Letting Go

Bev and the boys are finally back in the country. I have missed them desperately but at least they are not 6 days away from me. They are however, still not living with me. We made the decision hat until Bev finds work then she and the boys would live in Bristol, with her parents, two hours from my lonely flat. This is sensible for many reasons, without Bev having a job we don’t know exactly where we will live when she does have one. We cant afford to rent a family home on my salary alone, and we don’t want to be tied into a 6 month contract when we don’t yet know where we want to live. After the upheaval of leaving St Helena, we don’t want to disrupt the boys by placing them in a school only to have to move them again six months later. All in all, Bev temporarily living in Bristol is the sensible, if not difficult thing.

Of course I see them on my days off, but this has meant lots of driving and lots of tearful goodbyes, saying goodbye for another week becoming increasingly difficult each time I have to do it. Oliver too is finding the situation difficult and unsettling, he has always been an emotional sop just like his Dad!

My first few weeks as you know were very difficult, but as Bev pointed out, how can you let go of somewhere when your life is still there. As soon as my family were on the ship it felt easier. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to let go. I should do, or Ill never resettle., but letting go is admitting I don’t live there any more, that I’m not just on leave and wont be going back any time soon. I still follow the news and gossip coming out of the Island with great eagerness. The strangest thing is the sadness I feel when I hear of others who have left or are leaving St Helena now. Somehow it still hurts that friends have left, even though in most cases it means I get to see them sooner rather than later.

Im reminded of the transient nature of St Helena. Already I see facebook comments from people I don’t know, who have become friends with my friends and I feel rather indignant about it. I wonder how it felt for the friends I made who left St Helena a year or more ago, who watched my life on the Island move on without them, new friends and experiences which people whom I shared the first twelve moths with are absent from. As I’ve reflected on many occasions before, how long will it be until we are a distant memory. At the moment there enough people still on the Island whom we are good friends with, but before too long they will of left. The Saints of course remain, and I hope many of them will remember us and think fondly of us, but the every day presence will fade.

But my life here is becoming more normal. I’m settling back into the place and things are less daunting. My shopping trips are becoming more productive and I’ve managed to buy cereal and stuff to wash with, as well as beer. I still find the choice overwhelming and unnecessary. St Helena teaches you that you don’t need most of the things we often feel we couldn’t do without (although the Royster’s T-bone steak crisps I’ve just eaten were pretty damn good!) . In terms of letting go there are some things that I really don’t want to let go of, and the appreciation for what you have is one of those things. Too often in my life I dwell on negatives and this period has made me realise and be grateful for the many wonderful things I do have. My friends, my career, my family and above all my wife and children whom I have grown to love and appreciate more in the past four weeks than I have ever done before.

I’m settling too into life in work. Although some clarity is still needed, Im finding my place in the organisation and beginning to have an influence and be able to make some positive impact and changes. I’ve found a confidence in myself, in my knowledge, skills and experience. I made the move to Plymouth National Marine Aquarium to learn new skills, and have started to do so already, but Ive also had my previous knowledge solidified in a way that is very pleasing, turns out I do know some things.

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The view from outside the aquarium.

Ive started my first dives as a professional diver, carrying out maintainence and feeding on a large temperate marine exhibit, diving with large conger eels, rays and other species, feeding them by hand to the enjoyment of an audience. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this is the audience itself. A hundred or so people watching you through the glass whilst you are effectively in training at something that is very new is daunting to say the least. The public expect to see professional divers, and as yet I don’t feel quite as polished and steady as my colleagues. But its all part of the learning curve and one the reasons why, for my career to progress, I had to find new challenges and gain new skills within the aquarium world. The salary is poor (and industry wide problem) and the work and hours can be challenging, but I have been reminded that I absolutely love it, and to work somewhere that others pay to come and visit is something of a privilege. Many of those who pass through our doors would the love the opportunities I have and I must remember that and be grateful for it.

