To an old friend

My friends have often joked about my lack of ‘stuff’. It’s fair; I’m not prone to hoarding possessions with much emotional consideration to their provenance. Thus, when it came to leaving the islands with no onward destination, I wasn’t keen to keep too much of what we had acquired over the past five years. Thankfully, remote islands have historically been difficult places to obtain the things that you need and, while much has improved with modern transport links, there is still a very healthy culture of buying, scrounging or rescuing second-hand goods on the islands. ‘Tip-diving’ has long been a perfectly acceptable part of Falklands procurement practise. I found this reassuring in an area where there are very limited options for disposal of goods and we were quickly able to sell-off or give away a surprising amount of our stuff, wasting very little in the process.

I didn’t get particularly down about seeing the various elements of our life be carried away piece by piece. If anything, I was happy to see it all go. There were, however, a few exceptions. One of which, I confess, took me a little by surprise.

To my shame, when I first arrived on the islands in the Winter of 2015, I found it quite amusing to see such a large percentage of the population wandering down the roads clad in what looked to be outdoor technical onesies adorned with high-vis stripes. It didn’t take long to realise that the ‘boiler suit’ was the unofficial national dress of the Falkland Islands. One of my fond memories from my time in the school is of losing many minutes of one lesson laughing along with my students as they expressed genuine disbelief that I didn’t own one of these boiler suits, followed by a long discussion about their merits and the different styles/colours they each possessed.

Unbeknownst to each other, that first Falklands Christmas of ours, my wife and I both bought each other boiler suits and were immediate and unashamed converts! I think we first saw it as a bit of a laugh, while also being something quite useful. In another way, I think, it was partly about joining in the culture of the islands too. So many aspects of the islands are defined by the unusual climate and the apparel is clearly one. The ubiquitous wind brings a chill that constantly gets in among layers, but the padded, waterproof and well-sealed boiler suit repels it all! It allows you to not think twice about the weather, layering up underneath and heading out in the fiercest of wind and rain determined not to allow the elements to ruin your experience. It’s strange, for me, to see an item of clothing improve your outgoing mindset like that. As I’m sure my friends will readily attest, I’ve never paid much attention to my clothing.

The logical part of me figured that, heading back into Summer and on to an unknown destination, it made no sense to try to pack a giant boiler suit into a box or suitcase only for it to sit idle halfway across the world. Still, when it came to selling it off, I found myself being oddly sentimental about my boiler suit! Perhaps there was a realisation that I wouldn’t be likely to buy another one elsewhere and so it came to define us drawing a line underneath our Falklands adventure. Perhaps it was because I was saying goodbye to a community that it drew me into (even attending events where, no word of a lie, those not in boiler suits were a stark minority). Perhaps it was because I looked back at all of the adventures and weekends away that we had been on for nearly five years and realised that, through it all, this trusty friend had been there with me, keeping me warm, dry and free of penguin poo:

Whatever the reason, I guess it has gone full circle: my boiler suit, so much a part of Falklands culture, has been sold on to another resident in that practical island tradition.

The only other similar struggles we had were with our aforementioned cars and, for me, when it came to my camping gear. My tents, sleeping bags, mats, stove, pans etc all much loved and shipped down with us; the accompaniment to so many treasured memories, yet logic dictated that there was little worth in shipping them back to sit unused for so long while our future remains uncertain. A theme emerges. Our attachment to these things derives from the experiences they accompanied, yet we can’t hold on to them forever. Not like the memories.

It could be that there’s a lesson here. We have to remind ourselves that it’s good to see things (however valuable they might be in sentiment) go to a good home to be part of other people’s lives, while we can hold on to the experiences instead. In short, as my friend Zoran is prone to saying: collect memories, not things.

And yes, the long-promised concluding blog post is still imminent.

Home?

