Thursday, 27 April 2017

Caravan diaries (cont'd)


We had to collect some chickens from Herefordshire and bring them back to Norfolk, so the obvious thing to do was go to Reading, go to Pembrokeshire, open up the caravan, stay there for a few days, go to Herefordshire, pick up the chickens, go to Reading, and come back to Norfolk.  And so it came to pass.  About thirteen hours driving in all, but I don’t mind that.

Opening up the caravan is usually straightforward – you put the drain taps and the shower mixer back in, sweep up the dead flies, clean the green gunge off the outside walls and cut the grass.  This time, normality had gone slightly adrift.  The grass hardly needed cutting (Joseph has a new mower, which goes almost all the way up the slope in front of the van, which used to be entirely my responsibility). Far less green gunge than usual (the overhanging sycamores have been fairly ruthlessly pruned, although not enough for my liking – they’re still above ground level, vile weeds).  No dead flies at all (once some years ago I could hardly see the carpet for them, which was when I started spraying with Raid or Flit on departure, which helped but a few would still get through). 

The plumbing, though, proved unusually problematic.  Joseph had told me, ages ago, that the thing to do in the autumn was unscrew the four drain taps and just remove them.  Of course, he now denies this, and tells me I should have been following a whole different procedure, the detail of which is too boring to relate… anyway, I had several leaks, the last at about 3 a.m.  But once he’d fixed the underlying cause – a crossed thread – all was well and dry, and the problem will never happen again.

After that, it was just as it’s meant to be.  We walked through the tunnels to Saundersfoot (I wanted to make ghosty noises in the long one, like when I was eight, but didn’t want to scare Z), had a nice fish lunch at the Mermaid (now rebranded the Beach View, which is more accurate but less romantic, but otherwise unchanged in twenty years), walked around Tenby, watched the pale everchanging colours of the flat calm sea, failed to connect to the internet… everything as it should be.  No rabbits so far.

The chickens are gorgeous.  Z will no doubt tell you all about them.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Top Tens


This is an experiment.

I /haven’t had a good list for ages.  So here are my ten best lists, with a starter of one from me in each.  Please submit yours via the comments, and I’ll update.  I’ve set a few of my own ground rules, but feel free to ignore these.

Films (no CGI blockbusters):

Rio Bravo
Local Hero (2)
Monty Python and The Holy Grail
The Quiet Man
4 Weddings and a Funeral (I know, but there it is)
To Have and Have Not
Perhaps something Scandinavian like the one with the knight and death playing chess
Blues Brothers
The big sleep


Albums (no Beatles/Stones/Dylan/Beach Boys/Led Zep):

Janis Ian: Night Rains
Sand andWater - Beth Nielsen Chapman
Solitude Standing - Suzanne Vega
"Whatever people say I am, That's what I'm not" by Arctic Monkeys
The Main Event-Frank Sinatra
Pictures at an Exhibition by ELP

Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland
Gallagher's Irish Tour
Still Crazy After All These Years Paul Simon
Crime of the century - Supertramp


Singles (ditto):

Dion: The Wanderer
Heartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley
Because They're Young - Duane Eddy
"Paradise City" by Guns 'n' Roses
Somewhere Over the Rainbow-Israel Kamakawiwo ole
Will You by Hazel O'Connor (for the sax break)
Old 97's - Designs On You
Teach Your Children Well

Mystery Train Elvis Presley
Drive in Saturday - Bowie

Novels (not over 500ish pages):

Albert Camus: The Outsider
Snow falling on cedars - David Guterson
Billy Liar - Keith Waterhouse
"Behind The Scenes at The Museum" by Kate Akinson.
To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee
Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett
Vanity Fair
Merrilie Watkins Series Phil Rickman
A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

Non-fiction:

J K Galbraith: The Affluent Society
Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari
Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson
"Pies and Prejudice" by Stuart Maconie
The Shepherd's Life,-James Rebanks
Roger Deakin - Waterlog
Charlie Marx, Das Kapital
Atlases, Maps, and books about maps
The selfish gene -Dawkins

Musicals (no Rodgers and Hammerstein):

West Side Story (2)
We will Rock You - Queen and Ben Elton
"Chicago" (Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb)
Les Miserables

Rocky Horror Picture Show
Oklahoma (obvs)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Foods:

Fresh crab
John Dory with samphire
Sticky toffee pudding
fresh Pacific salmon
Pie, or failing that, big lumps of meat in gravy
I am a greedy git who loves to eat everything
Leek quiche with wholemeal pastry
Bratwürscht
New Season Asparagus
Stew and dumplings

