What’s Behind The Square Window?

Christmas

 

Most British children who were allowed to watch television from the 1960s onward will remember Play School. We had a selection of toys presented to us who could apparently speak through their human companions; Little Ted and Big Ted – who I’m sure were gay or maybe that’s just me. There was Jemima – a throw back hippy rag doll and her evil counterpart Hamble. I fucking hated Hamble. If Hamble were a person she’d have been that dodgy looking woman down the end of the street with 50 cats and a house that smells of ammonia, stale cabbage and burnt tapioca pudding. Finally we had Humpty, a rotund character. I’m not sure we’d be allowed Humpty as a toy today because the program makers could get accused of being fatist. It’s because of Play School that I developed an irrational fear of feet. Some middle aged woman presenter did a sketch on feet. Her feet were minging, I mean disgusting gnarly bunioned beasts. At least that’s how they looked to my 5 year old eyes. I’ve never really recovered and I’m wondering whom I could sue?

Everyday on Play School we were invited to look behind a window of the house and a story would emerge from the image that came slowly into focus.

Play School and its window stories are similar to living here in Jolly Harbour. Behind each of our condo doors lies a novella in itself. Dickens would have had a field day and if I had any sort of self discipline I should sit down and type a weekly saga of events. Scrooge was positively Mr Fezziwig compared to some of the miserable shites who live around here in the winter.*

Antigua is a rich vibrant explosion of colour and people. Jolly Harbour? Not so much at times. The comradery experienced during our hurricane season seems to have died a death. Our resident tourists have returned; old scores, petty resentments, bitching niggles and gripes resurface for their annual airing. It can be a dangerous place to live for the idle handed. It can be very easy to fall down that rabbit hole and never escape. I can now understand why some ex-pats throw themselves towards charitable deeds; it staves off the temptation to live on an existence of gossip and backstabbing. I’m not saying that Antiguans aren’t prone to a good old gossip. 10 minutes under the tamarind tree at our local beach will give you an intimate insight into those who are no better than they ought to be, but the ex-pats seem to take it to a whole new level. Some of the resentments people hold against each other can last 20 years or more, or so it seems and all because someone’s patio is one third of a tile bigger than they think it should be. A prime example is Brun-fucking-Hilda. Short version of who she is: A lady who unofficially looks after a few villas in our street for some elderly Swiss homeowners. She has zero social skills and she screams at contractors, tourists and other homeowners as if she owns the whole damn village. One of her particular pet hatreds, of which she has many, is people parking on the driveways of the empty villas. For 7 months of the year there are approximately 4 fully occupied houses in our cul-de-sac and the rest of the time we have renters drifting in and out. So naturally builders and contractors park in any available space. It’s not the crime of the fucking century. It’s not like the parked cars are permanent fixtures – unlike one homeowner who took it upon himself to build a doorway through to his neighbour’s balcony just because he felt like having an extension to his property – parking a car temporarily is not the same as commandeering someone’s balcony as their own. There again, if that’d been our house, and someone wanted to have through access to our balcony and bedroom I’m pretty certain that we’re both in agreement on this, John and I would just have taken to having sex on the balcony or making sure we did our anal ablutions in full view.  They’d brick up any doorway pretty damn quick, unless they’re a very special type of pervert of course. Anyway, Brun-fucking-Hilda decided she’d had enough of the riffraff on the unused drive so she annexed it off with another of our neighbour’s plants and tied together scratty pieces of string in order to establish border rights. NO ONE WAS FUCKING THERE! NO ONE HAD BEEN THERE FOR MONTHS! When confronted by us regarding her evil plan she waffled that she couldn’t understand English and scuttled off back to her home in the hills. We haven’t seen her since. The actual homeowners are lovely and on return were horrified to learn their home had been looked after by someone that clearly embraces psychopathic tendencies. Peace reigns supreme in our little corner of paradise. I can’t say the same for the rest of Jolly Harbour. The residents association is battling the same old battles but the long-term residents just plod on with life knowing that in 4 months time or less, everyone will pootle off home again.

