Jamestown is that lovely mix of small town everydayness and the realisation that it is the outward face of St Helena, its capital as well as main port. Everyone has to pass up the narrow main street to get anywhere and come into town to do any business. Multiple tiny offices of government were packed into every imaginable building, from the grandeur of the castle, to a small office at the back of a shop. The shops themselves are an eclectic mix of “everything under the sun” to specific one purpose boutiques. On my first visit I found it a little difficult to work out where best to get things; I ended up in one of the two general stores, or if I were more generous, supermarkets. The Spar was like any large convenience store in British suburban or rural life; a set of freezers and shelves packed with as much as they could get in there. Part owned by a government run company, Solomon’s, that appeared to have a finger in almost every commercial activity both on St Helena and in Ascension Island, the Spar was probably the largest shop on the island. Thorpes situated up the back on the road to Half Tree Hollow always seemed brighter and cleaner. I preferred Thorpes as across the road from the main shop they opened up a fresh produce arm, and it was lovely to buy cuts of meat, eggs, cheese and dairy as opposed to the carton, tin and frozen goods from most other shops.
There were also a couple of other emporiums. One I would go in occasionally to look for souvenirs, but was in fact the closest St Helena got to a department store called Warrens. Warrens had pride of place on Main Street and although it only had limited space and stock was the best place to get clothed. Another was the Queen Mary Store which dealt more with wholesaling and the shipping of various specialist goods on and off the island. Apart from a few sundries near a very old fashioned counter, the shop was more like a warehouse stacked full of all sorts of bulk goods.
The Market was a distinctive building up where Main Street had turned into, guess what, Market Street; a large metal clad red and purple building sticking out as you negotiated the twists and turns of the road up to Half Tree Hollow. I rarely went in here but there were a number of stores and boutiques spread around a central courtyard; I tended to end up there if I wanted a quick St Helena fish cake from the food stall there. Over the three visits I saw the variety of shops and the stock they held expand, but there were often shortages. I convinced myself one time that I was going to cook a spaghetti bolognaise from raw ingredients. After wandering around both the regular stores and more obscure ones I convinced myself that there were no onions for sale anywhere on the island. I ended up buying an expensive Schwartz pot of onion flakes to try and flavour my sauce. Of course I could have bought one of the readymade sauces that stacked the shelves at Solomon’s or Thorpes. At one dinner Edsel and I were invited to, the hostess apologized for not having any fresh vegetables; and the frozen Birds Eye Broccoli had turned mushy in the boiling pan. Tinned or frozen vegetables were often a norm, partly as the long times between the RMS turning up meant that supplies of fresh vegetables could run out (like the onions). One time I realised potatoes had been hoarded as the ship was unlikely to bring a fresh supply from the Cape for another three weeks. One of our colleagues took pity on us an presented us with a small bagful to get us through our final week on island.