The sun, a brilliant ball in the lower echelon of the sky, projects its rays across James Bay, signaling the fading of daylight hours. A small amount of the south easterly trade winds create gentle ripples which break onto the pebbly beach, the scene is tranquil and breath-taking.
Boats small and medium in size, some brightly coloured, remind me of Brixham Harbour in Devon as they bob about on the tide, the bobbing silhouettes expanding with the setting sun, until their shadows cast apparitions all along the moorings.
I have travelled some of this vast world in search of beauty, yet here, on an island that I called home as a child and now again as an adult, I am reminded of the elegance of a place mostly unscathed by gluttonous development and commercial decay.
As I wonder along the Wharf of St Helena Island, nostalgia emanates and I am returned to the blowing of the horn on the RMS St Helena, accompanied by Roger Whitaker’s ‘The Last Farewell’ and the slow disappearance of the rock.
My hands clasp the sea-worn railings, as I stare into the same ocean that took me four thousand six hundred miles to the port of Cardiff, in October 1999. The adventure, my romance with Great Britain, would twist and turn for nearly twenty one years.
I knew the streets would not be paved with gold in London, I’m glad Whittington and his cat had established this much earlier on so that I could at least take a few gold coins with me. I had very little and the cost of a sandwich and a bottle of juice at the railway station in Cardiff was a bit of a shock for a girl who was used to tuck shop ‘doorstep’ pizzas at 50p a piece.
London, a ‘pot’ brewing with every kind of person and belief system on this planet and a playground for anyone who has spent their teenage years confused and consumed by small-town convention.
I was in Toronto (in the CN Tower) on 11th September 2001. I was in London as the Security Manager for a sixteen storey building of glass on 7th July 2005. One begins to understand quickly that life is not all fun, movie stars, retail therapy and internet access. Sometimes, urban living envelopes a person into a bubble of survival and desperate existence, especially on those days when life seemed just an endless game of work and parties.
The purpose of this article is not to talk incessantly about life in the UK. Of the many wonderful hours I spent roaming European cities whilst draining a glass of chilled Sancerre or feasting on some wonderful repast, whilst sitting on a piazza and people-watching against a timeless backdrop, but to tell the story of moving back to the ‘small pond’ and the highs and lows of this integration. Many will have already made this journey and all tales are distinctively individual, so I don’t claim to have worked out the best way. Besides, I am still in the transition period.
As life in the UK began to reach determination, I felt the effects of years of conditioning. I knew, before I navigated my way back to the island of St Helena, I needed a reprieve from it all. So I left the island after a two month visit In September 2019 to travel back to the UK and the US north eastern seaboard. It was exactly the ‘pilgrimage’ needed to attempt balance of polar opposite existences. No one anticipated Covid-19.
I will always have a deep fondness for London, like anything, one has to know when enough is quite enough (even if just for a while) in a city driven by economics, politics, transiency, consumption, more. The creativity and diversity of London will always keep me piqued.
On 26th October 2020, I flew home to St Helena on a Titan Airways flight from Stansted Airport, a one-way ticket. How marvellous to fly home directly, quickly. For those who voted against the airport, I suspect this was out of fear or an attempt to keep the island in a time warp that suited some but not the majority. We understood and anticipated that the cost of living would increase, but we also embraced the many benefits. We cannot turn back time, so it is only a passing consideration. The fact is (fact being much better than fiction), we now have the airport and all the thrills and frills that go with it, including the proposed long-term self-sustainability plan. We can either quarrel about what hasn’t gone quite well, or we can ‘get behind the oars and row’. I take this approach with the past generally, what I cannot change or control, I accept and work with.
Being in quarantine for two weeks at Bradleys Camp was different. I really enjoyed it, met some interesting people and the additional time to prepare for conventional living was much needed. The Wirebirds and rabbits also kept us entertained as they teased us with their freedom outside the boundary line. The wind choked every crevice of the camp at times and I wondered, “will I play Mary Poppins on this night?” I salivated in anticipation of the fishy dinners, especially the crayfish.
I knew that travels had changed my view of life significantly. I had wanted to return home but when it came to it, I was nervous about freedom, understanding, tolerance, isolation etc.
To be fully in one place, this is challenging when the ‘family’ I had had to create to substitute for my biological family being so far away, were now so far away as well. Half of life had been spent with some of these folk. I missed them at times and our open-minded, tolerant connections. Life and exposure changes many things. I began to make new friends on the island, friends who shared my interest in spiritual growth, nature, reading, writing, music and healthy living.