Places:

The Knoll Beach, Studland
Camusdarach, Morar, Highland (Ben's Beach)
Tenby
Paris (2)
York
The Backwaters, Kerala, India
Anything Greek, best on an island
Venice
Everywhere

Journeys:

Through the tunnels, Wisemans Bridge – Saundersfoot
Cycling (e-bike) through the Ardnamurchan caldera between Kilchoan and Sanna Bay, Lochaber
The Way of the Roses c2c bike
Riding the Paris Metro out to Montmartre.
the train from Chester to Wales
Batobus on the Seine
The last bit of a journey to somewhere you love, when you recognise landmarks that mean you're nearly there and become excited

Train rides
JFK to Manhattan
Peterborough to Stansted airport

Machines:

Morris Minor
Electric bike
Raleigh Pioneer 2 (ladies model)
The steam locomotive
Deux chevaux
Vincent Black Shadow
Austin Healey Sprite
Jaguar XJ6 4.2 litre
Landrover
Porsche 911, do not know the version blabla, just pedaltothemedal and blam


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Influential Albums #4: Is This What You Want?


In 1969 we were bothered, bewildered, but still bewitched by the Beatles.  John had embarked on his dead-end solo career, Paul was on a desperately controlling mission to keep the dream alive, Ringo was, as always, going with the flow…  The only one who seems now to have had any forward-pointing focus was George Harrison.
I was marooned, geographically and musically.  My band had broken up but was contractually obliged to go through the death throes in Italy.  I’d entered into a mistaken marriage which left me, I suppose, emotionally marooned too.  Records seemed my route to salvation.
Just then, Paul invented Apple Records, launching it with Mary Hopkins’ delightfully charming ‘Those Were The Days’ and then following up with two superb albums: James Taylor’s first, about which I’ve previously blogged, and this one by Jackie Lomax, produced by George, with a stellar cast of backing musicians.  It’s probably available online if you want to have a listen, I can’t be bothered to find a link.  If you can’t either, you’ll just have to take my word for it: this is interregnum pop at its very best.  I’ll have to explain that.
Popular music has always been an industry, and as such governed by the laws of industrial economics, which operate to drive quality down to the lowest common denominator.  It happened to jazz, swing, rock’n’roll, disco … the best was forced out by the worst.   Of course, there’ve always been swerves around the outside curve, which I’ve kept an ear open for; but ‘the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.’  But there was that brief break when nobody knew what was going on or who was in charge – and some wonderful things popped up out of the vacuum.


We’d been playing the ‘random record’ game, whereby you point at a CD or an LP in the stack, eyes closed, and have to listen to it.  Last night Z came up with Gill Scott-Heron’s last CD; tonight I fished this out.  Not my original vinyl – when my bandmate Andy returned from Italy a few months after me, penniless and with a family in tow, he had hardly any music, so, having got a job in the meantime, I gave him my copy and bought another.


That’s probably why I count it as influential.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Carwash


My car had become unacceptably filthy, so as I had twenty minutes to kill this morning I took it down the garage and ran it through the £3.99 option 3.  This is supposed to wash, wax and dry.  As it turned out, it may or may not have waxed, it sort of dried, and it quite failed to wash the dirtiest bits.
I don’t get the car washed all that often, preferring to wait for its six-monthly service.  In the meantime windows, lights and number-plates will suffice.  So it was, as I said, pretty dirty.  But surely the whole point of paying to get something done is not to have to do it yourself?  Especially, not to have to do the hardest bits yourself?  And, isn’t automation supposed to be better than humans at simple tasks?
Down the Oxford Road in Reading, there’s a ‘hand car wash’ which I used once a few years ago.  It took around twenty minutes, which is about evens timewise.  It cost, back then, £4.95.  Even if that’s gone up to £5.99 by now, I reckon my time to hand-finish the job the machine failed to auto-complete will be worth considerably more than two quid.  So in what sense can automation economically out-perform human effort, for even such a simple task?  And if it can’t even achieve that, how can I possibly expect it to drive the car to the carwash and back as well?
Of course, it’s academic, because the guys who beautifully cleaned the car down the Oxford Road won’t be there anymore.  They’ll have been repatriated.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Blog minus 1

It's a bit less than nine years since I wrote this record of a much-relished holiday, which prompted my brother to remark "you should write a blog."  I researched how to do that, and started to do so.  This is where my recently neglected blog habit started.



Holiday in Bequia, February 2008

Thursday 14th
Reading
Completed packing, shopped, made dinner (chicken and lentil curry).  Dick and Val arrived about 7.30.  Got drunk and fell over on patio after ‘the last cigarette’.