Plymouth is proving to be a fantastic and beautiful city. I spent last Friday on the waterfront drinking a few beers, before catching the ferry across the bay to continue with a few more pints in the setting sun. The weather last week was tropical and has helped my transition. I’ve also got connected and have a mobile phone again for the first time in nearly three years. Whilst I enjoyed being out of contact on St Helena, they do have their advantages, and a camera with me at all times is one of them.

 

Strangely I have not wanted to pick up my camera much since getting back. Photography felt like something I did on St Helena, not in the UK, who would be interested in photos here? I lost all passion for it. But a trip to West Wales rekindled some of that. Camping with wonderful friends from my university days in a beautiful part of the country was a timely reminder that St Helena is not the only beautiful place in the world, and that we have many wonderful friends who are dotted all over the World. That being said it was quite a trip.

My days off work have been spent travelling to see Bev and the kids.

 

This latest trip involved 7 hours of driving each way to spend a few hours with them, without which I wouldn’t of seen them for a fortnight, needs must. Saying goodbye though continues to be hard, and is actually getting harder each time. A solid cuddle from Charlie was enough to make me shed a few more tears as I once again wished my family goodbye for another week.

 

You’ll recall my friends the Gonsalves’s who, after their horrific ordeal on Ascension Island were back in the UK recovering. The good news is they are recovering well, and in two weeks we are getting together for a weekend of camping and no doubt a lot of beer. I cant bloody wait, but I wonder how I will feel when I say goodbye to them, as they will shortly be heading back out to St Helena. I suspect a large part of me will be hugely jealous. Its hard to let go when you have friends still on the Island, even more so when good friends are about to head back out there. A time will come no doubt when St Helena is resided into that place where wonderful memories are kept, the part of your brain that just keeps holds of things in laughs, and recollections over a drunken reunion. But for now it is still too close, it is still too fresh, and if I’m honest I really don’t want to let go, not just yet, its too important and too soon for me.

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye

St Helena disappeared from view a few hours ago and with it goes my Atlantic Adventure, those words in themselves are very difficult to write. I flit from holding it together when in company to tears of sadness when alone, a strange emptiness fills me that is hard to describe. I hope that writing will, as it has done before, prove therapeutic, but at present it is hard.


For several weeks I’ve thought about travelling on the RMS without the boys, sad to be leaving but looking forward to the freedom. But as I sit here now I just wish I didn’t have time to write because Charlie is bored, or Oliver wants to show me a passing tropic bird.
It feels so very wrong and incomplete to be leaving without my boys and of course Bev. We have lived, loved, cried and shared every second of this journey and leaving them behind is the hardest thing I have ever had to do

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My last Panorama of St Helena

The day started in usual RMS fashion, a wake of departing at the coffee shop, only this time the wake was in my honour. So many times before I have hugged and kissed goodbye to people from those wooden benches, now, it was my turn.
So many friends turned out and I forgot to take any photos of people. As we reached 8.50 I couldn’t take any more and I had to leave, I couldn’t sit chatting any longer. Running round saying goodbyes to a host of people it was so difficult but I kept my composure to the last.
Ian Johnson and Lisa Rhodes tested me. Two very good friends who’m I have shared so many laughs and memories with. Susie Nixon then broke me. Susie, a kiwi, was with us on day one of our journey, booked into the Commodore hotel in Cape Town a life time ago. Saying goodbye was hard, very hard.
As I turned to say goodbye to Paul and Jenna Bridgewater I couldn’t speak. I had nothing I could say that would do justice to how I felt saying goodbye to them. Paul and Jen and at the time baby Myles, were also with us from the start, sat on our dinning table on the RMS as we set sail for St Helena and a new life nearly three years ago. I will never forget how nervous and insecure they appeared as they started a journey into the unknown, and how incredibly brave I thought they were to be doing it with a young toddler, just finding his feet.
As we sat for dinner that first night Jenna asked “so do you believe in the Loch Ness monster?” and with that wonderful opening line began a lifelong friendship.
I’m sure, as my last journey across the Atlantic progresses I will come to reflect and take positive stock, looking forward to the next adventure. But as I sit here now, just woken from my mid afternoon sleep (my RMS tradition) I’m heartbroken and empty. I genuinely cant believe that I’m writing the last pages of my blog. I had always continued to write well past our departure but as I hear the familiar dinner time jangle of the RMS I wonder whether to continue writing will just be too difficult.