It’s easy to act like ‘a big fish’ in a small pond when one moves back to a small place from a major city. I have on occasions pushed boundaries when it came to wielding agendas without respect for the culture I had left behind all those years ago. To bring views which are carefully conveyed is important so that we don’t become a ’troublesome fish’ in a small pond. We won’t always get it right as we humans tend to take offense rather than try to understand. We are not responsible for managing other people’s emotional experiences, lest we become captives in society. All we can do is try to manage our own output kindly and listen carefully.
I’m honing the skill of listening (slowly). Listening is a skill nurtured not nearly enough across the globe, our minds already decided before we hear anything. So we don’t hear anything. We hear only what our minds are suggesting.
The little cafes and the Consulate Hotel particularly, are wonderful places to talk to people over coffee. I’ve sort of spurned the night-life for the most part since becoming a teetotal; the lighter hours bring me adventure and the evening hours, a good book and a hot cup of tea. Sometimes I feel like I am on a permanent vacation in the Cotswolds! The Consulate Hotel is also great for people watching on a Thursday when ‘ration day’ is upon us.
Sun-downers are my favourite if I do venture out into the early hours of the evening and I love that some bars stock a variety of non-alcoholic bevvies. Giving up drinking has changed life monumentally. I don’t miss it, at all. The clarity, no hangovers, no using it as a prop for the times when I’m feeling sucker-punched by life thus deepening the mayhem. The story is the same with those who open up about alcohol dependency, it arrived as a ‘friend’, a too-socially-acceptable habit and a coping mechanism, only to find out way down that slippery slope what an painful bondage it is for ourselves and those we love.
A breeze blows through the windows of Horse Cottage (I’ve temporarily named my current place of abode this because the two pictures I have chosen to hang depict horses by coincidence). The area, Gordons Post in Alarm Forest, an area of such serenity and not as far out of town as Sandy Bay or Blue Hill. Yet, when one has lived abroad, ‘what’s far within forty seven square miles?’ Even Rodney and Del Boy’s three wheeler could make the distance before the ice had started to melt on the ill-gained tuna.
The window directly ahead of me is a plume of green shades, the sun is pouring in and I can still hear the insects making the most of the morning quietude. The graceful eucalyptus tree bows and bends like an old sailing ship in calm waters.
It’s a Sunday morning, the church bells come alive on hillsides and in dales, willing folk to seek recompense with God for the past week and replenished spiritual goodness for the week ahead. The “moo” of a cow is carried along the breeze but it isn’t until later in the morning that the ‘whirring’ of a grass cutter suggests breakfast is over and light work is about to begin. For some, like farmers and fishermen the waking hours have been and gone long before the first crow of a cockerel. From somewhere across the valley the sounds of Saint FM Community Radio remind me that Country Music is much loved and played on a Sunday morning as people ‘chase the pots’.
The Island is among the fortunate few places where everyone who wanted to be inoculated with the AstraZeneca Vaccine have been (both jabs) by the end of April 2021. Just last week, a friend from Brazil confirmed her first vaccine jab in a country riddled with death as a result of poor Governmental decisions. We have much to be grateful for here.
St Helena Day 2021 was my first in twenty one years, so it was wonderful to see the waves of smiling faces. Smiles mean so much more to someone who has had to endure a masked society even for just for eight months. The diversity of people among the street party (nothing so elaborate as Notting Hill Carnival) was wonderful to see. Haven’t we all originated from somewhere other than St Helena? Too few people attended the unveiling of a slave memorial at the Pipe Store in Church Lane, a wonderful creation by local artist Sophie Joshua and a reminder that all human beings should be equal and free.
Volunteering at Saint FM has allowed me to take ‘bite-sized’ chunks of politics without disrupting the peaceful ebb and flow of life. I respect the job that politicians have to do. I remember that other people’s reality does not have to become my own, so I manage incoming messages very carefully. One must be careful not to become consumed with negativity even though there is much work to be done. I was fortunate to experience quite a bit on my travels, and what I saw and heard, has made me very grateful for the goodness in life and accepting of the peaks and troughs. Life is an ever-evolving process and sometimes, I think we focus too much on the destination instead of the journey. I am not afraid of politics but I am weary of the havoc we can cause if we do not have skills for respectful negotiation. Tempers flare as we use the same skills time and again and get nowhere, without asking ourselves, ‘why’? Communication channels close, bridges are burnt and we fail to stop and ask ourselves, ‘why’? How we have been nurtured to negotiate isn’t necessarily the best way. If we are riled up by the many challenges, what energy is left for the solutions, lest we become part of the problem.
One of the things I find most gratifying is being able to hang washing out on the line. The smell of freshly washed clothes wafts along on the breeze and as my Mum told me, ‘don’t leave them out in the sun all day and turn them inside out’.
