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?

Weddings, who’d of though it

We left the UK on a new adventure just over two years and four months ago. Although Bev had work and would be teaching (albeit in very different circumstance), I was stepping into the complete unknown, no job, no plan, no clue. I knew I would have some time on the Island, and I had always wanted to take up photography as a hobby, so, equipped with an amazon kindle book, and a £500 second hand canon with kit lens I started learning what all the buttons did.

Some of my earliest shots before I left the UK

I had no idea that it would take me anywhere. Shortly after we arrived on the Island I secured my first job with the tourism office, taking photos of the local restaurants and B&Bs etc. I had to get a work permit and register my business, Paul Tyson Photography (creative eh!?!) .

Photos of mixed standards of tourism establishments required creative thinking when it came to angles and lighting. Now I know why those glossy hotel brochures always look better than the real thing!

My landscape work was already quite well known and established by then, it seems I arrived at a  good time when excellent professional photographer Darrin Henry was busy travelling the world, and there were no other commercial photographers on the Island. Realising there was a gap in the market I promoted my new business, I remember Bev telling me, that “Any money I made from photography, I could spend on photography, but “(quite understandably) I wasn’t to spend any of the money she was earning!

Early St Helena Landscapes

Fair enough, but this provided me all the motivation I needed, the more money I make, the more toys I can buy. Inspired, and slightly jealous of friend David Higgins and his big lens for photographing St Helena’s wildlife, I bought a 120 – 300mm f2.8 Sigma lens. It was one of those ones that people look at and think “he must be making up for something” or simply, “what a tosser”!

My new f2.8 300mm lens allowed me to take these shots.

But I loved it and I could afford it, largely because of a new contract, and one I was most proud of, a commission from French Consul to St Helena to take exclusive photographs for a new guide book to Napoleonic sites on St Helena.

Photos and book cover from “On the Tracks of Napoleon” my first published images.

Next came night skies, we finally started to see the odd clear night sky and it was breathtaking, I simply had to get the gear to capture it on camera, another lens beckoned.

Some of my first Milky Way shots over our house in Half Tree Hollow.

In the mean time I was getting enquiries for studio type photo shoots, so thought I should pursue this and get some more gear. Backdrops, flash stands, wireless triggers and shoot through umbrellas followed. I think by now Bev may of been starting to regret telling me  I could spend anything I earnt on photography!!

The studio work didn’t automatically follow though, the requests continued, but, having set what I considered to be very reasonable prices given the outlay I had made, bookings did not come my way. My first studio shoot eventually came at the end of November 2015, it went well, very well, largely because of the gorgeous little girl I was photographing, and once the photos hit facebook the bookings came in.

My first studio shoot with the most gorgeous, smiling, happy young baby ever!

I soon began to realise that studio photo shoots, and portraits was a whole new ball game, not only did I have to know how to work a camera, and lighting, I had to know how to work a person! When amateurs come to you expecting to look like a super model you need to learn how to position and pose them, how to make them feel comfortable and relaxed with you, as a male photographer I think this is particularly challenging! Once again I took to you tube, and added to my 120GB of photography tutorials!

I started to feel the need to buy more gear. This time, it was a brand new camera, my first full frame, entry level professional camera. Wow what a difference, it allowed me to push the boundaries of what I could do, particularly in low light photography. Following on from basic studio work I was asked for more complex fashion type shoots, and my first real maternity shoot.

Some of my more accomplished studio work. Many were no where like this, over processed and overdone in many cases, but all part of the learning curve.

Again it was a new commission that helped pay for the new camera. I was commissioned to photograph all of the work that falls under St Helena Government’s Environment and Natural Resources directorate. This was a fantastic job, allowing me to see the workings of everything from the forestry team to the abattoir, from renewable energy to waste management. It was a mammoth job but again thoroughly enjoyable as I got to meet Saints from all walks of life.

From pigs in the butchery to people planting endemic seedlings, ENRD does it all.

In September 2015 the airport project started to hot up, as first flight after first flight landed in succession. First ever plane to land, first jet powered plane, first airliner. By now I had grown in confidence as a photographer and on the Island in general and I was pushy enough to speak to the important people and get myself runway access alongside the Islands media representatives. The results of this have been amazing, and my airport photographs can now been seen around the World as St Helena became the new hot tourism destination. My shots our the Islands wonderful landscapes started to appear in prestigious travel sites such as Conde Nast.  Of course we all know that the airport did not open, but in terms of World media, the wind sheer disaster was now an even bigger story and I had contacts from major newspapers and media outlets around the world. My photos of the airport and various planes landing can now been seen globally on sites ranging from the Times, the Independent and the BBC in the UK to USA today. Shots of the first commercial plane to land were quickly put on my facebook page and received over 100,000 views, astounding!

The first landing and first commercial jet liner to land on St Helena

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One of my images as it appeared in the Time Newspaper.

Not only were my photos appearing in media outlets, I was now to be featured in World famous London store Harrods, as I was commissioned to produce point of sale images for St Helena coffee!_mg_2620-edit

Fancy a coffee? I have to admit this is one of my favorite photos, taken on a log in my lounge! The steam isn’t even real!

Photo shoots became a mainstay but a new and interesting job came up with Enterprise St Helena to produce interpretation panels for tourist spots around the Island. This was a brilliant new challenge, combining photography with graphic design and writing, as well as proving a fascinating journey through St Helena historical archives and old photos. Learning more about the history of the Island and getting paid was great, but more importantly its wonderful to know that when I leave St Helena there will be something I produced, left behind for others to enjoy.

