Friday, 21 October 2016

St. Helena Airport: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

The St Helena Independent, October 21st 2016

Sometime this afternoon an Avro RJ100 is scheduled to land on St Helena. It will be using the shorter 02 runway, which avoids the major windshear problems which have caused the postponement of commercial flights. This involves landing with a tailwind, which apparently the Avro RJ100 is highly suitable for.

The Avro RJ100 is capable of carrying up to 98 passengers, though this afternoon's flight will have only 15 on board. The plane is being organised by Atlantic Star Airlines, who have long been involved in planning commercial flights from Europe to St. Helena. They have secured the services of two experienced Faroe Islands pilots. The flight should provide valuable information about wind conditions on St. Helena, and it at last offers some prospect of a resolution to the problem.

The flight began in Zurich, and made technical stops in the United Arab Emirates, Senegal and Ascension. Tomorrow it is scheduled to fly to Brazil, then Uruguay and finally to Chile. In the long run maybe it will be possible to make a combined a trip to St. Helena and Latin America. I certainly hope so.

I am keeping my fingers crossed. The Saints have had enough disappointments this year to last several lifetimes.

Postscript : The plane landed at 3.50 this afternoon.

Avro RJ100 arriving at St Helena Airport, 21st October 2016

According to the Governor's post on Facebook the plane took off again and landed into the wind with no problems. Hats off to Atlantic Star Airlines for their perseverance and commitment to the island.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

St Helen Airport - Napoleon's Revenge?

A first for St. Helena Airport: two planes side by side

The sight of two planes on the tarmac at the island's £290 million pound airport might seem encouraging. Alas one was hired by the airport contractors, and the other was removing someone for medical treatment.

It is nice to know that the airport is usable, although unfortunately not by the commercial aircraft it was designed for. Small planes can land, but the cost for tourists and certainly island residents would be prohibitive.

The economic cost to the island is tremendous. Its whole future was predicated on an expansion of tourism to remove its dependence on subsidy by the British Government.

The Legislative Council has discussed setting up an enquiry to find out who was responsible for this catastrophic decision. Whether it will ever happen is another matter. It would be tremendously costly, would probably not come to a clear conclusion, and would not in any way help to solve St. Helena's problems. It would simply confirm the prejudices of those who live on the island about the incompetence of the "white ants" i.e. expatriates, who are sent to govern them on what seem inflated salaries.

The problem, as most readers of this blog will know is windshear, which the Prime Minister was warned about at the time the decision to build the airport was made. The Guardian has published a useful diagram.

At some point the Government will have to make a decision: invest a lot of money to try and find a technical solution or build a new Royal Mail ship. The favourite technical solution seems to be take the top off one or maybe two nearby mountains! I have a horrible feeling that that might not end well!

Meanwhile the press in the UK and France has started to give the story some publicity. I would be surprised if there are not a few smiles on the continent post the Brexit referendum about another highly embarrassing British cock-up. Some on social media have described it as Napoleon's revenge, which seems a bit hard on the long suffering Saints.

The Daily Mail has published an image which is I guess worth a thousand words.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Queen Victoria's Visit to Napoleon's Tomb

Queen Victoria at the Tomb of Napoleon, 24 August 1855, by Edward Matthew Ward

Queen Victoria's official visit to France during the reign of Napoleon III was the first by an English/British monarch since 1520, and indeed Britain's claims to the throne of France had only been given up as recently as 1801.

During her stay in Paris she visited the tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides. This little known painting from the Royal Collection was commissioned by Queen Victoria and completed in 1860. With the Queen on this occasion were Prince Albert, the Princess Royal and the young Prince of Wales. They were accompanied by Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie.

The Queen apparently put her hand on the young prince's shoulder and told him to kneel down before the tomb of the "Great Napoleon." At that moment there was a huge clap of thunder and a deluge of rain, and the organist struck up the national anthem. "Strange and wonderful indeed!" was the Queen's comment!

In her diary she recorded

It seems as if in this tribute of respect to a departed and great foe, old enmities and rivalries were wiped out, and the seal of heaven placed upon that bond of amity which is now happily established between two great Nations! May heaven bless and prosper it. (1)

It is a fact that since that time France and the United Kingdom have never come to blows, although frequently there has been little love lost. The young Prince of Wales became a great francophile, and as King had some influence over the development of the Entente Cordiale of 1904.

1. Quoted in, David Baldwin,Royal Prayer: A Surprising History (London 2009) pp 55-56.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The Airport Debacle: "How ever did they win [the war]?"

St Helena Independent, July 21st 2016

I don't keep up with what goes on in Parliament, but the St. Helena Independent has confirmed the conclusions I came to in my most recent post on the St. Helena airport: the extended period of test flights to prove the viability of the design never took place, or to be more precise, they were condensed into a single day in 2006. Also the flights recommended after the completion of the airport were not considered necessary because, according to Baroness Anelay, the new DfD Minister, the runway had been extended by 150 metres. Neither the Independent nor I can figure out how this was supposed to remove the problems of windshear.

In one of my favourite episodes of Fawlty Towers a group of German tourists visits Basil Fawlty's shambolic hotel in Torquay, and at the end of the visit one of them asks how on earth the UK won the war? Following the Brexit fiasco, no plan if the country voted to leave, the Chilcot report on Iraq, no post-invasion plan whatsoever, and now the St. Helena Airport fiasco, I am despairing of the amateurism which seems to encapsulate the way the UK and its dependencies are governed. I can understand why the U.S. Secretary of State found it hard to keep a straight face at the joint press conference held with our new Foreign Secretary.

Legion d'honneur: Award for Michel Dancoisne-Martineau

First Legion d'Honneur Investiture, 1804 - painting by Jean Baptist Debret (1812)

The Legion of Honour, first instituted by Napoleon in 1802 is the pre-eminent merit award in France. It was from the beginning a secular award, and unlike pre-revolutionary titles and awards, open to all ranks of society.

It is very pleasing to hear that on July 14th, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau was awarded the rank of chevalier (Knight) to add to his previous award, Chevalier Ordre national du Mérite in 2011.

This is a fitting recognition of Michel's work on St. Helena, culminating in the successful exhibition in Paris this year.

Michel's adoptive father Gilbert Martineau, who preceded Michel on St. Helena, was awarded and O.B.E by the British Government, as well as a number of French awards, including Commander in the national Order of Merit and Officer in the National order of the Legion of Honor.

I have long felt that the British Government should have given Michel some recognition of the contribution he has made to the island, above and beyond his work with the French national properties, over the past 25 years. The list that I know of includes the following: work with the National Trust, particularly safeguarding the area around the heart shaped waterfall; animal welfare; teaching French in St. Andrews School; provision of allotments to Saints at the Briars; a major contribution to employment and training on the island. I could have added having to suffer impoliteness and too often sheer rudeness from a number of British tourists!

I don't think many Saints fully appreciate how lucky they have been to have him there.