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A little light relief! An anecdote from Saint Helena Island.

A Little Light Relief

This is really a Saint Helena blog, but in the same vein as my “Alnwickdote” blogs, as some of the lighter moments of my travels around the world.

Radio St Helena gave me more pleasure than many things. Tony Leo, station manager, was a maestro and most under-appreciated. What a shame the station closed. (Full story here.)

Tony and I for many years, were the “Batman and Robin” of St Helena wedding video and photography.  Probably neither of us wanted the roles, but on St Helena “needs must” and there was no-one else.  So we tried our best.  For me it ran from 1985 until 1998, off and on, but mostly 1987-1994. 

My oh My, though how times have changed with digital photography. Gone is the fear and by golly there was fear. Is the photographic film OK? Have I got it in properly without exposing it? Is it inserted properly and winding on OK after every frame? Have I set the ISO speed, etc? Then there was worry of composing each and every scene to make every one of the 36 pictures per roll count (or more, always trying to squeezing in an extra one or two). Did the bride blink there?  Have I got enough film left to do a re-take?  Then when it was all over, it was too late to do anything about it. The films were packed ready for the ship to take them for processing to the UK, taking as long as two months. Would they come back OK? Would the couple like them? All I can say is fate was kind. I never had any big failures but nerves were always frayed. It's nice to think that some of those pictures are still much-loved adorning frames and albums.

I am grateful to the internet archives for one of my pictures from the pre-digital age above.  The vivacious Natasha (where are you now?); lovely Vanessa (now in the Police Office?); and irrepressible Lucille (I see you on Facebook). Plus lucky lad Ralph – well what can you say about one of nature's gentlemen (or a good actor!)

Cutting the head to fit the hat

 This picture from the internet is of a lady from Nkhata Bay, Malawi, just as ebullient as the ones we talk about below.*

My story here connects my favourite meal, fish at its very best to be found in Northumberland; Saint Helena and Malawi.  Craster Kippers are world-famous as is Lake Malawi’s endangered “Chambo” although I think Usipa, cooked and eaten whole can be better than whitebait.  Saint Helena has an abundance of great fish, for now, with the best fish-cakes in the world. 
I explain the title of the blog at the end.

In a previous blog I posed the question would Mark Constantine of Saint Helena remember when a 12 year-old his heartfelt worry?  It brought us great amusement, especially on the part of the Head-teacher Stedson George. 

Alnwickdotes: No 2 - A lot of things happen when I take a beer!

 The Old Ship Inn


I have been known to take the occasional beer, with my favourite worldwide hostelry in Seahouses, in of course, Northumberland.  So far, despite valiant efforts to search one out, I have not found its equal anywhere in my travels. (Please see write-up in "Canny Bevvy" below.)

This is an old anecdote from the last century of beer-related events in Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Cambodia followed by a twist in London.  Four times in my life, my relaxing quiet cool beers have been violently interrupted. 

Alnwickdotes: No 3: “Right over Might?” When the little person prevails?

 When the little person overcomes the odds, against stronger and formidable foes, it is a clear sign that justice can be done.  Seldom does this happen in Cambodia.

Alnwickdotes: No 4 - 19th Century Solutions to 21st problems!

Alnwick - Support your pants!

Back in the 1950s, most children around Alnwick would have visited St Michael’s pant.  We certainly drank the water, and with reluctance we would throw a copper coin in, wishing we could take back one of the silver ones already there.
Alnwick’s pants tell a story of how the town learned a lesson the hard way.  Even today in 2015 that lesson is still being learned around the world.  As a quick read about the pants reveals, it was a major cholera outbreak in 1849 that led to clean piped water.

 I had recall to this story just a few weeks ago, in relation to a tiny remote village called Srae Thom in Mondulkiri, Cambodia.  The community wanted just US$500 (UK£340) to repair a dam and their gravity-fed piped water system to their village.  It would give families clean water; irrigate their home gardens, and save fetching and carrying of heavy buckets over the five kilometer distance.  

Alnwickdotes: No 5: The Fish and Chip Millionaire

Picture thanks to Darrin Henry, darrin@darrinhenry.com,

When Saint Helena Island’s airport opens in 2016, a great feature of life – the arrival of the RMS St Helena at the anchorage will disappear.  (The UK has wagered the island’s future and self-sufficiency on a £192million (US$ 320m) airport. It is a dramatic effort to bring in tourism and investment, without seemingly taking note of the salutary experience of Norfolk Island in the Pacific and Australia.)

Jamestown is always abuzz when the ship arrives.  Crowds line the seaside from the-landing steps to the gate in to the town.  Some have returning loved-ones, others just want to see who’s coming and going.

I recall an extra-special buzz one time. 

Alnwickdotes: No 6 “Ginger” Northumbrian and Cambodian style!