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One of 14 interpretation panels soon to be erected across St Helena.

As an aside I was also able to use my graphic skills when I was commissioned to produce the Governors official Christmas card. This was a test in itself, as the request was for a card featuring Lisa Phillips, her lovely black Labrador, dusty, and all twelve of Dusty’s new puppies!! Over 140 photos were taken to produce this card, mostly consisting of dogs bums and tails. But it was a huge pleasure, and the puppies were just lovely.

Colourful bokeh of Christmas lights with a bauble

Governor Lisa Phillips and her adorable Labrador pups. As a thank you for this job the boys were able to go and meet the puppies and spent over an hour cuddling and playing with them. They are fabulous.

Another “first” hit St Helena in October 2016 as an electrical storm shot lightening bolt after lightening bolt down upon us. thunder and lightening is a rare occurrence on St Helena, with some reports stating its over twenty years since the last one, making this storm the first ever to be photographed and shared around the World from St Helena.

These shots received over 20,000 views on facebook!

And so in December and January 2016/17 I find myself as a wedding photographer, with four bookings in as many weeks. Not my first I have done a few here and there, but as I have improved along with my gear these have been the first that I have charged sensibly for (relative to the amount of work) and that I feel accomplished in my work. I am enormously proud of the photos I have taken during wedding season. It is certainly a challenge, working fast, adjusting to rapidly changing light conditions, the photography is a challenge in itself, but its only now that I realise a wedding photographer is also the wedding director, and is looked upon to direct people from venue to venue, into groups, and to help ensure the day runs smoothly. It is daunting, hard work, but immensely rewarding.

If you’d of told me back in July 2014, as we packed our bags for the unknown that I would be a professional wedding photographer before I left St Helena Id of laughed at you, but as the New Year arrives and I look back on my time here I have come a long way. I am building both experience and a portfolio, and who knows where this may take me.

My readers can help me out here, have you recently got married in the UK, or been a close part of a wedding? How much did you pay the photographer, and please, how do my images compare to this. Id love to hear some open honest critique so I can better gauge exactly where I am.

 

 

 

 

The Goose got fat, and was eaten…

Well its been our third Christmas on St Helena, and once again it was new faces but the same fun. We have gotten used to St Helena traditions, and although the warm weather and sunshine always prevents us from gaining that warm Christmas build up feeling, we never the less enjoy our time here. Christmas in St Helena is less complicated than in the UK, there is no shopping rush for example, in fact, if you haven’t ordered it by mid October, then it aint coming for Christmas. No mad rushing round town on Christmas eve for me. And whilst we always miss our families enormously this time of year, not having the pressure of which family will miss out on our company is a relief.

We do miss home more than any other time of year though but the constant trickle of Christmas themed events help to stave this off. The traditional Pilling Primary School Christmas service is a welcome treat. This year our boys had prominent roles, Oliver, a rowdy local berating the presence of Roman Forces, and Charlie, the Star of the show, well, yes, actually the star of the show.

 

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For me this year was extra special, with having no permanent job on St Helena, I have always struggled with those close relationships with the locals, I know lots, say hello to lots, but rarely am I thought of or included in local dinner invites, parties or other traditions. And as such it was lovely this year to be invited to the New Horizons Christmas dinner. I have been volunteering with New Horizons for as long as I have been on the Island, providing photographs of their regular youth sporting events, and coaching two junior footballs teams and refereeing games on Sundays through a very long season. It was lovely to feel that I have been accepted by this dedicated group of people. As is traditional at Christmas parties on St Helena a Secret Santa was in force, this time a naughty one, and my gifts of fluffy handcuffs compliment nicely the mistletoe adorned boxer shorts I received at my actual works do. Bev also had her own works Secret Santa to provide for and creatively came up with this shortbread portrait of the recipient.dsc01606

Oliver this year was chosen for the schools traditional Christmas carol singing service, held outside of the Canister (Tourist office) in town each year. Oliver it seems has begun to follow in his Dads footsteps in developing a love for performing in public, something about the crowds and applause seems to tick some boxes for the both of us. It was lovely to see and hear him enjoying himself with some of his close school friends.

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Events and parades are the number one thing in what St Helena refers to as festival season. The highlight of these for me and for many is the festival of lights. Primary schools on the Island are very competitive and all strive to provide the biggest and best shows on the Island, but I think with Festival of Lights Pilling Primary school takes the accolade as biggest and best, with hundreds of people, cars and vehicles dressed from metaphorical head to toe in Christmas lights, parade through town with music and fake snow aplenty. Its a sight to behold and the hundreds of spectators were treated once again to a wonderful Christmas sight.

I was thrilled this year to be invited by Governor Lisa Phillips to photograph her and Rusty, her lovely Labrador for the official Christmas Card, and, Rusty’s twelve tiny black puppies, what a joy. I had such fun although over 140 photographs were needed to create this one card, I had a lot of photos of bums and tails and precious few of puppies sat still facing the camera.

Colourful bokeh of Christmas lights with a bauble

The Governor provided a wonderful Christmas address this year, which, I was very pleased to hear thanked the partners of TC offices for their contribution to the Island. We are often berated by locals for “taking Saint jobs” and the like, but the truth us us forgotten partners contribute and awful lot to St Helena in the way of volunteering for projects and charities.

Christmas eve was very different to that in the UK as I took part in the annual Christmas dive with Sub-Tropic adventures, a dive in Christmas hats presenting its own challenges!

