I Dont Have to Buy a New Shirt

So its been a long time since my last update, this has been down to several reasons, not least of which I have been waiting for a new computer to arrive. Our laptop broke a more than a month and a half ago, and as is life on St Helena it has taken a long time to get a new one. When I say it broke, I of course mean, I broke it, dropping on the floor and causing irreparable damage!! However the event gave me the chance to buy a purpose built computer designed to allow me to process and edit photos and graphics much more efficiently than a mid-range laptop ever could.

Although the wait was annoying it did allow me time to look at things and find a way to raise myself out of the down patch that I was experiencing. I was going to re-focus on my photography and design work put out some adverts and get back on track………or I was going to be CEO of South Atlantic Media Services. Which brings me round to the second and main reason I hadn’t provided an update recently. South Atlantic Media Services provides Newspaper, Radio and TV news to St Helena and the current CEO is leaving the Island in the New Year. With great excitement I accepted the interview I was offered, and turned a few surprised looking heads in town as I headed to the studios all suited and booted.

The interview went well but after an agonising week and half wait, I received the doomed phone call telling me I was unsuccessful. I was genuinely gutted and took a real knock for a while. This was going to be my opportunity to make a difference, to leave my mark on the Island. But it wasn’t to be, I suspect in part due to the temporary nature of our stay on the Island, the job, probably rightly going to someone of Saint descent who could be here indefinitely. Good luck to Stuart George, I wish him well.

And so Im back to the photography and design work, which actually, is fine. I have a big new contract to deliver interpretative panels for various tourist spots on the Island, allowing me to leave my mark in some way. I have a few private contracts for product photography and will be doing some family and maternity portrait shoots. It seems my work is still in demand

I have also, with the arrival of my new computer finally had the chance to finish a night scape of Jamestown, a photo which is now on its third incarnation, and has taken literally hours and hours of work. The image is composed of around 46 photos, taken in two batches, one at sun set, one three hours later at night to capture the lights and cars of Jamestown. This meant perching myself precariously on a loose scree slop above the town for around four hours as I waited for the right lighting conditions to take the two set of shots I wanted.

Back on the computer hours have been spent aligning and carefully merging and blending the two sets of shots, and then blending in further images which showed cars moving through the town.

The result is a huge photo, over a meter across which I hope to sell on line on in print on the Island. With the arrival of a new professional quality printer I can now produce these at A3, and it looks great even if I do say so myself.

Jamestown Nightscape 3 watermarked

Sorry for the heavy water mark but as this photo will be for sale I need to protect its copy write!

Aside from work, I have re-started my football career, playing an initial twenty minutes in my first games, and culminating in a full ninety minutes for the last games of the league, my team, finishing in a respectable fifth place. Unfortunately the season has ended all too soon, and an early exit from the cup at the hands of the league winners means that I will have to wait more than six months to play my next match. But still, I am pleased to be playing again and even more pleased my groin has held up and seems to be on the mend.

Summer is now trying to make a comeback, although winter is doing its best to hold it off. Days of bright sunshine and high temperatures and interspersed by periods of cloud and drizzle. Oliver and Charlie took part in the schools harvest festival. One would expect this to be carried out in the autumn, but in keeping with British tradition we still celebrate in October. It is not too out of place though, as spring on St Helena is full of beauty and change. Sunsets are taking on a greater intensity and trees and plants all over the Island are bursting into flower. Colours are popping up everywhere. Sadly I haven’t had the opportunity to get out and photograph much of this beauty yet, but keep your eyes open and I’ll do my best to bring this to you in due course.