Having spent the last week enjoying our Bonus Days in the fantastically friendly yet unfortunately-named Malvina House Hotel*, our time to actually depart the islands finally came. The journey is often an eventful one so I thought it worth a little note for our own posterity and it allows me to gloss over the reality of the move, for now.  It was sad to have to leave for so, so many reasons, but not least because we’d had such a wonderful week in the hotel enjoying the hospitality and view:View from the hotel

That’s HMS Forth behind the excellent Museum, by the way. She’s the new South Atlantic patrol vessel but we never got the opportunity to have a good look around her as we did with HMS Clyde.

So it was that late in the evening (9pm, to be precise) on Wednesday 17th June our bus to the airport arrived (a mere 6 hours before our flight) and we checked in to our flight at the required time alongside the other military and civilian passengers heading North. So just 5 hours spare, then. Before our 18-hour flight. With a baby. At night.  In a brightly lit air terminal. We do so love a challenge.

Continuing our theme of thoroughly Falklands experiences sending us off, the aircraft had a few issues getting started and we were delayed aboard the plane while the temperature dropped to what I will fondly remember as a farewell chill (though at the time we weren’t thinking of it so positively). Quite the opposite then occurred some 10 hours later when we landed in Dakar (Senegal) unable to decamp from the plane but experiencing the ambient heat nonetheless. It could have been a lot worse; at least baby behaved for the most part (all credit to Han on that front, more as a result of the biology of breastfeeding than 1920s gender roles in parenting, I might add).

Just 25 hours after we were first collected, we landed at RAF Brize Norton for what could be the last time, before a 2 hour journey to our transiting location at my sister’s for her 5am wake-up call, where we sat in an odd legal great area as the government’s quarantine laws have yet to catch up the reality on the ground. On Monday 22nd June, we finally made it across to Han’s homeland of Ireland (where we’ll spend our first Summer for quite a while). After one final drive (extended by a puncture on our brand new rental car, just to top off our travel woes), our journey so many weeks in the making was over! In an effort to ease back into the hustle and bustle of life outside the Falklands, we’ve booked ourselves into a remote mountain lodge and are spending some time as a family while we await our freedom on July 6th. It was meant to be July 4th, which would have made a great excuse to watch Independence Day again, but our delays cost us that piece of symmetry. Thankfully, we can all agree that you don’t really need an excuse to watch Independence Day again.

Slowly but surely we are running through the readjustments that always come from leaving the islands: we’re recalling how to pay for things with cards instead of cheque books, we’re gaining an unfortunate number of mouth ulcers from the unprecedented levels of exotic fruit we’re consuming, we’re relearning the correct quantity of fresh, not UHT, milk to add to our tea and we’re training our eyes to look for different forms of wildlife out the window:

Rabbit

Not a penguin OR a sea lion

Moving forward, we have to learn to contrast our two lives; the old and the new:

We’ll be seeing very different things and spending our time in very different ways, but quarantine isn’t as bad as it sounds. Yes, those are hand made Falklands sheepskin/wool slippers purchased from the wonderful Harbour View Gift Shop, who have been supplying us, our friends and our families with penguin gifts and merchandise for so many years now. We’ve been eyeing them up for years wondering whether to spoil ourselves and commit. Turns out, they’re worth the investment. This is not a sponsored post (much as I wish it was) but they do post them.

I’ve been pondering how to sum up our time down South for months now and you might think that being forced to spend a fortnight locked in a remote cabin might present just the opportunity to churn something out. By now, you probably also know that lockdown doesn’t increase productivity half as much as one might initially have hoped. Bear with me. Just like leaving the Falklands, writing the final chapter of the blog was always going to be a mental struggle. Just a glance through our Photo Highlights page gives a taste of what I’m up against. As I’ve seen it plastered everywhere, I’ll jump on the Irish government’s continuing message to its population: hold firm. The end is coming.

Just to be clear, I added the bit about the end coming. I know the Irish government has a history of religious fervour, but it hasn’t gone that extreme in its response to Covid.

