Being unbalanced and saying goodbyes

Believe it or not, melancholy and that ‘groundhog day’ feeling can come about, even on a beautiful sub tropical island. It’s the usual symptoms; long working days, so much on the to do list that there’s no longer time to even administer the to do list; fatigue which needs a weekend to sleep off; letting people down; letting yourself down; not exercising; drinking alcohol too often and generally burning out. Well that’s where I’ve been for the last few months.

Not just me. Helena said to me yesterday that she needs to remove the repetitiveness in life – out soon shall come the list of things to do evenings and weekends to get away from the monotonous cycle.

On top of this was the finale of the build up to Lydia and Emma leaving. Very emotional.

I met Lydia on my first RMS St Helena voyage. After 2 or so days on the ship, a mutual friend said to me ‘I’ve seen a girl I think you should be friends with’. It took another day or so before I met Lydia, her dad and her godmother.

It turned out that they came from Edgware, a mere 4 miles from where I grew up in Kenton. My mum worked in Edgware. Lydia had studied at the school my sister had studied at, and her mum knew one of my best friend’s mum. And there is a thing about growing up in that part of London – this is not something I can explain easily, but people from the same parts have certain similar friendship values. When my mum was a kid, everyone used to have their little gangs and look out for each other, and serve justice in a kind of collective way. Well, people have your backs. I don’t know if it’s just a North West London thing. But us kids are loyal. And as soon as I became friends with Lydia, I knew she had my back and I had hers.

When we arrived on Island, Richard Boulter drew me a map to get to Lydia’s house from mine, and one evening I walked up there and hung out. We hung out most days. We chewed the fat.

And that carried on until I came back married, and the dynamics changed. Not that we saw each other any less! Lydia got a job in my office and sat next to me and we were in each others presence for practically 35+ hours a week.

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Emma is also one of the people I’ve been closest to on St Helena; uniting often over a cup of tea hungover on a Sunday morning after a big night out made Emma abandon her country retreat to my spare bed in town. The first time she stayed over she brought me tea in bed. The second she made pancakes. I mean what kind of a legend does that! And we’d sit slouched in our pjs in the courtyard spinning a yarn for hours and hours, usually until a phone call from her boyfriend came to remind us that she had some place to be.

I didn’t meet Emma until a few months in when she had returned to St Helena after a few months break back in the UK, and after a few awkward conversations covering ‘maybe we can be friends, who are you, what do you think about things’ we became friendly.

I love eccentric people, and Emma is an eccentric goddess. Red hair, incredible fashion whether it be a night out or a long walk, and smart as hell. Philosophical. Such a wise cookie. And I say all this nice stuff to her; I recall what she said to me last night; she said ‘Nicole the day I knew we would be friends is when we went to Prosperous Bay, and remember when you were trying to get out of the sea and you fell over, like really bad you just styled it out and I thought – she needs to be my friend’. I’m glad I have finesse..

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^Emma (in the headdress) having acted as a tea reading psychic at the ‘John and Mike Fest’ on 5 May 2018.

St Helena for me isn’t just a beautiful island. It’s people. There’s been some characters who have left over time, especially those who I met from the first year, and when they leave, it changes the thread of the place, it’s like tipexing out a bit of the picture and smudging over the paint to retouch the environment.  Genuinely it is hurtful, and I understand many Saints who say they don’t want to befriend expats because it breaks their hearts when they leave. A LOT of hearts were broken today.

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Today Lydia and Emma left, with an entourage of Lydia’s parents (who will return), Emma’s boyfriend (who will return) and Tersius and Margo on a holiday. Having two people leave who were such big parts of my life means I have to adjust too. And I think now is the time to have a new routine, live differently. It will start with a bit of quiet rest and recuperation. Some exercise. Seeing the island with fresh eyes again. Getting out and about. And spending some quality time with my other close friends here, because you never know how long you have with people.

In September I will take a 2 week holiday and reboot. I will say goodbye to Rhys who returns to the UK and readjust again. And hopefully in a few months will be a less tired, more balanced version of myself.

