This place is taking up the majority of my thinking energy at the moment and will continue to do so for some time to come. These maps of how things were in 1988 are not going to play a major part in my cogitations and analysis — particularly not number 7, at the bottom of this spread — but it’s all a useful insight into how things once were: this is why we need records, and archives to store them in.
And yes, I know I have hairy arms and hands. It’s always been the case. This is the first self-portrait since October.
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.
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.
Spent all day in Jamestown, where it was hot and sunny, certainly the warmest I’ve experienced it here on this trip. Ten years ago today I had just arrived in Brisbane for my four-month-long sojourn in Australia (and other nearby countries), and even if the weather on my arrival there was less-than-optimum for a couple of days, like today, that did remind me how much nicer it is sometimes to not be hanging around in the UK at this time, with all its lack of light and wintry bollocks. Pottering about in the tropical heat of a late January doesn’t have to be done every year but I will certainly take it now and again.
It’s not actually the case that I came all the way back to St Helena simply to give a 15-minute presentation at this event, but it did, at least, strongly influence the timing of my visit. So let’s depict it as today’s post. My fellow speaker Pedro was here as a ‘digital nomad’ or ‘anywhere worker’, of the sort that the island would like to attract more of, once the new cable comes on line — an event that seems to have been forever just around the corner, but is apparently due to happen in March.
You didn’t think I had come all the way out to St Helena just to work, did you? Not a chance, not when there is some great walking to be done. Like the hike out to Great Stone Top, here on the right — and its smaller (but less accessible) brother, Little Stone Top as well. (More detail and photos on my other blog.)