Sunday, June 14, 2009
Looking back . . .
Monday, November 07, 2005
When I started writing this weblog my aim was to record the things I found curious and interesting about St. Helena. By doing so, I built into the task its own automatic termination. The longer you stay anywhere, the less strange it becomes.
In the last nine months I have adapted to life here and no longer find unusual the fact that there are only three TV channels, all of them useless; that there are times when both radio stations are playing Country & Western so you just drive along listening to neither; the latest onions shortage was, I think, the 3rd since I got here, and we coped, just like the other times; you still can’t get keys cut in any sane way, so you just don’t bother locking things; and the car in front may be travelling at 10 mph in the middle of the road, but everyone else is always late for the meeting anyway, so why worry?
So this is a sort of valedictory posting. You can always find out about the bank of St. Helena from the website (www.sainthelenabank.com) and there is plenty of news about St. Helena generally on the Saint FM website – www.saint.fm – so you won’t miss out.
If you are ever on St. Helena, do drop into the bank and say hello. Nobody else ever bothers to make an appointment, so you don’t need to either.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Stock Car Racing
Stock Car Racing, in case you don’t know (it’s probably called something different outside the UK) is where you get a lot of battered old cars and race them. The rules permit a certain degree of contact and the main audience attractions are wondering who will be smashed up next and whether any of the cars will still be running at the end of the lap.
Now, if you’ve ever been to St. Helena, you may be surprised to hear that there are any vehicles on the island, capable of moving under their own power, that are not still in regular use. I was told that the entrants were “MOT Failures” (NB the MOT is a UK roadworthiness test). I knew that there was an MOT in St. Helena but, given the state of most of the cars on the road, I found it hard to believe that anything that could still move ever failed it. So much of my interest was sheer disbelief that they could get any working entrants.
However, they did, and there were seven competitors: three Mk2 Escorts (the one used in all the rallies in the 1960s and 70s), a Ford Sierra Estate, a Vauxhall Viva, a Mk 1 Cortina, and one other yellow thing that I couldn’t identify (I’m not sure if the yellow was a paint colour or just rust).
Racing took place on a dusty track just next to the refuse dump in Bottom Woods, presumably to make disposal of the remains more convenient, though possibly the ready access to spare parts may have been a factor.
After some initial ‘time trials’ (i.e. can you make it round the track before it gets dark), the cars were grouped together in fours and the racing began.
It quickly became evident that being in front was a major advantage, because the combination of road dust and exhaust fumes that trailed in the wake of the leading car made it damn near impossible for the remainder to see the front of their own car, let alone the road. The trackside marshals must have had nerves of steel to stand there in the resulting dust-storm, with (relatively) fast-moving heaps of rust hurtling around somewhere in the immediate vicinity.
Crashes did occur, though we mostly heard the bang rather than saw the impact. They were evidenced by the fact that the cars, when they again became visible, were suddenly missing insignificant components, such as doors.
I’m not entirely sure who won, but the driver of the Sierra should have had a prize for sheer persistence. He started every race but I don’t think he ever completed a lap without breaking down midway and being towed off by the marshals.
Other prizes go to the driver of the yellow ‘thing’, for Panache (attempting to power slide in dust with a vehicle that could otherwise only just manage a one-in-100 incline), and one for Insanity for the driver who selected the red-bodied Escort. You see, I know its previous owner, and she didn’t dare smoke in the vehicle because of the petrol leak ….
Nobody got hurt, a great time was had by all, and I understand that just over £500 was raised to help fund a blood-analysis machine for the General Hospital.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
August is here . . .
We've – at last - bought the house, the powers that be having eventually decided that not only was I fit to manage £26m of the island's wealth, but I could also probably look after £60,000 worth of breeze-blocks. All I have to do now is persuade PW&SD to connect the electricity and water, and various builders to re-design the house to Catherine's requirements (I have decided that women treat new houses like they do new husbands - as raw material to be re-modelled into something usable).
We've adopted another cat (total now is 5, i.e. about 1 per month since we arrived). We found him injured in the middle of the road, having (presumably) been hit by a car. He's recovering well, but we can't find an owner so we have decided he is ours. We've named him 'Bollard'.