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Yachting

Recently, I have spent some time working with the registrar and the Attorney General’s chambers on things ship registry related. Why? Well, St Helena can register ships with the Red Ensign, one of the most prestigious flags in the world and this can help contribute to economic prosperity.

The St Helena Government are in the process of changing their policies to make St Helena a more attractive place, particularly for pleasure vessels, to register and to visit. And that’s why St Helena was represented at the Red Ensign Conference in Guernsey last month.

There has been some progress in making St Helena a more attractive stop over in the mean time. The Herne’s have come back from their round the world trip on the Carpe Diem and now regularly open the Yacht Club at Jamestown’s waterfront, and provide services from fixing to laundry.

The World Arc Rally will be back here again in the Summer months, and it has just been announced that there shall be the Governor’s Cup Race starting on Boxing Day from Cape Town and finishing in St Helena.

There is more to do in this area, including the provision of more budget accommodation, but this area is certainly an opportunity area for St Helena.

 

Dark Skies

St Helena is astonishing.

I’ve been here 18 months now, and it has been a whirl wind of discovery, of exploration. Of the Island. Of myself. That first day I arrived, I discovered 1000 things, the second day was 999 things, a day after six months was 10 things. And after 18 months, well a new discovery creeps up on me maybe once a week or so.

I find the newness of things so very addictive. Such a rush. And in any circumstance I get into, where things aren’t so new anymore, well it’s not quite as fun as it was. That’s the fact of it. But it just takes a bit more effort to find the incredible.

Last night I went outside to look for my cat, who has been in a bit of a mood with me, for not being home that much. He was sat, all huffy, on his favourite camp chair, enjoying the night breeze. I took a moment to look up and the sky took my breath away. Just think what the night sky looks like on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic. I toddled back inside, turned the internet on, and googled what setting to put my very much neglected Nikon D50 on to try and make a snapshot of the sky just then.

It’s not quite the same as standing under the 180 degree sky feeling warm with a cool breeze, looking at the twinkling stars, but it’s a resemblance.

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And when it came to today, I made a plan to grab pizza, the Nikon, and Rhys and haul all three up to High Knoll Fort and play with the camera. The view of the Milky Way was less obscured by hillsides up there and we played a bit with the camera and light effects.

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I am by no means a pro, but it was a bit of fun, and I’m still discovering, still exploring.

And even though some days go past like groundhog day, like everywhere else in the world; wake up; eat; dress; brush teeth; go to work; work; eat; exercise or various activities depending upon the day of the week; go home; eat; sleep, I still spend several times a week reflecting on where I am, once a week discovering something or somewhere new, and holding on to the conclusion that, well, St Helena is an astonishing place in this world of ours.

St Helena’s Day

St Helena’s Day is celebrated on the 21 May each year. 21 May is the feast day of Saint Helena of Constantinople and also thought to have been the day in 1502 that Portuguese navigator Joao da Nova discovered the island.

The theme for this year’s St Helena’s day was ‘the good ole days’.

Each year the day starts with the procession of the Scouts and Guides (myself included as I’m a Ranger leader) and a church service in the Grand Parade led by the Bishop.

At 11.30am, New Horizon’s organise the Ladder Challenge to see if anyone can beat the record of  5 minutes, 16 seconds set by Graham Doig who ran up on all fours. For a bit of fun, Rhys ran up in his Napoleon Bonaparte costume, and managed to come second out of the men, behind Jack who regularly trains using the ladder (missing out on the record by 20 seconds).

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After a bit of lunch (delicious Nachos thanks to Rosie’s stall), we wandered up past the various market stalls to get ready for the parade, which started at 1pm at the hospital and travelled down Market Street. There were 6 floats, apart from the ‘Miss St Helena’ floats were all ‘good old day’ themed which varied from old record players to old homes. Dancers dressed as old ladies and men with gunny bags, hats and head scarves and danced to country music whilst St Paul’s Community Group broke into dance to the Grease Lightening theme.