* True to form, I’ll insert a short historical backstory here as the naming of the Malvina House Hotel often causes some confusion/curiosity/offence in different contexts: Malvina is a Scottish girls’ name and Malvina Felton was the name of one of the original owner’s daughters back in 1881. This is in no way related to the Spanish word for the Islands (Islas Malvinas), which itself originally came from the French name for the islands (Iles Malouines, named by sailors after their home port of St Malo). The Spanish and French using names for the islands in their own language would not usually be a problem (in English, for example, we don’t refer to Germany as Deutschland), however Argentina continues to use its own names for most locations in the islands when pushing its claim (including some from the 1982/General Galtieri era such as ‘Puerto Argentino’ as their name for Stanley, which never existed until after the invasion when Argentina decided its original idea of renaming Stanley ‘Puerto Rivero’ was probably not the look they were going for as the apparently inspirational Antonio Rivero was, in fact, a mass murderer). As a result, references to the islands as ‘Islas Malvinas’ are usually seen as offensive by Falkland Islanders though this is often not the intention of other Spanish speakers who will have grown up knowing the islands by the Spanish name. As the UN’s stance is that there is (what it considers) an unresolved dispute over the islands, the official UN name for the islands is “Falklands Islands (Islas Malvinas)”. It’s a complex linguistical anomaly: if Argentina didn’t claim the islands then there would probably be no issue with other countries using other names for them. But they do, so there is.

Liberating

Regular Pengoing South attendees will know that today is a very special day here in the Falkland Islands. 14th June each year marks Liberation Day, the day that the islands were formally freed from Argentine occupation in 1982. It is hard to summarise just what this means for the people here. Having never endured military occupation by an aggressor state, I am not sure I feel qualified to explain the significance. Fortunately, Falkland Islands Government have given some insight:

Liberation Day also means a surprising amount to those not originally from the islands. After all, had history taken a slightly different (but also completely realistic) turn, none of us would be able to experience the islands as they are today. So it is that,  even in these troubled and difficult circumstances, many turn out to mark the occasion at the powerful Liberation Monument on Stanley seafront. And who doesn’t appreciate a symbolic flypast? (all photos by Han today)BHTF2836

Close friends and family will also know that we should currently be about 28,000 feet above the Atlantic right now. How very apt that our final few days in the islands are spent with some thoroughly Falklands experiences: celebrating Liberation Day and an extended stay from a cancelled Airbridge flight. We’ve been relatively lucky with our flights, only suffering the occasional minor delay, but a friend has had his last 7 trips to the UK delayed by 24 hours+. It’s a fact of life here that you allow for Airbridge unpredictability (resulting from the weather and the poor placement of the runway in the 1980s). We can’t complain: without the MoD we wouldn’t have the vital air link and wouldn’t be getting away at all right now. We’ve come to endearingly call them “Bonus Days” and encourage others to think of them as such too. It adds an air of positivity to what could otherwise be a stressful time.

IMG_8748Despite the fact that the building that has been our home for nearly 5 years now sits empty and we have decamped to a very nice local hotel to be their only guests, it still hasn’t quite sunk in that we are leaving. Perhaps we’ve been distracted by the view:

View from the hotel

We’ve not been complacent about it, we’ve been sure to do as much as we could in the time available to us (between packing, of course).

We’ve taken a final visit out to the breathtakingly scenic Volunteer Point to see the King Penguin colony there (with the bonus of several groups of Southern Right Whales close in to the beach):

We obviously had to take a final trip out to Camp (soon to be a term I guess we’ll stop using), to stop by Estancia Farm to introduce one important member of the family to another: Baby, meet Milo! Milo, meet Baby!

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Just another drive in the country

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Family union

I’m not prone to sentiment, but it proved to be something of an emotional drive. Before arriving in the islands I’d never even driven a 4×4, yet alone on gravel roads or off road altogether. Learning to drive in the distinct style that is required here has opened the islands up to us and allowed us to access no end of incredible places and experiences. Our cars have become important parts of our life here and it was incredibly sad to see them go, though we know they go on to good homes; both to new arrivals eager to begin their Falklands journey. We know that it’s unlikely that we’ll ever run a 4×4 again (yet alone 2!) or get to use them for their intended purpose in the way we have here, so it truly was a fond farewell to our trusty steeds:

