Indian Summer

So winter has set in on St Helena, the Winter Solstice arrived and was accompanied by wind and rain and cloudy skies, but other than that one day, the weather has been exceptionally wonderful. Day times have seen clear blue skies, warm sunshine and blue waters, whilst evening shave been pleasant and cool. We waited a long time for summer to arrive this year but it is without doubt hanging on in for us as we count down to the end of our second year on the Island.

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The Sunsets in June have been spectacular.

I wasn’t sure how to tone title this blog entry, and in some ways I feel things are becoming a bit repetitive as week by week and month by month we continue to have an incredible time here on our little Island. The past three weeks are no different, and it was only a conversation with a friend back home in the UK that made me think about how wonderful “normal” everyday life here is.

I was asked, “so are you enjoying it there, what do you get up to”? To which my response was, well the weather is normally great, we go diving once a week, walking through stunning landscapes, see friends for dinner or parties, drink beer watching fantastic sunsets, play football, swimming, snorkelling, swim with whale sharks, watch dolphins dance in the waves the list is endless. It sounds like the world’s best holiday, only it is our normal life here.

We took advantage of the continued summer by taking a walk to Sandy Bay Barn. A spectacular walk that takes you through green grass and conifer trees, out to a barren, mars like landscape with its fair share of climbing and hairy moments, and no shortage of breath-taking views looking along the coastline and back in towards the lush green interior of Diana Peak. I have to admit though I was reluctant to do the walk, having planned it a week before I had not accounted for twisting both my ankles playing football the day before.

 

It was my first start of the St Helena Football season as my team, The Bell Boys took on the Wolves. In a more competitive game than the final score suggests we ran out 4-0 winners as I put in a man of the match performance and scored my first goal for the team, a lovely 25 yard volley over the stranded goal keeper. Having a job that requires weekend work back in the UK, I haven’t had the opportunity for eleven a side football for many years before arriving here, and I thoroughly enjoy it. The enjoyment made all the more when you read your name and exploits on the back pages of the papers, and your name on the radio sports section.

Not that I am the only Tyson to be grabbing the headlines. Charlie has now started his first steps in competitive football, joining the beginner’s league on the Island with one of two teams I coach and manage, aptly named the mini BellBoys. Charlie and his friends thoroughly enjoyed their first game in a hard fought 2-2 finish. Meanwhile, Oliver’s team has taken the step up from the beginners league to the primary league, and are the youngest team of a very widely split age group. Jungle Rangers, made up of year 3 children will find themselves on the end of a big defeat most weeks as they take on children three years older than them. But in their first game, against Skull Fire they gave an incredible account of themselves. Oliver took on the role of the most experienced player on our team and stepped up to the plate in outstanding fashion scoring a goal, earning man of the match and driving his team on like a young Steve Gerrard. There was a time when I wasn’t sure if Oliver had it in him to be a descent football but as he stood out there facing children twice his size he showed skill, drive, determination and leadership and I was bursting with pride at the final whistle, genuinely holding back tears as I congratulated his and all the teams performance.

We leave for our midterm break in a few days, and Oliver is currently quite sad to be leaving and missing his football. Of course it will be wonderful to see our friends and family back home, but the timing is something of a blow as we are all set to miss eight weeks in the middle of the season.

As the weather holds up I continue to dive regularly, the most spectacular of recent dives being a warm sunny morning at Sugar Loaf Point. The dive itself follows an underwater valley packed full of life from fish to crayfish, from starfish to Devil Rays. As we look towards our next break we will travel to Ascension Island, a place not on the regular travel and tourists routes, thanks to some friends made on St Helena I hope I get chance to dive in new waters and see more and new unique endemic species.

 

And so we came to Oliver’s 8th Birthday, and by all accounts we had planned very little and had a fairly normal weekend in store. It is only when you then look back and recount that weekend that you realise how special our time here is. Oliver’s Birthday weekend started with Donkey Walking.  Those of you who have followed from the start will recall our regular donkey walks. We haven’t been for a while and it was lovely to get back out there and see the weekly event well supported with lots of new faces. The walking itself is a gentle walk along the central ridge of the Island, with spectacular views to Sandy Bay to the South and Thompson’s wood to the North. The Donkeys are a lovely added extra and provide good company as we amble along the road chatting and taking in the views, and the children love it.

For the afternoon it was a hastily arranged barbecue fun at Rupert’s Beach with two other birthday boys. Sun, sea, sand and food, what more could you want. I took a snorkel round the bay and enjoyed a prolonged swim with a curious Green Turtle, the boy’s dug a hole and everyone was happy!

 

On Sunday there was more football to be played, and an afternoon spent filling our bellies at St Helena first ever Rib Off. Four chefs, (three amateurs and one professional) battles to provide the 140 or so guests with the best, stickiest, tastiest ribs they could. At a pricey £20 a head, everyone was determined to get their fill of the food and drink, and with over £3200 raised for local charities it was a great day. Winner of course was Mike Harper, professional chef, closely followed by Colin Owen, Financial Secretary and Paul McGinnety, Assistant Chief Secretary. Sadly, coming in last place was the competitions only Saint representative, Councillor Eddy Duff with a somewhat embarrassing result as the only contestant with no votes on the day. But it was not about the competition it was about the day, and as the sun shone once more everyone went home with bellies full of food and a smile on their face after a thoroughly enjoyable in what is hoped to be the of what will becomes an annual event.

