What’s in a name?

Oceans and Seas » Atlantic » Saint Helena
September 3rd 2012
Published: September 3rd 2012
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I have mentioned, but haven’t yet fully shared, my curiosity with ‘names’ on the island. It all started at Donny’s (as usual) with a conversation about the challenging road systems here. Mention was made of ‘Capt. Wright’s Turning’. “Was this the real name?” I enquired. “Oh yes” came the reply. “Why so called?” “Well in the 1800’s poor Capt. Wright was said to have ridden in a horse and carriage at too great a speed to take the said corner safely and consequently both he and the carriage came off the road and his death ensued.” Now whether this is fact or island legend I do not know but what I have gleaned is that Capt. Wright was commander of one of the squadrons that escorted Napoleon to St Helena and was a respected officer on the island. This conversation, and my desire to visit a house clearance sale (mostly idle curiosity on a rather dull day with nothing to do) in ‘Rural Retreat’, drew me to look more closely at a big map of Saint Helena we have on the wall (maps are wonderful things and I am thoroughly impressed by the cartographers’ talents to produce such fine detail – no mean feat here I can assure you. They are beautiful, fascinating and quite unique). The place names the SH map contains are quite delightful – Rosemary Plain, Tobacco Plain, Little Broad Bottom, White Gate (so named because of the white gate near Plantation House) and Red Gate (you guessed it!). Button Up Corner has to take the best credit though as it is so named because as you approach it from Capt Wright’s Turning there is a distinct drop in temperature as the ground level rises and the wind howls through the gap and so you must ‘button up’!! The ridges and valleys don’t disappoint either – The Devil’s Punch Bowl, Swampy Gut and Two Gun Saddle are prime examples; I could go on but I guess you will have to visit the island yourself, when the airport is built, to grasp the full extent of the list.

I cannot leave this topic without making reference to Halley’s Mount – isn’t it wonderful how one can discover such unknown things just through the name of the place. I am sure you are familiar with Halley and his comet but what I did not know (but should have) was that he visited SH from Feb 1677 to May 1678. The expedition interrupted his studies at Oxford and was primarily funded by his wealthy father to the tune of £157,200 p.a. With the permission of the British Government, Charles II and the East India Com. Halley travelled to the island and ‘set up shop’ on Diana’s Peak, where little brass plaques now mark the spot. This is a point 800m above S.L. very close to the centre of the island and affords panoramic views of the latter in every direction (including Napoleon’s tomb). His ‘observatory’ was situated 100 yards above S.L. on the peak’s northern slopes. His primary equipment included a quadrant, sextant, telescope and pendulum clock – you know time, distance and angles stuff! (Interestingly, although accurate in England, the pendulum had to be shortened to keep accurate time on SH - a fact that baffled Halley at the time but was later explained by his future friend Isaac Newton. Apparently the earth has an equatorial ‘bulge’ and is not completely spherical and so compensations had to be made). It was on SH that Halley recorded over 340 stars in the southern hemisphere and a full transit of Mercury across the sun in Nov 1677, this was a significant piece of work and helped secure his M.A. on his return to England at the age of 22. Diana’s Peak is also on my list of places to visit (if my knees can cope with the climb down), I know Michael wants to picnic there with me and share the views but at the moment it is too muddy to contemplate.

The longer I stay on SH the more I find myself taking more than a passing interest in the infra-structure of the island, especially with the development of the airport and the proposed new tourism opportunities for the scheduled 30,000 visitors a year. It is only when it is not there that you miss it, I am, of course, referring to recycling. The island is only just beginning to take an active interest in the art of recycling. My frustrations started almost as soon as I arrived. “Where do the bottles and cans go?” ‘In the bin I’m afraid” was the response (or outside Michael Newpence’s house as he makes furniture from them). The size of the island (122 square km) makes one only too aware of the inadequacies of not re-using precious resources. I found myself asking – “What do they do with all the rubbish in such a small space?” It was therefore with some satisfaction and pleasure that I noted in the Sentinel press this week that the fairly recently formed (5 months now) Environmental Management Directorate have started a monthly newsletter keeping residents updated on developments. I noted with particular interest the formation of a Recycling Forum so perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some organisations on the island have already paved the way in demonstrating what can be done with these resources (the SHAPE community is one) and examples of their creative use of recycled materials can be found in items for sale in gift shops around Jamestown, I will certainly bring some home. I am even considering attending a Solid Waste Consultation Meeting on the 8th Sept to find out more (did I really say that?) Added to these issues is the complex nature of the bus services (only evident to me because, unlike at home where we have the indulgence of two cars, we only have one on SH) I can’t always use the car and so I have been exploring alternative means of getting around. According to our friend in Human Resources the buses which take the islanders to work can only be used when booked a month in advance (don’t complain about our services again!). Our friend ‘Irish’ Michael (to distinguish from ‘my’ Michael) was only telling us the other day that he has often tried to catch a bus only to be refused entry because he hadn’t bought his ticket ‘in advance’ and I know for a fact that some of the teachers at some of the schools have to take 3/4 buses home – no wonder many people leave work at 4pm!

