Bringing in the New Year

December 29th to January 5th

The days between Christmas and New Year were leisurely with no normal work timetable and no more babies expected until mid-January.  I assessed that, from the pattern of the previous months, I was unlikely to have any emergency call-in’s to work so could risk joining Alan on one of his post box walks, with my colleagues’ agreement obtained first.  Val, our landlady, had been in touch too to ask about joining Alan on one of the post-box walks.  St Helena Tourism, together with St Helena National Trust, has a series of 21 walks of varying lengths, terrain and difficulty all with a stamp in a post box at the furthest point.  Alan’s aim had been to complete all the walks; by 29th December he had only two still to do.  The first was to Cox’s Battery, an old military look-out and munitions store on a north-east cliff top reached from Deadwood Plain between Prosperous Plain (where the airport is being built) and a large rocky edifice known as The Barn.  It is one of the shorter walks, though no less spectacular despite this.  Walking with Val always adds to the experience as she shares her rich and detailed knowledge of the flora and fauna we discover along the way.  For the first time, we were able to taste ‘sour figs’, the fruity swelling of a Livingstone Daisy like plant after the flower has died.  We also learned that there are two types of prickly pear growing on St Helena, only one of which is used for making Tungji, the locally distilled ‘raki’.  At one point, we could hear numerous bees around the other type of prickly pear, but seeing them was another matter as they were all busy collecting the nectar from down inside the deep flowers.  Alan managed to take a couple of photographs as one or two emerged ‘nectar drunk’ and slow to buzz away.  St Helena honey is uniquely flavoured and prized, also very difficult to get hold of as we had discovered not having found one pot to buy in all our time on the island.

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“The Paint Box” feature on the way to Cox’s Battery

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“The Barn” with “The Haystack” just visible on the top

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Alan and Val at the post box on Cox’s Battery

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Looking north east from Cox’s Battery

 

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“Turk’s Cap” and a prickly pear cactus on Cox’s Battery

New Year’s Eve arrived with no plans for how we would celebrate Hogmanay.  Then Lauren phoned, inviting us to join them at a party at Bertrand’s Cottage where Rachel and Ross live.  Rachel is the island’s ‘junior economist’.  She had not long returned from attending a friend’s wedding in Scotland, where, co-incidentally, my sister, Ruth was also among the guests.  Bertrand Cottage is one of the oldest buildings still inhabited and is named after General Bertrand who was one of Napoleon’s companions during his captivity in Longwood House, two minutes’ walk away.   There were around thirty guests, including children, most of them now familiar, friendly faces to us.  Midnight came; the moment confirmed by listening to Big Ben’s chimes on the BBC World Service.  Fireworks were let off – a very special treat – and toasts were drunk to bring in 2014 in very amiable circumstances.  I found myself wondering how the five New Years had been marked by Napoleon, the Bertrand family, his other companions and his officer captors in that very same place almost three centuries ago.

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Bertrand’s Cottage (photo from the Napoleonic Society website)

We were home and in bed by one as we had a big day ahead.  Alan had just one post box walk left to complete and I had permission to join him again.  This walk, to Lot’s Wife’s Ponds, was a much bigger challenge than the Cox’s Battery walk.  It was the walk that I remembered hearing about during my month on island in 2011; a walk I had hoped I could finally do on this trip.  Now it was happening, not only on a special day but also bringing to a close a substantial achievement for Alan as he completed all 21 post box walks.  We drove to Sandy Bay, on the south of the island.  It was not far in miles but took more than 45 minutes to get there as we had to go by the hospital to collect a radio just in case I was needed.  Then the road is tortuous and steep heading down into Sandy Bay, keeping the speed down to an average of less than 10 miles an hour.   Past Shape headquarters, Andy’s pub, Solomon’s pig farm, Sandy Bay Baptist Chapel, Lot (a steep stony pillar) and over the almost dry yam filled stream bed running down the valley to the parking place for the start of the walk.  The day was overcast but warm.  We were well equipped with water and had swim wear packed up too as, provided the sea was not too rough, it is possible to swim in the large rock-surrounded sea ponds.  The walk was wonderful, even though the terrain is dry and rocky underfoot there were always new colours and sights to catch the eye: different flowering plants (a succulent called babies’ toes being the most unusual), contrasting shadings in the rocks, the sea patterns, and the masked boobies allowing us to come so close to their nesting sites before taking off to circle around overhead.  The ponds are accessed by descending down two 10 metre knotted ropes from the end of the path where the post box is situated.  Then it is an easy walk over crab covered rocks to the four ponds, all offering a different swimming experience due to varying depths, temperatures and sea life within.  We were careful to avoid the black sea urchins with their fragile spines that break off so easily after penetrating the skins that we have experienced before on the Dalmation coast in Croatia.  Once in the water, we could stand still and look down at hundreds of different coloured fish swimming around the new ‘water features’ in their ‘gardens’ without appearing to be at all bothered. 

The walk back was more arduous and very hot despite the lack of sun as the cliffs were radiating heat with little breeze in the more sheltered spots.  We were glad to arrive back at the car to head home for showers, although this brought the unwelcome discovery that we had both got rather sunburned despite the overcast weather…

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Following the signs to Lot’s Wife’s Ponds.  Has Lois been there before?  No – but it seems another Lolo has!

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A closer look at a masked booby, just visible at the back of the photo above

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In front of Lot’s wife – and glad not to be a pillar of salt or stone!

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Why it is rather a challenging walk in places..

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“Babies’ toes” or Hyrdodea cryptantha – a St Helena endemic plant

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Variety on the way

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First sight of the ponds

 

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Setting off down the rope – still smiling!

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Having to concentrate harder at this stage!

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The local merman!

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Walking along the horizontal part of the rock seam

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There were thousands of crabs scuttling around

The afternoon ended with a pleasant couple of hours at Steve and Maureen’s lovely home, Tranquillity, in Alarm Forest, enjoying afternoon tea with them and their other guests.  Steve had been the island’s dentist back in the 60’s, with the couple returning to live on the island following his retirement.  They are members of the St Helena Baptist church and fellow singers also, so we have met on a number of occasions.  We learned all kinds of interesting facts about how life on St Helena used to be.  The funniest story I recall Steve telling us was about the after-dinner tradition that the guests at Plantation House, the Governor’s residence during the 1960’s had to follow.  All the ladies would, on finishing dinner, leave the dining room first to queue to use the one toilet in the building.  The men would remain at the dinner table, drinking port and smoking cigars until the governor announced that it was time for them to go and ‘inspect the Southern Cross’, at which point they would all go outside and line up to wee in the garden!