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The afternoon was spent with good company playing games in the Sun on Rosemary Plain. A tradition started by our friends the Days and Davids and which we have tried to carry on, hoping that others will take this up when we leave. It certainly makes for a different Christmas when tropical sun shine is the theme. That evening we enjoyed a more traditional time, as we settled down, just the family, to watch The BFG, a wonderful film, highly recommended. After reading “A Night Before Christmas” a tradition in my family since I was a small boy, the boys went to bed and, with the fear of Father Christmas going home if they were still awake, fell asleep very quickly. Bev and I then nervously wrapped and placed the presents in their stockings.

The next morning was Christmas like many others, presents, mess and pancakes for breakfast! The boys opened their presents, Oliver in a considered, taking his time manor, Charlie with a more youthful, rip it open and move to the next one approach. Santa brought them their requests for desks, not perhaps the most normal requests for 8 and 5 year old’s, but they loved them non the less. Grandparents from afar were well remembered with toys and gifts a plenty under the tree, all of which were gratefully received by the boys and ourselves. Thank you.

And so on to the afternoon, and this year, we were not hosting, but instead joining 18 others for a bring and share Christmas in the sun. Our contribution pushed my culinary skills, with Paxo stuffing and pigs in blankets! Although I also made some Whisky glazed roast carrots, Parsnips and spiced red cabbage, whilst Bev provided the traditional Yule Log. All arrived at the party on time and before long a feast fit for a king was unwrapped from its silver lining and we all dug in. Lots of food and drink fueled a party which lasted into the night and caused me to miss my boxing day dive the next morning. But boy was it worth it.

Boxing day was another get together, this time with the Bridgewaters for another full on Christmas dinner, followed by an early night! I was exhausted. And so that was our quiet St Helena Christmas for 2016. I still cant quite believe its our third on the Island, time has flown. When we arrived in September 2014 we would never of guessed what lay ahead. As Summer settles in we look forward to the New Year, and we await to see what the next three Christmas’s will bring

 

Fourth Time, Third Time, Second Time, First Time.

 

I have so much to catch up on, my blog will, as a consequence brush over many things and not in any way get across how full the past few weeks have been.

Our time on St Helena is measured by events, I don’t imagine Saints see things like this, but for us the past few weeks have heralded our third, of lot lots of things. Our third Harvest, third boys day out, festival, third cancer awareness event, third Halloween, third World Wide Photo walk, Third Cruise ship season, the list goes on.

The event and social merry go round is non-stop on St Helena, there are times when I’d like to jump off, and have a breather, but then someone will phone and ask “what are you doing on Saturday” and with a fear of missing out, then we are there.

The month started with my third World Wide Photowalk, a day when photographers all over the world go, and walk and take photos. This year’s location, decided upon by the tourist office was Peak Dale, a delightful walk through flax slopes, grass lands, deciduous forest and pine trees. Becoming more popular year on year, over thirty people turned up, on what started as a cloudy blustery day to play their part, enjoy a nice walk and hopefully capture some photos. It soon became very clear that some people were not really in it for the photography, as one group, of avid photographers, myself included, were quickly left behind, each of us hoping to be the first to spot and bag “the shot”. I decided to try something more abstract this year, and looked for form, texture and shape in objects, rather than the wide sweeping landscape views. It was an interesting challenge and I was pleased with my results.

 

Whilst on the subject of walking Bev and I tackled a new post box walk this month, to Lot! Lot is an oddly named large pillar of volcanic, phonolithic rock. It was formed some 7 1/2 million years ago, when the major eruptions of St Helena had subsided and the Island had formed. Later eruptions forced magma up through gaps and fissures in the existing rock, but never quite broke through the surface. Surrounded by an insulating layer this larva cooled much more slowly than the rock laid down in earlier eruptions, and hence formed more solid, resistant rock. As St Helena’s soft volcanic slopes have washed away over time these phonolithic rocks are left to stand proud over their surroundings._mg_4419-pano

The walk itself was a challenge for sure, much of it down perilous slopes, with electrical wire in place to hold on to!! But it was great fun, and made even more pleasurable by the impromptu nature of thing. It was half term, and Bev and I had booked a day off work to spend with the boys. At short notice they were both invited to a birthday party for the day and as such, Bev and I enjoyed our first day alone together for months. It was bliss.

October also saw several charity events, and it seems I have become the go to photographer for doing things for free. “Paul, you know it’s the carnival, do you think maybe you could do some photos”? And my answer is always, yes I’d love to. And I mean it I do love it, I love being asked to help and contribute in some way, but it does mean I have spent most nights on the computer editing and sorting through reams of photos.

And so it is that the past three weeks have contained our Third SHAPE fund raising event, a Masquerade Ball at Plantation House, closely followed by New Horizons Children version, in Halloween costume. The Ball was spectacular in its entertainment as it was in its costume, as all 140 people attendees slowly slipped, sipped, danced and drank into one of the best parties this Island has seen. Over £2000 was raised for one of St Helena’s most important and valuable charities, and everyone had a thoroughly good night. Although I was happy to play my part, I was more than a little envious of having to work when surrounded by such joviality.

It’s not often on St Helena, that I am surprised anymore, but an hour into the night, I was somewhat taken a back as a masked man approached the door and asked me if I was Paul Tyson, “Ummm yes” I replied, “Did you go to Rhyl High School?” “ummm yes” I replied, “Do you recognise me”, “Ummm take off your mask”! And there he was, Mr Cottle, a former design tech teacher in my old school, he, on the door step of Plantation House, on St Helena, I could not believe it. There may not be an airline service yet, but I’m sure there’s a bloody bus that comes here three times a week!