They say that moving house is one of the most stressful things in life. It is. As it transpires, trying to do so in the middle of a global pandemic adds an extra unpredictability that verges on hilarity. Well, you can either laugh or cry as whatever plans you try to lay down alter several times each week in response to changing rules in various countries. We’ve tried not to let it get to us and we think we’re sorted now, but we’ve got a lot of people and places to say our goodbyes to. In the spirit of romance mixed with efficiency (always a winning combination, I’ve found), we cashed in an anniversary present that I had got Han pre-baby from the wonderful Falklands Helicopter Services and we took to the skies for one more outstanding memory from this little place:

102664116_10100271028955697_1369925764762985250_oAfter the initial flurry of logistical patchwork, we’re actually very pleased to have our Bonus Days right now. It all just seems so appropriate and gives us the opportunity to tend to a few things that we have been meaning to do before we go.

One bit of local lore concerns Boot Hill, for example. This ever-expanding collection of shoes on sticks alongside the main road into Stanley has an unclear provenance but it has evolved into something of a ritual for those whose time it is to leave the islands. The legend now goes that, if you think you’ve had your fill and won’t be returning, you leave a pair of shoes. If you think that this place still has a hold on you and that one day you’ll be back, it’s one shoe for you. Will we be one boot or two? Our final few days may tell.

The Long Goodbye

This may come as a shock to some but it has been decided (a little while ago, actually): we will be leaving the Falkland Islands in June and won’t be returning. I won’t go into the details publicly, for personal and professional reasons, but it’s nothing untoward. Our time here has simply come to an end (as it was originally meant to three years ago).

Obviously the timing isn’t ideal; there’s this global pandemic on, you see. Our destination is currently unknown, but if this move has taught us anything it’s that you never know what’s waiting around the corner.

Those who have followed the blog over the past five years will know that these islands do (and will always) hold a very special place in our hearts. Our lives have changed in no small number of ways since we arrived here and so it will be incredibly difficult for us to say goodbye. It was always going to be.

Signing off the blog is not going to be easy either and we have a lot to organise before our departure so, for now, I leave you with the most appropriate photo that I have taken this week: the sun sets on Stanley silhouetting what remains of HMS Afterglow. Even her name seems appropriate now.DSC_0453

Stay safe and see you on the other side.

Uninvited Guest

Thirty eight years ago today, in the early hours of the morning, the first assault wave of the Argentine invasion force landed on the shores surrounding Stanley. Thus began 74 days of bloody conflict that would alter these islands forever.

The Falklands War

Argentine forces occupy the once peaceful seafront of Stanley

Contrary to what is often reported, the few dozen Royal Marines stationed in Stanley at the time put up an impressive fight against vastly overwhelming odds (trust the Royal Marines to see 36:5000+ as a ratio worth fighting on) before they were ordered to surrender by the Governor to save further casualties. Up to that point only Argentine soldiers had been killed, though that wasn’t for lack of trying; the Marines’ HQ was destroyed by phosphorous grenades and machine-gun fire BEFORE the Argentine special forces realised it was empty.

 

The sequence of events is well known (see the tab at the top) but this writer would argue that the true short- and long-term effects of the conflict have never adequately been documented or understood outside of these islands. I haven’t dared to attempt it (yet) and I’m not sure that I ever will. No doubt it would run into thousands of words, and not just as a result of my tendency to waffle on.

Anniversaries in history tend to bring about an increased sense of remembrance and the events of 1982 are no different. I write about this particular phenomenon this year, however, as there has been one notable difference in 2020: the parallel.

Recently, there has been a communal sense of foreboding, anxiety and uncertainty about what the future holds. There have been restrictions placed on travel in and out of the islands adding to that uncertainty. There has been a constant stream of press releases and official government notifications concerning all kinds of mundane things. There has been a detachment of military forces sent to assist by Her Majesty’s Government. Most significantly, there have been an ever-increasing number of restrictions on personal freedom and movement (though comparatively mild by international standards). All of the response to Covid19 has fallen in the lead-up to April 2nd.

Several people in the islands, then, have mentioned feeling a dark sense of deja vu. They have, however, pointed out that last time they could at least see the enemy.