Normal work resumed on January 2nd with busy clinics and clinical meetings.  On Friday afternoon, however, I was able to finish early to join Alan, Lewis, Lauren and Jack on a prearranged visit to the island’s only distillery (more info at http://www.strengthandflavour.com/st-helena-distillery/) where the Tungji spirit is made, along with a coffee liqueur (Midnight Mist), local gin (Jamestown Gin) and rum (White Lion rum – named after a ship that was wrecked off the island).  In the fragrant setting of the distillery, an annexe of Paul and Sally’s home, and with the rain pouring down outside on to the misty covered slopes of Alarm Forest, we learned about the process of producing the spirit (rum or prickly pear) in the beautiful copper still Paul has imported from Germany.  We also got to taste his new lemon liqueur based on limoncello, called Lemon Valley Liqueur.  Lemon Valley used to be full of lemon trees until it was eventually stripped of every last citrus tree by generations of passing sailors who, in wanting to prevent scurvy, tore down fruit-laden branches to take on board.

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Paul Hickling explains the distillation process to Alan and Lewis

 

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While Lauren and Jack keep busy checking the books under the bottle-filled shelves

The weekend then continued in the Evans’ company as we ate curry together and played games at Periwinkle that night then, on the Sunday, went on a kayaking adventure with them.   On the Saturday evening, between ‘Evans’ engagements’, we went to Teeny and Joe’s for dinner preceded by a musical soiree with Teeny and I playing violin duets and violin/piano together.  It’s many years since I picked up a violin, and I was surprised I could still find the notes, though the bowing arm was rather out of practice!  Teeny was very gracious about my efforts and it was fun to make music together.  Over dinner, Joe told us more about some of the conditions and bugs he’s come across on St Helena, while Teeny kindly wrote them down so that I can talk to Dad about them, who will be most interested as once a veterinary parasitologist always one is my observation!

On Sunday (5th Jan), for two pounds a person, we were able to hire kayaks from the New Horizon’s youth centre close to the water front in Jamestown.  The water was comparatively calm on the way out to Lemon Valley (the same valley that the liqueur we had sampled is named after), though climbing in to the two man kayaks still entailed getting rather soggy as the waves had to be negotiated first before jumping aboard.  Our picnics and cameras/phones etc were all well wrapped in plastic; though sadly my IPod and phone were not well enough wrapped and got sufficiently wet that both stopped working (and this has remained the case to date L ).  Bessie the dog came too, though Jack stayed on dry land.  Out at Lemon’s Valley, the bottom of the cliffs to one side has been built up to make a wide path and picnic area with a small ‘jetty’ out into the sea.  From there we swam and snorkelled before eating lunch and exploring rock pools.  Getting going for the three mile homeward paddle was a much trickier business.  Lewis and Lauren got us loaded up first as we were the ‘novices’.   We paddled out from the breaking waves to wait for them to get afloat.  This ended up being quite a drama as the waves and wind were strengthening.  At one point, both Lauren and Bessie were tossed out of the kayak before Lewis had managed to climb in.  Lauren lost her glasses and hat, while Bessie got out of the water as quick as she could and curled up on the shore as if to say ‘don’t put me back in that boat!’.  Thankfully, Lewis managed to find both the glasses and hat before he collected Bessie and walked her out to us (we had come as close to shore as we dared not wishing to have the same experience as Lauren) throwing her aboard in between waves.  Finally, we were all afloat again and headed for home in much choppier conditions than we had set out in.  It was an eventful day, but a brilliant outing and lovely company; a very special way to finish the holiday season.  

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On the jetty at Lemon Valley

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Heading for home with a bedraggled, flat-eared and unhappy Bessie on board

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Lewis and Lauren now safely underway with Bessie looking much happier to be back with her family

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Christmas Retrospective

Christmas Retrospective

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It’s been a very different Christmas.   While mixed with varied and pleasurable times, we can’t deny that there have been empty periods where we have felt far from family and familiar surroundings.  Our social calendar, however, has seen its busiest use since we came.  First, there was the Nurses’ Christmas Dinner Dance, held in Jamestown Community Centre.  Bring your own crockery and cutlery and, for £10 a head, you could eat as much curry, ham, breaded chicken drumsticks and salad, followed by jelly and homemade ice cream, before dancing it off to the local DJ’s choice of music covering the last three decades.  All the doctors and their families attended and the youngest of the children, not quite two, particularly enjoyed the music and dancing opportunity much to the delight of the locals.

During a pre-Christmas Thursday antenatal clinic I became aware of excited voices and music gathering outside the hospital.  I excused myself to go and have a look.  The St Paul’s primary school Christmas procession was about to start.  The children, staff and many Mums dress up as elves (or even as a Christmas tree in one case) and walk down into the centre of town accompanied by floats playing Christmas music.  Sweets are sold, money collected for school funds and all have a great time.  The sky was blue, the sun high and warm, yet it really did begin to feel a bit like Christmas, seeing so many animated little faces enjoying the dressing-up and attention too.

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“Lindsey the Christmas tree”

The singing preparations of the past two months culminated in two events.  First, the Carols Afloat spectacular on the RMS St Helena on 12 December where the small singing group, Bug-Eyed Tuners (the name derived from the locally caught fish, the big-eyed tuna) performed along with other local individuals, young and old, and some of the gallant ship’s crew.  Even Santa Claus paid a visit appearing round the ship’s funnel and dispersing sweets to the audience accompanied by an ‘elf’ playing the accordion!  The proceeds of the evening were for various local charities and the captain had been very generous with the raffle prizes.  Alan was chuffed to bits to be the winner of one of the prize ‘packages’ containing six bottles of wine and two boxes of chocolates.  It was almost one in the morning by the time we got to the end of the queue to board the launch to take us ashore.  The customs officials were still there and interested to record the contents of Alan’s wine box, though there was, as an exception to the rule, no duty to pay.

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The Little Angels from Harland Primary School 🙂

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The “Big Angels” of the Bug-Eyed Tuners….

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….. and the “Bug-eyed boys”: Rob, Joe, Ian and Lewis

Saturday 14th was the day of the Christmas Bazaar held in the New Horizon’s yard next to Donny’s bar, Leo’s Place and the St Helena Coffee Shop.  We were a bit late getting going and I made an impulse decision that this was the day I would ‘do’ Jacob’s Ladder.  Leaving the car at the top of the 699 steps, we set off down to slope.  At first, it seemed rather easy but somewhere between half and three quarters of the way down, my legs started to shake uncontrollably.  It was then a very slow walk to the Bazaar, by which time there was little left to buy, which was good in that it meant that a lot had been sold to raise money for worthy causes.  An aside: the next week I was wearing my long-owned and often-worn East white blouse when I passed the island’s defence lawyer who complimented me on how good I looked in the blouse she had donated to the second hand clothes stall at the Christmas Bazaar!  It was a funny moment!   After the Bazaar experience we walked around the recently decorated shops and picked up some treats for Christmas.  All the time, I was worrying about how I was going to get back up the ladder as I could hardly face the stairs in The Emporium.  We met a few people we knew who, instead of offering us a lift back up to Ladder Hill top, said how important it was to do the ladder in both directions as this eased some of the muscle sufferings.  Hmmm…  After finishing shopping, we returned to the Coffee Shop and spent over an hour there chatting with various people while I reached a point of acceptance about making the ascent.  Then, with our shopping bags too (!), we headed off for the climb; 35 steps at a time – each step an average of 28 cm (11 in) high – then a rest.  It took over 20 minutes and I certainly would not have managed it without the railing on either side which eased the step up every time.  How glad I was to reach the top and collapse into the car!  I think that will be my only venture up and down Jacob’s Ladder this time.  I’ve no desire to chase the running total of one of my colleagues who has achieved 61 ‘ups and downs’ in his eight months on St Helena; one climb for every year of his life!