Now you're up to date.
Monday, August 01, 2005
No ICE in St. Helena
The idea is that you store the word
ICEin your mobile phone address book, and against it enter the number of the person you would want to be contacted
In Case of Emergency.
In an emergency situation ambulance and hospital staff will then be able to quickly find out who your next of kin are and be able to contact them. It's so simple that everyone can do it.
For more than one contact name, store ICE1, ICE2, ICE3 etc.
Of course, as there are no mobile ‘phones in St. Helena, we have our own system.
If someone were to fall down unconscious in the street, or be unlucky enough get hit by a car travelling fast enough to do some harm, the first person on the scene would immediately contact the unfortunate individual’s entire family, knowing from personal knowledge who they are, where they live and work, when their birthday is, what their favourite colour is, what sort of music they like (probably Country & Western), etc.
This is one of the advantages of living in a small community ….
Still, for those of you that do not live in such an intimate environment, the ICE idea seems like a very good one and I thoroughly recommend it.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
In the news
For example, we get details of every road accident. As every accident has to be reported to the police, even if nobody was injured and you only damaged your own car, there are more reports than you would expect. However, as most people here drive extremely cautiously (sometimes frustratingly so), there are relatively few accidents to report, even under these criteria.
Now and again the reports are amusing. The following was in the SaintFM news yesterday. If you know Side Path you will appreciate the significance of it. If you don’t, imagine a narrow road, attached to the side of a near-vertical incline, with a three-foot high ‘retaining wall’ between you and the precipitous drop to the valley floor, then read on:
Two vehicles collided on Side Path Road. There was only minor damage to the vehicles and no serious injuries were sustained.
One of the drivers decided to sit down on the retaining wall – fell over – and all rescue services were involved in rescuing the driver.
The driver was found to be over the limit of alcohol in his breath and will appear in Court in due course.
Friday, July 08, 2005
In the UK ants live in holes in the ground. If they invade the house, you follow the trail back to the hole and pour boiling water down it. End of problem.
In St. Helena, unfortunately, the ants nest in the roof . . .
OK, a donkey snorting just outside your bedroom window at 3am takes some getting used to, but we adjusted and these days they are part of the scenery.
However, Penny doesn’t confine herself to donkeys, and doesn’t keep them all to herself either.
Our new neighbours arrived from Namibia and soon found that their eight-year old daughter had fallen in love with a ‘cute puppy’ that Penny just happened to have been carrying past the house, and so were forced to adopt it.
Similarly, Catherine, plied with a reasonable quantity of alcohol, submitted to the charms of a manky flea-bitten moggy which the kids have optimistically christened “Ginger”, which I suppose approximates to the colour he would be if we could ever get him clean.
Penny is not the only one involved. Gillian went back to the UK after the end of her contract here and left us with three female cats to look after – a stray and her two kittens. They are half wild, so won’t come in the house, but are happy to eat food if we leave it out on the porch. Which is where the trouble starts . . .
Firstly, Ginger objects to us caring for any cats beyond himself. So he chases off the others if he sees them around. Fortunately, Ginger, being a true tomcat, is rarely home, and they do manage to all get fed, though a fight breaks out – as it did at 7am this morning – if he catches one of them at it.
Secondly, word has got around the local cat population that there is food out, and we are now also regularly feeding an unidentified black-and-white-cat.
We are also feeding next door’s dog, who turns up uninvited and just helps himself. As he has grown remarkably – being now the size of the average wolf and twice as hungry - he eats plenty. As do the Mynah birds, several pigeons and more cockroaches than you can count.
Keeping animals here is complex and expensive. The cost we can bear - it's the need to keep the whole thing under control that's defeating us. Perhaps we should just hurl bags of opened cat food out onto the grass and just leave them all to get on with it.
Friday, July 01, 2005
A Cat and mouse tale - continued
Let me clarify.
It's not the quality of the mechanics that causes the problems, its the availability of technical equipment. There is an ongoing project to import proper electronic diagnostic kit onto the island, but like so many St. Helena projects, it is proceeding at a leisurely pace.
