Life On Mars – Business and Rights

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The Conservation Office Block

 

The Conservation Office where Edsel and I would work was on the main strip coming into town, so very little escaped us unless it came down the hill from Two Boats Village down the one way road off Cross Hill.  We shared the same building with the Legal Secretary and the Drawing Office of Technical Services.  Behind was the Cable and Wireless building.  Apart from the military importance of Ascension Island, it was also a useful communication hub.  Cable And Wireless had been operating on the island since the days of the telegraph and now had relay stations here, as well as being the only telephone and internet supplier.  Next door to them was the Administrators Complex.  This smart building contained many of the offices for most of the small government, including the Administrator himself and a conference room, and a proud union jack flying from the flagpole outside on the “black grass”, the loose black chippings that seemed to cover the whole of Georgetown.  The Government was small; the big organisations on the island dealt with many of their own services, contracts and other issues, but the AIG pulled it all together.  This is after all a working island.  Apart from the RAF and USAF, there were a small number of companies as well as Cable And Wireless.  There were contractors for the British Broadcasting Corporation who kept a set of transmitters at the northern end of the island for their World Service broadcasts to both Africa and South America.  And then there was CSO.  An arm of the UK intelligence service, part of GCHQ, a small office was housed in Two Boats. They heard of Edsel and our presence on the island and were alarmed to find out that we had purchased satellite imagery of the island.  We were dragged up to the office and gently interrogated about our proposed activities.  We were told we were not allowed to map the radar stations, dishes and transmitters that pepper the island.  We said we had not intended to do anything of the sort, but might spot the thorn bushes and a few turtle nests.

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The Huge BBC World Service Transmitters

The implications of the island being run for a few businesses are not explicit at first sight – after all businesses and institutions exist everywhere.  But here in Ascension Island, if you are not working or connected with someone who is working, you are not allowed to stay on the island.  That means if you are made redundant from one contract, if you cannot find another job quickly you will most likely be asked to leave.  And then forced to leave.  And nobody can retire.  Apart from the odd white haired tourist, you do not see anyone over the age of 65 on Ascension Island.  Thus there are a lot of single people working on temporary contracts around the bases or in government, or maybe contracted out to work down the power station.  Then there are key critical posts, and people come down from the UK to work on short 2-3 year contracts, bringing their families with them.  A few have become long term residents but often end up doubling up on roles – the dentist also owns the Obsidian business.  Some of the government posts have become long term, many of the Saints we worked with in Conservation had been there many years, a few born there as their parents had come over as contractors and stayed.

One upshot of this is that the hospital is a very quiet place. Apart from maternity clinics and quick fixes for children or the odd industrial or sporting injury, it does not see a massive amount of activity.  And there is a morgue on the island out at the north end near Long Beach, but it, too, rarely gets used.  I took a walk to the Georgetown Cemetery at the southern end of town one time, and looked at the grand old headstones and memorials here.  Stories of passengers on ships that had fallen ill and died, fevers and even the odd shipwreck.  But just a few graves dug in the last forty years.  A few heart attacks, the odd horrific work injury.  And even in these cases, everyone is related to someone off island, the bodies tend to be sent to the Morgue for cold storage before being transferred on the airbridge or RMS.

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