Monday, November 30, 2009

Greener Grass?

Eustace Maxim thought I might be the cable technician. An appointment had been made for no definite time, so there was nothing to do but wait. But from the vantage point of his veranda in Jimmit, with its panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea, there are worse places you can watch the world go by. When he thinks of what he'd be doing now if he'd retired in Plaistow, east London, he says, "If I was in England, all I would be doing is staying home and watching television."

Instead he is back on the island of Dominica, the place where he was born, which he left and to which he has now returned. The end point on a lifelong project across oceans, aspirations, cultures and generations that has landed him pretty much right back where he started. His story is a common one. "I left Dominica when I was 23," says Maxim, 72. "Going to England was a means to an end. I never intended to spend so long there. I wanted something better for my children, and everyone was going at that time."

Like many, if not most, his plan was to go, make some money and come back a few years later. But the work he found at Ford, Standard and Cable and finally as a security guard for the Royal Bank of Scotland was barely enough to sustain the life he had, let alone provide savings for the one he dreamed of. "The gold fell from very high in the sky," wrote John Berger, in A Seventh Man, of the immigrant experience in Europe. "And so when it hit the earth it went down very, very deep."

So Maxim, who left in 1960 and came back in 2004, kept digging. "Five years is very little. You go to achieve something. You don't want to come back worse off than when you left." While he was in England, he made a life. Children, then grandchildren came, and 43 years passed. And he kept squirrelling away so he might first buy land, then build and finally return. "It was a hard life," he says. "You try to make yourself as comfortable as you can. It was not a difficult decision to come back, but I used to worry about not coming back."

In the end he spent longer in England than he has in Dominica. There are signs of England everywhere: despite the heat, his carpets are thick, his sofa fluffy. On the walls are pictures of his offspring in graduation finery. But no matter how long he was away, Dominica, he insists, was always home. He never considered himself English, and after four decades his accent doesn't carry the slightest trace of it. "There is a freedom I feel here," he says. "I have the hot sunshine on my back and can have a dip in the river or the hot springs."

Maxim may never have considered himself English and may now feel home, but not everyone sees it like that. Some in Dominica brand him an outsider, yet another returnee with their airs and graces – English ways and English money.

"People say this, people say that." He shrugs. "I ignore it. They think you have all the money in the world. You try to tell them what you had to go through to get it, but they don't want to listen."

The generation of Caribbeans who transformed Britain economically, politically and culturally after the war are nearing the end of their working lives. Like Maxim, many are now fulfilling a long-deferred dream to return to the countries from which they came. Figures to support the scale of this return are patchy. Many returnees have dual citizenship and, given family ties, few have broken with Britain definitively. But anecdotally, the evidence is overwhelming. My own father was one of 10 children, my mother one of six; both were born in Barbados. Of those 16, 11 left for the US, Canada or the UK. Today, all but one has bought land to build on and six have already returned, one way or another. All across the island, crates are arriving, new houses being built and returnees' associations springing up. And just as their arrival radically altered Britain, so their return is having a considerable effect on the Caribbean. "We were pioneers when we left and we are pioneers now we have come back," says Franklyn Georges, who left in 1960 and returned in 2006.

During the 90s, foreign remittances in Jamaica – a large proportion of which are pensions and other moneys coming into returnees – comprised a larger percentage of GDP than foreign currency earners such as bauxite and sugar. In 1997, almost £6m in pension payments went to Barbados, while both St Lucia and Grenada each got £2m.

The smaller the island, the more noticeable the impact. Dominica's domestic population has stayed constant at around 70,000 for the last few decades as people kept emigrating. Today, more Dominicans live abroad – primarily in the UK, US and Guadeloupe, which is part of France – than at home. As time goes on, the potential demographic, economic and political clout of returnees can only grow. Little wonder, then, that there is tension between those who stayed and those who left.

"There is a little back and forth," says John McIntyre, minister for trade, industry, consumer and diaspora affairs, "just like in any family." But there is little doubt who he thinks is primarily responsible for the friction. "When they land, they imagine someone will put a crown on their head. They dress in the UK style. But if you walk down to Roseau [the capital] in a jacket and tie, people will laugh at you. They've been away a long time. This is not the Dominica they left. The local people are not necessarily against them, they just don't know them. We try to bridge the gap. But don't think you're going to hear bells when you come back. When they left, England was on the rise, but over the last few years people are going to Venezuela, Cuba and China for education and opportunities, not England."

He has a point. Shortly before Jean Popeau left the island in 1957, aged 11, his headmaster made him stand up in front of the class. "He was one of those old colonial headmasters," says Popeau, who is putting the finishing touches to his new house. "Very stuck in the old-fashioned ways. A regular caner – an austere, distant man."

"Boy, you're going to be a big shot," the headmaster said. "Going to England was the opening of a door," Popeau says. "The future was yours. I remember Empire Day, parading round the village."

The UK is no longer the presence here that it once was. In McIntyre's anteroom there are two magazines: Beijing Review and Latin Trade. England's historical presence is felt everywhere – from his building you can see the Windsor Park cricket stadium and Roseau's grammar school, while Princess Margaret hospital is just a short drive away – but the evidence of new economic relationships is no less prevalent: the stadium, grammar school and road were all built by the Chinese, who also refurbished the hospital.

Even though none of those I spoke to says they ever felt "English", nearly all have spent more time in England than they have in Dominica, and this has inevitably left its mark on them. They have become accustomed to a different level of efficiency, standard of living and pace of life. "I've been called English without even opening my mouth," said Popeau in Polly Pattullo's Home Again. "I wonder how they can work it out. Perhaps you're brisker in your walk, more purposeful." Popeau has a season ticket to the British Library, where he goes to concerts and free films whenever he is back. He may have felt alienated from British identity, but in all sorts of ways he was embedded in its culture.

Returnees do, at times, sound like expats with disdainful attitudes towards the locals. They complain about the service, some miss their favourite soaps and get frustrated by the relative insularity of a small island. Referring to Dominican politicians, one returnee says: "The standard of leadership here is very low. These guys were banana pickers one day, then they are elected to government the next. They are unimaginative."

Georges, 72, goes one step further. "We who travelled abroad got to know a lot about ourselves that we wouldn't have known if we had stayed at home. We have a wider perspective and those who stayed have a narrower one." They are, he says, "ignorant", and he blames the government for failing to educate them politically.

Many returnees, including Georges, concede they might have an attitude problem. "Sometimes it's not Dominica, it's us," says Kenneth Bruney, who left for England in 1964 and returned in 1997. "Some of us come back and expect to find Marks & Spencer and John Lewis. I'd tell anyone who wants to come back, you should realise you are returning to Dominica. You can't leave England and expect to find three tins of baked beans for 99 cents."

Bruney recalls seeing returners embroiled in confrontation before they had barely set foot in the country, bristling at questions from the customs officer and responding disrespectfully. "The man's doing his job. Talk to him like a human being and he'll behave like a human being. If you don't, you're going to have trouble."

But the image minister McIntyre conjured, of returnees swaggering through Roseau suited and booted like country squires, is ludicrous. Most made frequent trips back while living abroad, so are well aware of how the country has changed and what the living conditions are like. With the exception of one journey to Canada, the only trips Bruney took while in England were to Dominica.

"It's ridiculous to suggest we don't know what it's like, because people come back all the time," Popeau says. "When you return to the Caribbean, you have to leave behind the kind of comfort zone you grew accustomed to." And since most return to the villages where they grew up, people do know them. "People know my parents and my family. My sister came back 10 years ago," Popeau says. "Word gets around that you are from here, and that makes acceptance much easier."

