Easter, Awesome and Loss

So its been a bit of a while once again since my last update, seems that my life continues to be rather hectic, and whilst we have settled into our new home and many of the Island ways, taking it easy and living life at a more relaxed pace does not seem to be one of them. It’s a shame in some ways, but St Helena is just so full of fantastic things to see and do, and is such a social place that there is always something you wish to be doing, or getting involved with.

I go back now to Easter, which makes me realise just how long it has been since I last wrote. Easter on St Helena is exactly what it should be. One shop in town that I know of was selling Easter Eggs, a refreshing change from the marketing bombardment that occurs in the UK in the lead up to any public holiday. Like many things in the Western world, Easter has become about the most chocolate, the largest egg, and generally how much money can be put into the pockets of Nestle and Cadbury, the meaning of Easter has largely been lost.

Of course the true meaning of Easter is religious, and most of you will know I am not a religious person, quite the opposite. St Helena however is a very religious place and as such Easter is in general held in high regard, carrying a special meaning to many of the people here. But what was most pleasing about Easter on St Helena is the sense of family, the sense of holiday. It is the one weekend a year where literally everything stops, no work, no shops, no diving, the Island shuts down so that families can spend time together, it is wonderful. Many Saints on the Island take the opportunity to go camping, but this is not camping UK style, people camp in large extended family groups, taking with them all manner of home comforts, and providing opportunities for siblings and cousins to run and play, for families to catch up and spend quality time with each other. Of course, some traditions from the UK can be recognised, that of camping in the rain, and it seems to be well known that, largely due to all the camping, Easter weekend will bring with it buckets of rain!!

And so it was with buckets of rain that our own Easter began, and organised walk cancelled five minutes in as the heavens opened and soaked everyone down to their underwear within moments. A hasty retreat to a friend’s house and a change of clothes actually led to a lovely few hours drinking tea and chatting away whilst the boys played, rather surprisingly with a tea set! Spending quality time with friends became the main focus of the weekend. A dinner hosted by ourselves and some fairly damn impressive Chinese food served up by yours truly on the Sunday night and lunch with friends on Easter Monday.

On the work front I have completed one, and nearly completed a further two large projects I have been working on. The tourism website now boats up to date photos and information on all of the Islands accommodation and restaurants, the first of my big projects on Island, you can check out my work in the “Where to Eat” and “Where to Stay” sections of the website. It has been fantastic to visit these establishments, meet new people and find out about some of the positive tourism work being done here, as well as enjoying the odd freebie meal for my efforts, and of course being paid for my first major photography project.

On behalf of the National Trust I have been producing interpretation to improve the visitor experience at High Knoll Fort, one of the Islands historic landscapes. As well as improvements to structural parts of the fort, visitors can now find out more about the fascinating history of this site and it feels wonderful that when I leave St Helena something of my work will remain.Gun 2.1

Ext1

The weekend after Easter saw another trip to Lemon Valley, far from becoming bored of visiting Lemon Valley, we had a fantastic time. Partly due to spending time with new friends and expanding our social circles but, in the main, due to the presence of two, brand new jet ski’s. I and the boys had a fantastic time shooting around the bay. Kyle, owner of one of the jet skis and myself managed to turn so tightly in the 1500cc jet ski that we flipped it right upside down. I also had my first ever go on a knee board, pulled behind the jet ski at ridiculous speeds I quickly got the hang of it and before long was riding the wake and performing full 360 degree spins. I was officially described as awesome by eleven year old Luis, who’s Dad owns the second of the jet ski’s.

My Monday night dive was one of my best yet as I spent moments with a Devil Ray.   Commonly thought of by divers on the Island as one of the most wonderful encounters, Bev and I have been longing to see one and although we had a brief encounter whilst snorkelling (at Lemon Valley) this was my first real encounter with one. Whilst it was only a short encounter it will leave a lasting impression. Filing with the go pro and some shoals of fish, I spotted our dive leader Anthony frantically pointing at something, as I turned round this large dark diamond loomed into view. Gracefully, and with slow motion movements this 6ft goliath swam casually past us, its Ramora companions in two. Often Devil rays will spend time with groups of divers, seemingly as curious about them as the divers are in return, but for sadly our devil ray had no such intentions and despite giving chase I could not keep up and he disappeared into the blue as quickly as he had appeared. As we surfaced some time later we emerged to the most fantastic sunset, and spectacular end to a fantastic dive.

