November 2012

Time for the tortoises to make a dash for the hills? 

by Simon Pipe

29 November 2012: If old Jonathan the tortoise has been looking mildly bored after a century in the garden of Plantation House, it could be because he’s overdue for his annual migration.

Scientists on the Galapagos Islands have discovered that the giant tortoises there are migratory creatures.

They don’t head south for the winter, as such, but they do embark on an annual trek to higher ground – travelling perhaps as far as 10 kilometres. Slowly.

The scientists, who reported their findings in the Journal of Animal Ecology, tracked 17 tortoises after attaching satellite sensors to their backs.

Of course, Jonathan and his companions are from the Seychelles, where tortoises might not have been so big on mountaineering.

But if Joe the Vet is to consider a holiday in The Peaks for St Helena’s giants, there would be logistical implications, judging by one media report.

It says: “Giant tortoise migration should be preserved by maintaining tortoise-friendly roads.”

Joe… shut the gate.

Put the beer on ice: the yachties are coming to party

29 November 2012: The 2013 Governor’s Cup Yacht Race to St Helena has been dubbed “the party of the year” by the Go South Online website.

Governor Mark Capes has spoken of the courage that will be needed by the 19 crews confirmed for the 1,700-mile run down-wind from the tip of South Africa.

But the website prefers to focus on the festivities in store for them. “It is difficult to establish whether the highlight for the entrants is the actual race, the party once they arrive there, or the trip home,” it says. “Talking to two experienced yachties, it is all of the above.”

Billy Leisegang, a three-time winner of the race on handicap, says: “First, you have the downwind dash from Simon’s Town to St Helena with all the excitement of surfing down the huge Atlantic rollers.

“While you’re sailing, loved ones are making their way to St Helena on the RMS and will be waiting for you at Jamestown with champagne and cold beers.

“A holiday in paradise awaits, starting with typical St Helenian hospitality and adding beautiful hikes, diving, visits at great pubs and of course parties galore. You (and your yacht) then head home on the five-star RMS for five nights of fun, laughter, traditional mail ship games and incredible meals.”

That’s not to say that an easy voyage awaits Hedge Shuter and his St Helena crew on board the yacht Patches, or their Saint rivals Tyler Brady and David Joshua aboard the JML Rotary Scout.

“A yacht like ours,” says Billy “can surf down an Atlantic roller at speeds in excess of 20 knots (37 km per hour). Then you can be almost becalmed and have to concentrate for hours to squeeze every little advantage over your competitors.”

Some veteran yachtsmen and women will be among the competitors, along with some less-experienced crew. They include Sean Kavanagh, aboard Ray of Light, who’s unlikely to be enjoying much of the beer that’s handed to crews at the finish.

He’s four years old.

Read the Go South Online write-up here.

Pensions rise by one penny – official

28 November 2012: These are indeed exciting times to be living on St Helena, not least for pensioners.

Pensions are to rise by a penny a week, acting governor Owen O’Sullivan has announced. Let rejoicing commence.

Or are they?

This is how the news was broken to cheering crowds (forgive me – I wasn’t there and can only imagine the jubilation):

“Our final paper,” said Owen O’Sullivan, “was quite straightforward and administrative. It sought to slightly revise upwards the rate of Basic Island Pension and Household Poverty level by 1p from £49.06 to £49.07 and from £47.21 to £47.22 respectively. These revised figures now take into account roundings in the calculations.”

Straightforward? Not to this writer. I had no idea what this meant, but I didn’t want to trouble the overworked government press office for the sake of a penny, and sought guidance from other wise heads on the island.

This was the response from one of them:

“Why on earth Exco wants to concern itself with this mundane clerical fiddling around is beyond me.

“It appears the calculation for the BIP was something like £49.067p if taken to three decimal places. So the great and the good decided to make it £49.07, “giving” 0.003p instead of taking 0.007p.

“As we are half way through the tax year BIP recipients will merely get what they were denied in the first half of the year.”

Phew. With sensitive matters like this being discussed, we can now understand why Exco must hold its meetings in secret and deny the public access to documents that would be freely available in any functional democracy.