Thankfully The Yuletide Spirit does indeed live amongst us yet. We had a group of Barbudan evacuees living down the street following the devastation on their island. When we asked one of the beautiful little girls how things looked after they’d been over for a weekend to assess the damage, she just in a matter-of-fact way pulled her tiny finger across her throat in a resigned gesture; all gone, nothing left of their beautiful family home. Later that day we saw Hayley and her friends again. Their energy and zest for life is infectious. They bounced down the street to fuss Holly and Fred. The girls found us hunting out our Christmas decorations and dived into the boxes and promptly decorated our house from top to bottom. We had no tree at this point and we told the girls we’d be back in a few hours with a tree. Much excitement greeted the tree. Once again they set about adorning our plastic symbol of winter evergreen beautifully. We were taught a Calypso Christmas Song and our tiny home was ringing with laughter, noise and joy. John was forced to learn to play ‘How Will Santa Get Here’ on his guitar. The fact he couldn’t play  it perfectly within 5 minutes caused hysterics amongst the girls. Eventually we were all jumping around the house singing.

Our home calmed down to a dull roar and Hayley asked where are our presents? I told her that we don’t buy presents for each other anymore as we have everything we want and need in life. The girls were not happy about this at all and I was chupsed severely. They left our house deep in discussion. About half an hour later they returned with tiny gift-wrapped packages. They placed these parcels solemnly around the tree and called John in from outside where he was fixing something on Mahalo. He was instructed to open these shiny packages. In each gift was a small toy, a bangle, some crayons. Each girl had taken one of their last remaining precious possessions and wrapped them carefully for their neighbour because they were sad that he wasn’t going to be visited by Santa.

 That my friends, is Christmas.

 Have a good one, however you choose to celebrate.

 *If you haven’t read any Dickens you must do so, immediately. Put him on your bucket list and if you don’t at least try, fuck off you miserable fucker (all those literature/ language lectures and seminars were not wasted on me, oh no!)

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For Fuck’s Sake, Put That Thing Away.

we-be-pirates(Picture by Karen van Rensburg)

We’ve got a boat, a yacht, a saily thing, and a bloody huge massive responsibility. Her name is Mahalo which means thank you in Hawaiian, which is fitting because all I’ve been saying to people all week is thank you. To say I’m bricking myself is an understatement. I know the pointy end from the flat end just about and I know the flappy bits are sails. As far as all the other terminology goes, it could be Martian. I nearly punched John when he said we were going to spend the day checking for seacocks, I thought he was taking the piss. I envisioned him standing stark bollock naked in a cabin and asking me to come look for a seacock, but no, apparently that’s a real thing. Somewhat like ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’ where all ‘hoopy froods’ know where their towel is, all good sailors know where their seacocks are and most importantly there needs to be a bung too. I might be laying my ignorance on with a trowel here but I really cannot stress enough how sodding scary it is to know that each time we go sailing out into the blue, the only thing keeping us alive is the protective embrace of Mahalo and until yesterday my only experience of anything boatish had been three ferry trips (where I threw up my intestines), a narrow boat holiday, a few days out with friends on their motorboats (I threw up the remainder of my intestines and quite possibly some lung too), floating on an airbed and I once owned a rowing machine. How Holly and Fred are going to adapt to the life of salty sea dogs I have no idea. I envisage all three of us up at the pointy end vomiting and howling in self-pity. John on the other hand is as happy as a wank addict in a sex shop and I’m just going to have to trust Pirate Captain John for my education on all things yachting.