Christmas Bazaar from the ladder

Christmas Bazaar in action – seen from a quarter of the way up Jacob’s Ladder

There was not long to rest aching legs, as we were off to the pantomime!  Prince Andrews school, the island’s secondary school, was the location for ‘Snow White’, with a cast of young and old, saints and ‘incomers’.  The physiotherapist was the Wicked Queen – totally out of character to her normal polite and friendly self.  John, the pharmacist was fabulously flamboyant and obviously loving every moment of being the equivalent of the panto dame, in drag as the castle cook.  The dwarves were all children under ten and did a great job playing their roles.  Snow White was a local teenager, very pretty as are so many of the girls here.  She played her role confidently but was rather let down by Prince Charming who had not managed to learn his lines at all, and looked rather less than suave and charming.  A number of our friends had helped with making the props and costumes; others were involved in the music production.  The audience was responsive and the whole occasion was fun – an excellent outing.

The following day was the second opportunity for the singers I’d rehearsed with to show the results of our preparations when the joint choir that gets together annually to perform a longer piece of Christmas music gave its first rendition of ‘There’ll always be a Christmas’ at St James’ Church.  We had a final rehearsal before the concert and then a mince pie break before giving the performance.  Having worried that there might not be many mince pies on island I can reassure all that the saints know how to make great mince pies.  There is no shortage of mincemeat either.   One can find Tesco, Robertson’s, Asda, Spar and South African varieties in the shops.

Straight after the performance, some of us headed on to The Mule Yard for the traditional ‘Carols sing-along’ with the Salvation Army Band.  The Mule Yard used to be just that when the East India Company were in charge, a grassy area close to the water but lower down at the level of the moat under the castle. There the mules would wait to be loaded or unloaded with goods bound in or off the island.

There was a much better turn out for this Christmas event, possibly two hundred or more people of all ages and types.  Interspersed with the communal carols, which had a bit of a “Christmas Eve late night service full of jolly drinkers” atmosphere as the Mule Yard bar was open as usual, some brave people performed solos – vocal or instrumental.  I was sitting on a wall further away from the lit up massive gazebo structure covering the band and seated audience.  Children in shorts and T-shirts ran up and down in and around the shadows of the trees, families grouped together chattered all the time, from time to time the sound of the waves perpetually running over the rocky foreshore and occasionally hitting the sea wall penetrated through the music.  In the enveloping warm scent-filled dark atmosphere where I was seated all these observations added up to a Christmas experience unlike any other I have encountered.

On the following Wednesday, we repeated the “Christmas cantata” at St Mark’s Church in Longwood, close to Napoleon’s enforced abode in Longwood House.  I was called out in the middle of the performance to talk to the doctor on call about a pregnant patient.  The community nurse who came to find me drove me to Longwood clinic about a mile away then took me back to the church in time to join the last five minutes of the rendition.  There was a baby due the same day and people were asking as soon as the singing had finished if that was why I had to leave; but that baby did not arrive until early on Boxing Day!

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Mary, Lauren and Josie in good voice!

I had been in Longwood two nights earlier, out for dinner with the Community Health Clinic staff: more curry, ham and chicken drumsticks.  I sat amongst people I work with every day and who I normally have no problems communicating with, and struggled to understand a word they were saying to each other.  I understood for the first time how much they have moderated their language for my benefit!  Still, they are lovely company and I could not wish to work with more helpful, pleasant colleagues.

On Friday 20th, the Festival of Light took place.  This is an annual procession from the top of Jamestown, outside the hospital down the mile long hill to Parade Square outside St James’ Church.  We had booked dinner at 2onMain, close to the church and invited Lewis and Lauren to join us.  Even Jack came too and slept the evening away, despite the noise and bright lights outside, in his buggy at the back of the restaurant.  Somehow, I had managed an ethereal, white light event with candles and angelic singing.  This could not have been further from the reality.  Strong beating percussion, throbbing bass lines, piercing synthesiser melodies with flashing coloured lights and all kinds of illuminated Christmas images: Santas in abundance, elves, reindeer, polar bears assaulting the senses and brightening up the night.  In the middle of it all, Emma and little Klara from Sweden appeared dressed for St Lucia Day in white with a crown of candles, looking serene and angelic – a calming balm for the jingled nerves!

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Festival of Light 5

Emma and Klara with Emma’s parents and Agnesa

The choir had one more ‘mini’ performance as part of the ecumenical carol service on the Sunday evening before Christmas, which took place outside the court house in Parade Square.  One highlight of this event was listening to two children, belonging to friends from both singing groups, sing Away in a Manger to the gathered audience.  They were the only two brave enough to go up to the front when all the children present had been invited to do so.  Mum and Dad have lovely voices.  Both sang solos in the Christmas cantata, so it is not too surprising that these youngsters also sing beautifully.  What amused me is that five minutes earlier while their parents had been performing, they had been squabbling away in the audience, fighting over who could wear Mum’s cardigan.

Then Christmas Eve arrived, and with it a new baby just after one in the morning.  This was the baby expected on Boxing Day, and proved to be the first boy of my cohort of babies delivered.  All went well and I appreciated the lie in the following morning.  We had little pressing to do, so spent the day looking at the view a lot, reading, emailing, doing a jigsaw.  I had made over 30 Christmas cards from paper bags, raffia, reused wrapping paper, and cut up file dividers.  Periwinkle was decorated with paper baubles made at Shape (the centre for people with learning difficulties of all types), a small garland of brown paper Christmas trees, winter pot pourri brought from home, the cards we had received, an advent calendar bought for 50p at The Moonbeam gift shop and the little coca cola tin angel we bought in Cape Town, now hanging from the living room ‘chandelier’.  We were invited down to Val’s home (the owner of Periwinkle) in Jamestown for mince pies and nibbles, which, I thought, worked out well as then we were going on to Carlos (the surgeon) and Heidi’s home for turkey and trimmings, Guatemala style.  The minute we walked into Val’s she enquired about our dinner plans.  Apparently, ‘nibbles’ in St Helenian talk means rather more than crisps and a few nuts (à la “coktajl” in Kosovo) and she had been busy making St Helenian fishcakes, quiche and salad as well as mince pies!  With her encouragement and the tasty goods on offer, we managed pretty well though were still sent away with more mince pies.  Val told us a little about her life on the island, and her years with Pat, her husband who sadly died a year ago.  Pat was instrumental in helping the author of the book on flowers and plants of St Helena that Alan gave me on first arriving here, to get around the island collecting all the information he needed.  Indeed, the book was a posthumous dedication to him and another Saint.