Actually, I have immense respect for the mechanics of St. Helena. It must take considerable skill to keep the island’s collection of antique cars roadworthy (even by St. Helenian standards), despite limited access to the necessary equipment and especially to spare parts. Does anyone still make spares for a Mark 1 Capri?
My guess is that it is all done by cannibalisation, and the quantity of mostly-stripped cars around the island seems to support this theory. I assume that, when something breaks, the group of people who own that sort of car get together and draw lots to see who’s vehicle gets stripped down for spare parts to keep everyone else’s on the road.
Anyway, I have immense respect for the mechanics of St. Helena and would not wish to appear to have said anything to offend them.
Now please can I have my spark plugs back …….?
Thursday, June 30, 2005
A Cat and mouse tale
Next time my wife and myself step foot on St. Helena we intend to bring a car with us. We are looking for a suitable new car. After all it will have to last a nice couple of years. My wife [who likes driving - I don't] set her heart on a Mini-Cooper. Plenty of umph to get up the inclines, small enough to easily get around the corners.
It runs,of course, on unleaded petrol. I checked on the availability in SH, now or in the future, of unleaded petrol. Only Lead Replacement Petrol is available and no change in the foreseeable future, was the prompt reply to my e-mail. Checking back with a technical chap at the Mini-Cooper sales office on the consequences of using LRP instead of unleaded my enquiry was met with a gasp of incredulity. Totally out of the question and the alterations required to make it possible would be prohibitively expensive. All through this I could not believe no new cars are imported in St. Helena. No new cars designed for LRP have been made since 1993.
I checked a few island sources but could not get a definitive answer until I received the following information ....
You are correct in saying that in St. Helena cars run only on Lead Replacement Petrol but I have been informed that although the majority of cars now imported into St. Helena should use Unleaded Petrol, they do not have a choice but to use the LRP.
I was further informed that because cars are not using the correct petrol, the only thing likely to be ruined is the converter which, sometimes, does not last any longer than 5 years. So it would seem that there would be no problem in your bringing a new car but bring along a [catalytic] converter.
So, now I go back to the Mini-Cooper sales people and give them some tuition on the ways of people who live in those parts of the world which are set back from the global highways and check the cost of a spare catalytic converter - assuming one is necessary in the first place.
Everyone runs their car on LRP and ignores the fact that the Cat will be ruined.
Empirical evidence suggests that there are no emissions regulations on St. Helena. If there are, they are evidently not rigidly enforced. Smog is hardly likely to be a problem here, with the ever-present trade winds. So a non-functioning Cat is not a problem.
It also doesn't have any noticeable effect on the performance, but then nobody here ever gets a car much above 40mph anyway so you wouldn't be able to tell
To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever tried to export a car from St. Helena, so the need for a new Cat doesn't arise.
If you are thinking of importing a car, the main characteristics you require are:
- availability of spare parts from South Africa or Namibia
- good brakes
- a good turning circle
- good performance in the wet
- an alarm that you can disable (nobody locks their car so the alarm is just a nuisance)
Also avoid anything with a computerised 'engine management system'. If it can't be fixed with a screwdriver and a monkey wrench it's too technical for St. Helena. Someone brought an Audi A4 here and it spent nine months of its first year in the garage because they couldn't reboot the engine computer. They never did get the "emergency engine alert - stop driving now" message to go away. It's for sale, by the way ...
I hope that helps.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Chartered Accountant Needed in Small Sub-Tropical Island
To develop for the new post-Airport economy St. Helena desperately needs a local accountancy 'firm'. By the scale of things here, that would be one chartered accountant and several CAT-qualified assistants.
Although I can't put out an official job offer, it would look something like this:
What you need:
- Experience of general business accountancy issues, particularly those of SME businesses
- Creativity and imagination, to deal with the fact that things here work 'differently'
- A reliable sense of humour, for situations when 'working differently' looks remarkably like 'not working'
- The ability to survive without a mobile 'phone, shopping centres, or most of what is called 'Culture', e.g. live music (NB Country & Western does not classify as 'music'); serious theatre; opera; art galleries; ...
