At first sight St Vincent looked pretty spectacular. Majestic cliffs soared upwards from an emerald sea and pretty multicoloured rooftops studded the verdant hillsides.
The guys hit the shore minus a Bill and Grace who had confined themselves to their cabins following a night watch involving a Gary Barlow tribute act and a barrel load of alcohol. Both of them felt more than a little sea-sick. Take That and party thought Paul. Always a bad move.
But that wisdom came from age.
As Paul, Andrew, Tina and their mother made preparations to face the gauntlet of tour operators and taxi drivers that worked as a press-gang on the dock, they took a deep breath of oxygen. It was always their least favourite moment of a day ashore.
However, St Vincent proved to be a breath if fresh air. There was no hard sell. A polite ‘no thankyou’ was all it took and was often answered with an equally genteel, ‘no worries – enjoy your day on the island’. It was as refreshing as a Caribbean breeze as they breezed through port and into the town.
Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent proved to be just as charming. It was market day, and the locals were far more interested in buying yams and knickers than in the cruise invaders marauding their away around town.
This was a Caribbean town for the locals, not the passengers, and it was so much better for it. It was clear there was much poverty, but there was also much mirth as the market farmers and lingerie sellers plied their wares. For the first time since his arrival in the West Indies Paul felt almost invisible. Apart that is from the many townsfolk who just wanted to say hello. Even a tough gang of builders wanted him to take their picture.
Of course he’d obliged, but he wanted one too. They were great fun as they struggled to break up the ground with their rudimentary pickaxes in heat that could have baked a potato. Paul marvelled at their thick skins. They just got on with it. It was a times like these, when he and Andrew went travelling, that he considered himself most fortunate. He was very glad he were not a builder working under the noonday sun – it would play havoc with his Barnet!
They searched for what seemed like hours for somewhere to sit and have a coffee. As they walked further and further from the boat, they suddenly found themselves in the slightly dodgy area of town. They were offered all sorts of things they might ordinarily have tried, but being a passenger aboard the only mega ship in the port made one an easy target for a quick scam. They weren’t complete dopes!
They asked a girl who was gracing a petrol forecourt with her presence, whether she was being paid to do so was dubious, but she was terribly helpful. She directed them towards a small alley which had what looked like a house of ill repute at one end. Apparently it was the only place to grab a beer.
They went inside and found an uncomfortable table and some expensive local ale. After a swift bottle or three, they discussed the rest of their day. Andrew said he would probably stay where he was, perched like Long John Silver in the grimy corner of a lesser known Caribbean drinking hole. The rest of them had other plans.
Paul, Tina and their mum then hit the road towards Kingtown’s famous botanical gardens. there was apparently a breadfruit sapling from Captain Bligh’s original batch still growing on the plot. The mutinous Fletcher Christian had not managed to stop his Captain spreading his seed after all. It seems Captain Bligh had a rather more fruitful existence after being cast adrift in the Pacific than one might imagine.
He certainly managed to get about a bit.
The gardens were cool and verdant after the climb through the town in the soaring heat. They met a busker who crooned gently to them as they took shade beneath a ‘Canonball’ tree.
He told them that the flowers fell to the ground and exploded like the aforementioned artillery before letting off their scented payload. The minstrel also informed them the bloom had been used to create ‘Liz Taylor’s’ perfume – ‘Poison’. Paul knew that particular cologne had come from a tree planted by Mr Dior and not Ms Taylor, but said nothing. He was glad they hadn’t invested in a guided tour though. The information on offer concerning the gardens was somewhat shady. Like the park itself.
They walked back down to the town and met Andrew where they had left him. He hadn’t moved at all, except for his drinking arm that is.
Paul suggested they have another beer, his mother resisted at first. She wanted to make sure they didn’t miss the boat.
‘You’ve got three hours mother’ said Paul bluntly, ‘you won’t miss it.’
‘Well I know – but i’m worried after last time’ she went on.
They were happily back on the Britannia with at least an hour to spare before sail away. It was lucky as it meant they were in time for afternoon tea. Paul’s bounty consisted of a plate of sandwiches, two scones with jam and cream, a bowl of rice, dhal and vegetable curry and a chicken and ham pie. He could feel his digestive system beginning to grow mutinous within. It was always man going overboard when it came to the ‘Horizon’ buffet. It was always much more than one’s horizon that had been broadened after a visit.
Paul belched audibly but his indigestion was disguised by the ship’s horn which sounded simultaneously. The ship began to make her way south towards the spice island of Grenada. Their circle from St Lucia was almost complete. One more port before they disembarked and said goodbye to Britannia.
Paul felt a sudden pang of regret. He was having such a good time on the ocean waves among his crew he didn’t want it to end. But as he stood on his balcony and watched the nautical miles being eaten up by the leviathan he was riding he knew one couldn’t stop time. One was always moving forward even if one couldn’t always feel it. Of course, on a ship, the motion was obvious. Paul found the movement moving.
He looked to sea and belched again. A cauldron of strong flavours corroded his palate as he unwittingly called for afternoon tea once again.
He made a mental note. Day 13.
Day 13. Grenada.
After three sausages, three bacon, eggs, beans, fried bread, hash browns and a plate of kedgeree, Paul disembarked the ship in Grenada with just a little hesitation. (And just a touch of indigestion). It had been twenty years since he’d last visited the capital of St George’s on Grenada and he had mixed memories of the place to say the least.