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Once the parade was in town, the spectators had a chance to relax, listening to country music, whilst we got ready for the team games.

There were three teams; Rhys, Lydia, Tersius, Beth, Ludi, Fiona , Bradley and I were in one team called the ‘Legless Giraffe’ against the New Horizons team and a safeguarding team. We had about 10 challenges including the sack race, egg and spoon race and the dreaded tug of war. Skill, speed, balance, wit, strength. We did incredibly well and managed to win Gold! We even won the tug of war (never. again.).

After a bit of fast food chicken and chips (healthy main options were somewhat lacking, despite the launch of the ‘Saints Together’ health campaign – early days – maybe next year), the 6 hour Country music marathon ceased and along came the Big Easy band, with a great set including Stewart on his ‘sexaphone’ and a main singer who always reminds me of my dad (same height/style/build/facial hair) (in a good way), playing rock tunes [Dire Straits ‘microwave oven’, Greenday etc]. I began the night dancing; catching up with some work colleagues with a few Amarula’s over some tunes. After the Big Easy, Island Politics Band smashed it playing Stereophonics, Kings of Leon and a rock version of Will Smith’s ‘Prince of Belair’.

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12 hours of parading, standing, walking, dancing, tug-o-war-ing; a really fantastic day. A good ole parade, St Helena style.

The next parade day will be Carnival, the two-yearly event, occurring on the 20th October 2018 in Jamestown.

Prosperous Bay Walk – The Easy Version

Last year I took the trip to Prosperous Bay on a sunny April afternoon with around 20 people. I was keen to go back to visit the Bay, but that walk was a tough one and one I was not in a hurry to repeat. My blog on the walk then can be found here.

However, a year later, on a Saturday this May, five of us (Christine, Geoff, Nicholas, Rhys and I) decided to do a slow amble down and back up the same way (avoiding hold fast Tom or ladies walk altogether). It took about 4 hours including a long break at the beach but at this slow pace, the hike was far less tiring than I remembered and more of a ‘Diana’s Peak’ difficulty than a ‘Lemon Valley’ difficulty.

When we met at Bradley’s Camp near the airport, a cloud had just come in and covered the valley with moisture, when 5 minutes before it had been sun kissed. We waited about 15 minutes for the rain to die down and during a break in rain, drove to an alternative start to the walk (thanks to the road to the airport having been opened) which started by a left sided lay-by just after the wirebird caution signed. After parking, funny enough, the wirebirds all came out to drink at the water source by the side of the road – easily 40 of them were toddling by.

We walked from the lay-by down the valley until we reached an information board and then followed the fairly obvious track and cairns all the way down the valley.

Here are some pictures from the walk.

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On the way back up, we had somewhat of a treat as the plane flew up the valley, landing of course on the runway which was almost over our heads at the top of the cliff side. We waved at the planes, wondering if the passengers were looking, whether they could see us.

Fesitval of Walking: Coast to Coast Walk

On Sunday, we joined in with the Annual Festival of Walking on the Coast to Coast Walk. This involved touching the water at 9am in Sandy Bay in the South of St Helena and trekking the 13.5 km over the island to finally be bathed with sea spray in Jamestown in the North of St Helena.

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I’ll be honest, it was tough not to flake out on this – it was a friend’s birthday the night before, I had been burning the candle at both ends, and the weather was frankly, miserable. But to be fair, ‘miserable’ in St Helena just means rainy, it doesn’t mean cold, and I figured that if I couldn’t get myself up for a walk in those conditions then I would never ever leave the house when back in the UK. So, we hopped in the transport from Jamestown to Sandy bay and began.

The record to do the walk is about an hour and a quarter, and the runner involved this year didn’t do too badly in that respect. The fastest walkers came in at about 2 hrs 10 minutes. I prefer to make sure everyone is safe at the back*, and as a result it took me and my ‘tail end charlie’ group 5 hours.

