Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A fishy finger tale...

The fish finger is sixty years old today! Good old Bird’s Eye inventing such a delicious and revolutionary childhood food just a couple of years before I was born. I loved those cod sticks covered in breadcrumbs and it seems that my childhood menu consisted mainly of fish fingers, sausages, beans, fried eggs, chips and the dreaded roast with far too many vegetables and gloopy Bisto gravy on a Sunday.

For a while it looked like they could be made from herring, but trials proved that the public preferred cod and cod won the day. The original fish fingers were individually hand wrapped in wax film, inserted in a waxed cardboard box and at one shilling and eight pence per box of ten they were a bargain. So much easier that going to the Tuesday market for fish and then boning and battering it. ‘No bones, no waste, no smell, no fuss’, as an early ad campaign said. It was every busy stay-at-home, chain smoking, tea drinking, TV watching, fifties mother’s dream. Of course most people didn’t have freezers, so you had to eat them pretty quickly. No problem there though.

And then there was the captain himself Captain Birdseye (aka Captain Igloo everywhere else in the world), a kind of cross between someone’s granddad who’d been in the merchant navy and Father Christmas. He talked like a pirate, had a twinkle in his not quite glass eye, was played by some pretty dodgy actors, and turned up on our black and white screens in 1967. Even when battered fish fingers came along he got a mention, although no appearance, as Bernard Bresslaw pretended to be the ship’s chef.

1955 was the year Ruth Ellis hanged, Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister, Albert Einstein died, Disneyland opened in California, the first Guinness Book of Records was published, James Dean died in his car, ITV began broadcasting, and the Vietnam War broke out. But I think it was mainly about the invention of the fish finger, what a great year.

I still love fish fingers, in fact I had one with my lightly battered haddock and scampi medley last night and whilst I enjoyed the other two fishy treats it was the battered fish finger that won hands down – or should that be fingers down?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

My nursery rhyme...

The west wind shall wane,
And we will have rain,
And what will poor pussy do then poor thing?
He'll sit in the warm,
Away from the storm,
And keep safe behind the pane, poor thing.


The east wind shall reign,
And we will have rain,
And what will poor pussy do then poor thing?
He'll sit in the warm,
Away from the storm,
And keep safe behind the pane, poor thing.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Under the blood moon...

I know there isn’t a God (he’s just an imagined being thought up by men to keep other men in order), but there’s certainly plenty of magic in the universe.

The magic came early last night and was everywhere. It began with one of the biggest, brightest moons I’ve ever seen rising above the houses behind my backyard. A huge sphere of a moon, crossed by contrails and glowing, a supermoon, so close that you could almost touch it. The kind of moon a cow would jump over, a moon worth lassoing, a moon to kiss under, a moon to wish upon if ever you had a dream in your heart.

Later, in the early hours, the magic began again as the moon aligned with the Earth and the sun and passed behind the Earth’s umbra, its shadow, shielding the moon from the sun’s light. There in their own silent spaces those three sat with the Earth sandwiched between the others as the moon turned a deep burnt red and became an autumn apple in the sky. It looked so red that I wanted to reach up and pick it from the air to see if it tasted of Edam cheese.
For a while the moon looked angry, a blood moon looking down on our world with scorn. Then, as the hours passed, it began to change once more, slowly shifting shape to crescent and back to full again as the sun and Earth moved on, each in their own pre-ordained, enigmatically, celestial way.

I wondered as I watched and drank my apple brandy what the hunters of the forest must have thought of a lunar eclipse all those tens of thousands of years ago. Did they tremble and wait for the world to end? Did they dance strange animal dances adorned with wolf pelts and howl in the moonlight? Did they fall to their knees and worship the moon? Maybe they did all three.

No, there’s no room in my world for an imagined God. But there’s enough real magic in the universe to more than make up for that.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Officially autumn...

So it is officially autumn, although it seems like it’s been with us for weeks. The time of pumpkin carving is fast approaching and by then it will be dark and dreary and we will nearly be into winter. There was a cold wet rain today, that type of fine rain that soaks you instantly in a way that large drops can't seem to.

