May Celebrations

So May was going to be the biggest Month in St Helena’s history, the opening of St Helena Airport, Prince Edward was booked and St Helena day, normally celebrated on the 21st, was moved to the 20th to accommodate the grand opening. As those of you who follow St Helena news outside of my blog will know, it didn’t happen. Apparently wind shear, only discoverable with real world data from a landing aircraft, that could not have been predicted in advance of this,  (hhmmm) has been discovered at the runway.  Essentially this means that as things stands it is dangerous to land a large Boeing type aircraft on runway 20, I am yet to figure out how an airport with one runway becomes runway number 20!). It is not for me to comment on this, everyone on the Island is currently an aircraft expert and have suddenly finished their degrees in meteorology, so Im not going to add to this with my own ill-educated opinion on things here.

Despite the setback for me personally I’m not too concerned, my hope is a sufficient delay in the opening will allow me one final journey on the RMS St Helena, and maybe another stop over in Cape Town, as you may of gathered I love Cape Town! And it is not as though May became dearth of celebration and event.

Earlier in the month, Prince Andrew School hall was once again full to see thirteen of Saint Helena’s young ladies compete for the title of Miss St Helena 2016. Two weeks prior I had nothing to do with this. I was then asked if I could do some photography for the event, to which I of course agreed. Then, a week before I was asked to put together a graphical presentation to display above the stage and introduce the contestants, again I agreed, although someone else would have to manage the presentation as I was to be taking photos, right?

Finally, just four days before the event itself, and having heard me sing at the New Horizons concert I was asked to provide, along with two others, some entertainment whilst the judges went off to deliberate. Hhhmmm, no rehearsal time, no band behind me for comfort, a poor quality backing track, “Im not sure about this one” I said! However, never one to shirk the opportunity to be in the lime light I agreed. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t.

The show itself was fantastic, if a little longer than necessary. As compare John Wallocot declared the shows’ cat walk to be the one and only open runway on St Helena to the amusement of the crowd, we eventually saw 13 girls, through a series of questions and costume changes, whittled down to the winner. What a fantastic time to be Miss St Helena, no doubt at the front of many exciting opening ceremonies and events over the next two years. As for me, well, unfortunately there was no one else to make the changes on the graphic presentation during the show, meaning I had to give up my privileged photographer’s position and settle for a balcony view point. My musical performance was, for me, horrible. I stood on my own, on the cat walk with the backing music far to quiet feeling very vulnerable and although people told me afterwards that I had done well, this was no New Horizons Concert for me.

Not to be outdone the younger generation of Saint Girls took part in the Annual May Queen celebrations. Like many people I have mixed feelings about the beauty pageant type show, but this was somehow more innocent, just some young people wanting their opportunity to feel important and to play a part in the upcoming St Helena Day celebrations. Before the May Queen contest Pilling Primary school, Oliver and Charlie’s school held their May Day fate. Bev and I ran two stalls all to help raise money for the Pilling Parent Teachers Association. It was a great turn out and everyone had fun taking part in the various stalls, games and activities. Including our new Governor who turned up to see what was going on and watch the May Queen Contest. Watched eagerly by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed Miss St Helena ladies, the young contestants did their best to show their style and answer questions thoughtfully and intelligently. They all did very well and we were very pleased that Katie Gonsalves, daughter of good friends Frankie and Dean came an admirable second place.

With May still just two thirds through, it was time for the Islands next big event as St Helena Day was declared open.

Each year on or near the 21st May, the Island celebrates the anniversary of its discovery, music, sports, games, fireworks and more music, washed down with copious beer and good spirit it was a day to remember. All of the Tyson clan were involved, Bev kicked off with a mini Marathon.

A gruelling run up hill, in searing heat before a knee jerking descent back to town. Although it was a small line-up this year Bev did well, and looking somewhat exhausted claimed her gold medal as the fastest lady. Next up were Bev and the boys in the annual fun sports, as series of team events such as egg and spoon, four legged races (yes four) tug o war and lots of water. The boys in particular loved this but alas, the team did not claim a medal this year, the honours going to teams less predominated by people under ten years old!