Despite feeling already full, we also managed to do justice to the lovely meal Heidi and Carlos had prepared in their ‘Veranda Villa’ home at the top of Ladder Hill.  They had a real Christmas tree on display inside, while outside, a creative garland Heidi made from plastic carrier bags was hanging from the veranda fence, on show to all the vehicles coming through the Ladder Hill gateway just before the right-angled bend up to Half Tree Hollow.   Carlos gave us a tour of the recently restored house, they have recently moved in to.  It is certainly a good ‘catch’ as far as island accommodation goes and, if we had been staying for longer, the kind of place we would have been happy to call home.  Still, we were equally happy to be in Periwinkle and to head home later on so that I could, during the night time free download hours, buy last year’s Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge.  I had been so disappointed that, despite trailers through the day on BBC World Service stating that this year’s event would be broadcast live, it ended up being Focus Africa for us instead.  My letter to BBC World Service complaining about this confusion and the disappointment it created has gone unanswered….

Christmas Day dawned with bright skies, amazing sea shades and sky patterns.  We listened to the 2012 Nine Lessons and Carols as we got up and going, preparing to go to spend the morning with Lewis, Lauren and Jack who had generously invited us to share their Christmas Morning Barbequed Breakfast tradition.  What a lovely and different time we had: standing on the veranda watching the whale sharks out in Jamestown Bay, playing with Jack with some of his new toys, drinking fizz and fruit juice cocktails and watching Lewis do an excellent job cooking the bacon, sausage and eggs-in-onion shells ready for brunch.  We enjoyed so much feeling part of a family Christmas, sharing the fun of present opening under the Christmas tree and relaxing in the company of this family who are becoming so special to us.  They were heading out to at least two more invites from lunchtime on.

Alan and Jack

Alan and Jack chill with new toys

Evans' Christmas Brunch

 

The Christmas Brunch Spectacular

We returned home to quiet Periwinkle, looking forward to Skype conversations with all the family and a relaxing day with no set agenda apart from planning our end of trip holiday in the Cape.  All plans for Christmas Dinner were abandoned as we were still so full with the feasting of the morning and the previous evening.

The second baby boy had arrived at six in the morning on Boxing Day, so it took me a while to get going once I’d had a catch-up sleep.  Our Christmas festivities ended with Boxing Day drinks at Joe (the vet) and Teeny’s home in Gumwood Forest, shared with Ché the spaniel and Dougal the cat as well as other humans who were popping in to their ‘at home’.  Joe is a true enthusiast about his work, always a mine of information about the interesting conditions he encounters in animals on the island, including some that cross over to humans such as leptospirosis.  We chatted on about things medical, human and animal, then move to music as Teeny is the island’s music teacher based at Prince Andrew’s school, as well as the ‘director’ of the Bug-eyed Tuners.  In the two years she has been on the island, she has contributed enormously to the pupils’ opportunities for music playing and studying.  Despite a limited budget, she has created all kinds of ensembles (vocal and instrumental), found donations for guitars and flutes, enlisted other musical adults to teach their instrument to interested pupils and inspired the youngsters to feel confident, despite still being ‘beginners’, to perform and enjoy the experience.  We heard the results at the school Christmas concert the week before.  There is such potential amongst the youngsters and we wish for Teeny all the strength and support she needs to continue her excellent work.

Shape Stable Scene

 

The Shape stable scene outside St James’ Church – note the amazing newspaper ball sheep

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Periwinkle beauty and beasts

P = Periwinkle; J = Jamestown; H = hospital

P = Periwinkle; J = Jamestown; H = hospital


We are living in New Ground. Alan read that New Ground has been named such since the 18th Century; though in the past few years there has been a lot of house-building activity in the area making the name as appropriate today as ever. Periwinkle Cottage is 50 years old. It was built by the father of our landlady, Val, and has the look of an extended postwar ‘prefab’ still found in some parts of Britain. There are four doors leading to the outside: from the bathroom, kitchen, living room and third bedroom. All, but the bathroom, are linked by inside doors. The living room, between the kitchen and ‘main’ bedroom has three doors leading off it, as well as windows front and back. As the room size is only 10 by 12 feet, we have to be unusually tidy and organised not to block the passageways or overcrowd the sitting area. Still, having a door off the living room, which can now stay open thanks to warmer weather, is such a treat affording an amazing view from one’s armchair. Today, the horizon is sharp and distinct with an almost navy blue sea meeting an ice blue/wispy cloud sky, which I can gaze at as I try and find inspiration to write.
Sunday afternoon view of the South Atlantic

Sunday afternoon view of the South Atlantic


Outside there is an established (if rather overgrown and unkempt) garden. In addition to a lot of dry grass there are roses, statice, chrysanthemum-type shrubs, scented geranium, nasturtiums, Indian stinking sage (nice flower!), blue agapanthus, lilies, ebony, agave, jade tree, sour fig (like big Livingstone daisies), banana palms (with lots of ripening bananas), prickly pears, solandra (“cup of gold”), a peach tree, several as yet unidentified plants as well as pineapples (non-fruiting), parsley and thyme. For a couple of weeks there were also Alan’s radish and lettuce seedlings. Sadly, egg shells, coffee grounds and wire meshing did not stop these being systematically chomped away to nothing.
Garden sculpture at Periwinkle

Garden sculpture at Periwinkle

garden sculture 3

garden sculpture 2

Garden sculpture at Periwinkle

Garden sculpture at Periwinkle

Garden sculpture at Periwinkle

Garden sculpture at Periwinkle

Lily

agapanthus

Indian stinking sage

Indian stinking sage, lily, agapanthus, geranium and rose

Indian stinking sage, lily, agapanthus, geranium and rose

Flowers in our garden

Flowers in our garden

Peach tree prolific with peaches, sadly as hard as stones.

Peach tree prolific with peaches, sadly as hard as stones.

From Periwinkle, we look down Young’s valley, basically a gully, or “gut” – the local expression, with increasingly steep sides ending in cliffs almost 1,000ft high leading directly to the ocean. There is no sandy beach at the bottom. It’s an interesting fact that Periwinkle is at the same altitude as Hangjik. The next valley along is Friar’s valley, named after a rocky column on the far-side ridge, said to represent a friar that was turned to stone because he fell for a shepherdess whose lost goats he found. When he renounced his vows and was at the church getting married, there was an earthquake and the church disappeared into a hole with all those present disappearing apart from the friar who remained petrified on top of the resulting ridge.