He had last come to the famous spice island with Andrew whilst still in their early twenties. They were accompanied by a young actress and her pop star boyfriend with whom Andrew had been working.
The north of the island had been charming.
The company had not.
They eventually parted and the young green couple became enmeshed in something not so green in a rather sordid area of the island.
When Paul and Andrew met up with them for the return flight they almost didn’t recognise the glamorous pair with whom they’d arrived. Instead they were met by a grey couple of listless, dead eyed party animals who’d obviously been slaughtered the entire time.
Financially and physically.
Paul had made a mental note back then to never get in that state before a flight. A note he wished he’d remembered ten years later on a flight from Tenerife Norte to Gatwick via Hell!
But he didn’t want to think about that.
It still made his blood run cold.
So instead he remembered Grenada. The beautiful beaches and the friendly villagers with whom they’d bonded all those years back. Bingo in ‘River Sally’ and limboing into the tropical night whilst spilling Campari and orange everywhere.
Thankfully, the lovely island of Grenada was just as welcoming as Paul and Andrew remembered. The town had a confident strut without being too ‘in yer face’, and her inhabitants maintained a friendly swagger. It was an easy place in which to spend a lazy afternoon – somewhere near a beer pump!
In fact the latter, Paul had discovered, was not that easy in the Caribbean.
There seemed to be very few hostelries or the like spread throughout the part of the tropics they were visiting. The ‘local’ seemed to be on a street corner or a steamy porch. It was interesting if not a little frustrating when one had worked up a thirst.
Tina and Grace had a day on the beach and the rest of the gang found a cheerful German couple who had set up a small beer house on the harbour.
That was after they had madly climbed far too many steps during the fierce heat of noon to see a pointless fort.
There had obviously been a point once, when the English and French had fought over Grenada in the eighteenth century. And in the early 1980s when the United States invaded to in order to ‘restore democracy’ after a military coup. Apparently the ex-leaders were banged up in the bastion before being bumped off.
Now there was just a cobblers and a banged up gym crumbling amid the ramparts. It was a pity the Grenadians didn’t take care of such a piece of history, but at least there were phenomenal views.
And a great walk down to the harbour through colourful and historic lanes.
It reminded Paul and his mother of Cornwall – only with better weather.
Day 14. St Lucia – Home!
St Lucia came around again all too quickly. Like a slap in the face from a jealous lover.
It was Paul and Andrew’s real anniversary.
The one on which their relationship had been consummated in a seedy guesthouse in York twenty-seven years previously.
It felt, to Paul at least, like a lifetime!
A cruise around several worlds.
It had not all been plain sailing. There had been stormy seas to weather and many times their ships had passed in the night.
Literally – on one occasion!
During a ‘resting’ period ‘The Boys’ had been working on separate ship’s cruising the Caribbean. They had been assured by an unscrupulous producer that their boats would dock beside one another each week in Miami. Suffice to say they didn’t catch a glimpse of one another’s telescopes until the end of their respective voyages. More than once they had missed each other by just hours as Paul’s ship sailed away from the port of Aruba and he could see the port lights of Andrew’s vessel making her way to the harbour.
It had been a particularly rocky ride for Paul who had also been hospitalised in Curaçao, feeling more than a little blue, after contracting Hepatitis!
Looking yellow and feeling green, he lay on a colourless ward feeling quite sick of the sea. He yearned for his leave, which he eventually took early after jumping ship. It was one of the first of many a dramas on and off the ocean waves. But he and Andrew had remained afloat. And twenty-seven years later they were still adrift together in their little life raft. Feeling almost safe and secure despite some raging seas surrounding them.
They had, however, not come across any stormy weather on the ‘Britannia’. It had been plain sailing all the way.
Linda’s love boat had taken them all on a fabulous journey of fun and familial frolics. They had laughed. Laughed. And laughed some more. Gained a couple more years, and a few extra pounds.
And farted for England!
Well the Britannia was registered in Southampton. So it only seemed appropriate.
The entire family had had a ball.
At lunchtime on day fourteen they sat slightly forlorn amid luggage on a deck they’d not even discovered awaiting their instructions to disembark.
It felt to, Paul, rather sad.
One never knew when the ones you loved would cruise in and out of your life. And maybe it would be a while before they all shared the same itinerary again. But it was so important to meet up in the same port now and then.
Life is, after all, short.
And the oceans of time – vast.
When we have a chance to come together amid the gigantic waves of our existence we must take every opportunity.
Sharing a raft through life is always preferable to drifting alone.
And Paul couldn’t think of a crew he would rather have shared the last two weeks with.
It had been his mother’s idea to bring them all together and it had been she who had financed the voyage.
The sea passage had been a great success and had served to mark Linda’s own passage through time perfectly.
Paul imagined the ‘Britannia’ in seventy years time. Would she come through as relatively unscathed and as ship-shape as his mother? Would she still sail the planet’s seas with dignity and grace? (minus the bikinis!) – he thought perhaps not.
His mother was of a special vintage.
One of a kind.
God bless her, thought Paul, and all who sail in her. Or rather, with her!
Happy Birthday mum.
We love you.