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.