The past w/e has proved to be very busy and a visit to Farm Lodge Country House Hotel kicked it off beautifully. Michael has never been so, when our friend Rachael asked if we would like to make up a group of eight for dinner, we jumped at the chance. Stephen and Maureen, who run this wonderfully restored East India Company planter’s house (approx. 1750), are impeccable hosts. They spent nine years painstakingly restoring the house with the help of a relative, the attention to detail is incredible with wonderfully polished wooden floors, genuine collector’s pieces including Napoleon’s wine cooler and chaise longue from Longwood and 5 acres of lush, tropical gardens. Stephen also offers tours of the coffee plantation (which has now gone on my list) where you can see the process from start to finish and then enjoy refreshments - I already have a willing band of interested visitors to accompany me! Supper was four delicious courses including a home reared lamb called ‘Rambo’ followed by their own coffee liqueur, coffee and cigars, for those interested, on the veranda. Stephen’s story-telling abilities make for fascinating listening as you proceed through thoroughly indulgent courses much of which is grown on the estate. So glad we went.

Saturday evening didn’t disappoint either and began with twelve for dinner at Anne’s Place to enjoy a hog roast. Saints and visitors joined together to savour the hog and during the course of the evening Michael was challenged to produce a radio playlist for the coming week’s broadcast based on the names of everyone seated at our table (the radio theme this week is ‘songs with names in the title’) and, although most could be accommodated, he may struggle with ‘Roderick’ (Rod to his friends) and ‘Stuart’ (we did suggest he might bend the rules and play something from Rod Stewart but he would hear none of it!). He was pleased to be able to include Peggy ‘Sue’ as Buddy Holly ranks high on his list of favourites but I still won’t let him play the Batchelors! The radio continues to keep us smiling, this week we have ‘suffered’ renditions of ‘Buttons and Bows’ (haven’t heard that for decades), Frankie Howard shows (still funny), ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ (not funny when it’s so outdated) and songs I never knew Frank Sinatra made! It looks like Michael’s radio career may continue for a while longer – the station closure has been delayed until Dec this year due to ‘planning complications’ in the siting of the new premises in Jamestown. I think he would secretly like to continue the slot when Mike Dean leaves later!

Anyway, back to Saturday evening. Eating takes place quite early on island and so with our meal finished by 10pm and a persuasive nudge from some young friends nearby we elected to join them at Donny’s Bar. Now as you know Donny’s is our favourite spot on Friday evenings for a quiet drink (M missed his first one last week sadly) so arriving to find a disco in full swing came as a bit of a shock. However, not to be put off, the geriatrics amongst us joined in with relish and soon persuaded the DJ to stop playing his ‘techno’ rubbish and play some of our requests, much to the amusement of the younger local population. There’s something slightly bizarre about finding the local court Defence Councillors kicking up their heels with those they might defend, but then if the Chief Magistrate can go to the hog roast, why not!

Sunday brought a whole day of sunshine (yippee) and with it the opportunity to visit ‘Heart-shaped Waterfall’. Unfortunately, due to my over-exuberance at the disco the night before, my old ‘knee’ problem flared up so M was left to make the journey alone (before the cascade dries up as the weather improves) whilst I drove to the seafront to watch the waves. As it was such a nice day we travelled home by way of Rupert’s Bay where the new ‘road’ (dirt track really) for the freight for the new airport project is being built. This is a more ‘industrial’ area but equally fascinating when you consider the scale of the project being undertaken. The road will provide the desperately needed access from the sea (now that Basil Reed have built a jetty) to the new site to allow all the materials to be transported – did you know that their freight ship is the first ship to ever dock on the shore of the island. Again the views did not disappoint and the drive was slightly less scary than Sandy Bay!

After leaving Rupert’s poor Michael was forced (by me I’m afraid) to take the long route home, as one trip down the shorter route was quite enough for me for one day (an almost vertical drive and meeting a car part way down past the waterfall road to pick M up had already seriously knocked my confidence). It turned out to be rather fortuitous because, as we passed the Governor’s residence, who did I spy but Jonathan the giant tortoise! Not only Jonathan, but also his companion tortoise ‘David’, two for the price of one. They were being fed cabbage leaves by the governor with his wife looking on and after the necessary niceties of pardoning an intrusion into their Sunday afternoon they very kindly allowed me to indulge in taking a large number of photo’s. Apparently the tortoises had been part hibernating (it never gets cold enough to hibernate fully) and because of the warmth of the day had come out to feed; there was still evidence of the mud hole David had been lying in. I can’t tell you how excited I was to have been lucky enough to get so close as there are now strict rules to protect them. What a great w/e and another tick on the list!

I feel so lucky to be staying on the island for an extended trip, apart from having more time with MichaeI I don’t think any of what I write about would have come to light with a visit of just a few days or even a couple of weeks, it’s not so much a holiday but more a different way of life.


4th September 2012

..............more a different way of life
Thanks for keeping us all so well informed.I had almost but not quite decided to emigrate to SH for peace and quite until I heard about the rave up at Donny's.At least in CP we don't get rave ups at Donny's. Village hall perhaps. Gordon.

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