Late in the season we have also experienced some of the clearest night skies and amazing views of the stars I have ever witnessed, or am ever likely to witness. A night time drive further inland and away from the lights of Jamestown was nothing short of breath-taking. The milky way could be seen in all its glory, and small swirls of bright cloud marked distant galaxies. The stars have been bright before but this was simply amazing. It has also increased my excitement at my latest purchase, a new Full Frame, semi-professional Canon EOS6d. Like everything brought to St Helena there is a wait, and it is another three or so weeks until my shiny new camera arrives. Seeing these night skies has made the wait seem even longer!

The central ridge at night

The central ridge at night

Milkey way, St Helena

Milkey way, St Helena

Pro Arc, Project Management firm on St Helena with awesome Landrovers

Pro Arc, Project Management firm on St Helena with awesome Landrovers

The view from my back garden.

The view from my back garden.

This past few weeks has been some of the best we have had on St Helena, full of fun and laughter, but I also experienced one of my hardest times. I have debated whether to include this in my blog, after all some experiences I believe should be kept private, but as a reflection of our time here, and a memoire of our experience and memories then I believe I should reflect on all of our times here, both good and bad. My Nan unfortunately passed away last week. She had been ill and in hospital for some time and we knew the inevitable would happen soon. It has been incredibly difficult being away from home, unable to help support my Mum, unable to provide some happiness in the final weeks of my Nan’s life. The news of her passing was upsetting, but nothing had actually changed for me and the news did not immediately affect me greatly. But Thursday was the day of her funeral, as I sat at the table working on yet more photos I looked at the time and realised the service was going ahead as I sat there. Alone, To try and make myself feel connected to the service some 4000 miles away, I listen to the music that was to be played at church, this was a mistake and was quickly followed by a release of emotion and grief.

I am ok now, I needed to feel something, to feel her passing, and sat at that table I cannot think of a time I have felt more alone. But before long the boys were home from school to annoy me, and the normal evening chores ensued. When I said good bye to my Nan eight months ago, I never expected that would be a good bye for good. Being on St Helena is wonderful, we are extremely privileged to be here and experience this, but it comes at a cost, and being so far from family and close friends is one of those costs.

Back to all things awesome, and my fridge is now stocked with a small bag of chocolate, not just any old chocolate mind, but handmade Belgium chocolate made by a master chocolatier. Sarah Jane Sharman, a biologist and local fungus expert amongst other things, ran her own business in the UK making fine chocolates after years of professional training. She has thankfully now started to make chocolates on Island and they are divine. Good chocolate is a rare thing on St Helena, it doesn’t last the journey well as the milks and solids separate due to the fluctuating temperatures in the containers. As I bit into a perfectly made dark chocolate truffle I even made a little noise of delight. I sincerely hope that Sarah keeps this up; I have become her biggest fan.

Politics tends to dominate the news in St Helena, a delicate and complex situation dictates that it is always up for discussion. But a recent big story has shown the best and worst of St Helena in one go. In the past few months, an entrepreneurial partnership has opened up a mobile bar and grill, named Amphibians, serving the hospital staff during the day, and providing a wonderful waterfront open bar in the evenings. There are however a small minority of Saints, who are resentful of people, ex-pat or otherwise, making something of themselves. I don’t believe I am out of place saying that, as it is through Saints that I have discovered this. It is against this backdrop that the mobile bar was apparently set on fire whilst in storage, destroying most of the bar and equipment in what is believed to be a deliberate act of arson. Fortunately this is where the bad news ends. Having lost almost everything on the Tuesday, thanks to the goodwill and help of the community they were ready and open for business by Thursday evening. People rallied round to donate fridges and repair the trailer and woodwork. The nurses and hospital staff, who appreciate their doorstep lunch service made a collection and raised £200 to help purchase new equipment. From terrible news came great community spirit as messages of good will and offers of help came flying in. Far from damaging the business, the perpetrators have only served to enhance the standing and reputation of Amphibians, and presented an opportunity to show the community spirit and all that is good and great about this small Island.