I came across, one of the most fascinating stories of my overseas aid career, purely by accident.  This story apparently explains the existence of the Bunong indigenous people in Cambodia, now in danger of dying out. Although they total around 30,000 in all, they are under much pressure to integrate in to mainstream Khmer Society.

The story centres on the plant ginger.  A Google search then showed up, surprisingly “Northumberland Ginger Tea” , presumbly using Bergamot leaves, as first used for Early Grey and his Howick water? (Not to be confused with Ringtons Teas or another very fine pure Northumberland Tea.)

Alnwickdotes: No 7 Best laid plans of mice and men go awry

Do you know that children out-perform adult executives?  Yet they play little or no part in “development” projects intended for them.  In 1998 I inherited technical and fundraising responsibility for a major multi-donor funded project to teach human rights in schools.  I spotted one thing that had eluded the educational and development experts.  The entire programme was being carried out without one child in sight.  We soon changed that, but it wasn’t children that spoilt the project.

If ever there is a quotation to apply to our line of work, it must be this one.  It could be the motto of the development game, even its guiding spirit! 

However it predates such modern fancy notions, coming from a poem by famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. I have it on good authority of our local paper that “he was inspired by his travels up and down the length and breadth of Northumberland, so that is good enough for me to claim him for linking my county with the developing world. Apparently he did visit Alnwick Castle, Warkworth and Hexham. 

As this is an Alnwickdote, it is another one of those strange occurrences in my overseas development career, one that fascinates many people. 

Alnwickdote: No 8 Island of Propriety in a Sea of Corruption

Lindisfarne and Tynemouth Priories
www.english-heritage.org.uk ; http://www.st-astier.co.uk/images/503.jpg

Holy Island was the first island we knew when growing up in Northumberland.  The county is graced by many ancient monuments, from Tynemouth in the South up to Lindisfarne and beyond in the North.  In this sense, there is a direct comparison with Cambodia and its great religious relics most notably Angkor Wat. 

Looking at these images reminds me again of the oddities and absurdities we encounter in the development aid business.  I am talking about the spoken and written words, and barriers to communication in language and in context.  Too often people do not understand each other, and it only bothers poor people who are too shy to ask.  It is not only the English and Americans that are divided by a common language.

Alnwickdote No 12: Honorary Girl Guide and Royalty

A Cambodian Girl Guide in 2003
The Baden-Powells would never have approved, but for the best part of four years I was an honorary girl guide.  It led in 2000 to the undoubted highlight of all my years in Cambodia with an invitation to dine with King Sihanouk and Queen Monineath.

The Girl Guides in Cambodia were revived by Mrs Meng Ho Leang.  She was also the Deputy Director of our human rights organization. Sadly history may not do her justice, with some of her achievements largely forgotten such as the pioneering of teaching of human rights in schools.  As my colleague, Aine Doody, an Irish volunteer used to remark she was a formidable lady.  “Why is it?” Aine would ask “Can I not go in to meet Mrs Meng Ho without coming out crying?”  She was not alone in that regard.

Alnwickdote: No 9 He died with a smile on his face!

Hexham Old Gaol was built between 1330 and 1333 and was used as a prison for almost 500 years. Alnwick’s 15th century Bondgate or Hotspur Tower was also a prison in post-medieval times.
Our most famous jail, or gaol, is Durham "a boarding house where ye divven't have to pay" hear about it from the High Level Ranters here.

When a former accountant colleague died, his family remarked upon his smile.  He and they were happy that in his later life he had provided well for each of them. In fact, they had done exceptionally well considering his salary was just a few hundred dollars a month.

Now we should not speak ill of the dead, so I will leave the thought with your imagination, or for cynics to submit "freedom of information" requests.  The saying reminds me of a similar idiom: "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil!"

Alnwickdote No 10: Fit and Proper in the Aid Business

Gisenyi, Rwanda http://www.godsmurf.com/albums/2007-08-East-Africa/pics/3/0200.JPG

This is the follow-up to my last blog in which I questioned why donors do not practice what they preach when it comes to corruption and misuse of funds.  In this blog I extend the argument to those with regulatory responsibilities.  In my last blog, I referred to an article where it was argued that “rotten apples” should be removed. That is not an easy task!

If you delve in to history, it does not take long to discover parallels from the past with a bearing on life today, some good and some bad.  For instance we have “Rotten Row” in Alnwick, Northumberland.

Alnwickdote No 13: Blue Stars and Red Triangles

Have you seen Bass Beer served like this?
By chance I came across a kindred spirit today.  Someone like me, or thinks like me.  She’s called her blog “A Geordie Abroadie”, and has followed my path to the Far East, only she hasn’t got as far me, but on her way, hanging out in Norwich, East Anglia.  But that is still far enough away to miss the finest points of home.