The petrified friar

The petrified friar


We are not the only inhabitants of Periwinkle. As I write a gecko has been running around the walls. He comes and goes and is often attracted to the outside of the windows at night when the lights are on. Cockroaches have increased their visiting habits, with one or two being caught every evening. Thankfully, they are rather slow, so susceptible to being sprayed or squished. Every night the house fills with moths. Early on these were little black ones that flutter round our faces and were such a nuisance. Now the number of moths has decreased but there are still more than enough of all sizes; some minding their own business, others wanting to be a bit too friendly for my liking. As the moths have decreased, the mosquitoes have started to be more troublesome. We did not bring any repellent as I had had no problems last time, but then it was winter… The bathroom has been a playground for button worms, the black wormy sluggy caterpillar things that enjoy the damp atmosphere in there, with up to six or more at a time on the walls, floor and in the bath too. There were a lot of old ant traps around when we first moved in, but not much evidence of ants. Now we regularly find lines of tiny, tiny “formicids” purposefully going about their work, which is all very well when the task is to dissect and remove a squished cockroach a thousand times bigger than one of the tiny workers; but when the goal is to get into our food cupboards, that is a different matter all-together. We have DOOM spray, not good to use around food, and ant powder, not good to use on surfaces used for food preparation. The ant entrance is a series of cracks in the grouting of the kitchen tiles that are becoming every looser. Alan has carefully inserted ant powder into the cracks and, for now, the ants appear to have moved elsewhere. They were last seen swarming round a wood louse body in the corner of the sitting room late last night. That’s another species to add to the household list of inhabitants.
No rats have turned up yet, which I am very happy about, but I know they are out there….

Cockroach 3

Cockroach 1

Periwinkle Button Worm 1

Periwinkle Spider

Mr Gheko Periwinkle

Periwinkle mozzie - squished

Periwinkle spider 2

The beasties of Periwinkle Cottage

The beasties of Periwinkle Cottage

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St Helena babies

Last night I was in the hospital for the birth of another beautiful little ‘saint’ – as the locals are called. This little poppet arrived nice and normally at 5.30am.

There are around 30 to 35 births on the island each year. Since my last visit, the local newspaper has started a lovely tradition of having a photographer visit the new parents to photo the baby a week or so after it’s arrival. The photo and a little accompanying article is then put in the weekly Sentinel or Independent papers. As these are also on the internet and freely available for download, I thought I would share them with you. Including last night’s arrival, I’ve been present for four births this time – one Caesarian Section and three normal – all girls. There are only 2 more expected during my ‘watch’, though one other is due just after I leave, so may also keep me busy.

Here are the first two little beauties:

AnnaLyn

Tiarna

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Another memorable St Helena weekend

Saturday 23 November

For the first time since arriving, we made it down to the market in Jamestown hoping to be in time to buy some bananas at the Growers’ Market stall, which sells only local produce. I was keen to make more banana ice cream as it is an easy and tasty recipe. We’ve worked our way through the first bunch of ripe mini-bananas in our garden. There are five more, but all still very green. Even though we were quite early, the bananas had gone. But, hurray, for the first time we found fresh fish on sale at the opposite stall. Most of it had already been sold but I had my eye on the swordfish chunks, and was pleased to be told that it could be used in a curry. I had enjoyed eating swordfish at 2onMain a few evening earlier where we had gone to eat dinner with Nicolet, the DFID advisor currently visiting the island.
We shopped in more shops than I’ve ever visited in all the time we’ve been here: The Star, Thorpe’s, Victoria, Rose and Crown, Queen Mary’s and the Emporium. It’s certainly a different experience than visiting one large supermarket with a familiar range of products. I found pecorino cheese, passion fruit compote and a large plastic bowl (for sourdough bread making). There was excitement when we found parsnips, even though they were soft and wrinkly. However, at over £4 a kilo we had to reject them. No Christmas parsnips for Alan this year..
This was the first opportunity to visit the Arts and Crafts Centre next to the Tourist Office as it is only open during the week while I am at work. There are some lovely local creations being produced from flax, wood, paper and fleece. Lace work is also on show as well as paintings by local artists. G-unique is a jewellery company that has started making bookmarks, earrings, pendants and key rings based on the tortoises, wirebirds, blushing snails, ebony flower etc. We saw those in the National Trust office where we called by to pick up instructions for a walk to Blue Point that is still in development as a ‘post box’ walk. There are currently 21 post box walks across the island that range from easy to very difficult. At the furthest point of each is a stamp inside a post that provides evidence of accomplishing the walk. Alan so far has 12 stamps and is keen to complete the challenge before we leave.
Nicolet and Val (who owns Periwinkle) were planning to walk to Blue Point to test out the walk and had invited us to join them. After a quick drive home for lunch and to get ready, we met them opposite St Paul’s cathedral where we carried on in one vehicle parking close to the lane that leads up to Jerusalem, Ball Alley and on to Blue Point. I was able to spare a few hours out of contact as the on call doctor was the surgeon, Dr Carlos. It was an exhilarating experience standing on the tops of hills that run down into cliffs over a thousand feet high with the wind blowing freshly from the over the bright blue, white flecked and glistening sea. All along the path there was evidence of the National Trust at work with baby endemic plants newly planted or waiting to be put into the ground. How different it is going to look in ten years or so when all the barren areas of St Helena will be covered once again with the plants and trees that once flourished here before men traumatised the terrain so much.

Jerusalem - start of the walk

Jerusalem – start of the walk


Natural stone dyke at Ball Alley

Natural stone dyke at Ball Alley

Saturday 23rd November
Alan, Val and Nicolet in Ball Alley discussing the route

Alan, Val and Nicolet in Ball Alley discussing the route


Lot with Diana's Peak in the background

Lot with Diana’s Peak in the background


Southwest point and Manati Bay from Blue Point

Southwest point and Manati Bay from Blue Point

Val with recently planted endemic ebony

Val with recently planted endemic ebony

From bottom left clockwise: Scrub wood, St Helena rosemary, Hair grass and St Helena plantain - all endemic plants grown by the National Trust of St Helena for replanting

From bottom left clockwise: Scrub wood, St Helena rosemary, Hair grass and St Helena plantain – all endemic plants grown by the National Trust of St Helena for replanting


Lot's wife from Blue Point with Sandy Bay in the background

Lot’s wife from Blue Point with Sandy Bay in the background


Lot's wife's ponds at the bottom of her cliffs

Lot’s wife’s ponds at the bottom of her cliffs


Alan's wife and Lot's wife

Alan’s wife and Lot’s wife

All was quiet at the hospital while I was out. Once we got back, it was early evening and time to make dinner. We spent a pleasant evening watching The Social Network: the second time for Alan but the first for me as I’d slept through most of it on the previous occasion many months ago..