- The ability to survive without traffic, random violent crime, commuter trains, EU Regulations (well, some of them anyway), the M25, the London Underground, junkmail, aircraft noise, ...
What you get:
- a salary that's about 1/4 what you would expect in the UK
- a cost of living to match your salary
- a job where your personal contribution really makes a difference to people's lives
- the sort of work-life balance that is dreamed of, but rarely achieved in the UK
- minimum annual temperatures of 8C (maximum about 30C) with sunshine most days (August possibly excepted - ask me again in two months' time)
- unspoilt countryside within 10 minutes drive of your home
- unspoilt countryside within 10 minutes drive of your place of work
- more sea and sea-related activity than you can possibly require
- friendly people who smile and wave even if they don't know you (anyway, they soon will)
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
On the box
There are three TV channels available here, as follows:
Channel 1: Shared between 'M-Net' and 'Series'.
Channel 2: SuperSport
Channel 3: BBC / 'Discovery'.
What follows is a personal opinion on their content:
3: 'BBC Prime' alternates with 'BBC World' during the day and evening, and 'Discovery' is on from 11pm until early morning. The island therefore has well-informed moths. 'BBC Prime' features all the trashiest output BBC television has to offer. If you like soap opera, cheap sit-coms, and lacklustre "dramas", based in hospitals or in police situations, you'll love it. 'BBC World' is the World Service with pictures.
2: I don't watch sport so I can only report what I hear: it would be OK if they didn't frequently switch over from the match you are watching to something else before the final whistle, so you never find out who won. On the odd occasion I have switched over to Channel 2 they have always been showing Golf.
1: 'M-Net' is for those who find 'BBC Prime' too intellectually challenging. 'Series' is for those who find 'M-Net' too intellectually challenging.
There are many good things about St. Helena. Television isn't one of them.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
This remarkable achievement results from the fact that the electoral registration was completed a few weeks ago under the old constituency definitions, and the electoral legislation states that a voter can only vote in the constituency in which they are registered. As these no longer exist, nobody can vote.
There isn’t time to re-register all the voters before the next elections, so the obvious solution cannot be implemented.
Friday, May 27, 2005
Create your own St. Helena
You could even assign yourself a regular "St. Helena Day", where you just sit in the sun and drink beer (or whatever) all afternoon.
To really get the effect you need to:
- Put Country and Western Music on the stereo
- Erase all but the three worst channels from the TV's tuning memory
- Play a sound effects tape of donkeys braying, mynah birds squabbling and goats bleating
- Install in your eyeline a large photograph of an empty seascape.
Set it all up somewhere where there are no planes flying overhead and you can’t hear any major roads and then you can retire to St. Helena any time you want.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Have your say
The result was that most of the people who voted, voted "No".
But as the total number of people voting was, I understand, about 25% of the total potential electorate, I think we can fairly say that the majority verdict was "Who cares?"
There are some photos on the Melbourne 2006 website. One, in particular, illustrates what we men have to cope with here: http://www.melbourne2006.com.au/?s=qbrphotogallerydisplay&gid=26&seq=10.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
It seemed so strange that a style of music peculiar to the United States should have taken hold here, given that the island has never been under US control, has never had any significant American military or civilian installations, and is not a major tourist destination from the US.
I am told that it is because, when the work situation here became really poor in the 1950s, a lot of Saints went up to Ascension Island to find jobs there, which were mostly in or related to the air base. That brought them into contact with Americans for the first time (don’t forget there was no TV here until 1998), and what they saw was new and seemed exciting. Hence it became fashionable to adopt American ways.
As far as I can tell, most American servicemen (and women) like ether Country and Western or Rock & Roll music. It’s just my bad luck that the Saints on Ascension encountered the former group. Otherwise this island would have a really good musical history.
As it is, we are forced to listen to music which has absolutely no cultural relevance to St. Helena whatsoever. It makes as much sense as listening to Gangster Rap in Cheltenham or British Folk Music in New York City (which, incidentally, I’m sure, people do).
