As far as you can go – Dinner with the Governor

Probably because it had the best of both worlds – lots of greenery and a drier, temperate climate, many of the more salubrious properties were located here in St. Paul’s, as well as some of the island’s institutions.  The district is named after the island’s cathedral,  modest in size but distinctive architecturally with its tiny bell tower at the west door (which with religious perversity is of course at the east end of the building).  Just around the corner is Plantation House, where the Governor of St Helena resides.  St Helena has several grand edifices, often of that clean cut Georgian style, but none are as arresting as Plantation House.  Not just its size but the bright yellow cream exterior with highlights picked out in white at the time, and also its long sweeping lawn looking out towards the ocean to the north west it is positioned well to be admired by all who approach from town.  I once was invited to dinner at the Governor’s House.  I parked my car up and walked over the gravel path to the imposing porchway.  Greeted by one of the governor’s staff I was one of half a dozen he had invited that night.  At the time, the Governor was Michael Clancy.  I already knew him – I had been walking with him with a Sunday group and come across him a couple of times in meetings I had held on island.  His wife was usually off island, having a busy career in the UK.  What it must be like eating alone in this big empty house, I did not dare contemplate.  While trying to look sophisticated and act all bonhomie, I could not help gawping at the eclectic collections of paintings, porcelain, furniture and curios in the residence.  Most had some connection with St Helena, and I was taken aback by the number of artists who had painted scenes around the island.  The old maps also fascinated me of course.

We were taken in to a private dining room and sat round a large table.  A waiter served the food from silver salvers and porcelain tureens, but I must say the quality, while nourishing, was more homely than haute cuisine.  A vegetable soup that could have come from a Heinz tin, beef with veg, and a thick crusted apple pie with custard.  Like most of these types of dinners, it was not just a courtesy invitation, Clancy was there to ask advice and gain knowledge.  Being my first visit on the island I had little local experience to offer but I did try and make comparisons with Caribbean Islands.  Trouble is only a couple of Caribbean islands are comparable enough in size with St Helena and none had the issues of isolation that the Governor was dealing with.  Another guest that night was Nigel Kirby.  I had been on the ship down with him and knew him to be the long term project manager to evaluate the needs for an airport on the island, develop the options for how to build it and tender it out to commercial concerns.  At that stage the negotiations had already been going on for many years.  There was a push from the British Government to give air access to St Helena as supporting the RMS was incredibly costly.  In some ways the subsidy to keep people on St Helena was one of the largest of any of the UK Overseas Territories, but much of it went into getting people and cargo on and off the island.  Relatively speaking the incomes and standards of living on island were very low, and there was a lack of investment in on-island infrastructure, industry or environment.  The issue of changing the method of access to St Helena had so many implications on the landscape, economics and culture of the island that the debate had been a difficult one for an island who had not had such a huge issue to deal with since Napoleon had been incarcerated there.

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