Sunday 24th November

My Sunday started at 01.00h with a phone call from the midwife, D, to say that there was a woman in labour at the hospital. After a quick hairwash (vanity vanity), I drove down the hill, amazed to see how busy the road was at 01.30h with traffic coming against me all the way down to the bottom of Ladder Hill Road. This baby was not due until 9th December but decided she wanted to be here well in time for Christmas. All went well with a faster than average labour for a first time Mum. I managed to get home by 7 am, where Alan met me with a cup of tea.
We had planned for me to take Alan, Nicolet, Val and another walker out to Flagstaff Hill for them to walk up Flagstaff then down and up to Sugarloaf Hill. Plan B was put into action: Alan would drive out, do most of the walk but then head back to the car, while the others carried on to Jamestown.
I slept until 11 then phoned to see how our new Mum and baby were doing. There is a current shortage of midwives and from the conversation it seemed better if I went down to do my best in that important role 🙂 I stayed for three hours helping the mum with the baby as she was on her own. Alan was then back home and able to come and collect me so I could be home in time to finish preparing dinner for our guests.
It was just as well I had already made a good start with the food preparations. In fact, I had made the curry sauce on Saturday night and the ‘starters’ (black-eyed and mint bean dip and green olive tapenade) on the Sunday morning. The flat seeded crackers, made from a free pack of out-of-date Tesco’s scone mix and some lovely seeded flour bought here but from Norfolk, were in dough form just needing to be rolled out (using an empty plastic water bottle as a rolling pin!), cut and baked. All was ready when Lewis, Lauren and Jack arrived – just the dips to blend; I needed Lauren’s hand blender for that. Lewis cut up the fresh swordfish and within five minutes of adding it to the curry sauce it was cooked through. Our other guests, Rob and Josie who we first met on the RMS St Helena, then arrived. After dinner, which was finished off with pumpkin pie ice cream made with local pumpkin in the absence of bananas, we played Settlers. Alan won easily. So ended another St Helena weekend.

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The St Helena routine

Mary:
Monday – Out-patients in the morning, hospital, admin and audit activities in the afternoon.
After work I head out to Joe (the vet) and Teeny’s for singing practice where I am now a temporary member of a singing group called ‘The Bug-eyed Tuners’! There has been a little kid (ie goat) running around the house, an abandoned smallest triplet, who loves to chew my flowery skirts and anything else going. Teeny is a musician and teaches music at Prince Andrew’s, the island’s secondary school. Lewis and Lauren, Rob and Josie, all fellow RMS travellers on the way here introduced me to the group which now consists of 11 singers. We are practising for the charity carol concert to be held on the RMS St Helena on December 12th. (I hope expected babies take note of that date in my calendar!).

Singing carols while little 'kiddy' tries to eat the flours on my dress!

Singing carols while little ‘kiddy’ tries to eat the flours on my dress!

Tuesday – Theatre day at work, usually accompanying Dr Carlos the surgeon. He comes from Guatemala but has worked in Belfast, where his daughter now lives. I’ve been rediscovering other parts of the human body that are way out of my comfort zone as I assist on hand, neck and foot procedures amongst more familiar intra-abdominal stuff.
In the evening, the Baptist church holds a Bible study which, as in all their meetings it seems, ends with sandwiches, biscuits, cake and drinks. They are a very friendly and welcoming group.
Wednesday – Work day as for Monday.

This duck hung around the hospital entrance for two days!  Think it got confused and thought it could see Joe the vet there.

This duck hung around the hospital entrance for two days! Think it got confused and thought it could see Joe the vet there.


At 7.00pm the rehearsal for the Christmas Cantata takes place in the tiny hall opposite St John’s church near the hospital. This hall is called ‘The Ladies’ Orchestra Hall’ as it was erected for that purpose. It’s a bit like a tardis, seeming much roomier on the inside than one would expect. The church choir and a group called the Palm Villa Singers amalgamate for this annual event and are joined by a number of individuals to swell the numbers. I’ve become reserve accompanist for the practices, which meant getting to know 50 pages of music very quickly. Thankfully a lot of it is rather repetitive. We are learning a piece called ‘There’ll always be a Christmas’ which has a theme tune that repeats frequently and easily becomes an ear worm, hanging around for a few days after each practice.

Peace and tranquility at Periwinkle Cottage

Peace and tranquility at Periwinkle Cottage

Even the bathroom has a panoramic view.

Even the bathroom has a panoramic view.


Thursday – Antenatal clinic. Minor procedures such as Colposcopy. The afternoon ends with a meeting for all the doctors with the Senior Medical Officer and the Director of Public Health and Social Welfare to discuss cases presented that likely need to go to Cape Town for further medical treatment.

Fuschia and arum lily

Fuschia and arum lily


Friday – Work day as for Monday.
Alan spends his days doing a mixture of writing, learning Turkish, reading, sorting out files and photos on his computer, walking, doing the housework (including the washing and ironing), coming into Jamestown for coffee and shopping and generally recharging his batteries.

Alan had a face-to-face encounter with Jonathon despite the barrier (which J obviously does not appreciate either judging by the green paint on his shell).

Alan had a face-to-face encounter with Jonathan by the protective fence (which J obviously does not appreciate judging by the green paint on his shell).

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Alan’s birthday weekend

8-10 Nov
Last weekend was the highlight of our stay on St Helena thus far. It may well be the highlight of the whole visit too as it will be hard to beat.

On Friday afternoon, Alan collected me from work just after five and asked if we should go and eat dinner in Jamestown. Unbeknown to him I had already booked dinner at “2onMain” training restaurant, so I told him I preferred to go home for a cup of tea before deciding what we would do. We returned down the hill, but instead of eating at Ann’s Place (good as it is), I surprised Alan by walking him into 2onMain, to a lovely reception from the trainee waiting staff. At first we were the only people there so were able to have a good look around at the décor of the lovely Georgian room. The walls are covered with large paintings of St Helenian ebony on black backgrounds framed on wood made to look like old packing cases. They are on loan through the artist, the French consul, Michel Martineau who created them to decorate his kitchen walls. An image of one of the paintings can be seen here: http://johntyrrell.blogspot.com/2010/09/artist-of-st-helena.html – as well as lots of other information and observations on St Helena. On the large old wooden shelf unit next to our table, large papier-mâché bowls were on display. I have since discovered that these are made at SHAPE, an island enterprise offering employment and work experience for adults with disabilities. Some of their products can be viewed at http://www.shape.co.sh/gallery.html. I’m hoping we can make a visit to the centre while we are here.

