Tuesday, March 29, 2005


The solution to water shortages

We sometimes get water shortages here, accompanied by the hosepipe bans that are familiar to anyone who has ever experienced a UK summer (it rains for ten months, but after two days of sunshine ...). The water shortage is invariably most severe in Longwood, which also has the highest rainfall on the island. There must be a reason.

Anyway, I have the solution. Next time we have a water shortage we should declare a public holiday.

As you will, by now, have guessed, the Easter weekend was rather damp. It didn’t rain continually, which gives it the edge over a UK ‘bank holiday’, but it did rain a great deal, mostly in the short-torrential-bursts fashion. I feel very sorry for anyone who was under canvas.

The Maundy Thursday fishing expeditions (to catch fish to eat on Good Friday) were heavily curtailed by strong waves. Apparently the rescue boat was sent out as a precaution but didn’t need to rescue anybody. It did, however, manage to crash into the jetty because of a problem with its gearbox – a problem, incidentally, which I am told has been known about for three years but which nobody has got around to fixing. Nobody was hurt.

The Turner family managed to get our act together and had a picnic on the summit of Flagstaff, a prominent outcrop on the northern tip of the island. We also explored the Levelwood area, albeit mostly by car, and even managed a barbecue on Monday night. This was a very pleasant change from spending Easter doing DIY, as per the British ‘tradition’ (we have banned DIY at Piccolo Hill for fear of disturbing the asbestos).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


What shall we do this weekend?

With the Easter weekend approaching, the usual family question applies: what shall we do this weekend?

In the UK, and probably in most of the Northern Hemisphere, the Easter weekend is the first major gardening opportunity of the season. Those who don’t garden do home improvements. The DIY stores and garden centres will already be overflowing with stock and the locust-like descent of paying customers has been planned for months in advance.

Here, in this relaxed corner of the southern hemisphere, you might expect things to be very different. They aren’t.

It would seem that DIY will be a popular Easter activity here too, as the shops are (relatively) brimming with tools, paint, etc. Some have even set up window displays.
On the gardening front, the heat of summer is now beginning to abate (except, for no apparent reason, in Jamestown, where we are all still sweltering), so it may be a good time to plant things without the imminent danger of them expiring in the heat.
But, I am reliably informed, the ‘thing to do’ this weekend is to go camping. For the less adventurous, having a picnic is in order.

I can’t remember the last time I went camping. No, I apologise – I can remember, but would prefer to forget it. I don’t think any adult in my family would welcome the suggestion, but we may try for a picnic. We have begun planning.

Step 1 was to buy a cool box. Strangely, these are available. We bought quite a large one so there is room for enough food to satisfy an invading army, which should be just about enough for a family with two small children. The only problem is that we can’t buy any of the ice-bricks that go in the cool box to keep everything cool. So we have a non-cool cool box.

Then we have to secure supplies of picnic-type things. Sandwiches might be the obvious answer, except that orders for Easter bread have already closed and our bread-maker machine is still on the high seas en-route here from the UK, so maybe we will have to have sandwiches without bread.

I have previously commented on the fruit supply, though I can report that Catherine has – by means fair or foul (I daren’t enquire) - secured some supplies of peaches, grapes and even plums. And bananas are not a problem – they grow on trees.

Drinks are not too big a problem as the kids will drink most of the juices on offer, though you can’t get large bottles of water at the moment. But, on the whole, a picnic may be an option.

However, there is one respect in which a St. Helenian Easter may be exactly the same as we normally experience in the UK. It has already started raining . . . .

Monday, March 21, 2005


The airport - good plan or bad?

I arrived this morning to an unusually large crop of email messages, and found that most of them are from people discussing the relative merits of St. Helena having an airport. Few seemed to be in favour, claiming – inter alia - that it will ‘destroy the uniqueness of the island’.

Let me update everyone with a few local realities:

If you don't beleive me, find a copy of a film called "Water" (Hand Made Films, 1985, starring Michael Caine and Billy Connolly) for a humorous but vivid interpretation of an island in St. Helena's situation (any character similarities to anyone here, past or present, is nothing to do with me!).