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Mr Cottle on the right, former teacher at Rhyl High School with family.

The arrival of flight TZ 1XS, an Arvo RJ100 jet plane was, for a time the most talked about thing on the Island. The flight, operated by Tronos Aviation Leasing was on its way, in a very convoluted path to Chile were it was being sold, but thanks to the efforts of Atlantic Star is came to St Helena on route to fly some test flights, gather more wind shear data, and test the suitability of this aircraft for ST Helena. Atlantic Star have been a prominent player in the Airport SAGA, insisting from very early on that they will be able to operate a direct service from the UK to St Helena. To their credit they have no wavered from this standpoint,  and, although this particular aircraft type does not have the capacity to reach the UK, it is seen as an option in the short term for the Island due to its particular profile and ability to land in poor conditions and in short distances. Atlantic Star jumped at the chance to test the theory and worked with Tronos to enable the flight to arrive at its destination via St Helena.

From an untrained eye it was a huge success, lucky enough I was to be on my fourth trip to photograph aircraft, I watched and immaculate landing, right on the money, without a hint of wobble, and stopping well short of the vertical cliff that greats a plane that overshoots!

Will it be the answer? Well, no, not in the long term, with the modifications needed to carry additional fuel, this aircraft could only fly to St Helena with around 40 passengers, not enough to build a tourist industry on, but what this flight has done is raise moral, provide some positivity surrounding the airport, and may, just may, provide a short term solution to getting things off the ground as it were. Here’s hoping.

The airport on St Helena has received some terrible press in the UK and worldwide, the most expensive cock up in history, the airport with no air planes, £300mil of wasted UK tax money are the normal headlines. My photos of the airport have subsequently popped up all over the world in everything from aircraft magazines to tourism websites. It was no surprise therefore when some large newspapers came knocking. It was something of a surprise however when I received a phone call from the photo editor at the Times Newspaper. Asking for photos of the airport I enquired what was the article about, already of course knowing the answer. Knowing the article was not going to be a positive one I was torn, do I want my photos used to provide negative press to the Island I love? After some thought I figured, my photos are already over lots of press articles slagging off the airport, what difference does one more make, and at least I was going to get paid, and credited. And so it is that two and a half years after picking up a camera I can now claim to be a professional photo journalist. Well ok, that might be pushing it, but not many people can say their photos have been published in the Times newspaper!!TysonPic.jpg

On to more concerning news and for the second time in just 4 years the Island is experiencing a drought, this time, a severe one. We have had no significant rain fall for months, months and months. The normal winter rains came and went with nothing more than some low lying mist and the situation is now quite serious. We will still have drinking water, even if we rely on bottled water, but without drastic measures, or some serious rain the Island is rumoured to run out of any significant and usable water in a matter of days. Whether it will come to that I don’t know, water is currently being tankered from a bore hole, once used by Basil Read during airport construction, to keep reservoirs marginally topped up, but they are all looking very empty, some with just puddles of muddy water in the bottom. Please and warnings have been offered by all and sundry to reduce consumption, and the Tyson household is playing the, if its yellow, let it mellow rule. I’m also doing my bit by drinking beer instead of water!!

And so it was that against a back drop of drought and prayer for water that St Helena experienced what is, so it seems, a once in a life time event, an electrical storm, or thunder and lightning to you and me. As I sat, in my usual evening position at the computer, I heard a rumble, knowing that St Helena never gets thunder storms I shook my head, told myself it couldn’t be and continued with my work. Even the flash of light outside, did not trigger any thought process that it could be lightning. The second rumble however really got my attention as it rattled the roof above our head. Opening the door to the lounge I said to Bev, “did you hear that? I think its thunder and lightning”. Really!!!

It was, and for the next 6 hours you could find me outside, like a small child enjoying the spectacle. For the first hour I told myself it was passing over, it was not worth getting my camera out. As I realised I was wrong I hurriedly rummaged for my tripod and trigger and headed outside. For the next five hours, until 1.30am I watched and listened with giddy excitement, dancing for joy when I knew a fork of lightening had been within the view finder of my camera. I started shooting out at sea, as the storm passed over and beyond us, but as the night went on pockets of the storm opened up all over, until I was provided the ideal shot, with lightening forking behind High Knoll Fort. Photography conditions were tricky, with low lying cloud surrounding me, forcing me to wait for the occasional breaks. But it was well worth it. I was aware that this was potentially the first storm on the Island for many years (I’ve heard anything from 40 to 10) and that maybe, just maybe I was getting THE photographs to record it. As I uploaded the images to Facebook that night I could not believe the response. Three days later and over 16000 have viewed, clicked, liked, loved and shared these photos. What an amazing experience, and amazing night, and amazing response, and one which I will never forget.

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High Knoll Fort St Helena, Silhouetted against the fork of lightning.

Unfortunately the storm did not bring with it the rains, and after threatening to pour down the storm provided virtually no rain at all.

I guess I shall have to carry on drinking beer!!!

Black and White Sharks

It was the 8th of May, and I was about to embark on my first double dive, two dive sites, one trip. The first was my second dive onto the Darkdale Wreck. The Darkdale, formally called the Empire Oil was a 1st Dale Class Freighting tanker that was torpedoed in James Bay with the loss of 41 lives. On the morning of 21 October 1941 a U-boat was sighted but it was not taken seriously nor reported to the Master of the Darkdale. On 22nd October RFA Darkdale was torpedoed by German submarine U68, it was the first ship to be sunk south of the equator in WWII

She now sits in two pieces in 45m of water, and presents St Helena’s deepest commonly visited dive site. As a war grave the dive carries with it a certain restraint, a respect for those who lost their lives and whose bodies are left in the ship. As a isolated feature on an otherwise barren area of sand she offers sanctuary to a great array and number of fish species.