I may set up a charity to reform the island's musical taste - please send Rock music CDs to ......
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Be prepared for a few surprises.
Think not in terms of BBC Radio 1, or any of the myriad slickly-presented FM stations the world over. Think instead of community ‘open access’ radio, presented by ordinary people, many with the benefit of nearly five minutes training. They even let me do it!
The station also has some proper (paid) presenters, who actually know what they are doing, and some of the volunteers are very good too. But if, when you tune in, there seems to be nothing going out, be patient – some music will follow shortly (probably).
To listen in to SaintFM on the Internet go to www.saint.fm and follow the 'Listen Live' links. Particularly bad times to listen are weekdays at 08:00 and 10:00 GMT, when I am reading the international news, and 18:00 GMT on Sunday, when I present the Sunday Night Rock Show. You have been warned!
Maybe Radio St. Helena will get an Internet link too. Then you can all listen live to the local legislative council having one of their fascinating debates . . . . .
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Stay the patient course . . .
I agree. I would even go as far as to suggest that the text I have highlighted could become the motto of St. Helena:
- The Web site you seek cannot be located, but countless more exist.
- Chaos reigns within. Reflect, repent, and reboot. Order shall return.
- Program aborting: Close all that you have worked on. You ask far too much.
- Windows NT crashed. I am the Blue Screen of Death. No one hears your screams.
- Yesterday it worked. Today it is not working. Windows is like that.
- Your file was so big. It might be very useful. But now it is gone.
- Stay the patient course. Of little worth is your ire. The network is down.
- A crash reduces your expensive computer to a simple stone.
- Three things are certain: Death, taxes and lost data. Guess which has occurred?
- You step in the stream, but the water has moved on. This page is not here.
- Out of memory. We wish to hold the whole sky, But we never will.
- Having been erased, The document you're seeking must now be retyped.
- Serious error. All shortcuts have disappeared.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Not long ago a 3 ton rock put the Ann’s Place restaurant out of action for a month by crashing through the roof, and one afternoon we were evacuated from the bank while the Rock Guards investigated some above our part of town. It’s been raining again and we now have a few more rocks to worry about.
Since yesterday Ladder Hill, the main route out of Jamestown to Half Tree and the east, has been closed because of a group of precarious rocks above China Lane, the point at which Ladder Hill arrives in Upper Jamestown. All traffic on that side has had to use Shy Road, an older and much narrower route. Yesterday, in an attempt to prevent accidents, the police set up a one-way system: traffic could only leave Jamestown between 4pm and 4:30pm, and could only travel down between 4:30pm and 5pm. They would have set up temporary traffic lights but the island doesn’t have any (it doesn’t have any permanent ones either).
To make matters worse, at about 6pm a lorry (carrying guess what – yes, rocks) overturned on Side Path, the other route out of Jamestown, and blocked the road for two hours. It didn't help that the lorry was, according to Saint FM News, 50% overloaded.
Then, at 5:15 this morning a large amount of rock fell down the hill just above the landing stage and landed in the back of the (old) customs offices. The fishermen had set off only a short while before and, as there are no ships in at present nobody was around. If it had happened yesterday, during the loading or unloading of the cruise-ship load of elderly tourists, we could have had a major emergency on our hands.
So far it seems there have been no significant injuries from any of this. I gather the lorry driver had a few bruises, though he might have had a few more if the people who were stuck for two hours had known what caused the accident.
The Rock Guards run regular patrols to check for unstable boulders and then evacuate the area and try to send them down in a ‘controlled’ way, though the extent to which 200 tons of falling rock can be said to have been ‘controlled’ is a matter of some dispute. Currently for the China Lane operations they have been collecting scrap metal and old tyres and trying to form a barrier. Everyone who has an old rusty container in their garden (which a surprising number do) has been asked to sell it to the government for use as part of the barrier. What they plan to do afterwards with a collection of squashed containers has not been announced.
As a PS, I just had to retype some of this because, in the process of trying to power down the area of the rock operations, someone pulled the wrong lever and blacked out half of Jamestown. I may save up and buy them some sticky paper to label the switches.