Week 1 of Periwinkle time



Flowers from the garden on the kitchen table.


Monday Oct 21 –  Gyne outpatient clinic.  Alan at home writing and learning Turkish.  Periwinkle garden was strimmed to the equivalent of a ‘number 1’ haircut.  I rescued some strewn statice and scented geranium to put in a jug on the kitchen table.  We have to admit the garden looks a lot smarter now.

Tuesday Oct 22 – Assisting surgeon in theatre with general cases. Very sick patient with pancreatitis and complications now being ventilated.  Later on: first baby delivered during my ‘watch’ – a tiny little girl born by Caesarian Section.  Mum and baby doing well. 

Wed Oct 23 – Ventilated patient still very sick, surgery may be required so I postponed all my outpatient consultations.  Thankfully, he stabilised enough that surgery was not necessary.  In the evening, Alasdair, our new friend from Wellington House, came for dinner.  We ate beetroot soup, lasagne and salad, peach and syrup sponge pudding and tinned cream. Yum – and there was enough for Alan and I for the following day.

Thursday Oct 24 – Antenatal clinic.  Admin meetings in the afternoon. 

Friday Oct 25 – Gyne clinic.  We joined Alasdair for dinner back at Wellington House where we met George from Norway.  George is a journalist who entered a travel competition and won his trip to St Helena.  We discovered that earlier in the year he had also been in Kacanik, coming over the border by bus from Skopje just for the day.  His daughter, who accompanied him, is a Stirling University student.  The world seems smaller and smaller.

Saturday Oct 26 – a visit to hospital in the morning to see Mum and baby, followed by some shopping.  Then back home sewing, reading and gardening.  In the evening, we baby-sat for Jack while Lauren and Lewis went to ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ at Plantation House where they sang with Teeny’s group (see below).  They kindly let us borrow a DVD set of a French detective series called ‘Spiral’ to watch at home and The Rough Guide to South Africa, so we can start planning our week’s holiday at the end of January.

Sunday Oct 27 – relaxing day at home.  Church in the evening.  Visited hospital first to check baby; she is continuing to do well.  After church we returned to the hospital transporting an adult ventilator there that we’d collected from the Senior Medical Officer’s house.  Very sick patient showing definite signs of improvement.




The view to the north-west, aka the road to work

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First weekend in Periwinkle


The view from our front door

Saturday was spent not going anywhere at all, putting down roots in Periwinkle.  Alan is aiming to do this literally.  He has planted radish and lettuce seeds, which we hope will help us towards our “5 a day” before we leave, which is quite a challenge here.  The owner of Periwinkle has had a successful vegetable plot in the past.  Alan has cleaned it up and, in addition to seed-sowing, has started reviving the flower beds and plants in containers too.  The soil is very dry as St Helena has experienced a drought this year which lead to a hosepipe ban, recently lifted thanks to significant rainfall in late August and September.  Despite the drought there are at least five large green bunches of bananas visible amongst the large banana palms to one side of the house.  These shelter the washing line from the worst of the wind, which continues to blow regularly and noisily.


Yes – we have bananas!

I had wondered when we would meet the wildlife that wishes to share Periwinkle with us.  In addition to the moth balls found in wardrobes and drawers, there are empty ant traps all over the cottage as well as sprays against ants and cockroaches under the kitchen sink.  During Saturday, I removed a dead cockroach that was surrounded by tiny ants from outside the bathroom door.  The tiny ants were trailing through from a crack under the bath.  I put the ant spray to use.  Later, I found a live cockroach outside the bathroom (effectively outside the house so not too worrying).  I sprayed it with the cockroach spray.  It tried to get back into the separate toilet but did not make it.   After dark, I put on the kitchen light and found a massive cockroach bold as brass on the kitchen counter next to the sink.  It hid under a saucepan.  I shouted for Alan (so nice to have him around!).  He came and we looked at the cockroach, deciding what to do.  I tried to grab it with the kitchen towel but it scuttled out so quickly and disappeared through the top of the under-sink cupboard door.  That was that.  All evening and the next morning Alan teased me, attributing any noise or door movement to “Mr Cockroach” returning to cause trouble.  Later on on the Sunday morning, he got his just desserts.  We are both sitting at the kitchen table working away on our laptops.  Suddenly, up he jumped and took off a shoe.  “Yes, yes”, I said sounding rather wearily cynical, “Stop messing around”, thinking that he was teasing me again.  But, no, he had been wearing his shoes with a guest on board, possibly the same massive cockroach of the previous evening now concealed in the toe end.  Mr C must have decided he could put up with the cramped conditions no longer and started to wriggle.  Alan has tickly feet anyway, hence the dramatic reaction.  Now we are one cockroach less in the world, firmly squelched on the garden path by the same shoe it had been taking refuge in.

