A VERY BRITISH WELCOME


I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog about living in Bim. But sometimes, for reasons well beyond my control, I do reluctantly have to leave paradise. We are all here in freezing London for a few weeks. All except our Jack, who would be quarantined for six months if he tried to enter the UK. The Husband has some work here and claimed he could not manage a month without his family. The vows I took did mention something about till death, blah, blah, blah. However, any application of the rules of statutory interpretation would suggest he is pushing his luck asking us to leave Barbados when it is at its most glorious to spend a month in cold, damp, windy, grey London. A month in some Tuscan village during the balmy month of June…now that’s a whole different proposition. Then it would be my wifely desire, nay duty, to stand by my man.

On the bright side, London at any time offers the chance to enjoy the company of friends I have missed so much and to vacuum up some cultural offerings. For the kids it is sushi heaven. And our house here is still a home – only things are not quite the same. Every time something falls on the floor I rush to pick it up before Jack tries to chew it. But Jack does not live here. And many of our favorite things no longer occupy their familiar places. Second Born, for example, insisted life was not worth living unless he had his piano. So we shipped the piano to Barbados. Then The Husband was missing his favorite chair. So that got shipped. And so it went on with each of us missing some essential object, like books, or a favorite painting, to make Barbados feel more like home. Now we are back in London many of the essential things we thought signified home have been transported to the small rock. We are left with a house that feels by turns both heimlich and unheimlich. It is time to let go and move on with our lives.

We have however brought our personal ray of Bajan sunshine with us. Andre has made his first long haul flight and arrived in the UK to have a vacation and to help a little with the boys while I make some artwork. He almost did not come. First we had to persuade him that the odds of the plane crashing were less than him dying in a car crash. The poor love apparently did not sleep a wink during the flight for fear of flying. Then he arrived at Gatwick on one of the coldest March days ever. Even with my dad’s winter coat on he said his private bits felt they had abandoned him. We sent a driver to meet his 6 am flight and bring him quickly to our warm home. But the immigration authorities had other ideas.

Apparently a black, male, Barbadian cannot ordinarily enter the UK. One with a paid return ticket, a family back in Barbados, a place to stay in London, a professional British family sponsoring him and vouching for all his expenses, may only enter after being cross-examined, in a hostile manner, for FOUR hours. During this time they also phoned The Husband and gave him the third degree. How much did he earn? When did he buy the house in London? On what basis is he British?

During his four hours in the tender care of the UK authorities Andre said he was very cold and asked if he could have a hot cup of tea or coffee. They refused. He asked if he could be moved to a warmer room. They refused. When he started to walk around to keep warm he was firmly told to sit quietly on the hard bench. Finally he asked if he could just use his return ticket or his cash to get the #@*% out of this country on the next flight, his desire to see Buckingham Palace and Chelsea Football ground having evaporated. At that point they said they were minded to let him enter the UK but if he stayed even a day over his visa they “would come and find him”. Welcome to Britain. One wonders if a young, male, Australian backpacker, with little money, and no idea where they would be spending that night, would be subject to the same welcome.

After such an awful start we have been trying to make it up to him by introducing him to the wonderful English people we know – all of whom are appalled that the immigration service should carry out their job in such a zealous fashion and with such a lack of basic human decency. The weather has not helped and within a day of his arrival it started to snow. I thought he would pack his bags there and then. Instead I heard him whooping,
“Snow! Snow! I didn’t tink I go see snow! Persaud, where yuh? Leh we go outside!”
I declined. However he and the little ones bundled up with scarves and gloves and played with snow falling around them for the better part of an hour.

Things have steadily improved. Andre is no longer wearing a woolly hat and scarf inside the house. He has even been coaxed into a little sightseeing and the odd museum. The past few days he has been to stay with a family he knows in Canterbury. After visiting Chaucer’s old stomping grounds, and seeing new lambs being born on a farm, he has decided England isn’t half bad. Given what he’s been through I doubt I would have been as forgiving.