Next was my turn, having organised a bunch of friends into a makeshift five a side football team. Wearing all white, the” whites in white” dubiously found our way to the final by way of a dodgy headed goal. My own contribution to the team effort started badly, scoring a classic own goal with my first touch of the ball, but, moving forward for the last two games I managed to score the goal in the final to take us to penalties. We faced a team from the merchant navy ship, RFA Gold Rover, visiting the Island on its last tour of duty. _MG_0019_MG_0016As is traditional for visiting Navy ships we were presented with a crest of the ship and a flag, and as captain of the team I’m pleased to say I got to keep them, another memento of our time on the Island. Unfortunately the final did not go to plan, and although we made it to penalties we lost out to the cool heads of the Navy team. A silver medal was mine though and a thoroughly enjoyable three hours of football was had.

Next up was Oliver and Charlies turn to win themselves a medal by taking on the Jacobs Ladder time. The turnout was excellent for this popular St Helena day challenge. Contestants set off one by one, Bev volunteering to help the young ones up. Overall winner was Rhys, a local doctor, who turned up stating “well I might give it a go” and in flips flops climbed the 699 steps in a staggering 7 minutes 50 seconds. Now, barring in mind this winning time, both Charlie and Oliver managed less than 10 minutes 30seconds, pretty impressive. However, due to the fairly wide entry bands of “Primary School” Charlie 5, and Oliver 7 found themselves competing against 11 year olds and did not finish in the top three. After a bit of persuasion, and a look at two very sad looking faces, the judge was willing to present them a medal for taking part and we all went away happy.

Unfortunately, due to a mix up with my camera, my car, and my spare batteries I missed out on photographing much of the middle portion of the day, including the suburb float that paraded through town. The appropriately themed, travel through the ages clearly inspiring the contestants with some remarkable floats on show. It never ceases to amaze me how much effort and resourcefulness goes into these events.

As the sun went down, a fantastic firework display, featuring a reported £11,000 of explosions lit up James Bay. As the reds, greens, purples and blue reflected off the sea, and wizzes and bangs echoed of the valley walls it felt light the perfect setting for such a display.

_MG_0073-Edit text logoAs the last firework died, and the sparklers burnt out it was time to head home, but not before one last event for the day.Our car started fine, but soon, the clutch pedal was stuck to the floor, and the car was stranded, perpendicular to the road, blocking the streams of traffic leaving town! Lifting the pedal with my hand, I managed to engage first gear and turn the car round to roll it in neutral down a hill to a thankfully convenient parking space, where, a week later it still sits. As is expected on St Helena a kindly soul soon picked us up and took us home. One of the benefits of living in a small community is that is never long before someone you know passes by.

Before the month has finished we had time for one last evening of fun as we welcomed twenty two people for a thirteen dish Chinese banquet. As we approach the end of our second year on the Island there are a number of people who have played a huge part in our lives here, that will soon be departing these shores. We will miss them greatly and wanted to do something to say thank you for your friendship and goodbye, for now. And so it was that I started chopping and preparing at 10am, cooking everything from Asian Seared Tuna to Smoky Bacon Chicken, from Chilli Mushroom Beef to Sweet and Sour Wahoo. It was well received and declared to be much better that the Orange Tree, the local Chinese, I even received a round of applause. Most importantly though was the lovely night that was had as we sat chatted well into the night and the children, (and Matt Durkin), settled in to watch Greece on the big screen._MG_0111

And so that was May, another jam packed eventful month. It still amazes me that nearly two years on there is still so much to do, and so many wonderful memories to be made on this tiny Rock. But even now, the story of May isn’t quite over, as next time I describe the best dive experience, I , and many people here have ever had.
















A little bit of everything!

