As far as you can go -Jamestown means business!

The three main streets of Jamestown had more to sell you than the essentials to cover your nakedness and fuel your activity. Several little boutiques were set up to sell the odd tourist a trinket or two; I got fond of buying the little bits of pottery made by Serena Thorpe – having first been attracted to a selection of them that were sold from Tasty Tucker’s on Ascension.   There was of course the post office too, selling the first edition stamps unique to St Helena and supplying one of the largest cuts of foreign income to the island.

Lots of the services such as the post office and bank could be found up and down the island (although when I visited there was still no ATM).  Tucked into a corner of the front entrance to the main hotel was a barbers, owned by a couple who were  so different from most Saints with their trendy clothes and hairstyles and a much more extrovert attitude than I was used to.  But they did a good haircut too during my lunch hours.

And then there was the accommodation.  The Consulate Hotel above the barbers was the main one on the island.  Most of the visitors I met on the RMS were heading there, and I felt a bit special to be staying self catering somewhere else.  I could imagine life in the Consulate would be like a continuation of the RMS experience but without the peculiarities of being at sea.  My own experiences with the Consulate were restricted to a meal in their quiet dining room, and several visits to the infamous Friday night disco.  Nightlife in Jamestown seemed to be restricted to a couple of solid drinking pubs – we went in the White Horse one night; while there was no hostility there was not really a lot of atmosphere for anyone beyond the usual drinking buddies there.  The Consulate seemed the be the place to go for most young people and attracted tourists looking for a bit of colour.  I spent a few Friday nights down there crammed against the bar as people asked for their drinks or smooched around on the small dance floor.  We tried to find other alternatives, but they were few and far between.  On our first leaving we did have a wonderful meal at Wellington House, which also had rooms for tourists but gave us a relaxed and very enjoyable dinner with our colleagues before we headed back on the RMS.  Tucked into the Castle Gardens was Annie’s Place.  This tended to be the location for lunch, especially by government workers from the castle, although I did attend a couple of receptions there in the evenings.  Being open on two sides it was a bit draughty in the winter season when I first visited but was a lovely spot for the rest of the year, looking out over the well maintained borders of the gardens, the castle beyond and the dull rumble of the ocean beyond.

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Castle Gardens (and Annie’s Place with the blue roof)

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.