Year Three in the Atlantic

NOVEMBER 2014

Every year we get a nice bunch of folks from the Department of International Development come to visit us. It’s an  opportunity to justify the funding that the Island receives. Each year the acronym has changed; last year it was DPAM and this year it is BAM. I can’t help it but keep thinking of the line ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ on Ziggy Stardust. The Sentinel is expecting Batman to appear. I’m invited to make a presentation and give a warts and all picture of both the successes and the failings in housing. I make my rent increase/second homes tax/reformed housing benefits/dowry proposals. As with all of my audiences to date, the scale of the problem is recognised, they’d like to help but…can it wait a year or two? There is a mountain of competing demands and a conflict between the long term benefits that the airport will bring and the more immediate need for decent homes and other public establishments.

I just want to share another genuine day in the life out here.

It began with emails and Councillors reporting leaky pipes, poor housing conditions and an agricultural tenant wanting an extension to his tenancy.

A couple of hours are spent drafting procurement documents for the rewiring of Signal House, the most prominent house above James Bay, and a draw down contract for the 14 houses on Piccolo Hill.

We have another glitch on Half Tree Hollow to deal with. Some land has been sold which cuts right across the site for our exemplar home, without being picked up on the infrastructure design. I change the plot for the exemplar and we will need a rearrangement of a couple of plots to ensure that we do not lose a house or parking.

I don’t miss mobile phones – far from it – but it means that I have to traipse around town to find an elusive, very busy contractor. I find him on the wharf.

Tracy has a painful slipped disc and has been off for a while, so I call to see how she is and whether she’ll be back next week.

And to finish the day I’ve two unusual tasks. Firstly, as I mentioned last month, there are a number of houses whose addresses appear to vary from one database to another. This is because none are numbered and even the tenants are not sure what the numbers should be. Because everyone knows each other you don’t always need an address, but when it comes to rent accounting it matters. And as the Fire Service pointed out this week, if the fire alarm is going off, they want to know which flat or house is on fire (I’d have thought that the flames would be a clue). So I’m sticking numbers on houses. 

Finally I’m trying my hand at goatherding because several of our tenants’ goats are said to be causing a nuisance to the residents of a home for people with learning disabilities. Odelayee odelayee odelayhe o!

Thank god it’s Friday. After that every day and two dives, two tennis matches, five a side, a round of golf and a poker night in the Island Distillery (no joking!) this week I need an early night. No chance – I’ve offered to have a Star Trek night with some fellow geeks so the marathon starts at 6pm. LLAP.


DECEMBER 2014

One month to go and no feelings of demob happiness. This is partly because Tracey has now been signed off for several weeks. It’s also been a while since we had any vacant homes, and I have some very serious problems of homelessness to address. So I’m skipping between policy development, planning problems, contract negotiations, key chasing and homelessness prevention. 

Around 20 years ago I represented one of housing authorities lobbying the Department of the Environment (yes, it was that long ago) to be able to spread their expenditure over three years in order to avoid the regular panic spending spree in order to spend the budget. The DoE eventually moved to three year programmes. Three year programming hasn’t reached St Helena yet and so it’s all hands to the pump as the deadline for committing capital spending draws to a close in December. It’s a bit like transfer deadline day in the scramble to get permission to spend and then enter into a contract, but after running up and down Main Street so much that I’ve created a groove in the new pavement, I manage to commit my last £120,000.

A big achievement given the paucity of technical support and the absence of the procurement team, so can I rest easy? Er, no. in the latest twist to the saga of Half Tree Hollow, two wirebird nests, featuring eggs, appear slap bang on the development site. The environmentalists demand a month-long 50 metre exclusion zone. Given that there are only 400 of these birds in the entire world and they are all here, I can hardly argue. The better news is that the site of the first home sits just outside of the zone.

I swear my colleagues think I’m absent minded (mainly because some of them tell me), but that’s because chasing builders, accountants, lawyers, social workers, tenants and engineering consultants leaves no space in my brain for more mundane stuff such as where I left my wetsuit.

Talking of wetsuits I have managed to complete my 50th dive. At the same time Martin the Prison Manager completed his 100th dive and we celebrate by heading 110 feet down to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Darkdale. The Darkdale was sunk by a German u-boat in 1940, resulting in the death of all 41 mainly young sailors who were on board. This 140m tanker is a war grave. As you descend, the sight of it, split in two and so long you can’t see both ends at once, thinking of those young sailors who gave their lives, is quite moving. At such a depth you cannot stay for long but our slow journey to the surface we are joined by a curious devil ray. The fact that the day before we snorkelled with the first whaleshark of the season made for an unforgettable weekend.

Talking of back pain (which I was a few paragraphs back) I was caught up in a major road traffic accident this month. A tourist bus swerved to avoid some pedestrians, hit them nonetheless and then went straight into a methane gas tanker. I drove into the rear of the tanker and ended up with serious spinal injuries. Six people died in the major civil emergency. 

At this point I suppose I ought to mention that it was a mock up, an exercise, not the real thing. I was selected to be one of eight major victims because of my reputation as an actor. Given that the reputation is based on four or five appearances as Napoleon, I have never acted before and even feigned illness to avoid the school nativity plays this came as a surprise. But I drew upon my experience of an exposed compound tib and fib skiing accident to yell in pain every time the rescuers dropped me or drove over a bump in the road. It was a brilliant exercise and the Island should now be far better prepared for the real thing.

I’ll miss this unique mix of work and play and also the friendship of so many of the Saints. Quite bizarrely, when I visit the Police Station all of the cops call me by my first name. I would have to be a serial killer to be so well recognisable in the UK. Stranger still, when I encounter the prisoners weeding the Castle Grounds they all say ‘Hi, Andy’ and the one who I do know well offers me a handshake.