Saturday, 10 March 2012

Life on Tristan

Social Life

Tristanian society is very sociable, caring and close-knit. Families are extended and friends will have known each other all their lives. Everyone knows everyone. (What you'd expect in an isolated population of just 280!)  Old folk are looked after by their families. And children have a very special place on Tristan. Everyone watches out for them.

Friends and family help each other whenever there is major work to do. Like working in the patches (allotments), sheep shearing or something more major like house renovation or building. People are always dropping in for a chat – often with a couple beers for the hosts.  Such is Tristan generosity that when I go visiting I seldom leave empty handed. I've very kindly been given all sorts of things - cakes, eggs, fish, vegetables - even entire meals!

The Albatross is the focus for much socializing. The outside tables are popular on sunny Sunday afternoons or warm evenings - especially with the young crowd.  Inside men stand chatting at the bar whilst women prefer the comfortable chairs. A TV goes unwatched in the corner.

The Saturday night dances in the village hall next door are always fun. They are very lively and a bit like dances at weddings back home - with a weird selection of music and folk of all ages. Kids dance with parents and grandparents and children tear around playing with each other.

There is a Café beside the swimming pool which opens late afternoons.  But it’s not the sort of café that sells tea or coffee (well unless there are tourists on the island). Tristanians don’t go out for tea and coffee. Rather it sells beers and spirits and soft drinks for the kids.

TV & Radio

I mentioned TV. Reception is pretty ropey but on a good day there are two channels: BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) 1 & 2. Which are selections from the five main UK channels designed for 18-30 year old squaddies. Lots of sport, reality TV programs, soaps, quizzes and films. A weekly diet of Eastenders, Top Gear and Tool Academy! Weekends are particularly dire when there are often two channels of sport and virtually no news. On weekdays I watch BBC1 Six o'clock news and have enjoyed Frozen Planet and Downtown Abbey - some of the better offerings. Strangely we get the local news, travel and weather for London.  Seems odd to hear about traffic jams on the M25 on Tristan, a place where the phrase is seldom heard!

There is a radio station on VHF FM. BFBS Radio - except for two hours on a Sunday morning when it becomes Atlantic Radio with local programming and news. BFBS Radio itself is a lot like Radio 1 but even more puerile.  For intelligent radio I occasionally listen to the news or ‘From our own correspondent’ on BBC World Service on a small Sony radio attached to long-wire aerial over the garden. There is usually a good signal from the BBC transmitters on Ascension.

The Rectory

The Rectory, with the 700m high escarpment beyond.
Several people have asked where I’m staying on the island. Well I’ve got a three bedroom self-catering detached house.  The third bedroom has been converted to an office – and we use that as the project office and we use the second bedroom as a camping equipment and food store. The house is one of the closest to the sea.  It’s between The Residency, the Administrator’s house, and the ‘main street’ with the Island Store and government offices and workshops. It would normally be occupied by the Anglican priest but the position has been vacant for almost two years now. Apparently it is hard to recruit clergy to tend such lonely flocks.

View from the front door
The Sun

Frequent stormy weather can make it easy to forget that Tristan is near the equator. A similar latitude in the northern hemisphere would be North Africa. So the sun and its UV are intense.  Almost every day I wear a sunhat and sun cream. I carry lip sun block at all times and re-apply it regularly – but even then it is easy to get burnt – especially when it’s too windy to wear hats.  As an extra precaution I’ve only cut my hair once in 6 months.

The Sky at Night

On a clear night the southern sky is fascinating – quite different from our northern hemisphere night sky.  And there can be few places with less atmospheric pollution than Tristan for a pristine view.  Sadly the settlement has streetlights. These go off at midnight - except for a particularly bright one at the end of my garden!  Occasionally when camping on the base I have seen and been awestruck by the stunning clarity of the sky at night: the Milky Way with more stars than I've ever seen before!

PS I'd have taken a photo of the Milky Way if I could but here are a couple more photos of the house instead:


  1. Hello Jim. Just received your postcard - sent on the 24 Feb - so less than a month to get here. That's pretty quick I reckon. Many thanks! I'm now having a wee swatch at your blog. What an amazing experience. Delighted to be CBR-sitting for you. Cheers just now. Derek

    1. Hello Derek. It IS pretty amazing here. But I'm looking forward to home and getting the motorbike on the road - especially now that spring seems to have arrived in Edinburgh (Scotland) - and winter seems to have arrived in Edinburgh (Tristan da Cunha)! Thanks again. Cheers. Jim

  2. Re: your seeing Milky Way stars - I was at the McDonald Observatory in Texas (also little atmospheric pollution) a few weeks ago and saw a cluster of half a million stars in Milky Way. Boggles the mind. I imagine an observatory on Tristan would be amazing - it being so isolated.