Indeed, in many ways McIntyre's language tells a story. The whole time they have been in England, these returnees have clung to the notion that the place they were from – Dominica – was home, as opposed to the place where they lived. "England was good to me, but I always yearned to come back," Bruney says. When he told a Scottish friend he was going "home" for Christmas, the friend was perplexed. "From a family point of view, England is home," Bruney says, "but from a national point of view, it's not. So when I go to Dominica I'm going home; when I go back to England I'm going back to England. People can say what they like about me there, but they can't here because I'm 101% Domin­ ican." Yet now they are "home", the minister with responsibility for resettling them talks in terms of "us" (Dominicans) and "them" (returnees).

The roads in Dominica wind, curve, dip and rise with such severity that even a short drive will rid a visitor of their bearings. Heading in and out of forests, mountains and valleys, skirting streams and groves is like being on a rollercoaster through an enormous botanical garden that happens to have its own flag and government. In the shadow of Mount Diablo, Bruney shoos away the goats that are eating the plants on his lawn. He also has turkeys, chicken, sheep and pigs.

He was 22 when he left Dominica. "In those days, everyone was going away. We always felt the pastures were greener, we read books about the mother country, so it was a surprise to see all these terraced houses, chimneys and smoke. I was expecting a wealthier, cleaner country."

In Dominica he had been a teacher, and he wanted to join the RAF in the UK. But he met his wife, started a family and ended up working as a clerk for British Rail for 29 years. When he got made redundant, he came back almost immediately. "Money can't compensate for the time I spend here in Dominica," he says.

What would he be doing if he had stayed in England? "I can visualise myself being stuck indoors watching TV and vegetating. What can you do during the winter?"

The weather comes up a lot. While talk of home and the issues of belonging are real, sometimes what you hear are working-class English people who have a more meaningful place to go to than Spain. The fact that they are at "home" only enhances the sense of achievement they feel when they reach the end of their working life and have something to show for it.

Even so, there was a moment shortly after he returned when Bruney briefly regretted coming back. A huge container, holding the bulk of his possessions from England, arrived and the shipping company insisted it had to transport it to his house because it was insured. En route, the lorry overturned, destroying most of what he needed to start his new life. The company refused to compensate him. Even though it was an open-and-shut case, it took him 11 years to get his money back.

Many of the points of tension between returnees and locals are very real problems such as this that have nothing to do with identity. Most have tales of frustrating experiences with the legal system, being cheated while trying to build their house or being otherwise disrespected by bureaucrats. These are frustrations other Dominicans presumably share, but because the returnees have moved back, they are more likely than most to be dealing with bureaucracy and builders.

There are very real income disparities between returnees and locals, too. There are no obvious signs of abject poverty in Dominica – the country is too bountiful for anyone to go hungry – but it is still a poor country with an unemployment rate around 20% and a per capita GDP of £6,000. To buy the land and build a decent-sized house from scratch costs around £90,000. If you worked in the public sector in England, bought your own council house in the 90s and sold it a few years ago, you could retire here in relative wealth and comfort.

"No matter how humble your job might have been, that is a factor you have to deal with," Popeau says. "You can live like a minister here," says Georges, who worked for the Post Office and the railways, and became mayor of Waltham Forest. For some, the shift from struggling to get by to being regarded as wealthy is difficult to fathom. "They think we're rich. I don't think I'm rich," says Helena Durand, 63, who left Dominica in 1959 and came back in 1997. "I don't think of myself as rich at all. But I don't know how people here manage with a family." You can see why returnees would be annoyed at people trying to charge them higher prices for things because they think they have a lot of money, but it is also not difficult to see why local people might try it.

Moreover, in Dominica memories of colonialism are still quite fresh. The country didn't gain independence until 1978, so when the returnees are accused of "acting English", the phrase has connotations that go beyond geography. "To be called English is a slur," Popeau says. "It can be very annoying. It associates you in shorthand with having Anglo-Saxon colonial attitudes, which is pretty ironic because we spent a lot of our working lives fighting those attitudes."

Indeed, the discrepancy between self-perception and appearance feels like just one of a series of misunderstandings inherent in this journey. What local people have seen is people leave, build relatively large houses and return to a grand retirement. What they don't see are the decades in between. It's as though the long hours, the racial humiliations, the sense of alienation and dislocation are all buried under the newly bought land, then built over.

What returnees see is the place they have pined for, sent money back to and otherwise emotionally and financially invested in, keep them at arm's-length. What they sometimes fail to recognise is the degree to which both they and Dominica have changed, and the extent to which they will have to navigate those changes to reintegrate comfortably.

Those who stayed and those who left, to some extent, clash horns because of a colossal mistranslation. Thanks to the global inequalities of wealth, the fruits of a working-class life in England are converted into the retirement of the privileged; the natural process of acculturation is understood as a sign of haughtiness; the desire to see improvement in the place they have returned to is taken as an implicit slight on the attitudes that have prevailed while they were away.

Some emigrants were too embarrassed about their life abroad to say how difficult it was. On their return, some built houses with perimeter walls and curtains locals took as a sign that they didn't want to mix; having spent so long in cities, getting used to the less private, more convivial nature of village life took some adjustments.

These misunderstandings, compounded by the possibly unbridgeable differences that have emerged over a working life abroad, deepen the friction. This was clearly illustrated by an incident Bruney related when a car ahead of him stopped in the middle of a narrow road so the driver could chat with someone on the street. No one could pass. Bruney said he waited a while before his patience, and the patience of others before him, wore out. He asked the driver to move.

"Shut up, you foreigner," the driver replied.

"I was born and bred here," Bruney told the man. "I am more of a Dominican than you are. While I was away I was probably keeping you by sending money back."

When I finish at Eustace Maxim's house, he sees me to the gate and stands there. The cable technician has still not come to fix his computer so he can communicate with his grandkids. I ask if he's expecting him in the morning or evening.

"Just sometime," he says. "But I'm retired. I can wait. He'll come sometime. Praise be to God."


Courtesy, Gary Younge, The Guardian

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just another week in paradise....


THE DRINKS RUN

Two crates of Kubuli and two crates of soft drinks please.

What softs do you want?

One Coke and one crate half Fanta and half Sprite.

Are you sure?

Yes, please.

Payment follows.

Much printing, stamping, tearing, sorting and shuffling.
Finally I get my piece of paper and hand it over to the drinks despatcher.

You can't have that.

Why not?

We don't have it.

So, I have paid for something you don't have?

Much shouting at Maggie who sold it to me followed by Maggie shouting over:-

You really want Coke/Sprite/Fanta?

Yes, I nod enthusiastically. (Maybe there's a secret stash somewhere).

You sure?

Yes.

Well, why don't you choose some Quenchi's instead?

So, you sold me something you don't have?

Err, yes, I thought you'd change your mind once you'd got over there......

Is it me.....


CHICKENS

The chickens went on strike this week. There was no chick chat and they snubbed my food and tore up my nicely laid down newspaper. I think they've grown out of their equivalent to baby rusks. So back to the chicken shop. In here I have this nonsensical (but quite frankly most are here) conversation with around three people which clearly reveals I know sod all about chicks/chickens/chicken food etc.

Anyway, I tell them, fairly confidently, I want real food for them and not musty sawdust. I then spot some great stuff marked 'layers'. I want that I say. No, you can't I'm told they're not laying yet. Well, they'll never lay at this rate on hunger strike. Ok, can I have the food between baby dust and layer? No, we've run out. Gimme (see, I'm learning) layer then. No, they're not old enough. Ok, if you give me the layer, I'll wait a few weeks until they are laying age. Well, you can't have a full bag. (Why not, who cares I think). Ok, what can I have? Half a bag. Ok. Thanks.....

