Life on Mars – Getting into the Nightlife

For a bit more money, attending one of the Tasty Tucker Wednesday Food Nights was a treat.  A set three course menu was put out, with everyone sitting down together and proper table cloths and napkins, nice so.  They tended to theme an Indian, or Mexican, or Chinese night; one time we had a fantastic Lancashire Hotpot. Sometimes they had to improvise with the ingredients – chick peas turned into frozen broad beans at one Indian Night.  But it was nice to see a bit of sophistication on an island that generally just made do.

On our first night in Georgetown, Edsel and I decided to head out for a night on the tiles.  The Obsidian more or less closed up after dinner, Tasty Tucker already shut up shop for the night, but we heard some noise coming from the centre of town and wandered over.  About a hundred people were crammed into an old stone building right in the centre of town.  This was the Saints Club – and was the focus of many a Saint, many of whom worked in Georgetown or on one of the bases.  That night the bar was packed out and a disco was in full flow in an adjoining room – it was like a cross between a village hall and a working men’s club.  We had a drink there and started chatting to each other but it was not long before several of the Saints started to introduce themselves.  One of the refuse collectors, a fireman, and someone who was an administrator in the government building. Before long we were the centre of attention and everyone wanted to know what we were up to.  When I said I was going to go on to St Helena in a few weeks time, I was bombarded with loads of suggestions of what to do there.

There were three other night spots on Ascension, although you had to know when they operated and how to get transport to them.  The liveliest was the Volcano club.  Situated in the heart of the US Airbase, it had a totally different feel from anywhere else.  While the Americans had leasehold over quite a chunk of land in Ascension , including the airfield, the US Air Base is the only place which does not feel British.  As you approach on the road from Georgetown you see the welcome sign, go over a cattle grid and it is like you have flown over the pond.  The look of the buildings, the street lights and of course the vehicles all look different.  I thought we might have to change sides of the road as we passed through.  And in the Volcano Club and the adjoining fast food restaurant, you had to pay in US currency.  Edsel was pleased to be back in the US, mainly as the attachment on his electric razor had US low voltage and the only place he could find to take a shave was in the restrooms of the Volcano Club.  In the bar were all the American beers, Budweiser ads, pictures from back home , neon signs, and on the big TV screens all the Baseball and American Football you would ever want to access.  While BFBS was being broadcast to the rest of the island, the US equivalent was pushed out here.  If the conditions were right, I could just about receive one of the US channels in my hotel room in Georgetown, if I could stand watching through a fog of interference.

Up the road in Travellers Hill was the NAAFI.  I rarely ate there, although the Volcano Club food was all fast and greasy at least it reminded you of a McDonalds.  The pizza at the NAAFI was like cardboard covered in tomato sauce that some squaddie had been sick on.  But there were a few good parties up there.  Finally there was the Two Boats Club perched on the ridge below the village of the same name.  Again this had a different air.  While the Volcano Club and NAAFI were pointed at the young vigorous and often single base workers, and the Saints too was a hangout for the single male government workers – the families in Georgetown tending to go to events in the early evening or daytime, Two Boats was much more about family entertainment.  Here you would have the bingo sessions, the line dancing, the quiz nights.  The Saints club had a similar set of events but was less skewed towards the families.  And the advantage of the Two Boats club was that the bar opened out on to a large deck area where open air barbecues and parties could be held, and below you was a swimming pool where you could dump the kids for a couple of hours.  It had a perfect setting close to the lowest point in the village, but perched on a ridge that looked down towards Georgetown to the west.

Life on Mars – Long night of waiting

Almost half the people had gone and the makeup of those who were left was much more civilian biased.  Edsel and I decided we were hungry so headed to the hotel’s restaurant.  I say restaurant, but in fact it was like an army canteen run by the NAAFI – the Navy Army and Air Force Institutes.  To me the NAAFI were an anachronism I remember from old post war black and white British films.  But here it was brought right up to date.  To me, the food was edible but nothing to fuss about; sausages, steak and kidney pie, heaps of chips and baked beans.  For Edsel he was not used to this kind of filler cuisine, and since he had chosen years ago not to eat any pig products there was not that much left on the menu.  I poured myself a glass of orange juice that turned out to be the sort of weak cordial that I remember from school dinners – tasting more of chemicals than fruit.

That nightmare out the way we returned to the TV.  It was here I got my next induction into military ways.  I had thought I had been watching ITV – the UK’s old commercial channel – where X-Factor came from, but now they were watching something on BBC1…. and the channel was the same.  In fact there were only two channels on this TV.  BFBS 1 and BFBS2.  The British Forces Broadcasting Service pump amalgams of various programmes from various broadcasters on these two channels, with the occasional self made programme such as their forces news.  It was like I had moved in to a parallel world, where elements of my old one existed but in a new form.

We were given an update on our flight early in the evening.  The plane would leave Luxembourg at first light and be at Brize Norton at around 6am.  We should expect to be called at 5am to head to the terminal.  Given this news Edsel and I retired early.  Although we had been vegetating around the hotel for most of the afternoon, the uncertainty of what was to occur had exhausted us.  But I found it difficult to get rest – there were still planes coming in and out of Brize, the noise from the lobby rose into our room and my mind was still whirring about when we might or might not get off and what impact that was having on our proposed work programme on Ascension Island itself.

I must have eventually nodded off because the next thing I remember was a screech from the old speaker above our heads and a brusque female voice telling us that those on the Airbridge flight to the Falklands should be assembled in fifteen minutes at the front of the hotel to board the buses.  From a supine groggy start this was a demanding timetable, but really we both just had to have  a quick shower and brush our teeth and pack the few things we had in our carryon bags and we could leave.  There was no time to use our breakfast vouchers – the NAAFI did not open for another hour fortunately.