I can’t pretend to understand: I wasn’t here. I did think it was insightful that the comparison was being made and that it wasn’t just by one person. The battles might have ended 38 years ago, but there is evidently more to reconcile here than a sovereignty dispute.

An unsocial distance

For this last week, we’ve been flightless here in the Falklands – a mildly concerning state of affairs as the option of getting away, such as for a medivac, is reassuring in case of emergencies. The latest news suggests that our Airbridge is due to restart at the end of the week. The link it gives us to the outside world is perhaps more symbolic than anything else at this surreal time but many are happy to see its return nonetheless.
Our situation remains similar to many other countries during this increasingly difficult challenge and the upsurge in blog posts is absolutely tied to the amount of time we’re spending at home, away from other people.

Thankfully for us, there is something that we can do in isolation here that gets us outside with plenty of room to keep our distance, it’s free and we end up with something tasty to eat without risking a trip to the shop: it’s teaberry season!

Particularly sweet and tasty, they are hard to describe as they don’t compare to anything else. They are traditionally baked into teaberry buns, but we like them with Easy-Yo yoghurt (the Falklands standard) and sprinkled on our cereal in the morning.Teaberries 25-03-20I’ll aim to add a few other articles over the next few weeks: perhaps more informative and less topical ones! I’ve got a few in mind and hopefully you might learn something  interesting with all this added time we’re all spending at screens.

Stay home, stay safe.

Can you dig it?

It seems that my attempts to be a good husband aren’t always completely on target: taking Han to an abandoned woollen mill on her birthday last year seemed to cause some amusement among our friends.

I got the message. Industrial sites, it seems, are not the correct kind of historic location for treating the wife. Fear not, readers, for I have learnt my lesson!

I present, then, for her very first Mothers’ Day, my wife and baby at their first ever archaeological dig:

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Allow me to explain this one: the fascinating history of the Falklands has become something I’ve become fairly interested in during our time here.

One other project I’ve been working on is the development of an area to the West of Stanley called Bennett’s Paddock. You can actually see the site on Google Earth and see the outlines there for yourselves. The shapes you can make out are the last remains of what was probably Britain’s most remote WWII garrison, ordered to the islands by PM Winston Churchill himself. I’ll include a short(ish – you know me) history of the site below, but the Paddock is scheduled for development in the coming few months, leaving no more remains from a significant but much-forgotten part of the islands’ history.

The Museum & National Trust were put in touch with a project officer from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. He was very fortunately able to fly down, with his friend from Oxford University, and run an archaeological dig on the site before it gets demolished and all trace of it is lost forever. Thankfully, volunteers were forthcoming and the dig successfully went ahead. Thus, on Mothers’ Day weekend, we found ourselves at our first ever archaeological dig site trowel in hand.

Some interesting artefacts, structures and questions were all uncovered in the process and we all look forward to hearing more about the findings in upcoming academic papers, Museum publications and, quite possibly, a return to FITV for this budding historian. Oh yes!

The presence of this ominous 4×4 did, however, put an end to the efforts of these wannabe Indiana Joneses:

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Yes, that’s the British Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal vehicle, turning up to give us the latest on the ongoing saga duly reported by FITV on their Facebook:

FITV WWII postsIt transpired that an Argentine 105mm artillery position hadn’t quite been tidied up as well as it should have. A controlled explosion might have rendered the shell safe, but it has meant that the whole site is now ‘suspect’ and deemed inaccessible for the time being. Thus ended our first Mothers’ Day and dig.

If you’re concerned that I had my wife and child on a site with unexploded ordnance, I should add that this was a different part of the dig site, the de-mining team had done a detecting survey of the paddock beforehand and highlighted the risk areas and we were in no danger in our trench.I’m not that careless – I do quite like them both.

Unexploded ordnance is, sadly, still present across the islands. Those 74 days (and the aftermath) were chaotic enough to ensure that an EOD presence will be required in the islands for some time to come.