While on the subject of beasties in houses; I discovered an unsettling bit of recent history about the house that would have been our ‘fall back’ residence if Periwinkle had fallen through.  I’d already heard rumours about a rat problem there.  Now I know first-hand what happened.  My informant was living in that house for over a year when one night while asleep in bed he was woken suddenly by a sharp pain in his big toe.  He found a rat gnawing away on it, no doubt attracted by a rubbed and broken bit of skin from the wearing of new sandals the previous day.  The poor guy had a chunk of flesh missing and then, being medical, the worries of having caught leptospirosis, a nasty rat-borne illness that is present on St Helena.  I’m happy to report that the tests were negative.  This was the trigger to him looking for alternative accommodation.  I am SO, SO glad that we will not be living there.  Although we may have rats living close to us in Periwinkle, I believe the house is not as permeable to rodent intrusion as that particular Jamestown house is.     


After a Sunday spent in domestic bliss, give or take the odd cockroach, we took ourselves down to Jamestown to join the Baptist congregation at the evening service.  The Baptist church had not been in use between 2008 and earlier this year due to a rock fall that took out the back wall and a significant chunk of the next door manse.  The pastor was at home at the time but thankfully not in the bathroom, which took the brunt of the damage.   Now the church is repaired and redecorated, light and welcoming with the cornet-playing pastor and organ-playing retired dentist providing the music.  I had the lovely surprise of finding three colleagues, including the head community nurse, in the congregation.  For the second time in a week we sang ‘Be thou my vision’ and the final song was ‘I am a new creation’ which will forever bring back fond memories of Len Swift for whom this was a firm favourite.  There was tea in the hall after the service and an opportunity to learn more about the people and the church.  We learned that the Baptist church on St Helena was founded by a Scotsman, James McGregor Bertram, born in Gladsmuir in the early 19th Century who came to the island in 1846.  At one point there were seven Baptist congregations, now there are four, which is not bad going given the population of under 4,500 and the presence of other denominations and religions too.  The pastor and his wife were surprised when I told them that Alan and I were usually part of a much smaller congregation than the 30 or so who are part of the Jamestown Baptist Church.  They gave us a book written by a New York minister about James Bertram’s life and ministry after he had visited America to raise funds to build churches on St Helena.  The book had been republished as part of the fund-raising to repair the rock fall damage. 

A quick call in to Wellington House to invite Alasdair to dinner the following Tuesday, preceded our return up and over the valley side and on home to Periwinkle.


Early evening sea and sky

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‘Sure’ – or not so sure!

At home with working internet.  Happy days!

At home with working internet. Happy days!

Friday 18 October

Alan stayed up at Periwinkle all day on Friday while I wended my way to work up and down and round about, tucking into passing places, always remembering to give ascending traffic the right of way (a strictly adhered to rule here).  After the ward round and clinic, I drove down into Jamestown centre to buy further provisions, looking in particular for ground coffee and a cafetiere for Alan and finding neither.  Before heading to The Star, one of the island’s main ‘mini-markets’, I called in at the Sure office.  Sure is the company now providing internet, having taken over from Cable and Wireless.  Alan had ordered the internet the day before.  We’ve opted for the most expensive option which, for 5.5 Gb per month, costs us £97.20 per calendar month