 It may seem that I have sex on the brain because of all this talk of seacocks and sex shops* but it is in fact quite the opposite. It’s high season here on Antigua; we get cruise ships docking in St John’s daily, sometimes up to four of them. Each ship is a floating multinational city full of eager travellers all busting to find a beach, strip off and feel the sugar sand between their socks and sandals, known to me as The SAS Brigade. The SAS I can deal with, they walk up and down the beach covered from head to toe in Marks and Spencer’s finest cruising clothes collection, sunhat, black out shades and enough sunscreen to prevent even one ounce of vitamin D getting through to their skin. No, those gentle skin cancer conscious folks are not the issue; it’s the other sort, the ‘I’m going to drop my shorts and push my dangly old cock in your face’ types to whom I object. There’s nothing like the sight of a big hairy pair of bollocks or a Granny fanny being thrust in your face on a beach to put you right off sex for a while. I’m all for freeing the nipple; tits, boobies, gazongas, jubly bags of fun, whatever you want to call them are not a sexual organ but a flaccid cock (or not so flaccid on one occasion) is quite a violation especially on a public, non-nudist beach. There’s nothing stopping cruise travellers or anyone else for that matter, undressing and changing into swimming clothes discreetly. Hell’s teeth, John is a very body confident man but even he draws the line at waving his tackle around in public, we can exclude the naked Wii-fit hoola-hooping incident one Sunday morning in our living room, at least that was in the privacy of our own home and I did have net curtains at the time. So that’s a little plea from me, and I am so non-prudish, please please if you’re going to strip off on a non-nudist beach don’t be foisting your flaps, scrotum or foreskin at poor unsuspecting beach bums. I nearly dropped the book I was reading and there’s no telling what sort of  incident that could have caused**.

 Back to Mahalo and away from genitals. She’s a lovely yacht. She’s a 1986 Wauquiez Centurion; 40 foot of beautifully nurtured vessel. I may be ignorant of all things floating but even an uneducated eye can see she has stunning lines. I’m not ashamed to admit I slept on board last night even though she was tied up to our dock. Every creak and groan in the unusually high winds could not stop her from lulling me into one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. I don’t know if yachts absorb energy? Maybe that’s too hippy-dippy even for me, but the sense of love and care Mahalo has experienced radiates out of every inch of her gleaming teak interior. Thank you Delwyn and Tom for allowing us to buy her from you, and we will do our very best for her. Of course we have to thank Karen and Michael for dealing with the brokering too. We were hand held from start to finish by Lighthouse Yachting here in Antigua, right down to getting a lovely big hug from Karen when I broke down in tears of joy and awe when we received the keys to Mahalo. I cry lots but I think it might be a shock to some people when this big strapping six-foot woman blubs like a baby, which I do at every opportunity. Of course if you remind me of this I will punch your lights out.

We’ve met a lot of people who told us the same thing; that living on Antigua without a boat is only half a life. To experience life and the island to it’s fullest you need to get on the water and live life in three hundred and sixty degrees. Whilst that side of it is very true, Mahalo also opens up the world to meet other people, not just cruisers but to visit other islands and experience their culture, food, society and language. We have been blessed with so many wonderful gifts since moving to Antigua, by which I mean the gifts of friendship, kindness and knowledge. Somedays we meet new people, some days we meet no people and we lock ourselves in our little bubble which extends no further than villa to beach and back again and that’s what is so lovely, we have that choice and I will no longer spend time apologising for the privilege we have that affords those choices; I spent a long time feeling very guilty about moving here and living the life we do, I think that feeling of privilege guilt makes sense? I could give everything away, go live in a cave, paint myself purple and pray to the universe for an end to poverty, hunger and world peace, but fuck it, I’m not going to do that. It’s going to take a lot more than a cave dwelling purple hippy asking the universe for help to sort out the mess of global politics right now.  John, the dogs and me are going to enjoy our fruits so there! Not once in my childhood did I think I’d live outside of our village, let alone the UK and the idea of owning a yacht? Fuck off, only posh twats do that! Well I’m not a posh twat I’m just one lucky, awestruck woman.

*A good title for an album that, if any of you lovely readers are musically minded, I look forward to seeing an album released with that name some day, maybe, ahhhh hush your tutting and sighing, you never know.

** Brian Moore’s second autobiography ‘Beware of the Dog’. He writes how he played rugby; fierce, brutal, raw.

Sixteen Years at Number Two.

Home

No, I’m not a member of a dodgy girl/middle aged woman band who hasn’t achieved top of the chart success.

I have never had ambitions to conquer the world of music with my cat strangling vocal range. ‘Wor Cheryl I am not.