Travelling from Sandy Bay to the centre of the island means walking up steep zig zagged roads, and for us tail end Charlies, that meant a stop every second corner to observe the incredible Sandy Bay scenery. We were also chuffed to find everyone from church leaving just as we got there, which allowed us a 10 minute rest and chat. And by the way, that church! it’s one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere and just too darn cute.

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We just walked from the sea to there! pheweee!
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No kidding!
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Sandy Bay Church

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Carrying on up the road, it started raining. We knew the next milestone was the Shape building, just past Thorpes grocery where Mike Brown was waiting with his truck and some snacks. Good thing too, as he was able to scoop up Claire, a walker who developed huge blisters on the walk up and needed a lift home. We had been walking about 2 hours at this point. Ironic as some of the faster groups would have been back in Jamestown by then!

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We found loads of interesting flora and fauna along the entire route – peppercorn, guava, ginger, and some fab looking trees and plants.

We had a little bit further to go to get to the Levelwood turning, where we would turn down the road past the beginning of the Diana’s Peak walk. We cheered when we could ‘turn down’ because it had been all up at that point. The hardest bit was over! Time for a sparkle [a boiled sweet traditionally taken to walks by Peter Bright].

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The scenery changed to lush farmland, and we were relieved from the rain for the rest of the day.

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Before the W road we turned off right to this incredible forest walk which would take us to the back of Francis Plain, where the school is situated. The mosses underfoot were bright green and it walk like walking on carpet – somewhat different to the road! We conveniently found a bench, and as it was 12.15pm, 3 hours into the walk, it was time to stop for lunch.

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After arriving at the school, we walked down the hill, taking the path to the right, down towards the squash courts and we took the trail before reaching the gates. This would lead us down to the Heart Shaped Waterfall area. The terrain underfoot was a bit annoying compared to the brilliant terrain previously – rocks and grass and mud.

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When the path branched, we remembered to take the left downward trail and this led past some huge muddy 4×4 tracks and then to a narrow overgrown pathway. However the view to the left opened out to the stunning heart shaped waterfall.

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The path turned to the right, facing the Briars, and we followed it down to ‘civilisation’; passing some water abstraction points, pipes, and a pumping station. It was funny to think how well used this path once would have been, as it would have been the main route between the garrison stationed at Kingshurst, Plantation House and the Briars where Napoleon stayed on Island. You could also feel how much warmer it got, passing into the valley.

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The Final Part of the Walk then – we had reached Barnes Road and then New Bridge and had stepped into Upper Jamestown. Rather than walk along the road, we decided to go by the run (the waterway) by stepping on a path by the hospital. The run is a great alternative way to see Jamestown because you step by the back of people’s houses and see how people have used small stretches of green space to grow salads and veggies.

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It took all of our effort not to walk into the pub on the way down Jamestown, and to carry on to the seaside where Sammi was waiting for us with a cake and drink. We were the last group to arrive so we relieved her of her duties and she joined us at Anne’s Place for a beer, with a bunch of people (including Rhys) who had arrived some hours earlier.

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It was a great achievement and really enjoyable – we got to see some great landscapes throughout the island, and stop and chat to people on the way. I was walking like John Wayne for the next 24 hours, however, and certainty had no problem sleeping that night.

Looking forward to next years route, last year’s was ‘port to point’ I hear next year might be ‘end to end’!

Here’s the route..

*An excuse if there ever was one. I am always a tail end charlie, taking pictures, enjoying nature, having breaks. These legs aren’t really made for uphill hiking, but who cares, I still partake! 

 

Going towards 100% renewable

One of the challenges with being on a remote island is being beholden to the price of fuel, which has to be shipped from miles away.

Which is why going towards being 100% renewable makes so much sense.

My boss, Paul McGinnety, wrote the Energy Strategy in 2016 and since I started working for the government, I’ve been working with him to make things happen. First step I contacted Hawaii and exchanged information through email and Skype on much that they had learnt from the 20 years experience delivering renewable energy and working with Power Purchase Agreements. Next step, we used Hawaii’s 2016 request for proposal as a template and edited it to include St Helena’s needs. A team was drawn up between SHG and Connect St Helena Ltd to drive the procurement and evaluation process.

