As Far as You Can Go – The Saints look after us.

It was little events like this that I started to enjoy more and more in St Helena.  While there were the big tourist attractions to see, it was spending time with the Saints that was the most fun.  Whether it was a St Helena curry at a traditional house tucked up away from the road side in Sandy Bay, where Marj and her mother gave us hot wholesome food on a night when the noise of the flax blowing in a ferocious gale, and rain pounding down on their tin roof, or a night in to watch a film over at Rebecca’s at Mount Pleasant.  There were drinks at various bars, including the rock club, and then a variety of picnics.  One Sunday Edsel and I drove down to Rupert’s Bay.  Noted more for being where St Helena tucked most of its industry away, the power station, the canning factory, the fuel tanks and the like, it did have an advantage of being one of the few places you could drive to the coast.  Under some stone walls right on the beach, a group of Saints had set up a barbecue under some awnings and we sat eating tuna and all sorts of salads.  We sat there for a few hours and a got through a number of tinnies and limed like we were back in the Caribbean.  It was the jokes and the laughter and the sheer pleasure of company that endeared the Saints to us.  They had a great sense of humour, often suggestive, bawdy and downright coarse, but always aimed to include and was never insulting.  While you knew all the locals knew each other’s lives, secrets and thoughts as they had often spent so much time with them, I never felt excluded.  Maybe it was that they were a bunch of people descended from sailors that had ranged over the world, they were always fascinated by what was going on outside St Helena.  But there was also that sense of naivety.  I’ve used that word before about people from small islands, but I never mean it to insult.  It is a trait that far too many others have lost over the years, and it would be useful to learn from Saints what it means.  Yes undoubtedly those who spend their time on this isolated island forget, or indeed never learn, about so many aspects of modern life; the money, the gadgets, the connectivity, the variety of choice.  But they cherish neighbourliness and mutual respect.  There was a need to keep helping each other out – particularly since you might not have a specialist in one skill, you needed to share the skills of all your community to get things achieved.  It doesn’t stop the gossip and the backbiting as well, and I saw such a lot of the dissing of authority and an almost childlike mentality of some that they deserved more handouts and support.  Many though were independently industrious, or content in the lives they had got.  A few at the other end of the entrepreneurial spectrum were as frustrated as those who expected handouts at the government, constantly struggling with not being allowed to develop new commercial activities or industries.  So there was a tension on the island, much of which was fuelled by uncertainty over the territory’s future come the development of the airport.

The airport development, or the Access Project as it was called at that time, hung over almost every aspect of life in St Helena at the time.  Consultations, surveys, studies, research, local group action was occurring everywhere and  lobbying, backbiting, and suspicion was simmering away beneath the surface.

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.