Paul’s mother, Linda Thrussell, had been born exactly 70 years ago on the 1st February 1949, in the London borough of East Sheen. She had met Paul and Tina’s father, Raymond, on a caravan park in the exotic Essex resort of Jaywick Sands. From there she set sail on stormy seas on a journey that was to last nearly thirty years.
T’was called being married to Ray!
Paul and Tina’s father had possessed great charm but had not been the easiest of men. Perhaps being diagnosed as a having bipolar disorder didn’t help, but there had been other complications. Paul had always had the sneaking suspicion that his late father had quite enjoyed being labelled as a nutcase. It gave him carte blanche to behave how he had wished, which was often quite badly. But Linda had loved him so had naturally followed him to the ends of the earth.
Sydney, Australia to be specific. The young Davies family had resided in an unfashionable suburb replete with giant stick insects on the balcony.
Paul was just a toddler in ‘Oz’ and his sister had been born there. So when his mother and father returned to Blighty they carried a little more baggage than when they’d left a few years earlier. Not to mention the emotional heft that Ray carried with him throughout his up and down existence.
Now, many years later, Linda had been extraordinarily generous in bringing her close family to cruise the Caribbean. But Paul had a sneaking suspicion there was someone missing. He knew his father would have loved to have been aboard celebrating his ‘old woman’s’ seventieth.
But it was not to be.
Paul felt a pang of regret and then remembered his mother’s sordid tales of Ray’s terrible behaviour aboard a liner when crossing the Indian Ocean. The poignancy he’d felt did not last for long. He was quite sure, with his father present and incorrect, there would have been a man overboard moment at some point during the trip. But he looked towards the starry night on deck and gave his dad a maudlin salute.
He blamed the Dominican rum!
On his mother’s birthday the family headed into Bridgetown, Barbados’s scruffy, colonial-era capital. They hit the beach under cloudy skies and dipped in water as clear as any they’d yet swam across. It was a most relaxing day.
The evening, however, became much darker.
As the three boys left the girls beached and made their way back towards the docks, they decided to hit the downtown area of Bridgetown in order to find a bar in which to sink a local dram or three.
As they made their way through streets which reminded Paul of the less attractive parts of south-east London, the trio grew uneasy.
It was like Catford without the gentility.
Paul and Andrew knew this, as they had resided in that most salubrious of London suburbs for over nine years, but never did they experience anything like the hostility which greeted them in the dump in which they were presently at anchor.
At first Paul wondered if they were experiencing racism, they were, after all, the only white folk in this part of town, and he had a good idea that the former British colonialists had not always played ball fairly when it was they who wrote the rulebook. But it wasn’t long before he realised there was another reason for the filthy looks and black humour.
He heard the word ‘batty’ repeatedly and knew immediately that the good people of Bridgetown were not referring to his cricketing ability.
It was blatant homophobia.
The like of which Paul had rarely come across.
He, Andrew and Bill had travelled extensively, and to very dangerous places. Paul and Andrew had a penchant for a seedy City, and Billy had just returned from an extensive trip of South America, taking in some of the toughest towns in Columbia, yet none of them had felt the discomfort Bridgetown offered.
They decided they would forego the local for which they’d been searching and therefore avoid the locals. None of them felt at all welcome.
‘Let’s get a pint on the ship’ Bill suggested.
Paul and Andrew were more than ready to agree. They decided not to take the bus – the queue was too long and the lines unpleasant!
This was ‘Barbadross’ – there was no way Paul wanted to spend his tourist dollar in such a rude place. He’d rather wait until he got to an island where there was at least a little charm, be it fake or not.
He knew there was a major problem with ‘queer bashing’ in the West Indies, but had stupidly thought it was confined to the rougher parts of Jamaica. Sadly, it seemed, the outdated attitude was still prevalent in Barbados’s capital too.
He had never had a chip about preferring Dick to Mary, he couldn’t care less what people thought. But walking through Bridgetown depressed him!
When it came to the evening, he was dubious about going back down the gangway, but it was his mother’s birthday and the family were going to celebrate no matter what.
Paul wondered what he should wear for the occasion.
He was rather sorry he hadn’t packed his red stilettos, that would have given the ignorant heels something to really whistle at. Doubtless strupsing suggestively as Paul strutted down to the wharf.
As the family left the confines of their cabins they were literally accosted by surely the most fervent of taxi drivers in the world. Despite the fact their landing party had done the walk in just ten minutes earlier that day, these rip-off merchants were asking for thirty US dollar for the short trip. Linda’s crew knew they were being taken for a ride.
It would have been cheaper in a Black cab!
When they tried to negotiate they were laughed at and ridiculed. Again with more than an edge of malice.
It was quite horrible.
‘You are so cheap man’ one of the toothless gits shouted to Paul.
‘Fuck you!’ Paul replied. Unfortunately beginning to abandon his cool.
He was growing tired of the ‘badass’ attitude in Bridgetown.
‘Fuck you too man’ came the reply.
Paul had wanted to come back with a quip along the lines of,
‘well, if you have the time darlin’,
but not being completely batty – thought better of it.
He didn’t want to end up like so many other poor souls in the Caribbean, being kicked to death by arseholes. He settled instead for a polite,
‘You will be the reason that I shall never come back to Barbados!’
‘Don’t!’ replied the rude pig with no teeth.
Eventually, a thoroughly decent chap named Kamal came to their rescue. He said he would do the journey for the regular price of twelve dollar. The family jumped into his mini van double-quick and were driven to the waterfront. Three minutes later they pulled up, they thanked Kamal effusively, and paid him fifteen dollars for his services. He offered to return and collect them giving them his card with a smile. He obviously wanted to give them a different impression of his island.
Fortunately, the staff in the restaurant were much friendlier than the majority of the townsfolk they had met. Bridges were at last being built in the town.
Unfortunately the food was average.
The price expensive.
And they were kicked out at 10.15pm.
Despite this, they had a great time. Not least because of the art exhibition currently next to the ladies toilet.
A portrait of Harry and Meghan, in the ‘naive’ style, along with an angelic Princess Diana hovering in the background, had them dying with laughter. It was an absolute snip at three hundred dollars.
More miserable and ill-mannered people met them at the docks, by now the entire family were used to the sullen behaviour and therefore ignored it. Paul knew that there had to be some more Christian-like behaviour somewhere on the island, or Sir Cliff Richard wouldn’t be so fond of the bloody place. Surely not everyone in Bridgetown was a picaroon or a buccaneer.
But he also knew he would not be coming back to find out.
As he boarded the ‘Britannia’ ahead of his family he sang a well-known tune strutting up the gangway,
‘Hey – Not Going To Barbados – No – Not Going Back To See’!
After all there were far too many friendlier places in the world. Where at least they ripped the cash outta one’s hand with a smile! As Rihanna might have sung,
’It’s not the only town in the world!’
Bridgetown had been practically piratical.
Paul was counting the hours until ‘Sail Away’!