BUILDERS

Extension is going up super quick - mind you, is that really a good sign...slow and sturdy vis-a-vis quick and flimsy. Anyway, I was given the glossy brochure this week to choose the roof colour. I mean, it's not that interesting and I'm not going to see the roof much, unless it blows off of course, but I narrowed it down to the 3 least offensive/in your face colours. Brochure was duly collected on Friday. Did you choose? Yes, these ones. Ok, great but it's going to be Dark Green. Dark Green? Yes, that's the only one in stock.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gone Bananas.....by John Stepek


After 16 bitter years, the banana wars between Europe and America are ending. But what on earth were they and why does it matter?

The banana wars could be about to end. "Thank the Lord," I hear you say. Get the bunting out for the street parties! This dreadful war is finally at an end!

Well, maybe not. In fact, you're probably thinking: "Banana wars? What?"

But you'd be amazed at the trouble the humble banana has caused in its time. On this occasion, we're talking about a trade spat that goes back to 1993.

That makes it the world's longest-running trade dispute. The roots and causes of the banana wars go far deeper than this, but people have written whole books on this topic, so I'll not get into that right now (check out a site such as Bananalink).

Banana wars redux
Here's what the current dispute comes down to. The European Union gives favourable terms to banana growers in its former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific region (ACP).

Basically, it charges import tariffs (taxes) on bananas imported from everywhere else, to protect prices for the ACP region. The idea was to help Europe's ex-colonies using favourable trade terms so they wouldn't need direct overseas aid.

The US complained to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The US doesn't export bananas to Europe, but Latin America does and the banana crop there is controlled by US multinationals. The US reckoned this subsidy was unfair on the Latin American producers, and the WTO - which polices world trade - agreed. It told the EU to stop it in 1997.

Tit for tat tactics
The EU changed its rules. The US didn't think it had gone far enough. The WTO has been forced to rule against the EU on this topic six times since the dispute kicked off.

Now it looks as if - although it's not certain - the EU and Latin America have come to an agreement. Tariffs will be lowered over the course of seven years, to the point where Europe's former colonies are no longer given favourable terms.

Cheap bananas for all
So there'll be more competition in the banana market and consumers will end up getting cheaper bananas - good news, right?

In theory, yes. Anyone who reads my columns even occasionally will know that I believe in capitalism, free markets and all the rest.

That's not because I'm a viciously competitive borderline psychopath who thinks the weak should be crushed under the jackboot of the strong, which is the vague impression that I think some people get of capitalism.

It's because I think it's the best way we know to help everyone in the world improve their standard of living. It's like democracy - it's got plenty of faults, but it's better than all the other systems we've tried so far.

Why's free trade a good thing?
The basic idea behind free trade is this: you want to eat oranges and apples, I want to eat oranges and apples. We could each grow our own supply. But my garden is great for growing apples and rubbish for growing oranges. Yours is great for oranges, but a nightmare for apples.

So rather than me wasting valuable time and money struggling to grow oranges, I just devote my whole garden to apples. You do the same with oranges. Then we trade our surplus with each other.

That way we both benefit from a higher standard of living: we've saved ourselves time and energy by focusing on what we're good at and we still have all the apples and oranges we need. Broaden the theory out to countries, and that's pretty much the idea behind free trade.

And it does work. It's one of the main reasons why China and emerging markets have managed to get a lot richer in recent years. It's not a panacea, and it does have losers - just ask your average blue-collar American worker - but as whole, the global standard of living improves.

So this "victory" in the banana wars is a good thing, right?
Well, not necessarily. For capitalism to work most effectively, the rules should apply to everyone. Unfortunately, they don't. Trade across the world is rife with protectionism and special interests and it's particularly bad in the agriculture sector.

I'm not saying this represents a failure of free trade or capitalism. You can free markets up bit by bit, increase the size of your trading blocs and gradually spread the benefits across larger areas. But this deal doesn't strike me as being the right place to start.

The EU imports about four million tonnes of bananas a year. Of that, 3.4 million already comes from Latin America. So the big companies already control a vast chunk of the banana trade. Meanwhile, a vast chunk of the Caribbean islands' economies relies on banana farming, for example.

Tough, you might think, that's competition for you. They should be growing something else. Well, that'd be fine, but it's not that simple.

Because although we might be looking at scrapping tariffs on bananas, the big protectionist measures still around - the European Common Agricultural Policy being a prime example, although US biofuel subsidies are another one - are still in place and heavily defended by their beneficiaries.

So whatever this is, it's not a level playing field.

Supporting the needy
Now to be fair, seven years is a fairly long time to get to adapt to these changes, and they've been on the cards for a long time. The ACP countries will also get about €190 million in aid to sweeten the deal.

However, the ACP countries may have another ace up their sleeve - Fairtrade, which sources many of its bananas from the Windward Islands in the Caribbean.

Now, I think that Fairtrade is a sticking plaster rather than a solution. Ultimately, it's just another subsidy, paid for by the consumer, and it's a bad idea for these countries' economies to be so reliant on one crop - particularly given that it is vulnerable to destruction by disease and weather. They should diversify in any way they can.

However, if you want to exercise your freedom of choice as a consumer to buy a banana which includes an element of charitable giving and, dare I say it, ethical shopping, then I'm certainly not going to discourage you from doing so.

And while European farmers are still being given huge subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, effectively robbing developing world farmers of their livelihoods, I can't really describe the end of the banana wars, with the potential impact on poor farmers in developing markets, as a real victory for free trade.

John Stepek is the editor of MoneyWeek

Thursday, November 19, 2009

River Rush



So, what makes the perfect Sunday in the Caribbean?

Ok, here goes:-

Bucks Fizz @ EC$10

Brunch - too good to describe

Live Jazz - fab

Kids - never saw them

So, there you have it, www.river-rush.com
Lovely hosts, great staff, amazing surroundings.

If only, they had a copy of the News of the World too hey.....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours, just a friendly wave each morning helps to make a better day....





Ok, the neighbour thing. Who really likes their neighbours? On the surface we're all sugary sweet 'oh yes, we get on so well' - interesting that, the same phrase used by so many just as they are heading to the divorce courts. Here, it's a case of twitching plantation shutters swiftly followed up by 'what are you doing there?'. Then before breath can be taken 'Well, I wouldn't recommend that, oh no, you should really do it this way'. So much so, that our 3 chickens, which we have had for 4 weeks have been moved 8 times - in fact, they must now be entitled to Chickports (sic). Anyway, all interest has been lost in the chickens now, a chicken's not just for Christmas you know, and I am left wondering why I cannot just continue to buy 12 FREE RANGE eggs for EC$7 dollars a week. However, when the first one drops (and, yes why doesn't it break?), I will feel all self sufficient and smug with a touch of eco thrown in too no doubt.

Anyway, back to the neighbours. The main concern here is not you parking 2 inches in front of their house, letting your garden overgrow (a capital punishment crime in Belgium), it's letting your trees grow too high and thereby blocking someone's view somewhere on the mountain.

So, to keep everyone happy we gave all our trees a short back and sides, cleared up the mess - I have 101 logs should anyone be feeling a bit chilly - and everyone can see the sea again, hurrah, clearly it's not as large as I thought it was....

However, one of our more eccentric (ok, completely looney, ex Beauty Queen and clearly beauty does not come from within these days) neighbours tries to find any excuse to send her equally deranged pot smoking gardener down onto our plot. This is cool but a tad alarming when the machete weilding force gets into full swing. So this is how it goes:-

Me (using my best Queen's English): You should really ask me before you come into the garden, you know.

Him: I just chopping.

Me: Cool. You chop away but clear up the mess please.

Him: I just doin' as I'm told. (Hyena laugh follows).

Me: Yes, but if you were told to jump off a cliff, (hopefully this one), would you
do it?

Him: Uuuh?

Me: Never mind. Just clear up will you.

Him: (Hyena laugh).