The last event for Oliver’s, now somewhat drawn out, Birthday was his highlight, and something he had been looking forward to for many weeks, a trial scuba dive in the pool with his school friends. Known as the Bubble Maker, this allows children to try out scuba gear and swim underwater in the pool. Oliver and his three friends were clearly nervous to start, the gear feeling heavy and cumbersome to them. But they all soon got the hang of things and before long were swimming underwater like fish in the sea doing laps around the pool and playing search and recovery games. We finished the evening with a fantastic Whale cake by one of our friends on Island, Tina Johnson. If you need any cakes making on St Helena she is your lady.

 

As we come to the end of our second year on Island it amazes me how fast time has flown. With just six days until we board the RMS once more it is unfathomable to think that we may have been heading back to the UK for good at this stage, how has two years go by so quickly?

The contents of this blog entry contains just three weeks’ worth of stuff. It does not include the walk and bike ride we had today, the other birthday barbecue at Rupert’s Beach,  nor the other two games of football we enjoyed. Nor does it include the regular cards nights I have every other Thursday, the drinks and food with friends watching the progression of England and Wales in the Euro’s; my photography work; Bevs full time teaching during the High Schools GCSE period; or the boys school trips to the fire station or forest school. It does not include anything of the stag do I went on touring round the Islands pubs by bus, nor the leaving party Bev went to, the two other dives I have done or the afternoon at the Island first pop up cinema. It does not speak of the Governor coming round for a few drinks with Bev and some of her friends, or the wonderful night I had listening to the big easy at the Mule Yard or the brilliant night out we had last night, as 150 people gathered for a joint 60th and 50th Birthday party bringing saints and ex-pats together for drinks and the big easy band.

So, why is it that time flies here on St Helena? Well that is why, the endless list of fun that we have here, packing so much in to such a short space of time, and best of all, it’s just a normal month in the middle of winter.

The end of two years on St Helena brings with it some sadness. People who travelled with us on the RMS to start our adventure together all those months ago are about to leave, and for some, unlike us, they will not be coming back. We are about to lose some truly wonderful friends from our lives that have been bedrocks of support friendship and laughter and who have shared every step of this incredible journey with us. Living on the Island they probably won’t read this, but if when you are home you take a nosey at my blog, then I say goodbye to Jon Lambdon, The Parkinsons, half of the Grahams, The Durkins, half the Hathways, and one more of the Hannahs. I will miss you all immensely and life here will really not be quite the same without you. Twelve months ago we closed the first chapter on our time here, as one set of friends departed, this week marks the close of the second chapter. But we are, in my view, the lucky ones. We get to open a new chapter, probably our last one on St Helena. We return to the UK looking forward to seeing friends and family, but with our first weekend back on St Helena already planned. I cant wait for it.

Walking St Helena – Diana’s Peak

After six months on the Island, I finally had the opportunity to climb to the highest point for thousands of miles, the summit of Diana’s Peak, 823m above sea level. With a dive club outing cancelled due to rough seas, we hastily arranged a group to do the walk, in the knowledge that groups of people help to distract Charlie from his exertion and inevitable subsequent moaning.

We started a little later than planned due to the late night partying of some of our walking companions, but once all gathered at the entrance gate on Cabbage Tree Road we were under way.

High Knoll Fort, the view from our car before we even started walking.

High Knoll Fort, the view from our car before we even started walking.

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Mandy, Harriot and the boys at the start of the walk. Im not sure who enjoyed who's company more but the four of them were thick as thieves!

Mandy, Harriot and the boys at the start of the walk. Im not sure who enjoyed who’s company more but the four of them were thick as thieves!

The path initially rose steeply, through a well cut track surrounded by thick growths of flax either side of us. As the fitter members of the group charged ahead, it took a shout out to remind them of the four year old who’s pace would dictate that of the walk, and who was already starting to tire up the steep rise.

We regrouped at the top of this zig zagged slope and I spotted my first glimpse of the alien world we were about to encounter, the odd isolated Tree Fern pushing their way through the flax and invasive ground level ferns. Diana’s peak is the central and highest of three peaks that form the Diana’s Peak National Park, one of the most rare, unique and precious landscapes on the planet.  A home to endemic plants, daisy’s that grow as trees, ferns with woody stalks rising 4 meters high, their bark blanketed in thick water retaining mosses. These rare plants, found nowhere else on earth provide homes for even rarer animals, 200 species of endemic insects from, Golden Sail Spiders, blushing snails and perhaps the rarest animal on earth, the Spikey Yellow Woodlouse make St Helena’s central peaks their home, some of which survive only on one species of plant. They are extremely fragile, precious and clinging onto existence. This 50 acre site contains more endemic species than any European country, 48% of the species found in this tiny area, are found no-where else on earth other than on this special Island. I was aware of the precious nature of this national park, and now I was genuinely excited to be taking my first footsteps into it.

The views start to open up as we look back towards High Peak

The views start to open up as we look back towards High Peak

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Looking back towards High Knoll Fort

Looking back towards High Knoll Fort

The path levelled off as we reached the ridge that forms the central peaks, and with Charlie finding fresh legs we moved on as the view opened up around us. I have seen some spectacular views on St Helena, but the walk across the central peaks is simply breath-taking, gobsmackingly beautiful. Rows of Tree ferns interspersed by ancient Black Cabbage trees (I told you these plants were strange) marked our path as we ascended the first of the three peaks. At this point I would like to tell you that this was Cuckholds Peak, but perhaps it was Actaeon, truth is, no-one is quite sure. We are fairly certain that the central and highest peak is Diana’s peak, but maps stretching back to the early 1800’s show the names of the two sister peaks swapping with great regularity and as such no one is completely certain which is which, the map at the entrance to the park suggests Cuckholds Peak comes first, this is good enough for me.