2onMain Restaurant

2onMain Restaurant


Shortly after we sat down, a lady unknown to us arrived and greeted the staff. After ten minutes, the rest of her party entered and consisted of Derek and Linda, who had brought us up to Periwinkle, as well as their little granddaughter, Jordan, who I’d met when borrowing a blender and mixing bowls from their house. Then the penny dropped, the lady was Val, the owner of Periwinkle, who had just returned from several months away in the UK. We introduced ourselves and had a chat about how things were going in Periwinkle, arranging that she would come up to see us at some point.
Then – came the food.. We started with homemade focaccia, rolls and sourdough bread in a basket alongside chicken liver pate and a mixed salad. This was followed by fresh grouper in sauce vierge accompanied by all kinds of vegetables. Fresh fish AND island grown veggies – what a treat. It was delicious as well as beautifully presented. We drank wine from a bottle we had brought ourselves – a baby-sitting gift from Lewis and Lauren. For dessert, I had red fruit trifle and Alan had home-made strawberry yoghurt ice cream in a brandy snap basket. St Helena has a bright future when it comes to catering if the standards we enjoyed are to be disseminated across the island as the trainees graduate and launch their own businesses to cater for the increase in tourists when the airport starts to function.
With pleasantly full stomachs, we ended the evening back in Periwinkle watching another episode of Spiral.

Explore St Helena day!

Explore St Helena day!


Saturday dawned with a blue sky for once and my hopes were raised that this was going to be a good day for the prearranged 4×4 tour across the island. Again, Alan had no idea and it was hard to chivvy him to eat his breakfast when he was supposed to be having a leisurely birthday morning! At 9.25, our chauffeur for the day arrived. We were still eating as well as having a chat with Mum and Dad. Alan could not work out why Keith, who our car is rented from, was standing on our garden path – so I told him what the plans were. While we finished getting ready, Keith waited down on the roadside looking out to sea. He was watching a school of dolphins playing in the water off the end of Young’s Valley. I ran back to fetch the binoculars. For the first time this trip I was able to watch these amazing creatures appear and disappear – popping up all over the place. There can be up to 400 dolphins gathered at any one time making it easy to spot them, though without Keith’s keen eyes, I would not have seen them at all. The distance and height meant that they are still just like small black lines surfacing and disappearing within a second or so.

Off on a 4x4 adventure

Off on a 4×4 adventure


Soon we were on the road with the first stop being the Donkey Home. This time, the donkeys were gathered by the shelter as people were waiting to take them out walking. The walking on the hard road surfaces helps to keep their hooves worn down and healthier. The baby donkey, called Wonkey, was down close to the fence meaning that I could have a good stroke of his soft, thick and fluffy coat. He is used to being petted and stood nicely still for me.
Mary and Wonkey the donkey!

Mary and Wonkey the donkey!


We travelled on out to the south-west of the island. The next surprise was at St Helena of the Cross church where a farmer was sitting by the side of the road. Keith stopped to greet him. I thought – I know that laugh! “Have we met before?” I asked, thinking I’d perhaps seen him at the hospital. We had met, but not at the hospital. He, Terry, and Lorrian, his wife, were dinnertable companions on the RMS St Helena. The seating for dinner is pre-arranged, meaning that you get to know the other people on your table quite well over the five evenings of shared meals. He was preparing to castrate the bullock calf in the field just behind where he was sitting. Lorrian was close too, up by the church. He called her over and we enjoyed a few moments’ reunion before heading on.

With our former RMS St Helena dinner table companions

With our former RMS St Helena dinner table companions


As I am always on call here, I needed to regularly check in to the hospital reception. Keith took us to the last house before we would be out of range for over an hour. The house owner kindly let me use his phone inside. Entering the living room of the long single story bungalow, was like stepping back in time with furniture, furnishings and pictures on the wall typical of the nineteen fifties. The only items that brought one back to this century were the ‘William and Kate’ wedding souvenir shopping back hanging on a chair and the computer, printer and modem sitting in the far corner.
Back on the road, we took a short detour to ‘Jerusalem’ – a brown, sandy and rocky area with little growing but at high altitude with sweeping views over to the rocky outcrops known as Lot and Lot’s wife, then down to Sandy Bay beach. We could not see the highest point of the island, Diana’s Peak due to the cloud cover. It was not warm up there, with a cold wind and damp air seeping through our clothes.

Lot and Lot's wife in the background

Lot and Lot’s wife in the background

We quickly moved on, carrying on to South West Point. This involved a 2 mile off road section to the end of the track above ‘Man and Horse Cliffs’ that peter out above Manati Bay. There is a Post Box* walk down to Manati Bay, but not to sea level as the waves have cut a hollow into the cliffs up to 20m above sea level and crossing this hollow risks being trapped by the incoming tide, a fate that several people have met even in recent years.
Driving along the rough tracks past terrain covered with plants specific to this part of the island, we were treated to numerous sightings of wire birds, the St Helena national bird. This little plover has wiry little legs (hence its name), a long thin beak and bright eyes. It never flies very high off the ground where it also nests making it very susceptible to predators, in particular the rats and feral cats that are rife on the island. Still, last time I only saw 1 wire bird and this time we must have seen around ten, including babies. We also saw partridges and chicks here as well as lots of rabbits, for who the St Helena terrain must seem like bunny heaven.

A wire bird courting couple

A wire bird courting couple

The track to South West Point

The track to South West Point

Alan was the chief gate opener and closer

Alan was the chief gate opener and closer

All the time, the views were spectacular and up-lifting, especially as were enjoying the best weather we’ve had on the island as the clouds had lifted leaving blue sky and warm sunshine.

Scrubwood shrub and other local plants

Scrubwood shrub and other local plants


Keith spotted a boat far, far down close to Speery Island which he told us was being used by crayfish fishers. Crayfish, or rock lobsters, are abundant in the waters around the island, but very difficult to get ones’ hands on to eat. There are strict regulations about fishing for them, and Keith knew these people were not abiding by the rules as they were using tanks to dive.. He knew that because he knows like the back of his hand the St Helenian coastal waters as well as the island itself. Indeed, he was the fisherman who I went out with in 2011, along his son and the Shropshire teachers, on a fishing expedition. I only realised this well into the day. Keith still remembers that I was rather seasick on that occasion!

Speery Island and the cray fishers

Speery Island and the cray fishers


Keith is also a sheep farmer and owns a flock that grazes out towards South West Point on land rented from the government by a syndicate of owners. He got a bit perplexed when he saw a ewe with one colour ear tag and its lamb with another. Something went wrong in the identification process obviously, and he was going to report back to the respective owners.

A rare scratching post, close to the 'road' too!

A rare scratching post, close to the ‘road’ too!

It's Spring here!

It’s Spring here!


We headed back along the same road, continuing then down to Sandy Bay, past the SHAPE Centre. Sandy Bay settlement starts high up the valley, with coffee plantations, bamboo and banana groves in abundance.
Anyone for coffee?

Anyone for coffee?