My morning started with an early dive, to a new site called Devils Eyes, although the water temperatures have started to drop it was still a pleasant dive and we soon warmed up on the boat trip back to James Bay in glorious sunshine. After

Captain Charlie on a recent trip to Lemon Valley

Captain Charlie on a recent trip to Lemon Valley

rinsing our gear, we all took to the wharf for a barbeque and beer, sat in tropical sunshine for lunch. Shortly afterwards, Bev and the boys met me and we spent the afternoon swimming, snorkelling and buildings sand castles at Rupert’s Bay. After a day like that, one has to consider what we would be doing in the UK on a given Sunday, for a total cost of £20, and after giving that some thought it makes me consider whether indeed we would want to return. Now I don’t wish to upset my family, and of course we will return home, but it will be very hard, it is more daunting a prospect that coming to St Helena in the first place was. Although I have not had chance to update my blog all too regularly, that is not due to lack of content, and now I have the job of trying to catch up with all the goings on. It seems to me to be the season for events, just today we have returned home from Prince Andrews School 25th Anniversary Fun Day, after once again diving this morning. Two weeks ago saw a night of music as local talent took to the stage for an Abba and Beetles night. I was pleased to be asked to take photos for the event and I was happy to support anything that raises money for New Horizons. The night was a great success, the singing was ……mixed, but everyone had a fantastic night in what was another sell out event. The lack of cinema, theatre and other evening entertainment plus the obvious community support means evening events are almost always well supported and this was no exception. The highlight of the night saw the re-union of a group of ladies who last performed together for the school some twenty odd years ago; it was the performance of the night and met with rapturous applause.

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Thursday saw the annual St Helena day festivals, each year, on the anniversary of the discovery of St Helena the whole Island celebrates. Many have their own family traditions to celebrate this Bank Holiday, trips to Lemon Valley, fishing, etc. but for many, Jamestown becomes the centre of celebrations as the town is turned over to New Horizons to organise the celebrations. New Horizons is a fantastic local organisation providing sports, music, leisure and other opportunities to the Islands young people, it is a vital and under appreciated pillar of the St Helena community. St Helena Day has become their main fundraising day and what a day it is. When St Helena celebrates it is something special the sense of community and getting together is wonderful and infectious, when half of the Islands population gathers in one place it cannot help but be a great occasion. The day opened with a service to give thanks to everything the Island gives before turning itself to various sports events. Bev took part and came third in a gruelling 5km run, 2.5km of which is up the steep relentless side path road, rising from sea level 300 meters or so in an unforgiving and continuous 20 degree incline before a knee jerking quick descent back into Jamestown. Bev performed magnificently, finishing third just behind the two winners, not just for women, but overall.  She may well have finished second were it not for the unplanned water stop. Had Bev known in advance that the woman taking an age to find a bottle of water from a bag in the foot well of her car, was not in fact anything to do with the race, she may not of wasted five minutes waiting for her. But third it was and better still she was presented with a Gold Medal, we presume because she came in first out of the women, and not just because they had no bronze medals. 10622806_824249727651168_488433836947194784_n Our sporting achievement continued as we, and our team, No Expectations, came in third overall in the Islands Fun Games, a collection of high quality Athletic events from throwing water balloons to wheelbarrow races. Reaching the final of the Tug-O-War event propelled us to third overall and Bev and I both came away proudly with our medals. We shall have to change the team name next year to Great Expectations!!

The afternoon concluded with a parade of wonderful floats including some truly fantastic efforts, the highlights of which were undoubtedly the New Horizons Pirate Ship, complete with smoking cannons, and model of Johnathan the Tortoise, complete with the ability to rise up on his legs and stick out his neck.

As afternoon turned to evening fireworks, beer and music rounded off a wonderful day and one which for me brought a realisation that we are really becoming part of this community. All day long was a continuous stream of welcoming conversation, greetings and hellos. A party of two thousand people, where everyone knows each other, at very least to wave and say hello to, and many many of which we now call friends.