We explored the wreck and I reached my personal depth record and open water dive limit of 40m. There is something different about deep diving, it feels the same, and carries with it the same tools and techniques, but descending to a depth where you cannot see what is below, or when at that depth, what is above is strange, slightly eerie and exciting. At this depth mistakes can be fatal, there is no rushing to the surface if you panic, or something goes wrong, and although only more experienced divers venture this deep, there is still a feeling of trepidation.

 

 

The dive itself was great the highlight being a shoal of Wahoo (Barracuda) that stalked us during our 5m safety stop. Looking into their eyes one could not help but feel they were deciding if we were dinner or not.

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Wahoo (barracuda) watching closely.

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The dive was also an opportunity to test my camera case, rated as it is to 40m I was taking it too its limit. Although the case did not leak, the shutter button struggled to release under the pressure of 40m of water above, and the camera fired off useless shots rapidly. I resorted in the end to turning the camera off and on to take a photo. I wasn’t to realise the full consequence of this problem until later.

All back on board the dive boat we headed to our next site, Torm Ledge, another deep dive, a rock wall rising out of 35m of sand and ending in a pinnacle reaching all the way to the surface. Again the feature attracting fish of all shapes and sizes, and covered in encrusting algae, soft corals and feather stars. It has become something of a running joke that I have not yet seen a Devil Ray, despite their very regular sightings around St Helena, and having racked up 60 odd dives, they remained elusive to me. Having waited an hour before our second dive, we started to kit up when dive leader Anthony from Sub Tropic Adventures, already in the water shouted “No Devil Rays, but there is a Whale Shark here!!”. Abandoning all protocol and safety checks we rushed into the water, some people with fins in hand and not on feet.

Quickly descending to around 5m we watched as the huge 12m female shark decided not to stick around and fairly quickly disappeared into the waters away from us.

We continued our dive and much to my amazement a Devil Ray came into view. It may have only been fleeting, but it was a Devil Ray, I had seen one and was elated. Apart from anything I was no longer jinx. Now already pretty pleased with my morning, wrecks, Barracuda, Whale Sharks and Devil Rays, not too bad. But not a patch on what happened next. Had I not been wearing goggles I would of rubbed my eyes in disbelief as our Whale Shark return, with Devil Ray following on its tail just feet behind.

Devil Ray and Whale shark not just on the same dive, but in the same view, astonishing. Devil Rays are big, very big, over 6ft across the wing tips, but it looked tiny as it followed closely behind our Whale Shark.

At this point I return to my previous problems with the camera, firing off multiple shots. Catastrophically my battery had died, my camera would not turn on for love nor money. I was witnessing a once in a life time thing, that so few people in the World have seen and I couldn’t turn on my bloody camera!!

We then spent around 20 minutes at 15m of open water as Devil Ray and Whale shark swam around in circles, often coming within feet of us as we hung in mid water, astonished at what we were witnessing. Words, nor pictures can ever do this justice, it’s just not possible, but thankfully, I was not the only one with a camera and I have to thank Karl Thrower for these shots. Not that he can take all the credit, taken with a Go-Pro, which, despite common belief is very poor at taking photos underwater, they were rescued with some clever processing by myself and I think the black and white toning helps to capture the magical feeling that we felt as these incredible animals graced us with their time and presence.

After  a time that was all too quick and as air ran low we returned to the surface to chatter excitedly about what we had seen. And returning to the boat we took of our dive equipment and prepared to head for James Bay. But the Whale Shark is seems had not had enough of us, rising to the surface waters to entice us in to spend a further 10 minutes snorkelling in its company before finally, losing interest and descending to the depths.

Was this the best dive ever? It was certainly mine, and maybe the best dive I will ever have. I will treasure the memories and the feelings of the day forever. St Helena continues to amaze and enthral me and I bloody love it here!

 

 

 

Just Another Month

April was just another month on St Helena, but what a month it was. Had I not been here for 20 months I would be a little blown away by it, but nothing surprises me any more on St Helena.

So April saw the first ever jet plane land on St Helena, then, the landing of a Boeing 737, and now, towards the end of the month, it was the Inauguration of the 68th, and first woman, Governor of St Helena. Lisa Phillips’s arrival has been much anticipated by most of the Island, the fact that it is our first woman Governor alone is news itself, but it is also the first governor of recent times that has worked her way up through the ranks of DFiD (Department for International Development) rather than the Foreign Commonwealth Office. This brings with it an expectation of a different approach, outlook and attitude, the hope of a new way of doing things here on St Helena.

I have to say my first impressions are very good indeed. In stark contrast to the previous Governor, when arriving on the RMS on the 25th April, Miss Phillips insisted on disembarking and arriving on the Island with the other passengers, not in a private vessel, she walked up the wharf rather than being driven, meeting and chatting with people on route, she clearly wanted to be seen as approachable and down to earth.