Arriving on the summit of what we established was Cuckholds peak the view is 360 degree and staggering. Looking west takes your eye along the central ridge, the lush green slopes of High Peak, with dense flax providing a velvet green carpet to its steep slopes. To the East we look out over prosperous bay Plain, a barren desert landscape, volcanic rock and ash layered to form the jagged rocks of King and Queen rocks, Turks Cap and the Barn as well the site of the new airport, clouded in huge plumes of dust swept high into the sky by the stiff Atlantic winds. Turn South and the spectacular natural amphitheatre of Sandy Bay is laid before us, red and purple rocks, with white lines of guano marking the knife edged ridges of the volcanic ravines. A spin round North reveals High Knoll fort, James Valley, Rupert’s Bay and the Basil Read supply ship, NP Glory 4 sat in the bay waiting for the right sea conditions to dock. The central peaks can be seen from almost anywhere on the Island, and although not particularly high by mountain standards sitting as they do in the centre of an Island they are literally the highest point for thousands of miles, they dominate the landscape the create the amazing climate that exists on the Island and they help structure and shape the history and ecology of St Helena.

Oliver and Charlie descend from the first summit.

Oliver and Charlie descend from the first summit.

Descending Cuckolds peak the path becomes more challenging, a thin track cut through the now dense cloud forest, a moist landscape where water is trapped and retained by dense carpets of moss. The floor becomes slippy and boggy, breaks in the ferns show glimpses of the steep drops either side of us, enough to make you take care of your footing, and enough to make one of our younger members of the group  have something of a mild panic attack at the vertigo inducing rise to the summit of our next stop, Diana’s peak.

The central peaks of St Helena are shrouded in almost constant cloud, this moisture gives rise to the unique vegetation here. But our walk thus far had been incredibly clear, with views for mile upon mile in high definition Technicolor glory. However, true to form as we summited the highest point of St Helena the mists rolled in. The environment took on a new form, a prehistoric land. It felt entirely appropriate given our surroundings that the leaves of the ferns and gumwoods should now drip with moisture. Looking back towards Cuckhold’s peak the ridge had disappeared into the cloud, giving an air of mystery.

Oliver and Charlie on the Sumiit of Dianas PEak, Highest Summit on St Helena,

Oliver and Charlie on the Sumiit of Dianas PEak, Highest Summit on St Helena,

We pressed on to our final peak, Actaeon, stopped for a drink and bite to eat before turning Tree Ferns and Black Cabbage Treesback into the cloud and descending the Northern flank of the peaks. We disappeared under the canopy, no longer walking a ridge we were now in the undergrowth of this ancient woodland. Despite being very accessible, after all our Charlie at four years old coped admirably, the otherworldly nature of the surrounding trees and the mists hanging in the air give a sense of foreboding, a feeling of remoteness as though we have been transported to a time before civilisation. It would not have surprised me one bit if a dinosaur had roared in the distance, and some giant dragon fly had flitted between the ferns.

We emerge from the cloud forest, and as we find ourselves lower on the slopes, our path ahead dissects the landscape, rich, diverse natural cloud forest above us, and thick, relentless stands of flax below. Flax was introduced in the 1870s and provided a booming trade for the Island at a time where the economy had little else to support it. But time moves on, the industry died here many many years ago, and the flax has taken over huge swaths of St Helena’s landscape. Flax is incredibly invasive, fast growing, and forms thick blankets, ensuring that sunlight cannot penetrate to the soils below such that nothing else can grow. It provides habitat for rats, mice and little else and is one of the contributing factors that resulted in almost all of St Helena’s natural forests disappearing many decades ago. However the battle is not lost. I talk with Jill Key, St Helena’s Biosecurity Officer, who first ventured to the Island some fifteen years ago. She explains that at that time the slopes and ridges of the high peaks were covered in flax to the summits, and only tiny rudimentary fragments of tree fern habitat remained. Concerted conservation and habitat restoration efforts were underway and now, fifteen years on, Jill is astonished and overjoyed at the progress that has been made. The Diana’s Peak National Park is a huge success story in habitat restoration. Tree ferns and Black Cabbage Trees now dominate the landscape here, forming their own sunlight blocking canopy and preventing the re-establishment of flax on these slopes. In turn, these provide the niche microclimates for lichens and mosses, ground level ferns and other endemic shrubs and flowers as well of course as the hundreds of insect species.

The path clearly shows the area of rich restored habitat above, and the flax below the path.

The path clearly shows the area of rich restored habitat above, and the flax below the path.

The path clearly shows the area of rich restored habitat above, and the flax below the path.

The path clearly shows the area of rich restored habitat above, and the flax below the path.

The difference is striking, the path marking the limit of the current work, below our path a uniform green of flax, a desert devoid of all biodiversity. Above the path, a stunning patchwork of colour of tones and textures, a diverse habitat of rare and wonderful plants and animals. The results here are a testament to the many people who have worked on this landscape and as we left the national park, and re-entered the fields of flax I felt hope for St Helena and other rare and endangered habitats in this world. There is a great deal of trouble in the World for its precious wild places, but if a tiny out post of the old British Empire can achieve such results, maybe all is not lost.

Lots Wife Ponds

Lot, is a huge pillar of rock, shining silver and emerging like Excalibur from the surrounding brown earth. Lots wife, is the nearby wife of Lot, a smaller pillar, eroded at the base such that its top appears as though it could topple at any moment. The ponds are the sheltered natural swimming pools that have formed on the wave cut platforms below Lots Wife, protected from the wild Atlantic ocean by huge walls, a seam of hard wearing rock now forming an impenetrable barrier to the relentless waves. Lots Wife Ponds were also the destination for Bev and I, on our first twenty four hours on our own, without the children, for over six months.