Friday 15th
En voyage; arrival at Barbados; St Lawrence Gap; the Whistling Frog Café
Up 6 a.m.  D drove us to Gatwick and negotiated parking.  Flight very smooth and shorter than expected.  Excel’s idea of in-flight entertainment (not that I was bothered) seemed a bit weird, as pretty well nobody would’ve been able to see the miniscule TV screens.  Arrived Barbados 3.30 p.m. local.
I was first to the immigration queue, which stretched out almost to the runway.  D&V, having been seated amidships in the plane and therefore nearly last off, took a while to catch up.  Inside the building, a zig-zag snake queue, which took more than an hour to negotiate.  Three flights had arrived at about the same time – several hundred people striving, good-naturedly, towards sixteen or so hardpressed officials.  When we finally got through, we found that our luggage had taken even longer to get to the belt.  Imagine our surprise!
Taxi to the Dover Beach Hotel at St Lawrence Gap, to be greeted by charming staff and shown to our very pleasant rooms.  We swam in the rough sea (high winds, D a bit worried about this unexpected aspect), then wandered out to the main Gap drag in search of food and entertainment – ended up at the Whistling Frog Café for dinner.  Apparently, Barbados is populated with frogs, which whistle.  I definitely heard whistles, but didn’t see a single frog.


 Saturday 16th


Dover Beach; Oistins fish night; karaoke
Breakfast at the hotel bar.  Just after we’d ordered, the bar was invaded by a horde of English teenage sporty girls from some posh school, on some kind of sporty activity holiday.  We were loudly informed that Gemma had been sick, but then that ‘I’ve cleaned up the vomit’.
To my relief, we spent the day lounging around the hotel pool and strolling up and down the Gap strip (which proved to be pretty dreary).  We decided to taxi to the Oistins fish night event – major tourist attraction/trap – overpriced food and 30 mins of local worthies speechifying and Christian entertainment – then back to the Dover Beach for their karaoke night (featuring a different bunch of teenage sporty girls, and some loud Americans).  I will say no more about this – we’ve all been there.  (The karaoke I mean, not the girls …)


Sunday 17th


Transit; first impressions of Bequia; Gingerbread; Farine
 We negotiate the complex check-in procedure for the flight to Bequia, which turns out to be via Mustique, with pick-ups and drop-offs en route, which almost resulted in my suitcase winging its way back to Barbados.  This is a 20-seater two-engined prop plane, two pilots visible up front, 8,000 feet up (1,000 for the Mustique-Bequia leg), bucking around in the steady breeze.  Mustique airport looks like a par three golf hole in tarmac.  Jolly Mustique holidaymakers with self-consciously beautiful girls and sulky iPod boys come and go.  Landing at Bequia James F Mitchell airport is like aiming at another par three, through trees and cliffs, on the pillion of a bucking motorbike.
Once my case has been salvaged, Curtis, our taxi driver (who we will learn to know and love) greets us and takes us to Gingerbread.  On the way D&V are having local knowledge conversations with Curtis, but I’m just seeing concrete roads, flashes of turquoise sea, glimpses of colonial or shanty buildings; feeling steep ups and downs and vicious speed humps; breathing the warm sea air and odd spice smells: all from the back of this bright yellow Challenger pick-up truck, bench seats each side, which is a Bequia taxi.
Gingerbread is gorgeous.  I feel at home at once.  Easy to wander out around the town, down to a little local beach (Plantation House) for a swim, along to Frangipani for rum punches then back to Gingerbread for dinner and Farine.  They’re a local group – guitar, banjo, bongos, and a varying number of singers – who do a unique take on everything from gospel to skiffle via Motown, Marley and the Beach Boys.  We get pissed and close the bar.
This is my first experience of the mosquito net – essential in these parts I’m told.  It hangs from the ceiling, a huge swathe of muslin which you drape over your bed, tuck in, then crawl under and sleep in your private indoor insect-free tent.  Certainly I wasn’t disturbed by mozzies that night.  But nothing is perfect.  They will get to you sooner or later.  Fortunately, my skin is fairly mosquito-proof (years of conditioning in Italy, maybe), and Bequia mozzies are indolent and rather impotent.  I got bitten a dozen or so times over the stay, but none endured or itched intolerably.
There is a notice in my bathroom which reads, in full:  Flushing toilet.  Do not let the handle spin around.  Press back until down then let it come back up.  Management is working to solve this problem.’


