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?

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

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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.

Five Months On

I sit, five months on from our arrival on St Helena and I still have to pinch myself that we are here. We have just enjoyed a family dinner, Tuna steak and fresh salad, on the veranda as we watch the sun go down over the great expanse of ocean before us. The sky becomes a beautiful gradient of colour from deep orange to purple and through to dark blue, a solitary star we know to be Venus shines down on us. It happens less often nowadays, but I still have regular moments of disbelief. For such a long time, both Bev and I had an itch, a need or longing to do something else, live somewhere different and experience new things. After applying for jobs in the US, and looking at options elsewhere in this world, it is here, on this tiny remote Island that we have found our adventure.

Returning inside, Oliver sits with Mum at the table completing the homework that is due in tomorrow, finishing at the last minute just like his Dad used to do! Charlie, wanting to be involved is sat with them, colouring. I look over and have another moment of disbelief, not only am I living in St Helena, but I’m a Dad, how on earth did that happen? I know the technicalities, but I never thought I would be, and yes Oliver is six, I’m not saying I have only just realised I have children, believe me they let me know minute by minute and have done since they arrived. But, like my moment of how did we arrive on St Helena, I still have the occasional, how did I arrive here in life, a Dad, with two boys whom I’m responsible for. I feel no different in myself to when I was at university and yet I have these two little people, complete and individual in every way, lives in my hands to guide and direct. I hope I do and can do them justice.

Moving on from the un-pleasantries of my last blog life continues as per normal on St Helena. When I say as per normal, life on St Helena is never normal. It of course involves passing your open water diving qualification, snorkelling in the bay and at Lemon Valley, photographing the brightest starriest sky I have thus far ever witnessed,  birthday parties,hunting for treasure, Sundowners at Donny’s and delivering my first photography course with customers including the acting Governor of the Island. All normal life on this tiny spec in the middle of the Ocean.Milky Way from High Knoll Fort St Helena

 

Bev has of course returned to teaching with the new school term in full flow. This new term however has at last seen Bev start her Marine Biology work. Not quite delivering, but planning and preparing, speaking to local fishermen and boat operators and planning for an adult learning taster session. Although her work load is still as high as ever, at least now Bev can start the job she was brought here to do thanks to the arrival of a new Chemistry teacher to further strengthen the science department.

Charlie has turned four, four years old! Like many things I can hardly believe it. His birthday, landing on a school day was a quiet affair, opening some presents before school was unavoidable as he headed off with number four badge on his shirt I think looking forward to his day in school awaiting the customary attention and singing from teachers and class mate. Saturday saw his main party. After much deliberation we, (we as in Bev, Charlie and I) decided that the best place for his first Island party would be at Belinda’s (his child minder) which gives me great opportunity to showcase the best child-minder venues in the World. Stunning views and fantastic play for little ones with outdoor space, toys, games and fun galore.  In normal style the party went play, eat, party games, eat, play, eat then home! One of the highlights of the afternoon was the cake, a magnificent Pirate cake fit for any young rapscallion and beautifully crafted by our talented friend Julie David (thank you Julie), the cake not only looked amazing but tasted brilliant as the ring of chocolate around my mouth as I type is testament!

The Friday evening prior had seen the real start of Charlie’s birthday, our normal evening at Donny’s was interrupted by screaming children and Charlie delightfully informing us that he had found a treasure map! Carefully planted by good friends Lucy and Andy and their boys, Charlie had found a treasure map inside a bottle that had “washed up” on the rocks at the wharf. With a full weekend the treasure hunting itself would have to wait until Sunday afternoon when we enlisted the help of local guides, Toby and Lawrence, fourteen and eleven to guide us around Plantation wood following the map until we eventually stumbled across “X marks the spot” and a an arrow leading to a tree house.  Following the arrow we came across a fortress in the trees heavily guarded and protected by a series of traps and pitfalls. Spotting the potentially dangerous trip wire, Lawrence released one of the traps and to our complete astonishment and surprise a heavy bucket fell to the ground, the treasure had been found. The inflatable boat and oddly for the period an inflatable dinosaur had survived well for over a hundred years in that tree house, and I’m sure the museum will be keen to hear the story of how Charlie battled through thick forest and booby traps to find his treasure.  Thank you to the Days for giving Charlie a really wonderful adventure it was fantastic fun.

x marks the spot, Charlie and his treasure map.

x marks the spot, Charlie and his treasure map.