The title of this piece refers to the sixteen years that I’ve lived in this house. The house from where I’m typing these words. The house which is now under offer from a delightful couple and I’m sure number two will wrap its walls around them, envelop them with warmth and weave it’s magic into their life tapestry as much as it has mine.  The house where my husband and I set up home for the first time and the house where I’ve had some of the best sex in my entire life. Seriously, anyone who says they’re not really sexual hasn’t had an out of body orgasm, the sort of sex where you think there’s no point in living anymore, the type of sex where the bed breaks and the neighbours start hoovering to cover up the symphony of passion coming through the walls and floorboards, the sort of sex where a few days after you find yourself sweating and blushing when the flashbacks race across the mind, tantalising and inviting you to give chase for more. *

The house which saw two children grow into reasonably well adjusted adults, the house which has seen eight dogs, four rabbits, four pet rats, four little parrot things and one well stocked aquarium. All of which apart from me, John, the children and two dogs are now dead and buried in the garden. Yes some of the fish were buried because they were just too bloody big to flush away. If anyone digs up our garden they’ll think the people who lived here were either trainee taxidermists or the neighbourhood animal serial killers.

The house at number two has been the scene of parties; shit we threw some good parties here. We were picking pieces of fancy dress out of the garden for years after one particularly debauched night of fun. Then there was the bonfire night parties where so called responsible Scout leaders thought it would be a grand idea to gaffer tape three rockets together just to see what would happen. What happened was that none of the rockets took off at the same time so the contraption shot up about 6 feet in the air and made a sharp turn left over next door’s fence and exploded spectacularly about 3 foot from their guinea pigs. All we heard was a quivering “EEEEEEP”**

My favourite nights were the impromptu gatherings with a fire burning brightly and John playing his guitar until sunrise. Our garden has rocked to the sounds of Pink Floyd, Paul Weller, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Ocean Colour Scene, Peter Gabriel and many others over the years. There’s a beautiful warmth of togetherness when a group of good friends are sitting around the glow of a fire singing ‘Wish You Were Here’ at 3am. I’m not sure our neighbours would agree, fuck em, they were always invited they don’t know what they missed.

Number two isn’t just a house; it’s been so much more than that. I don’t mean that soppy cliché of ‘a house is a home’.  I see her as a changing evolving living creature. She (yes my house is a she) has changed depending on our needs as a family. At one point she was a ski slope for my adventurous daughter. As a young teenager, the daughter decided that her curfew was unacceptable. I had taken to bed early to revise for a Latin exam (don’t even go there, who the fuck takes Latin, pffft it was my pretentious phase). I heard rumblings on the roof, fearing the chimney was falling off or the aliens were finally invading I leapt out of the house just in time to see the teenage daughter in the act of sliding down the roof with roller blades around her neck and rucksack on her back. Naturally I asked the obvious question,

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Her response?

“I’m going rollerblading”

Of course. Stupid me. The escapade ended safely and she was grounded in more ways than one.

Number Two has seen a lot of tears. Tears of joy on the day John’s divorce finally came through after five years of bitterness from the other side. Tears of sadness when my daughter’s pet rat Fidget died on the night before she started school, even though we took the ratty little bastard on holiday to Scotland with us because it was sick and needed antibiotics twice a day. We drove for seven hours with that bloody rat in its box, tended it, nursed it back to health, drove seven hours home again two weeks later and the little fiend dropped down dead about a week later. Tears of anger and frustration every month for many years when income did not match our outgoings and no amount of cutting back seemed to help which led to tears of despair when we were bordering on bankruptcy, but there has been one variety of tears which this house has seen much more of and these are tears of laughter. We laugh so much. No we really do. I know I come across as an angry fierce woman at times, but I’ve tried explaining this to many people I’m not THAT angry, I’m passionate as I’ve said before I am a woman of extremes and I intend to live life extremely well. Number two has absorbed all of our tears and she has comforted us all in turn.

Where we go next is unknown in the short term, but I know that my home is wherever my husband John is. You could plop a sofa in the middle of a field and if he’s sitting there, that’s where I want to be. I know that’s a bit mushy and I make no apologies. I am pretty damn sure that if it wasn’t for him I would have self-destructed a long time ago so I will name drop him relentlessly from now until my last breath.

This little piece is by way of a thank you to Number Two, a way to remember her and celebrate her place in the lives of those who have lived colourfully and spectacularly within her walls over the last sixteen years.

* Sorry John, the world now knows that you’re a love-god.

**Yes they survived and they were unharmed physically. The emotional scars are another matter.