WANTED: ONE ARK AND SOMEONE TO PART THE WATERS

I had not seen anything like it before. The roads that are my normal route into Holetown on the west coast of this small rock, had, within the space of a few, short hours, turned into a fast flowing river with water covering the car tyres. I tuned into talk radio to keep my panic from rising as rapidly as the water. The always entertaining, aptly titled, Talk Yuh Talk, our version of Radio Four’s The Today Show, was in full swing discussing the very problems I was steeped in. Even better, the host was doing a live interview with a lady from an official sounding institution mandated to deal with disaster relief. Our host noted she was speaking from her mobile rather than a land line.
“Well, I in de car near Holetown and tings not looking good at all.”
‘So, if you not in de office, who in charge?” the host inquired, his panic rising.
“Well, Mr. G. dere. And Miss A. does usually get in early. Although, now she have a lil chile so I not sure she get in early today. But she does usually get in early. Excuse me ah minute. Mister, if yuh move up a little den we could pass. Yes, move up a little. Okay, I here again.”
“So, are you managing to get through with this rain?
“Well, my son here wid me and he say I cahn pass… No, I cahn pass. It look like I go jus have to wait dis one out.”
“Well stay on the air while we take some calls and perhaps you can provide insight into how we can best cope with the really terrible rains we are experiencing today.”

A slew of calls followed with drivers phoning in to alert listeners of impassable roads or other dangers. Then there were calls to say which schools were closed or closing. This was followed by announcements of funeral cancellations. Funerals are major events on this rock. My mother, when she was CEO of a regional organisation, was always off to a work-related funeral. If she was not available then my dad would be required to don a decent shirt and represent her. She explained it was not because her staff were dying off at an alarming rate. The entire staff, from managers to messengers, would attend each last farewell of any member of staff, or the relative of any member of staff, who had died. I understand closing up shop for the death of a colleague. But doing it for your colleague’s relative that neither you nor the organisation had a relationship with seems a tad excessive. You work with us and your Aunty Philomena has snuffed it? Never fear – we will provide at least two coach loads of mourners. Maybe your cousin Undeane has passed over? Expect at least 60 people from the office. Of course if Uncle Elijah has died, and you don’t have the sort of office back up I have described, you can always, for the price of a bottle of Old Oak rum, enlist the services of some “professional” mourners. They will come, resplendent in black, and cry their hearts out at the appropriate time - even though the dearly departed was completely unknown to them. The loneliness of life and death in big cities is well documented. On this small rock you are never alone in your hour of grief.

With these village fundamentals of school and funeral announcements taken care of, the direction of Talk Yuh Talk shifted from the effects of the floods to its root causes. Several explanations were offered with most typically citing government’s neglect of drains and roads. But not everyone was convinced by these earthly explanations. One gentleman called in to remind us of the spiritual dimension of climate change.
“I calling in because dere is someting we doh like to talk bout but is behind all de hurricanes and rains and ting dat we getting.”
He paused for dramatic effect.
“Yuh ready?”
“Yes caller. We ready.”
“Yuh sure yuh ready? I opening ah can ah worms here today yuh know.”
“Please go ahead. We’re listening.” said our very patient host.
“Is Obeah.” he declared.
“Obeah?” asked our host, his surprise barely contained.
“Yes, Obeah. Witchcraft. Voodoo. Worshipping of animals and eating of human flesh. Why yuh tink Haiti does get hit so bad, eh? Is de Lord striking at dem fuh dere bare wickedness.”
“So how do you explain the devastation in Galveston?”
“De Lord does see wickedness where ever it is. He does see transgressions dat we doh see and he does wipe out de heathens.”

Try as he might there was no convincing this caller that there were other, perhaps more rational explanations, for these natural disasters. So heathens you have been warned. Chaos theory is passé. Hurricanes are nature’s auto-da-fé when him on high does his annual balance sheet of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. And given the strength of some of these hurricanes there is no debt forgiveness or bail out possible. Last year I followed the progress of the weather system Ingrid but she could only exact punishment consistent with a mundane tropical storm.

