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Lie back and think of England

Thursday, April 3, 2014
London Calling

The plane descends through mottled grey rain clouds and lands at Piarco. The doors open but driving rain sweeps across the runway then falls vertically, bouncing off the tarmac. 


The cabin crew tell us to return to our seats and wait for the bus. Some passengers dash for the terminal, some run back up the stairs flapping with umbrellas.


It’s not an April Fool’s Day prank. Like Hugh Masekela, T&T has been waiting for the rain.


In Carnbee, I remarked to a taxi driver how bright a yellow poui was and how those trees must love the dry season detox from the cloying humidity. Instead of lush green the landscape contains lemon-yellow shades, leaves that rustle in the breeze, raked up by gardeners.


In Woodford Square gazing up past the poui’s sturdy trunk, dainty branches and bright petals against the azure sky I nearly bump into passers-by. Now I have learned that its flowering leaves hold promise of the rains to come.


I have missed the rain. “Do you miss England?” people ask.


The other day I felt my heart ache for London. I couldn’t identify why. I don’t miss it right now but longing for London streets will come again in the course of time.


Unlike the timeless beauty of Thomas Hardy’s English countryside, London is concrete. A city of immense beauty and intense ugliness wrapped into one.


Even in ugly cityscapes one can find allure. Like the high-rise council estates spanning the horizon on the Westway flyover from Marylebone in central London to Shepherds Bush in the west. Like the disused wharfs and derelict factories along the Thames at Wapping. Like the iconic gas holders, earmarked for demolition.


But tacky shop fronts mar once grand thoroughfares making every high street in England look the same—Starbucks, McDonald’s, Boots the chemist, Pret-a-Manger sandwich shops, Primark clothes stores and variation on the Poundland dollar-store theme.


Above street-level one sees the facades of Edwardian buildings, banks and theatres and wonders why they weren’t preserved, why the modernisers of the 1960s and 70s thought it apt to ruin the view.


Currently, members of T&T’s Citizens for Conservation group are fighting to protect the scenic views on the roads and hills surrounding Port-of-Spain from being obscured by giant advertising billboards. Not many people are taking note. They should, if they don’t want this historic city to look like a typical London high road within the next decade.


How can I miss London when I’m surrounded by splendour and feel this urge to visit every inch of T&T, the Caribbean islands to the north and mainland to the south?


“You go to Tobago more than most Trinis,” Ilve been told. Well, yes. I have an inbuilt wanderlust.


I thought I would be able to travel in the region—to Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia—but the price of air passage is prohibitively expensive. So I console myself once a month with the not-too-shabby Tobago, an island that increasingly resembles paradise every time I go back.


Perhaps it is the expense of travel that means travel writing in our regional newspapers is hard to find. Travel for leisure is a luxury few can afford.


In Europe, low-cost airlines mean you can hop across to France, Italy or Spain for ##£50 return.


But here, most of us must content ourselves with reading about Bequia, Dominica, Curacao, Suriname and Martinique in Caribbean Beat magazine as we make the 20-minute flight against the trade winds of the Atlantic to the sister isle.


How can I miss cold, grey, London when I’m standing on a jetty in the early evening watching fishermen unload a haul of huge fish, each one 4-feet long? I ask what kind of fish and get a gravelly “dolphin!” in response. They are dolphinfish or mahi mahi.


Up close, I inspect their snub-nosed faces and the marbled gold, blue and green colouring on their sides. I watch a fisherman slice along their undersides removing fan-like gills, gutting the intestines, saving the large pink roe sacks, washing the fish in the sea turning it blood red, then loading them onto weighing scales, 20 fish at a time, and on to the back of a truck.


How will I leave these islands of hidden treasures where you turn down unassuming village roads in Black Rock and find giant crashing waves tussling with magnificent sunsets at the end of the path? 


Where turtle season is beginning on the east coast of Trinidad. Where ocelots, peccary, armadillo and crab-eating racoons frolic in the dark recesses of the northern range rainforest. 


Where vintage open-topped Land Rovers pootle along like the sun never sets on the Empire. Where the calm, green waters of Macqueripe caress you as you bathe, catching glimpses of Venezuela. 


Where Indian houses on stilts nestle in the undulating terrain of Barrackpore, flags fluttering. Where horses are ridden, neck-high, through the turquoise blue of Buccoo reef while I lie back on the beach, apply the sun lotion, listen to Paul McCartney singing Good Day Sunshine in my earphones and think of England.


She is there, England, somewhere across, the water. But she can wait, for now.


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