Back to the Sure office..  The girls working there said they were not sure that the internet would be installed that day.  If this were to be the case, we would be waiting over the weekend, completely cut off up on the clifftops.  I begged them to check, so a phone call was made and, phew, the answer was positive.  I was told that the Sure messenger was on his way from the technical offices up by the satellite dish at The Briars.  We agreed I would call in after shopping.  This I duly did, but there were other customers ahead of me – the Bishop and his wife who were having internet connection problems.  The assistant dealing with them saw me come in and quickly passed me an A4 envelope with a big smile.  This seemed to be all I was to receive; I headed off for home.  As I began the drive up the Jamestown valley side to Ladder Hill, I suddenly remembered that Alan had said we needed a cable.  I stopped and quickly felt the envelope – no cable there.  I was on a narrow road with nowhere to turn, though nothing was coming in either direction and I risked backing down the hundred metres or so to be able to turn back down the road to the Sure office.  The Bishop and his wife were still there.   A few moments later, they left and I explained to the assistant that we needed a cable.  “Ah yes”, she replied, “the messenger came in with the box but didn’t leave it here.”  She went on to offer that it would be delivered to Periwinkle.  I was dubious that this would actually happen on the same day but could not see any alternative.  A girl popped round the office door behind the counter with a shoe box sized package.  I looked hopeful.  “No, sorry, that’s not for you” said the assistant.  Thankfully she checked and, yes, it was labelled with my name.  What a palaver!

The carry on continued back at Periwinkle as hooking up was not successful and technical support had to be contacted.  Sure had still not switched us on!  So much for being ‘sure’!!  We were waiting for technical support to get back to us when the familiar noise of a Skype message resonated around the room.  Yes!  We were back in the e-world again!  The message was from Ellie, posted on 8 Oct asking if we had arrived yet (nope – still 2 days from land then).  The rest of the afternoon was spent in communication again with the UK and Kosovo.  It was great to be able to talk to Mum and Dad, Tim and family, Ellie, Alan’s Mum, as well as Kadrije and Nazmi too.  Lois is away, even more isolated than us, on the west coast of Scotland.  Before the end of the next day, we had already used a quarter of our monthly allowance.  Just as well there were only twelve days to go until allocating the next portion.  We finished our first full day in Periwinkle watching The Bourne Identity – a bit of escapism – then slept well.

It's worth a close-up of the corgis on the settee under the window!

It’s worth a close-up of the corgis on the settee under the window!

Friday Oct 18.  The RMS St Helena passes by the bottom of "our" valley on the way back to Cape Town.

Friday Oct 18. The RMS St Helena passes by the bottom of “our” valley on the way back to Cape Town.

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Work and Welcome home!

Monday to Thursday 14 – 17 October

Monday morning arrived after a disturbed night’s sleep coughing, sweating and shivering.  Still, I had to be at work at 8.30 so pulled myself together and joined the doctors for the ward round.  There were plenty of familiar faces amongst the nursing and ancillary staff, but only one doctor remained from the previous group I had worked with.  It was a surprise to see the medical wards so full with frail elderly people and a few younger men suffering the consequences of long term alcohol abuse.  There is increasing pressure on the health care system with the community care complex (CCC) built less than 10 years ago already over full and a growing proportion of the population reaching old age.  Bed-blocking in the acute wards (a term I heard and experienced often in my early years as a doctor in Aberdeen) is a reality here.

After completing the ward round, I headed to the Community Health Clinic in the old matron’s house behind the hospital.  There I met up with Ruth, the women’s health nurse and the departing Italian gynaecologist, who was ready to hand over.  He was scheduled to leave on Friday, but was planning to spend most of the week preparing for departure.  This made it easier for me as I could focus on picking up the clinics etc without worrying about ‘treading on his toes’.

Before I found Ruth, Alan had already found her and handed over a note on the back of a Hangjik card telling me the great news that we could go and look at Periwinkle Cottage in New Ground the following morning.  That breakthrough really did help the day pass more lightly.

Tuesday morning is operating day, but I have still to accumulate cases so was free to go with Alan to see Periwinkle Cottage for the first time.  The owner’s daughter-in-law showed us round the simple square-bracket shaped flat-roofed cottage where her husband had grown up.  In comparison to all the other properties we have seen, this was so much more what we have been looking for – and very much cleaner too, even though we had to repeatedly tell Linda this, who was repeatedly apologising for the state it was in.  We agreed on a Thursday move, giving time for a superficial tidy up and clean.

With impatience for the move, we sat out the rest of Tuesday and then Wednesday, continuing to enjoy Ivy’s cooking and Alasdair’s company.  We listened to a radio interview given by our fellow guest, Andy, the BA pilot who is here to inform the Saints about and research further on the business venture he is involved in which will see a new airline born: Atlantic Star, to fly from St Helena to the UK, probably via Madrid; to Ascencion Island; and to Cape Town.  All being well, flights should start in 2016.