Good friends and regular babysitters Suzanne and Mike have become something of life saver to us, looking after our boys on a regular basis when we both dive or, in this case when we need to find some time for us, to remember that we are a couple, in love and not just here as servants to the needs of our children, (or employers). And so in quintessential Tyson style instead of resting, relaxing or some romance, Bev and I took to a 9km round trip across rugged terrain in 28C heat to find the ponds, a much talked about beauty spot of the Island.

The walk to Lots Wife ponds features in the post box walks, a series of tourist trails across the Island, graded for their difficulty in both effort and technical difficulty. Having tried some low grade walks with the boys, Lots Wife Ponds sits at the upper end of the scale, with a  grade of 6/10 for effort, and 8/10 for technical difficulty. And such we set out, across the wide flat dry river bed of broad gut and up the zig zagging path of and old cart road across the steep sided scree slopes beyond. Broad Gut, the Gates of Chaos, Frightus Rock and other aptly named peaks, ridges, valleys and gorges form the Sandy Bay National Park, an area that inspires awe as the Mars like landscape, scarred into volcanic rocks rises in reds, oranges and purples to the lush green slopes of High and  Diana Peaks and the central ridge. Formed during volcanic eruptions some 14 million years ago this now dry and barren  surface was once green with trees and plants found no-where else on earth. The arrival of goats on the Island in the late 1500s led to severe deforestation and hundreds of years of rain and driving Atlantic winds have scoured sharp ridges like daggers across the unprotected rock, forming a  Lord of the Rings landscape.

Start of the walk up from Broad Gut

Start of the walk up from Broad Gut

Our route, upwards!

Our route, upwards!

The path is well marked from the feet of other intrepid explorers, and of countless years of fishermen and donkeys and leads us upward, winding across steep valley sides ever on to a ridge we can see in the distance. As other parents will know, when you have children and have the opportunity to relieve yourselves of them for a day you have to take your chances, and as such we pressed on in the less than ideal conditions. Dry and extremely hot, the winds blowing up from the blue waves below us provided welcome rest bite from the burning afternoon tropical sun. As our car disappeared into the distance and the blue waters of Sandy Bay became obscured by rocks of red and orange we finally arrived at our highest point, a ridge providing extraordinary views of Broad Gut behind and the rocky cliffs of Asses Ears, Gorrila’s Head, Man o’War Roost and of course Lots Wife loomed high above us.

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Gorilla’s Head is the square shaped rock on the right hand side, with one of the Asses Ears above it


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Descending from the ridge we encountered our first “technical” section, a narrow, loose path with a steep drop to our left. Although not overtly daunting, the presence of a fixed rope at this point is welcoming, reassuring to know that we are on the right track, and that the reportedly difficult final section may be equally well protected. As we descended, clear white lines of guano could be seen on the finger ridges that slope off from the main cliff side peaks. Sitting below the ridge where Bev and I had the great pleasure of helping to tag and record Booby nests some months before, we found ourselves on the lower ridges, where the secondary team had worked that day. We pass by a nest and chick now almost fledged and a far cry from the eggs and newly hatched fluffy grey chicks we had encountered back in October. By this time of the day booby’s can be seen returning to their nests, bringing food to hungry chicks from a day’s foraging. These striking white birds fly like a red arrows display team in acrobatic lines to various white target points marked upon the red rocks.

Masked Booby and chick,

Masked Booby and chick,

Bev looks on at the chick and its parent.

Bev looks on at the chick and its parent.

We arrive at our next way point, an arrow marking the way to, “Lots Wife Ponds” in stones on the ground. Curiously, pointing in the opposite direction we find marked the words, “Fizzled me”. Although curious and with a strong desire to be fizzled, we continue our path to Lots Wife Ponds. Further on and still some 50m above sea level we came to the curious white sands of a former beach, apparently blown up the valley gulley’s and deposited up the slope. A beach that over millennia had become compressed to form rock, sandstone, was now being eroded and weathered back to whence it came and  into a beach.  After fifty minutes of walking, we reach the post box, a white tube containing a visitors note book and a stamp to mark our trail book as proof that we had completed the walk._MG_0015

At this stage we were a little underwhelmed by the technical difficulty of the walk. Having spent many good times amongst the infamous ice covered ridges of Crib Goch in Snowdon, I am perhaps not an average walker, but in comparison to our other low grade walks I was still expecting something more of a challenge from our grade 8’er. Perhaps the “optional extra” beyond the post box and down to the ponds themselves would provide the challenge. Alas we would remain disappointed, undoubtedly a  bit of a nervous scramble under normal conditions, the last two steep descents are provided the safety of strong and well placed ropes giving secure hand holds to counter any loose footsteps.

And so it was we reached our destination, Lots Wife Ponds. A huge pillar of rock greeted us to our left, the gap between it and the cliff face providing views of an elevated and tranquil pool. To our right, waves surged into a gully, racing up and increasing in size before spilling over into a second, lower, and somewhat turbulent pool. The sounds of huge waves bellowed against the rock wall that had now become apparent at the edge of this rocky platform, holding back the Atlantic on one side, and holding in our tranquil swimming pools on the other.

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The more choppy of the two ponds. The rock wall which holds back the Atlantic can be seen on the left of the image, but the wall has been breached on the right.

