October 2012

Wideawake, but not quite on full alert?

by Simon Pipe

23 October 2012: Ascension Island’s airfield may be called Wideawake, but is it showing signs of mental decline as it marks its 70th anniversary?

The RAF website describes it as “invaluable link and airhead” for the Falklands and St Helena.

To many people, “airhead” means something else entirely: should we worry that it’s a recognised term in the Royal Air Force?

Hazel welcomes plan to turn The Castle into a hotel

20 October 2012: One might expect Hazel Wilmot, owner of the historic Consulate Hotel in Jamestown, to be taking up arms over the idea of The Castle being converted into tourist accommodation along with Georgian office buildings and the island prison.

Not so:

“I think it is a brilliant idea,” she says, “and it will give us  greater utilisation of a unique building. Greater preservation as well – it is falling down and very neglected.”

The most visible sign of collapse is on the seaward side of The Castle, where the grand stairwell is cracking up and leaning towards The Castle Terrace.

Planning consent has now been granted to brace the building with galvanised steel bars, held in place with metal brackets above the windows on the outer wall, and above the entrace from the courtyard.

The St Helena Independent runs a story about this under the entertaining headline: “Plans in place for The Castle to pull itself together”.

St Helena’s Das Schloss: a surreal world, where structure falls apart?

One understands that only part of The Castle will become a hotel if the ideas of consultants are adopted. The rest would remain in use as the seat of government on St Helena.

Nick Thorpe, an island historian with a strong sense of tradition, tells this writer he rather likes being ruled by mysterious mandarins inside an ancient fortress. He calls it “Kafkaesque”.

This is a word that is often misused, according to Frederick R Karl, a biographer of Franz Kafka, a novelist whose themes included terrifying quests and mystical transformations.

Readers are left to judge for themselves whether Karl’s definition of “Kafkaesque” fits the struggle to govern St Helena:

“What’s Kafkaesque,” he said in an interview, “is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behavior, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world.

“You don’t give up, you don’t lie down and die. What you do is struggle against this with all of your equipment, with whatever you have. But of course you don’t stand a chance. That’s Kafkaesque.”

This writer makes no comment. He merely observes that one of Kafka’s novels was called “Das Schloss”.

Translation: “The Castle”.

Sharon plants a mischievous idea

The idea of turfing officials out of the island’s most historic buildings has also gone down well with a reader of St Helena Online, Sharon Lynette St Ville.

She goes a step further, casting an eye at the official residence of His Excellency The Governor:

“How about Plantation House – making that accommodation for future tourists?

“It’s more secluded and has vast acres of land where you could build a swimming pool/hot tubs; tennis court and numerous forms of entertainments.

“That would be a blast, and to transfer the person who governs the island into much smaller accommodation – that is what I would call truly truly moving ahead for the residents of St Helena.”

I saw no ships come sailing by…

A free berth on the Governor’s Cup Yacht Race is being described as “the ultimate Christmas getaway” for a journalist with yachting experience.

It’s certainly accurate: anyone who takes up the job will find themselves spending the festival season in the middle of a featureless expanse of sea, in a confined space with a bunch of strangers.

A record number of yacht’s has been signed up for the 2012 race, despite the fact that it starts on 22 December – meaning most of the yachties will be away from their families on Christmas Day.

Perhaps that’s the attraction.

As is St Helena itself, of course – described in glowing terms in a press release:

“Its temperate seas offer outstanding fishing for tuna and blue marlin, its location makes it a safe haven for round the world sailors, and its landscape and climate attracts walkers and runners for the island’s annual festival of running in June 2013.”

The ADPR public relations agency also describes the Governor’s Cup as one of the world’s most unusual yacht races, presumably because many of the yachts are carried back home aboard the RMS St Helena, “in the ship’s hold.”

“ADPR is looking for just one experienced sailor and travel writer to have the opportunity to compete in this unique race, and travel back on the RMS St Helena to Cape Town,” it says.

“The chosen person will need to be have the time free from 20 December 2012 to 16 January 2013, and anyone interested in applying should contact Polly Tyekiff at ADPR Ltd; email polly@adpr.co.uk or by phone on +0044 (0)1460 241641.”