It's hard to keep your spirits up faced with such adversity and the sure knowledge that spring is a long, long way off. Even the fire, which has been lit in the hearth each night for well over a week now, can't stop the dark nights coming.

Luckily in my back yard my second best sunflower smiles down and spreads a little sunshine into my wilting yard. The reason my sunflower is second best is that my first best sunflower was blown over in a summer gale and snapped in two. It was eight feet high when this took place and I know that it would have been a beauty. Oh well, not to worry, I'm satisfied with this one and there's always next year.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The butcher, the baker…

Why is that everyone who opens a business these days calls themselves an entrepreneur? Surely if you sell overly priced burgers you’re a burger seller, if you sell cocktails you’re a barman and if you sell bread (even craft bread, whatever that is) you’re a baker. I don’t get it. How can a person who makes cheese (a cheese maker) be so grandiose to expect to be called an entrepreneur and what about the butcher and the candlestick maker? Are they entrepreneurs too? Is England not a nation of shopkeepers after all then? Is it a nation of entrepreneurs?

Of course some things lend their entrepreneurial hand to entrepreneuring more than others. Anything to do with websites and the worldwide web seems worthy of entrepreneurs, as does gaming and working out of a shed in your garden to make millions of pounds (a la Roald Dahl). But I'm not sure about cupcakes sold at farmer's markets or selling cleaning products through door-dropped catalogues.

Entrepreneur has to be something more doesn’t it? To me the word goes hand in hand with tycoon and magnate, but I’ve never heard of a candle tycoon or a bread making magnate. Of course the very dry dictionary definition simply says that an entrepreneur is: ‘a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.’ It doesn’t mention top hats, or tailcoats, or swirling moustaches, and maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong. Perhaps I’m not a glass painter with a bit of a shop and no profit to speak of, perhaps I’m an entrepreneur after all.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Always complaining...

It's great when you beat the bastards...
Good News - The Post Office called me this afternoon to tell us that their Head Office have agreed to return my money in full at the rate we bought at and without their usual handling charge of 3%. No apology but you can't have everything. Didn't take long and no argument, makes me wonder why. Who says it's pointless trying to stand up to these people - always complain when you are being ripped off.
Of course I shall never trust the PO again or buy any of their products if there is a reasonable alternative. I wonder how many millions they make with this very sharp practice?

Here's the story I put up on Facebook.

If you are going on holiday DO NOT PURCHASE a POST OFFICE MONEY CARD as we did. We had money left on return and the Post Office are trying to rip us off to a tune of over £150. Read below and share to warn your friends on Facebook. Here's my email to them titled - YOU ROBBED US.
Hello Post Office,
As you can see by the title of this mail I am a very unhappy customer.
My wife and I purchased 2 travel money cards at Oldfield Brow Post Office, Altrincham on the recommendation of the lady behind the counter. We put £750 on each, purchased some cash in US and Barbadian dollars, and a couple of days later went away on holiday. We were told if we did not spend the money that we could get it back
My wife did not use hers so had $1,125 on return and I returned with a balance of $453.
We went back to the post office a few days after we got back to get our money and were told that we needed to ring customer services. We did this today and spoke to David who dealt with this for us and told me that I would be emailed a bar code and told my my wife that she would be sent a cheque. When my wife came off the phone she realised that the sum David quoted was over £100 pounds below what she put on the card. She rang David back to check and he told her that was the exchange rate.
My wife was told that she would be sent a cheque for £639.20 - THAT IS OUTRAGEOUS. You have basically sold her a service she did not use and then charged her £110.80 for the privilege and a bit of plastic.
My wife's name is Gaynor Height, our postcode is ---- --- and the last 4 digits of her card are ----.
I had no idea what was on my card when I spoke to David, but it turns out my balance is $453.44 and I am sure that the same criminal exchange rate will apply.
My name is Andrew Height, our postcode is ---- --- and the last 4 digits of my card are ----.
So here's the thing:
- We were never told that you would charge a ridiculous percentage at the post office when we purchased the cards and while we expected a small charge for the transaction were not expecting to be totally ripped off.
- We are not happy with the amount of money you will be returning and what you are keeping without our prior consent
- I will be taking this as far as I need to to make sure that people who buy these cards know what they are getting into including making a complaint at the post office that we bought them from.
I expect you to get back to me to apologise and with a much better figure concerning the money you will be returning. I really can't believe that The Post Office considers this reasonable and acceptable business practice. I foolishly trusted your organisation to treat my wife and I fairly as I stupidly still think of you as a British institution to be admired. If we had not been sold the cards I would have taken cash and chanced being robbed. It seems that you have robbed me anyway whilst pretending that your card was a 'safer' option which it turns out it isn't. It's a rip off.
I am furious and disgusted. Please sort this out quickly.
A.K. Height

