Tuesday, 20 March 2007

From Strasbourg to Trinidad, it’s all one big cultural callaloo.

Early Lessons in fitting in.

I remember like it was yesterday driving in the car with the dog, Peggy sitting up between us we are up on the Lady Chancellor highway looking down on Port of Spain.
It was a lovely afternoon blue skies and very warm, a lovely drive but a sad journey as we going to take Peggy over to the people who were to look after her while we were away in Europe.
I recall they seemed to be nice enough people, and their house and garden were ok and they seemed keen to have Peggy to stay. I was of course very critical of the place my adored Peggy would be staying at while we were away.
Mum and Dad, just kept telling me that we are off on our usual long holiday to Europe. Somehow it did not really feel true because at the same time my mother was packing up a lot of stuff some to be stored other stuff to be sent to England, there were lots of lists and stress and there was alot of unexplained activity at home.
Added to this there were a lot of tearful visits from family and friends who were coming to say goodbye, some of whom would occasionally grab me and overwhelm me with huge hugs and kisses and then burst into tears and leave quickly.
It did not add up at all. Even then mum and dad were still insisting that we were off on holiday, a long holiday, I did not know whom to believe. The last times that I had been at Auntie Jo’s or at Auntie Gussie’s were very dramatic and had an unreal air about them.
Abit like running a temperature, it’s the same sort of feeling that you get when your have a high temperature everything is happening at a different pace and everything feels out of sync and totally unreal.
And no one tells you anything, instead they are all talking about you, doing everything in your best interest but there is no direct communication with the patient. Being taken from the place I grew up in and taken off to another country without being told why and what was going to be happening was a very frightening experience.
The only person who ever told me something different to the holiday story was one of the friends of the family, Auntie Hermine who told me when we were up on deck of the ship we were sailing on, to take a good look around and remember everything well because I might not be back.
This worried me no end but soon the excitement of being on a big ship overtook all thoughts of Trinidad and the future. I was having a good time running about on deck with other kids, taking the dogs on board for regular daily walks and taking part in all of the activities they had organized for kids on the ship.
Added to that I was being taught to swim properly by Michael Miles from the telly quiz show ‘Open the box or take the money’. He was a nice chap we met on board who offered to coach me, it was nice to be treated like an intelligent teenager by him, all lessons were naturally held within sight of my sunbathing mother, who managed to interrupt as often as she felt like it which was often as she liked to be the centre of attention.
At mealtimes my mother had other plans, as she was a terrible snob and also very good at getting what she wanted, she had managed to get herself a seat at the captain’s table so I was allowed to eat with my dad at a table for two, instead of having to eat with the kids down in the nursery.
On the SS Antilles we had some great French food, presented in an old fashioned way with a lot of flourish and grandeur as well as quite a lot of showmanship. Every mealtime there was a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine, as it was a French boat it was assumed because I was 10 that I would also drink a little bit of wine.
There was always a huge carafe of water on every table. I still recall the crepes suzette, where they wheeled on this portable cooker and plotted up next to our table then the chef started to fry the crepes in the pan threw them up in the air and ignited them with brandy and served them covered in cream and oozing liqueur and flaming. It was very exciting. There were lots of these special treats as all the stewards mad it their business to spoil me rotten. It was a great trip on the boat sadly ruined by our cold destination.
It was very noticeable when we crossed the Azores and the last couple of nights it became clear that where we were going was a cold place. This was still April and it was pretty cool in London, in Trinidad it was warm in April and the mangos are just getting ripe, in England they have a hopeful saying that April showers bring Mayflowers. In Trinidad we have the mangos as proof in May.

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