Media monitor combines wig and pen

9 October 2012: The man charged with taming unruly elements of St Helena’s media has been something of a friend to journalists in the past, it turns out. Professionally, at least.

In fact, he’s revealed a track record of defending newspaper editors against legal action.

Not only that, but John MacRitchie also admits to having been a broadcaster and columnist himself.

It should be said that he has also pursued complaints against the media in his previous legal life in Scotland.

He disclosed his expertise in response to an irritating question that was, ahem, put to him by mistake.

It was actually intended for other members of the new media standards commission, but this weary writer failed to delete it from a set of questions that Mr MacRitchie graciously went on to answer very fully.

His replies arrived on the eve of the enactment of the island’s Media Standards Ordinance, which gives citizens a formal channel to complain about the work of journalists and broadcasters.

Quite possibly it will be used mostly by journalists themselves, to complain about each other.

Mr MacRitchie’s role as chief magistrate includes acting as president of the commission set up to deal with complaints. St Helena Online had the temerity to ask him about his media experience.

He said: “I have advised, pursued and defended in many civil and criminal actions and inquiries relating to media, and other matters from libel actions to advising newspapers and editors being allegedly in contempt of court.

“I have hosted my own legal radio programme, written weekly legal columns for a newspaper and have appeared on national television to comment about inquiries.

“As a lawyer of approaching 30 years’ experience, and having chaired the body which determined complaints against solicitors in Scotland, I would be surprised if there are any in St Helena who will have more qualifications and experience to preside effectively over this commission.”

So there. That’s told us.

St Helena Online is beyond the reach of the Media Standards Ordinance, and publishing offensive, discriminatory or defamatory material is not part of the site’s editorial mission. Even so, this writer will watch his step from now on.

Those lazy, hazy crazy days of… what season are we in?

7 October 2012: In a glowing travel piece, John Carter tells Mail on Sunday readers in the UK that one of the good things about St Helena is that “the time is the same as at home”.

Not all year, of course: at the moment, British Summer Time means UK Saints can lie in bed until about ten to eight, and still catch the seven o’clock news on Saint FM.

And even when it’s the same time of day, it’s not quite the same time of year.

One of the oddities for people in the Northern Hemisphere writing about life in the Southern Hemisphere is that one can never say, for instance, “in the winter”. Whose winter would that be?

Mr Carter (or if not him, then the sub-editor) writes: “It may have been February 25, but it was definitely a day for sun cream, dark glasses, a polo shirt and shorts.”

That’s right, John: sun cream is a good idea in high summer.

Mobile phones on St Helena? Don’t call us…

John Carter sounds sympathetic towards those who worry about the effect an airport will have on St Helena’s culture and environment. But he has a quick answer to them.

“St Helena is a gem that deserves to be seen and enjoyed,” he says – which presumably means that he likes it, and he wants other people to experience it too. The airport makes that possible.

And what is it that he likes so much? A lot: game fishing close to shore, great walks, his “absolutely first class” accommodation at Farm Lodge, “excellent” meals at the Wellington House Hotel, and the lack of mobile phones.

“At a nearby table, a group of English twentysomething dancers from a cruise ship moored offshore were trying to get a  signal on their mobiles. They stared in disbelief when I told them mobiles don’t  work on the island. ‘What sort of weird place is this?’ one of the girls  inquired.

“I should have told her it is the kind of ‘weird’ place where everyone speaks English, and drives on the proper side of the road. Where the time is the same as at home, the banknotes and coins are virtually identical and on a par with Sterling.

“And where mobile phones don’t work. So, what’s not to like about the sub-tropical island of St Helena?”

His conclusion: “If the decision-makers keep a tight rein on development, the Saints are on to a winner. Especially if they fix it so mobiles still don’t work.”

Since Mr Carter’s visit in February 2012, Cable & Wireless has promised to bring mobile phones to the island.

Oh well.

Read the full article here.

We’re beginning our descent and – where’s the runway?