Saturday, 19 September 2015

From little acorns...

I guess it’s time for me to wax lyrical about autumn again. I’ve been smelling that autumny smell in the air for a few days now, listening to the cawk of the magpie and watching the swans as they whoop-whoop-whoop their way high in the sky over the house. There’s a chill this September, the year almost in its last quarter, and this morning I walked down the road through the first street mist of the season. Yes, it’s coming. There’s a sharp chill in the air and the plants in my backyard are looking end-of-summer tired, all straggles and fading flushes.

As I walked in the crispness I noticed a small green acorn cup on the pavement. Of course I had to stop, pick it up, and slip it in my pocket. I guess there’s still the dreamer in me and I can’t see an acorn cup without visualising a fairy wearing one on his head for a hat - Puck maybe.

As a boy we always had a nature table at school in the autumn. I don’t know if schools still bother with them, but I would go for walks along Moorhen Lane and collect whatever I found; berries and conkers, dead leaves, teazles, and piles of hard, green acorn cups. Of course not many seven year olds would be allowed to wander for miles on their own today, but I enjoyed my solitary country walks and learned a lot about landscape and nature.

It seems such a long time ago now, another world in a simpler time and gilded by nostalgia and a convenient memory. But acorn cups will always be worn by fairies in my dreams. Oh well, it’s good to dream, remember and reflect I suppose.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Think kittens...


Sick of refugees,
Sick of Syria,
Sick of Corbyn,
Sick of hysteria,
Sick of Cameron,
Sick of X Factor,
Sick of Facebook,
Sick of media reaction,
Sick of Chelsea,
Sick of anthems,
Sick of blogging,
Sick of trying,
Sick of apathy,
Sick of Britain,
Sick of it all?
Think kitten.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Tom and Jerry...

So he did it and Tom Watson along with him. Almost sixty percent of the votes for Labour Party leader gives Jeremy Corbyn the biggest party mandate for any political leader in UK political history. That kind of says it all I think.

What now I wonder? Will the Labour Party reconise and appreciate what he has done for them and work with him to make a strong alternative to the 'running with the pack dogs' of the Tory Party, or will they break off into factions and slowly kill the goose that laid the golden egg and the party along with it.

Just a few months ago Labour suffered one of their biggest election defeats, their leader was weak, their policies no different from all the rest. They were hardly a party at all with supporters dropping away daily. Now, thanks to the apparent honesty and values of Jeremy Corbyn, there are thousands of people at least thinking that the Labour Party might give us choice in British politics.

Of course the next election is almost five years away unless there's a vote of no confidence in the current government. The last vote of no confidence in the Government occurred on 28 March 1979 when Labour's Jim Callaghan lost a vote instigated by Margaret Thatcher by one vote (311 votes to 310). The election that followed was won by Margaret Thatcher and the Tories remained in government for eighteen years. Who knows, perhaps history may repeat itself? But I think it would be better to wait five years and see how this new old Labour Party develops. There is much to sort out, but if Labour MPs want to ever govern again then it’s in their interest to help make it work.

Up until a few months ago I had no belief in the Labour Party, they didn’t stand for anything, they seemed to be clueless, hopelessly waving their hands with gestures taught to them by presentation coaches. I voted Tory because, at that time, I felt there was no other realistic choice. Now I don’t know if Corbyn and Watson can put together a realistic opposition, but I hope so because I am so tired of puppet politicians.