Open government would clearly be a threat to social security.

Green roofs? Tristanians show it’s a matter of flax

26 November 2012: The developer Shelco says it wants to use “living roofs” on its luxury Wirebird Hills eco resort on St Helena, but there’s another green possibility that may be more apt.

It might even mean that people needn’t import expensive roofing materials in future – because there’s a freely available alternative that grows over much of the island.

The idea comes from Tristan da Cunha, where pensioners have been building a stone cottage in the traditional island way.

The Thatched Tristan House Project began in January 2009 with the idea of creating a cottage that could serve as a museum of island life – and pass on the old techniques to young Tristanians.

The original settlers on Tristan lived in robust stone houses, designed by two Devon stonemasons, John Nankivel and Samuel Burnell, who arrived as part of the first British garrison in 1816 and stayed on.

The building method they devised, using a volcanic tuff known as “soft stone”, remained in use for 150 years or so – and today’s island pensioners are just old enough to know how it was done.

In January 2009, they quarried and cut stone into huge blocks to form the gable ends, and then added front and back walls, with windows only at the front of the building. A severe storm blew down one of the big walls, but the men stuck with it.

And early in November 2012, no fewer than 40 islanders gathered to give the cottage a roof – of thatched flax.

That’s the same New Zealand flax that grows in unwelcome abundance on St Helena.

Phormium tenax was introduced to Tristan da Cunha in the 19th Century and provided thatching material. As Saints will know, it’s a highly invasive species, and the Tristan Conservation department has had its work cut out trying to eradicate it from the outer islands and outside the Settlement Plain on the main island.

On 7 November, the old hands showed the younger men how to tie the flax into bundles and then place them at the bottom of the wooden roof frame, bunching the bundles closely together to form a thick blanket.

Six rows of flax were strapped in place, front and back, with “nelly yarn”; and by the day’s end, the job was done. A fire was lit inside, and the Tristan flag was raised on the roof.

The finished result was a curious mix of chunky Devon-style stonework and tropical-looking green roof, as though the cottage was wearing an over-sized grass skirt. No doubt it will look different as it ages.

A house finished with a flax roof might look a bit odd on St Helena, but it would at least avoid the need to import expensive materials from abroad. Perhaps St Paul’s Cathedral would look even more splendid topped with flax, instead of corrugated metal.

And it might offer one important advantage over having living plants growing over the heads of guests at Wirebird Hills:

There’d be no need for some hapless groundsman to shin up a ladder and mow the roof.

Find pictures of the Tristan thatched house project here.

Gillian plumps for lumpy lemons

21 November 2012: St Helena’s natural store cupboard is evidently being exploited to the full by Gillian Scott Moore, who is working on the island as a “hospitality adviser”.

Among other things, this means teaching people to cook new dishes to appeal to discerning tourists, and she generously shares some of her recipes on her blog, with appealing introductions. Here’s one she prepared earlier:

The St Helena lemons I have seen this week, look just fantastic, in fact I was so impressed with them I took a photo of the bowl sitting on the counter at the market.

A little bit lumpy and bumpy, these lemons have ATTITUDE!

Tesco might not agree with me but I would far prefer lemons which look like they have had a normal life, rather than lemons which look like they grew and ripened in the box they were delivered in!  As for juice content and flavour:  St Helena Lemons win the contest again!

That’s St Helena Lemons 2, Tesco Lemons 0!

Gillian goes on to show readers how to make lemon curd and lemon butter sauce, which can be served with cauliflower or courgettes, any fish, or lean pork.

This is great stuff, but there’s an opportunity here to create appropriately named signature dishes for the island. Lemon Valley Meringue? Sandy Bay Sorbet? Distant Cottage Pie? Alarm Forest Gateau?

But probably not Man And Horse Pie.

A bird on air

7 November 2012: Mike Olsson evidently employs unconventional ways to liven up his presenters at Saint FM, according to a Facebook message posted by Charlene Robinson.

“A bird decided to come into Saint FM studio today,” she writes. “Luckily I wasn’t talking as you would have heard the screams as it was flying all around.”

Fellow presenter Sinead Green, whose ears appear to have suffered during the incident, comments that Charlene has never been seen to move so fast.