Google Maps satellite image, showing St Helena Airport… with no runway

Click the pic to see a plane land at St Helena’s non-existent airport

1 October 2012: There are no flies on Google Maps. And St Helena is evidentally not a no-fly zone either, judging by the Google map of the island.

With 42 months to go until the first commercial aircraft is due to land, already it shows “St Helena Airport.”

Oddly, when one hovers over Broad Bottom, there is no mention of “Wirebird Hills: World’s Greenest Hotel”.

Nor is Napoleon’s last home marked, even though, unlike Wirebird Hills and the airport, it does actually exist.

The map also shows, in the Alarm Forest area, an “underground cave”. Is there any other kind of cave?

FCO gets in a flap about flag-waving

Oops. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office appears to have made a false claim in a press release, in which it says it will be flying the flags of the UK overseas territories on special days.

The latest flag was flown to mark National Gibraltar Day in mid-September.

The release also says that “the flags of all Territories were flown as part of the Diamond Jubilee pageant.”

Oh really? That sits rather oddly with the FCO’s own apology for not flying the territory flags for the Jubilee, nor for the Trooping of The Colour ceremony on the Queen’s birthday. It had promised it would.

It told St Helena Online: “We regret that we were not able to procure the necessary flags and flagpoles successfully in time for this summer’s events.”

In fairness, it should be pointed out that running flags up flagpoles is the responsibility of another government department. Yes, there really is a British government department in charge of flags, though it does have some other duties as well.

It’s not clear whether the flag of Ascension Island will be accorded the honour. Probably not, at the moment, because it doesn’t exist yet: having had its coat of arms approved, the island council is working on a flapping version.

We’re told that Ascension is the only British territory not to have its own flag, but this is a moot point, given that legally, Ascension isn’t a territory in its own right.

And we wait to see whether the the FCO – and other government departments – will fly the flag of the British Indian Ocean Territory, whose citizens were forcibly evicted and are still fighting to return.

Americans misplace Ascension

All those masts, and still the Americans aren’t sure where Ascension is…

Do the Americans know something about Ascension that they haven’t told us?

A company called Harris IT Services Corp has won a $65.4 million maintenance contract with the 50th Space Wing mission of the US Air Force. This will involve work in places as far apart as Hawaii, Cape Canaveral, Greenland, the British Indian Ocean Territory, and also Ascension Island… part of the “British Atlantic Ocean Territory.”

The what? Is this some grand strategy to join St Helena with the Falklands and even the Antarctic? And if so, has the British government been told? Does Governor Capes know about this?

It’s an idea that might be worth exploring, from St Helena’s point of view – if it would mean a share of the Falklands’ future oil riches.

Britain annexes someone else’s islands – again

It seems the Brits may have committed a territorial faux pas of their own in the recent White Paper on the UK’s overseas territories.

British premier David Cameron said the UK government was ambitious for the territories, but no one imagined that would involve annexing neighbouring islands.

That, however, is what has been done – if only on paper. And it’s not for the first time.

A map shows neighbouring islands as part of Anguilla

A map of the Caribbean, included in the White Paper, clearly shows St Martin and St Barthėlėmy as part of the territory of Anguilla. Actually, they are part of France and the Netherlands.

Worse, exactly the same mistake appeared in the previous White Paper, in 1999, according to the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum.

“In 1999, the FCO apologised to the French and Netherlands Governments for doing this and corrected the maps in the reprinted edition,” says the forum.

Anguilla, as seen by Google – long, thin, and not including its neighbour

Apparently, a retired official who spotted the mistake the first time was “amused, in a sad sort of way, but not really surprised” to see the blunder repeated 13 years on.

St Helena Online’s correspondent in Anguilla says the incident is unlikely to lead to the kind of neighbourly tensions experienced in the Falklands and Gibraltar.

“I can confirm that war between Anguilla and the French and Dutch islands has been averted,” he says.

Where to go to cash in your chips

On the website of the windswept Chatham Islands of New Zealand – briefly home to this writer, many years ago – we find out what really matters in life. It says:

Essential services: post office, bank, and fish and chip shop.

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