Monday 18th


Port Elizabeth; Princess Margaret Beach; the Green Boley; Captain Mac’s
We walk into town, where I fail to change money, due to huge queues in the RBTT bank (Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, I learn from Google).
Then we try to walk across the headland to our nearest ‘proper’ beach, the Princess Margaret or Tony Gibbons.  I haven’t researched either of these labels, but I’m inclined to D’s theory: originally, it was probably called ‘Middle Beach’ or somesuch; Princess Margaret went for a swim there one day, slumming it from Mustique; the locals weren’t having that, decided the beach needed an authentic indigenous name – and just then good old Tony walks into the bar.
Whatever, the headland path turns out to have been blocked off by a cavalier housebuilding project.  We were warned of this by a guy cleaning the Plantation House beach and by an American fellow-tourist, but went to have a look anyway – sure enough, a block wall and industrial barbed wire make this public right of way totally impassable.   All the locals act appalled, but nobody seems to know what to do about it.  Even the water-taxi drivers (who stand to benefit) feel that it’s wrong, and probably illegal – yet this construction has obviously been allowed to go ahead, unchallenged to the point of irreversibility.  It’s my first intimation, or reminder (Tobago), of the sinuous workings of Caribbean local politics.
So we get a water taxi.
I am not going to repeatedly describe the experience of lounging on a Caribbean beach for a day – so pay attention: I am only going to say this once!
Find a place with available shade and pitch camp.  Spread your towel and lie/sit on it; read your book, shifting your posture according to discomfort levels, which may be caused by sand, sun intrusion, muscular strain, buried hard objects, or ants.  Go for a swim.  Snooze.  Repeat as necessary until lunchtime.  Have lunch at local hostelry.  Return to camp and repeat above, until it’s time to leave.
Henceforth, this delightful process will be identified by the phrase ‘lounge on beach’.
Lunch, on this occasion, was at ‘Jack’s Bar’, a slick new venue.  Food good (although I still want my tomato remoulade – having looked it up, what I was given no way conforms to that description!).  The place seems unfinished – concrete floors and pillars – and so a bit impersonal.
Rum punches at the Green Boley, ten paces down the Belmont Walkway from Gingerbread.  They’re a tad more rummish than Frangipani’s.  Can’t find out what a Boley is, never mind a green one – but the bar is basic, relaxed, a place you could sit and lime all evening.  We view the sunset, then head off to Captain Mac’s, a new place opposite the fruit market.  Apart from a bunch of American teenagers, we’re the only customers.  We ask for the wine list: two bottles are brought to the table for our selection.  We choose the Chilean Sunrise Merlot, which is to be our staple diet.  Food and service are good; just a bit sad about the ambience, the less than ideal location, the optimistic desperation of the enterprise.  Nice map of the world though, filling an entire wall of the inside, unused, room.
Tuesday 19th


Friendship Bay; Moskito; dinner at home
The wind (external not self) gets up at 6 a.m. and howls through the shutters and the plants outside the window.  I see I haven’t described my room properly.  It’s big, about 5 metres square, unglazed but shuttered windows on three sides; bed in the middle, nets hanging from the ceiling over big wall hooks, a kitchenette and a bathroom off the fourth wall; big balcony through sliding shuttered doors to the front.  I now have a key to my safe.
Breakfast with D&V (purchased yesterday – fruit, eggs and tomatoes).
We take our first big walk across the island to Friendship Bay.  The ups are a bit challenging, but I’m gratified by how well I manage.  Beach a bit of a letdown, rather narrow and ant-infested.  Good lunch though at Moskito café – excellent well-endowed burgers, and V’s seafood pasta looked good.
Lounged on beach.
Dinner at home uncovered a few issues, mainly that we couldn’t work out how to light the oven – which is a concern when you’re cooking chicken legs.  As luck would have it, Pat Mitchell had decided to install, experimentally, a microwave in D&V’s apartment, and V rose heroically to the occasion.  But we resolved that eating in probably isn’t a high priority option – especially as it seems that raw materials in the shops cost far more than the prepared, cooked and served equivalents in the restaurants.  The starter was a feta cheese salad, at about sixteen guineas an ounce – at any rate, far more than we’d paid for the same thing at Jack’s Bar.  How can this be?  Caribbean economics becomes more and more mysterious. 