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Water surges up the gulley through the gaps in the natural barriers.

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Knowing we were short on time we stripped to our swimwear and waded into the most still of the two waters. The water appeared cloudy, and green, our became feet sore with sharp snail shells under foot was we crossed the rocks to reach the waters. Was this the beauty we had been promised? As I moved into the water the sandpaper rocks gave way to soft velvety algae covered slopes, rounded by years of waves splashing ashore and softened by a thick layer of cushion soft seaweed. The water was warm, incredibly warm, like walking into a bath. I could see fish further out, but wondered how they could be surviving in such unusually hot conditions, easily 35C plus. As I moved further into the pool the answer became apparent as my feet suddenly felt a severe chill, enough to make an involuntary squeal come out of me. The hot sun beating down on the pool had created a thermocline, a sharp transition from hot, saline water above to cooler water below. Donning my mask I dived out and down, across to the deeper part of the pool and down through the hazy mirage of the thermocline and into the cool, clear waters below. Reversing the previous experience, my feet now warm and head cold, I delighted like a small child in this amazing experience with fish swimming all around me, trapped to the bottom of their pool by the warm waters above them.

Having not seen a single soul on our entire journey, and feeling secure that we would not be disturbed, I longed to remove all my clothes and enjoy the freedom of skinny dipping in our own slice of paradise. Nerves and British restraint however got the better of me, and the five finger fish, parrot fish and surgeon fish were all saved any embarrassment, and starved of a potential meal. We moved to the second, lower and cooler pool, bouncing up and down with the waves that crossed the waters as each new breach from the Atlantic squeezed its way through a gap in the wall in the distance. In no danger we swam amongst the fish and revelled in the pools and gullies.

With time running short we dried off, regrettably having to leave our little Eden behind. But not before I ventured onto the rock wall to witness the Atlantic below. Very aware of the spray shooting upwards some 20ft and the deep, bellowing of air being trapped and squeezed upon this natural barrier I cautiously climbed up the wall and poked my head up above the parapet. Gaining in confidence I could see the concave wall, worn away at its base and now forming the curve so commonly seen in man-made breakwaters. Waves hitting the base of the wall were deflected in a huge curve back out to sea. The power was extraordinary, 15ft waves booming and shaking, punching at the wall and then sucking back, as if trying to pull the wall down, angry, determined and relentless, and yet the unyielding wall stood firm, protecting Bev and I and stopping the waves from cutting down yet more of St Helena’s cliffs.

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We had to leave, we packed our bags and once more started to climb the steep sides of St Helena’s Southern Cliffs. The sun was setting, lights streamed through gaps in the rocks, creating striations of black and orange. The green slopes on the central ridge came into view in the distance, like an oil painting of colour, the greens of the peaks framed by deep blue above and orange, purples and reds of Sandy Bay amphitheatre below.

As were traced our footsteps I knew I had to return, I needed to witness the light streaming up Sandy bay and waking up this extraordinary Island at Sun Rise. I shall return, I shall return with my camera and, at 5am, perhaps without my swimwear

Slugs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

I start today’s post by referring back to the last, my footballing exploits and performance in last Sundays thrilling match. Albeit truncated by injury, the match gave me one of my greatest ever achievements, an appearance on the back page of a newspaper, referenced by my surname just like a real footballer. Read the report here.

Moving away from my own exploits, I turn attention to our children, Oliver and Charlie, two boys in every sense of the word. A source of endless amusement for our friends they are energetic, troublesome, sometimes rude, boisterous and always fighting and arguing with each other. Our good friends Paul and Jen believe them to be hilarious, I only hope their next baby is a boy, a younger brother to their son Miles, and I hope to be there to witness the ensuing chaos.

John, who also journeyed with us to the Island, often refers to their behaviour with the phrases such as “ahh bless” in reference to our excuses that they are always tired. John himself has unwittingly taught Oliver some lovely phraseology, as he can now be commonly heard telling his younger brother to “watch and learn” and expresses surprise with the, thankfully truncated, phrase “what the!!!”

Our boys have both it seems now settled quite well into Island life, making new friends and heading off to school on the bus barely looking back, the days of a kiss goodbye it seems are already behind us.This week saw the schools Harvest Festival, in which Oliver and Charlie played a full role. We have all been learning Charlie’s harvest song, but Oliver’s roll as a giraffe came as something of a surprise.Olivers Class Pilling School Harvest Festival Charlies Class  St Helena Pilling Harvest FesivalDolphin St Helena Pilling Harvest Fesival Charlie Sings St Helena Pilling Harvest Fesival

For the first few weeks Oliver, troubled with school and adjusting to life, presented us with some truly awful behaviour, seemingly carrying the world on his young shoulders with fits of outrage interspersed with extreme sadness. During this period Charlie saw his opportunity, presenting himself as the most well behaviour three year old, full of affection and love for his parents and responding to Oliver’s turmoil with his own brand of sucking up. Thankfully, Oliver has found his feet and whilst far from perfect, his behaviour is back to a normal level of six year old boy. Charlie of course responded accordingly, and he has reverted to the artist formally known as “the naughty one”.

This weekend was a case in point with Charlie seemingly determined to single handedly ruin things for everyone concerned. Saturday was Carnival 2014 a bi-annual event that had been building in anticipation, excitement and curiosity over the past few weeks. Apparently carnival would be a afternoon of colour, music and celebration as hundreds of clowns, fairies, queens, kings and other exuberant costumes or scantily clad ladies parade down main street of James Town. Gathered crowds cheer and take photos before all of St Helena enjoy an evening of food, music and celebration, all in the aid of cancer awareness. That at least, is how it was supposed to be. Our morning stated in much the same way as many others, preparing our costumes. Bev and I were sorted, with grass skirts, Hawaiian Leis and for me, a fetching bow tie to accompany my Hawaiian shirt.

