FEEL THE FEAR AND HIDE

You should be afraid. Very afraid.

I know I am.

It started when I signed up for a writing course with the celebrated novelist, George Lamming. I will admit to being slightly in awe. And maybe I had a teensy-weensy crush on the professor (bright men have always been my Achilles’ heel). But, instead of producing reams of prose that would have provided further opportunities to enjoy Lamming’s company, I developed Writer’s Block. This aliment manifests itself whenever you attempt to marry fingers to keyboard in a tapping movement that generates words and potentially whole sentences. Any attempt at this movement causes stabbing pains right through to the carpals and metacarpals of the hand.

The pain is so acute that it is advisable to stop immediately and wrap your hands around a hot cuppa. If the pain does not subside then a second cuppa is required. Often this process of pain relief can take you right through to lunchtime as you sip cup after cup of tea and stare into space. Now everyone knows that skipping meals is a sure way of compromising one’s health. Writing is never good after a Caesar Salad and a Diet Coke so I usually wait awhile before attempting to touch the keyboard a second time. Be warned: the pain-cuppa-stare-into-space routine may be repeated several times. Often before I can say Felicitous Phrasing it is the end of the school day and First and Second Born are stumbling through the door demanding to be fed and watered.

Once they have been fed, watered and talked at (you will eat what I give you / pick your clothes off the floor / stop tormenting your brother / no I don't love him more than you) I usually once again attempt to overcome Writer’s Block. But Lamming’s voice is in my head repeating the Rules Of Writing. Also there are words I have been liberally sprinkling over prose like the contents of a pepper shaker that he has forever banned. The offenders include:
Paradoxically. (This is often used when really the unthinking typist/writer meant ironically).
Ironically. (Never in a month of Sundays - unless you have fully understood the lessons of King Lear and Othello).
Showcase. (What was wunna thinking?)
Hopefully. (Why don’t you just say three Hail Marys and get it over and done with?)
Far East. (And that would be far from where exactly, Mr. Europe-is-the-centre-of-the-universe-mapper?)

At this point I usually call an end to the workday, have a drink, and watch the news. But this has brought new worries. For one thing I have been kissing. It’s usually twice except when the Swiss are involved - then we are up to three smooches on arrival and three more on departure. Now fear and regret are my constant companions. According to the chair of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados, Sir Roy Trotman, in an age of swine flu we should be vigilant in matters of hygiene. He strenuously urges “against kissing and shaking hands”. But before you weep at the thought of a world devoid of casual human contact, Sir Roy has an alternative:
“I would advise…colleagues to…bump your elbows or bump your shoulders.”

Okay… that’s a different approach to the H1N1 pandemic. But we should keep an open mind. It could be the start of a whole new craze. First there was Michelle and Barack bumping fists. We have simply extended this to elbows and shoulders. Remember it started right here on this small rock. But practice in front the mirror before engaging in elbow-to-elbow contact. An elbow bump should not cause injury to those you greet. Likewise a wimpy brush of the shoulder is the equivalent of contact with a damp squid. Bump body parts firmly and confidently. And don’t forget to moisturize.

Once you have accepted that an innocent expression of physical contact can be the instrument of disease and death, and modified your behaviour accordingly, fear should be contained. But as I was about to assume the lotus position to suppress my overwhelming fight-or-flight instincts, the morning newspapers confirmed the worst. A 19-year-old man who has never left these shores - ever - has a mild case of the H1N1 virus. I knew we were not doing enough. Telling people not to kiss or shake hands was never going to keep us safe. We should have taken direct action against the Mexicans in Barbados.

While the PM has been loudly proclaiming that undocumented immigrants have until 1 December to regularize their status or get “kicked out” (translation: Guyanese Go Home) we ignored the Mexicans in our midst. You did not know we had a significant Mexican population? I have barely scratched the surface and already unearthed whole clans on this rock with names like “Castillo” and “Fernandez”. Rock up to St. Lawrence Gap, party-central on the south coast, and one of the first establishments you encounter is none other than Café Sol Mexican Grill and Margarita Bar. Move a bit further down the coast to Enterprise Beach and there is Café Luna. Even at our Bridgetown port you can have a tortilla-like snack at Del Sol. Two establishments in the phone book are listed as “Mi Casa”, four as “Casa Blanca”, one as “Casa Pequena” and of course there is Casa Grande Airport Hotel and Resort, fronted by Mrs. Ram, but probably concealing a significant Mexican interest. The Mexicans are here. I'm going into hiding.

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