Wednesday 20th


Lower Bay; Da Reef; Devil’s Table
After breakfast, split between fruit at D&V’s and banana bread at Gingerbread café, we walked across to Lower Bay – the best beach.  Far fewer ants.
Lounged on beach.
Lunch at Da Reef, a big canteen-like bar/restaurant right on the beach.  I had conch (pron. ‘conk’) curry.  This is the animal which inhabits those huge shells you see at beach-side venues everywhere, and which can with practice be blown, like a trumpet, to announce, for example, the arrival of the day’s fish catch at the market in Port Elizabeth.
We’ve discovered a great non-alcoholic refresher, lime squash.  Freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar syrup, a dash of Angostura, over loads of ice, made up with tap water – brilliant!  You could add white rum or vodka for a long cocktail … try this at home, when the summertime comes.
Excellent dinner (though not very Caribbean in character) at Devil’s Table, apparently named after a nearby reef.  It’s their ‘reggae night’: a semi-live, semi-backing tape on-stage performance, which worked – I’d have danced had the opportunity arisen –  because of a young, lively crowd, all fired up to watch the total eclipse of the moon.  This duly came about; would perhaps have been more interesting if it hadn’t!  The moon gradually disappears from one side, then gradually reappears – a bit like the London Eye in reverse.  I expressed the view, to a local, that it was being eaten by a dragon, but was told ‘no, man, it’s a shark’. 


Thursday 21st


Friendship Rose to Tobago Cays; Frangipani BBQ
Up at the crack to join the much-anticipated boat trip.  Strong winds and torrential rain overnight caused some apprehension, but there was no risk of cancellation merely for a bit of weather.
So we embark and set off, with about forty others, mostly Americans, and five crew, under the command of Captain Lewis, who has been running this ship since she was the St Vincent ferry back in the seventies.  Departure is delayed by engine trouble, and in fact we have to return for repairs; but once we get going properly, and clear Admiralty Bay, full sail is set and we are soon scudding along through wine-dark seas past island after island, bucking and crashing through the waves.
We reach the Cays about 11.30, and are ferried to the reef for snorkelling.  The undersea views are breathtaking; but that’s perhaps not the best choice of words.  The sea was choppy enough for me to ship several mouthfuls of seawater through my snorkel, often when I’d just breathed out and so had no air in my lungs to blow through like you’re supposed to do; and the leg action, with fins, is more arduous than I remember from when I was sixteen.  I’m glad I did it, but not convinced that this particular recreation is quite for me any more.
Back on the boat, we are served a good lunch, with unlimited rum punch and wine, then set off for the homeward leg, through a massive blow and drenching squalls – shipping dense spray and occasional green water, plus rain – soaked to the skin several times – boat keeling at twenty degrees – exhilarating!
After regaining dry land (which refuses to stay still for hours), we freshen up and go to the Frangipani barbeque, which is fine except that we’re too knackered to do it justice.  We’re seated at the back of the restaurant, away from the band, along with several of our fellow voyagers – and, as D&V discover to their amazement, a delightful young couple called Cherie and Dylan, from Toronto, whom they’d met in Carriacou five years ago.  Arrange to dine with them Monday.
I’m lulled to sleep, under my gauze tent, by the gentle swaying motion still retained by my body’s memory, sea-legs so thrillingly acquired aboard the lovely Friendship Rose.
Friday 22nd


Fort Hamilton; Tony Gibbons beach; Tommy Cantina
Despite good intentions to sleep in, we’re up and running by 8.00.  ‘Full breakfast’, which is bacon and eggs, as opposed to ‘English breakfast’, which is that plus sausage, beans, tomatoes, etc etc, at Porthole café, Mrs Taylor’s tight ship.  She and her staff of daughters or nieces are highly organised, but make us feel comfortable and relaxed, the best customer care yet!
We walk up through the town to Fort Hamilton, built by the British in 1760 to defend Bequia from American privateers or French pirates.  The views are great, and we stroll back down, past ineluctable shacks and enterprises, painted in vibrant colours or allowed to rot down to sad greys – some with religiously challenging rasta slogans carefully etched on their facades, others with failed fading bar names.  Now, I am pleased that I didn’t photograph these relics, or record their names.  I am glad that I didn’t demean them in that way.Lunch at D&V’s, using up the solid gold Feta cheese.  Then water taxi to Princess Margaret, lounge on beach, return, rum punches (RPs) at the Green Boley (GB).  An intense meeting of, we think, the Easter Regatta Committee is taking place inside.
Dinner at Tommy Cantina’s – O.K. depending on how far you’re into Mexican.  I ordered a ‘lime daiquiri’ as an aperitif, which turned out to be a rather odd kind of rum and lime sorbet, to be sucked through a straw as it melted – hardly a drink at all, more like a dessert.


