Life on Mars – Consumers and Customer Relations

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BIRDIES FUEL STATION – The only place to fill up

Attend any of the events and you would get a slice of island life.  Often you saw the same partygoers at any event.  The exception to this was the Volcano Club.  Some of the contract workers in the US saw Ascension as a godforsaken hell hole, a hardship posting, and dared not go outside the fences that the commander put up to keep out the donkeys, the only threat to US sovereignty.  So they did their job, ate in the mess, pumped up in the gym or on the basketball court, then drunk away their sorrows in the Volcano Club.  How much were they missing?

The Saints and Two Boats Clubs had skittle alleys and most nights you could hear the shouts and cheers as different teams played out in a league.  I learnt to love St Helena Fishcakes (and try to make an inferior version back home now) and on a Friday,  if you headed round the back of the Saint’s Club as the sun went down you could join a hundred people getting their fill of the cakes and relaxing in the open air.

For a time, there was even a coffee shop in Georgetown.  In the old Conservation Office, more or less a shed at the northern end of town, a couple of entrepreneurs got hold of the equipment and beans from St Helena itself , served up some tasty biscuits and cakes and immediately got a clientele.  It seemed people working in Georgetown were desperate for such a service.

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Georgetown’s temporary Coffee Shop

And this was a problem, people wanted many of the trappings of life they may have got elsewhere, even the Saints for whom it was second nature to make do and mend; if they had seen these services when on holiday away from the islands, they were keen to have the same at home.  But with a population of barely a 1000 people, it was hard to sustain a large enough market to have so much choice.  Some of these little businesses would open with a big flourish but the realities of rent, costs of supplies, services and lack of footfall would often do for them in a few months.

So it was with shopping.  If you were on the island a long time you made your own arrangements.  You could pre-order goods through shippers and it would be brought in on the next RMS or one of the other little ships that once in a while passed through.  With a bit more money, you could order in food through the RAF flights.  Shipping from Tesco in Bristol became quite a frequent event, if you could afford it. But for the rest you had to depend upon the couple of shops.  As a visitor, unless you were able to bring your own supplies on the plane, you had to make use of the two Solomon’s shops, one in Georgetown, one in Two Boats.  In recent years the one up in Two Boats was not doing enough business to stay open.  And the choice was small and the prices big.

Next door someone had established a bakery and there was much enthusiasm about the chance to get fresh bread and cakes every day.  Queues would form outside his little hatch throughout the morning and if you were a little late you were bound to disappointed.

Most of the businesses had weird opening hours, weird to an outsider of course.  The sole filling station up at One Boat would be open only a few days a week at certain hours.  This was mainly because the people who manned it doubled up on jobs elsewhere and could not sit there waiting for custom on the off chance.  People did tend to do more than one job, and often volunteered for a bunch of other things to keep it all going.

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