I like that there are seasonal vegetables and fruit on the island besides the imports from South Africa (albeit shortages occur at times). One old lady said to me, “it is sad luvie cause I used to feed this sized vegetable to my animals and now I am having to buy it. So many of the next generation seem to hear the call of far of lands or don’t want to work, as opposed to local jobs of hard toil, like farming”, she seemed to suggest. I understand the call from far of lands and I appreciate how hard people in industries such as farming have to work.
I’ve seen some awesome woodwork, needlework, stonework, creativity over the past six months and I hope that more of this will surface as the island continues to gain recognition beyond Napoleon Bonaparte, a topic that causes opposing discussion among islanders, especially when he is celebrated.
The traditional island cooking is always a warm welcome home, although one has to manage the heavy carbs (and large portions) alongside of regular exercise. Bicycles seem to be very popular, a good idea as the walking up and down hill can sometimes be very taxing on the hips and knees. I try to eat as much local fish as possible……surrounded by sea, what’s the excuse? Responsibly sourced fish, something many pay top dollar for in first world countries. There seems to be much scientific stimulus and documenting ongoing to ensure that the quality of our ‘blue’ prevails. It was interesting to note that fish like bullseye were starting to dwindle in size and stock and even the recommended minimum catch size was suggested too small. “The balance between development and preservation has never been so necessary”, many local and expat specialists suggest.
As I navigate the ring road between Gordons Post and Hutts Gate (which by the way reminds me of a Cornish village with its little shop and winding road) the pounding of my trainers on the tarmac’d road is accompanied by the sounds of a stream through the coffee plantations, birds chirping happily in the trees, croaking frogs adding to the affray and beyond the green corridor, cows graze on lush green pastures. Overhanging trees afford me a little bit of relief from the blistering sun as I round the bend and take to the hillside. On certain days, I may find ‘Daisy’ wondering the roads having cocked her leg over the fence and made off with the mindset that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.
Perhaps once tourism regains its footing and the cable arrives, we will see opportunity for greater earning, as the cost of living continues to encroach on the most vulnerable. What option do we have but to remain optimistic?
For some, this optimism is premature and painful as businesses close their doors indefinitely, no different to the rest of the world. I like to remember that many of the entrepreneurs of this world have had to steer through the ‘choppy waters’ of bankruptcy and failure at times. Adversity is laced with learning if we can bravely shoulder the difficulties. Perhaps we could learn new skills and go off in a different direction? Who says that a person has to stagnate in one job or industry all of life?
With the cable workers arriving and departing, the reality of more affordable, faster internet is closing in. Once upon a time in Great Britain there was a company called BT …..
The island has been fortunate not to get caught up in the initial social media madness. Perhaps we can learn lessons from guys like Jaron Larnier who speak openly of the dangers of social media addiction. It is the one thing I love about being on the island. I don’t need to have a mobile phone, I haven’t even put in an island SIM-card yet. It seems a shame to break the ambience of ‘Horse Cottage’ with alarm bells.
On a walk recently to Shark’s Valley, people originally from the UK were talking about how nice it is to have a limit on when and what to surf, thus using the megabites wisely. I suppose it’s up to the user to manage content and frequency. Being the knowing behind the facility will allow us to understand the dangers. There are people who want us to stay ignorant to unhealthy usage. Money, big money depends on it.
Diana’s Peak isn’t very far from home. I love walking alone, with the absence of voices; I see insects, birds, flowers intricately. One afternoon, a butterfly opened its wings casually as I waited patiently with the iPhone at full zoom. It had paused over a bright yellow flower and with the green and brown blades of grass magnifying the yellow and purple-bluish butterfly, the contrast was stunning.
Similarly I also caught photos through quiet, gentle observation of a dragon fly with ‘mother-of-pearl’ coloured wings resting on the silky white ebony flower with green leaves back-dropping the entire picture.
I’ve been out to look for whale sharks on one occasion (unfortunately we did not see any) and on another; I was treated to a spectacular show by our local Dolphin population.
Leaping high into the air and doing the most fantastic twirls like an acrobat in a Russian circus, this show was for free! I wished I could have swum with them as they frisked about in the ocean.
I never learnt to scuba dive as a child, maybe the time has come. Until then, I like to swim to the Papanui (a New Zealand cargo / passenger ship which sank in 1911) of an afternoon on occasions and as one dives down into the water and comes back up, the brilliant rays of sunshine perpetrate the shallow depths creating lucid aquamarine tones.
The little fish swim about you and it’s a wonderful feeling of freedom,
I like to imagine the coastline with white beaches….”ahhh well, one cannot have it all”.