I agree there are risks to having an airport. Any change has risks. The important thing to consider (and I speak as an experienced change manager) is that not changing also has risks.

The island's economic future is dependent, at least in the medium term, on tourism. As many of you who have attempted to visit will testify, that requires an international airport. It has taken the UK Government many years to come to that conclusion, with just about every other solution having been tried and having failed. DfID have now committed to spending a large sum of money on the airport (no figures have been released but estimates run in the £60-100m range) because, they have concluded, it is the only way forward for the island. Judging by what has been said here since last Monday, the island, on the whole, agrees.

To address two specific dangers that people have raised (both of which, you will be pleased to hear, have already been considered extensively when making the decision):

St. Helena is not an ecological experiment, it's a living place. It will change, airport or not. With the airport that change can be positive - without it, the evidence shows, it will be negative.

The 'word on the streets' in St. Helena is that we need an airport, and the problems it will bring are manageable whereas the ones caused by its absence are not.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Dolly Parton

A friend writes:

"We are naming our new chickens after country and western singers. Not that we are fans, but the first one came with the name Tammy so we had to go with the theme. Unfortunately, one of our dogs already ate Dolly Parton."

Monday, March 14, 2005


An airport at last!

Air Access for St. Helena: Press Release

Issued: 14 March 2005
For immediate release

The Bank of St. Helena welcomes the decision on Air Access for St. Helena announced today at Plantation House.  The bank also offers its congratulations to all whose efforts have contributed to this decision.

The bank stands ready to assist the community of St. Helena to maximise the economic benefits to the island the arrival of an international airport can bring.

-- ENDS --

Please contact the bank if you have any queries.

Nuff sed?

Friday, March 11, 2005


A challenge: Invest in St. Helena

You may have realised that I think St. Helena is a marvellous place to live and work. So why, you may wonder, do so many of the Saints desperately want to move away? The answer is, mostly, economic: they believe they will have better career opportunities working in the UK, Ascension or the Falklands.

I personally believe that the stresses and strains of working in London do not make up for the greater salary, but that’s a personal view. When you consider that there are still houses here that do not have an electricity supply, you can see that the island is not, as a whole, rich. The economy here only survives because of funding from the UK which balances the books.

What the island really needs is some sympathetic inward investment. If you have an idea, why not have a go?

As you would expect, the island has an Inward Investment Policy. As you would also expect, the full legal document is a little hard to digest. Although I can’t speak for the St. Helena Government on this, it may help if I set out the main thrust, as I understand it.

I believe your plan will need to show that it:
• Will provide sustainable employment for Saints
• Will help to increase the island’s skill-base
• Is sympathetic to the ecology of the island
• Is not an exploitation of the island for your own pecuniary benefit

If you have an idea that meets these criteria you may be able to relocate here and make a living while enjoying the St. Helenian way of life.

If you want to discuss any thoughts (in confidence) please feel free to contact me at the bank (see our website at www.sainthelenabank.com for contact details).

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Greetings from hectic Jamestown

Life here is getting busy!

We currently have at anchor an American supply vessel, a sailing ship (from Class Afloat - www.classafloat.com) and the RMS, picking up for her journey to Ascension departing tomorrow. At the weekend we expect to have another American ship in, so the island is awash with visitors! I’ve never seen the place so busy.

Still, soon they will all head back off towards the real world and leave St. Helena to return to its dreamy doze (or should that be 'daze').

Questions, questions …

Feedback on my musings is always welcome, and I will endeavor to reply as and when the pressures of work(?) permit. Here are some specific questions I have been asked, the replies to which I felt might be of general interest:

Q1: How much does it cost to run a car there, do you pay yearly Road tax, insurance, etc...

I haven’t yet bought one, as I am still using the rental car I picked up on day 2. It’s one of the things I must get around to, but at £10/day it’s not as cripplingly expensive as it would be anywhere else in the world. If you are coming here for anything more than a few days it’s worth renting a car to get a full view of the island, but I digress …..