Charlie looking very unhappy at the prospect of walking to Carnival, despite getting the hat.

Charlie looking very unhappy at the prospect of walking to Carnival, despite getting the hat.

The boys wanted to be pirates and as such Bev was busy sewing material into pirate waistcoats. This is where it went downhill, a tantrum initiated over the availability of just one pirate hat quickly descended into a full on end of the world level of disparity. When eventually we left the house, having once again decided that our own day shouldn’t be ruined in punishment of Charlie’s behaviour, we missed the procession and arrived at town feeling stupid in our costumes (at least I did), with two miserable children, and hungry.

Although cup-cakes helped to break the mood for a short time we had arrived so late that waiting times for real food were by now so long we decided to cut our losses and returned home after having a thoroughly miserable afternoon! After the boys went to bed, Bev and I cheered ourselves up with a take away of steak and chips and a few glasses of well-deserved of Kia Royal!

A cup cake helps to break Charlie's mood even if just for a moment.

A cup cake helps to break Charlie’s mood even if just for a moment.

Sunday followed a similar pattern. We headed out for our first walk on the Island, a nice family outing to Flag Staff, a peak in the North East Corner of the Island affording a gentle walk whilst offering spectacular views at the end. Charlie however had other ideas, not wishing to walk at all and feeling the effects of a blustery wind. Given that his parents had forgotten his jumper we conceded to another nearby walk in a more sheltered but equally spectacular part of the Island.

The paint pallet sands of Banks Valley offer a landscape like no-where else on this remarkable Island. Formed by sands which blew up the valley when sea levels were lower, the landscape is made up of consolidated dunes of fine mud and sand. Sharp ridges dominate, casting shadows which serve to further enhance the mix of oranges, reds and purples in the sand, flowing in bands and broken only by bright green shrubs and the arid loving spikes of English Aloe. A sense of the unknown and untouched exists, the only footprints in the sand being our own, like the first steps breaking fresh fallen snow. The high peaks of the central ridge, look down on this colourful desert with their covering of tree ferns and fields of flax, one feels as though we are existing in a bye gone era, an time of prehistoric reptiles, and giant soaring birds.

Banks Valley St Helena Banks Valley St Helena

Prehistoic Landscape of Banks Valley St Helena

Prehistoric Landscape of Banks Valley St Helena

Wasted on Charlie, the spectacular views and otherworldly sand formations presented no enjoyment for him; at least his mood prevented any enthusiasm from escaping. More moaning and general disquiet ensued until such point that we reluctantly and much to my dissatisfaction at having had our morning once again cut short, returned to the car.

Charlie happy that our fist walk has been cancelled!

Charlie happy that our fist walk has been cancelled!

Start of Walk number two, still smiles at this point.

Start of Walk number two, still smiles at this point.

Charlie begins to contemplate whether this walk is any better than the last.

Charlie begins to contemplate whether this walk is any better than the last.

"Nope, this walk is rubbish, just like the last!"

“Nope, this walk is rubbish, just like the last!”

Our day was thankfully saved as we continued our conviviality with a late lunch date with the David’s family, Julie, Martin, Phoebe and Lottie, and friends Ian and Fiona Smyth and their children Oscar and Rachel. Martin, prison officer on the Island has become my regular breakfast date, as we enjoy belly buster sandwiches and real St Helena coffee at the Coffee Shop on a weekly basis. The David’s have good course for inviting people round for lunch. An agreement to purchase some of the remaining stock from a now closed butcher has left them with twenty six bags of sausages, each bag containing ten sausages. Gratefully I was able to do my bit and help them out with this problem. A long afternoon of great company, good conversation and of course the sausages was enjoyed by all, our children revelling in the opportunity to play in a large lawned garden, getting dirty and caring for garden snails.

And so we arrive at our first half term on the Island, despite my new positive thinking, the restrictions created by my groin injury, coupled with the thoughts of entertaining my children for five days has inevitably lowered my mood somewhat. School holidays are, it is reported, normally a time for enjoying the sunshine by the pool. It seems though we are lacking in both at the present time. Although the weather has improved summer is not here yet and the pool, despite all the rain, has no water. Drained and stripped, the pool has been due for a paint job and for some two or three months now has been waiting expectantly for the paint to arrive on the normally trustworthy RMS St Helena. The paint however has failed to turn up on successive shipments and the lifeguards still sit with no lives to actually guard save their own. The latest rumour, source unknown, is that the paint is now on Island but that the large brushes purchased to speed the act of painting, do not fit in the tins and we look towards Christmas for swimming and dive training to now commence.

This week will be a testing time for me as I spend long days in the company of said troublesome twos. I have always found being a Dad to be difficult. Troubling to write, and to admit, I find it hard to relate to our children’s young minds, finding their company to be often tedious and trying. Constant misdemeanours and boundary pushing leaves me exhausted and tired of their company. I am very aware that they provoke my temper and despite my sincere attempts to remain calm in situations, I am also very aware that our children’s occasional bouts of rage and anger have most likely come from the example set by their father. I am often left feeling out of control and unable to deal with their guidance and care, their constant needs and demands wearing me down and their silly requirements for inexplicable things that I have neither the desire nor means to seek out.  I vacillate between feelings of utter disdain and immense guilt and meander along between the two as I figure out how it is I am going to be the Dad I wish I could be.