The Sandy Bay pub is run by one of Keith’s relatives. We called in there for a drink and to use the telephone for another hospital call. All remained quiet there so we could carry on down the very steep and windy road looking over the island’s piggery at one point, then past the Baptist Church, the smallest church in the Southern Hemisphere, greeting friends or family of Keith’s as went down.
Sandy Bay Baptist Church

Sandy Bay Baptist Church


The road continued to be even steeper with hairpin bends that took two goes to negotiate before levelling out at the valley bottom with undeveloped or abandoned agricultural land to both sides of the road. The valley stream is hard to see in places due to the large leafed yam plants that grow all along its lower run.

Sandy Bay Valley

Sandy Bay Valley

The water becomes visible right at the valley end, at Sandy Bay Beach, a black sanded proper beach with significant and recently restored fortifications bounding it at the land side on either edge. In the middle, there are around ten or more rusting canons symbolically laid out on the sparse grassy area above the sand limit.

Sandy Bay Beach from higher up

Sandy Bay Beach from higher up

Lunch provided by Derek and Linda who run The Sandwich Shop in Jamestown

Lunch provided by Derek and Linda who run The Sandwich Shop in Jamestown


We ate lunch at one of the picnic tables, then strolled along the beach enjoying being at wave level, a rare treat on St Helena. There was a lot of detritus around, sadly, all washed up from the ocean – plastic, wood and metal. Some of the wood already had significant populations of mussels or other shell fish which were doomed so far up the sands. Keith through one large piece of pallet back into the water but it appeared stubbornly determined to beach itself again. The sands are steep here, making swimming a risky business due to undercurrents. The waves, however, are dramatic even on a still day. It would be amazing to see them when there is a big swell on the ocean. At the previous high tide line, we came across a collection of bright blue large sea shells that had been left stranded, thrown up by a previous strong sea surge. They are called periwinkles. We collected five of the cleaner, undamaged and less smelly shells to bring back to Periwinkle Cottage.
Periwinkle shells on display at Periwinkle Cottage

Periwinkle shells on display at Periwinkle Cottage


Now it was truly onwards and upwards as we wended our way back up to the middle of the island, turning north east and on to Longwood, where Napoleon was imprisoned until his death (a visit for us another day), then further on past Deadwood plain, which used to be an extensive gum, cabbage (black, he and she cabbage trees, seriously!) and ebony tree forest called ‘The Great Wood’ before being decimated by mankind. It was more recently used as the site of one of the island’s Boer prisoner of war camps; but now, in place of the eroded, cracked and bare plain, the Millennium Forest is well on the way to living up to its name. This re-foresting venture is an activity of the St Helena National Trust supported by many of the Saints. See http://www.nationaltrust.org.sh/shnt-conservation-programmes/natural-heritage/millennium-forest/the-millennium-forest-today/ for an update and great pictures too. Alan had been there a couple of weeks previously when, along with Alasdair, they planted a tree each for a small fee and a lovely certificate. It was lovely to see the little tree-ling planted in our names. I hope we can return one day to find it well established, though we know there are still many survival challenges ahead of it.
Alan plants his gum tree.  Hope he never finds himself up it!

Alan plants his gum tree. Hope he never finds himself up it!


At the end of this northeast track with the island’s landfill site on the left we got out of the jeep to look straight ahead out to the ocean above ‘Turk’s cap’ rocky fez like peak where fisherman take their lives into their hands descending from the high point where we were standing on a path that is almost invisible before it can be made out again clinging to the edge of Turk’s Cap passing ever down and round out of sight to a point where they can fish directly into the water.
Turk's Cap
To the right of us, as we looked over Millennium Forest to King and Queen Rocks behind the Prosperous Plain we could see dusty clouds coming up from the valley, or ‘gut’, that is being filled in to form part of the runway of the airport. There are celebrations at the moment as it has been estimated that 50% of the filling in has been completed. This has taken well over a year to achieve and there is still 1,700 Olympic size swimming pools’ worth to go. The target is still to have the airport up and running by 2016.

Prosperous Plain and the airport development site

Prosperous Plain and the airport development site

Prosperous Plain used to be the preferred breeding ground of the wire bird and there was understandable anxiety that the airport development would threaten the fragile population numbers even more. It was reassuring to hear and see for ourselves that the clever little birds have flown southwest and the numbers are holding up well.

Ebony in front of The Barn

Ebony in front of The Barn


This was the end of our official tour. Keith dropped us back at Periwinkle after seven hours of extensive exploration and commentary. Alan agreed that it was an excellent way to spend a birthday, which made me feel very happy as I’d been rather anxious about my lack of preparedness for the occasion, as well as the risk I may have been taking being a bit further away from the hospital than I felt comfortable with. In the end – a contented husband and no worries at the hospital made for a relaxed evening.

Sunday was Remembrance Day, a big event for the island with a march by the Salvation Army band, the Scout band and Scouts, Guides, Brownies, Cubs and other islands notables down the Main Street, across the Parade Ground between the Castle and St James Church, under the bridge and onto the seafront to gather at the Cenotaph along with a good number of spectators.

Remembrance Day Parade

Remembrance Day Parade


The service, led by the Bishop, involved hymns, readings and prayers along with the laying of wreaths, all made from fresh flowers. It was a moving event, held in bright sunshine and a stiff breeze with the sound of the ocean waves a constant background.

Gathered by the Cenotaph

Gathered by the Cenotaph

Fresh flower wreaths laid at the Cenotaph.

Fresh flower wreaths laid at the Cenotaph.


The reveille echoed around the high cliffs. As we sang ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven’ a fairy tern in the trees behind the microphone sang brightly and the song was relayed through the speakers as a fitting accompaniment to the words.

Praise my soul the King of Heaven

Praise my soul the King of Heaven

Lewis, Lauren and Jack

Lewis, Lauren and Jack


We met there with Lauren, Lewis and Jack as prearranged then, together with Rachel, the island’s radiographer, and David her husband, went up to Ann’s Place at the back of Castle Gardens to eat Sunday lunch together.

Rachel met one of her patients, previously only seen by her on scan!

Rachel met one of her patients, previously only seen by her on scan!


Lauren and Lewis’s white colonial house can be seen from Ann’s Place peeking out above the cliffs above Jacob’s Ladder. We finished the birthday festivities up there after being invited for a game of Canasta, our first since the RMS St Helena afternoons. Lauren and I also ran through a duet we are practicing as a party piece – just in case there are any requests over the Christmas season..

The weekend ended with more Spiral episodes and Alan’s first taste of Tungji – the prickly pear liqueur I bought him as part of a souvenir set of liqueurs from the island’s only distillery. The other three bottles are of ‘Jamestown Gin’, ‘Midnight Mist’ (a coffee flavoured liqueur) and ‘White Lion’ spiced rum. A good end to a great weekend.

St Helena spirits - going down a treat!

St Helena spirits – going down a treat!

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