MACOING ON DE ROCK

‘Tis “the season” to be jolly on our small rock. Visitor numbers peak as the winter birds settle into their villa nests on the West coast. Those who cannot afford to nest here from November through to April make the pilgrimage for a week or two as a brief escape from the punishing northern winter. We put on major cultural shows for them – international culture rather than the stuff that makes up our other major local culture event, Crop Over. This being little England we particularly thrive on a little of the English cultural and social scene. Winter birds want to be able to report back to the less fortunate of Abergavenny and Aldershot that they did not miss out on anything and they got a tan. You saw Much Ado About Nothing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Festival Hall, London? We did it at Holders Festival in a Globe Theatre, London production. Wish you were there darling!

Holders Festival is always held at Wendy Kidd’s home, Holders House, a 17th century plantation, high on Holders Hill and overlooking the polo grounds and Sandy Lane’s Green Monkey golf course. It has the ambiance of Glyndebourne opera in Sussex, minus the compulsory black tie stuffiness. Even if you are not a culture vulture it is worth going to the Festival just to wonder around the exquisite grounds on a warm evening, preferably with a lover and some wine. (If you have just dumped the lover or heaven forbid, been dumped, it is entirely appropriate to drink directly from the bottle.)

In keeping with the international flavour of the Festival this year we were treated to the classical sounds of the Montreal Guitar Trio, from, I assume, Montreal. From Guinea we had the high-energy sounds and dance of excellent Naly Kouyate. There is always an afternoon devoted to children as well as the romantic, Poetry on the Gallery night, for the more literary minded. My personal favorites remain the comedy acts, this year featuring the ever popular Kit and the Widow and, on another evening, the excellent Chicago’s 2nd City Touring Company. Mixed in between are a variety of local performers – many having their first international exposure through the patronage of Holders. If you missed this year don’t sweat. There are at least two flights a day from London to Bimshire and next year will be as fabulous and glamorous as ever.

It is all held en plein air so you have to go prepared for the odd downpour. On the evening with the Chicago comedy company the heavens opened – dampening seats but not spirits. Indeed we simply passed the spirits to forget the rain. Liza and I had turned up empty handed so we put on our best impression of sad and hungry orphans. It worked. Sonia, a generous Italian madre, opened her heart and picnic basket, fed us yummy canapés, strawberries and poured us too much wine. And back at our seats, J and P, sitting in the row behind, insisted we have some chocolates. Liza is clearly my lucky charm.

At Holders that evening I also learnt that this blog is gaining popularity on our small rock. As I attempted a half-dignified walk back to my seat, each step of my heels churning up wet mud and flicking it onto my trousers, I overheard a woman hissing to her companion, “That’s the blog lady!” Yikes, I really must start wearing makeup and posh frocks. I am only two letters away from being “That’s the bag lady!” And I don’t think they will be referring to my Birkin.

You see Barbados in season is really one extended cocktail reception for the privileged but with subtle differences from the London scene and even from the Port-of-Spain crowd. In London today, as befits the world’s financial trading centre, hard cash gets you into the elite crowd. It is made up of celebrities (rated A to D) money (London property, American hedge fund or Russian oil) and those who prostitute their aristocratic past and title to the nouveau riche. Consequently, there are a whole slew of players on the fluid periphery of the elite, in constant flux, once their Warholian fifteen minutes of fame are over. So knowing who are the current “in” crowd, where they hang out, and who’s who takes some research lest you make an embarrassing mistake.

Perhaps the Brits could simplify their lives by heeding the example of post-colonial Trinidad where people are segregated, not by money, but by banner. At major events my people erect huge signs saying “PUBLIC”, “VIP”, “VVIP” or, confirming that straightforward fame isn’t what it used to be, “VVVIP”. You confirm to yourself and the rest of the world your status depending on which threshold you are invited to cross. Bim, by contrast has such a stable social strata that they dispense with signs or symbols of money. Everyone simply knows the elite. There is no big mystery. At Holders, for example, Simpson Motors, distributors of Mercedes Benz, had a champagne tent. The elite were all there waving to each other. Wannabees or plain Shaquan and Shontelle could be spotted at ten paces. Bajans are very proud of this set-in-concrete social set up.

