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Carnival catcall echoes round the world

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Duck! Deon de Jager pilots a plane down Main Street. Picture: Debbie Wahle
Duck! Deon de Jager pilots a plane down Main Street. Picture: Debbie Wahle

Radio listeners around the world have been regaled with the story of the low-flying aircraft that turned out not to be quite low enough when it led the St Helena Carnival procession down Main Street.

Writer Mark Stratton took advantage of the episode to open his piece on the island for the BBC World Service programme, From Our Own Correspondent.

carnival 500Click the pic for an updated Carnival gallery

As a result, a cheeky heckle from the crowd has been heard around the globe – and it didn’t exactly pay a compliment to the company that’s earned plaudits for its Herculean work to fill in an entire valley to make way for the island’s new airport.

“It was carnival day in Jamestown,” the piece began. “The quaint capital’s high street of Georgian buildings and purple flowering jacarandas was thronged with St Helenians in fancy dress, blowing whistles and banging drums.

Clear for take off - picture by Barbara George
Clear for take off – picture by Barbara George

“A ripple of laughter swept through the crowd. The procession’s only motorised float was just too tall to fit under a large carnival banner strung across the street.

“But this was no ordinary float. It belonged to South African construction company Basil Read, which back in 2011 was awarded a 375 million dollar contract to build St Helena’s first-ever airport.

“Sitting astride a large scale model of an aircraft on top of this float was Basil Read’s project director, sporting an airline pilot’s cap. He clambered off the model aeroplane’s fusilage to help deconstruct the float so it could fit under the banner.

“The irony of this wasn’t lost on the revellers. ‘They can’t even design a float properly,’ yelled a middle-aged wag in a lurid pink wig. ‘How on Earth can they build our airport?'”

Basil Read’s response is keenly awaited.

Mark Stratton also had a six-page spread in “Britain’s best-selling magazine about France”, called… France.

Click the pic to read Mark Stratton's article
Click the pic to read Mark Stratton’s article

His article begins: “Michel Dancoisne-Martineau looks nothing like Napoléon. He is taller, leaner and bespectacled”.

The article tells how Michel arrived on the island as a student and was adopted by the honorary French consul, Gilbert Martineau, who wanted to retire and asked him to take over. “I said yes as I was craving money and it was originally only for three years,” said Michel.

The writer says that after a quarter of a century, Michel still feels very French and merely a guest on St Helena.

“I wondered if his time had felt like being in exile. ‘No, never,’ said the 46-year-old from Picardy, ‘I’m comfortable being the only Frenchman on the island and it was my choice to come here.’

“Asked if there was anything he missed, Michel said: ‘Yes, confit de canard. Every time I go to Paris I do my confit de canard. Then there are veal and oysters… it’s food-related things I miss.'”

In English, confit de canard is duck’s leg. Perhaps Michel could get some in, to share with Rémi, the other resident Frenchman on St Helena…

Listen to From Our Own Correspondent reports from St Helena: 
By Mark Stratton, April 2013
By Horatio Clare, December 2012
By Simon Pipe, October 2009

IN PICTURES: St Helena Carnival 2012, by Debbie Wahle and Barbara George

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