Her inauguration ceremony took place in front of the castle to a large crowd. Preceded by a parade of various departments and societies including the Beavers which Oliver was a part of. He marched well, even if he was a little bemused by the whole thing. The Governors speech was superb, hitting all the right notes and mentioning all the right things, and priorities, as well as reaffirming her open and approachable nature and her hopes of being a Governor that is part of the community and not just the face of Plantation House. After the ceremony she took a great deal of time to move round the various groups, societies and in particular school children and public to say hello and give a warm smile to expectant faces, a nice touch given that she had just stepped off the ship following a ten day journey at sea and must have been exhausted! All in all a great start, we now wait to see what her tenure will bring.

On a personal note April was packed with stuff, our social life has been relentless, barbecues, parties, days out, diving, snorkelling, swimming walking, all a bit non-stop.

Fun with my new camera.

Two things featured heavily in my life in April, my underwater camera, and the second

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Bridgwaters and Tysons!

Bridgewater family who arrived in March. A dinner, barbecue party, and two boat trips have been the highlights, the latter allowing me to combine great company, with some excellent fishing, my first experience of spear fishing, and, of course my new camera. Travelling with Johnny Hearne on the Enchanted Isle is always a pleasure. A touring boat capable of high speed that was once a US Coastguard vessel, and latterly a tour boat operating off the Shetlands Isles’ in the UK, this wonderful boat finds herself operating tours, whale shark trips, bird watching cruises, sight-seeing, stargazing and booze cruises around St Helena. A particular highlight of this trip was the pod of 300 or more Pan Tropical Dolphins that joined us for a time. Dolphins of course are a regular sight on our boat trips but it has been a long time since we have seen this many, jumping spinning and displaying all around us. Everywhere you turned a dolphin was in view and the pod, including hundreds of young calves, was performing admirably for its enthralled audience.

After a magical ten minutes, the show suddenly reached it finale as all at once hundreds of dolphins broke the water surface at once and spread out in a huge circle around us, I’ve never seen a sight quite like it as dolphins jumped in unison, and in huge numbers all around us before disappearing. Our knowledgeable host Johnny explained that there was probably a large predator in the water and this circle of spreading dolphins was a defensive tactic to confuse the predator and prevent it from pin pointing a target prey animal. It was amazing to watch and my only regret was not having my pro camera and telephoto lens with me.

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The undoubted highlight for me this month, and if I’m honest, many months was the New Horizons concert. Last year you may recall I was asked to photograph this annual show which raises money for New Horizons, a local sports and leisure youth group. Whilst watching last year I knew that if I were able then I had to take part and this year was my chance.

I’ve always enjoyed singing, and love a bit of karaoke as my friends will testify, but I haven’t been on stage since 6th Form. Several weeks have been spent rehearsing with a local band. This in itself has been a great experience singing with a live band and such incredibly talented musicians has been a whole new thing for me and I loved every second of it. And so, on Saturday we came to the day of the performance, and from about midday the butterflies started to grow and I spent most of the afternoon pacing up and down itching to get going. I went along to help put the finishing touches to the stage and my nerves were not helped by the sight of people queuing at ten to five, a full two and a half hours before the performance.

Community shows and events like this all always well supported and well attended, the lack of cinema, theatre and other evening entertainment enhancing the expectation and desire for these local events. By the time Bev and the boys arrived 450 people packed out the hall at Prince Andrew School as over 10% of the Islands population turned up. After a less than convincing rehearsal two nights before, and a significant part in the finale song which I had never heard before I was, needless to say, extremely nervous.

The show was briefly interrupted by the late arrival of our new Governor, late only because she had been taking part in a walk for cancer awareness before rushing over to support New Horizons. Her arrival caused something of a stir so compare Ben Hathway thought best to introduce her formally to the crowd. Asking how she should be introduced, “right honourable”, “ladyship” or something else Lisa Phillips replied with, you should introduce me as Lisa, Lisa Phillips is fine, almost bemused at the suggestion there should be any great fuss made at all.  Word also has it that after the show she was seen dancing at Donny’s  bar, she continues to impress me.

Back to the show I stood in the wings watching the other performers nail it and up their game for the live show I worried that I was just get it all hopelessly wrong. But I needn’t of worried, excusing a couple of minor tonal errors my rendition of Elton Johns “I guess that’s why they call it the blues” went off without a hitch, and Walk the Moons – “Shut Up and Dance” has been described as the shock performance of the night (in a good way) on local radio, and as many peoples favourite song of the night, I was even mentioned in a tweet by our Governor Lisa Phillips no less. I came off the stage absolutely buzzing, what a thrill as my children told me they thought I was brilliant.

Me as Elton JohnShut Up and Dance

Photos courtesy of Barry Hubbard, Thanks Barry

April has been a bloody brilliant month, I cant wait for next years concert and to see what May 2016 now has in store for us. It is only two months until we return to the UK for our second break to see friends and family. If Bev had not been granted an extension then our journey would be perilously close to the end, thank fully I know I have at least one more concert in me, and a few more dolphins to watch yet.

Finally, what do you do on St Helena when your car is in the garage and you need to pass the time, drink coffee, have a beer, read a book, or maybe just go and swim in clear blue waters with beautiful fish and a friendly Green Turtle. Not a bad way to pass the time!

 

 

 

Boeing 737-800

At 12:12 pm on the 18th April 2016, St Helena witnessed the next in a recent string of historic firsts, and once again I was there to witness flight MN8427 landing on St Helena soil. This was the first large jet aircraft and crucially the first landing of THE Boeing 737 British Airways Aircraft that will be flying on a weekly basis from Johannesburg to St Helena from the end of May. The plane is brand new, hot of the production line, and it glistened in the tropical St Helena sun shine on this perfect April lunch time.