Non-Trinidadians might consider this forensic detail about social strata a little obsessive, but of course it is all a matter of genetics. When scientists finally get round to the DNA sequencing of a Trini, the smart money says that they will discover that we have a special gene called the “MACO” gene. Just so you don’t get confused, MACO is not an acronym for Mars Atmospheric Constellation Observatory or Military Assault Command Operations. The most succinct definition I have found is from izatrini.com who states that a Maco is a person who minds other people's business for the purpose of gossip. e.g. "Wha yuh macoing so for?" A person exhibiting a tendency to maco is macocious. So as I do more of these social events of “the season”, I am fast becoming the No.1 Lady Maco of Small Rock. I am even thinking of changing the name of this blog to Macoing Wha Happening On De Small Rock. If you think you might have the maco gene yourself, and my observations are inadequate, then may I recommend you find inspiration from one of the world’s best “glossies” - called of course, MACO.

THE CURIOUS LIFE OF A SLACKER


Many readers of this blog have sent me nice emails saying how much they enjoy it and how much they look forward to the belly laughs it provides. Well nothing funny happened this week. It’s been a serious, humourless week – the kind Calvinists would think we sinners deserve.

I am in Miami staying at a hotel near the airport. I don’t hear the planes except between precisely 5 and 6am when the flight path closest to the hotel seems to be in use. The hotel itself is an anonymous, faceless, concrete monstrosity. Its saving grace is that it is a manageable size and the staff genuinely nice. Grey light is filtered through curtains of an indeterminate shade of white. I turn on every light in my room to try to alleviate the lack of natural, bright light that my island eyes now crave.

Time has already lost its usual meaning and normal rhythm. Without the anchor of family life I am free. I am free to sleep all day and write all night if I want to. Instead of savouring the freedom I feel lost and drift through this city that I don’t understand. It is 11pm on Wednesday night. I have left friends at a fashionable bar on South Beach and decide to walk a few extra blocks before catching a cab back to the twilight zone of my hotel. I pass an impossibly thin woman self-consciously walking down the street. She is walking exactly as she has been taught she must on the catwalk. Didn’t anyone remember to tell the child that, apart from the catwalk, six inch heels are only for the journey from valet parked car to bar? Of course there are a few other uses for those heels but I’ll leave that for, ahem, another sort of blog.

The only anchor I do find in this city is Vinnie’s daily breakfast salon that takes place at Jim’s East Side Diner on Biscayne and 72nd. I started coming here on my last visit with Vinnie and continue to be welcomed. Perhaps because he is such an extraordinary man, one who has managed to be a medical doctor, artist and composer, he attracts extraordinary people. I have met every walk of life – from billionaire playboys to ballet dancers, artists, personal trainers and musicians all vying to be part of his inner sanctum. The conversation is intense as it always is when V. is involved. In three days we have covered the contribution of Jesuits to society in Guam, the bastardization of Italian cuisine in the US, Vinnie’s new music score, as well as living in the time of Obama and fifty ways to leave your Facebook friends.

It must be Vinnie because the diner is a dive - one with oodles of old-world charm – but a dive nevertheless. On my first visit I complained that the blueberries atop my pile of pancakes had come from a tin and the tea from a bag and a misshapen metal jug of hot water. Bruno, a linguist-turned-singer/composer, sitting next to me, gently takes my hand, “Honey, we know The Husband has spoilt you with posh restaurants but this is where the whores have their breakfast between tricks so eat the tinned berries and drink your tea without causing a scene.” Today I know I have gained some sort of acceptance when Shorty (yes, she insists on that name), the regular server, triumphantly placed fresh strawberries on the side of my pancakes. We have no idea how she managed this feat. Of course the syrup is still no relation to the maple variety but every bite of these pancakes, every sip of tea, brings more happiness than anything a Michelin-starred establishment could offer.

Once breakfast is over we scatter to different parts of the city. Many will be off to the gym. Miami is a city where everyone works hard at being beautiful. There is true dedication and commitment to keeping lithe, tanned and moisturised – and that’s just the boys. Halfway through eating sushi with a friend on Lincoln Road I realize he might be sitting next to me but he is not really present. He is preoccupied - ogling the parade of chiseled-boned, scantily clad, talent that passes our table. I would like to be annoyed but that would be a bit mean spirited. After all, this unending stream of youthfulness is walking along precisely to be admired for their devotion to the body beautiful. And in keeping with the pace of city life there is a fair amount of multitasking going on. One gentleman was keeping his metabolic rate up, taking his pet for some fresh air, and still managing to show off his pectorals and biceps, by roller blading down the street, without a shirt on, while holding his pet rooster in his hand.