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Soon we are far enough away that the whole Island fits into a single frame shot

Day 2

Day two on the RMS has felt long. Although I’ve always though Id enjoy a journey without the boys, it turns out that without them the ship feels empty and quiet. The passage feels long and I don’t want to be here.
In reality the ship is very quiet. Two friends are with me and a handful if familiar faces, but the majority are strangers to me, and I have no wish nor need to change that. My usual need to make new friends, or pass on knowledge or advice to tourists has gone. I am heading away from St Helena, not to it, tourists don’t need my travel tips and the rest I will never see again.
My previous journeys have felt homely and comforting, this is neither. I don’t need nor want time to think and contemplate. I need to be in Plymouth starting work, to distract me and take me from my dark mood. Far from comforting the RMS feels like a slow prolonged wake, five days to say goodbye, I dearly wish that airport had opened.

Friends

Im often faced with trying to put a finger on just why I love it on St Helena so much. Is it the weather in this sub-tropical climate? Or perhaps the stunning beauty of its diverse landscapes, is it diving, swimming with whale sharks or Devil Rays, or is it just the friendly approach of the locals who welcome me by name as I walk into our local shops? Or is it the unique combination of all of the above.

 After well over 100 dives on St Helena I finally had chance to spend some time with the amazing Mobula Rays (locally known as Devil Rays) and had my camera with me!

Certainly the weeks that have gone by have proven to be quite extraordinary in terms of diving and snorkeling as I have enjoyed rubbing noses with giants of the sea. In that time I have also passed my PADI Dive Master a huge achievement and one which has direct relevance and importance for the rest of my life.

These things of course add into a whole package, that makes St Helena, for me, just a wonderful place to be, but what has elevated it to be one of the best times in my life, right up there with my fabulous University years? It’s been a hard one to work out until a conversation in our Friday night watering hole, the Mule yard enlightened me, what makes St Helena amazing, friends, fun, funny, fantastic, fabulous friends. Everything we do, is done with friends.

 A walk to the shop see’s friends serving us our food. Patrick, the taxi driver who takes me to Thursday night cards, or snooker, is a friend. Johnny Hearne who operates the Enchanted Isle and take us to Lemon Valley, or snorkeling trips is a friend as is Anthony, who operates Sub-Tropic adventures and has tutored me from Open water to Dive master. The list goes on and it is totally unique that your days, times and experiences from swimming with whale sharks to buying bread is shared with friends.

Friend relationships on St Helena are complicated. Ex pats band together, as a natural shared experience/something in common thing, but also as a result of the transitional nature of contracted people on the Island. When we first arrived here a Saint expressed to me her feelings on ex-pats and their relationship with Saints. “I have no problem with people coming here”, she said, “I will be friendly and supportive and help where I can, but don’t expect us to be great friends, I have been hurt too many times when good friends leave the Island that I simply can’t make that emotional investment and commitment any more”. At the time I was slightly offended by this, but having now experienced the other side of this it becomes clear. Like a holiday romance, and in the absence of family, friendship bonds become very strong, they are re-enforced by sharing experiences and you become part of a family of people whom are relied upon for everything from childcare to barbecues, a shoulder to cry on and the greatest of laughs. And then, before you now it, they, or you, are gone. Friends are simultaneously the greatest and hardest thing about life on St Helena. I understand the Saint now, I understand that, when she has other friends and family, who will stay by her side throughout, she does not need, nor want to have friends leave so regularly.

