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A little light relief! An anecdote from Saint Helena Island - and weddings

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!)

I wonder if my most famous pre-digital photograph survives? That is the night-scene open exposure one of Jamestown from Shy Road with the old RMS St Helena in the harbour.  Does the one Barry Dillon bought from me still hang on the Standard wall?

Well Tony and I can tell a few stories of our weddings. We could have made a fortune if our material went to the “You’ve been Framed” TV show.  Perhaps he has done that, is sitting on a fortune, but is keeping it a secret?

Certainly everything that could conceivably go wrong on a couple’s big day went wrong.  Probably those unscripted moments made the day special.  One time, the groom, when asked by the vicar “Do you take the bride...?” saluted and duly fell over, worse for wear from his stag night.

I have two favourites though.  Now Anne Sim was one of the main wedding caterers, and we had this reception at Half Tree Hollow.  Everything was going fine.  We were about to get to the “speech” by an eminent guest who would also read out the telegraphs from overseas.  Now in those pre-digital days, as a photographer, you had to anticipate, to be in the right place at the right time.  So after the speech would come the nuptial couple to have their solitary dance around the table in the centre of the room with the cake on display, ready for the cutting.  The only way to “capture the moment”, and hope you did, was to position yourself;  hope the flash re-charged, etc., and not use up too much valuable film!  So there I was poised, hoping to get that shot of the couple with the cake and table as they danced around it. But then I thought that something is askew.  The multi-tiered cake was doing a “Leaning Tower of Pisa” act, and its seemed on the move.  So I wandered over and with one hand supported the fragile structure.  The problem is how can you take a photograph with one hand?  Tony was oblivious to the impending disaster.  So I beckoned to one guest “Come here, get Anne!”.  Anne came straightaway.  I told her about the problem.  She said “No problem, don’t worry!”  I protested but she assured me that it was OK to let go.  So I did.  “There you are no problem!”  And she walked away.  So I moved to catch the couple and their dance, and just as they started……the cake fell over!

I do have one more favourite experience of St Helena weddings.  The little girl must be aged over 20 now?  As with most “flower-girls”, very young bridesmaids, the day can be an ordeal.  So we were in the midst of perhaps for her the over-long service?  That lovely guy Father Cottingham was doing his thing but our little lady was not impressed.  In fact she was “cut short” and without ado, squatted down and relieved herself on the aisle carpet.  Her unabashed older bridesmaid companion simply moved the bride’s train out-of-harms way, and Father Cottingham smiled on!

Yes, a little light relief, indeed.

Now for me one question is whether I should blog about Mark Constantine and his most poignant question, when I tried to teach on the Island?  It brought out one of the biggest of guffaws, of the mightiest guffawer on the island, the Polar Bear?  Do either of them remember? I put out the challenge!

Anyone interested in Saint Helena may also want visit this great website.

Cambodian Weddings

Cambodian weddings are often very similar to St Helenian ones, even with the cake on a central table, with the bride and groom followed by guests dancing around it.  Brides will change their dress a dozen or more times during the ceremony.  In recent years, wealthier families colour-match the grooms, who are like Saint boys not used to being in a suit.  For a very different wedding, log in to see the Bunong indigenous people, especially their special  "Katis" weddings if there is a question about the couple’s suitability.  These days, such photography is simpler.  Every bride wants to look her best, and a little editing removes or hides facial blemishes.

In Bunong weddings, womenfolk might opt to wear their traditional fabrics rather than Khmer preference for their best silks.


  1. John interesting blog about Stedson and also St Helena it made me laugh as i can just see Ann taking care of everything and every one else panicing. you might be interested to visit www.sthelenalocal.com work in progress

  2. 10 March 2016
    From: www.sthelenalocal.com

    John interesting blog about Stedson and also St Helena it made me laugh as i can just see Ann taking care of everything and every one else panicing. you might be interested to visit www.sthelenalocal.com work in progress.

    Yes, I visited your site and it's good, easy to navigate, etc. Just a few weeks ago I heard that the NAAFI store in my village Longhoughton, Northumberland, serving it and RAF Boulmer since WWII is closing. Let's hope Ascension's lives on. The NAFFI became a Spar a few years ago, but nobody uses that name.

  3. We have moved the St Helena local web site to www.welovesthelena.com