I am not multitasking, rushing, or being my normal, anxious self. My days here have become one long, Situationist-style, derive - a rudderless drift from one part of the city to the next based on arbitrary factors. I find an exhibition in the Design District that catches my eye and wonder over to it. It features a solo show by a Greek artist using her subversive stitching to comment on the role of women in modern society. A young woman sits behind a desk in the gallery, her desk piled high with papers. I ask if she has any more information on the artist and the works on display. I assume this is a standard request as all the work is on sale. No, she hasn’t got a scrap. I find a typed up blurb pasted to a wall at the back of the gallery and ask if she has copies of this. No copies but she kindly makes one for me to take away. We chat a little. I ask if she is left or right handed. Her dominant hand is the left so I use this information to turn left out of the gallery.

From there I drift through more galleries and walk through different ethnic neighbourhoods soaking in the sights, smells and endless traffic. Most of the galleries have ostentatious art – the big stuff that you buy to match the sofa and paintwork of your waterside villa. Is there no edgy underbelly of work being made that is searching to understand what it means to be human? I see a cab and decide to take it. We head north to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The neighbourhood looks rough and MOCA dark and deserted. I pay the cab, but very touchingly, my Columbian cab driver says he will not leave until he sees me safely enter the museum. It is unexpectedly closed to facilitate installing a new show and I am grateful that he is there to take me some place. Any place.

I ask him what he would do if he had an hour this afternoon to himself. Without hesitation he says he would go to the mall. A man who understands the value of retail therapy is a rare find and I give him a big tip as I get off at the Bloomingdale’s entrance to a vast complex of shops. The choices are too overwhelming and two hours later I leave with only a small box of strawberries dipped in chocolate.

Back at the hotel I reread and edit what I have written during this interlude from ordinary life. None of it is good. I ring Kate in London, a proper writer, working on her third book. She is encouraging as always and has me in stitches with tales of a relative who has her bridal registry at a store selling all kinds of fishing tackle.

One last night of fitful sleep and I am back in the arms of American Airlines heading to a small rock where two little boys I am in love with have just finished losing a football game 7 nil. I am drifting off to sleep when the person next to me asks the flight attendant for a pillow. Without a hint of a smile she barks back that she has not seen one on board since 2001. I fall asleep with a smile – I haven’t had a week like this since before 2001.

TICK-TOCK, TICK-TOCK: CAUGHT IN BIM’S TIME MACHINE

Having one Mr. Persaud in my life is a challenge. Two Mr. P.’s is downright exhausting. And I blame the Manny, Andre. He was dissatisfied with the level of cricket coaching the kids were receiving at a prestigious cricket club I had fought with charm and chequebook to get them into.
“Man, it have a foreign in charge. I eh sure he ever see a cricket match in he life. My boys too good fuh dat. Yuh want dem gine dere yuh go have to take dem yuhself.”
I told him to find me an alternative.

So he brought me Mr. Persaud, cricket coach extraordinaire affiliated with the equally prestigious Progressive Cricket Club. Operating with supreme confidence, Coach Persaud initially insisted on a “no-win no fee” arrangement. He believes in the twins and will claim his reward when they open for the West Indies under-16 team. The Husband is inclined to agree. Both men point out that Second Born (by three minutes) at age seven, already bats straight and with assured elegance. First Born is clearly going to be a world-class fast bowler. Such is the distorting filter of paternal love or blind ambition.

Frankly, this twin dream ticket has as much chance as Clinton and Huckerbee being running mates. The twins’ ambitions do not coincide with that of the two Mr. Persauds. First Born has already determined that his destiny lies in a mixture of football, car racing as well as writing and art (bless). Second Born wants to be a surfer. He also has great memories of a short stint living in Venice and wants to drive a similar boat-taxi taking kids to school from the west coast to Bridgetown. And let’s face it; Mr. P. is just a coach, not a miracle man. In the end I have persuaded him to take his reward in the present and qué sera, sera.