Of course the feelings and emotions described above are in the extreme, felt at those times where my days have been long and unfulfilled, where all I can see before me are cleaning and an absence of meaningful work. Having reached the end of day two of our week together I am holding it together, today enjoying a fabulous walk with the children and feeling immensely proud at the mountaineering feats achieved by the little legs of my youngest, even enjoying his company for periods of the day. I hope it is these times that I can concentrate on, that I can learn to glean fulfilment and enjoyment from. I hope that remembering Charlie’s mammoth effort will help to ease my rage next time the bath has become an Ark, floating on the biblical flood that the boys are intent on creating each bath time.

My boys are just that, boys. They are wonderful, curious, inquisitive and busting with energy and enthusiasm. They are not badly behaved; they are just three and six years old. For every time of frustration, they provide a moment of real impress. Oliver in particular is fascinated with the World, taking inspiration from his parents, he has love for the natural World and shows respect for the creatures we share this planet with. Charlie is charming and cheeky in equal measure, providing moments of wonderful affection and caring. It is not at their behaviour that I should look but inwards, asking fundamental questions of myself and who I am, what I want to be and what is important in my life and for our family.

What is important to me, what do I want from this move to St Helena? I do not have the answers yet and remain in perpetual turmoil. Moving to St Helena has thrown up more questions of me than I expected.  I sit at a cross roads, on one hand immensely jealous of my wife, her importance and contribution to the island meeting with other adults to discuss work, projects, plans and training. Wishing I could also sit in a position of regard and I am eager to develop some of the opportunities that have recently presented themselves, leaving my children in the care of others whom in my own view would do a better job at their guidance than I ever could. On the other, feeling that I am here to build my relationship with them, to learn to enjoy their company, deal with the tests they present and give them two years in the Atlantic that will shape them and our family for the future. This half term will teach me a lot about whether I can achieve the latter, and perhaps will allow me to see a future which contains a balance of both worlds.

Summer starts to find its way into life at Half Tree Hollow.

Summer starts to find its way into life at Half Tree Hollow.

A Saintly Life

Having lived on this incredible Island for a full three weeks  and  feeling as though I have been a resident for an age, I am now,  of course, an authority on the Island and its people!  With this in mind I thought it appropriate to dispel some myths, or at least misrepresentations, that I encountered before we travelled from the UK.

The Island is, without question dependant on financial grant in aid from the UK government, from UK tax payers. This is often portrayed as though the local Saints are reliant on hand-outs, in the same way that many people back home are reliant on our welfare system. You will read that the Island has no natural resources to speak of, no agriculture or productivity and that it is dependent on the UK taxpayer to “keep” people on the Island. I have even encountered comments to the effect that people should not be permitted to live here if they cant “fend for themselves” and should be deported from the Island. The extreme end of these views angered me in their narrow mindedness before I left the UK, and now leave me bewildered by the inaccuracy of portrayal and authority in which they are given with little or no regard to actual research of the truth.

Upon our arrival in Jamestown we came across this sign in the local gardens. Feeling perplexed as to why exactly one could not sit, or wander and generally linger doing nothing, in what seems like an obvious place for such behaviour. As it happens the locals agreed entirely and after a series of complaints this inexplicable sign has been removed!

Upon our arrival in Jamestown we came across this sign in the local gardens. Feeling perplexed as to why exactly one could not sit, or wander and generally linger doing nothing, in what seems like an obvious place for such behaviour. As it happens the locals agreed entirely and after a series of complaints this inexplicable sign has been removed!

Saint Helena is a UK Dependant Territory, arguments can be made as to what this means but essentially, it is, and has for most of its long history been part of the United Kingdom. The East India Trading company and later the UK government directly, stationed people on the Island. They brought African slaves, Chinese labours and other ethnic peoples from their homes and forced them to this isolated outpost of the empire. After generations on Saint Helena the people here are proud to be part of that United Kingdom (poignant given the pending referendum across the Scottish border), and yet in 2014 we should then abandon the Island and absolve ourselves of responsibility because the Island costs us money. Should we equally absolve ourselves of the burden of the unemployed, disabled, or infirm!

The people of the Island do not rely on hand-outs, they work, and dammed hard. Most Islanders have at least two jobs, unemployment is very low on St Helena but so are wages. Unfortunately though there is little export and much to import, therefore UK government grant in aid is provided to maintain government services, education, welfare etc. In order to generate capital, an Island, community or country must have something that others wish to buy and simultaneously must reduce its need to purchase goods from elsewhere, hence bringing money into the economy in greater quantities than it leaves.

The two exports remain tourism and fisheries, both of which are historically very small in scale. Recently, huge efforts are being put into expanding both of these commercial areas as well as developing  in new areas such as extremely successful enterprises in coffee production and products from the Islands unique distillery.  Agriculture is also being advanced and has increased by 355% since 2010/11, reducing the need to import foodstuffs from abroad. The private sector economy as a whole is on the rise, and, combined with localised food production helps to recycle capital brought to the island and reduces the leakage of wealth back to the UK or South Africa. Many of the Islanders have great entrepreneurial spirit and St Helena certainly provides opportunities a plenty for those prepared to invest time and money to fill the numerous niches that are available.

The Island suffers from lack of a competition in its service sector, only one supplier of water and electricity exists, ditto for communications and media. Whilst providing an excellent service, the result is artificially high prices, but attracting a competitor to supply, for example, electricity, to a customer base of little over four thousand people (approx 2000 homes) is neigh on impossible, and would in all likelihood require a foreign Service provider and hence increase money leakage to overseas shores.

