The frutless search for a home

The new bright green roof of Jamestown hospital stands out at the top of the town.

The new bright green roof of Jamestown hospital stands out at the top of the town.

Jamestown seen from land and sea.  The hospital is the building with the bright green roof, replaced since I was last here.

Jamestown from the road to The Briars with the hospital in the foreground.


Thursday to Saturday 10 to 12 Oct

We have had major problems finding somewhere to move in to.  This is mainly because of the airport development and the associated influx of people necessary for that important project.  The accommodation arranged by the hospital was a small town centre cottage where the gynaecologist I am replacing is living.  I had already rejected this offer for the following reasons:  too close to three pubs (loud drunken carousing of country western music until the wee small hours at least three nights a week); too close to the mynah birds (loud quarrelsome carousing for over half an hour from sunrise (before 5 am) and at sunset; and, thirdly, too far from the only toilet (downstairs and across the courtyard).  If we had accepted to stay there, we would anyway have had to stay in a guest house for the first ten days anyway until the doctor had departed and the place was cleaned.  So, HR found the alternative described above, which proved, after initial positive communications, to be a non-starter.  After this – it was agreed with HR that we would liaise with the Tourist Office to try and find somewhere suitable.  In the meantime, Ivy would keep us.  Apart from the sound-proofing and the unusual washroom facilities, it is a comfortable place to stay.  Ivy is an excellent cook and produced a lovely spread every night.  When we were not eating, we continued to try to solve the accommodation problem.  On Friday morning we were shown another dwelling further up towards the hospital.  It can hardly be called a house.  The front door leads into a passageway which is open at the far end to a rough, neglected concrete courtyard.  Off the ‘alley way’ are two tiny bedrooms to the left and a minute sitting room and oversized (shower only) bathroom on the right.  These would have been separate homes at one point, pre- inside toilets, I am sure.  Off the back yard, which ends in a rough wall and high (3 ft plus) crumbling steps leading to the steep valley side, is the kitchen diner.  All the surfaces are about 70 cm at most from the floor, created for a much shorter person than me.  This is, however, the best room of the house.  It was not as dirty as the nr 2 place, but would require a thorough clean before being habitable.  The owner said she plans to put in a deck in the back yard.  This would improve the appearance considerably.  There was a plus finding in the yard with two heavily fruiting chilli bushes growing out of the poor looking soil.  Close to the kitchen entrance, the soil was full of cigarette ends from the most recent inhabitant.  This place was put on the “possibility, but only if nothing better turns up” list but we wanted to wait for what seemed the most hopeful option yet: a cottage near The Briars on the ‘French man’s’ land ie under the care of the French attachee who looks after all the places where Napoleon was held prisoner, land now owned by the French government.  Josie, who we met on RMS St Helena, had told us the previous tenant had moved out.

We had driven up to The Briars in the morning to try and identify the cottage.  On the way, we made a wrong turn and ended up by a collection of houses lower down the valley from The Briars, where I met the niece of one of the nurses I’d worked with before.  She (incidentally, soon to be my patient as she is 8 months pregnant) said that there was an empty house right there which she thought was available and that I should speak to her Aunty.  That raised our hopes so we immediately turned back down the steep, hairpin cornered road to the hospital to find aunty.  She was with the gynaecologist who I had preferred not to meet until I was starting work properly.  However, I was ushered in as he had a patient he wished to consult about.  We had a strange ten minutes of interaction where I tried to understand about the lady with the high risk pregnancy sitting in front of me in order to make appropriate plans, while at the same time discovering from the nurse that the property we had hoped might be available is not actually so.  I extracted myself as soon as I could, then we turned the car (a rather elderly but well-kept burgundy Focus Ghia saloon) back up the hill to find The Briars proper.  Eventually, we successfully discovered the Pavilion building where Napoleon spent his first few months of imprisonment on St Helena almost 200 years ago.  The cottage for rent appeared to be right next door and in the same grounds.  The gardens are beautiful, if rather wild, and once more our hopes were on the up that we might have found our ‘home’ here.