Perhaps Corbyn won't last, perhaps he'll step down and Tom Watson step up to the plate. Anything could happen, but I'm tired of our politicians having their strings pulled by the USA and Europe and hopefully Corbyn will stand up to them. I don’t want a return to the bad old days of the early seventies, but if Canada, Finland, and New Zealand can operate in a broadly socialist fashion then surely so can we? Anyway, it’s time for at least the chance of change.

That's all folks!

Friday, 11 September 2015

That time in September...

I almost forgot my sister's birthday and, as she is one of the few family members who bother to even send me a card at Christmas, that isn't good. Yes she was born on the 9th of September - 9/11.

It's 9/11 time again and if it wasn't for all the posts on Facebook I wouldn't have realised. It isn't that I have forgotten the event, I can vividly recall every moment of it and where I was and who with, it's just that I don't really have a need to remember dates these days.

Of course it was terrible, just as terrible as so many things that have occurred throughout history. But we can't remember them all otherwise we would spend all of our lives feeling sad and God knows where that would take us. Not a good place I'm sure.

Some things get remembered more than others; the first world war, princess Diana's death, the holocaust, Hiroshma. Other things, equally as important and terrible hardly register with most of us; the flu epidemic of 1918, the Irish potato famine, the Birmingham pub bombings.

'Lest we forget'? Why should we not forget? Or at least not have to remember on demand. Would it be so wrong to let these things fade from our minds? Would it be wrong to only remember them when we wanted to? Do we need all these silences so long after the events? Does it do anybody any good to post  pictures of the place where the twin towers once stood to remind us of that day?

If you want to remember then please do. But don't expect everyone to remember with you or in the same way as you do. What we remember and how is each for each of us to decide and I want to remember my sister's birthday today, not 9/11

Monday, 7 September 2015

Learning from Luna...

I think that we can all learn a lot from our cats. I know that Luna is always trying to teach me things, make right the error of my ways as she puts it.

Take this morning for instance. I was going to get up at eight when up jumps Luna and demands a stroke. It was nine before she decided that I could go (dismissed)  and then only because she wanted her breakfast. Of course this made me late, not that I had anything to be late for.

Luna wanted her breakfast, but first though I had to wash and shave. Of course she didn't. Perhaps that's what made her so impatient, weaving in and out of my legs and meowing. Well, she washes herself continually and when her hair gets too long she simply sheds it on the carpet and the bed, in the window and all over the sofa. Of course this means we have to hoover, but Luna can't see the point. Why hoover? It'll only need doing again tomorrow or the next day. Ditto the dusting and the gardening, the mopping and the washing up, and of course she has no clothes to wash unless you count her collar.

'Why do all that when you can simply take the day as it comes?' She seems to say with her inscrutable blue and green cattish stare.

'Enjoy yourself, do as you please. Don't sweat the small stuff. Keep your energy for the big things like eating, chasing feathers 'n things, and being stroked.'

She might have a point you know. Have you ever seen a worried cat without a reason to be worried? A big dog, or a rainstorm, or loud noises they don't understand. When those things happen cats simply run away and find a nice place to sleep. No trying to sort the problem out, or rushing to get the washing in. No checking to see if that bang was an explosion, or if that barking dog has escaped from its owner and has a collar on. Cats don't concern themselves with bills, or next meals, or what anybody thinks of them. They don't worry if their bum looks big in this, or if their hair needs a wash, or where they left their phone, or car keys, or wallet. Bank account? Only if it's a riverbank and full of fish; and have you ever known a cat to have a sleepless night worrying about tomorrow?

Why bother? Why worry? Just forget it and find a nice warm spot to sleep. There is no tomorrow anyway, no yesterday either. It's just your silly human minds playing with you and making you not concentrate on the important things - like now.

Yes cats really do live in the moment don't they?

I think that we can all learn a thing or two from that.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Paradise birds...