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Watching the boys at the Harvest Festival shows me how well they have settled, and what a lovely group of friends they have. It was of course a huge worry coming out here, how would they adapt, would they miss home too much, will they make friends? But looking back at how much the boys have changed and grown we can never have any regrets, it has been brilliant for them. I often have pinch myself moments, and this was one of them. 24 months ago I had not heard of St Helena, and yet here we are, watching Charlie sing “Juicy Fruits” with his classmates. in the middle of the South Atlantic on an Island we call home. Temporary home it may be, but home none the less. Although I have had my ups and downs and testing times personally, I am still filled with excitement when I step back and look at what we have done, what we are doing,

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Oliver and Charlie in their den. I think I had more fun building this than they did!!

and that we are even here at all. To the people who live here it is normal, just life, but this is an adventure that people dream of, and we are getting to live it. I hope the boys grow up and look back with fondness and appreciate the experience. I hope they remember, the Harry Potter nights and building dens, the football, the whale sharks, the freedom the friends they have made and the fantastic times they are having.

As summer arrives, St Helena gears up to Christmas, yes, weird I know. Oliver is playing the role of one of the Wisemen in the school nativity play and the shops are filled up with gifts, chocolates, lights and decorations, which makes me wonder what there will be a shortage of in the coming months, there is only finite space on the RMS after all. This year we will ensure that we are fully kitted up for the festival of lights, and I look forward to the festive season kicking in, with more Christmas songs on the radio such as Santa Arrived in a Pick Up Truck!

On Sunday the 8th of November St Helena joined the rest of the World in paying respects to those who have lost their lives in the tragedy of war. The service on St Helena involves various churches, Scouts and Guide groups, police and armed forces on the Island, and brings together Saint and Ex-pat communities from all over the Island. This year, Oliver, who has just joined the Beavers had a small role to play, walking with the rest of his group in the precession through town to the Centotaph. Oliver was beautifully behaved and look very proud to be doing his bit, even if he didn’t quite understand the point of it all. I looked around the water front and compared the faces to those that stood next to me 12 months pervious. Many of them have changed, new ex-pats arrive on the Island all the time and new friends have been made in the process. But the most significant thing that stuck me looking around that morning, was not how many people had left, but how many people I knew, Saints whom I now call friends, who say hello as we pass in the street, who know who we are, what we do and whom I hope consider us to be a good addition to the Island. Looking back 12 months I feel established on the Island, but I realise now that it takes more than three months and a few friendly faces to be established here. Maybe I will make a difference and leave a mark here after all.

The sun came out for the ceremony, just as it did last year. As the sun shone down, the heat was too much for some and , in my shirt and tie with sweat patches on my back, realised that it is probably a good thing I didn’t get the job after all, at least this way I don’t have to buy a new shirt.

 

 

 

 

RMS St Helena Part Two!

So we are back where it all began, on board the RMS St Helena, only this time we travel South East, across the Atlantic Ocean for five nights heading to Cape Town. The RMS has not changed, but the journey has. We sit not full of excitement and trepidation, but instead contentment and a little sadness at leaving our Island home, albeit for just a few weeks. The ship does not chatter with talk of St Helena and what lies ahead, there is no advice to be given from experienced hands, but instead there are good friends, comfortable in each other’s company having built strong relationships for the past 10 months.

Passing through customs at the Wharf we had to board a bus to travel 100yrds which are now very familiar to us. It seems ridiculous that we cant walk down the wharf considering the number of hours we have spent down there swimming off it. We stand on deck looking back at Jamestown for a significant delay in departure. This gave those people leaving the Island for good the opportunity for one last look at their soon to be former home. We were also treated to our first Humpback Whale sighting of the year, jumping and leaping and breaching over and over. A really special moment before we leave.

On board with us are twenty eight children, making life easier for parents given company and play friends, but I suspect distinctly less comfortable for the other adults on board. Our Captain is once again Rodney Young, an affable Saint who has been crossing the Atlantic for many years. His manor makes one feel assured and taken care of, and he has a knack of remembering faces and people. Captain Cocktails in the lounge provided me the rare opportunity to don my suit and tie, although it didn’t last long. Rodney tells me he has been reading my blog, and recommending it to passengers, high praise indeed.