So today, I have a branches everywhere which I (ok not really me) have to chuck over the mountain myself. Buy hey, all the neighbours can see the sea. Phew.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? JUST SAY NO!

So, living on top of the moutain, I get to be a shuttle service really. All sorts come and go and I never have a clue if I see the same person twice - must open my eyes more. During these trips my passenger door handle has been broken three times and I have given out more donations than I care to recall. Me and my friend Tim here are shortly going to enrol at the 'Learn to say no' school.

Anyway, yesterday I got flagged down at the bus stop which is rare as these folks usually are there for a reason. Anyway, this is how it went:-

Hi, how are you? (that's me)

Good Morning.

Going to the bottom?

Yes.

At this point I never know whether to continue conversations or not, generally it's not as thats when I get guided into donation mode. However, I was feeling chatty, no it doesn't come naturally.

So, what do you do for a living?

I'm a drugs dealer.

Oh, that's nice. I CAN'T BELIEVE I JUST SAID THAT. Now I feel so nervous, sweating or rather glowing as my high school teacher would say that's what girls do, almost as if I'm on a first date and I must say the right thing at all costs. Think think think. Be cool.

Oh, been doing that long?

Yes, I grow my own weed.

Oh right, does it grow high? DOES IT GROW HIGH - WHAT SORT OF STUPID COMMENT IS THAT AND NOW I SOUND LIKE I'M ENCOURAGING THIS COTTAGE INDUSTRY. RIGHT, I AM A LAW ABIDING CITIZEN SO I AM GOING TO SAY SOMETHING LAW ABIDING CITIZEN LIKE RIGHT NOW.

You don't sell to kids to you?

No.

Oh well, that's good but I still don't agree with it you know. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN - DON'T AGREE WITH IT. I SOUND LIKE I AM PROTESTING ABOUT THE PRICE OF LECCY. WHAT DOES HE CARE WHAT I THINK ANYWAY.

It's good business M'aam.

GOOD, AT LEAST HE CALLED ME THAT - HE KNOWS I AM OLD AND SENSIBLE. NOW I THINK SHOULD I TRY AND MEMORISE HIS FEATURES FOR DOMINICA CRIMEWATCH. TALL, DARK, SUNGLASSES AND STRANGE PUDDING HAT. THAT SHOULD DO THE TRICK, THEY WILL CATCH HIM IMMEDIATELY.

Right, I say, in my best bossy voice, I am stopping here, out you get. I have never said 'out you get' to anyone but it seemed appropriate here.

Thanks, see you around.

GOSH, NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST I THOUGHT BUT NODDED ENCOURAGINGLY, SORT OF.



Never a dull moment hey.

24 Hour Pass


So, my Dad came over for 3 weeks to see us and stayed in the Shack. He had one major complaint in that the bed was tooooo big. How can a bed be too big? Answers on a postcard please. Apart from that he had a good time I think and the kids kept him busy. He actually managed to juggle playing 3 different games with 3 different kids simultaneously. Pretty impressive. Anyway, I thought I'd accompany him on his departure to Barbados. This is the longest I have every remained anywhere without leaving the country....what does that say?....that I haven't got island fever I guess....cool.

The new airport here is sort of finished and check in went well. However you then have to work out where departures is and eventually you have this Alice in Wonderland moment and find a little green door with no clue what's on the other side. Nervously opening it, I spot an x-ray machine and a uniformed lady with very bright red lipstick who beckons me through. A combination of travelling LIAT and the ultimate joy of not being accompanied by children meant I was travelling with no luggage only a rucksack. What could go wrong? So, the bag goes through and gets opened. You can't take water unless you put it in a clear plastic bag - no funnily enough I am not carrying one of those - can I carry it? - no - ok, fair enough. Can I buy it in the departure lounge? - no - so I have to sit here for 3 hours without a drink - yes, but you can go back outside again. Ok, we went back outside for an hour. Back again - same lady - same x-ray - no offending water. You can't take both face creams. What do you mean I can't take both? You can take one. (Absolutely no point arguing with this logic, I have been here long enough to know that). Now, is my big dilemma - do I drop my Clarins Beauty Flash Balm (which I have had for 11 years - gosh, that's a worry, it's probably gone toxic) or do I drop my No.7 Protect & Perfect BRAND NEW tube. As you can tell, Beauty Flash Balm comes out on special occasions and this was special, so No.7 can go. Customs lady could do with it anyway.

Next - my handbag. My handbag was full of complete rubbish - half-eaten sweets semi wrapped in sticky tissue. 101 broken tipped pencils. Loads of Brizees gift vouchers which I never understand what to do with. And, the offending item - a pair of scissors. Customs lady logic kicks back in - this is the deal - you can keep these but don't use them on the aircraft. Err, okeydokey. See, absolutely no point retaliating with logic.

Flight is delayed of course but all credit to LIAT as they do a super quick turnaround and we leave in darkness (eek no lights at this airport) at 6pm. Knock on effect was a very late arrival at the hotel in Barbados. The promise of a night propping up the bar and having a long leisurely dinner soon evaporates when entering the hotel it became apparent that it is overrun by a half-term school group from the UK and their teachers. Both seemed to be propping up each other by this stage. It was at this point, we should have gone to a restaurant but Dad had been raving about the great fish dinner he had had at the same place and it shouldn't be missed. Also mash potato. Ours is a mash free house because my husband has brainwashed everyone into hating it. So this would be my mash moment. In the end, we went via Reception (she felt sorry for us) to order our drinks and food. One and a half hours later it arrived and I must say our fish & mash dream meal was fab. We ate it in 4 minutes. Clearly, there had been no time for lunch.

Then it was time for bed and the dream of a Full English Breakfast the next morning. Alas, no time for dreaming, the disco was beside our room. It started at 10pm and finished at 4.30am - I had one of those classy bedside clock/radio things next to my bed which flashed in red the time at me all night. There were moments when I lulled myself into heavy closed eyes and then Dad would stage whisper over - turn the a/c up. Then he gave me a long explanation of what 'up' meant. I know what 'up' means - you want it cooler. Did that, and rolled over. By 5am I was finally asleep. 5.05am - stage whisper - turn it down now will you? - what, down as in hotter or down as in cooler? - no, turn it off - err, ok.

Revived by my Full English at 10am we went for a quick walk and after walking past shoe shops, surf shops, clothes shops etc I stumbled upon a chemist - yipee. I can't explain this but there are no real chemists here and no rows of potions and lotions and pills and just in case remedies.....I spent 45 mins in there looking, touching, occasionally picking up (being followed by security) and left with a huge bag of just in case stuff including Christmas card tags and mascara, alas not vibrating.

Back to the airport and surprise surprise everything got through the x-ray this time including new potions and lotions and a large bottle of water. And then, oh joy of joys, Barbados Duty Free is fairly dedicated to chocolate in super size me sizes. A box of never ending Maltesers came first followed by not much else actually because they were huge. But half the joy is in the window shopping for me. The icing on the cake was a gigantic display of magazines including OK & Hello.

Back on LIAT, back home, very happy. Thanks Dad for coming and allowing me to have my 24 hour pass. We had a ball hey.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Busy doing nothing



Ok, I thought I would be a lady of leisure with plenty of time to blog, write my book, swim and sunbathe but alas I still haven't learnt the art of saying 'no' - thank you but no thank you. For me this is as difficult as getting to the front of the queue. So what have I been doing......well finally the University are offering an Early Years Education course so I have been helping with that as I only managed a half no. Several overseas people have asked me to find houses for them - this has been super cool as their budgets are super high so I have been seeing super nice houses. A lot of supers hey. Last but not least working part-time with special needs children and private tutoring too...Talking of school.....