I’M NOT LOST – JUST MISPLACED

Most people have some idea of the things they want to do before they die. Having not sought treatment for my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder symptoms I have put these “things to do before I die” into an ordered list, and, just to ease any further anxiety, I have made it a nice whole number of 100. This is not an original idea. Indeed, there is a book of that name filled with quirky, adrenalin-inducing feats to attempt - like bungee jumping off a mountain or swimming with sharks. I have made my own, less ambitious, list. And to be honest most of the time I have forgotten about 75 of these special events I want to attempt. But recently one of the authors of that book, Dave Freeman, died after hitting his head in a fall at his home, aged just 47. This was a wake up call to revisit The List.

Most of the “must do” events require careful forward planning and more time than I have available. When am I going to walk what is accessible of the Great Wall of China? Will I ever commune with the iguanas in the Galapagos or climb over the temple ruins of Ankar Wat? When will I have at least three weeks in contemplative silence to complete the Camino de Santiago? (Yes, I can stop talking that long…)

Purely for research purposes I have scanned the net to find out what other people have on their lists. Okay, okay, I am checking if my list is as good as one from Mr. or Ms. Jones. Some ambitions I can ignore – like the guy (at least I think it’s a guy) who included at number nineteen on his list, “grow a beard and leave it for at least a month”. And I never want to “sit on a jury” for the experience. Imagine getting stuck with some tedious fraud case that goes on and on and on and on.

There are also some ambitions whose sell-by dates have passed forever. I will never, as one person lists at number forty-three, “learn to play a musical instrument with some degree of skill”. I’m also not even bothering to learn how to calculate VAT or adequately handle a Jehovah’s Witness. And sometimes one man’s ambition is another man's everyday occurrence. So when someone listed at number fifty-five the desire to “make a complete and utter fool of yourself for one day” I just thought them timid. My project is to make it through one day on this rock without making a complete and utter fool of myself.

High on my list is the desire to put on a costume and dance through the streets of Port-of-Spain in Trinidad’s carnival at least once before I die. To be a part of that revelry, or “wuking up”, to use the Bajan term, with the promise of complete release from the everyday, is very appealing. This activity is not on The Husband’s “to do” list. Indeed, it is arguably on his List Of Things To Be Avoided At All Cost. I suggested that if he is a bit shy about his wuking up skills he could follow the example of one foreign visitor at Crop Over who employed a “wukologist” to help him find his groove. From the way The Husband rolled his eyes, and muttered something about “nasty Hobbit” under his breath, I don’t think a wukologist is going to be a line item in the family budget anytime soon.

In order to be part of the throng of thousands of half drunk masqueraders in February 2009, I have to join a band now and pick a costume. The last time I witnessed mas properly was several decades ago when the creative genius of Peter Minshall ruled. Costumes were a thing of wonder rather than a beads and bikini combo made in China. One year Minshall brought out a band called, I think, The River with all white costumes on day one. On day two of carnival the revelers splashed each other with coloured paint turning the costumes into a vibrant mess of colour. My man Minshall was stirring up environmental awareness long before Al Gore even thought the subject worthy of attention.

I have my pal Indu researching a costume that, as she puts it, “has cloth in it”. Her skinny arse will be just about covered by the beads and bikini. When I pointed out a costume for her that had feathers tucked into the bikini bottoms she looked at me in disgust.
“What kind of woman do you take me for? I would never wear feathers there.”
This is getting complex. So it’s okay for beads to drape over her Brazilian-waxed nether regions. But, if you have feathers falling down there, you’re a whore. I am lost in a world of signs and signification I don’t understand with the added insult that the unreadable signs are from my fellow countrymen.