The RMS remains a wonderful experience, a throwback to bye gone days, only this time round it is even more appreciated, the exuberance of food and drink being particularly welcome given the relative lack of variety on St Helena. I have drank my first pint of beer in ten months, and although not top of my list of beers a refreshing Heineken has been very welcome, as has the selection of cheeses!! As I write I look forward to the final night aboard, to include an afternoon nap, (making up for my 3am poker game last night) and the final round of the on board quiz, where our team, “What do points make” sit in a comfortable position just off the leaders.

Will I be sad to leave the ship? Less so than before would be the answer although once more I feel as though an extended family has been created on board, and I have enjoyed the company of old and new friends and learnt once more that people should be given a chance, and that quick judgement should never be made. It is wonderful also to see the children playing together and forming their own friendships. Saint, South African, Brit and Swedes, there is no thought to colour or creed, just to fun and friendship. Oliver and Charlie have grown enormously over the past ten months, able to make friends and socially comfortable. During our last journey, Oliver had to be pressed to take part in anything, and most of the activities found him watching from the sidelines. This past week however has seen him first in line to sign up for anything, competing against his peers in everything from deck quoites to tug o war

The crossing has, in the main, been reasonably smooth at the time of writing, although our first afternoon was pretty rough leading to a que of people outside of the ships doctor all looking for a bum numbing injection to calm the sea sickness. I was one of the lucky ones, seemingly not suffering. Although since that afternoon the crossing has been easy going, the predicted change in sea conditions has now arrived and as I write the ship is being buffeted by large waves and has entered into a washing machine movement rotating left and right, up and down like a corkscrew. Having been largely lucky to avoid any sea sickness until now, I can feel my stomach churning, the combination of movement and four days of over indulgence of rich food and beer now taking its toll.

Our last day aboard also turns my attention to island friends who are travelling on the RMS for the last time. Having waved god bye to several lovely people and families already, the departing of the Days from St Helena is difficult for us, we will miss them greatly, as will Oliver and Charlie. But at the same time we look forward to our return in a few weeks, meeting the next wave of people who will come to St Helena to start their own adventures.

The RMS is important; of course it provides the vital life line, supplying the Island with everything from water to food. But it also provides a transition period, five days to leave St Helena and prepare oneself for the change of Worlds, which ever direction you are travelling. To leave or arrive on St Helena on a plane, whilst undoubtedly convenient, almost seems daunting, leaving the peace and comfort of the Island to arrive in London in less than eleven hours. The countdown has begun for the RMS, a clock shows the number of days until her decommission, which currently shows 361, just under a year from now the last remaining Royal Mail Ship will be no more. What will become of here? No one yet knows, a floating hotel has been one suggestion although this seems to present more challenges than solutions. The RMS serves a unique function, carrying both passengers and cargo and it is difficult to see where else this exacting requirement lies. She does not carry enough passengers to become a passenger cruise ship, and nor is her cargo capacity able to match a dedicated cargo ship, making her an expensive option to transport goods.

There is a strong will to find this wonderful ship a permanent home, but whether that will can be married with a practical and cost effective solution is, in my view, unlikely and sadly I can see here being consigned to a considerable scrap value. It is with great pride that I am able to say I travelled on board the RMS St Helena, the last of her kind.

Jamestown

The capital of St Helena, home of government, banking, retail, and a bustling metropolis, relatively speaking. Like all major capitals Jamestown is a congested, convoluted, disorganised and densely populated sort of place. Snaking up a narrow strip at the base of a steep sided valley, the buildings push and shove each other for space, leaning on one another and spill out onto the divergent estuary of roads which split from the main road at the top of the town into several smaller tributaries as the tarmac flows towards the sea.

Jamestown snakes its way to the sea

Jamestown snakes its way to the sea

Jametowsn Rooftops

Streets and junctions are marked with these wonderful wooden signs.

Streets and junctions are marked with these wonderful wooden signs.