I didn't go to Barbados for the birds, but I got them anyway. They seemed to come with the territory. In fact on the very first morning, unable to sleep and up before first light, I shared the dawn with a hummingbird, a green legged heron who languidly walked across the lawn looking for frogs, and a beautiful grey and white kingbird; a flycatcher that the Bajans call the rainbird and sometimes the catbird.

It wasn't long before the cheeky Barbadian sparrows arrived, so bold that they would fly into the house and take crumbs from the plates in the kitchen. Once we had half a dozen of them on the dining table making a feast of the tiny fragments of toast we'd left behind. The grackles came later with their yellow eyes and plumage as black as the darkest night. They looked like a cross between a blackbird and a starling, roguish and forever darting here and there.

Down on the beach brown grey sandpipers paddled in the white surf, whilst up in the sky flocks of huge frigate birds circled following the fishing boats, looking for all the world like prehistoric pterodactyls. Inland there were cattle egrets in the fields, small brown doves pecking beneath the palms and up in the trees the scaly naped pigeons with their scary red eyes. For some reason I didn't like the way those pigeons flapped about in the trees, it really wasn't very British.

There were other birds. A pair of yellow breasts on the Atlantic coast, a flash of blue in the rain forest near Welcheman Hall Gulley and a big white bird flapping over the sea in the distance that might just have been a pelican. I never did get a picture of a hummingbird, although I did capture a flash and buzz on one when we visited Hunte's Gardens; so I had to borrow one.

The rainbird would come every day to watch me after that first morning, sitting on the wall and quizzically cocking his head and, despite the numerous sightings of hummingbirds (once just a few feet away above the pool) I think it's the kingbird flycatcher with its pipiri pipiri call that is my favourite memory of all the birds on my trip to paradise.


She only allows me one picture every five years or so. but I am determined to get more. Still the girl I married.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Bloody knees...

Just look at this. Marvelous isn't it? My daughter Holly swimming with the turtles and fishes. Yes, it's something to marvel at. I wonder how many people on this planet get to see a live turtle in the sea up that close? I envy her latest turtle experience.

Of course I could have gone. I went eleven years ago when we were last in Barbados. Both Holly's and my first swim with the turtles. I was younger then, not as fat, and my knees didn't buckle at all back then. It was my knees that stopped me going in with the turtles, not the swimming, I can still swim, if not like the fish I was - a barracuda - then at least like a minnow.

No, it's the knees and that long steel ladder back up to the deck. I was worried that I wouldn't have the strength to haul myself up, and what if my knees had given way? It's my own fault of course. If I lost some weight then I'm sure I could get myself into the water to swim with the turtles and then get myself out again.

A lost chance, but hopefully not my last chance. I could kick myself now, but my knees would probably give way and I'd fall over.

When you're younger you never expect to get old really do you?

Friday, 4 September 2015

A turn up for the books...

You know every now and again I pick up my sketch pad and paints and wander off to do a sketch. Of course nine times out of ten my sketches end up in the bin, actually ten times out of ten almost. I rarely keep the sketches I do considering them not worth keeping. I must have thrown away hundreds of these things over the years, days and days of observation and painting into the trash simply because I wasn't immediately happy with the result. Usually they aren't very big, smaller than A5, so not a great loss really.

Occasionally though one survives, forgotten in one of my dozens of sketchbooks, left languishing away in some forgotten corner. This one did survive, I found it today in a sketchbook shoved between some cookery books on the cookery book shelf in the kitchen. It's a ten minute sketch of the stone jetty at Trevor in Wales. I painted it last summer I think.

It's not great. It's just a quick impression of the day, the ten minutes that I sat there with my paints splashing out the colour and trying to catch a fleeting likeness of what was there before me. It's hard sketching in the field. The wind blows the paper as you paint, the sand lands on its surface and sticks there, it never seems to go well and then, as I have already said, afterwards I find the nearest bin and drop it in.