We have reached eight months in into our adventure, in three we will be returning to the UK for our mid-term break. It feels strange even saying that, time has truly flown. But for now we will continue to concentrate on all that St Helena has to offer, diving, snorkelling, nature and above all people, really wonderful people, Saint, Ex-pat, South African, black and white all wonderful in this awesome little melting pot of people in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Just before I leave, I was thrilled to read this week’s Sentinal, and a letter from Jan Schou and Vibeke Amelung in Denmark who have been following my blog. Thank you so much, it really is wonderful to know people are still enjoying my ramblings.

Waiting for Summer

Our life on the Island continues, my new found routine is taking shape efficiently, cleaning and shopping. I have Island shopping down to a tee now, Thursdays are meat day along with a fresh vegetable basket, Mondays and Wednesdays bread, wonderful and incredible cheap Tuna available daily, eggs from our neighbour weekly, although inflation has set in and we now pay a full £1.20 for them. Given that food is less readily available it is a pleasant surprise that my diet has improved immeasurably since living on St Helena. The sporadic availability of fresh fruit and vegetables makes them somehow more appealing and my retirement allows for home cooked meals with the family, (including local dishes such as Pilau, pronounced “Plo”, a Paella type dish with Bacon and Pork) instead the processed radioactive decay of ready meals eaten hurriedly at varying points in the evening we experienced back home. Our meals are then generally followed up by home baked cakes or biscuits lovingly prepared by my wonderful wife. Oh the virtuous life we lead. So as not to worry friend and family too much at this stage I will add that I have found a source for English Pork Pies and my cupboard has several packets of pork scratchings which are rapidly diminishing in number.

A new friend round for tea.

A new friend round for tea.

The RMS continues to excite upon its arrival, bringing with it a glut of fresh fruit to the island, which inevitably is snapped up rapidly just days after it lands on the shop floor. To that end we have also set up a fruit order with a local shop, who, upon receiving their quota from the ship, will divide the fruit up and pre bag it for their list of waiting customers. When the RMS arrives from Cape Town, Thursday is the day when the town goes a little mental, for a few hours at least. Rumours can be heard of Strawberries available at the Queen Mary store, as shoppers busily hurry from one shop to another hoping to grab their slice of pie. Alas, I was too late at Queen Mary’s but soon heard that there may be a punnet or two left at the Victoria, rushing over I was delighted to pick up two punnets of strawberries and some overpriced blue berries. FruitCoupled with numerous Bananas, Mandarins, Oranges, and Apples I felt proud of a good days foraging like the hunter gatherer returning home with a rich bounty to feed his family. I hadn’t however accounted for the volume of food I would later collect on my regular afore mentioned fruit order which combined with our weekly vegetable order resulted in the largest quantity of fresh fruit and veg my eyes had ever seen in a household!

The RMS’s arrival this week also heralded the arrival of our meat order, a shipment of choice meats from South African to fill up our deep freeze. Such is the exuberance and low price, of meat from South Africa that we have used up the remaining fillet steak on our St Helena Beef Curry, essentially a traditional stew with curry powder, now made with choice Fillet Steak!

RMS in the  Bay 2 RMS in the Bay

My fitness continues to improve, shopping twice a week means more in one go, I now carry multiple bags of shopping, as the convenience of a supermarket and all under one roof approach has not yet reached St Helena, thankfully. Walking back to the car I remind myself of days gone by, trying to keep up with my own Mum, who would walk back from town with an impossible number of shopping bags with two children behind asking her to slow down. St Helena is, in many ways just like the UK twenty years ago, and, in many ways is all the better for it. I have reached a respectable time of 8 minutes 30 seconds to climb Jacobs Ladder, although I seem to have hit a block and getting below this is going to take more work, meaning my wife still leaves me behind when it comes to climbing stairs! I have however had more success with the now routine football warm up, cross bar challenge, hitting the bar at the full length of the five a side pitch with both right and left foot!