As for our fate during this uncertain time in global affairs? It is just that: uncertain. Following the pattern of pretty much all other countries affected, lockdown seems to be the inevitable destination, but it isn’t one we’ve reached yet. If/when we do, expect Pengoing South to gain some added content.

Now, without further ado, some much-needed history:

The West Yorks’ Camp – WWII in the Falkland Islands:

These islands are no stranger to military aggression and World War Two was no exception. Fortress Europa might have seemed a world away, but Japanese success in the Pacific and the Pearl Harbour attack showed just how ambitious the Japanese Navy could be. By December 1941, signals intelligence suggested that Japan was planning to take the Falkland Islands as a further symbolic blow to the crumbling British Empire.

Both Canada and the USA turned down the calls for assistance and Churchill knew that the flat, open islands could never be made truly defensible at short notice. The only option was to send enough men to cause the Japanese to think twice about committing a sizeable force for the attack. The 11th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment was despatched as soon as possible. Their commanding officer was Lt Col Howard Green. When he was told of his mission, he sarcastically pointed out “so, it’s the West Yorks against the Japanese Empire”? His briefing officer simply replied “well, yes”. Interestingly, they were at least given mobile artillery support, making them one of the most heavily armed infantry battalions in the British Army.

There was little excitement on their journey down the West African coast, but rumour and speculation about their final destination must have been a constant distraction. Being issued with both cold weather and tropical kit gave little clue to their fate. The convoy arrived at Cape Town ready for some much-needed shore leave in July 1942, which they evidently took full advantage of. It was only after leaving port that they found out that they were bound for the Falkland Islands. As if to prepare them for being isolated from the rest of the War, it was to be another three weeks before they saw any other sign of land or humanity again.

Here in Stanley, word had spread about an upcoming garrison and the likely need to house the men, but no-one knew exactly how many men were coming or when they might arrive. No-one could even rule out a Japanese invasion before then so the arrival of an advance party to make preparations must have been some comfort to the local people. On the 11th August 1942, the main force anchored in Port William and the next few days were spent frantically trying to find billets for the men. Civilian houses were quickly occupied and HQ was set up in John Street in Stanley. It would be another 5 months of hard labour before the main force was able to move to its new Camp to the West of Stanley. With no other option available, every man would be involved in constructing the new Camp.

It was incredibly hard work, clearing rocks, laying over 15 miles’ of barbed wire and erecting huts in the difficult Falklands weather. Before long, the men were so exhausted that they requested for their evening meal to be served early so they could finish work at 4pm, eat and go straight to bed. Unusual soldierly behaviour by anyone’s standards.

Located so close to town, the new arrivals quickly became an active part of the community here, taking part in sports events, shows and helping to train the local forces. Look-outs and gun emplacements were set up around the islands and the soldiers soon established what would become their war-time routine.

Before long, the tide had turned in the Pacific and the Japanese retreated, leaving behind their threat of invasion. The West Yorks, however, faced another enemy: boredom. Some men turned to local crafts or keeping pigs and chickens. The Yorks had even shipped a small pack of beagles across the world to occupy their time with hunting each week. Others, however, turned to the bottle. Their War Diary records 16 different court martials, one unexplained fire and another 13 inquiries into ‘unexplained injuries’. Clearly, not everyone was having a peaceful deployment after all. Other details of their time in the islands are remarkably scant. Despite such a significant number of men, few records exist about their time here and more will hopefully be revealed over time.

As the war dragged on and the need for their presence decreased, rumours began to circulate that their time in the Falklands would soon be up. The War in Europe beckoned and the West Yorks finally departed Stanley (with mixed emotions) on 1st February 1944. They didn’t know it, but they were bound for England to help with the D-Day preparations.

If any doubt remained about the Camp’s significance to the Falklands, the Governor addressed the men with a heartfelt goodbye. Their time, he told them, had “re-forged and strengthened the already strong link that has always bound the Falklands to the Motherland”. They weren’t the Japanese, but the islanders would forever remember the men brought to these shores by the War in the Pacific.

Today, in the year 2020, that bond continues to be maintained and the West Yorks’ service is remembered by the ongoing investigation into their time here.

