Hope – A Photo

This building was tumbled down and covered with wooden boards carrying these hopeful little homilies.  I walked past it every day on my way into Speightstown when I was in Barbados last year.

I don’t know any more about it, but it raised lots of questions.  Why take the trouble to pain the door when everything else on the building is rotting and mouldy?  Why affix the wooden boards?  Who had the key to the padlock?  What was going in inside to need a new electricity meter?

Is it a metaphor in wood and plaster?  Someone had some hope, at one time or another.

No Escape From Ophelia

I know it’s a tenuous link, to allow me to use another photo I took in Barbados, but I think I’m being chased by Hurricane Ophelia.

When last  I encountered her, she was a ‘disorganised tropical storm’ according to the US National Hurricane Centre, yet on the weather forecast this Monday morning, the UK Met Office via the BBC, predicted that by the end of the week the West of Scotland, whither I am headed tomorrow, will be doused by rain from the tail end of Ophelia, now a fully fledged hurricane, on a path currently just off the north Atlantic coast of the US.

I’ve never before paid so much attention to a weather pattern; nor indeed have I ever felt quite so pursued by one.  Is this just another case of weird cosmic synchronicity?  Or is she really after me?

Sunset – A Photo

Sometimes the topics suggested by WordPress for the weekly photo challenge are indeed a challenge.   In a good week the prompt is ripe with scores of possible interpretations which excite me to look through my piles of photo albums and files to find the right sideways response; on the other weeks, its ripe for cliché.  This is one such week.

But I suppose clichés become clichéd from overuse, not because there is no original appeal to them.  I think I may even have posted a photo of a sunset already within the last couple of weeks.  It was too tempting not to, especially as I had taken so many shots of the end of the day from the balcony of the flat in which I was staying in Barbados.  We were facing due West and, especially on the stormy days, there were beautiful sunsets most evenings.  Some days I simply rested my elbows on the balustrade and watched as the sun painted the sky with shades of red, orange and pink, as it dropped beyond the horizon.  On other evenings I fetched the camera for more futile attempts to capture its beauty…..

While it’s good to have the snaps to remind me of the view, the better experiences were those evenings when I simply watched and absorbed the reality.

Girls in White Dresses…..

Is there a qualitative difference in being watched by people lying on loungers slathered in sun cream, on the one hand, or people doing their Saturday shopping in the High Street, on the other, when you’re going through your marriage ceremony?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself each time  I’ve walked past the wedding gazebo which lies on the path from our apartment to the best swimming area on the beach.

I’m sure the photos will look stunning: the bride and groom alone together on the beach as the waves lap at their feet; but what about the people just outside shot, drinking rum punch out of a plastic cup, reading the latest in Scandinavian noir?  Is this what they imagined it would be like when the booked it, after trawling through brochures and extensive searching on the internet, choosing between here and the Bahamas or the Seychelles or Cyprus?

Had the bride thought about the fact that she would be walking through sand when she bought those shoes, or that it would be 85 degrees in the shade when she bought that tight waisted, boned, off the shoulder dress?  Or indeed, had she pondered the wisdom of too much sun bathing just before having to put it on?

The path to the gazebo is of such compacted sand that it floods when the heavy rains come, and then it is swept clean and raked straight again before the next ceremony.  The round shelter itself is decked with a couple of white drapes and bunches of plastic flowers tied to the posts, and is a shaded part of the beach.  Even so….

One couple eschewed the cupola and wed at the far end of the beach, but we were out swimming so had a ring side seat of sorts…….  The bride looked much less trussed up, in a simple knee length dress with a blue sash, while the groom was in a shirt and trousers, and the guests were casually dressed.  Now, they looked like they were having fun…..

Fall – A Photo

The seasons are different here to those in the UK; it’s either warm and dry or warm and wet.

It’s in the wet phase of the cycle now, and with a vantage point looking directly west over the ocean I have spent a lot of time watching the weather approach and recede.