The kids have settled so well into their new school, and their Principal is so super cool she has just won two awards - one Caribbean and one local for being the best of the best. Guess she is just 'Super Nun' - there's a movie in there somewhere. Very large boxes of Roses chocolates will be winging their way there for Teacher's Day tomorrow anyway. Didn't even know they sold Roses here - hope someone buys me a box.

The shack rentals are going super well. Just had the Russkies (great guests and great fun) in for a week. They bought us Tanqueray 10 and insisted on a long night of whiskey cocktails. Never again but when you're the host you're the host aren't you.....

Finally my shipment of goodies from Target arrived with miniscule duty on - hurrah. Within this were super cool remote controlled, wax but battery operated candles. I shared with Ceels. I know we'll be the envy of the cocktails and candles set for sure....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tout Sweet


So, I got an email from a real live author - how super cool is that? Ok, I wrote first but hey she still replied. Anyway, thank you to Chris for spotting her book online and knowing I would like it and thank you to Amazon for sending it to me - well hopefully it will arrive. Here's the story of someone else's adventure - enjoy enjoy enjoy!

Six years ago, I went to France for the weekend to visit a friend — and bought a house. I hadn’t been planning to, but the opportunity practically dropped into my lap, after a chance meeting with the local estate agent. Over a petite noisette (espresso with a dash of milk) in the local cafe, he mentioned a place that had just come up for sale in the centre of a village 15 miles south of Poitiers. Half an hour later, I was standing in front of a shuttered house with a worn-looking exterior.

Inside, the plaster was flaking like a freshly baked croissant and the brown flowery wallpaper that blighted every wall — brown wallpaper being curiously prevalent in the French countryside — was peeling off in strips. The kitchen floor was about to collapse and there was no indoor loo, heating or hot water. But it was love at first sight. I was taken with the narrow wooden floorboards, the original fireplace and casement windows. Above all, I fell in love with the price. “It’s how much?” I asked the estate agent, thinking I’d misheard.

“€49,000,” [(about £35,000, at the time]) he repeated, misinterpreting the look of amazement on my face. “But don’t worry. I am sure I can get you a reduction.”

Poitou-Charentes, in central western France, is one of the country’s most affordable regions for property. For less than the price of a midlife-crisis car, I would have a holiday home with my own front door and a private courtyard, a big deal for somebody who had spent most of her adult life in London with no outside space. The house would be my hobby and a bolt hole whenever I needed a break from city life.
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I returned after lunch to sign the papers committing to purchase, not even sure if my bank would lend me the money. Fortunately, it did. There was one small problem: as a fashion and beauty writer, I knew nothing about property renovation (the only thing I had ever painted was my nails) and, having recently split up with my long-term boyfriend, I would have to rely on French artisans to do the work.

But I figured the house would also be a distraction from my failed love life. Aged 35, I had closets full of designer labels, a beautiful flat in west London and a successful career, but my closest relationship was with my iMac. And so, after a year of attempting (unsuccessfully) to organise the renovations from my London desk, I decided to move to France — initially, I told myself, for a year, to get the house finished. In reality, I wanted a break from London and time to reassess the materialistic city life that was no longer making me happy.

Although I had no savings — I spent most of my disposable income on shoes — I was lucky in that I would be able to make a living as a freelance journalist, working for British newspapers. And at the back of my mind was the thought that I might find a French husband (of my own, not somebody else’s, I hasten to add, although there is a lot of that sort of thing in rural France).

Surely it should be easier to meet somebody in a small village than a big city, I reckoned, since there would be less competition. Indeed, as a single anglaise in rural France, I told myself I would have novelty value, not least because most Britons who decamp to the land of the long lunch do so as part of a couple or a family and, more often than not, are drawing their pension. Friends have described me as the Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw of the French countryside, but neither Bridget nor Carrie was foolish enough to renovate a house in France while looking for Mr Right.

I can’t claim that what followed was plain sailing. On one memorable occasion, I asked the decorator to give the slatted wooden ceiling of le petit salon a coat of white gloss. I returned from a work trip to London to find he had painted everything — walls, skirting boards and even the fire surround. Something, it seemed, had been lost in translation.

Gradually, I ticked all the big, boring (and costly) jobs such as plumbing and rewiring off my ‘To Do’ list. Then came the fun part: I had read every book I could find on French country interiors and pored over paint charts searching for that elusive shade of blue-grey typical of shutters. (The nearest I’ve found is Farrow & Ball’s Lamp Room Grey.) In contrast to my former flat in London, I decided to forgo tasteful minimalism and fill my French house with a riot of pattern and colour. Inspired by the brightly tiled bathrooms of the celebrated Hôtel La Mirande in Avignon, for example, I made a trip to Aix-en-Provence to buy hand-painted tiles from Carocim, which I used in a clashing patchwork above the kitchen sink.

I also became addicted to Laura Ashley, where I bought two cream iron beds, a distressed leather sofa, a mirrored chest of drawers and a large oak refectory table and benches, all of its shipped over at vast expense. Other pieces, including the vintage lampshades in my kitchen, I picked up at local dépôts-ventes or second-hand shops.

Not everything about the French countryside is perfect: it drove me mad that shops, even supermarkets, close between midday and 2pm every day, and on Mondays most do not open at all. I missed the M&S food hall and cappuccinos made with fresh milk rather than the revolting long-life stuff. The winter months, when rural villages, and life in general, close down by 7pm, can be long and cold. If you don’t make the effort to socialise, it is easy to feel isolated behind tightly closed shutters.

I was initially worried that, arriving in France on my own, I would be lonely, but it proved surprisingly easy to make friends. Living in a village rather than a remote hamlet, I soon realised, was a huge advantage. In the cafe on the square I was astonished at how many people, both French and English, would strike up a conversation. This is how I met one of my best friends, Martine, the glamorous lady mayor of a nearby village.

The first months were the most difficult. Often I woke up pining for my power shower, broadband connection and built-in closets. And yes, there were tears, mostly of frustration, as a result of dealings with France Telecom. It didn’t take long, however, to realise I didn’t want to return to my former life. Along with the other 12,000 Britons who live full-time in the Poitou-Charentes, I love the vast expanse of countryside on my doorstep, the fields of sunflowers (for which the region is famous) and the feeling of belonging to a small community.

“This is a very underrated part of France,” says Nicki Wade, the editor of Living Poitou-Charentes magazine (yes, the region even has its own English-language glossy). “Unlike the Dordogne, it is uncommercialised and unspoilt. It’s the authentic French experience.” It is also just four to five hours’ drive from the ferry ports of Caen and Le Havre and has more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in France, other than the Côte d’Azur.

Kim Cowles, of the French estate agency Agenssimmo (agenssimmo.fr), says price is another key factor. “You can pick up a small village house in need of renovation for as little as £39,000 — £74,000, if renovated — while fully restored farmhouses with a hectare of land can be had for about £87,000,” she says.

As for my house, it was recently valued at £74,000. Since I’ve spent £39,000 on renovating it, I wouldn’t make any profit if I sold. That was never the point. My French house has brought me a lifestyle and experiences that would not have been possible in Britain.

The good news is that I did eventually find my equivalent of Carrie’s “Mr Big”, in the form of Luis, the Portuguese builder living in the house next door. Last summer, my dog, Biff, escaped and jumped out of the window. The next thing I knew, there was a knock at the door and there he was with my dog in his arms.

But some city habits die hard. Every 10 weeks or so, I travel back to England to get my highlights redone in London. You can take the girl out of the city, it seems, but some aspects of city life are impossible to give up.

Tout Sweet: Hanging up my High Heels for a New Life in Rural France, by Karen Wheeler, is published by Summersdale, £7.99. Or read Karen’s blog at toutsweet.net

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sensational Sunset - Here's Winking At You Baby!




Green, well pink polished fingers


Gardening sort of creeps ('scuse the pun) up on you and grabs you and you can't shake it off, here in particular because it is particularly easy for pretty much everything to grow.