I continue to be extremely busy, despite my retirement. New projects for the National Trust have allowed me to feel more at home and involved, and I have started to deliver my photography courses, which, so far have been well received. I have on going works for the Tourist office and finally have business cards printed! Life is undoubtedly very full on St Helena, and when not working we are generally enjoying the outdoors. And so it was that, having now passed my Open Water Diving qualification that I went on my first dive without having to take off my mask, prove my neutral buoyancy, or tow a tired diver! It was in fact a very strange feeling, just being permitted to swim and enjoy the sites, not having a pre-determined set of instructions and to just, swim around at leisure. Strange, but wonderful, back on the Papanui and with freedom to explore.

With an outburst of joy and pride when breaking the surface Bev also passed her open water diving last week. At one stage, before setting foot in the water Bev was genuinely unsure as to whether she would indeed complete the course, but in true determined and stubborn style refused to be beaten by her anxiety and took each step as it came. I can’t wait now to share new experiences together and start to discover a new part of St Helena under the waves. It seemed even more fitting that Bev should pass her open water on her birthday and it was a fitting celebration of both her birthday and passing the course that with a large group of our new friends we enjoyed a meal at Tasty bites and a few celebratory drinks.

With the weather now pretty much consistently wonderful it seems the perfect time to have passed our open water diving. Where else in the world can you finish work at 4pm and be diving on a wreck by 5pm, and for less than £20. With the improved weather, water has become a very prominent place of leisure, with three or four trips to the swimming pool a week making our boys more and more competent in the water and another trip to Lemon valley providing more snorkelling and, on this occasion the chance for some fun in the waves as they crashed up on the beach to the delight of jumping children, and indeed adults alike.

And so another month has passed by, an ever present in the back of our minds is just how quick time is passing on St Helena. Our hectic and wonderfully full lives here have the consequence of ensuring days, weeks and months pass quickly by. With some new friends already having been and gone, and some very good friends shortly to leave too, one is always aware of the transient nature of our time here, we will continue to ensure we fill every second of it.

Free Hot Water!

As Christmas passed to New Year the weather has taken a considerable turn for the better. An apparently long lasting mild winter gave way to a prolonged spring, wet with intermittent sunshine, and now, at last summer is here. Mornings, generally accompanied by early cloud give way to bright sunshine and high temperatures by midday, with afternoons in Half Tree Hollow becoming increasingly consistent at around 27-30°C. A cool breeze, dry heat, shade, and the ability to reach cooler parts of the Island if necessary make for a fantastic climate right now, not at all over bearing and great for our sun tans! Almost all properties on St Helena are serviced with electric hot water, supplemented by the use of solar panels. It is now the norm that our hot water is free, the solar panels heating water to scolding temperatures such that one has to be careful turning the tap on. Tributary water pipes run over ground to houses, a product of the barren, rock substrate that we live upon making underground pipes difficult to install. Such is the power of the sun on the Tropic of Capricorn that, whilst hot water is plentiful, cold water is harder to come by, turning the cold tap on any time after midday results in hot, then warm water for a good few minutes before anything resembling cool comes through.

Just before New Year I was pleased to be able to help out with St Helena’s new, monthly open air cinema. Like most of the amazing things here, this came about from an idea that a hard working individual wished to develop, not for personal gain but to provide something fun, new and unique to the Island. Andy Day, one of the most giving people I know was said hardworking individual. Six large white billboards had been erected side by side across the frontage of Pilling Primary School. Using PA equipment hooked to my blue-ray player over 100 people were able to enjoy Disney’s Maleficent sat in cars or seats in the open air. This turned out to be a quite magical experience, a trip to the cinema under the moon and stars, in short sleeves at the end of December.

The 29th of December, as some of you will know, was our anniversary, five years of Happy Marriage. We were lucky enough to celebrate this occasion, jointly with friend, Lucy Day’s Birthday. A evening “adults only” boat cruise aboard the Enchanted Isle was simply wonderful. Heading out around the Island we reached the Southwest point, and area of staggering cliffs and the even more staggering Sea Stacks of Speary Point. The main rock pinnacle rises vertically some 100m from the waves, towering above our boat as we passed by its base. Thousands of sea birds from boobies to Storm petrols, noddies to terns returning home from a days fishing fly circuits around the rock about our heads, chattering and screeching to each other.