This rain was coming our way, although it was sunny at the moment I took the shot.  Minutes later it hit us, and for a short while everything around was grey, until the sun reappeared as quickly as it had hidden.

Rum Royale

Apart from lounging around in Speightstown, I have donned the ‘proper’ tourist mantle and been out to Oistins and to the Mount Gay Rum factory.

Oistins is a village on the south side of Bridgetown which has developed from a small fishing community with a few stalls cooking fish at the side of the road, to a Bajan institution, popular with both locals and visitors.  A large area near the fish market, arranged around a central stage, which was running a karaoke show on the night we visited, is dedicated to serving up freshly cooked fish, with as many side orders as will fit in the polystyrene boxes, to all comers who sit at trestle tables under fixed and temporary shelters, drinking beer and absorbing the lively atmosphere.  It was fun, and although I couldn’t really see what I was eating, it was delicious.

We’ve been doing our bit to keep the sales of Mount Gay Rum flourishing, so it was interesting to visit them.  I’ve been to a number of alcohol production facilities in various countries over the years, so am broadly familiar with the industrial process, the big tanks, the barrels (used for bourbon in the US then shipped to Barbados), the special palate of the master taster, and the tour at Mount Gay didn’t disappoint in that regard.  I was a little disappointed not to be able to see the bottling line (the heavy rain had flooded the path) as that’s usually the most fascinating, watching all the bottles shuffle along the moving belt, but I did learn a few little tidbits along the way.

As the sign says, their claim is to be the rum that invented rum.  That for me begs the question of how someone thought of trying to make alcohol from molasses, a bi-product of the sugar refining process?  Or indeed, how anyone thought of making alcohol out of anything in the first place?

At the end of the tour we had a little tasting of their three main products, and then proceeded to the bar where we tried a couple of cocktails.  I had a ‘Bajan Smile’, a cross between a pina colada and strawberry milk, which went down, dangerously, without touching the sides.

I still prefer E’s ‘Rum Royale’ cocktail of freshly squeezed lime juice, rum and a touch of sugar syrup over ice, with which we begin our evenings.  It will bring special memories of this lovely interlude, but I know I won’t be able to replicate it when I get home.

Ready, Steady, Cook

I’ve not been a particularly dedicated tourist here on Barbados, and haven’t made too many ventures out of the quietude of Speightstown.  It’s been enough to stroll into the centre of town to buy fruit and vegetables from the stalls in the street and to pop into the supermarkets for the other bits and pieces we’ve been consuming.

There are two supermarkets in the town, Jordans’ which has a reasonable range but which is the far side of town (by that I mean an extra 5 minutes walk) or Eddie’s which is closer and smaller, and therefore better for the heavy things.  Eddie’s is a curiosity in itself; yesterday I bought a box of a dozen eggs, a six pack of Banks beer and a loaf of bread.  That’s three items, isn’t it?  Not at Eddie’s; there it is 19 items (or 25, if you count the fact that for every beer bottle there is a deposit which is rung up separately) , and the cashier had to enter each one individually, as there appeared to be no multiplication facility on her till, and I was presented with a receipt a foot long.

Even though there are a couple of quite large resort type hotels just a few minutes walk from us, perhaps because they are ‘all inclusive’, I’ve not seen that many tourist looking people in town.  This may be one of the reasons that people have started stopping me in the street for a chat, saying they’ve noticed me walking around, am I having a nice time and wishing me a good day.  The fruit stall holders who call out to say hello when I walk by, now know my interest in trying new things, but also the regular order for tomatoes, avocados, papaya and limes.

We’ve tried to buy fresh local produce , and have made our meals up as we’ve gone along.  And what a feast it has been; a real lesson that you don’t have to have an infinite range of ingredients to make good plates of food.   Each evening E and I run through the inventory of what we have in the fridge and the veg basket, put it all on the counter Ready Steady Cook -style, and decide what we will prepare.