The procurement process went on from July 2017 to April 2018 and included pass/fail stage, initial stage and best and final offer stage. At the final stages bidders also visited the island late in the process to make links with contractors and really understand what it would be like working here.

And finally, we have some good news. A fantastic job delivered thanks to the team from SHG and Connect St Helena Ltd.

See the press release by SHG below:

RENEWABLE ENERGY PROCUREMENT PROJECT

PASH TO PROVIDE RENEWABLE ENERGY SOLUTION TO ST HELENA

SHG and Connect Saint Helena Ltd are today pleased to announce that PASH, based in the UK, has been chosen as the preferred bidder to provide their renewable energy solution to St Helena. Subject to concluding negotiations, it is envisaged that a contract will be signed soon.

The project will result in the majority of the Island’s energy needs being met by renewable sources. Currently we provide around 25% of the Island’s energy needs from renewable energy and we will at least double that as a result of the initial phase of this project, which will comprise new solar and wind energy infrastructure and battery storage. The project will also mean that less diesel will be used to produce electricity on St Helena, which will reduce the Island’s environmental footprint and reduce sensitivity to future increases in the price of diesel.

The project supports the aims of the Energy Strategy notably that ‘St Helena will increase the production of energy through renewable sources, and reduce the Island’s reliance on imported fuels, increase fuel security and price stabilisation’. It will also support the 10 Year Plan’s aim to ‘Invest in renewable energy with a view to becoming 100% self-sufficient’ and supports the Sustainable Economic Development Plan by ‘increasing the amount of renewable energy on-Island, reducing reliance on diesel and encouraging improvement of distribution networks required to avoid significant increases in energy costs in the future’. This demonstrates St Helena’s commitment to the environment and sees the Island as a global leader in renewable technology.

PASH’s bid provides for 1.6MWh of battery storage, 1MW of wind turbines located at Deadwood Plain, subject to Environmental Impact Assessment, Planning Approval and approval from Air Safety Support International (ASSI), and 0.5MW of solar panels to be located on land already owned by Connect adjacent to the existing solar site at the Rifle Range, Ladder Hill. The solar and battery is expected to be commissioned this financial year with the wind turbines following on as quickly as possible after.  PASH visited the Island as part of the tender process and commenced dialogue with local contractors.

CEO of Connect Saint Helena Ltd, Barry Hubbard, said:

“One of the reasons for creating Connect was the ability to attract private finance.  PASH is a truly world class organisation who have plenty to bring to the party.  During the tender process they visited St Helena and were very impressed with what they saw.  Now we just need to agree contract terms (called a Power Purchase Agreement) and then we will move very quickly to the doubling of our solar capacity and providing battery storage to allow the renewable energy to be optimised.  More wind generation will follow but the planning process will take a little longer.  This is a very exciting time, diesel prices are increasing again and renewable energy will stabilise and even reduce our costs.”

Assistant Chief Secretary, Paul McGinnety, added:

“It has been a real team effort and today marks an important step towards delivering the Energy Strategy and 10 Year Plan. We have been delighted with the quality and scope of the bids received and we are delighted to partner with PASH on this exciting project.” 

The project will result in less volatility to diesel price changes, and therefore savings on the cost of diesel going forward. It is important to note that renewable energy is not free although renewable energy does displace the most significant cost (diesel) which allows Connect to reduce operating costs. The project will seek to eliminate the SHG subsidy meaning that SHG can spend the money on other priorities for St Helena.

Details of the Evaluation Criteria can be found within the Request for Proposals on the Publications page of the SHG website: http://www.sainthelena.gov.sh/publications/

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#StHelena #ConnectSaintHelena #RenewableEnergy

SHG/Connect Saint Helena Ltd

10 April 2018