The Sounds of Saint Helena Island

Oceans and Seas » Atlantic » Saint Helena
August 30th 2012
Published: August 31st 2012
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Why on earth would anyone want to throw tennis balls onto our roof, or at least that’s what it sounds like? As I stir from my sleep I glance at the bedside clock and find it’s 7.30am and I realise, of course, that it’s the roof of the house expanding as the warmth of the sun strikes it’s surface. All the roofs are made of corrugated metal, some green, some pink but most are brown, I guess shipping slate isn’t feasible and so it features regardless of how ‘grand’ your house may be. Now I don’t want you to get the impression that we are basking in glorious tropical sunshine here, far from it. The days start in much the same way at this time of the year. The weather in ‘Scruffy August’ (what a great description, why didn’t we think of that in the UK for all those months of mixed weather) is truly erratic and requires layers of clothing and raincoats however the day starts. Drying clothes on the line is an exercise in itself – hang them out, take them in, hang them out, take … and so it goes on as the houses have no heating and therefore no radiators to dry things on, but enough of my chores.

The sounds of the island are ever evident around us. This week has been the wind, which has brought cloud and rain (or do they come anyway!!). The ‘rain’ is more like a bath in mist as we are almost up in the clouds at New Ground where we live (1300’ above SL). I am now used to looking out of the rear bedroom window to see if the sky is clear (although 5 minutes later the hills can be covered in rain and cloud and scupper any attempts at going out). Alongside the weather is the constant reminder of the airport and runway as blasting takes place (but only in the daytime so the poor residents in Rupert’s Bay don’t go mad). The workers of Basil Reed are now on shifts to catch up, as the ground survey failed to expose the level of hardness in the rock (‘Really?” you say, after all the island was formed from the eruptions of a volcano all those eons ago!). The sound of the blasts can be heard all over the island and regular warnings are given out on St Helena Radio. The latter is quite bizarre to listen to by the way, I’m sure Michael has mentioned the preference for ‘Country and Western’ music here. Where this preference has originated from is baffling – discussion at Donny’s bar on Friday came round to this and, although we had thought the links with Ascension Island and the US base there might have been to blame, according to our retired Headteacher and local amateur astronomer Stedson (a Saint by birth) the preference was here long, long before that. (Oh yes, I must mention the pod of leaping dolphins just 100m off-shore which interrupted our conversation – at least we saw them this week, there aren’t many places in the world where sitting having a drink can be so entertaining).

Talking of sounds, Michael and I decided we couldn’t miss out on experiencing the ‘Texas Bash’ on bank holiday Monday. I had expected a cavalcade of stetsons, rodeo riding, country and western singing and line dancing but unfortunately it was not to be so. We did however witness some mean ‘tug o’ war’ events (missed the one with the fire engine at one end though). Other features included novelty games, karate demonstrations and karaoke singing (not me!). There were of course the usual stalls with lots of tea and cakes (the Saints are good at making cakes), you are always asked if you want red tea or black (black is my choice). As the weather turned into quite a sunny day we decided to leave early and detour on the way back home via Sandy Bay (on my list to visit).

Now Michael had warned me that the roads to Sandy Bay are quite ‘tricky’ but that I was not to be put off by this as the views were worth it and so onward and downward we went. The views were breath-taking and filled with lush, tropical vegetation including banana trees and wild lilies, each new turning brought tremendous rewards – the contrasts in the landscape were a mixture between Switzerland and the desert (I might add that the roads in Switzerland are much, much better). The drive is not for the faint-hearted and is, by far, the steepest I have ever encountered and so by the time we finally reached the Bay my knuckles were white and my heart was in my mouth (you might think I exaggerate but for those of you who have made the journey you know I do not!) It is the only place on the island where the sea meets the land and produces beautiful breakers on a ‘not so sandy’ beach; however, our stay was brief and was curtailed by the sudden appearance of rain and heavy cloud rolling in from the south. There is a real threat of being stranded in this part of the island, as, when the tracks get wet they become very dangerous and it is not unknown for people to slide off them into the ditches and we know from a previous visit that Michael is very good at that! I would like to go again for longer but the fear of the drive (particularly as you near the beach) is definitely off-putting, we’ll see!

This week I have finally managed to get to the painting group – mainly because of a less challenging venue and a much-improved knee. Michael is now the proud owner of what one might loosely call a watercolour painting of ‘Julie’s Garden’ (which looks out over the bay near Jamestown). I know it’s winter here but the Bougainvillea are so beautiful and Arum Lilies grow wild by the roadside all over the island so the colour in the garden was delightful and the weather mild and almost sunny (at least for the few brief hours we were there) and of course there are always the ever present rainbows (you can even see where they touch the ground) – what a great way to spend time with such pleasant company too.