Jamestown is hot, dusty and dry most of the year, it has a distinctly topical climate and is the one part of the Island that truly betrays the Tropical latitude, sat as we are at 15.95 degrees South. The volcanic valley walls rise high and steep, rock falls were a constant danger and hence wire mesh and strategic fences scar across the valley sides. St Helena is a particularly unstable place in general, hard igneous rock sandwiched by soft pyroclastic muds and sands do not make for firm foundations and the Island as a whole has been pretty much on a steady slide into the sea ever since its creation some fourteen million years ago.

At the top of the Valley sits St Helena’s Hospital, a lovely looking building, surrounded by tropical flowers and a pleasant atmosphere. Moving down the road the sapphire blue Sea at the foot of the Valley dominates the eye line, as Mediterranean looking buildings line the road, the odd shop and a fridge repair centre start to reveal the commercial nature of the town.

Looking down Market Street towards the Bridge

Looking down Market Street towards the Bridge

Barrack square arrives on the right, the first sense of the history of the town, being once a home for Island Soldiers, and now for Island residents. Further down the road Pilling Primary school, also a former Barracks, is the daytime home for Oliver and Charlie. A delightful building, which seems very much a military design on the outside, but very much a school as you pass through the old wooden doors.

Pilling Primary School and Former Barracks.

Pilling Primary School and Former Barracks.

Olivers Yr 2 classroom

Pilling school and upper Jamestown as the mist rolls descends from the central peaks.

Pilling school and upper Jamestown as the mist rolls descends from the central peaks.

Founded in 1659 by The East India Trading Company, Jamestown, named after King James II is full of history, the buildings vary in style, age and condition, but all in Jamestown are old, and most well over one hundred years in age. Most are built out of volcanic rock and many are of World importance as examples of Georgian Colonial Architecture.

Moving down the aptly named Market Street and the hustle and bustle of the Islands only real shopping district (that consists of more than two shops together) becomes evident. Thorpes Grocery store, one of the oldest and most established retailers on the Island, sit alongside The Queen Mary and Queen Victoria Stores, one a former pub, the other once a cinema. Tinkers provides sliced cold meets and across the way the Hive, selling a variety of goods from Diving regulators to chocolate willies with some stationary in between.

We now approach the bridge, not obvious but in fact, an actual bridge as the Jamestown “Run” flows beneath the road here. The Run is a small stream running the length of Jamestown that was constructed to bring freshwater to the residents, and after serious flooding was widened in an attempt to provide an efficient run off for heavy rains. The bridge does not appear to be a bridge, and is instead a wide square section of road, bordered by the market selling fresh fish and veg daily, and meats on Thursday mornings, and by the towns main Pubs, the Standard and the White Horse. Jamestown apparently (so I’m told) once had more pubs and houses of Ill repute per capita than anywhere else on earth, but (sadly) only these two remain. Very traditional, one can imagine sitting here a hundred and fifty years ago mulling over the failings of the Governor, taxation, British rule or the price of beer just as today.

Around the corner Market street meets Napoleon Street, which has wound its way down the west side of the valley and

View down Napoleon Street looking across Jamestown to Ladder Hill Road

View down Napoleon Street looking across Jamestown to Ladder Hill Road

ultimately leads to Longwood and the Briars, no doubt Napoleon was led to his temporary home in the Briars up this road when he first arrived, just as many visitors do now. Where Napoleon and Market Streets merge, they become Main Street, a wide concourse and the very essence of Jamestown. The grand Consulate Hotel, like something dropped right out of Colonial times inside and out takes pride of place. On the left, the post office is a major hub of town. St Helena does not have a postal service, and as such mail must be collected from the post office, along with administration of almost all licenses and records on the Island, car taxation, and pensions and benefits the post office plays an essential role in everyday life on St Helena.

The Canister, now the Tourist office and craft centre.

The Canister, now the Tourist office and craft centre.

The Post Office.

The Post Office.

