During my research into conformist modern culture one thing I've noticed is that it has an almost virus-like ability to transform everything it touches into a copy of itself. This is hardly surprising seeing as it has been designed by people and organizations with over a century of training in psychological warfare behind them. This concerned me so much that it became the central theme of my second novel Rockall, which is now available free online, see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/rockall-chapter-1.html. Since then I have discovered many real life analogues for the fictional setting I invented for the story, like St Kilda, which features in the story, but also
Helena, which does not.
I've never been to
St Helena, like
most people, but I can find a few things out by searching online. The small
population there, less than that of an average English town, are mostly
descended from the original British settlers and freed black African slaves.
"Saints", as they call themselves. They speak English, but with an
unusual accent, as you can see in this short video news report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV9hwjk9HQE.
As you will tell when the reporter polls the children at the island's school,
the vast majority want to leave St Helena when they grow
up. However when he asks: "How many of you would like the airport to come
to St Helena?" opinion is far more divided. St
Helena, unlike its two fellow islands in the Territory, does not
have an airport and is served only by a ship, imaginatively named RMS St Helena, which operates a shuttle
service between the island and . It's uniquely-designed to double-up
as a cargo ship, mail steamer and passenger liner. Here we see the ship's
second officer, Mia Henry, give a BBC reporter a tour of the vessel: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8466277.stm.
It's a five day voyage each way, and that's the only means of travelling to and from the
island. This is an almost exclusive situation in the world today; and it's a
trip I would love to take myself (I must admit I would also relish the prospect
of getting lost at sea with Ms Henry!). However it is a situation that will
soon come to an end; the first ever airport is being built on Cape Town, South
Helena; it is due to open in 2016, see: http://www.sainthelenaaccess.com/.
Those in favour of the airport being built make some good points, the island is
suffering from terrible economic problems and poverty is rife. To combat this,
the islanders want to make their home more accessible to tourists. RMS St Helena is also an old ship and is due
for retirement from service; if another ship has to built to replace it that
will cost a lot of money. There have been several accidents and breakdowns in
recent years which meant the ship couldn't deliver its vital supplies to the
island, and a catastrophe was only very narrowly averted. If St
Helena were ever cut off from the outside world it would be a
disaster because it needs to import most food and other essentials via the
ship, and no other vessel berthed on the island is capable of making the long
ocean voyage to safety. What's more, as the first youth who commented in the
above report describes, there are few opportunities on St Helena
for anybody with conventional ambitions or a desire for more enterprise, adventure
and variety in their life. The bright lights of the world outside shine very
brightly onto St Helena and they must be as seductive to
the "Saints" as they were to the people of St Kilda a hundred years
I don't think it is for me to judge; I don't live on
and never have. I can't really put myself in their shoes. Nevertheless it is a
simple fact that once the airport is opened in two years time St Helena
will change beyond all recognition. One of the last places on Earth with a long
sea voyage between it and the rest of civilization will come to and end. The
advantages of this are obvious: easier access to goods and services that cannot
be produced on the island itself; the ability to travel to anywhere else on
Earth in the time it takes to walk from one end of St Helena to the other; a
massive tourist boom bringing much-needed hard capital into the island's economy...
and of course, all the luscious enchantments of conformist modern culture. We could
one day see a branch of McDonalds open in central , a Tesco convenience store in the grounds of Longwood
House. Justin Bieber might hold an open air concert in the beautiful restored forests
around Diana's Peak; and Simon Cowell will be arriving on the first plane to
land at the airport to see if St Helena's Got Talent. There are many ways to assess
human well-being in this world. One of them is material wealth and financial
security, property, reputation, status over others; according to conventional
wisdom these are the only ways, The...
One... Goal. However, I can tell by listening to the second and third
interviewees at the school, the next generation of Jamestown St Helena's
people do have an awareness of other values: individual beauty, distinctiveness,
heritage, legacy, identity, environment, a love of the home and community. They fear for these values in the wake of the changes brought by the airport. Perhaps these
people have learnt from the mistakes of the St Kildans; this shrunken, shrivelled
and uniform world in which we live has many wonders and delights and a lot of
safety and security... for some... but after a while we may ask why it is that
everywhere we go we just see the same things reflecting back at us again and
again, like a monotonous hall of mirrors. Conformist modern culture might be
enjoyable, but it comes with a price. People of St Helena...
do you think it's worth it?