Low wages, coupled with a lack of corporate or council tax largely due (as far as I can tell), to a historical lack of central service provision, results in very low income generation for local government. A cash economy exacerbates the problem with hidden or absent paper trails for those earning more than the tax threshold. Change is required with increased rates and new taxation required, but vicissitude of this kind is always painful and is sure to be met with resistance if indeed it is proposed.

Our weekend walks continue. This time to the beginning of the ridge of Mount Eternity although sense prevailed and we did not attempt it with a three year old in tow!

Our weekend walks continue. This time to the beginning of the ridge of Mount Eternity although sense prevailed and we did not attempt it with a three year old in tow!

I continue my slide toward domestication, today getting excited at finding a hessian shopping bag, and even venturing to a friend’s house for tea and “a chat” this week. Those of you who know me well will appreciate the only time I arrive for a chat is if it is preceded by a pint or two. Caroline, my host for the morning, is an adopted Scottish woman, who left her home in California twenty years ago to start a new life in Scotland. In her own words Scotland has only just caught up to where California was twenty years ago, and now she and her lovely family have stepped back in time a further twenty years to start a new life on St Helena.

My life on the Island has settled to a routine of taxiing, shopping, coffee, household chores and an undue amount of plumbing thanks to the requirements of a new dishwasher and the accident prone feet of my youngest.

It seems my awkward demands of one and a half sugars in my coffee, have led to a quick transition from new comer to regular, at the St Helena coffee shop, where one of  the world’s most expensive coffees, (excluding those defecated from various animals) is prepared for me before my arrival at the counter.My FamilyFor the first time in my life I have a pocket notebook, necessary for planning my foraging trips, recording names and numbers, and for penning memory jogging notes on subjects ranging from where to purchase sandals for Bev to Christmas presents for the boys. On Christmas I am gobsmacked to find myself thinking of the subject in early September, in stark contrast to my usual Christmas Eve panic. However with last postal orders to be made by mid-October, present procurement is something we must start to think about. Unlike us mere mortals Farther Christmas is not limited by the availability of the RMS! For any family reading this, my own Christmas list is short this year and consists simply of a Go Pro camera, or money for thereof.

The coffee house provides a regular spot to read the two local newspapers. On this small Island newspapers and the two local radio stations are vital sources of information for both saint and expat alike. And on the subject of radio I have become an avid follower of the BBC World Service, which I am certain places me on an equal echelon to those listeners of Radio Four! I shall be listening eagerly tomorrow as the results of the momentous vote in Scotland come in.

My polite waving reached a new peak this week when I found myself giving a casual, but friendly wave, to a cat!! This has made me reassess the sincerity of my automated hand twitching and I am beginning to discover that, although still very friendly and partial to a wave, it was myself as opposed to the locals who instigated said waving during each passing of a car, pedestrian or feline. Under the suspicion that some Islanders are perhaps a little fed up of the stupid British man who keeps waving at people they don’t know I have decided to hold fire in future until I see the first and instigating hints of movement from the hand of those passing by!

My wife continues to impress me, and I have become in

The My Nemeis Jacobs Ladder as seen at night. Bev shattered my time by a full two minutes and has left me questioning my manliness! I must beat her before we leave the Island!

The Descent down my Nemeis Jacobs Ladder as seen at night. Bev shattered my time by a full two minutes and has left me questioning my manliness! I must beat her before we leave the Island!

awe of her ability to developed her professional aptitude, instigate positive change in her department, dedicate herself to the care of her pupils and yet still maintain her position as number one Mum, the apple of her children’s eyes and the glue that holds the household and family together. Bev is now being asked to help raise standards and implement change in the Science department, and she seems to be happy with the challenge of this role, although we are both mindful of her main objectives of introducing Marine Biology to the school curriculum and hope that the opportunity to do this is forthcoming in the new year. Add to the above the fact that my wife tackled Jacobs Ladder, not just beating my time but knocking a full 2 minutes off my attempt with an unbelievable time of eight minutes eight seconds and a picture of a pretty incredible woman who fills me with pride emerges.

Exploring the Island further continues to leave me fascinated and often without words to describe the stunning scenery, diversity of landscape, fauna and climate. A sense of history pervades every turn, road, building and view point. Whether it be centuries old canons from shipwrecks washed up upon the shoreline, my gruelling walk up Jacobs ladder, World War Two gun garrisons or the long succession  of historical statesmen  to of trodden the old wooden floors of the Consulate Hotel, this settlement in the South Atlantic has maintained its long and important links with the past. The sense of connection to the mariners and explorers, admirals and emperors, captains and scientific scholars of the past is a heady charm of this unique place.

A stunning sight at night anchored in James Bay

A stunning sight at night anchored in James Bay

Maintaining its own place in history is the RMS St Helena, arriving back in James Bay today following its latest trans-Atlantic journey to Cape Town. The Last Royal mail ship has a magical effect on the Island. A life line to the outside world it may be, but more importantly is the connections with virtually each and every person on the Island. Most of the people have travelled upon her and walked her decks. Many of us arrived on the Island aboard her and those who fall outside of those categories have seen friends, family and loved ones depart and alight on her. An unexplainable sense of completeness spans Jamestown when she is in port and I suspect I am not alone in feeling as though it is my ship back home when she anchors in James Bay.

Jamestown at Night. Showing Jacobs Ladder rising steeply to the left ad the RMS St Helena anchored in James Bay

Jamestown at Night. Showing Jacobs Ladder rising steeply to the left ad the RMS St Helena anchored in James Bay