On Wednesday evening we were at Lewis and Lauren’s for supper.  My previous dinner with them, shared with the Shropshire teachers, took place only days after they had moved in.  The house is now very much a home, complete with 13 month old Jack, and a dog – plus another dog temporarily staying too.  Lauren has a clavinova, and duet music!  Hopefully we can find time to play.

Thursday is antenatal day at work.  Together with the midwife, we saw six expectant mums, all at various stages of pregnancy.  Once the clinic was over, I met Alan and, after shopping to stock up the cupboards, we drove towards our new home.  Unfortunately, this was not so straightforward.  The police and fire service had closed the road from the hospital up the side of the steep valley due to a rock fall.  We had to turn back to the centre of Jamestown and wend our way up Ladder Hill Corner, close to my previous abode, on to Shy Road which is very narrow, steep and windy but thankfully just one way, before joining the ‘main’ road out of the west side of the valley higher up.  There were at least twenty vehicles stopped at the top who could not get down and, due to roadworks on the other side of the valley, could not find an alternative route; they had to sit it out until the police later reversed the ‘one way’ direction on Shy Road to relieve the congestion.  We were glad that we were going in one direction only ourselves – to our new house!

Derek and Linda were there to meet us.  They had managed to get through just minutes before the rock fall.  After sorting out the essentials such as meter readings, inventory etc, they left and we breathed a big sigh of relief that, at last, we could unpack our suitcases and make our own cup of tea!  The wind had been blowing fiercely all day.  Despite this, we threw open all the doors and windows to get rid of the musty smell of a building that has not been aired for some time.  The stronger smell of moth balls lingers but I have removed all the balls I have seen and stored them in the outside toilet to replace when we leave.

We felt ‘welcomed’ by the cottage and soon had the bed made and the first of three loads of washing on the go.  I cooked spaghetti for tea; back to simple fare after the varied three course meals Ivy has produced for us.

Periwinkle Cottage - home for the next three months.
Periwinkle Cottage – home for the next three months.

October 17th is St Luke’s Day; St Luke being the patron saint of doctors and surgeons (and butchers too, apparently).  I had been invited to attend an evening service for health workers in St John’s church, the Anglican church next to the hospital.  Alan and I drove down to join my medical and nursing colleagues plus others in a service lead by the vicar and bishop (who had just returned to St Helena via Ascencion Island on the newly arrived RMS St Helena).  The wind howled loudly outside, echoing around the steep sided non-ceilinged church roof and limiting the ability to hear what was being said.  However, the hymns were all good rousing ones including: Brother, sister, let me serve you; For all the Saints; Tell out my soul; and All hail the power of Jesus’ name.  Afterwards, the congregation (of around 30) were invited to the hospital for tea and eats.  I introduced Alan to some of my colleagues as well as to “bread and dance” sandwiches (bread and homemade tomato sauce) and the garish pink iced coconut covered sponge cake fingers that are a local speciality I’d forgotten all about.  We briefly chatted with the bishop and his wife, Jane, who is a dentist.  Alan had a long conversation with John, the pharmacist, who has an interest in the Balkans through a Bosnian family coming to his home town (? in Devon) while he was still at school.  We also talked with Lars, the recently arrived Danish GP who was interested to hear that Alan had worked with a Danish team during his most recent project in Kosovo.

Then, we were blown back up the hill along the now open Ladder Hill road back to Periwinkle and our first double bed for two weeks!

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Welcome distraction

Saturday and Sunday, 12 -13 October

We made the decision to put aside property searching and go and explore the island a bit.  Firstly we went looking for Jonathan, the ancient giant tortoise approaching his 200th birthday who lives in the grounds of Plantation House, the Governor’s residence.  Last time, I was free to walk round the paddock and get ‘up close and personal’ with the tortoises.   My companion on that occasion even had his foot stood on by a young whippersnapper of less than 100 years.  He was heavy enough though!  How disappointing to see that the paddock is now fenced off and visitors are restricted to a ‘tortoise-viewing corridor’, along with strict instructions not to touch the tortoises.  We hear that the current governor is fearful that Jonathan might die on his watch and is doing all he can to prevent harm.  Our view is that Jonathan is more likely to succumb from lack of human contact and the chin tickling that he so obviously enjoyed last time.  We only saw two of the five tortoises: one young and one who might possibly have been Jonathan; but looking from a distance was not the same as crouching down beside him to have eye-to-eye contact and a conversation.  Sad face…

