Thursday, April 28, 2005


Stay the patient course . . .

A contact just sent me "16 actual error messages seen on the computer screens in Japan", observing "Aren't these better than 'your computer has performed an illegal operation?' ".

I agree. I would even go as far as to suggest that the text I have highlighted could become the motto of St. Helena:

Friday, April 15, 2005



If you have seen a picture of Jamestown you will realise that it is situated in a narrow, steep valley. What most pictures do not make clear is the number of rocks that overhang the valley, and the fact that, after rain, they can become unstable and come crashing down.

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.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Stay calm, don't get cross ...

I contacted an international money transmission company on behalf of a customer, asking if we could send them funds, from our accounts in London, for onward transmission to their agents in Fiji, for collection in cash by the relative of a customer. As they are the best known name in this business I didn't expect a problem.

Their reply began: “
XXXX is a person to person money transfering company, that means we dont send money to into bank accounts.
” (sic).

OK, I thought, that’s fine, I didn’t want them to do that anyway.

It went on to say that I could call a UK number with a debit or credit card, or “
Take cash to any XXXX agent

My reply was:

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your response, however it does not address my question.

We need to send money to your office in Fiji, for collection by a customer. The money will come from our account in London. We do not have a credit or debit card. Being on an island in the South Atlantic 1200 miles of the African coast, taking cash into your nearest office (Cape Town, I assume, 1500 miles and seven days away by ship) is not a practical proposition.

I assume you have bank accounts in the UK. Could we send a credit by BACS to one of these, so that the funds could be made available in Fiji? If so, what would the charge be and what information would we need to supply?


Buying a house

Buying a house here isn't easy.

For a start, there are no Estate Agents, so you can’t just pick and choose from a window display and then make appointments to view. Houses are sold by word-of-mouth, so you need to ask around and wait to see what you hear about. Occasionally one is advertised in the paper, but this tells you that it is probably overpriced and hasn’t sold by the other method.

Having located your dream home, the fun begins. Unless you were born here, you need a licence to buy property. Such a rule is not unusual, and at least it is possible to get one – in some countries it is absolutely prohibited. Here it is just, like so many things, a lengthy process. We understand it goes like this:

Step 1: fill in a form. That was easy.

Step 2: wait. We’re getting good at this.

Step 3: Get a letter back saying that you need to supply: a medical certificate to say that you are fit and healthy; a full statement of your financial assets; and a police check, confirming that you are not a criminal.

The former is easy: just make an appointment to see the doctor and ask him for one. The receptionist can’t give you a certificate without you seeing the doctor, even if you only saw him yesterday. Seeing the doctor involves a wait, but nothing like the wait in the UK so, as my Granny used to say (often) “mustn’t grumble”.

As I work for the bank, the financial assets statement shouldn’t be a problem.

But the police record check is a little more complicated. It seems that I have to ‘phone the UK and get them to email me a form; fill it in; and return it, complete with a cheque or postal order for £10. After forty (yes, really) days you can expect a reply, back to a UK address, or add another month for the letter to reach here, always assuming it doesn’t go via Bahrain, as did my last credit card statement (but that’s another story).

Once you have assembled these, they put a notice in the local Gazette and wait a month for objections. Finally, your application goes to the local parliament for approval. If they ask for further details, you go back down the snake to square 27 and hope to throw a six.

It was easier to get a job running the Island's bank than it will be for me to buy a house.

House prices here are very low compared to the UK. As you would have to be seriously keen to try it, I think I can see why. Whether that is a good thing I’ll leave others to debate.

We are sure we want to settle here, so we will attempt the process. Please wish me luck.


To quote from one of my family's emails home:

I told an elderly Saint lady here about our pantomime. Too late I discovered that they don’t have pantos here and that the older ones are rather straight-laced, so the idea of men dressing up as women and wearing spotty bloomers, with the vicar in the audience . . . I think Markyate is now right off her holiday destinations list.

It strikes me that pantomime is such a part of St. Helenian life that nobody would find the performance amusing.
(Oh yes they would ...)

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