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


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).