Pleasant weather today, which was probably a good thing bearing in mind my need to reacclimatise. The Hebden Water was spilling rather gently over its weir near the centre of town. This is the usual heron-spotting location, but there were none here today.
From leaving Gareth’s place in St Helena on Saturday morning, to arriving back in Hebden Bridge at about 3.30pm on Sunday afternoon, was a 28-hour journey. Had the pilot of the third aircraft felt like it, I could have been dropped off three hours earlier: but I probably wouldn’t have survived that experience. Nevertheless, here we are, directly over home, with my house just about visible to the bottom right of this image. Centre bottom is Heptonstall and up the valley curves to Midgehole and the woods of Hardcastle Crags. I don’t know whether we were actually at 15,000 feet here, but it’s a reasonable guess — if it looks lower, I did use a certain amount of zoom.
No more flights for a while now: there’s work to do at home. Well, at least until I go away again.
Tried to resist the temptation to put up another shot taken while flying over Namibia, and failed. The Namib Desert is apparently the world’s oldest, and runs straight down to the sea, making it look like a gargantuan beach, stretching hundreds of miles in every direction. You wouldn’t want to come here for a holiday however. No water anywhere, and combined with thick sea fogs and strong currents which can make it impossible to launch again, this is probably the most dangerous coast in the world for seafarers. Little wonder it has been termed the ‘Skeleton Coast’. Personally I think it appears as Mars might. Perhaps contrarily (but I’m like that), I find myself now quite wanting to visit this country properly. Maybe next year.
My last full day on St Helena — this time. There will be at least one more, though as yet I don’t know how it’ll be paid for. But considering that this was the view that opened up when I was on my way to my morning meeting — there are reasons to put in the effort it’ll take to return. The basalt column of Lot, behind the house, makes his second appearance on the blog (see this shot from my first visit); and that’s his wife, who never seems to credit a name of her own, over to the right.
Curiosity, and the need to stretch my legs during a day sat working on a report, took me down the road to investigate the old flax mill that stands there, a relic of just one of many attempts to institute some kind of working cash crop economy on St Helena — doomed from the point in the 1960s when the Royal Mail decided it no longer wanted to use string to tie up its parcels and would instead rely henceforth on nylon. Now the place seems to be used as a cow byre: but the dairy industry here didn’t survive regulations on hygiene, or was it something else? Laws and practices developed for quite different contexts have never really gone down very well in this remote and distinctive place.
Wednesday night is Taco Night at the St Helena Yacht Club, probably the busiest single social gathering I have yet attended on the island, and in full swing behind me as I took this picture. But the outlook is west, across James Bay: the next land in that direction is Brazil.
At this time of year, big swells move down the Atlantic all the way from Canada and crash into the first land they meet, which at this point in the ocean, is the north-east coast of St Helena. The locals call them ‘rollers’. They were certainly rolling today, against the sea wall in Jamestown. In one year in the 1800s they were big enough to take out half the town. Surfers would like them, I imagine — although surfing is not a sport that seems to have yet reached St Helena.
The only thing that most people can recall about St Helena is that it was where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled for the last five and a half years of his life. I have a lot of sympathy for the guy; after defeat at Waterloo, certain that the Prussians, at least, were going to kill him the second they caught up with him, he surrendered to the British, only to find himself — without trial or conviction for any crime — packed off to the middle of the South Atlantic, and put under house arrest in Longwood House. These days that building would be desirable real estate I’m sure, but, riddled with damp and rats at the time, I wouldn’t want to spend all that time here against my will, particularly not if I’d been in charge of much of Europe in the previous couple of decades.
This isn’t Napoleon’s original death mask, created as he lay in this room in May 1821, having died (conspiracy theories notwithstanding) of stomach cancer, aged 51, younger than me. Apparently, for some bizarre reason, that mask currently resides in the University of North Carolina. But, copy of a copy though this one may be, here the erstwhile Emperor’s face sits in the very room of Longwood House in which Napoleon’s body lay in state 202 years ago. Officially I was not supposed to take photos inside the house, so this is firmly an unofficial shot. Don’t tell anyone.
Let it be said that I find bananas to be possibly the most revolting of all natural foods: I really cannot stand them. If they were the only foodstuff that I had access to, I’d starve to death. Which is a shame, because bunches — literally — of them grow all over St Helena, including many in Gareth’s garden, as shown here. And I quite like their strange, purple flower/appendages, dangling down like strange alien tongues. But even after they ripen, I’m not going to eat any, I can assure you.
I’m fairly certain these are juvenile common waxbills (Estrilda astrild), a member of the finch family. They don’t yet have the bright red bill that gives the species its name (as it looks like it has been dipped in sealing wax) but everything else about them matches the description, particularly the red stripe through the eye. The one on the lower branch flew off the instant I pressed the shutter, and is fluffing himself up ready to make the jump. Taken on my walk to the summit of the island, Diana’s Peak — more photos from the day can be seen on my other blog.