The buzz has been around for several days, but reached new levels this morning as the first posts appeared on Facebook indicating that for the first time ever, St Helena was listed as a flight destination on an Airport departures board.

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And there it is, Flight MN8427 to St Helena.

As it flew North West to Namibia before heading out over the Atlantic, people tracked the location of the plane as I, and my photography colleagues made our way to the now familiar spot on Mole Spider Hill.

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Tracking the flight this morning

Schools and businesses closed as the Island gathered to witness the historic occasion. Bev was positioned along with the pupils of Prince Andrew School, and, unbeknown to me at the time Charlie, who had managed to gain permission to leave his nearby class mates and sit with Mummy as the historic events unfolded. Despite my privileged position I did feel a tinge of sadness that I wasn’t sharing this occasion with my family up on the hill.

But privileged I was. I’d like to think my hard work in photography and promoting the Island had warranted my spot amongst the media and other lucky few on our run way side vantage point, but I think in reality I would not have been invited had I not the nerve to simply ask enough people in the right positions as to whether I could join the more recognised local media. But lucky I was, and that privilege was and is certainly not lost on me given the hundred more deserving people watching from their distant points across the Island. Most however were just filled with excitement and pride that this day has arrived.

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Crowds gather to watch the historic event

We arrived in position well ahead of schedule and with a two hour wait we chatted and made small talk about the changes ahead that are about to be unleashed on the Island. Are we ready, do we have enough accommodation, how will this affect the unique culture and environment? The questions and doubts soon evaporated when someone shouted, “there it is, above the cloud, just coming past the Barn”.   I looked, but couldn’t see, and began to worry as to why it was only me who couldn’t see the shiny dot in the distance, at least I worried until Bruce Salt, Australian born to Saint patronage said, “I can’t see it”, relieved I was to turn around and find the only person who could see it, had binoculars and I needn’t of worried as before long the twinkling of a bright shiny aeroplane came into full view.

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Our first glimpse.

“It’s landing gear is still up” I heard, and sure enough it was, we hadn’t been warned about the fly past we were treated to, as the beautiful Boeing 737 flew past just feet from the tarmac.

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Stunning Boeing 737- 800 ZS-ZWG Flies Past St Helena Airport.

Leaving the Southern end of the run way she circled round, gear down for her landing approach. Much slower this time, she edged to the runway and kicking up dust in the jet stream she suddenly veered and then climbed steeply away, apparently aborted the landing. “Does she have enough fuel to return to J’berg” I asked, being told that Ascension would be her alternative landing in the event of problems. We had discussed the wind conditions whilst sat waiting for this landing. Looking to the South of the runway the wind blew strong in a North Easterly direction, at the opposite Northern end the wind blew South Westerly but, judging by the wind sock to a lesser extent, and, at our own vantage point mid-way along the run way it blew directly at us, westward with some force.

St Helena Commercial Jet Flight (11)We can only assume at this stage the challenging wind conditions led to the aborted first attempt, but before long the aircraft was once again close to the tarmac, this time several meters closer to the precarious start of the runway and we held our breath as the screech of rubber on concrete and the smoke plumbed from the tyres. Touchdown.

 

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In all her glory. Click on the image to see a full high resolution file. This is actually 15 photos stitched together to form a highly detailed image.

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360 degree panorama looking across St Helena Runway, Airport, my colleagues, Dianas Peak, the waiting crowds at Millennium Forest and the Barn. Click to view full size image.

I have to admit that at this point it was all quite emotional. It’s hard to explain just how significant this is. As I sat at the bus stop this morning I spoke with friend and Saint, Maria Thomas. “Well, today is the day” I said.  ”Yes, I can’t quite get my head round it” was the reply “It doesn’t seem real”. In the western world we take air travel for granted, but this Island has been cut off from the outside world since its discovery 500 years ago. Nothing has arrived her or left here unless by sea for contraries, the world was five days away. Now, it is five hours away. Speaking with Maria it became overwhelming to think about, I can only imagine what Saints are feeling today, and at that moment. Their world has just been turned upside down, for the better or worse. False dawns have come and gone, and the airport is now here.

Although I have not had any involvement I can’t help but feel proud, proud for the Island and its people, proud for Basil Read, Halcrow and the numerous others involved. Proud of every Thai worker living near the site at Bradleys. What an incredible job, truly it is inspiring. The rest of the World seems to agree. As I write the photos I posted to my Facebook page have been viewed by 18,000 people in less than 8 hours! In total, between the various outlets you can probably make that 100,000! It’s quite something for this tiny little sleepy Island that no-one apparently has heard of!

Whilst I was lucky enough to have ring side seats today, I was also lucky enough to have a nosey round the airport, with my camera last week. It’s a lovely building, small but aesthetically at least, perfectly formed. Clad with local blue stone, it reminds me of a Snowdonia art gallery built of black slate. Perfectly in keeping with the rugged like surroundings of this Mars like corner of St Helena.

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Arriving at St Helena Airport

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Saint Helena Airport

Inside the airport is modern with clean lines and finished with oak effect panelling and brushed steel signs. Fantastic views over the runway and taxi area are afforded to both passengers and family and friends alike, and I suspect a cup of coffee whilst waiting for the next flight to arrive will become a popular pastime for a while. I stood with Bruce today, and said to him “It’s incredible to think that many people on St Helena have never seen a jumbo jet before”. Much to my surprise he replied, “Yes, like me”.  Even with weekly flights it will be some time before the novelty of watching a plane arrive on St Helena wears off.