We were having difficulty finding a contact for The Briars so, not wanting to waste time, we continued to look at two more possibilities: a detached ‘house’ high up in Half Tree Hollow that we had been given details of by the Tourist office staff but who could not raise the owner to arrange a viewing and a studio apartment at Princes’ Lodge, a beautiful colonial building further up from Half Tree Hollow, almost into St Paul’s.  We went to the latter place first, where Reggie the caretaker was waiting for us whilst busy preparing for the ‘Cancer Awareness’ sponsored walk that would be launched from the house on Sunday.  The building houses a gallery of the largest collection of St Helena inspired art that exists.  It has been developed by Robin Castell, who owns Prince’s Lodge and whose name I had come across during internet searches back in 2011.  He has written a lot about the island as well as compiled a bibliography for St Helena relevant literature which can be accessed on line.   It was quickly apparent that the ‘studio’ apartment on offer consisted of a tiny back room with two single beds and a small dining table served by a minute bathroom next to an even minute-er kitchen (think cupboard).  Reggie, a lovely friendly character, showed us the accommodation in the main house which was spacious, with sparse but solid furniture (separate beds again) in the bedroom and a large well-provided for kitchen and a lovely airy drawing room.  We became very excited about staying there, even though we would have had to put up with visiting tours using the drawing room downstairs and wandering round elsewhere, as well as Reggie’s daily presence.  Then the blow fell.  For this rather public accommodation, the cost would be £30 a night for a month dropping to £25 daily for any remaining time.  The poky studio cost £25 a night from the beginning.  This would include electricity and water costs, but nothing else.  How tempting it was but, rationally, the price was far too high for such public living – like staying in a hotel without the benefits.  Additionally, Reggie was not keen to say when we could have moved in, and we are keen to move as soon as possible.  On the way back down to Jamestown, we identified the Half Tree Hollow house and stopped to walk round it.  It is situated right on the roadside and has the appearance of a large mobile caravan.  The paint is peeling and the flower beds are “desertified”.  We thought it looked a possibility if The Briars cottage fell through, but it was not ready to be moved into with the beds in disarray and all kinds of clutter filling every table space on view.

Just before we had left Jamestown, we had at last made contact with Michel the ‘Frenchman’ who was waiting to see us at 5.30.  This was the most exciting possibility to date and we thought we were nearly at the end of our search for a home. Before 5.20 pm we were waiting up at The Briars for Michel to appear.  He walked up the lane accompanied by his three dogs, met us very cordially then gave us a tour of the entire place including the Pavilion.  All seemed very positive.  He apologised for the state the cottage was in (apart from a missing oven and crockery, it seemed fine to us), told us stories about his previous tenant who he had thrown out and who he was attributing the losses to.  He apologised that he could not guarantee we could stay for the final two weeks as the new Deputy Governer (British) would be residing in the Pavilion property. A furniture restorer was coming from France to work on the furniture that would be being taken out of the Pavilion prior to being stored at Longwood and he would need to stay in the cottage.  However, as the time went by, he was more optimistic about us being able to stay on.  He took us back to his house, a large modern Roman villa that he has designed and built with all the rooms having inner glass walls looking out onto a central courtyard taken up with the largest water feature I’ve ever seen – a large raised pond full to bursting with plants of all kinds.  The artwork on view was skilled but rather disturbing – a massive Golgotha scene on the end wall of the largest reception room with beautiful, modern looking men in agony on crosses.  This was a bit distracting, but more so was Michel’s throwaway comment as we were getting ready to leave with the understanding that we would be returning the next day to get the cottage ready to move in to..  He announced that he might yet change his mind about us as he had not planned to be a ‘landlord’ again.  I was disquieted by this and we were both also a bit perplexed as we had been told that he has had built a lot of properties for rent all around The Briars hamlet.  However, we decided to be positive and returned down the hill to Jamestown for another tasty supper and early bed (as I was still battling the bug..).

On Saturday morning, Alan phoned Michel to arrange a time to return to the Briars’ cottage.  He had changed his mind!  His excuse was that his foreman had told him the place did not meet health and safety requirements and would need considerable work to do so.  This was laughable (if we could have felt like laughing) as it was the nicest of all the small places we had seen.  Strangely, I did feel a bit relieved as there was something intangibly unsettling about the atmosphere up there – almost ‘film noir’-ish.  Alan immediately contacted the Tourist Office again to firm up an appointment to see the Half Tree Hollow property and I contacted another property owner who had been suggested to us by the Social Services manager.

The search would have to go on…

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