I’ve enjoyed eating local fruit picked or given to me, whether they are bull-berries, mangoes, papaya, banana, tamarinds, guava, passion fruit, figs, medlems, and loquats. It reminds me of growing up as a child and climbing trees (sometimes much to the disdain of property owners) and running off with the goods.
It is easy to see why Edmond Haley chose St Helena to map out star formations. The terns accompany me as I walk through the observatory land. On a clear night when the moon is in full view, St Helena’s skies are a ceiling of twinkles (with the odd satellite thrown in for good measure) and one simply stands in awe. It looks as though the world has been turned upside down and someone has dropped a whole load of crushed crystals on the bathroom floor! Vast………
A friend once suggested that ‘“I go home to die much later in life”, not to settle at forty one years old. “If conventional fast pace life doesn’t kill you of first”, I thought. It has been suggested that I be ready to ‘settle down’ now. What is this settling down? I love the transiency of life. I don’t have the children or the mortgage to tie me into anything, so why would I say ‘forever’? When making any decision, remember, it is our decision, not to be furthered by the voices of others. It is not how long we contribute but how and what we contribute which I suggest is important, especially knowing when to hand over the baton to others.
Convention will tell us what, but often it does not tell us how or why. When making the decision to move back to St Helena, I needed quiet and honesty, I need this every day of life as I navigate the many comments which require further explanation and understanding (and a lot of patience). “If it isn’t like my existence, it can’t be right”. Someone needs to be wrong, so that we can be right. I have been frowned upon because my path is quite unconventional, when I am not at Saint FM or with friends and family, I am trying to sharpen skills which help when I am out in public. If anything I learn can enhance connections, this makes me very happy. It is easy to fall in line with others, to listen to the noise of other people’s best intended comments, that is exactly how I ended up in dark spaces in life. Nothing I write means much, unless I live the change.
In coming back to the island, I came back to nothing of any tangible ownership, but all that I have is sufficient to enjoy life. I have a roof over my head, food, family, friends and succulent natural surroundings. I never returned for big money, for a high powered job title. I returned because of my love for the island and the folks that call it home. Through my eyes, I see St Helena as one of the last outposts of monumental natural beauty in this world. The fact that it has bought much healing to my wounded soul, is simply that I chose to take from her what she has to offer. Someone once said to me, ‘don’t move back to the island, there is no money there’. They presumed incorrectly that I was still driven by money. Some things, we cannot buy.
My energy levels have increased threefold. To meditate, to breathe in the fresh unpolluted air, to be able to take time out to speak to a smiling friend, to laugh and while away the moments with funny stories of yesteryear. I love to sit and drink a cup of tea on the veranda and watch the birds fly about from tree to tree, or see the sun and the glorious patterned sky collide as the final rays of day bow out.
I hadn’t realised how tired life had made me in ‘the fast lane’. We keep going, working for whatever goal and we seem to forget about the simple, free things that life and especially nature has to offer. The ‘small things’ seem to be unimportant. We want the grand things and we will make ourselves very ill trying to get them. I pretended a lot, wore a lot of masks, exhausting. Time out (especially on the island) has helped me to rest and recuperate, regain some form of ‘sanity’ from the madness which was laced with a big dollop of ‘fun’, even if the island introduced a fresh set of challenges. In the end, life is life with its peaks and troughs, life is how we turn up for it, regardless of where we live I suppose.
Maybe one day the island will also benefit from increased transiency (as we started to see pre-Covid) but I hope she never loses her healing power, her ornate beauty and her gusty warm welcome to the weary soul.
Life is not plain sailing, a lot of hard work is being done behind the scenes, a lot of hard work needs to be done on ourselves to continue to update our ‘wiring’ to contribute effectively. It does not help when people sit on the sidelines and criticise without contribution. I have done this on too many occasions. I have been fortunate to talk with many heads of departments since I arrived back, many people don’t have a problem with being challenged or held to account, but they do when it is done in such a way which is not respectful. Yet, I also think we need to be offended less, personalise our jobs less and keep evolving with the times, embracing life’s impermanence.
All of life is change. St Helena is entering a crucial period of change, coupled with Covid-19, this change may seem stark and ruthless to some. Did we really believe that the island would be exempt from change when the rest of the world isn’t? Humans generally do not do too well with change, we would prefer to trigger the change as and when we are ready. Life doesn’t work like this. The more we resist change (which we we cannot control) the more stressful the impact. Even the wealthiest people on this planet cannot buy ‘life’ when their time comes to depart, so what chance do we have of holding back the tide? It is why I have chosen to strengthen my resolve internally, a resilience that will allow me to survive, learn from and capitalize on challenges.