The weather has been quite bright and warm since arriving, but on Saturday the air was breezy and there seemed to be cloud cover up on the tops.  On continuing west up to High Peak territory we found ourselves surrounded by swirling wispy clouds with the wind whistling through the branches of stunted misshapen trees and shrubs. This is the land of the St Helena Donkey Home.  The rescued donkeys had been abandoned after the collapse of the flax industry when Royal Mail chose to substitute flax twine with those ubiquitous red rubber bands we find dropped on pavements and stairwells all over the place.  The organisation set up to care for the donkeys is very active, with its own website (http://wikivillage.sh/st-helena-donkey-home) and Facebook page.  Weekly ‘walk the donkey’ experiences are offered to the public.  The donkeys are also used by the St Helena National Trust whose members go out regularly to plant endemic species, clearing the flax and sisal that have naturalised and spread all over the island, often in inaccessible places.  I was impressed to find a proper shelter in the place of the open rough piece of ground I remembered.  I have since discovered that Basil Read, the company building the airport, donated the materials for the shelter.  Waiting to head home after walking the donkeys were some of the mums and children we’ve met both on the boat and through work.  I had explained about the rescued donkeys to Alan and had emphasised that the boy and girl donkeys were kept apart as there were no plans to allow them to breed. Imagine my surprise when we found alongside the donkey walkers a jenny and her beautiful baby donkey!  It seems the policy has changed.

A bit further on, continuing in a westerly direction towards Blue Hill, past the arboretums not explored this time, past the outline of the Boer prisoner of war camp, past St Helena of the Cross church, we stopped and walked up a small path along  Hooper’s Ridge discovering an old military bunker tucked away on the top surrounded and semi concealed by shrubs, including local raspberries and tall ageratum.  There is more to explore there – a path leading down beyond where the eye can see which was too strenuous for my fragile state; but we will go back to ‘do’ it properly one day.

The old military magazine/bunker on Hooper's Ridge

The old military magazine/bunker on Hooper’s Ridge

We got back to Jamestown and headed for a siesta.  I slept for a couple of hours and woke to find Alan gone.  He returned around 4 pleased to announce that he had been to the top of the ladder and back.  The famous ‘inclined plane’ consists of 699 steps (there were 700 but the resurfacing of the road at the bottom absorbed one of them) and is a taxing climb.  It was built in 1829 by the St Helena Railway Company (fascinating that there should ever have been a railway company here) as a cableway to lift supplies up to Ladder Hill fort from Jamestown nearly 200m below.  The Royal Engineers rebuilt it as a steep staircase in 1871 and named it Jacobs Ladder.  Every year there is a timed race with the record standing at just over 5 minutes (http://sthelenaonline.org/2013/01/23/graham-beats-jacobs-ladder-record-hands-down/).   Alan forgot to time himself but tells me he completed the ascent “quite quickly”!  He is paying the price!  I have never seen him suffering so much from stiff muscles, particularly on walking down hill or stairs.  Even two days later, he still looked like he was fitted with double metal calipers as he struggled to move around freely.

Jacob's Ladder seen from our window in Wellington House.  It's even floodlit at night!

Jacob’s Ladder seen from our window in Wellington House. It’s even floodlit at night!

On Sunday morning, we took a phone call from the Tourist Office.  The owner of the Half Tree Hollow property had contacted them to say that a 2 year rental had been agreed since we first expressed an interest so that was being preferred to our meagre three month rent.  We can’t blame them, but it was another blow.

Alasdair, the descendent of one of Napoleon’s guards and fellow Wellington House resident, has been a great distraction from the woes of accommodation searching.  He joined us on a drive to Rosemary Plain and Mount Eternity so I could introduce Alan and him to one of the favourite parts of my last visit’s discoveries.  We walked up to the top of Mount Eternity, a little peak that continues on to Friars Ridge, a narrow rocky tongue which peters out high, high above the Atlantic.  We stood a little along the ridge, looking back towards the wooded community of Scotland and out to the ocean far, far below and beyond, hoping to catch a sight of sea life.  Our other fellow Wellington residents, here to investigate setting up an airline to use the airport, had seen whales and dolphins from the shore the previous day.  We were too high up and far away, however, to spot sea life, even with binoculars.  We did spot at close range a pair of fairy terns, the beautiful snowy white birds that are all over St Helena.  This pair considered that we were too close to their nest and put on a half-hearted show of ‘dive bombing’ us to scare us off.  I was sorry that they were alarmed, but delighted to get such close views of these pretty birds.