Looking at this though I'm beginning to think that may have been a mistake. Although it's not a masterpiece it really does capture that single point in time, at least for me. I remember every moment, can see each boat on the water as it bobs, I can smell the seaweed, hear the gulls, taste the coffee that I was sipping at the time. It's a record of ten minutes of my life spent daubing a bit of paint on a piece of paper and looking hard - and it's the looking hard that is the thing rather than the painting.

Besides, it seems that they look so much better with a little distance between the painting and the looking again. I wonder if it's meant to be that way? I can't know can I? So many of them have been scattered to the winds. So my resolve is to try harder. Not with the painting, although I must do more of it, but with the urge to throw them away the minute that one is completed and then ridiculed to oblivion.

This isn't even one of my better ones. I've thrown away much better sketches than this. Why did I do that? I really don't know. In future I think that I will keep them all if only for me to look at them when I am far too old to even lift a brush. They may just remind me of a certain time, on a certain day and for a few moments I can be there again.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

First day at big school...

It’s that time of year when the schools start up again and children are off to school for the first time or making the transition from one school to another. Life’s full of transitions, change is constant, but moving from my junior school into what we called ‘big school’ was one of the most daunting experiences of my life. I dreaded it for months and when it happened it lived up to my dread for a while. Everything was so different. It was a whole new world.

My school was made up of boarders and day boys. I was a day boy and day boys were treated like crap – or at least I felt that I was. On my first day I was greeted at the school gates by a group of boarders demanding to know if I was an 'x' or a 'y'. I had no idea, but turns out I was a 'y'. I was in New House, the lowliest of the low, we wore grey suits, our masters wore caps and gowns, the prefects sported brocade waistcoats and army greatcoats and the matron wore a nurse's uniform straight out of a carry on film.

The head (Stosh as he was known colloquially) played croquet on the lawn with the prefects in the summer and on Founders Day (founded 1575) there was an ‘old boy’ v ‘school’ cricket match and a speaker in the morning. Some I remember are Lord Longford, Robert Morley, David Tomlinson (whose two sons were boarders) and Jan Pieńkowski the illustrator – or did he give a talk in art class?

It was no environment for weaklings, and unfortunately I think that I was. We were addressed by our surnames by the masters, senior boys and other boys in class; nicknames were used by friends. I think that I was always Height, although for a while some boys called me ‘Tank’. We did five mile cross country runs on a Monday morning in the winter, went to school Saturday mornings, had detention in the refectory, kept homework diaries of our three hours homework a night, sang in the school choir, gave our house points in weekly at a meeting in the Chemistry Lab to cheers or jeers, had to carry a prayer book in our satchels, played rugby, learnt Latin, kept cave, had cold showers.

And straight into this from an educational syllabus of ‘All things bright and beautiful’, country dancing in the school hall and making gonks. It was a real shock I can tell you.

There was an Afghanistan prince boarding, lots of boys from Ghana whose parents lived away, a viscount, the heir to the Amey building group, the son of an MP, an émigré harmonium maker’s boy - and me. At least that’s the way it felt.

The prefects used to beat us, the teachers threw things at us, the sports master would make us stand in the rain for hours. One boy was so bullied that he tried to hang himself. It was all very 'If' (the film) when I first went there with ACF and CCF and a shooting range and sixth form boys (men) rebelling and singing the red flag and lighting a fire under the stage (which sent the masters scurrying for safety) on one very memorable end of term assembly. It was great really, a few years (three I think) out of time, stuck in another era where Tom Brown and Flashman would have easily fitted in.

As time went on my school mellowed into blandness; the girls came and the old rituals were replaced by new ones, the boarding house was not as full, the curriculum widened to include less academic subjects, teachers needed to be qualified not just bloody minded, slightly disturbed, ex-servicemen. Yes, it became a place of sanity and education. A school in short.  

It's a mixed comprehensive now, or whatever they call schools these days, and a good one I am led to believe. But I will never forget those early schooldays, and these days I look back and see only the good things; the dread has gone and I am left with memories of pranks and curry for school dinner, winning rugby matches, carol concerts in the local church, and walking two miles home on bitterly cold winters evening in the dark. Such is the stuff that dreams are made of despite the tears I shed over my homework and the fear of asking for help as it would always end badly.