I was Villa hunting yesterday for my husband's colleague and was lucky enough to be shown around the most fantastic garden, all of which had been planted within the last 5 years. Some things the owner pointed out I knew but others I just nodded at enthusiastically, particularly at some ying yang bush and another two bushes which had the most amazing smelling leaves - one smokey and one minty - maybe the second one is to get rid of the smell of the first one. Another 2 trees produced red and white flowers at Christmas time so very apt. However, her most impressive success, to me, was a date palm, planted literally from a date seed and now 20 feet tall. I even stroked it. Ok ok at least I didn't talk to it. Anyway, I came home all full of inspiration and still not a clue but there again isn't gardening 99% enthusiasm and 1% at least knowing the names of what you want to buy at the nursery.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pay Now, RIP later


So Friday I find myself outside the funeral home and no it wasn't planned but there I was in the carpark waiting patiently for my new Housekeeper to emerge. The kids have by this time spent around 4 hours in the car having visited 2 places 4 times to get a Death Certificate. I wasn't surprised - nothing to do with form filling is straightforward here so why should death be any different. Anyway, I'm hanging around, avoiding all questions from the kids as to where we are and nodding when Chloe said she spotted a nice wedding car around the back....Then someone appeared from nowhere and makes me jump (place is probably full of wandering souls) with a 'Good day, prices are very reasonable you know....'

Did he think I was waiting outside plucking up the courage to enter? Too late, I hesitated too long and the full pitch began. 'You know we are not like Dead Loss (not their name but I really can't remember) up in Portsmouth, if you pay weekly now, when you reach your desired figure (lots of hands to heaven motions) you don't have to pay us a penny more. Whereas at Dead Loss in Portsmouth, they make you pay for years, yes years, so you might have paid in $20,000 whereas the (lots of hand gestures but no mention of the f word) you wanted only cost, say $2,000, ridiculous isn't it?'

By now I just want to get out of here. No, no such luck. I'm stuck, the sales pitch goes on and I am praying for the doors to open and the HK to emerge. At this stage the kids have climbed half-way up the tree. Deadtime Salesman (or whatever they are called) then does what all Dominicans do and tells the children they are in imminent danger, they must retreat and there's 2 very large snakes living at the top of the tree. Child 1 & 2 look horrified and descend quickly, Child 2 too quickly and falls. Dead Salesman then interjects 'At least you're in the right place'..... I know where the writers of 'Six Feet Under' get inspiration from now. Child 3 ignores all instructions and continues up the tree. So I ignore her. Still no sign of HK.

Phew, finally she emerges waving a piece of paper which she tries to show me with a lot of columns and figures on it. I don't want to be rude but I really don't want to know the difference between the plywood and the cherry oak version. Big mistake - should have found out and encouraged the plywood route early on.

Finally got home at 5pm, relieved and looking forward to Happy Hour at FYH starting at 6. HK says can she have a quick word. No problem I say, don't worry, I enjoyed driving you around all day, anytime, glad to help in times of crisis blah blah blah. HK - Thank you so much Fiona I knew you'd understand and I would be very grateful if I could borrow the $3,000 then before next Friday otherwise they won't bury Granny and now we (not me actually, I sat in the car along every step of the way) have made all the arrangements, so I need it before then......

Finally, after a whole year, Andy had agreed to a dishwasher at $3K, yipee yipee yipee - not sure why he thought that moving countries would actually negate the need for one in the first place but still. (Maybe he thought we'd be eating off disposable palm tree leaves). Anyway, I had picked out the model (ok there is only one shop that sells them and only one model), talked to the plumber, rearranged my cupboards, thrown away my Marigolds, you name it. BUT, how could I let Granny live in limbo in the funeral parlour indefinitely all for the sake of a 'glistening crystal clean glass moment?'

Well, you can't take it with you can you, mind you if you start now you'll be sure to reach the deluxe option in no time at all...........

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Really?! Little Jack looks delighted.......


The Wilmot family at Butlins: not all Brits are hoping for a foreign holiday

Across the country, bookings for campsites, holiday parks, self-catered cottages and boating breaks are way up on last year.

Kerry and Chris Wilmot and their four-year-old son Jack have been to Butlins 13 times since he was a toddler.

"There is so much that people don't realise is available here," said Kerry.

"Why get on a plane and fly out of the country when there is so much in the country to see. I prefer to holiday at home."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Love You Just The Way You Are


The expat women are quite hippy like here hey love?
Hippy like?
Yeah, you know....skinny, no bras or makeup, well, uniquely fashionable....
Ummm, so what are you telling me?
Well, d'you think you'll become like that?
I dunno really.
What do you mean, you dunno, you know you can buy some stuff online in the States and I'll bring it back. Or I'll buy it when I'm over there on business for you.
Cool, thanks love.
Well, what do you fancy, a t-shirt?
No, dresses and make-up then please.
I'm not getting clothes unless you tell me exactly what you want.
Ok then, make-up. I want the vibrating mascara.
Come again?
There's this new mascara that looks really cool - Chloe saw it on TV.
What do I ask for exactly? I'm not saying vibrating mascara.
Fine, don't get me anything.
Don't get stroppy.
I'm not - you just said you didn't want me to turn into a saggy boobed, unfashionable pale faced hippy and I just said mascara would be good start.
Well, write it down and I'll just hand it to the shop assistant.
They will think you're a right weirdo and just send you back to Aisle 15 or whatever.
I dunno anyway what it's called.
Google it.
Ok. Got It. Maybelline Vibrating Mascara - how difficult is that?
How does it run then?
Derrr, on batteries of course.
Forget it, I'm not bringing a vibrating mascara full (!) of batteries back through American customs.
Whatever, you asked.
Mutter mutter, ridiculous, batteries, make-up, mutter mutter......stomp off.




No worries. Avon's reached Dominica. Slip, slap, slop.

It does look a bit lethal though hey, one wrong move and you're blind.

Next I'll be in Birkenstocks, not.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Joy


Nearly everyone invariably asks why we came here and there is no definitive answer I guess, however, I do know why I like it here but it's probably hard to explain that properly too.

But, simply put I guess it's the buzz and the fact that the people are really alive. Ok, that sounds corny doesn't it. The best way I can think of is to describe last Friday. Friday is a really fun day in town from lunchtime on - it's definitely the (Crunchie) Friday feeling for sure; the market has started to set up, the supermarket is busy and everyone is shouting happily. It's a nation of Mutleys (think Wacky Races) mind. Everyone mutters away to themselves interspersed with shouting across the aisles on absolutely nothing relating to the grocery shop. I used to nod in empathy at the mutters, and mutter along in harmony, 'no, I really can't believe they don't stock 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter' here either' etc, but no-one really cares and it's a mutter & move on climate. Even I have given up the angry muttering at the checkout when the 'but I've only got one tin of cornbeef' brigade bypass me, without even making eye contact. Now, I just leave a nice long gap in front of me and make it easy for anyone to slip in there. Afterall it gives me & the kids far more time to decide between the 200 bars of Snickers or the Sunflower Seeds next to them - clearly the 'CHECKOUT IS THE LAST SALOON CHOCOLATE STOP' hasn't reached the shelf stackers at IGA yet. Anyway, the point I am making is that everyone is happy, even in the supermarket - no long faces, take it or leave it is the motto, and let's face it the frozen chicken freezers will never ever ever run out.....

On the way home, I sat behind a lorry full of workers all standing up holding the sides (the truck's not theirs) and laughing, joking and greeting nearly everyone they passed. Their joy in life was so infectious I couldn't help smiling and waving to the odd passerby myself. Fortunately, most people still assume I'm a tourist and not a local looney pretending to have lots of Dominicabook type add on friends....

Sunday, August 2, 2009

One day I will write my book....until then....