Saturday 23rd


Spring and Industry; Mrs Taylor’s
Buffet breakfast at Frangipani, then walk across the island to Spring then Industry Bay, which is trying to reinvent itself as ‘Crescent’.  Presumably they think ‘Industry’ has adverse connotations (invokes dark Victorian satanic mills, whereas I suspect it was actually named for the sturdy Victorian virtue; ‘Crescent’ is of course free of any such negative associations, or any other sort for that matter).  The beaches, especially Spring, look at first sight like a lost opportunity, but then you think, just how many idyllic tourist beaches can this island, and its fragile economy and ecology, sustain?  Certainly, Industry/Crescent’s café  will have to do better – hugely overpriced and inadequate in quality and service.
At 6 p.m., D&V bumped into Cherie and Dylan at Gingerbread; we all repaired to GB to find they’d run out of RP (we’d drunk them dry), so to Frangipani instead.  Then dinner at Mrs Taylor’s ‘Porthole’ – food very good, but the ambience (irritatingly loud TV) and service not quite up to the price.  Shame, because just a little bit more effort could make this into a star turn (see Fernando’s later).

Sunday 24th


Lower Bay; Can’t Remember the Name; Gingerbread; Farine
Walk across to Lower Bay.  My legs are getting good at this by now: once you have seen your destination, the journey does become a bit easier!
Lunch at ‘Can’t Remember the Name’, a newly built venue – very nice building, roof made of natural untreated timbers, a good, friendly, professional service, we all had ‘fish and chips’ – not quite as we know them back in Blighty, but then, that’s not what we came for is it?
Dinner at the Gingerbread restaurant, curries.  Farine were playing again – what a joyful, inspirational experience this group is!  The Gingerbread waitress, Arlene, did a couple of numbers with the band, then went back to work.  Next thing, she’s washing up behind the counter whilst performing ‘Stand By Me’ with the band, exactly parallel to Aretha’s take on ‘Respect’ in The Blues Brothers – this woman is precisely conscious of what she’s up to, and, as I told her later, is an unmistakeable star.
I attract the attention of Farine’s guitarist, who forces me to play his guitar for about 45 embarrassing seconds.  I try to decline: ‘no man, I’m too pissed’; he responds ‘yeh, so’m I’; I say ‘yeah man but, you got pissed whilst playing, while I got pissed then got asked to play – there’s a difference!’  He acknowledges this distinction, but makes me do it anyway. 


Monday 25th


Hope Bay; Fernando’s Hideaway
Heavy rain overnight.  Strenuous walk over Mount Pleasant to Hope Bay – hard work, but there was cloud cover most of the way.  Very humid though.
Hope Bay is a totally deserted east-facing cove with a derelict shelter, self-seeding coconut palms and biggish surf, in which we swam.  Then back up a rough overgrown track, a bit hard to find at first, not helped by well-meaning pink ribbon waymarks which unfortunately had, some of them, been fixed to moveable objects.
Rotis for lunch at Mrs Taylor’s, then lounged around on the balcony.  We walked into town to change money and try, unsuccessfully, to find a ‘live-slow@bequia.calm’ T shirt for me – how can they have failed to re-use such a great slogan?
Cherie and Dylan join us for drinks at D&V’s, then Curtis taxis us across to Fernando’s Hideaway, now I think just called Nando’s, an excellent local-style family run outdoor restaurant, with good fish, stewed eggplant (aubergine) etc. – great meal and lots of good conversation.


Tuesday 26th


Breakfast with ‘Son’; Princess Margaret’s beach; Jack’s Bar; Moonhole; Moskito
Breakfast at Frangipani, very nice fruit platters.  We chat at some length with Sir James (‘Son’) Mitchell, ex-prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Caribbean world statesman, now owner of Frangipani (and probably half the island), ex-husband of Pat who runs Gingerbread – very interesting.  He isn’t too forthcoming about the famous footpath blocking – a vested interest in there perhaps?  D has bought his autobiography, for which Sir J gladly supplies a dedication.
Water taxi to Princess M’s; lunch at Jack’s Bar, better than last time.  The feta salad costs significantly less than it did when we made the identical thing at home – how can this be?  There’s obviously more to the local economy than meets the eye.  Sorry, I’m repeating myself.
When we arrive at the beach, Friendship Rose is moored offshore and the place is heaving with people.  After a couple of hours, at least forty are ferried back to the boat, which then apparently returns to Port Elizabeth.  Strange, we think.
In the afternoon we visit Moonhole, at the far end of the island beyond the airport.  It’s a complex of nineteen weird and wonderful houses, built from and totally integrated into the local landscape – no straight lines.  It was initiated in, I think, the sixties by an eccentric American called Tom Johnston, and now run by his son Jim and lovely English wife Sheena.  The houses are mostly privately owned, and passed on by inheritance, the managing company having first refusal should anyone want to sell.  So there are a few owned by Jim and Sheena, and rented out.  But they make most of their money, I guess, from guided tours like this one.  Fascinating and great fun.
Curtis taxi to Moskito at Friendship Bay for dinner – very disappointing, at least for me.  My fish was overcooked to inedible, service was rushed, wine vastly overpriced.  Aspirant corporatism at its worst.
Curtis actually seems stressed out – wife ill in hospital in Trinidad; can’t meet demand for his services on his own, but terrified of losing business; drafted in his son to help, but unsure he can trust him to deliver, etc…  Just how ‘laid back, live slow’ is this place in actuality?   Jim Johnston, as laid back as they come, explained how, in the rental homes at Moonhole, all you have to do is make your decisions: the full-time staff do everything else.  In the best restaurants, the staff work their butts off to get it right whilst presenting as ‘laid back’.  V thinks we’re seeing the early signs of a new ‘laid back Bequia’ corporate product range.  The Americans we’ve overheard and talked to certainly think that’s what they’re buying. 