Cars are one of the fascinating aspects of St. Helena. Consider that the roads here divide into those which are narrow, winding, and steeply uphill, and those which are narrow, winding, and steeply downhill, and consider the effects of the general saltiness of the air, and you would assume that cars would have a very short working life. Not so. There are hoards of Mk2 Ford Escorts, several Ford Capris, at least one Ford Anglia (1960s, probably) and a few original VW Beetles, most of which seem to be in fairly good condition.
Admittedly there are also some fairly ropey cars. Penny’s Mini Traveller has seen (many) better days, but then she only uses it to carry donkey-food around, so I suppose the fact that it is apparently held together by the rust and a lot of luck is probably not that material.
Visitors who have examined the rolling stock may be surprised to learn that there is an MOT test here (for those not from the UK the MOT is an annual inspection of cards over 3 years old for general roadworthiness, and is a legal requirement to keep the car on the road). Exactly what they test I have yet to establish, but rust and loose or missing body panels don’t seem to be an obstacle to getting a certificate. It must work because crashes due to vehicle failure are rare.
It costs about £2000 shipping to import a car, so even second hand cars seem relatively expensive, even to a UK buyer (and with salaries here much lower than the UK they are very expensive in local terms). That probably explains why St. Helenian drivers tend to be cautious and very considerate, which is charming though occasionally irritating when I am really in a hurry. At least the heavy lorries tend to pull in and let faster traffic (e.g. bicycles, Jonathan the Tortoise) pass.

Q2: What about house rates and taxes and income tax, do these things exist, I bet they do.

Sadly, both death and taxes are as inevitable here as anywhere else.

Q3: House prices, if they are ever on the market, etc.

There are no estate agents on St. Helena. If you want to sell a house you might put an advert in the island newspaper or, more likely, just tell a few people and wait for the word to get around. I think an average home goes for c£50,000 but there are no reliable statistics. You can’t buy property here unless you have residency or a license, so there is no market for ‘holiday homes’.
Longer-stay visitors usually rent a place, and with many people currently working off-island this is not too difficult. For a longer-term let £200 a month is considered to be an above-average rent for a 3-bedroom place unless it is in Jamestown. Holiday lets (shorter-term) are about £300/month.
The housing stock varies from old colonial-style Georgian houses, which are quite elegant but not very functional, to more modern bungalows which are the reverse. My family and I currently inhabit a prefab which was built in the 1960s with a design life of 10-15 years. I was relieved that the government recently announced it will no longer approve building designs which feature the use of asbestos. Most of the roofs are made of metal sheeting, which is fine until it rains – it’s not the leaks that cause the problem, it’s the thundering of the raindrops on the roof that keeps you awake. It even drowns out the cicadas and the geckos.

I hope some of that helps. It’s hard to believe this place unless you see it for yourself.

Monday, March 07, 2005


What's cooking?

For your edification, here is an excerpt from the index of a local recipe book:
- Smoked Tuna Pate
- Tuna Cocktail
- Baked Stuffed Tuna
- Tuna Chutney
- Tuna Mince
- Tuna Fishcakes
- Tuna Pudding
- Tuna in Batter
- Tuna Curry
- Tuna Burgers
- Tuna Risotto
- Butter bean and Tuna Gratin
- Macaroni & Tuna Bake
- Seafood Lasagne (main ingredient - Tuna)
- Curried Tuna in Coconut Milk
- Stuffed Pokes (stomach of a tuna)
- Poke Mince

OK, mine's a goat curry, please.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005



I hear in The Times (of London) it was reported that donkeys are now a fashionable pet, as a result of the popularity of the films Shrek and Shrek II. As we have donkeys up to our ears, and some of them are not too well cared for, here is an idea: how about we start an adopt-a-donkey scheme? The adopter would send us money to feed and keep the donkey, and we would send back information about their donkey, including photos. As all donkeys here have a tag number we can make sure that we send you photos of the correct donkey. Anyone interested?

If this takes off, we'll follow it up with an adopt-a-mynah-bird scheme .....

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