By Tony Deyal
If, as the poet Robert Browning wrote, “Had I but plenty of money, money enough and to spare, The house for me no doubt, were a house in the city-square; Ah, such a life, such a life, as one leads at the window there!”
In Trinidad we have to keep the windows shut, armed, even more alarmed than we are, burglar-proofed and linked to security companies. Whether the city is square, round or rectangular, because of the murder rate and constantly increasing crime in Trinidad, if I had the money, I would be a “polygon” to Barbados. In fact, if I had money, enough and to spare, the place without doubt for me will be Barbados.
Many years ago, I had written that if I had the dinero to spare, I would be in Bridgetown watching cricket. Now, while cricket is important to me and my son Zubin, who with his sister Jasmine were born in Barbados, if I was a Brit like those 34,000 the BBC says live there, I would buy and fly my own plane, not so much for the cricket but to live there immediately or until Trinidad becomes the home it used to be for all of us – blacks, whites, Indians and mixes of all types, regions and religions. It is not that I am so willing to part with Trinidad that I would join the flying fish and cou-cou posse. It will hurt to leave the land of my birth. But it is worse to see so many empty houses for sale in what used to be “posh” areas and read the newspapers with murders every day.
It is what came to me on Sunday when I went with about 200 Trinis to the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to join a group of people who were concerned about the possibility of 600 murders in Trinidad this year despite that there were 605 last year. In fact, many of us expect it to be 700 or more by the time we get ready to celebrate or defecate from fear of the New Year. While the Carpenters could sing that it’s “Only Just Begun”, we in Trinidad are stuck with “It’s Only Just Big-Gun.” That is why, if I had the bread I will just be-gone.
In all the places in the world that I have lived, including Trinidad, once you can afford it – Barbados is the best. It is like the old joke about how to become a millionaire. First, you become a billionaire and then you buy an airline. In my case, it is even simpler. Become a billionaire and then move to Barbados. Maybe I am exaggerating somewhat about the cost of living in Barbados. However, I am telling the plain truth in declaring my love for that country. I lived there happily for many years and left there reluctantly. Interestingly, unlike Trinidad, nobody in Barbados ever called me a “Coolie.”
When I first went to Barbados to work for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), I was impressed by the names of some of the communities like Duppies, Husbands and Great Head. In one case I shouted “Balls! Balls!” It was not that I was prone to vulgarity but I was on my way to a cricket match and “Balls” was where I was heading. It is the name of a plantation in Barbados which now houses the Barbados Horticultural Society. It caused me to recall a Dorothy Parker pun, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”
I was driving my “mini-moke” machine, a canvas-covered car without doors and windows that had cost me BDS$1,000. However, when I was told that the insurance was $1,500. I angrily asked the salesman, “So what you want me to do? Sell the car to pay for the insurance?” This was when I worried that one of the neighbourhood dogs which chased after me every morning would jump into the car and bite me. I saw myself taking the ball by the horns and going to the hospital for treatment.
“Sir, the very mannerly Barbados nurse would ask, what happened?” Me, “A dog bite me.” Nurse, “How that happen?” Me, “Well I was driving my car, somewhere between Coverly and Newton I came to a plantation and a big dog rush out, jump into my car and bite me.” Nurse, “Balls”. Me, “No. Ankle.” Nurse, “No the place you get bite. Balls.” Me, not knowing in those early days that Balls was a village or plantation and not an anatomical reference, stressed loudly, “Nurse, not there! If it was there, I would be useless. It is my ankle where I get bite. Nowhere else!”
Even now, while we know that the Barbados prime minister is above all the other prime ministers in the Caribbean, I find the Bajan use of the word “above” is still over my head. When I first went to Barbados, I needed a few tee-shirts to wear and went to the well-known and better named “Broad” Street. Having been introduced earlier to Baxter’s Road I realised that there were more “Broads” in Baxter’s, especially in the late evening, than there would ever be on Broad Street despite its reputation as the commercial centre of the country. I went to the only place I knew and enjoyed, Cave Shepherd. I asked one of the salespeople where I would find plain work denims.
She told me just go above and I would find them. I took the escalator and went to the next floor. None. I went to the floor above that one. Same khaki pants. So I went back to the ground floor and told the lady that I went to both floors above and I didn’t find any. It is then I learnt that “above” in Barbados is further in front of you. Had I asked for “below” it would have been behind me or where I had just come from.
I also learnt that in Barbados the word “unfair” is used as a verb. One day, a player who believed that he was given what in Trinidad would be called a “bad” out, was so upset he came off the field and complained: “The umpire unfaired me.” In this context, an Englishman on a Caribbean tour who had just left Jamaica and arrived in Barbados was even more unfaired. He asked the bartender for an Appleton Estate rum, claiming it was the best in the world. The angry bartender told him, “Look buddy, no other country in the world has better rum than Barbados. The astronauts carried one of our rums to the moon.
Commander Armstrong himself made sure our rum was there. Now, ever so often the rum affects the moon.” When the Englishman questioned the veracity of the statement and cast doubt on its authenticity, the bartender said triumphantly, “Listen, you never hear about the moon in Eclipse?”
*Tony Deyal was last seen going into a Bridgetown flower shop. This is because the comedian Tommy Joseph asked, “What is better than roses on a piano?” and cracked up the audience with, “Tulips on the organ.”