Speary Point St Helena

Speary Point 2

Speary Point St Helena

Fascinating conversation was enjoyed with Graham Sim, whom we had met previously during our Booby Adventures. Graham pointed out some of the old sheep herding routes and fishermen paths across the seemingly vertical cliff faces that were used well within his lifetime, a stark reminder of how quickly this Island has changed in the past two decades. Further conversation with the boat owner and our captain Jonny Hern was, in hindsight dangerous as I learnt that in his younger days he and his friends would venture, somehow, to the summit of Speary point, using bamboo rods as makeshift scaffolding before cliff jumping into the deep some 100 meters below. So why would this be dangerous, well let’s just say a seed has been planted!

As we moved away from Speary point and headed back East we were treated to one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever witnessed. Dolphins cruised and splashed on the bow waves of the boat, with the sun dropping in the sky, purples and oranges rose across the canvas with the brightest stars punctuating the watercolours like bright diamonds. It was a truly magical experience and an anniversary we will remember for a long long time.

Sunset at Sea on St Helena Island

Sunset at Sea on St Helena Island 3

New Year in St Helena is a quieter affair than the UK, such monumental effort is put into Christmas and its associated parades that New Year’s takes something of a back seat. Not that it is forgotten by any means, partying in town and the waterfront for those considerably younger, or older, or more childless than myself went on into the late hours of New Years Day morning and pubs and social clubs across the Island held their own social gatherings. For the Tyson’s, an evening hosted by two of our RMS friends, Debbie and Andy Parkinson was enjoyed, in the company of other friends from the Island. With a family theme, games and a competitive quiz were the order of the day. For Charlie it was all too much, and by 10pm he fell asleep in the middle of the room!

The next morning saw Oliver’s organised walk. For some weeks, following the experience of various group walks organised by others on the Island Oliver has wished to organise his own. With some help from Mum he mustered a group of friends for a walk to the Heart Shaped Waterfall, and this time was pleased to find water in the waterfall. Sadly for Dad, the groin injury is restricting walking adventures at the moment and I was left behind spending my time cleaning, cooking and writing content for my photography course.

The course has proved very popular and I have 22 people signed up all wanting to learn more about photography and to take their expensive SLR camera’s out of automatic and release its full potential. I just hope I do them justice and meet their expectations.

As the St Helena “summer” Christmas holidays continue, time has been spent swimming in the pool, now warm under the midday sun and providing rest bite for parents as children splash and play in the safe water. Practicing swimming, jumping from the diving board and snorkelling the full length of the pool, Oliver’s confidence has grown wonderfully. As indeed has Charlie’s confidence, from clinging to Mum or Dad for dear life, to swimming independently and jumping in and out of the pool in just three short weeks.

Oliver’s new found confidence has led to growing desires to have another go at snorkelling in the sea. His first attempt, a few weeks ago was not the greatest success, cold and scared, having not really swam for months, a quick glance at the fish was all that was achieved before tears ensued. And so it was, with renewed enthusiasm and bravery that we made another attempt. Walking out from James Bay along a narrow stretch of black volcanic sands, the relatively calm waves still caused significant breakers. Oliver holding tightly onto my neck as we pushed through until out of our depth and started swimming, my wetsuit providing the buoyancy I needed to hold up a child tightly latched onto me. We adjusted our masks and snorkels and with a quick instruction put our heads down to peer through the waves and the wonderful life in James Bay.  After a half minute or so I pulled Oliver up to the surface to check he was ok and he nodded with great enthusiasm. A twenty minute swim round the bay saw Oliver off on his own, swimming and watching in wonder at fish of all colours and sizes, the highlight being the deadly stonefish, holding tightly onto an octopus, its tentacles still moving as they hung out of the giant mouth of its venomous captor. A very proud Dad and overjoyed son returned to tell Mum and Charlie all about our mini Ocean Odyssey.

This maritime breakthrough could not be better timed as on the 2nd of January another trip to Lemon Valley was booked. The children, enthused by their first experience and swimming confidence were both incredibly excited. A large group of us arrived at Lemon Valley at around 11am. An interesting contrast between Ex-pats and Saints once again presented itself as we arrived to the greeting of around 30 or so Saints, already in position in the Bay. For many Saints, a trip to Lemon Valley and its associated underwater fun is not the novelty that it is to us, therefore their day takes different priorities, normally centred around the social barbeque, in a large cave sat within the volcanic rock. Saints will leave the wharf early, often before 7am, to ensure the prime cooking and gathering spot is secured. For our, mainly ex-pat group, the priority during the holiday is a lie in, and whilst cooking is lower on the list swimming in crystal clear waters and rubbing shoulders with unique marine life takes priority and within minutes of arriving children and adults alike were splashing in the waves.