The Consulate Hotel on the right looking down Main street

The Consulate Hotel on the right looking down Main street

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The Consulate Hotel

The Consulate Hotel

The Star is one of the main, and most modern grocery stores on the Island, and reminds me of the old Co-op local store in my home town. Mum you will remember it well, I used to sit outside with Shep whilst you proceeded to fill what seemed like in the region of 300 bags of shopping!  It is owned by Solomons, a company which traces itself back to Saul Solomon who was put ashore in 1790, gravely ill, from a merchant ship on its way to India; he recovered, decided there was money to be made in St Helena, and persuaded his brothers Benjamin and Joseph to come from England to join him.  He is also reputed to have tried to help Napoleon escape, which I guess would have been an opportunity to make serious money in St Helena.  The shops are a small part of Solomons’ operations on the island which include banking, insurance, agent for the shipping line and, a lot of outsourced work from government.


Moving down the Main street it becomes wider still, 2 on Main currently houses one of the best restaurants on the Island, this training restaurant will soon make way for a brand new hotel, comprising this building and its appropriately named neighbours, 1 and 3 on Main. Next door sits Harris’s Guest House and nearby, the Wellington Guest House. As the street widens it becomes the parade, and the seat of St Helena Government, the Castle, sits alongside the road adjacent to the town walls.

The Castle.

The Castle.

The Castle was originally, in 1860, a Wooden Fort, but was reconstructed in 1710 as the original construction had become rotten with termites. Part of this 1710 construction is still present, but numerous additions and alterations have been made since. Alongside the Castle sits the castle gardens, a small but perfectly formed park. The grounds man does a superb job ensuring a variety of colour and flowers year round, making the Gardens a lovely spot for lunch and to pass the time of day.

Jamestown ends or begins at the Castle Gates, an arch in the substantial Town Walls that once stood as a fortress to protect the town from invasion. St Helena is (or was) one of the most fortified places on Earth, and the remnants of the fortifications and Barracks can be seen everywhere. From the water front in Jamestown, one can see High Knoll Fort, Ladder Hill Fort, Mudens Battery, and a further two gun battery’s, as well as the numerous gun ports that line the Main Town walls themselves. The waterfront retains the historic feel that all of Jamestown does, a walk along the wharf revealing old warehouses and storage buildings. The wharf is now the main entrance and exit to the Island. When the RMS is in the bay, the Wharf busts into life as a frenzy of containers are loaded and unloaded, retailers and individuals excitedly collecting new goods, presents, and all manner of things.

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Like much on St Helena the wharf runs on the Darwin Principle, that if you are stupid enough to stand under a 20 tonne container, it’s your own fault. Refreshingly and somewhat  surprisingly for a UK resident one can walk amongst the cranes and containers, the fork lift trucks and good lorries. Funnily enough, no one dies, and it’s very refreshing to be treated as an adult in such matters. Not that everything on the Wharf makes sense. Understandably swimming from the wharf is restricted when the RMS is in the bay, but it is also restricted if some goods have been left in the loading area. But swimming is permissible when other boats and vessels are back and forth from the wharf, so long as no goods are resting on the concrete, I will never understand it, but do as Im told!

On a weekend evening the wharf and waterfront come to life. The Wharf becomes a magnet for young men and their cars, like something out of Fast and Furious (old people may need to look that one up!) all manner of supped up cars with large noisy exhausts and lights in strange places pump music out whilst their owners gather to discuss the latest in sub woofers (or something like that). Meanwhile, families have a rare treat and fill up the two waterfront bars, Donny’s and the Mule Yard, enjoying a drink from the bar and food from the local take aways whilst watching the sunset, knowing children are safe to play nearby. As early evening turns to late evening the families go home and the towns beautiful people (well, most of them)  take over, music drink and dancing in the warm tropical air tale over until the early hours.

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Jamestown is hot and dry, its overcrowded and parking is a night mare, but it is also fascinating, bustling, full of history and atmosphere and its people are wonderful I love it.