In August of 1971 a west Indian friend of mine invited me to accompany her to Grenada to stay in her families home. I jumped at the chance. We were to fly there on a charter flight organized by west Indian travel company. The plane went from Gatwick to Barbados. At Barbados we were to travel to Grenada in a smaller aeroplane as the Airport had a very short runway with of volcano at one end and the sea at the other end. The beach was known for its Colonies of crabs.
Arriving at Gatwick we found the departure lounge cram packed with west Indians. For each person flying home there were at least six or seven people saying goodbye. The travel agency had sold tickets for two aeroplanes and only booked one. There was an air of panic as people competed to be put on the one aeroplane. Two large west Indian ladies had to be weighed on the luggage scales. One lady was stuck after being weighed and trying to get off the scales. The other lady was trying to push herself on to the scales at the same time. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best.
We managed to travel on the first aeroplane. Our luggage was to follow when a second aeroplane became available.
When we landed at Barbados we were taken to a hotel. The hotel was clean and comfortable however the walls to the rooms did not reach the ceiling enabling not just air to circulate, but also any noise.
The following day the luggage arrived, we caught our propeller driven small aeroplane, and headed off to Grenada. In those days hot pants had just been invented and were being worn by the glamorous west Indian air stewardesses with very long legs.
Sure enough the landing strip at grenville in grenada was very short. The aeroplane approached the landing strip flying close to the side of the volcano with one wing tip pointing to the ground. The aeroplane straightened up just in time for the start of the landing strip with the propellers in reverse even before the wheels touched the ground. The sea came up alarmingly quickly with the aeroplane engines screaming in distress. We stopped and taxied to the small Airport building. Tintin would have felt at home.
My friend’s father met us and drove us in a stately fashion across the island to their home at Victoria. I had been shocked to see the shacks that people lived in in Barbados. It was the same in grenada only there were more shacks and less houses. After a while I began to think that shacks weren’t so bad after all in that climate.
The house we were travelling to was on the beach side of the road that travelled round the island next to the sea. The living quarters were on the first floor and the whole house was surrounded by a high concrete wall, necessary but only for security but also to keep out to sea when the waves were running high.
The routine of the village started early when everyone walked into the sea for a morning wash. In the evening people’s sat on the veranda outside their houses or walked up and down the road chatting to their neighbours and friends. I was staying across the road in a neighbour’s house. The neighbour was away most of the time however she did turn up for a while. It turned out that she was the wife of a west Indian judge. A wise and much travelled lady with houses throughout the Caribbean. I very much enjoyed our chats as we sat on the veranda in the evening watching the world go by.
My friend’s sister was also visiting at that time. Her husband, a tall Jamaican sergeant in the U.S. Army, was on his last leave before going to Viet Nam. He carried a pistol an all times even though population had been disarmed. Carrying a pistol was wise as although the grenadans were extremely friendly, the premier, Eric Gairy, had released the prisoners from jail and armed them with the confiscated weapons. Each community had an armed gang amongst them.
One day this Jamaican sergeant offered to show me around. ‘what would you like to see’ he asked. ‘how about picking a coconut from a tree’, I replied. Harmless fun I thought. Accordingly we set off down the street and stopped outside the school. After a few whistles the Jamaican sergeant caught the attention of one of the school kids who was in class. There followed negotiations to persuade the kid to climb up a tree and knock down a coconut. Just as a negotiations were reaching a successful conclusion an outraged determined schoolteacher appeared at the door or of the school with her arms on her substantial hips. We were bawled out and beat a retreat.
Nothing daunting Jamaican sergeant marched through the office of the nutmeg factory which was just across the road. The manager jumped up from his desk and ran after us as we entered the room full of ladies sorting and separating mace from nutmeg. Mace being a red covering to the nut. The Jamaican sergeant told the manager in an important voice that he was showing his friend, me, around. The Jamaican sergeant then walked up the aisle giving the ladies a pep talk to boost their morale as they worked sitting on the floor in front of large baskets.
On leaving the factory who should pull up by the local gang. They were clinging on to a mini moke, the open jeep version of a mini. The Jamaican sergeant explained that he wished to show me coconuts being picked from a tree. The gang made way for me to sit in the front passenger seat. A Jamaican sergeant sat on the back seat and everyone else held on to the outside. We drove up into the ‘ lands’ as the fields on the side of the volcano were called.
We soon arrived at a suitable location. Even though it was someone’s property permission was not asked for or granted. We were surrounded by all sorts of wonderful vegetation which included banana trees, cinnamon trees and coconut palms. Hummingbirds were plentiful hovering as they fed on flowers. I scratch the bark of a cinnamon tree and the sap almost spat out of me – the dried cinnamon sticks that we buy here are indeed stale desiccated versions of the real thing. I was handed a cutlass, a machete, and had the fun of chopping down a banana tree with one swipe. A banana tree is not really a tree at all, rather the whole thing is a plant that has to be cut down each time it produces a bunch of bananas.
Eventually one of the gang shined up Danish end up a coconut palm and threw down a coconut which was duly opened the one end with the cutlass so that we can drink the milk inside. Honour satisfied we drove back to the village.
Something I enjoyed was going for a swim. As the house was on the beach there was no need for shoes. To protect oneself from the sun you kept on your shirt and shorts. All that was necessary was to dive in. Afterwards on the ground floor of the house there w as a cold shower with the water coming straight off the mountain. This was the only time in my life I have enjoyed a cold shower. There was no need to dry oneself after the shower for in that climate you were soon dry.
I was the only white person in the area. When I walked on the beach I would be followed by a short line of young children all agog with big round eyes.
The second week in Grenada the whole family rented a villa at Grand Anse Beach, St. George, which I was told was the largest beach in the Caribbean. Just brilliant it was too: miles of white sand and bright blue sea. Where the small waves turned over there was a ledge. On one side of the ledge it was beach on the other side it was wavy sea bottom with Fishes swimming around in the clear water. When you were too hot you ran down the beach and belly flopped into the water.
While staying at the beach I must have caught some bug. For the third week I was ill with diarrhea. I decided to return to England early. This was not so easy as all the aeroplanes were full up. I spent three days at the Airport begging for a place on an aeroplane. On the third day, much to my surprise by then, i was successful and found myself had Barbados Airport repeating the process. Eventually the Airport staff saw my Canadian passport and said ‘oh I see you are Canadian – I thought you were British’. They found me a seat immediately.
On returning to Birmingham i was invited to go and play with the Scottish National in Glasgow where Paul Marion was at that time the principal bass. Even though days before I had tried to swim in the Caribbean and found my arms were too thin to make any progress, I set off for Glasgow with my double bass and tails.
Driving to Glasgow I have averaged 60 mph including stops and the ordinary roads close to the border. The motorway did not then go the whole distance. I stayed there with Barbara and Robert my flat mates from guildhall days. On my return a few days later my journey was not so smooth. An IRA bomb had just gone off so the police were watching the motorways. Seeing my car with a double bass beside me a police car drove up a long side. As they passed me by started to put on their hats a prelude to stopping me. I accelerated into a service station hitting the exit road Anse over 70 miles an hour. A police had no choice but to drive on. I stopped for a coffee and to calm down. I was racing to arrive on time for a CBSO rehearsal in Birmingham.