Basil flies low down Main Street… but not low enough

4 November 2012: The singe float that led October’s Carnival procession through Jamestown turned out to be more entertaining than its creators intended.

It certainy brought a smile to Michael Theobalds, an education adviser who writes an occasional online journal about his adventures on the island.

He has posted an appreciative review of the noisy, colourful festivities, and of the float.

“My highlight of a super day: a display on Pakistani Bhangra dancing, given by a small group of white South African girls amongst enthusiastic Saints, on an island in the middle of the South Atlantic. What a wonderful example of unselfconscious multiculturalism. It was terrific.”

Michael also pokes gentle fun at the “amusing” float at the front of the procession. It was put together by staff of Basil Read, the company building St Helena’s airport.

“The director of the project ‘flew’ an aircraft down the street,” he writes, “raising his captain’s cap to all and sundry. Cheers and fun until we get to the temporary arched entrance into Grand Parade.

“All of us could see that the height of the plane would not allow a safe landing into the square. Lots of thought and chin rubbing before it was decided that the tail fin would have to be removed before a landing could be attempted.

“Said fin removed, access to the square allowed. One trusts that more careful measurements have been made before the first real aircraft comes into land at the new airport!”

Note to organisers of the airport opening celebrations: don’t build a welcoming arch across the runway.

New Horizons has it taped

Michael also praises the New Horizons youth team for its immensely successful Hallowe’en event at High Knoll Fort, where it filled various dungeon-like rooms with ghoulish characters. “A brilliant job was done to terrify those with a faint heart,” writes Michael, a week after the event.

He also admires the can-do attitude of officials on the island, given the collapsed state of part of the fortress wall, exposing a near-vertical drop of several hundred feet. The police and fire service were both involved in making sure the event was safe.

“A bit of canvas, some police tape and a small group of stewards was thought sufficient to allow the event to go ahead,” writes Michael. “Of course, there were no accidents, no fatal falls.

“Doubtless, Health and Safety intervention would not have allowed the event to take place in the UK!”

Read Michael’s blog here.

Mr Greenwood seeks a herbal remedy

3 November 2012: James Greenwood, the ever-surprising advisory teacher who’s introduced Classics to St Helena, has run into difficulty with his plans to stage a Roman feast for his students.

He makes the following plea to his 5,000 followers on the internet messaging site, Twitter:

Planning a Roman feast for my y9 #classciv group. Any suggestions for an alt to rue that’s similar in taste? Don’t have it on St Helena!

Students might be grateful that rue is not available. It’s a very bitter herb, disliked by cats but used extensively in Roman cuisine.

Of its many healing properties, Prince Andrew School students are likely to be most interested in the one that crops up in the Harry Potter books:

“In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ron has to take essence of rue for a couple of weeks while recovering from the poisoned oak-matured mead he drank in Professor Slughorn’s office.” (Wikipedia)

If all else fails, there’s always Caesar salad.

Ascension’s blackfish: the movie

A couple of lads with a fancy camera loon about with friends while snorkelling and diving off rocks on Ascension in a video that’s just been posted on YouTube.

Nothing much happens but it’s overlaid with music and it’s a lot of fun to watch. After eight minutes, they find a fish that isn’t black.

Watch it here (unless you’re on a limited data allowance on St Helena, in which case you’d be better off just buying a snorkel and going for a swim).

Not remote for much longer?

Will St Helena cease to be truly remote when it gets its airport? The questions is prompted by Falklands councillor Sharon Halford, just back from Commonwealth and overseas territories gatherings in Sri Lanka and Greenland.

“When we go overseas we often think we are away for too long,” she said in a speech. “People from St Helena think they are away for even longer, but the record had to be given to the representative from Pitcairn who had left home to attend a meeting which required an absence of three months, as that is how often they receive a ship.

“And then when she was asked to attend the meeting in Greenland, it meant missing a connection home and therefore an absence of six months.

“When you hear of this kind of remoteness it makes you realise that despite what people say, the Falklands are not remote and we have good connections to the outside world.” For “Falklands”, read “St Helena”?

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