My new timetable of walking and bird tagging took a hit this week when I left my first competitive game of eleven aside football with a groin injury. Called up to local football team Axis, to play alongside my good friend Paul

The chap with my kit did not turn up until the second half, embarrassingly leaving me wearing a white vest over my red shirt to distinguish me from the opposition! Dad, I know you taught me not to stand with my hand on my hips but we had a break in play for an injury!

In action, photo courtesy of budding photographer, Oliver, my son.

In action, photo courtesy of budding photographer, Oliver, my son.

(Liverpudlian with whom we shared our RMS dining table) in a must win Semi Final against the Fugees. A close game saw us leading one nil as we reached mid-way through the second half. A demoralising equaliser by the Fugees was followed shortly after by a tackle on my right leg which pulled my groin into places it didn’t want to go. This left the Axis with ten men and soon enough we were 2-1 down. A gallant effort by the boys saw a late equaliser take the game to extra time and then penalties, with everything resting on it, sadly two spots kicks were missed and we went crashing out of the tournament! Despite my injury, and following a very tentative start to my first competitive game of football in seventeen years, I thoroughly enjoyed the match, sadly I must wait several months for the new season, but with my face on the footballing map I feel confident I can find a team for the new season.

This week saw us invited round to the Governor’s home, Plantation House for a traditional drinks reception, welcoming the new teachers and celebrating the retirement and  long services of some of St Helena’s finest and longest serving teachers, who, between the three of them have given over 110 years’ service to school children on the Island. A pleasant evening was made all the more enjoyable after Bev met with a surprise guest at the occasion. Following a mistake in the invitation, two holiday makers, on the Island for just eight days found themselves at the prestigious occasion, surrounded by councillors, government officials, distinguished guests and indeed Governor Capes himself. I only wish I could find out who’s invitation they had received, and whether, upon seeing an incorrect name they made any protestations at all, or just took their chances.

Prince Andrews School celebrated their 25 years Anniversary last week. Bev and the other new teachers took their place in a celebration, including a song that will last long in the memory of all those party to it. Words were spoken by the current and past Head Teachers. It seems despite continuing difficulties, the school has indeed made great progress over the past twenty five years, last year posting their greatest ever exam results. Going back twenty years presents an intriguing picture of a young boy Nicky, who, at just fifteen, with no formal training and having himself just completed his exams, started as the schools Physical Education teacher. Nicky now works on the Island doing an incredible job running the local extra curriculum youth club and sports association New Horizons, giving children on the Island sporting opportunities that were not open to himself twenty five years ago. The tireless work of New Horizons resulted in several of St Helena’s finest athletes representing their Island at this year’s commonwealth games in Glasgow, a first for this Island Nation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMKV5u2Jdkc

Oliver meets a new friend on our photo walk. I think it reminded him of our lovely dog Ned, whom we have had to leave in the good care of our parents. We miss him dearly.

Oliver meets a new friend on our photo walk. I think it reminded him of our lovely dog Ned, whom we have had to leave in the good care of our parents. We miss him dearly.

Our weekend was a less dramatic one than previous and I have no stories of gigantic marine mammals. Oliver and I joined a good sized group of photographers to join in with a worldwide event, Kelby’s Photo Walks. The timing however was such to encourage a good turnout, rather than to make for good photography, and whilst producing little in the way of good photos, I did enjoy good conversation and a pleasant walk with Oliver and the others.

View from High Noll Fort to Flag Staff showing the haul road built by Basil Read for the Airport. The St Helena tourist office have asked if I can provide some photographs so Ive developed a watermark and will be including their logo on some on my photos in the future.

View from High Noll Fort to Flag Staff showing the haul road built by Basil Read for the Airport. The St Helena tourist office have asked if I can provide some photographs so Ive developed a watermark and will be including their logo on some on my photos in the future.