Like those I made in University, the friendships I have made on St Helena will last forever, and we will no doubt see each other regularly, but back in the real world they won’t be by my side as I go shopping, there won’t be two parties every weekend to go to, and when I go for a drink on a Friday night I’ll be lucky to know five people, certainly not fifty.

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Its taken two years and eight months but we have finally seen some water falling from the heart shaped water fall. From drought and desperately low water levels it has not stopped raining for weeks now!

Today I waved goodbye to two close friends, Dave and Wendy Tinkler as they head back to the UK on leave. Of course I have witnessed good friends go many times before, but this one was hard. I couldn’t hang around the coffee shop to watch and wave, I had to say my goodbye’s and leave as quickly as I good for fear of not holding it together. Why the drama, they are returning in two months? But by that point I will be gone,, my daily thoughts are filled with sadness right now as I contemplate my imminent departure from this place I love. All good things must come to an end they say, and my time has nearly drawn to a close. I have secured a wonderful new job back in the UK, and on the 27th of April I will board the RMS for one last, and very final time. I will do so on my own leaving Bev and the kids here to follow me a month later.  I start work as Senior Biologist at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth on the 15th May.

Of course people will tell me that I should think about the future, that I have a wonderful job to look forward to and I have genuinely missed working in an aquarium. We are moving to a lovely part of the UK and as a family will have wonderful days and times. But those days won’t be shared with, all of the time, friends. I can’t bring with me my nobbers, the affectionate term we have coined for our little band of weird and wonderful friends.

16425875_369098053449510_8511501877451201894_n “Nobbers” Camping weekend at Blue Hill, I havent laughed so much in a long time.

Oliver too is worried about leaving St Helena, fearful of making new friends back in the UK and of leaving friends behind here. His behavior has been affected and he flies from tears to tantrums, in protest at this change over which he has no control or say. He was just five when we moved here and I think had little concept of the change he was about to undertake, moving home he is much more aware and much more worried about the enormity of the upheaval in his life. Charlie does not seem phased, but I think he has no concept of the changes ahead.  At five years old, St Helena is Charlie’s overriding memory, he first went to school here and within his short memory has known little else, I wonder how he will react the first day we take him to his new school.

I should be able to tell you that we can always come back, and of course we can, but the place and its people will be different. That is the fundamental of the Island, constant change. If we were to stay longer then our friends would leave us behind, so staying is not an answer, and longevity would only make it harder.

In July 2001 I was sat in my lounge, in 23 College Road, Bangor. I sat alone as the last day of University had arrived. My flat mates had left the building and I waited for Dad to come and pick me up and take me home from Bangor one last time. As I sat on my own then I sat with sadness and fear. I couldn’t contemplate a life without having my friends with me all the time, sharing experiences with them all day, every day from shopping to parties, from walking to days out, how they could not just be there. Leaving St Helena holds those same feelings, the same fears about how life will be in the next step.

Of course I have wonderful friends in the UK, and family who love us and miss us dearly, as we do them. We have lots to look forward to and much to be grateful for. I should be telling you how grateful I am for the experience and be mature and sensible about treasuring the memories and looking forward to the next adventure, and I’m sure with time I will see that just as I did when I left university.

When leaving the UK over two and a half years ago we contemplated what it would be like leaving our family and friends in the UK but we always knew we would be back, we knew if we were unhappy we could go home. We foolishly didn’t even consider the fact that we would set up a life here and that one day we would have to leave it behind for good. There is no coming back in twelve months if we don’t like it in the UK. When we will leave friends on St Helena we know full well that some, we may never see again.  With each passing day “my last” moments increase. My last trip to Lemon Valley, my last dive, my last walk, my last party and as I sit and picture myself on the RMS, looking back to the Island as she disappears out of view for the last time I simply want to cry.

    My last trip to Lemon Valley?