The Husband has noticed my "list anxiety" getting worse since Freeman's death.
“Maybe” he suggested, “you don’t need to do everything on your list. Maybe getting older is about letting go of having to achieve anything.”
I told him to !%#* off. There's no way he's getting out of babysitting during Carnival with that convenient, philosophical ruse.

THIS THING OF MADNESS

So I really screwed up this time. At least school has embraced them again for another term and I have three months to work out just where I went wrong. I had only the best of intentions. Children today have so much pressure put on them. Summer should be about long, lazy, carefree days spent in the back garden inventing games, playing with Jack, the Jack Russell, and learning the value of being bored. I would work uninterrupted in my studio stopping only to produce fabulous food for our picnics.

The reality of our summer was perhaps best embodied in the horrified screams of First Born, as he looked in the bathroom mirror one morning in late July to find that, while he slept, Second Born had shaved off his left eyebrow. I was interrupted EVERY five minutes by a complaint or request from some family member, and we relied on takeaways, or my mother’s kindness, because with 100% humidity and temperatures in the 30s no one wanted to be anywhere but in a sealed, air-conditioned room.

In the midst of this great heat we moved house. The Husband has moved us to Lower Estate in the parish of St. Michael.
“At least it’s not called Lowest Estate.” he grinned.
The road leading to the house is owned and “maintained” by the local quarry. An average sized car can fit neatly into any one of the numerous potholes you might drop into on your way to our new residence. The house itself is nothing special but for the first time in nineteen months we have a physical space to project our hopes and dreams of what it means to be finally home. For the twins it means separation into their own rooms for the first time.

They turned eight in August, my babies did. Apparently this is now the time to begin giving them The Talk. But before I could do the appropriate research, buy the relevant books, and produce the accompanying power point presentation, First Born dropped a bomb. We were lying on my bed, air con on full blast, when he broke the silence.
“I know what sex is.” he said.
I looked up slowly and calmly.
“Really darling? What is it?”
With complete self-assurance he replied, “Well it’s kissing for a long, long time. Like one whole day of kissing”
“Nah. Doesn’t sound right to me. Go ask your father.”
“Nah. I don’t want to.”
“Oh. Okay.”
Yes that was the entire extent of The Talk. There has been no follow up but I know time is not on my side. Unless I talk soon someone might invite him to skip the lecture and go straight for a practical lesson. My friend in the UK, Emma, can vouch for this.

Emma has a fourteen year old who boards at his co-ed school during the week and makes the hour-long train journey back home every Friday evening. At some time last term this young man was the (we assume happy) recipient of oral sex by a bonny lass in his class. But the lass had decided to, eh, swallow, and later, education being what it is today, became terribly worried that this was one of the ways you can end up a teenage pregnancy statistic. So she told a grown-up. And that grown-up told the principal. And the principal hauled Romeo and Juliet into his office. He then demanded that the lovers call the head of the Montagues and the Capulets, explaining they had had oral sex, which broke every law in the land, and the parents should seek an audience with the principal forthwith.

So while Emma was driving along the motorway her mobile rang. It was Romeo.
“Mom. It’s me. You have to come to school.”
“What’s the matter dear? Are you okay?”
“I’ve had a blow job and principal says you have to come in.”
“What? I can’t hear you.”
“Mom I got a blow job.”
“You got a job? Where?”
“Mom, please. I’m in the principal’s office cause I got a blow job.”
“The principal’s got you a job? Look darling I still can’t hear you properly. Call me back in five minutes. I’m dying to know about this job.”

Poor Romeo. It took three further calls before his mother understood the exact nature of the job in question. After the young lovers had been warned of the consequences of any further encounters they were sent them home for the rest of the day to think on their actions. I don’t know what Emma said to her boy but maybe it was along the lines of Friar Laurence’s advice to the original Romeo,
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume: the sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite


It does not bear thinking of the hang-ups this young man might have about sex in the future. Will he lament that love is not a tender thing, “too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like a thorn”? One thing is certain – I owe First and Second Born that power point presentation before half term.