The grey cloud that hung over St Helena as the RMS anchored in James Bay rather reflected my mood returning to the island after a short but lovely Christmas trip to Blighty. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to return to the island that has been host to my geriatric gap-year but, rather, mixed feelings about returning only for a few weeks to the truncated project that I have led since August 2011.
The professional project I have led has been (so far) a great success with school colleagues working so hard to change and improve their practice. The improvement has been so remarkable that we are expecting 70% of pupils to be level 4 and above in English and mathematics (Level 4 being the age related expectation) compared to 50% in 2012 and 26% the year I first came out. As I said to the Chief Secretary at a meeting I bullied out of him when our paths crossed in Sally’s Sandwich bar, ‘This project must be the best story on the island and I bet you could do with a good story’. I think he was pleased at the news! Our expectation is that by 2014 academic standards in the primary schools will be in-line with those in the UK. Pretty good going I would think.
The fly in the ointment is that the 3 year project is now only going to last for one year. I had no intention of staying longer than a year (I guess a few extra months if my arm was twisted and Di came out to join me) and was expecting to pass the baton of leading the project to someone else. This is not to be – ‘budget reasons’ is given as the explanation. However, we shall see as this threatens to be a bit of a political hot potato – but not one that I am getting involved in.
The weather has been something of a further disappointment since my return – certainly it is warm, and the sun has appeared briefly. Mostly overcast with some rain. I took my bright yellow waterproof yesterday when I did my usual (and very lovely) walk from my house yesterday evening although, fortunately, it stayed in my rucksack for the duration. The warmth and the damp has brought out exquisite smells from the pine and the undergrowth that line my route through Guinea Grass, Rosemary Plain and across to Scotland and Plantation. The smell is that resin scent that reminds me so much of the south-west coast of France – a return visit is one that I have added to my list of things to do after my return to the UK in April.
I wasn’t surprised to find the radio air waves on the island pretty well silent on my return as I had heard whilst I was away that the independent Saint FM station had suddenly come to a halt just before Christmas. The owner cited lack of support from SH government (SHG) as a cause but, I would think, long-term financial considerations must have played its part. I would have though that running a commercial radio station for a population of only 4,000 must be fraught with difficulties. However, the ‘Independent’ newspaper (run by the same proprietor) took some space in this week’s edition to score some political points – as always, politics looms large in this neck of the woods.
Long term readers of my blog will know that my blossoming career as a broadcasting celebrity has been curtailed by the planned closing down of St Helena Radio on Christmas Day – to be replaced by a 3 channel FM radio station (SHBC) financially supported by SHG (at least in its early days). Close down duly happened but, alas, the SHBC were not ready to embark on their 3 channel blitz of the South Atlantic airways. I guess these things (however unfortunate) can happen but, rather than cancelling the closure of St Helena Radio the island was faced with a radio black out for a number of days before SHBC began to broadcast the BBC World Service on a 24/7 basis. Now, some people may think that this is definitely an upgrade from the wall to wall Country and Western musical diet formerly presented (except, of course, when your correspondent promoted music suitable for the discerning listener) but, of course, no opportunity for local news and announcements to be shared across the island.
Something of a shambles I would say and one, with the island’s complex political structure, I should think could have easily been avoided. We will have to see what materializes on the political agenda over the next few weeks – you will, of course, be the first ones to hear.
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