Charlie and Oliver both spent a good amount of time swimming and even Charlie took the chance to don a mask and snorkel and have a quick peep at the fish below. The snorkel proved less successful though, as despite being in his mouth, he failed to recognise that he could breathe, and held his breath when his face was in the water despite his father’s attempts to teach him otherwise. He still shouted with great excitement that he had seen some fish and another little milestone was met.

An interesting addition to this trip to the Valley was the accompaniment of Sea Kayaks, and despite my groin injury preventing my own participation everyone enjoyed a good paddle in the bay, jumping off here and there to try new snorkelling locations. Bev of course, not content at pottering around the bay, opted to canoe back to James Bay, and with friend and fellow teacher Jon Lambdon in tandem they headed off, ultimately beating us back to the Wharf, no mean feat against a steady wind and choppy waves.

With much self-congratulation, this week saw Bev and I complete our closed water dives, swimming underwater without a mask, removing and re-donning weights and gear underwater and hovering using buoyancy control,  just some of the essential skills required before we can head out to sea.  At the time of writing our first open water dive has actually also been completed, (next blog due shortly) and we are well on our way to passing our PADI Open Water diving course.

So, Christmas holidays are nearly at a close, it has been a truly wonderful, action packed, social partying basically incredible “summer” Christmas holidays, but little did we know that what we have experienced so far was to be simply dwarfed by the experiences we were about to accumulate over the 24 hours……….

Bike Riding St Helena Style!

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.

It’s Ridiculous!!

I started my last blog wondering if I would be able to fit in two weekends worth of St Helena in my normal body of text, and in short I couldn’t, because Lemon Valley was on the agenda and required an entry all of its own.

Lemon valley is a remote valley even by St Helena standards, with no road access its rocky shore and crystal clear waters can be reached only by boat or a long and somewhat tricky descent from the wonderfully named Rosemary plain some 500m above the valley floor.  Over the course of last Friday and Saturday I did both.Lemon Valley Post Box Walk St Helena

A boat trip had been arranged with a large group of families. Some more energetic souls however had made the decision to walk to the bay, and return to Jamestown by the boat. Wondering if Charlie would be able to make the walk I decided a solo trip to assess the terrain would be appropriate.

Leaving Rosemary plain, the path takes a steep descent through Sarah’s valley. Initially moving along a narrow path boarded by conifers, like much of St Helena the descent takes you through several climatic zones. Conifers give way to a multitude of deciduous trees and bright flowers, flashes of burnt orange from the Silky Oak tree (Grevillea robusta) standing out against the back drop of blue waters several kilometres below.Tungi at Lemon Valley

As the path becomes drier it becomes trickier, with bare rocky slopes giving way to fine powdery scree and solid footsteps being replaced by a step and slide pattern. Trees are replaced by large stands of English Aloe, and the orange of the Silky Oak is replaced by the orange of the Nargy Weed, (still a favourite of mine).  As Sarah’s Valley converges with  Lemon valley Tungi begins to dominate and as I stop to look across the now wide Y shaped eroded slopes behind me, a row of caves can be seen across the way. As the wind rushed down from Rosemary plain above I shouted to find my voice echoing back at me in such clarity had it not been my own Id of thought someone else was shouting toward me from the caves afar.

Lemon Valley to the right and Sarah's valley to the left (as you view the image_ and the echoing caves.

Lemon Valley to the right and Sarah’s valley to the left (as you view the image and the echoing caves in the bottom right of the picture.

After descending the last scree slope, more suited to skis than boots the valley flattens and the path twists through a dark, entangled forest of wild mangoes. Feeling like Indiana Jones in his latest adventure, I, with almost every step, broke the web of a Spiny Orbweaver Spider (Gasteracantha cancriformis).IGasteracantha cancriformis Now of course to some this is a trip close to hell, but for me it was great, and these incredible and beautiful spiders just added to the intrigue as their webs stretched wide across the narrow path. As I pushed through the trees and webs the curious Fairy Terns visited, flying close to suss out the new visitor. A particularly curious individual flew within touching distance, hovering motionless to look me right in the eye before letting me move along my way.