Wednesday 27th


Quiet day; Mac’s Pizzeria; Devil’s Table
Breakfast at Frangipani.  Good pizza for lunch.  D&V went on a snorkelling trip to Moonhole; I lounged, took photos, read, snoozed.
Quiet (!) dinner at Devil’s Table: nothing like the atmosphere of last week, perhaps due to lack of lunar influences – no hordes of nubile teenage dancing girls, just middle-aged Yanks who really shouldn’t.  Lovely steak though.


Thursday 28th


Lower Bay; Can’t Remember; Fernando’s
Last day!
We attempt breakfast at Frangipani, but are met with stony-faced opposition (‘all these tables are booked!’) then ignored for five minutes – so we decamp to Gingerbread.  No fruit (how do they manage that?), but otherwise OK.
We walk over to Lower Bay, now confirmed as the very best beach.  There’s a huge cruise liner called ‘Wind Surf’ anchored out to sea, not the first one we’ve noticed, but thankfully its population haven’t made it to Lower.  We lunch at Can’t Remember – their burgers aren’t as good as Moskito’s!
Another nice dinner at Fernando’s, back to Frangipani for a beer, and so to bed.


Friday 29th


Homeward bound
We pack, pay, and bid a sorry farewell to sweet Bequia.
We by-pass the immigration queue at Barbados, as transit passengers.  Flight to Gatwick O.K., but the seats are incredibly uncomfortable – don’t they test these things?
Luggage doesn’t get lost, though it takes hours to find its way to the reclaim; car delivered by an enthused boy racer; back to Reading, cup of tea – and I’m back where I started.



Notes


Taxis
There are three kinds of taxi on Bequia:
·         Minibus.  We didn’t use these, but they’re standard people-carriers, with mostly edifying names like ‘Don’t Give Up’, ‘Justice’, ‘Faith’ etc painted across the front in graffiti-style lettering.
·         Pick-up truck.  This is Curtis’s style of taxi – a truck with bench seats ranged along each side.  Apart from the taxi firm’s ID, they don’t seem to have names.
·         Water taxi.  Obviously, these are not strictly ‘on’, but are boats with outboards, which hang around the jetties or tout for trade up and down the beaches.  They have racy names like ‘Humble Afrikan’, ‘Sweat’, and our favourite ‘Phat Shag’.


Birds
The following types of bird were observed:
·         Bequia Blackbird.  Shaped more like a starling than its English cousin.  Supposedly says ‘Bequia sweet sweet’, though to me it sounds more like ‘Bequia cheap cheap’, which isn’t entirely true.  They’re everywhere, but mostly hang around restaurant terraces.
·         Brown Boobie.  Four foot wing span diver, seen everywhere around the coast.  They hunt constantly, not hovering like raptors but cruising and plunging on the off chance – but rarely seem to catch anything.
·         Frigate Bird (aka Man o’ War).  Magnificent huge sea hunter, up to eight feet span.  They can’t actually dive, not having water-resistant feathers, so have to snatch prey from the sea surface (or from brown boobies).
·         A tiny yellow and black finch who frequents balconies.
·         Humming Bird.  Surprisingly few spotted, as there are allegedly about 29 varieties.
·         A black heron, seen elegantly winging across the bay one evening.
·         Pigeons.