Little is known about the Camp’s demise after the War. Much of their footprint was destroyed but the circumstances remain unclear. The Nissen huts were eventually spread throughout the islands, becoming as much a part of the community as the men who once called them home. The rest of this story remains to be told.

Note: while there are photos of the men, their camp and their exploits here, copyright permissions remain with the Museum and National Trust and I will leave their publications to do this story justice in full.

Outbreak

It brings me no pleasure to be adding to internet furore but, I’ll be honest, this post is all about the posterity. It also holds many of my own thoughts/opinions and I am a historian, not a medical professional. Historians do, however, often have the advantage of the ‘big picture’ perspective and it seems that something historic has been happening of late.

I’m sure we’ll be looking back on our time here decades down the line and I’ve little doubt that it’ll be worth recording that Covid19 has made itself known to the world during our stint on these islands. There will be many lessons to learn from this. To what extent we, as a global society, learn those lessons still remains to be seen. Sadly, the only thing we often learn from studying history is that we simply don’t learn so I personally remain sceptical.

Right now, on 16th March 2020, the Falkland Islands can’t REALLY complain (yet) as there have been no recorded instances of Covid19 on the islands. That being said, the remote nature and small population has the inevitable result that medical services are limited; tests for the virus will need to be carried out in the UK (estimated turnaround time: 10 days). So no RECORDED cases doesn’t necessarily mean no cases.

Still, you might think, count yourselves lucky: we’re not in lock-down or unnecessarily wrestling over bog-roll in the aisles. No, we are not. Perhaps a hostile military invasion in living memory has made this community slightly more resistant to mass hysteria. Time will tell.

It’ll also be tempting to highlight that we’re on a remote set of islands and surely, therefore, a low-risk location. After all, island nations have a long history of keeping outside issues at sea. This could well be the case if bold, decisive isolationist action were to be taken at the sacrifice of the tourism industry and wider economy. As it is, we have had c.60,000 cruise ship tourists alighting this season and three weekly flights (including one MoD resupply service) that have been continuing to bring people from all over the world to these islands for work and tourism. These haven’t stopped (yet). An element of inevitability is detectable in many communications about the disease here but by the time it is confirmed, of course, it will have been here for some time and so it’ll likely be too late to contain in such a tiny community.

So we find ourselves on an island that has limited medical facilities (I don’t envy the person whose job it is to weigh up numbers of beds, medication, staff,ventilators etc), unable to test for the virus and reliant on emergency medical evacuation to countries that, understandably, may soon refuse international patients on account of infection or capacity. It’s statistical fact that, like the UK, comparatively high obesity levels, alcohol consumption and rates of smoking combined with an ageing population also mean that there are a significant number of ‘at risk’ individuals (elderly and/or with co-morbidities) in the community.

The islands are also highly reliant on the international community: many people need to come and go from the islands for medical care. As well as that, the islands are always host to people from all over the world carrying out work, research or training. The last census recorded people from over 65 different countries here. Several people that we know have either given up attempting to get home already or have been recalled early, having to fly out to avoid being stuck here when borders inevitably come down elsewhere.

So there is significant public concern being voiced on all platforms, with regular updates from our government and medical services. I’m sure individuals have their own plans too: one thing this place has got in abundance is space. Remote settlements and outer islands here have long been ideal hideaways for those hoping to avoid social contact.

Should the government have closed the borders? Will the virus even hit here? What will the effects be? How will people respond? How will our own lives be affected? Will we learn?
The only thing that can and will truly answer these questions is time.

For us, so far, life continues as usual and so we took advantage of some fine weather over the weekend to head out to my favourite spot on East Falkland: Whale Point. It was GREAT to be back out in the 4×4, off-roading and enjoying the sunshine, scenery and wildlife. As well as the St Mary, of course. I do love a good shipwreck story! Only a few obligatory photos taken this time as it’s our 100,000th visit there:

I’ll steer clear of in-depth analyses of this crisis as it unfolds on a global scale; that is the place of scientists and medical professionals and there are already far too many people on the internet weighing in where it is neither helpful nor necessary. Instead, I’ll now leave this as just what this blog has always aimed to be: just a different perspective from a wild and remote community in the South Atlantic.