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First view of St Helena as you leave the Airport. Diana’s peak will be in view on a clear day.

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And welcome to St Helena. Please enjoy your stay.

We look forward now until the next big day, opening ceremony. 21st of May is St Helena Day, the day that the Island was discovered, how fitting that that same day should herald a new dawn. Of course St Helena day was always chosen to be the opening day, it makes complete sense. The fact that it will still be going ahead on St Helena Day, as planned some two or more years ago is nothing short of incredible, and I’m so glad that I will be there once more.

Onwards and Upwards

Since my last post things have certainly returned to some sense of normality, at least, normal for us on St Helena. Out of no-where I am extremely busy again, and all of those little jobs that I really should of done when I had nothing to do, and didn’t, are now staring me in the face making me wonder when indeed I am going to do them!

Photos of the Jamesbay Waves I promised in the last blog.

The response to my last blog entry has been somewhat overwhelming. It seems I am not alone in my feelings of self-doubt and miss-direction and that many people have appreciated what I wrote, whilst others have offered sympathy and support. It is an odd thing barring your heart to the world, particularly to those who are in your day to day life, who then know how your feeling and, understandably want to help. But it turns out writing is easier than speaking, and my usual response has been “I’m fine” when someone asks if I’m ok. In reality I am a lot better than I was. I don’t suppose to think I have suddenly gotten over everything, but being busy helps immensely, as does having supportive family, good friends and good times. There is also a real therapy to writing down your thoughts. Confronting yourself and feelings, and attempting to apply a logic to them so that others can read and understand, helps to box them up and rationalise your feelings, you can then start to break down the problems and fix them.

The first thing I have to do in future is to recognise when I have less work on, and do productive things with the time that is freed up, for now however that is not a problem.

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Sunset Behind High Knoll Fort viewed from our garden!

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Sunset over JamesBay, Stunning.

 

In terms of photography out of the blue I had numerous photoshoots, I am resuming some product photography for a local jewellery designer and I finished editing the shots from my first wedding shoot. The wedding took place a few weeks ago. I was incredibly nervous, after all, when the day is over all that is left are the photos and memories, and I didn’t want to screw this up. I am thrilled with the results and the feedback has been fantastic. You can see for yourself here, and here. It was a wonderful experience, to be invited in to someone else’s special day, strangers to all intense and purpose is a true privilege. As the photographer you spend the whole day with the couple, you are the only one who does, you build a relationship with them and in many ways direct many elements of the day. I have a new found respect for wedding photographers, next time you see the cost of a wedding photographer, give some thought to the responsibility that lies on their shoulders. Plus the hours of work that will go into editing the shots once everyone else on the day has finished their work, I know I will never look at them in the same light again.

I have also been helping out on the Enchanted Isle, the stellar sightseeing boat on the Island, helping primary school groups on a dolphin watching trip, and with Bev’s Marine Biology A level class. Bev has signed up for a global project to test for plastics in the worlds oceans, taking water samples at depth with a special piece of kit called a niskin bottle. Great fun was had and the day was followed up with more swimming in the sea at Lemon Valley. This gave ma great opportunity to test my new underwater camera kit. Unfortunately the underwater flash (strobe) that I had purchased second hand showed its value in the bath the night before by leaking and breaking on me, but the camera is great and in better conditions and with some practice I’m hoping to get some good shots with it during dives around the Island.

The family and I have also enjoyed our first night at Banyan Cottage. Nestled in the bottom of the Valley of Sandy Bay, this 100 year plus cottage can be hired out for the princely sum of £20 for three nights. Those of you who have followed from the begging may remember a birthday party we attended there some 12 months or more ago, this time we were there for the night, and I don’t mind saying we were in fact dreading it. A stone cottage equipped with the basics, a few beds, pots and pans, running water and lots of nearby wood for fuel. With no electricity fire and candles are the order of the day. The children loved it, what an adventure and experience for them and despite our worries, Bev and I had the most wonderful night with great company and many laughs. Banyan cottage shows the diversity that exists on St Helena. Here I am on my computer typing away, editing photos and uploading my blog to the world on St Helena, whilst in other parts of this tiny Island, less than a few miles away, people still live in this subsistence manor. There are not many in 2016 without electricity, but I have no doubt there are some, and many more without electric ovens who rely on fire wood for cooking and heating and who’s way of life is from a simple, some would argue, nicer time.

Whatever the pros and cons of modern life, to escape from it entirely for a night is wonderful. We cooked food on a fire, roasted marshmallows and drank beer until the early hours of the morning. 3am to be precise, and with the sun waking us up before 7am there was little sleep to be had.

And so it was that I rushed off the next morning, barely awake to ensure that I arrived on time for another huge milestone in the life of St Helena, the first Jet Engine Airplane to Land here. Following a wonderful piece by fellow blogger, what the Saints did Next, I was inspired to contact Air Access to see if it were possible for me to gain access to the newly finished terminal building to take some shots to show you all. Unfortunately that request has been temporarily turned down I was invited to be part of a small group of media representatives to photograph the arrival of the Bombardier Challenger 300 as it arrived to complete further tests for the airport. With it arrived members of ASSI, the Air Safety Support International personal who are here to conduct final audits on the airport, and, with fingers crossed, give it the all clear for the commencement of commercial flights. Just saying that in quite extraordinary. I don’t wish to out a jinx on things, but we are so close now, within a few weeks people will be able to fly here. I will save my feelings on this until it happens, but to take a quick look at what has been achieved is valid right now.