I have now met both Jean (the ballroom dancing teacher) and Joan (M’s ballroom partner) as the dancing sessions have re-started. I didn’t like to spoil M’s routine so I left him to continue to tread on poor Joan's toes while Jean and I paired up for the Salsa, Square Tango and Quickstep dancing to Jean’s ‘Strictly’ CD, and I must say great fun was had by all. Michael has taken to the fine art of ballroom like a duck to water so classes are to be sought on my return (watch this space Anton!) I will definitely go again next week, if only to watch M put the finishing touches to his pirouette!!

I had an unexpected visit from ‘Billy’ this week (no, not our neighbour from home). Our next-door neighbour on SH keeps goats and one had escaped and wandered down our drive so you can imagine my surprise when his cheeky face appeared at our sitting room window. I was half-tempted to leave him in the garden in the vain hope that he might devour some of our weeds but my duty got the better of me and I ‘shooed’ him back to his companions, all of whom are a noisy bunch.

M's radio DJ career continues to blossom (a bit of an over-statement really) with some amusing outcomes this week. He and I went to considerable pains to produce some playlists for the forthcoming weeks now that the 'alphabet' is done. These lists were carefully burnt onto CD's and, after various 'cut and paste' efforts, Word documents of the lists were produced and printed. (Michael wants to make sure that the resident DJ, Mike Dean, knows that he is approaching the exercise with enthusiasm). I dutifully tune in to listen to the selected tracks and hear M's deep tones extolling the virtues of Ryan Adams' Gold Album followed by ... you guessed it ... Bruce Springstein! Somewhere in the technical transcriptions a box had not been ticked and so the elusive track was on the paper but not the CD - much chuckling on my part I'm afraid! Next week are songs with names in the title - he has been banned from playing 'Smile for Me My Diane' by the Batchelors!!!

Sometimes one forgets that SH is so far from anywhere but last week we were reminded following several phone calls to SHELCO (who are involved with island developments). People had phoned to ask about 'lights out at sea'. Now you must remember that ships don't just 'pass by' SH and so there were features in both the press and radio enlightening us of the cause. Apparently it was the Atwood Condor (a new oil rig) being towed from Singapore to Trinidad via the Cape of Good Hope; nothing ever goes un-noticed on the island.

Oh yes and then there was Skittles - the only record of last week's high scores can be found in the St Helena Independent as 'Mike Theobalds high scorer for the Alcometers (69) and highest break (15)'. Certainly judging by this week's performance whenever I go to watch, his scores dwindle - perhaps I should stay at home in future!

On the tortoise front I still haven't managed to visit Jonathan but I note with some sadness the death of Lonesome George on the Galapagos Islands in June this year and, if anything is to be learnt from their experience, it will be the SH islanders who will need sensitive handling and not the world's media when Jonathan goes as 'a shadow has hung over the Galapagos since George's death'.

By the way, I have to apologize for M’s lack of blogging – he really has been quite busy writing PowerPoints and Handbooks for his presentation on training day next week (yes he does work despite what some might think!)

The coming weekend promises to be busy with a trip on Friday for eight of us to Farm Lodge Country House Hotel for dinner (a favoured place to stay for Jules Verne trips to the island). We are reliably informed that both the food and wine are of a very good standard and, since restaurants on island are few in number, this will be something to relish. You may also recall from our previous blogs our mention of ‘Anne’s Place’ near the harbour. The latter is to be the venue for a hog roast on Saturday evening where twelve of us plan to join many others to indulge in a feast. Yum...

I will leave you with one final thought this week (mainly prompted by one of our friend’s emails about redundant road signs still in place) and, whilst the sign I refer to is definitely not redundant, it does make me smile whenever I see it in Jamestown – I can’t imagine how the residents of the UK would view it if it appeared in our car parks!! Do you park or don’t you park? The attached photo should fill in the blanks!


31st August 2012

Welcome news
Thanks for the update Di - informative and amusing! I have struggled to hear Michael on the radio, although I suspect I've been listening to the wrong station... Are you able to provide precise details, time, frequency etc. please?
31st August 2012

Thanks for a really evocative blog post. One of the best I've ever read from the island. Simon
1st September 2012

You'll be sad to leave!
But when you do get back there will be a ball in your honour! From Ann's invitation to join them (in case you have not received it): Wenlock Olympic Celebration Ball on Saturday 29th September at The Edge. The tickets are £48 , which is quite high, but it is not a fund raiser so all money is being ploughed into the event which should be excellent. I do hope you can come since I've been helping to organise it! So put on your glad rags and dancing shoes, yes you Geoff Rose, and come along. There will be a 4 course meal preceded by drinks and canapes, live band and disco until 1am. David Moorcroft and Jonathan Edwards (president of the Wenlock Olympian Society) will be there. Let me know if you want me to get you a ticket.....meanwhile keep on enjoying St Helena! Linda

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