Ladybird TextureBev and Charlie meanwhile went to walk Donkeys at the Islands donkey sanctuary. Once a vital part of the workforce, the donkeys are now retired and well cared for. Children are invited to walk and feed the donkeys at the weekend. Charlie however, through a combination of poor carrot feeding technique and a short sighted donkey, found his fingers being eaten along with the intended food. Much screaming ensued as the donkey sucked on Charlie’s hand, eventually releasing him after expert donkey whispering, and no shortage of wrestling from Mum. No harm was done other than mild psychological damage and no animals were harmed in the making of this drama.

Having finally managed to locate some children’s fishing nets on the Island, Oliver and Charlie were thrilled to be able to head back down to James Bay for a spot of rock pooling. But it was their Dad who triumphed, catching three fish and this impressive Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally Lightoot Crab

Amazing Ascension Sally Lightfoot Crab. Very very quick and difficult to catch as they skip across the rocks

Charlie Saves Bev

Charlie Saves Bev from falling in!

Bev Meets Crab

“Bev meet crab, Crab meet Bev”

Oliver Rockpooling

Oliver getting stuck in

James Bay Rockpools Looking West

Looking West showing the Rock pools at James Bay

And so, in Mid-October we await Summer to start, having been made promises that it is just around the corner for what now seems like months. Being British, it will be of no surprise that I am fascinated by the weather, even more so given that the weather and climate on St Helena are as extraordinary as the Island itself. The only surprise is that it has not come up in my writings more frequently. The general theme of the weather has been grey and overcast, with frequent mist rolling down of the central peaks. Speaking to one local revealed that this mild, occasionally rainy, inclement weather of a rather chilly thirteen to sixteen degrees centigrade, is the “worst and longest winter in his living memory” of sixty plus years. Given that description, I am pleasantly surprised and uplifted, as I have still been in shorts most days. However we would now welcome in the endless days of Sunshine and warmth we have been promised, especially by Bev, who spends her days in the somewhat cooler climbs of Prince Andrew School at Francis Plain, just below the central peaks.

Francis Plane Prince Andrew School and Diana's Peak

Before embarking on our trip, I’d read many quite clearly exaggerated reports, of extreme variations in weather, both across time and distance upon the Island. I am now going to give one such example of, it turns out, a not such exaggerated account. In one day I recorded on my car thermometer a high of twenty eight degrees centigrade in the lower reaches of Jamestown, the sun was beaming down and all was well with the world. Just three hours later, and less than a mile away, when collecting Bev from the school, the very same thermometer read twelve degrees. The rain and wind sweeping across Francis Plain confirmed this to be true as we waited for Bev to run to the car, still wrapped tightly in the bright blue bubble jacket that she has had to wear in the classroom just to maintain warmth on a daily basis since our arrival. Given that I spend my days in shorts, and just a stones through away Bev requires a bubble jacket nicely describes how the weather varies across this tiny Island.

I am confident however that the last couple of days have seen a serious upturn in our weather. Half Tree Hollow has been baked in sunshine and the blue skies and newly defined horizon are joyous to behold. They also herald the arrival of clear night skies, and our first glimpse of the stars that we have so eagerly awaited. Officially one of the darkest places on earth, the night skies here are famous. First put on the global astronomy map back in 1676 by Edmund Halley who set up an observatory on the Island and made the first scientific mapping of the Southern Sky, they now offer a new opportunity for exploration for this year’s traveller. They also open up a new avenue for my photography and last night as I write provided the first chance to view and photograph the Milky Way.Night sky Milky Way St Helena Night sky at Half Tree Hollow St HelenaThe experience left me a little awestruck. Despite it being just 9.30 in the evening, and just yards from my well lit house and the relatively high light levels of Half Tree Hollow the night sky was, like most things I have observed on the Island, extraordinary. I now cannot wait to get to Diana Peak, in the dead of night to view some of the most mind blowing skies I am ever likely to see.

Come on in Summer, you are most welcome.

*Footnote.

It may be that I spoke too soon about the weather, Wednesday has seen some of the strongest driving wind and coldest temperatures we have seen. One local described it as “English Weather”!!!