We were booked into the Obsidian Hotel, the only true hotel on the whole island. It was once an Officer’s Mess and, apart from the RAF commander’s house and the Administration Complex, the only two storey building in Georgetown still in use. Through some misunderstanding in Conservation, we were put in the plush VIP rooms up top on my first visit – and I felt very comfortable with my views over the town and the spacious suite. Since then most of my visits have put me in Hayes House which has much smaller rooms in a prefabricated building, still comfortable enough but not really hotel like. The Obsidian have a series of accommodation blocks spread across the centre of town and Hayes, as Tara put it “is handy for the Conservation Office”, but was a hike to the restaurant and bar in the Obsidian.
Sometimes I felt that at the Obsidian you had to know their routines and fit in with them. Over time I have got used to it, but I found the reception a bit frosty to start with. Being the only hotel there gave them perhaps no drive to go out of the way to please guests, ’cause where else were you going to go? But on the whole I enjoyed the quiet ambience of the place and their had to be the appreciation that you could not expect all the normal mod cons and comforts of a hotel on a rock 1000 miles from the next country. In the corner of the outside restaurant was the Anchor Inn, a mixture of English pub and tropical beach bar, and it was a great place to perch on a stool and catch up with everyone coming through – the tourists and travellers or the locals popping in for an after work slurp. The courtyard out front would occasionally be full of people at a barbecue but more often than not, all you could hear was the wind breezing through the occasional trees or the shriek of a mynah bird. There was something about the silence of Ascension, so unlike anywhere else in the world. The only birds in Georgetown were the introduced sparrows and mynahs, maybe one of the feral donkeys or sheep would pass through. Peak hour traffic would be three cars passing by. Every vehicle noise could be discerned individually, there was no background hum. Every action by anyone was immediately picked up because there was nothing else distracting you – the creaking of a gate, a cough, footsteps crunching on gravel. And in between, long periods of nothing but the wind.
Through necessity, ordering meals at the Obsidian was a strict affair. If you fell in to the habit you could just say yes at breakfast and turn up for dinner. But there was not a massive choice on the menu and it was a bit pricy for what you got. Fortunately an alternative was available. Just across the way from Hayes House was an amazing little cafe called Tasty Tucker. It had been a canteen for the AIG workers once, but a lady from Formby near Liverpool had decided to run it commercially. It served a set of basic meals, but the options were far more than the Obsidian and you could just turn up and eat. St Helena Fish Cakes were their speciality but there were burgers and soups, fish and chips. In the daytime it would be busy. They provided guys (they were mainly guys) from the single quarters with their meals on a commission basis for AIG, but others would pop in and the few tourists who were there would often visit. Being on the main strip most of the island would pass by at some time of the day. It was a great place to go for coffee, and Edsel and I also would get our evening meals there. Being a cafe style it was not open late but it was OK to get in the habit at eating by 6pm each night. Best of all they did a cracking Sunday Roast takeaway. You had to remember to preorder it and pick it up by 5.30 but it was the kind of wholesome cooking that a single guy away from home would relish. Through repeated custom, the Tasty Tucker staff got to know us pretty well, apart from the owner there was another middle aged lady (she will love me for describing her that way!) , who I forget her name now, but it may have been Fran. She and I chatted a lot. She was a Saint and was keen to hear about my travels down on her home island. She also had children who had set up families in the south of England. She was so good to me. On a couple of occasions I might have forgotten to warn them I would like a meal, and she would look at me sadly and say sorry there was not much she could do, but then still do me egg and chips. Once when I was about to leave she and I were chatting about luxuries, particularly food. She had a craving for Marks and Spencer’s biscuits. I often brought little gifts to people in Ascension and St Helena and quality food parcels were always appreciated. So next time I went down, I tucked a big box of chocolate biscuits from Marks and Sparks in my luggage and presented it to her on my first day there. She was made up, asked how much she owed me, to which I just shook my head. It was this kind of friendship you got from the Saints that made any trip to the islands something to look forward to and relish.