Yes, my first three years at Lord Williams’ were a character building affair. It was one part Hogwarts, one part Greyfriars, and one part Monty Python – such a great mix really. I think I enjoyed it taking everything on balance (including the social layering), even if it was much in the same way that some inmates end up enjoying prison.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015


Barbados makes rum. It makes all sorts of rum, dark, white, spiced, vintage, cheap. It's so cheap that you can buy a bottle for 17 BDD in the supermarkets and that's under £6 a bottle. Rum is one of Barbados' major exports, not only that but it seems also to be the national hobby. It's everywhere.

There are Rum Shops, or Rum Shacks, all over the island. The coast roads are lined with them, every village has at least one or two shops, you come across them on deserted roads, hidden away behind stands of palm trees, at crossroads, even at the top of hills. It's the Barbadian version of the local pub; just a lot cheaper.

Of course like pubs there are all sorts of rum shops - tourist only shops, beach rum shacks, mixed shacks, and what might be local only rum shops. The hard thing is working out which is which and the only way to find out is to go in and have a few, a hardship I know, but it has to be done.

We visited a few and they were all friendly places where you could have a good chat and, if I am honest, I never found a local only rum shop. They might look a bit daunting, a bit cliquey, but inside they are all pretty much the same - shady and cool and full of rum.

Many cook and sell food - grilled chicken, flying fish, macaroni pie, conkie, coucou, pepperpot, and the popular pudding and souse. Pudding and souse is a traditional Saturday lunch. The souse is pickled pork, often made into a sausage. But the pork is ears, tails, snout, trotters and tongues and can be bought in the supermarkets. The pudding is steamed and shredded sweet potato. Both the pudding and souse are delicious - or so I am told.

Anyway, if you go to Barbados forget your Britishness and visit a rum shack or three, you won't regret it.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pre-fabricated dream...

My body may be back in England now, but my mind is still in Barbados. The sights and sounds, the smiles, the heat, the smell of the fish markets, the blue and yellow buses and the incredible rich and varied landscape. Anything can happen around any corner in Barbados. It's full of surprises.

I came across this place high in the hills in St John's, above Bath Beach around Welchtown. It sat on its own just a little away from the dirt road surrounded by luscious hill vegetation. I couldn't tell if it was lived in or not, but compared to many of the chattel houses that seem to be everywhere on the island it's in pretty good condition. Mind you I have seen ones that look like a single gust of wind would blow them and their torn net curtains away, so dilapidated that nobody could possibly live in it, only to notice a satellite dish high above its patched leaking roof and an electricity meter outside.

Chattel houses, how I love the romance of them. Made from pre-cut planks and often painted in brightly coloured 'not quite' pastel pinks, greens, yellow and blues, they were designed to be packed up and moved to a new home whenever the need demanded. The buildings have no firm foundations, but are balanced on blocks of one kind or another. Coral stone or cinder block it doesn't seem to matter so long as the standing is firm and high enough to catch the cooling breeze.

As your family grew then so would your house adding a room at the front or back or building a veranda. A 'one roof house', 'one roof house and shed', 'two roof house and shed'; you see them lining the roads all over the island often with rusting tin roofs, although sometimes with wooden ones. Most have only a couple of rooms but some, like this one, are really quite big. No nails were used in the past and the wood simply slotted together. Nails would have been hard to remove quickly when you were told to get out by your landlord.

I imagine myself with my kerosene lamps listening to the tree frogs or the winds of an approaching Atlantic storm. I can see myself on my veranda drinking rum and eating souse and pudding. If I dream a bit harder I can even see myself painting pictures of the local sights in bright Caribbean colours. What a dream of a life it would be.

It's still possible to buy a chattel house if you can find a local wanting to sell one. They go from between thirty and fifty thousand pounds dependent on size and condition, how much land is involved, and where that land is. Beach front land can fetch millions. I guess you could call them the original pre-fab and I think we could all learn a lot from their simplicity of concept and compact design.

Maybe one day.