Few Caribbean rentals are as atmospheric as Pointe Baptiste. The Dominican home that inspired a Scottish writer has lost none of its 1930s elegance Polly Patullo , Saturday 18 July 2009 Writer's haven ... a white Sand beach near Pointe Baptiste, Dominica. Photograph: Polly Patullo.

Pointe Baptiste reflects the passions of this Scottish-born aristocrat, who was a writer (with a column in the Manchester Guardian describing life on her adopted island), a politician (the first woman to be elected to a Caribbean legislature) and an adventurer. Her memoir, Black and White Sands: a Bohemian Life in the Colonial Caribbean, telling the story of life at Pointe Baptiste and her love affair with the island, then a British colony, has just been published.

Perched on a promontory close to the charming north-coast village of Calibishie, Pointe Baptiste has a casual elegance and intellectual atmosphere that is rarely found in holiday rentals in the Caribbean. Barely changed since Elma's era (although now with electricity and modern plumbing), there are dark glowing antiques, paintings by local artists, a photograph of Gordonstoun school (her childhood home), and shelves of books, among which one visitor found a letter to Elma from Noel Coward.

Dominica is good at seducing outsiders; it is also good at spitting them out again. Elma said that Dominica had a "mysterious charm that has lured some people to stay forever, and from which others have fled without even taking time to unpack". Elma Napier stayed forever, living there until her death in 1973. I have been going to Dominica since the mid-1980s and have been visiting Pointe Baptiste for almost as long, always delighting in the environment that she so loved.

Below the house are two beaches, one of black volcanic sand, the other of pale coral. Elma used to swim on "black beach" in the early morning and "white beach" before lunch. Earlier this year, I did the same. With two of Elma's great-grandchildren, I walked down to the shoreline, only a few minutes' away from the house, through dry forest where the ghostly pink petals of white cedars coated the ground and where lizards, called abòlò in Creole (and once considered a cure for leprosy), scuttled through papery undergrowth.

From black beach, where, as Elma wrote, the sand is "powdered like coal", we clambered up on to a vast amphitheatre of red-ochre rocks "thrusting great paws into the sea", and then walked back through the outskirts of the village to Pointe Baptiste. Sometimes groups of tourists arrive on the rocks to visit the blowhole that regularly emits great spurts of water, but rarely are they anything but empty, backed by trees, battered almost horizontal by the wind like a quiffed haircut.

And then we went to white beach, whose pale sand is a rarity on an island where rainforest, waterfalls, rivers and black-sand beaches are ubiquitous. We swam in the shallows where the waters are protected by a large single rock. Elma would still recognise her white beach although recently a bar has opened, discreetly tucked in among the sea grapes and coconuts. Nearby is the equally gorgeous Woodford Hill beach, also of golden sand and good for snorkelling. Only on public holidays, when Dominicans come out to picnic, are either of these beaches remotely busy.

Indeed it probably has not been so crowded since the time in Elma's day when Fredric March's Christopher Columbus (1949) was filmed there. Nearly 60 years later, scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed on nearby Hampstead beach.

Elma loved to explore, "to see around the next corner", and Dominica is perfect for that. There are endless hikes - take a guide for all but the easiest - such as to the bubbling Boiling Lake, enveloped in a cloud of vapour. Soon a new island-long hiking route, the Waitukubuli National Trail, will open, linking the north with the south in a chain of treks through the extraordinary rainforested interior.

As if Pointe Baptiste were not remote enough, Elma and her family often retreated to a place deep in the rainforest called Chaudiere, where they built their "second home" (now reclaimed by the bush). To get there involved crossing a river six times. Now it's easier. We had a short 20-minute walk from the road beyond the village of Bense down a narrow trail to Chaudiere, a place where two rivers join and waterfalls cascade. We waded across one river and went to swim in a pool enclosed by high rocks, indulging in the Jacuzzi-like qualities of the rushing water, enjoying what Dominicans called "a river bath" and floating on our backs, with the green lace of the forest looming above us.

One of the first things the Napiers did on their arrival in Dominica was to walk to the Carib Territory, home to the Kalinagos, the indigenous people of the Caribbean, to pay their respects to the chief. Nowadays, another leading Kalinago, former chief Irvince Auguiste, welcomes visitors to Concord, the only one of the Kalinago villages to lie inland, away from the jagged Atlantic coast. Elma grieved over the Kalingos' lost culture, but Irvince does his best to keep the flag flying for his people. He takes visitors on a tour of his village, to experience "not how we used to live but how we live now". So you can expect to chat to the cassava-bread maker, learn about the herbs in the yard and get a lesson in basket-making, one of the Kalinagos' surviving traditional crafts.

When the Napiers first announced that they were to give up their fashionable life in London to live in Dominica, one of their friends said it was terrible to think of them sitting on the veranda and drinking rum for the rest of their lives. There waxs time for rum and verandas, but Elma's rich life on the island showed that Dominica offered - and continues to offer - so much more than a hang-out for lotus-eaters.

• Polly Pattullo is the publisher of Black and White Sands: a Bohemian Life in the Colonial Caribbean by Elma Napier (Papillote Press, £10.99).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

1st Year Anniversary








Thank you to everyone who has reminded me we have been here a year - yesterday!

So, my observations are:-

Time really does fly, even on Caribbean time, as it were.

Anything you want must be preceded by 'Gimme'. Just forget 'please may I have' - you might as well be speaking Chinese.

There is no fresh bread first thing.

Everyone knows more about your child's safety than you. Just accept it and be grateful.

Nothing is mine, Tom, Dick or Harry's. It is mine own, Tom's own, Dick's own etc.

The news channel frequently shows news from 5+ years ago.

It is impossible to tell which bottle has tonic, soda or lemonade in as they
are all marked Quenchi.

Sell by dates mean nothing.

No-one uses their real name.

Everyone is related.

The most popular dance consists of allowing any man to gyrate his hips against yours even though you haven't a clue who it is behind you. Sometimes it is a pleasant surprise and sometimes....

If you don't eat chicken you better go vegetarian.

Anything nice and new in the supermarket, (ok, chocolate and unusual biscuits) will be sold out in a few days. Panic buy.

The Fort Young Hotel uses tinned pineapple to make Pina Coladas.

Everyone knows your salary - don't forget everyone is related - even in the bank.

The cost of buying a small fish & chips is the same as buying small fish & chips with an extra of fish on the side, which is really big fish and chips but if you ask for that it costs more. Confused, you will be.

Education should be added to the dinner party 'no go' topics of religion & politics - all of which are discussed at length by those who know the least.

Pretty much everyone looks out for you, I think.

You don't go 'to' somewhere, you go 'by' somewhere.

Cheese triangles (because of their shape funnily enough) are called cheese cubes.

Having the same meal at the same restaurant will rarely ever cost the same.

Everyone's whites are always spotless whites. Persil should really just run all their advertising campaigns from here.

No-one will iron in the rain.

Transport is the word used for car, bike, motorbike, truck etc, so it could be a BMW or a moped coming to pick you up.

The cost of duty for parcels in the Post Office bears no reality whatsoever to the value of the item. The cashier never has any change either.

The loo seat is never freezing cold.

Yes, you can live without buying any new clothes for anyone for a whole year.

Getting up at 6am is easy peasy Japaneasy when it's warm.

The beauty of the place never fails to take your breath away and neither do the sunsets.

Everyone will eventually turn up and if they don't it's because some relation is sick or has died.

An avocado is called a pear - pronounced 'peeeer'.

Cheese puffs are corn curls.

Bleach rules. Wise to get shares in Clorox.

The Chinese restaurants are real Chinese. Fab.

The merits and demerits and cost of buying something in a shop are often discussed at length but result in 'we don't have that though/we can't sell the last one in stock/suggest you try down the road'.