Wild Mongoes follow the line of the stream. Thick, interwoven branches and spider webs make this feel like a jungle.

Wild Mangoes follow the line of the stream. Thick, interwoven branches and spider webs make this feel like a jungle.

Fairy Tern St Helena

Fairy Tern St Helena

Reaching the valley floor it opens up, and once again the history that wraps up every story on this Island is evident, abandoned homes and buildings, of a once small but thriving community that built up around a still intact quarantine station farther down. A defensive wall borders the rocky beach and the blue lagoon is overlooked by the remnants of an old gun battery, no longer a surprise to see given that it seems there was once a gun of some sort pointing toward every inch of this fortified outpost of the empire.

Atlantic Ocean comes into view nearing the end of my walk.

Atlantic Ocean comes into view nearing the end of my walk.

Having Completed another post box walk, and after spending ten or so minutes exploring the rocks and pools I headed back up the valley. Luckily for you, my description will be considerably shorter than the monotonous, endless trudge that the walk up Lemon valley is. A relentless climb across loose scree ensuring your feet cover twice the distance of your body due to the slips across the dust. Pushing myself as hard as I could the constant thirty degree incline was conquered in just over an hour, but it was the mountain that won, leaving me struggling for breath in the mid-day heat!

Having decided that the concentration required for the slippy descent was too much for Charlie, we took the boat with everyone else the next morning to Lemon Valley. Our dive instructor Anthony from Sub-Tropic Adventures provided our transport for the day, a

Transferring from the main vessel to the landing craft

Transferring from the main vessel to the landing craft

watery taxi service. With most people and a mountain of stuff from snorkels to seats, food to fishing rods on one boat, a few others shot ahead on a smaller outboard rib to assist with unloading the gear and ferrying others from the main boat to the shallow water deck area. Arriving at Lemon Valley from the sea instead of on foot and its beauty is revealed in a new light. The bay at the mouth of the valley is not a classic tropical vision, draped in white sand or palms trees, like much of St Helena its beauty is not in the obvious, but in the detail.  Its beauty lies in the grandeur of scale from the steep sided volcanic cliffs, to the endemic fish in the rock pools, from the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the shoals of butterfly fish. It is the childlike excitement that is generated from scrambling over rocks,  the wonderful group of friends from all walks of life that our day was to be spent with and the laughter and excitement of the Children as they jump from the shore into the sea. Lemon valley, like St Helena, is everything and nothing a unique place in a unique way of life.

IMG_0424

The tone of the day was set, as once the boat was anchored, some of the children jumped into the cool blue waters to swim to shore. With everyone and everything on the wooden decking our transport departed, leaving us stranded in the valley for several hours. And what a place to be stranded, hours spent snorkelling, swimming, exploring and rock pooling. With five families, one couple and of course John it was a splendid social event.  With each of us bringing our own contribution to the popular “bring and share” idea of catering, we presented a feast of epic proportion from local Pilau to home-made

John enjoying a swim

John enjoying a swim

cakes and biscuits, and the now inevitable sausages and some particular lovely home baked Banana cake from the David’s.

Exploring the rock pools revealed urchins and starfish, crinoids (feather stars) and anemones, crabs fish and even a moray eel. Plunging into the Atlantic Ocean revealed a multitude of fish species most of which you will find nowhere else on earth. Shoals of butterfly fish, tangs and chromis, with needlefish and trumpet fish, soldiers and parrot fish to name a few. We were made particularly proud when we convinced Oliver to come for a swim, donning his snorkel and mask to be enthralled by the life below the waves, his nervous swim was only short, but a significant first step for our boy. Those not exploring the pools or snorkelling were enjoying sun and relaxation perhaps with the occasional dip to cool off whilst other splashed and played in the waters.

Lemon Valley St Helena

IMG_0425As the day drew to an end our boat returned to take us home. A day of incredible fun was then turned into a magical day, our return journey being accompanied by a humpback whale mother and calf swimming alongside the boat some 150m away. Bev and I looked at each other and back to the whales, we turned to Oliver who was now driving the boat and exclaimed almost in unison, “it’s ridiculous”. How else do you describe this, a boat ride to a remote inaccessible valley, where wild Mango trees meet blue waters and Fairy terns brush shoulders with you as you explore marine life found nowhere else on earth. Shared with great friends, great food and great fun, clear blue waters and shoals of colourful fish, and the still magical sight of a humpback whale and calf on the way home I can find no words and the best I have is ridiculous.