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Initial impression thing-a-me-jigs

semi-overcast

With apologies for the sudden delays in getting updates up. I have several ready to go, but am experiencing technical issues. Hope to start getting the rest posted soon-ish.

The strangest thing about this, I have realised, is that everybody speaks English. That might sound an odd comment I accept: it even took me a few days to realise it myself and then break it down. But it does actually kind of make sense. I am British, have been living abroad for some time, and have been lucky to spend a vast chunk of my life travelling both extensively and frequently. Yet despite large chunks of the world speaking English, with the exception of assorted trips to Ireland (which as I have always been there from/via the UK, I almost subconsciously class it as not being foreign, as there is no immediate jump) I have never been to any of them. Yes i've been to places where everybody speaks English (heck, I live in Scandinavia), or there are lots of native speakers around (such as travelling through Vietnam), or it's the official language (such as Pakistan), but in all of them there is a large amount of other languages being spoken/on signs that you see to give your senses at least some regular foreign input. Basically, I seem to have discovered that to me at least, subconsciously (yoikes. second time. This is very worrying) at least, travelling anywhere - especially when you have been travelling for two weeks - equals "foreign" and at at least semi exotic, as much as Belgium can ever really be semi exotic! That is not meant to sound a bad thing: I love the generic 'foreign' that I have used here, and have absolutely no plan, desire or wish to ever live in the UK ever again. Yet, for whatever reason, I just wasn't quite ready to travel so far and for so long just to hear everybody speak English. It sounds bizarre, and I really can't explain it, but on one level it has utterly confused me.

Now that I have been here a few days [OK, by the time it's gone online it is almost 4weeks, i'm sorry], and have had time to fully comprehend that, it's probably time for me to offer you some thoughts and observations of this wonderful and wacky island.

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This really is an innocent place!

I really should apologise for the delay in recent updates, for which I can partly blame a small technical issue on my front and then having to do some actual w*rk for a while, but is essentially due to the fact that i've been having far too much fun doing other thing, and meeting so many new relatives that sitting and typing is one of the last things I have been inclined to do.

The first thing that has struck me is just how damned green this place is. On arrival, all you see is the foreboding rocky-ness of James Valley, and these stark valley sides are in part of my normal mental picture of the island: I knew that it was not all like this, but was still stunned by just how lush and green (of numerous different shades) that the island is. Admittedly even the locals say that it is unusually green due to it being a very wet winter, but even so. The Island is also supremely mountainous, with barely a level piece of ground anywhere at all, and again, i'm not sure that I had previously realised just how much up and down there was (as opposed to just ups).

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It really is a green island

Of course getting around island means basically using a car (bicycles are banned from many roads, especially downhill roads and those into Jamestown), and the roads here are fun. Almost all are not only single lane with passing places, but also supremely winding, often virtually enclose by huge plants and trees, and involving constant hairpins and steep inclines, many of which have 15-20%+ gradients. Driving here is fun though not so great for cars: Speed limits are low and the nature of the roads mean that using 3rd is a rarity, and 4th a virtual impossibility, whilst engines face allot of revving and first and second gears and clutches get knackered much quicker than they would anywhere else. The delights of having to reverse uphill in the pitch black of night, around a blind hairpin on a 20% slope and with a sheer drop to one side, in order to try and allow a truck to pass is something I could happily do without again!

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One of the three roads out of Jamestown, though the least well used. You can't really tell from this angle, but the top section - where the car is - is almost a 25% incline, and (below), one of the flatter roads on the Island, heading up out of town from lower Jamestown towards General Hospital and Ladder Hill

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The people are also stunningly friendly: to the casual and short term visitors of course, but once they realise you are one of them (and I haven't come across a single islander yet who isn't friends with at least one of my cousins and knows at least a few more), they open up even more. To somebody more used to European isolation, it is both heart warming and slightly unnerving. If you went up to a stranger on a high street in Europe and just started saying hello to everybody, people would start avoiding you as a weirdo, and chances are, you would be arrested not long afterwards. Here, the opposite is true. If you don't say hello to everybody, they consider you very strange indeed.

Having said all that, despite the fact it being so safe that people routinely leave their front doors unlocked and keys dangling in car ignitions, it is also a slightly dangerous place: Alcoholism is rife, and I have witnessed more fights and scuffles (almost all alcohol related) in my first couple of weeks - in evenings - than I have done in a long time. It is also, depressingly, surprisingly litter strewn. Even half way up mountains you will find litter, including the ubiquitous Namibian beer bottles. In somewhere so small and friendly, I find the constant litter very sad.

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But the Island really, really, really is green. And absolutely stunning.

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Parts of the town also have such an old colonial feel as to make you think you are living in a time warp: In some respects it still kind of feels and looks like the 1950s, whilst such fading memories of half-day Wednesday and Sundays where absolutely everything save churches and a pub are closed. Indeed on Sundays, Jamestown can almost look like a ghost town. The eclectic selections of music on the two local radio stations also work to add to that feeling. Both have announcements which can resemble BBC radio from years past, and include a hugely unpredictable and very odd selection of things, which make you realise just how small and close knit the community is: Would Mrs Smith of Levelwood please photo 1234 before 3pm to arrange to collect her laundry. If anybody is in the neighbourhood, could they tell Mr Jones that one of his goats is currently walking down the road towards St. Paul's. The Chairman would like to remind all [12] members that the annual meting of the association of bee keepers will be held tonight. The Rose & Crow would like to announce that it now has mauve coloured Dulux paint, curly-wurleys and dresses for girls aged 3-7 for sale. And so on. And then there is the music - whilst a surprisingly large range of genres and artists is played, there is also a huge underlying love of country music, especially older stuff, which to many outsiders (and I include myself here) is one of the most baffling things about the St. Helenian lifestyle.

But (ignoring the Country Music, which in such quantities is still a strange thing to me) all those things help make the Island what it is, and I truly love it. And perhaps most importantly - and I have checked this at every possible source - there is no Kiki here, and if for no other reason I will happily put up with all the country music required. So, who fancies some Conway Twitty?

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Above, this is the Castle, home to the St. Helenian government, and open to anybody that wants to wander in, whilst below, Main Street and the town centre on a Sunday, when there is virtually nobody about at all

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For some reason, I doubt you would see a sign similar to this on a shop on most High Streets in England any more. Oh, for more innocent times...

Posted by Gelli 09:34 Archived in St Helena Tagged living_abroad

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