Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Reflections

[I arrived in the Falklands in January with my wife.  Just reflecting, in the calm period around Christmas, on aspects of life here.  Feel free to ask questions, if your curiousity is piqued].

It's almost a year since we moved 8,000 miles to this remote outpost in the South Atlantic.  Life has generally been good and it was easy to settle into habits like daily shopping, and having lunch at home most days.  I consider there are three "luxuries" in life - Health, Money and Time.  In the past, I've occasionally enjoyed times when I had two out of three of them, but here, I'm  fortunate enough to have adequate amounts of each.  I know I am lucky.
Commanding Officer of British Forces, and HE Governor, taking the salute on Battle Day, December 8th.

So, I can bake (a new skill for me) and cook, and when bored with home cooking can splash out on a St Helenian curry or a Chilean Toothfish dish in a local restaurant.  

 Food, although very limited in choice (compared to the UK), is plentiful and meat, in particular, is very cheap.  (Tomatoes are 75p each, though, and today we baulked at a watermelon at £13.77.  Onions are about 60p each, and most vegetables are individually-priced!).  Sometimes, months go by without seeing basic items, like eggs or bananas, but you just adapt, or make discreet enquiries as to who has squirrelled some away.....  I've never been a picky eater, anyway.
Wild Mushrooms.  Would be about £10 in the shops.
TV and Radio services are limited, and are broadcast by the military, so there is a preponderance of soaps and "Top Gear"-type programmes, and updates from Afghanistan (which is probably not a bad thing if men and women are risking their lives on our behalf.)  Access to the Internet is restricted by high cost and slow speed.  Salt is rubbed into the wound by receiving all the forwarded junk snail mail from BT and Virginmedia offering a Superhighway, free phone calls and 300 TV channels at our old house for the same price that we pay here for a cauliflower each week!
Royal Marines commemorating Battle Day, December 8th
However, with very few exceptions, we are not missing TV or fast Broadband.   UK TV programmes are broadcast "as live", 3 or 4 hours after their actual broadcast time in the UK, which can lead to interesting situations as you try to avoid someone telling you the result of a big sporting event which you are hoping to watch at home later!  Radio gives us a (good) local radio station, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 5Live, and British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) equivalent of BBC Radios 1 and 2!  That's it.
Wrecks in the harbour
 One delightful link to the UK and friends, is the Kindle I was given as a leaving present, and the Guardian subscription which downloads around 10pm every night. (THANK YOU!).   It's a great piece of technology, requiring little intervention from a Luddite like me.  Only when reading British newspapers do you realise how little is actually reported on TV.  Although we also have a Sky News channel (live!), it only (and repeatedly) covers about 4 news items during a day.  The rest is adverts.
A rather co-operative Snipe
What the Falklands does have a lot of!  And fresh air!  So, much time has been spent enjoying those aspects of the islands.  Added to that is the wildlife, which can only be rivalled, I believe, by that of the Galapagos Islands.  Very few birds or animals here have lived long enough beside Man to realise what a threat we are.   It can take thousands of years before their behaviour changes, and they flee from us.  So, despite wiping out the native and unique Warrah ( a type of fox) soon after Charles Darwin saw it here, and almost doing the same to Upland Geese and  Rockhopper penguins and various seals and whales, these creatures still show little or no fear of Man.  Makes for some great encounters and photos!
Long-tailed meadowlark
The War, 30 years ago, has also radically shaped present-day Falklands.  Its impact is inescapable here, not that we avoid it.  Very few people now use peat stoves or travel by horse, which was the norm before the war.  But, like most island communities, Falklanders can be reserved and hospitable at the same time.  Friendly, but wary that you might be disappearing on a plane in the not-too-distant future.
Silvery grebe
The tensions and issues surrounding the war (eg, sovereignty, ownership of mineral and fishing resources, etc) are, unfortunately still raising their head, or rather, being raised by the Argentine president, Christina Ferdinand de Kirchner (CFK).  And so, pressure is put on any companies that cooperate with the Falklands - whether in fishing, oil exploration or tourism.
Le Boreal, luxury cruise ship.  Sailing away......

