'That's a great deal to make one word mean,'
Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,'
said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'
Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass
I place the blame for the demise of Freddie and Fannie, or Dick and Doris, or whatever these bankers call themselves, squarely at the feet of the American Society of Dialect. When they voted “subprime” Word Of The Year 2007, they should have known a word that has changed its meaning over a few short decades would exact revenge. What once related to lending below the now defunct prime interest rate has morphed into a term describing lending to people who are subprime in credit rating terms. And what screwed up revenge it has exacted. So The Brothers fall and we are expected to cushion the landing because … why exactly? They enjoyed the million dollar bonuses so why should we pay for the losses when it all comes crashing down? Well, say the low life bankers, shaking their heads most severely, don’t help us and the financial system will collapse. Yeah, like am I bothered?? Well I wasn’t until, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would you look at what is happening. We didn’t save the greedy suits and now the system is collapsing.
So the world is in free fall. And what has occupied us on this small rock? The fifteenth Caribbean Gift and Craft Show. Everywhere I turn there is danger and chaos. The Americans might elect a nasty old guy and his stupid, banshee running mate. Contaminated Chinese milk products are probably being imbibed by the poorest in Africa with no hope of recall before they experience more death and sickness. The Tamil Tigers are on a bombing spree and an earthquake has rocked Tibet. But we soldier on determined to find the next must-have locally made gifts and crafts.
Now there are two types of gifts. There are the “oh you shouldn’t have” gifts which you stare at with a fixed smile and, with bated breath, search for the elusive, enclosed gift receipt. Then there are the “oh baby, come closer let me thank you properly” kind of gifts that have you whooping with delight. Let’s just say that if you gave any of the bowls, masks or key chains on display at this fair, fashioned, for that authentic, local, touch, out of coconut, you’ll get weeping not whooping. And the worse part for me is that I had agreed to give over two full days to join a panel of judges doling out various awards at said trade fair. The other judges, two Canadians flown in, and two Bajans on the ground, were a delight to work with and about ten percent of the stuff on display was actually pretty good. But as Tanty Merle’s nephew would declare, “never me again in dat”. Perhaps the whole experience is best encapsulated by the tote bag organizers gave to visitors. It was proudly “made in China” and the stitching on the steams fell apart within an hour of gentle use.
Gift production aside, it is wonderful to be living in paradise, greeted by blue skies and even bluer seas as I do the school run. But is the price of paradise isolation? Of course I have wi-fi that reaches every corner of the garden; the FT is delivered by 6am every day and when desperate I have even been known to talk to The Husband. But this is isolation from a dialogue with the rest of the world that no virtual social space can replace. It is a sense of being in a place that is deliberately, willfully, out of sync with anything beyond its immediate context. It is as if by denying this dialogue we can cease to be part of it.
In exchange for this denial First Born and Second Born were able yesterday to swim in cool waters after school, run around naked chasing a bemused Jack and hide in a gully collecting “ancient bones”. The Husband sat in the garden and communed with the world on urgent matters from his laptop ahead of his trips to Washington, New York and London to debate the financial crisis. My job is to complete the various art projects and writing I am committed to as well as project manage the building works on our tired house. But mainly I have been staring into the middle distance wondering why I am here and not there.
And that is when the accident occurred. Three cars ahead of us bumped and crashed into each other forming a neat daisy chain of crumbled metal. Luck and vorsprung durch technik saved us from being a part of the pile up in which thankfully no one was hurt. But as we passed by we could not help but be riveted by the scene. That’s when I understood why we live and thrive on this small rock. When you live in the centre you can’t help but get caught up in the frenzy. In London today I would have listened to the news over and over as banks in Iceland collapsed – all with the same ghoulish interest as looking at the aftermath of a car crash. But being here, so far from the epicentre, provides a chance to absorb that information and try to think it through, maybe even get a little perspective on the whole subprime mess. And that chance at perspective, dear reader, is reason No. 356 why you really ought to try a stint at life on this small rock.