Although we’ve never cooked together before this trip, we have quickly fallen into a pattern, it might even be a habit, of the allocation of responsibilities.  E does the fish (usually in tin foil, but we’ve also griddled it) and I make the salad (or bake the squash, or on one occasion, even roast potatoes) and we share responsibility for supervision of the rice.  Similar patterns have developed at breakfast (which depending on the writing/swimming/drinking coffee programme has on some days been eaten at noon): I do the papaya, E does the eggs, and toast duty is shared.

I would never have anticipated deriving such pleasure from shopping and cooking, especially not on holiday, but I think it all adds to the anticipation and ultimate enjoyment of the meal, freshly cooked from fresh ingredients sitting outside on the balcony, fanned by a gentle breeze,  listening to the lap of the waves against the beach.

Tracking Ophelia

Travelling to Barbados in September, I knew I had to expect rain. Sun was also promised, as well as high temperatures; and we’ve had all of them.  What I hadn’t expected was the swift and dramatic changes.

In England we believe we are accustomed to changeable weather, but from here, our collective whining makes us look like a country of drama queens; the variability we experience is confined to a relatively clement range; everything comes with a warning, the sun gradually disappears behind a cloud before the rain starts, and when it does start to fall, it begins gently, with little spray-like drops, and only after we’ve had time to fish our umbrellas out of the bottom of our bags, does it start in earnest.

There are no such warnings here.  On Wednesday morning, we were sitting on the balcony soaking up bright sunshine and admiring the clear sky and the aquamarine sea when we were suddenly doused by great fat raindrops, as if someone had just turned a hosepipe on us.  The shower rattled against the leaves on the palm trees and drummed on the roof.  It was only later that the grey cloud sidled up above us, and then stayed for a couple of hours, driving us indoors, as the overhanging canopy outside was not enough to protect us from the angle of the rain.

After it was exhausted, the blue skies and sun reappeared as if by the click of a magician’s fingers, ta-da.

We have learnt that there is an important difference between rain, on the one hand, and a storm, on the other.  Rain, albeit thunderous and plentiful, is part of life in the winter;  a storm is something else altogether.

On Monday, E, who has been doing some diving while she’s here, was told that she might not be able to go out on Thursday as there was the chance of a storm, and the diving outfit would be taking their boat out of the water in anticipation.  This set us both into internet research mode, properly studying a map of the Caribbean for the first time to see exactly where we are in relation to all the other islands, and tracking the path of the storm, now named Ophelia, ever since.

The US National Hurricane Centre has been the main source of data.  When we first looked it hadn’t yet been named, she was but a system of winds with a 70% likelihood of turning into a tropical storm; this was then confirmed, and she became Ophelia.  To date she’s still only a tropical storm and not a hurricane, and her path is now predicted as turning north before she gets too close to Barbados, so we can expect rain and wind but nothing significantly more.

A couple of local people have told me that Barbados last suffered a direct hurricane hit in 1955, when Janet arrived on 22 September, and there is a feeling that another one may be overdue.  So everyone is aware when a storm system develops in a part of the ocean which might lead it to follow a path towards the island; they hope it will pass them by, but they make plans anyway.

I’ve really only just understood what that level of risk and uncertainty can do to you.

Ireland’s Export

Not an Irish Bar......

Is it true that any town of any size, anywhere, has an Irish bar?

It was certainly the case for Moscow when I was living there in the 1990s. There was the bar at Sheremetyevo which was referred to generally as ‘The Irish Bar’, so much so, that I can’t honestly now remember if it had any other name, and then there were the related establishments of Rosie O’Grady’s and Sally O’Brien’s relatively near my office, as well as another generically named one on the Novii Arbat, near the ‘Irish supermarket’, and once again my memory has let me down on any other proper names (and fond as I am of a google internet search, there are limits).

And what made them Irish?  The dark wood fittings, the scuffed wooden floors, the festoons of shamrocks and Guinness advertising, the barmen, the stout on tap?  The craic?

Are there any pubs in Ireland itself that are like that, or has a blueprint of a collection of clichés been exported, while local establishments in Dublin and Cork have moved on into other design trends?