 

EDIT: After I wrote this, Time Magazine did a much better job of explaining the whole thing than I did. As I live here, I have to play things differently, but fair play to them: https://time.com/5811309/coronavirus-falklands/

A Welcome Return

Our baby being born in Ireland in October has necessitated some reverse seasonal migration on our part. Having endured two winters in a row, we’ve returned to the Falklands in time to catch the last  few weeks of the Summer tourist season. Pushed into swift action by our severe lack of vitamin D, we no sooner unpacked and a phone call was made to one of our favourite haunts: Sea Lion Island.

As is so often the case here in the Falklands, the journey is part of the adventure and it was exciting to hop on a FIGAS flight again after so long away, even with a baby in tow this time:

We were a little concerned that we’d be arriving so late in the season that we’ll have missed some of the wildlife highlights (the Gentoo and Rockhopper chicks are pretty cute and curious)  but anyone following Sea Lion Lodge’s Facebook page recently will have noted that there was still plenty of interesting behaviour to be witness to. The island served up the usual array of outstanding penguin encounters, including viewing from the Lodge:

Sea Lion Island is particularly notable for its other bird life as it has no sheep, rats or mice to bother the ground nesters, but you never really know what you might see whenever you’re wandering around:

Regulars will know that Sea Lion is a crucial habitat for its long-studied Elephant Seal population. We might have missed the breeding season (not always a bad thing: “that’s not lovemaking” was a favourite quote by Han’s Dad on witnessing the process) but they haul out in Feb/March time to moult so there were still plenty of the beasts knocking around to cause some much-needed amusement:

This time of year, the animals that kindly lend their name to the island are well worth spending some time with as the pups are just starting to swim, play (king of the castle on a rocky outcrop) and, apparently, investigate washed-up Sei whale ribs:

Han was very much able to empathise with the suckling sea lion mums, as she found herself doing some cliff-top feeding of her own at the same time.

You’ll know that we have been very regular visitors to Sea Lion Island over the past few years (including a short stint guiding there) and you might think that we’ve seen and done it all, but there is a NEW addition to the island this year! One important highlight that only joined the island recently and has had a marked improvement on the whole experience:Sea Lion BookletIt’s as I always say: wherever you’re going, always bring a historian!

P.S. For our friends and family, a connection we’d like to point out: in the Falkland Islands, a male Sea Lion is called a Jasper!

We’re baaaaaaaaack

Well, we’re back in the Falkland Islands! And ‘we’ now means the three of us! Our first child was born in October and we are, obviously, delighted. We arrived back in the islands two days ago after a surprisingly smooth 18-hour Airbridge flight with a 4-month old. Two days and we have still not seen a single penguin! Shocking, I know (we’ll aim to change that later, don’t worry). We’ve been away for the best part of 5 months now and we are feeling it! Refamiliarising ourselves with our own house has been a surreal experience.

While much of the beauty of  life here is that things move slowly and many things rarely change, there have still been some noticeable differences in our absence. The transient nature of much of the workforce here means that many good friends have left the islands during our time away, which inevitably saddens us a little. There are, however, many new faces to get to know too and some of our closest friendships have begun here with even fleeting visitors.We look forward to finding out who our new friends will be.

As I previously explained, the blog will take something of a back seat as we figure out how to operate Bailey Child Version 1 but I’ll still aim to give the occasional update where I can.

We have chosen to keep this blog for our own records and for friends/family who might find it interesting to follow our various adventures (whilst also remaining aware that this is completely open to the public). We made this choice as informed adults, but our baby doesn’t quite have that level of evaluation yet. As a result, we are conscious of online privacy, safeguarding and issues around consent (and we don’t wish to begin the slippery slope of using our child as a tool for online popularity). As a result, baby updates/images won’t be featuring on here or any form of social media so please don’t expect to see them. Penguins, on the other hand, there will be plenty of.