Monday, 30 January 2012

When it rains...

I recently took a week-long trip to Anguilla in the Caribbean.  Now you may well be thinking, that's a long way to go for just one week.  But it was in actual fact a week of work. For my three children however, it was a hoot!
We have a family business in Anguilla called Uncle Ernie's Beach Bar.  As the name suggests it’s a bar and restaurant situated right on the beach in Shoal Bay.  It was a good opportunity for my grown-up children in particular, to observe that my week long trips to the Caribbean, once or twice a year, were not about basking in the sunshine, but hard work.  And they were able to witness the fact, that I only spent one afternoon on the beach under an umbrella, drinking rum punch.  So another time, when I have to fly off to sunnier climbs, leaving a damp wet England behind, they should feel sorry for me. As if!
My youngest son, Tom aged 14, was thrilled to have his big bro Jake and sister Louise, all to himself.  Louise, married with three children, had taken the trip on her own.  Jake, who ordinarily lives in Los Angeles, flew over to meet us in Anguilla for the week.
Louise and Jake previously lived in Anguilla and went to the local secondary school, where I taught.  They have experienced Caribbean life, including a major hurricane (Louis).  We spent three months without  any electricity and played week long Monopoly games.  So, when one Sunday morning, the heavens opened.  We all took a trip down memory lane and dusted off the, American-style Monopoly board.  The rain doesn't usually last in the Caribbean. Once the sun comes back out again, twenty minutes later, it is hard to imagine that it was ever raining.  But on this particular morning, the dark clouds hung very heavy in the sky.  But it wasn't a problem, my chicks were engrossed in a game and the only thing that mattered was winning.  Incredibly competitive bunch, can't think where they get it from.
We had intended to go down to the bar for lunch.  We kept thinking, any minute now it will stop and we can make a dash for the car, but it didn't.  I thought I'd better ring the bar to see if there were any customers.
"Yes, Silma”said Lily, “we have people here, but de rain coming down hard and just now, we see a car sliding down the hill towards us."
I was alarmed.  So I thought I'd better get down there.  After a few phone calls to friends, I realized this would not be so easy.  Whilst we had comfortably been sitting at home in the house quite high up on a hill, we hadn't appreciated how flooded the rest of the island was.  We attempted to make our way to the beach in our mini bus. Now although Anguilla is quite a flat island, there are one or two peaks and troughs.  In those troughs, the water gathered.  We saw the tops of many vehicles stranded in the water; abandoned by their drivers.  There was no way that we could get through, so we returned home.  By now, I was becoming just a little panicked.  I rang the bar again, and explained to the staff why they needed to tell customers that the bar would be closing early.  I couldn't help feeling that they didn't really appreciate what was awaiting them beyond the hill.  As for the customers, they were  far too sozzled to care.  There was nothing else to do but to wait. 
An hour later, I eventually managed to contact one of the members of staff on their cell phone.  The rain and the flash floods had disrupted the whole communications systems.  It was a very excited Lily, who relayed the story of their adventure.
"Well, we didn't know how bad it was till we got over the hill.  De car jus break down on us.  We had to get out and walk.  First the water was up to our waist, then at times up to our neck. It was so funny.  I took some pictures on my cell phone.  But we get home, eventually."
I couldn't believe it; I would have been in tears, never mind taking photos.  But then that's Caribbean folk, just taking it in their stride.
I was relieved to hear everyone at the bar was okay.  Amazingly, there were no fatalities.
Next morning, after very little sleep I made my way to the beach bar.  The force of the rain swept waves of water through the sand to meet the sea.  It created a trench around 5 foot deep, as well as sweeping sand from underneath the beach bar.  Leaving it precariously balanced on poles.
Now, one thing you have to learn to expect on the island is that everyone is an expert.  Even more so when it is a mere woman such as me, attempting to figure out how to get the beach bar secure enough to be serving food by 2 o’clock that afternoon. It didn't take long to find someone who knew someone else in the construction trade, who could sort it all out for me.
For the tourists, this was a ‘not to be missed’ photo opportunity.  There are different varieties.  The English tourists will watch at a safe distance, not wanting to get in the way, and perhaps using the digger and the carnage as a backdrop to the family photo, (ever aware of the health and safety issues).  The American tourist will just dive in there.  They want to be where it's all happening.  Watching workmen shovel sand and rocks underneath the bar.  The American tourist will want their photo taken in the middle of the debris, with cheeseburger in one hand and a Heineken in the other.  But the French tourist, they prefer to keep their distance and watch the happenings from another nearby bar.
In such times of need, islanders come together.  And by one o’clock it was business as usual. We left the deep trenches in the sand for Mother Nature to repair in her own time.
I fear that when I arrive next time at Anguilla airport the welcome might not be so great.  It does seem as if far too many hurricanes and flash floods happen to occur when I visit the island.  I'm developing quite a complex.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


I spent a glorious sunny Saturday by the sea, with some very old school friends. When I say old, I don’t mean in age. We like to think of ourselves as’ in our prime.’
The five of us went to school together. Two of us met in the infants, a couple more added to the group at juniors and the last friend joined us at secondary school. Strolling along the cliff top that afternoon, partners tagged along whilst we reminisced.
If only we’d realised during those school years, how much of the life we were leading then, would actually shape the adults we would became. We have all done quite different things with our lives. We move within a different social group to that of our parents. But when we come together, we still seem to be who we were back in 1969 at the start of secondary school. Or maybe we just morph into the right piece to fit the jigsaw at the time.
“Do you remember Sandra Law’s older brother?”
“Oh my God, Martin; how could we forget? He was gorgeous.”
“Yes, literally, tall dark and handsome.”
“Remember how we use to take the long way to school, just to see him at the bus stop?”
We all took a moment, just to...sigh!
“Of course you do realise by now he will be close to 70, will have very little hair and his teeth may not all be his own.” We laughed hysterically. The men looked on bemused.
It’s interesting how some of our memories can be quite individual. Like a ghost, it can be just a trace of what was. But it appears to each of us in a slightly different way.
Our school was in a notoriously rough area of town. The front page of the local newspaper was not complete without a story about the troublesome comprehensive. They, perhaps foolishly, decided to hold a disco one evening. We didn’t all attend, but each of us had a story to tell about the knock on effect of the fight that broke out. Of how a teacher had to lock himself in the staffroom with Carl, the boy at the centre of it all, until the police arrived.
One friend, who knew Carl well, told us of his difficult childhood. This very intelligent boy went on to become a misfit.  Another told of her fear as she was suppose to keep an eye on her younger brother and she had lost him in the crowd. Ten years later, I met the teacher who had tried to save Carl from certain physical harm by locking himself and Carl in the staffroom. The teacher never recovered from the trauma of the incident. He retired from teaching due to ill health.
It’s reflection that helps us to make sense of things. Better still if we can view the situation from different angles before drawing conclusions.
We remembered between us many more class mates. Some living the other side of the world, running multi million dollar businesses. Others spending time at her majesty’s pleasure. Then there are those who have left this earth’s plane far too early.
We are all now at that stage in life when time passes so quickly. Those things we were always going to do, we need to get on and do before it’s too late. There are  some things however, we now have to accept will never happen. The infamous five can never replace “Hot gossip” on “Top of the Pops.”  Ho hum!