The anxious parent

The anxious parent

After driving back round Scotland up to White Gate and St Pauls, we headed again out along the High Peak road stopping at both the George Benjamin and Clifford arboretums.  Alan and Alasdair had a walk round the former.  We took a look through the entrance of the Clifford arboretum and made the decision to postpone the circular walk for another day.  It looks like a good couple of hours would be necessary and a picnic stop was recommended.  Along the roadside and into the woods, multiple patches of arum lilies in flower brightened the dark over- and undergrowth.

I wanted to pat the baby donkey so we headed on to the donkey sanctuary only to find that they were all at the top end of the field and could not be cajoled into coming to the gate.  Ah well – another time..

Back in Jamestown, we headed to Ann’s Place at the back of Castle Gardens which are beautifully prolific just now with petunias, fuschias, amazing amaryllis and many other plants in flower.  Loud dance music emanated from the restaurant due to a children’s party in full swing.  We were able to sit a little away from the happy chaos and enjoy a light lunch and further chat with Alasdair before heading back to Wellington House.

As we were preparing to set out in the morning, Ivy the proprietor of Wellington’s who has been very sympathetic about our accommodation plight found us to tell us that she had thought of an accommodation possibility.  Someone, currently visiting family in the UK, had an empty cottage in New Ground which might be available, though she was a little reluctant about letting it out when she is not around.  Her son owns a sandwich shop just down the road from Wellington House.  While we were out, Ivy had made an enquiry about the availability.  We hoped there would be an answer when we returned, but Ivy had heard nothing back yet.  So Sunday finished with more rest and another lovely supper.  We had to be patient for another night before we would know the answer to Ivy’s request on our behalf.

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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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Reception in Jamestown

Misty morning view of St Helena

Misty morning view of St Helena

Getting closer

Getting closer

...and closer

…and closer

Here comes our ferry to Jamestown

Here comes our ferry to Jamestown

Thursday October 10th

We were fortunate enough to be on the first little boat ferrying passengers to the quayside.  After less than an hour, we completed all the immigration formalities, collected our luggage and were met by the new senior management team of the Health Service and Hospital.  They immediately saw how unwell I was and insisted that I not start work until Monday.  The HR manager kindly drove us up to the house that had been our preferred choice from the photos we’d been sent.  It was a little 2 up – 2 down half way up the hill to the hospital, just beyond the Baptist church and opposite Pilling Primary School.  We were told that it had been cleaned in readiness for our arrival, but, unfortunately, no one had checked if this was true.  Immediately on opening the front door the unpleasant musty smell hit us and it didn’t take many moments to see that the house was filthy from top to bottom.  At first, I thought we could handle it, but the more I realised needed to be done (carpet and furniture cleaning; the oven and all the kitchen utensils, crockery and cupboards etc etc) the quicker I realised it was impossible to stay.  Alan had gone up to fetch the car from the hospital that I’ve been allocated and brought back another HR person who is a local “Saint”.  She also agreed that the place was barely habitable and, after a few phone calls, we were moved to Wellington House guest house back in the centre of town.  Ivy, the owner, gave us a lovely welcome and showed us to a big airy room at the back on the first floor.   We are in twin beds, the toilets and washing facilities are in little cubicles with plastic  concertina-folding doors up on the next floor up a steep seventeen step wooden staircase.  Our room has a locked dividing door to the next bedroom which is occupied by a retired judge from Norfolk.  There is no sound-proofing at all, due to the age and construction of the building.  I feel very sorry for him having to put up with my coughing spells (which, thankfully, are not that frequent through the night).  He has been most gracious and a pleasant meal time companion.  The reason he is here is to investigate as much as he can about Napoleon’s time on the island as one of his great great grandfather’s was part of the guard who watched the emperor during his captivity and who saw his body immediately on his death.  Alasdair has a copy of a letter with him that was written by his ancestor to his mother detailing Napoleon’s last days and the funeral.  He has also lent us two books to improve our knowledge of Napoleon’s time on St Helena.

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