The dustbin men are saints - think stinking, rotten, hot, mouldy, dog chewed piles of waste.

All pulses are called peas.

Always give way to the buses on the mountain.

Wave to everyone and never admit you don't know anyone when clearly they have met you several times.

No-one likes to get their hair wet.

Hair and nail styles change practically daily.

The word 'respect' is part of most confrontations.

The breeze is warm and pleasant.

The views are undescribable.

The beaches are magnificent.

My friends are great!



Yeah, we're there.
So, come on, what (are) you waiting for?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

International Cricket




Well cricket finally came to Dominica and we decided to take everyone as we've never actually been in the Stadium although we can see quite clearly down upon it. Well, I bought the tickets and the lady said, in a warning tone, the party stand is for people who don't watch cricket - great, that's me. So I really haven't a clue what when on. There was a swimming pool for the kids to splash about it, a very loud band and a bar. The bar consisted of 'he who shouts the loudest gets served'. This resulted in the lady behind me getting either a) so frustrated by my quiet '2 beers please' requests or b) she realised I had absolutely no hope in hell of ever getting served at the bar. The latter was true - the conversations were all shouts and everyone knew everyone else and everyone was stealing everyone elses order from the poor guys serving. Complete and utter chaos. So, back to the lady behind me, who simply treated me like a helpless toddler and took over my order and secured my drinks. So cheers to her.

Secondly, thanks to all the people who took pictures of us including Woody & Celia.

Also, Celia took the picture of Sisserou Villa and Lodge from the stadium and the spectacular mural we now have adjoinging the two properties and surrounding the pool.

Busy

I am getting so much grief for the picture of my Dad still lingering there so here we go....School finished, YIPEE, the kids are now in a really fun Summer Camp - Irie Eco - fun activities including free play (yeah!!) and day trips and not a sign of 'Phonics is Fun' anywhere. Summer holidays are summer holidays for children - the clues are in the words you know....they are going to do a week at Art Camp too...lucky guys.

Anyway, we had a fun week off altogether recently in Calibishie...it's Melrose Place crossed with Desperate Housewives but a very pretty Melrose Place nonetheless and reality TV is on your doorstep, quite literally.

Up there we found a fab bakery - real bread and real cakes, obviously most of them involving chocolate...anyway I rang the number:-

Hello is this the bakery?

Uh?

You know bread?

Oh yeah.

And cakes?

Yeah but I'm at the bus stop now.

Ok, but can I order some naan bread and chocolate cake plse?

Yes but you will have to ring back for the cake.

So I can order the bread now and the cake later - cool, I
will have some onion bread and some naan bread and I will
ring back about the cake order.

Yeah man, no problem.

When's a good time to ring back?

Later.

Yeah, I know later, but later - this evening?

September would be better...


Anyway, his bread is fantastic, impossible to find the bakery of course and yes, it's half way up a mountain, like everywhere, but definitely worth persevering.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day


To Dad AKA - The Hat, The Cardigan & The Joke
With all my love, X

An old nun who was living in a convent next to a construction site noticed the coarse language of the workers so she decided to spend some time with them to try and correct their ways. She thought she would take her lunch and sit with the workers and talk with them. She put her sandwich in a brown paper bag and walked over to the spot where the men were eating.

The men looked to be supervisors so she said, with a big smile: "Do you men know Jesus Christ?"

They shook their heads and looked at each other. The foreman then shouted up into the building and yelled "Anybody up there know Jesus Christ?"

There were a number of denials, and then one of the workers shouted down "Yeah..... Why"?

The foreman yelled back, “Get down here as quick as you can. Your mother's here with your lunch!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hot Scoff

The Dominica Food and Drink Guide 2009 is now available on-line.

This is Coooool !

The Latest Caribbean Homes and Lifestyle magazine is now available on-line.

Stuff








The road to our house at the very top of the mountain has been fixed, proper tarmac, super wide and scary free driving. This took 9 months.

The road to our house at the very top of the mountain (no I don't have alzheimer's yet) has just been completely dug up, is very narrow, is full of pot holes and super scary slidey (sp?) in the rain now.

Mr Road Man does not communicate with Mr Water Pipe Man in the Utilities Department I guess then, too busy dealing with Mr Bin Man most likely. (you'll have to Google that - Dominica bingate scandal).

My family have probably had enough of being dragged around the old ruins in Dominica. Everyone else goes to the beach or river they tell me but oh no we have to rubber neck. They'll thank me one day.

Our housekeeper took a loan and then has been house moving for the last 3 weeks so I think she may not come back. So I'm permanently at the kitchen sink but it could be worse - at least the view's great.

My friend Celia has my children for a whole afternoon for me and doesn't complain - until she's out of earshot. Ceels, what would I do without you....

Our class field trip today was to the Indian River - fantastic - here's Ollie & a large crab and me - his classmate had my camera - honestly! Scarlett went to an adventure park for hers and was fearless, sort of.

I had a fight with the carpark barrier in Astaphans and lost so I'm a third bumperless with a fair amount of yellow paint added. I thought it was fairly minor until Andy asked where all the missing pieces were. Fairly major then. Ollie tells me we shouldn't use that carpark again. They probably don't want me anywhere near their carpark again.

Finally, the slothful behaviour of the year award goes to Oliver.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Eek aka oink oink!

Dominica confirms 1st case of swine flu
Associated Press
2009-06-08 09:26 PM

The small eastern Caribbean island of Dominica has confirmed its first case of swine flu.

Health Minister John Fabien says the man has received treatment and is recovering. He urged islanders to remain vigilant and continue to take "personal hygiene measures."

Fabien said Monday samples from the man were sent for testing last week and came back positive from the Caribbean Epidemiology Center in Trinidad.

The patient reportedly had returned from a recent visit to the United States.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Exam Debate


Well, it's exam time at the children's school. In fact if it's not exams it's tests. I keep it low key with my children so they are still laid back about the whole process but the stress levels amongst the, shall we say, more competitive parents seems to be at an all time high. Casual conversations started with teachers about the weather (hot, hot & hot at the moment) invariably lead to, 'what do you think you'll be covering in the exam, exactly'. Note the very casual 'exactly' thrown in. Bemused teachers reply referring to a Study Guide (err, the whole year's curriculum) and parents depart crestfallen. However, some don't give up and almost demand to know exactly what will be included nearly busting their blouses in frustration. Anyway, when in Rome, just remain horizontal about it I'd say. Pass us a grape.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

School Projects


Yet ANOTHER school project completed.
My brother says it's the same there as here, however, in 'our' day I'm sure
I did everthing all by myself. Now it's the competition of the Mum's - in fact
they should add a little section on the report card - Mrs Sawers, Grade 2 - Term 3 Project Work - A+
Did my lovely daughter appreciate it?
What do you think?
You do know what it is don't you?

Mermaid's Secret, Rosalie



Our friends have just bought this wonderful place.
Fantastic pool and lovely lodges, coupled with the most amazing luxury yurts to sleep the whole family or a romantic place for two - the only place to stay 'in the country'.
Our mermaid diidn't need much encouragement to pose.
Last but not least enjoy an ice cold bevy at the exclusive Mermaid's Tale Bar!
Best of luck to the Williams and long may we BBQ by their very own, privately owned, exclusive Mermaid Pool!

www.mermaids-secret.com

Del Sawers Monte

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day in Dominica




It's official I've turned into my Mum.
Today was rainy and chilly - well as chilly goes here so I made the whole family go for the obligatory Sunday walk after lunch. Except, here it's up the mountain and down again. So here they are the top and all remarkably cheerful so we all exchanged photos. Happy Mother's Day to all those involved in childcare wherever you may be - it's the things you think they'll never remember that they always do. Enjoy and thanks Mum for making me me. XX