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.
Edsel catching a coffee
St James’ Church
The Consulate Hotel
The Police Station
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.
Castle Gardens (and Annie’s Place with the blue roof)
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.
Solomon’s Head Office
Market Street with Thorpes
The Market Building
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.