Some companies hear the noise and stay well away from the area;  while others continue their regular operations, eg cruise ships, only to find Argentine ports are now off-limits to them, or worse, they are blockaded in a port until they agree not to visit the Falklands.
Falklands Flightless Steamer ducklings.
The latter tactic has caused the cancellation of several ships' appearances in Stanley Harbour with the inevitable hit on local services, from pubs to gift shops to tour guides.   The population of Stanley is about 2,200, and this can double when a couple of big cruise ships arrive.  The local market garden supplies most of its best produce to the ships, and more of this has been appearing in the shops in the last week.  Good for the local diet, if not the market garden.
Argentine cemetery, Darwin
I visited the Argentine cemetery last week, as part of a tour of Darwin.  Although much is now made of re-patriating those killed in action, the Falklands War was, I understand, the first when British casualties were not routinely buried near their battlefield.  British soldiers' families were given the choice of whether to bring the body home, and many took this option.   Argentine families were not given this option, possible because,  for a period after the war, it was difficult for British authorities to obtain a sensible dialogue with Argentine counterparts.
Antarctica-bound charter yachts
Eventually, it was agreed to build a cemetery on the Falklands for Argentine dead.  However, this causes issues of its own, as many Argentines see this as proof that their soldiers have been laid to rest in what is part of Argentina....Some relatives want an Argentine flag to fly over the cemetery....
Cape Pembroke Lighthouse, and Atlantic Conveyor memorial
And so, past events are shaping the present and future in the Falklands.  As a newcomer, and non-local, I'm puzzled as to how France and Germany could co-operate soon after the Second World War, and form the Common Market, and then the EU.   But, 30 years on, there is still anger, bitterness and recriminations here.  I was taught that history is usually written by the victors, but it doesn't seem to have permeated to schools in Argentina.  There, it is promulgated that the locals in the Falklands have been kept captive here by the garrison for decades, and that the islands were originally Argentine.  You can do your own homework and decide for yourself!  Suffice to say, visitors are often surprised by the number of flags with the Union Jack on it, and the cheerfulness of the locals!
Christchurch Cathedral, & Whalebone Arch.
This year, the Falklands were in the news for the visit of Prince William.  We are not expecting any high-profile visitors next year, but there will be a referendum in March on whether the Falklanders wish to keep their current political status - an Overseas Territory of the UK.  Watch this space, but I wouldn't bet too much on the outcome.  I'll probably mention the referendum again in a few weeks time, as democracy is very important here, but there are a few anomalies as to who can participate in it....
Sealion resting in downtown Stanley
But despite some drawbacks with remoteness and fresh fruit, living here is very rewarding, and I tend to carry my camera at all times, as you never know what is going to turn up from day to day.
Sealion waiting for the church on Sunday
Within a few metres of the centre of Stanley, I've seen penguins, dolphins and seals.  Typhoons and VC-10's often fly past, as well as many helicopters.
Any guesses?
And although there aren't the hundred of bird species that you find in some countries, those that are here are fairly special.  I was just cursing the neighbour's noisy cockerel again yesterday, when I heard I hint of panic in its crow.  Looking out from the kitchen window, I could see that the local vultures were taking a great interest in the chicken coop!
Turkey vulture on neighbour's hen coop.
Although I used to see suburban foxes in my garden in London, the wildlife here is just a tad more exotic.
Anyway, time to get the sun-cream on and join the carol-singers outside the Cathedral
Oh yes - we get some amazing sunsets...
When I started this blog, it was mainly to keep some dear friends and Nordic Walkers in the UK up to speed with how we were coping.  I see that the blog has now had over 10,000 hits and viewers are from all parts of the globe.  This week, Latvia is in second place after the UK!  Then it's the USA, and followed by  Russia, Peru, Brazil, Germany, France, Sweden, Ukraine!
So, wherever you are from, thanks for reading and I wish you a Peaceful Christmas and Happy New Year.
Christmas scene, Stanley
"We three King (penguins) are,
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star...."

Unfortunately, we only have Rockhopper penguins, not Kings.  Poetic licence, anyone?

Merry Christmas,



  1. Happy Christmas to you and Annie as well and all the best for your 2nd year as Our Man in the Falklands. In some ways it seems as though you have only just left us and in others as though you were among us a long long time ago but never fear we talk about you nearly every time we get together and especially when we are in need of natural history info.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Christmas greetings to you, too, Ruth. Yes, it seems we have only been here a short while. Yesterday was a strange day - the Races were cancelled due to flooding, but the food and drink laid in didn't go to waste......I'll have to vet the photos carefully.
      cheers, Peter