, and a thoroughly good Christmas feast was had by all.

Anne carving the Roast Hog.

Anne carving the Roast Hog.

Oliver and Charlie who, with great amusement on their part, enjoyed chewing on the pigs ears!!

Oliver and Charlie who, with great amusement on their part, enjoyed chewing on the pigs ears!!

A new friend, Jo, sadly leaving the Island, her Ladyship Christine, and Tourism Marketing Manager Channelle at the hog roast. Sorry about he closed eyes Christine, best I had!!

A new friend, Jo, sadly leaving the Island, her Ladyship Christine, and Tourism Marketing Manager Chanelle at the hog roast. Sorry about he closed eyes Christine, best I had!!

The food had been well earned by the Tyson family after our afternoon walk. Having not ventured to the high peaks for some weeks it was with great pleasure that we took a couple of short walks around the Blue Hill district of St Helena. It is important to take in the central ridge of St Helena on a regular basis. As our day to day lives settle in, and the holiday feeling of being here diminishes it would be easy to forget the stunning beauty of this Island and a good walk helps to reaffirm that this really is one of the most incredible places I have ever witnessed. Once again looking down on the Sandy Bay amphitheatre the views remain breath-taking, the scenery ranging from the lush green of the cloud forests to barren reds and purples of the dry valleys within one extraordinary view. Endemic plants, seen nowhere else on earth sit side by side with the familiarity of gorse and heather as cows and sheep roam the very Welsh fields on the way to Blue Point.

Having spent the past four months in the almost solid company of ether my children, wife or both, I had a burning need for a boy’s day. As so I took to a fishing trip, which, more than satisfied my need to escape washing and cleaning and be a man. Having left Anne’s place at around ten at night, I was due to be awake in just four hours, for an early start to head out at four in the morning to catch our bait for the day. Leaving the wharf in drizzly rain I was disappointed that the spectacular sunrise I had anticipated had been replaced with cloud and grey skies. Not that this was to temper our enjoyment as four us set to work catching well over a hundred Mackerel for both the plate and the bait hold.

Fishing gets under way

Fishing gets under way

As dawn gave broke we attached three rods to the rear of the boat, and pulled a variety of lures behind. Within five minutes one of the reels gave a whirl, and the gears were pulled off by our first main catch of the day. Having not been fishing for many a year I was nervous when given the job of reeling in this first fish. After what I sadly cannot describe as a great battle I was none the less very satisfied to land a nice Tuna, around 4kg in weight.

Me, with my lovely Tuna

Me, with my lovely Tuna. (He had been sat on Ice for a while before this shot, we took him out for our Shashimi)

The quick start proved to be something of a false dawn and several fruitless hours were spent before finally a second catch was made. This time, after putting up a much stronger fight, a large (it seemed large to me) Wahoo, ( Acanthocybium solandri) was brought on deck.

Let battle commence.

Let battle commence.

Incredible fish

Richard Moores lands an incredible fish

Lunch of the freshest sashimi in the world followed and despite not being my favourite dish, there is something undeniably wonderful about eating fish as fresh as this that you have caught yourself. After lunch we headed off to shallower waters to hand line for grouper and moray eel, (locally known as Conger) and a successful hour or so followed with lots of catches, including an impressive Trevally caught on relatively light gear and giving a good fight.

Last to catch but still impressive Richard Wallis with this Trevelly

Last to catch but still impressive Richard Wallis with this Trevally

With a beer in hand, fresh fish in the hold, and chewing on biltong we headed home, my need for a boy’s day well and truly satisfied. Of course the day could not be completed in St Helena without some other wondrous thing occurring, and we were duly obliged as a pod of Rough Toothed Dolphins danced in the wake of the boat and followed us home.My thanks to Into the Blue for another fantastic day out.

A strange, alcoholic Vietnamese (If I recall correctly) drink adptly called "Tooth Water" was drank n celebration of our achievements!!

A strange, alcoholic Venezuelan (If I recall correctly) drink aptly called “Tooth Water” was drank in celebration of our achievements!!

Rough Toothed Dolphin breaking the waves at the bow of the boat

Rough Toothed Dolphin breaking the waves at the bow of the boat

And so Christmas continued, now leading us to the next of Pilling’s School events, and the biggest of them all, the Festival of Lights. This wonderful occasion sees hundreds of people, cars and float coated in thousands of lights, parade down the main street of Jamestown dancing, singing and laughing, all for the entertainment of the throngs of people lining the streets. With a very meagre effort of a handful of glow sticks around our necks we joined the procession, and Bev, Oliver, Charlie and I marched down the road with the others. It was a truly wonderful occasion, full of great joy and another now typical example of the community spirit that pervades this tiny Island. Saints love Christmas, and this, of all the events we have been to sums up their attitude towards this wonderful time of year. It’s a party, a party for all the family, a party of joy, laughter and of exuberance.

My Monday had not started so well. My embryonic photography business and my confidence taking a bit of a knock as I found out I was not to be photographing the Governor’s cup. This prestigious event see’s hundreds of yachts competing to cross the Atlantic from Cape Town to James Bay. Had I got the job my photos would have been seen in high profile places and would have done wonders for my profile? I was later to find out that the booking I had for a wedding was also cancelled, due to a mix up with the Bride’s family. Two jobs and my pride knocked in a short space of time. My misery was compounded when I then found out my new, and very expensive camera lens, due to arrive on the RMS was not where it was supposed to be, and there was no record of it on the ships manifest. Great gloom came over me as I contemplated the loss of my lens and a lot of money. Thankfully this was short lived, and my lens turned up at the local post office, having unexpectedly gone strait there.  For those who know photography I am now the proud owner of a Sigma, 120-300mm f2.8 OS HSM lens. For those not in the know suffice to say it’s big, and looks cool!!

And so to today, our first event-less evening for a while and chance to upload some photos and write some words. Not that the day itself was event free. In what is perhaps my strangest Christmas experience yet I enjoyed the company of my co-workers at the St Helena National Trust as we held our Christmas staff do. Now a Christmas do for me is in a restaurant, followed by a pub, normally accompanied by running for taxis in the rain, or rushing from one building to the next in the hope that we don’t freeze on the way. If we make it, lots of alcohol is consumed before someone insults the boss and makes a fool out of themselves, sound familiar? But not this year, this year’s staff do was at Lemon Valley, snorkelling, fishing, sunbathing and enjoying home cooked food on an open wood fire!!! The strange bit is returning home from said Staff do, sober and in time for tea. Whilst unfamiliar, I could get used to it.

And so I close on the evening of the 23rd of December, Bev has wrapped the presents, Christmas lights are on and the boys are tucked up in bed, having accumulated a loss of sleep such that their mood has been on a downward spiral all day. Christmas Eve takes the form of a picnic, Christmas Day will be a garden party, and Boxing Day will involve a water slide. What a very Saint Christmas.

I shall of course tell you how it all goes, but in the meantime, to everyone who reads my blog, to whom I am very grateful, to all of my friends and family, I wish you a very very Merry Christmas, where ever in the World you may be.