Barbados has its own Irish Bar, McBrides, in The Gap, the party area of the island.  Venturing out of the quiet of Speightstown on Saturday night to hit the hot spots of noisy bars and cocktails in frozen glasses, was a culture shock in its own right, before I’d even arrived at the late night hang out.

Conducting the inventory: Guinness signs? Check.  Dark wood bar? Check. TV on the wall showing English football results? Check.  Pictures of people dressed in green? Check.  Greatest hits from the 1970s and 1980s?  Check.  Bouncers on the door? Check.

I’m not sure the style of dancing would go down well in the old country, though.  Although participants were fully clothed, modesty forbids me from describing the main moves; suffice to say that locally, they call it ‘grinding’, and there were some remarkably bored expressions on the faces of some of the female dancers as they leant forward, their elbows resting on a ledge, taking occasional sips from their drinks…….

But then, the music was so loud that conversation wasn’t really possible.

By Bus to Bridgetown…..

On Monday I ventured out of the sleepy quiet cocoon that is Speightstown for a trip into Bridgetown, by bus.

I’d read the information in the guide book, and this had been reinforced by a friend who lives locally: there are two kinds of buses: blue, government run ones, which operate broadly to a timetable and stop only at predesignated stops and have moderately careful drivers, and then there are the yellow ones, to which none of those descriptions apply.

So when I walked to the bus station in Speightstown I had every intention of taking a blue bus, but as I was approaching, a young man leant out of the yellow vehicle and encouraged me to ‘get on quick’.  It seemed like too good an invitation to forgo.

The radio blared from speakers somewhere in the front of the bus; music tracks with insistent beats and incomprehensible lyrics, but with which the young woman across the aisle from me sang along quite happily most of the way, and loud shouty interventions from the DJ which were clearly amusing to those who understood them.  The radio had to be loud to be audible above the straining roar of the bus engine.

As well as the driver, the crew included two men, one who took the B$2 fare from each passenger, and the other who jumped off and on to help old ladies with packages to board and descend, as well as banged on the roof to inform the driver it was safe to move off.

I began to wonder at the dire warnings I had heard about the reckless speed of the yellow buses, when for the first quarter of an hour the driver never moved above a screaming first gear.  It was a few minutes later that I realised a possible explanation was that he was eating his lunch from a polystyrene container on his lap, and he needed his gear changing hand for the fork.

By the time we reached Hole Town (so named, I understand, because there used to be a hole there), his lunch was finished and we were flying along, until slower vehicles in front necessitated the sharp application of the brakes.  A few miles further along the coast we came to the end of a traffic jam.  Both the money collector and the door guard jumped off the bus, one flagged down an oncoming truck, presumably to ask the cause of the holdup, while the other ran on ahead up the hill and around the bend to look for himself.  The bus driver stepped down into the road and lit a cigarette.

Many of the cars in front of us were doing U-turns, and space opened up in front of us.  Amid much hooting of horns (essential here it seems before any vehicular manoeuvre) we were overtaken by a minibus taxi.  The crew ran back to their places and we roared up the hill again, to the cause of the jam: a bend on the road where two lorries appeared to be in some kind of stand off, perhaps broken down in the inconvenient spot, perhaps just after a glancing collision, I couldn’t tell.  There was however a small gap between them.  A gap, it transpired, that was about 6 inches wider than the bus I was in.

We drove up onto the pavement with two great lurching bumps, ger-dung ger-dung, to get the right angle of approach through the gap, and then down again, ger-ding, ger-dung, remarkably, without hitting either of the stalled vehicles, or the lamp post.  Every passenger was watching out of the nearest window, and only when we were through, with nary a couple of inches of clearance on my side of the bus, did everyone return to the study of their mobile telephones.

And then, oh the thrill of the open road in front of him, and the driver made full use of all the gears and full depression of the accelerator.

I got off the bus when everyone else did, not really very sure of where I was, but very quickly orientated myself in the centre of Bridgetown.  And just a little surprised to see Lord Nelson in such a prominent position, albeit tempered by the Chefette in the background…….

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