Although we have been welcomed from the start, it has been a sudden realisation just how many people we now know here on St Helena. A walk through town is a constant stop start of hello and how are you, of friendly faces and welcoming smiles. Had I been in the UK and found myself interrupted a thousand times on my way through town, Id of hated it, but here it is an inescapable way of life and the only way to be. It has rubbed off on me and I am a changed man because of it, all for the better.

Whilst we are happy to be making friends of course, like everything there is always another side to things, and on St Helena, that other side is losing friends as they leave the Island. Many Saints leave their families and friends to find work or make a new life on Ascension, the Falklands or the UK, and of course families’ from the UK must leave as their contracts expire. It’s hard, and undoubtedly affects some Saints more than others. Some adapt well to the transitional way of life, others have admitted to me that they find it hard to let ex-pats into their lives, to make close friends in the knowledge that those friends will soon leave the Island. It is a sad story but is the way of life on this remote Island. Thankfully we are being welcomed in, and not just in the day to day friendly and welcoming nature of Saints, but something more real, we are making genuine friends and I’m sure now that what is starting a first family meal together, or an evening drinks in the bar, will turn into friendships that will be very hard to leave behind. The weather has been wonderful the past few weeks, and despite taking a definite turn this week we have been treated to glorious sunshine and the most stunning breath-taking sunsets I have ever seen. Night after night oranges turn to red, and reds to purples and the dipping sun paints a masterpiece across the sky. The extended summer however has not been without its pitfalls as the Island is gripped in a serious water shortage. Threats of cutting water supplies off have been issued by Connect (local utilities) in an attempt to avoid the drought that hit the Island two years ago. Thank fully this week has seen a lot of rain and hopefully severe control measures should be avoided. The problem on St Helena is not one of lack of rain, but of poor distribution, poor storage and most of all a lack of ability to capture and retain the water that falls. If successful a capital project should improve this situation, and it is imperative it is solved before the first flights arrive next year. Sunset St Helena Island Sunset St Helena Island Sunset St Helena Island On the subject of flights we were lucky enough to have a private, guided tour of the airport site by Basil Reads quality assurance manager. It was a real privilege and the work that has been carried is phenomenal. The whole idea of an airport is controversial, and although a referendum voted in favour of its construction it is still met with great scepticism and fear, only natural for a people who have been isolated from the world for so many generations. But whatever people views on the value of an airport, it is undeniable the fantastic job that is being done. Let me paint a picture of the enormity the project.

180 degree view from the controltower

180 degree view from the control tower

Build and airport on St Helena they say. Ok but where, there is no flat land where will the runway go? Over here, this valley will do, we could fill it in and make some flat land.

Ok, where will we get the rock to fill in this valley? Over there, those hills, we will flatten them and use that for the rock. The land will also provide the space for the accessory buildings. Right, but if we fill in this valley, where will the water go from the stream? No problem cut a new valley over there and divert the stream.

Great, but, what about all the machinery and equipment we will need, St Helena doesn’t have a dock, no ship is able to land here? So build a new dock of course, simple. We will build a temporary one at first so we can start construction, then we will replace it with a new permanent wharf so that container ships can still bring goods to the Island.

Ok, that’s all well and good, but your dock is five miles from the airport, how will our trucks get from the wharf to the airport? Come one, that won’t stop us, we will build a new road, up that huge steep sided valley wall over there.

One last thing, the airport will need fuel? Ok, so we’ll install a new bulk fuel installation that will supply the airport and rest of the Island’s needs.

And that is what they have done, nearly! It’s highly impressive and it was real privilege to see all this close up and personal.

To me, the uneducated, Basil Read have done and continue to do a fantastic job, considerate of the local environment, the Island and its people and working on time and as far as I know, on budget. So it is with the thought of the airport that I leave you. What will it bring to the Island? Prosperity maybe, change definitely. Will it be a good thing, I honestly don’t know, I do know that as thoughts turn to our midterm break and our next voyage on the RMS St Helena, that I am sad that our eventual end to the adventure will be on a plane, and not, after two years being intimately connected to sea, on board a ship.