The quid pro quo he has exacted is that we must all sit down after each session for an analysis of the boys’ performance and progress. He is so enthusiastic that this postmortem can last as long as, or even longer than, the actual two hour coaching session. I now simply invite him to stay for lunch so we do not starve while he makes First Born identify Silly Mid On and Silly Mid Off, or have Second Born explain the Duckworth-Lewis Method. We usually have some home cooking - my mom’s home cooked roti, curried chicken and vegetables. And speaking of home cooking, we have taken to having a wonderful Bajan Sunday lunch, every chance we get, at the Atlantis Hotel on the East Coast. It is tucked away in a space where time moves slowly - a lost, crumbling, magical site overlooking the sea. It is no wonder the writer George Lamming has made Atlantis his home. Last Sunday I engineered seating two tables away from the great man himself and tried really hard not to spend the whole time staring with groupie eyes at him. Sigh.

My revenge for living with three cricket-mad men – actually four males, as puppy Jack likes to field in the slips - is to make the whole family tag along to a polo match. I have no particular interest in polo but it is a major part of “the season” in Bim and I thought we should attend one match. And this being a small rock we soon find we know a goodly portion of these good folks seated in front the clubhouse at the beautiful Lion Castle polo grounds. Unlike cricket where games can be impromptu events, staged with anything that can work as a bat and any ball handy, polo requires real preparation and capital outlay.

The Husband made up his mind to hate polo and within minutes of arriving looked bored beyond belief. I tried to cheer him up with champagne. No, he had a headache. (I thought that was my line?) “But darling” I said. “It is a beautiful afternoon. We are in these magnificent grounds with our babies and lots of friends around. Surely you can manage a little smile?” Nada. Then I remembered. He’s English. When an Englishman is grumpy there is only one thing that will make the world right again. I dashed off and returned with tea and cucumber sandwiches. Two sips of Earl Gray later he flashed me a look of pure love and was delightful company for the rest of the afternoon. And they call us the weaker sex.

Kind Jeff was on hand to explain the intricacies of polo - from choosing the type of pony (small, fast, intelligent) to the players (rich, highly skilled, and often following a family tradition). The rules of the game are simple and the commentary was lively and full of interjections like,
“And there goes Lucy Taylor, large and in charge. Yes, large and in charge.”
Soon the kids were cheering the (losing) visitors from Cheshire, because mummy, they have come all the way from England and are wearing Man United colours. And they had a girl in the saddle. That to me is the most interesting fact: men and women compete together in a way they do not in any other sport.

But polo is not about the ponies. Whatever else they say, both chukkaholics and chukka wannabees are here for one thing. They want to be part of the heady mixture of the corporate, media and fashion worlds that collide on the steps of the clubhouse. Polo is one big catwalk with everyone vying to see and be seen. I met only two people who were there because of an interest in the sport – apart from the PM who looked a little too engrossed in every swing of every mallet. The true logic of polo is that if someone is prepared to spend a fortune on a stable of Argentinean-bred, highly trained ponies, then they are loaded enough to want to spend it buying more diamonds, or Breitling watches or invest in that land you want to develop into luxury townhouses. And if all you have to sell is your carefully acquired tan, then this is the market place to strut your stuff. “We met at the polo club” still trumps “we met in a chat room”.

I left polo thinking this was the end of my touch with equestrian sports for 2008 but by Wednesday I was back with the horsey crowd. The lovely Shawn was patiently listening to my plans for an artwork that involved research on the plantation house at Congo Road, St. Phillip. I hit small rock luck again. Shawn rides at this very place several times a week and was competing in an international dressage competition being held at Congo Road. She invited me to watch her compete and be introduced to the present incumbents of the plantation. In one swoop I had the access I needed to make my art and a chance to see her in action.

But it is sheer loyalty to Shawn that made me watch three, long hours of dressage from 8:30am on a Wednesday morning. She was terrific, coming second in her category, although I think she would have preferred a polite clap rather than my chants of “Go girlfriend! Go girlfriend!” at this most genteel of events. But even her performance was not enough to keep me from rapidly losing the will to live. At polo you can at least have enough alcohol to numb the effects of boredom. Here they have a few soft drinks and water on sale. And unlike polo there are probably less than twenty people who compete so I was hanging with hard-core riders. So, no glamour, no alcohol, no rich uncles, no blonde babes, no politicians or clergy, no one arriving by helicopter and no exchange of business cards or bodily fluids. It’s just these people dressed very formally in clothes of another era, making the horses do some weird little circuit, trotting and turning in the middle of the countryside on this exquisite plantation.

When we first moved here The Husband would say that it was like moving from London to a village in Sussex. I called him in Zurich to say I finally understood. We are living in Sussex. Circa 1930.