Music
Quite a conservative scene, with the shining exception of Farine (named apparently after a kind of cassava-based porridge).  Bequia musicians don’t seem to have got over Bob Marley yet – seventies style reggae predominates.  A guy called Elvis plays steel drum at the Frangi once a week, to a pre-recorded backing track.  He’s actually very good, jazzy when he lets himself cut loose, but mostly feels he has to do tourist-pleasers.  Quite a lot of country & western, which seems incongruous.  Very little Soca or other more adventurous forms.


Shopping
We concluded that most locals take the ferry to St Vincent to shop – certainly they don’t get their clothes here!  The fruit & veg market is vibrant and well-stocked, though the sales technique can be a bit off-putting – reminded me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  A notice on the back wall reminds vendors not to apply this kind of ‘in your face’ selling approach; but one or two of them seem to have missed the word ‘not’.  Clothing is almost exclusively tourist crap – there is some good stuff, but you have to hunt it out.  Prices, as noted, seem on the high side.


 


 


 


 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Trumphalism




I’ve been trying to conduct an assessment of President Trump’s personality without using qualifiers – adjectives, adverbs – emotive verbs and nouns, or psychological terminology.  It’s not easy, but here I go with my considered opinion:
He is self-focussed, and possesses a set of values that recognise very little outside his image of himself.  Anything that transcends or contradicts these values is not only opposed, rejected or even denied –   its existence does not often cross the boundaries of his perception.
When that does happen, he reacts with violence, verbal or sometimes physical. The latter is not a practical option for him personally because he’s not strong or brave enough (he outsources it) so language is his only means of attack.  As far as I can observe, though, he rarely engages in direct person-to-person verbal confrontation, preferring to use technology as a masking intermediary.  This is because he does not recognise the concept of dialogue, preferring one-way rhetoric.
Given that rhetoric is thus his only means of self-promotion, his use of language is elementary.  Most of his communications break two of the rules I set myself at the outset – they consist mostly of emotive verbs and nouns and qualifiers thereof – and his terminological vocabulary is small, certainly not extending into specialist or scientific fields.
Finally, although – allowing for his frequent swerves off and then back onto his chosen road – he is mostly consistent in the notions he promotes, his utterances suggest that the notions themselves are not his own but are drawn from a pool of political philosophy dating back centuries.  Those surrounding and motivating him appear to have these notions clearly in focus, and use a broad repertoire of political skills to promote them through his utterances.  It does look, though, as if even they are struggling to keep up with their own creation.
There, I trust that’s all sufficiently objective?  Good, now I can put it a different way:
I believe President Trump to be a self-worshipping, paranoid, unreasoning, inarticulate, manipulative, destructive, cowardly bully. Popular hysteria inexplicably inserted him where he is and evil forces are propping him up there. If it weren’t for that, frankly, he’d just be boring.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Do I Know You?


I have to get a new passport.  Well, the current one doesn’t expire until July, but some destinations seem to insist that it must be valid for several months from your date of arrival, even though you’re booked on a ten-day package holiday; and anyway we have no idea where we might want to go in the next few months, so why not?  The new online system looks pretty slick (on the face of it…).  I have to attach a digital photo of my upper body (which they’ll trim to regulation), so we’ll have to take that soon, the main requirement seeming to be that it looks like me.  Hmm.
By coincidence, Z approached the same general topic from a quite different direction on her blog today, and it set me off thinking about recognition.  If someone had to describe me to another person who’d never seen me, what, leaving out bodily dimensions, hair, clothing and so on, in other words focussing just on my face, what would they say?  I have no idea; and equally I’d find it almost impossible to describe my brother’s, sister’s or indeed wife’s faces in words.
Border controls, of course, use biometric measurements to solve this, but we can’t all be expected to carry an app around in our brains to replicate that; and anyway the one they use is obviously in its technological infancy (aren’t they all?) if my experiences of it are anything to go by.  The queues at the fast track are far longer than the old-fashioned ones where a human glances at your passport and your face twice each and nods you through.  I once had to go back three times; turned out I wasn’t looking at the right green light or something.
I then wondered how novelists tackle it if they feel the need to describe a character’s face.  It is done, and no doubt you could cite examples of characters that you’d recognise in the street just from the author’s description, but I couldn’t come up with any, once I’d filtered out subsequent screen portrayals.  I did think of Mervyn Peake – I’d recognise Steerpike, Mr Flay, Fuschia, although interestingly not Titus, the hero – until I realised that he’d drawn them and then described his drawings.  Perhaps that’s the trick.
I once had a two- or three-minute conversation with a chance-encountered girl on London Bridge station, which was going pretty well until we both realised we weren’t who we thought we were.