Don't Stop the Carnival

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My mother, a sedentary sports fanatic, introduced me to cricket just as she did to tennis, watching a doubles exhibition match between Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Rod Laver and Jaroslav Drobney.
     So on a hot day in summer, we went to  Edgbaston to watch the test match between England and the WI. I even remember my dress, a lime green cotton with a stand-up collar. We arrived to find Peter May and Colin Cowdrey dominating the crease and the play, and there they stayed, dispatching the ball chased by forlorn-looking fielders in all directions. What in my ignorance I didn’t know, was that this was a highly unusual occurrence – it was normally the other way round. On our boundary were two young fielders, Collie Smith and Garfield Sobers, and equally as bored with the proceedings as the WI crowd, they exchanged jokes with the crowd, thus earning my undying support and devotion. As far as I was concerned the English players were the most wicked of wicked forcing those young boys to chase ball after ball all day.
     Ten years later, with my passion for West Indies cricket and cricketers  still intact, with countrywide visits to matches, I was buying a plane ticket to Barbados to watch the '68 series.
     The word groupie had not yet been invented and being a strictly brought up young lady, I wouldn’t have known it even if it had been. But I guess that’s what I was. Wes Hall, who became a good friend, said they always asked girls which one of the team they wanted to meet! It saved problems later. When he brought the team to England in the 80s I took my own daughter to Gloucester to watch the match and we met up. Later I drove him back to Bristol. He asked me, did I ever sleep with you? I hadn’t but I guess it was the exception.
     Anyhow, I travelled out on Boxing Day, as did the team and reporters. I swapped my seat for one next to Lance Gibb from Guyana, who taught me how to spin the ball. On my other side was John Snow, the England bowler, who asked if I had ever met Jeff Boycott. In learning that I hadn't, 'Be warned,' he said, 'Jeff only talks about three things: Cricket, Yorkshire and Jeff Boycott.'
     It was true. I met him a couple of days later at the Kensington Oval in Barbados.
     Admired and loathed for his resistance in equal measure, it was his dogged determination in Jamaica that contributed to the riot on the 4th day. And our being tear-gassed.
     In the three months we had spent exploring the islands, including St Lucia where you were greeted by the management of the hotel with a tube of insect repellent. (It should have been armour, the sand flies were wicked); or  Dominica in which only daylight landings were permitted because there was a huge mountain in the way, or Antigua in which the only water was desalinated, amd there was not much of that either, the taps gurgling impotently when you turned them on, or Puerto Rico, dirty and smelly with a hot potch of traffic lights and unemployment, or Trinidad, so humid one felt the sky had fallen in, being tear gassed in Jamaica came under the heading of light relief.
     As I said, it was the 4th day, the three previous ones a haven of nothing apart from the pitch cracking, which had my sister and I, the partisan crowd, blaming the English, and the English supporters, both more numerous and vastly richer, blaming the WI team.
     For the many cricket fans outside the ground, listening on their transistors, two hours of commentary involving the words, 'Botham pushes forward', was too much. With righteous anger, they decided to liven up the session with a few well-aimed bottles, and these equally swiftly grew into stones. The ringside audience, well natured and enjoying the carnival atmosphere joined in. 
   It was all very friendly, I hasten to add, and livened up the cricket no end. A bottle reaching the stumps had the teams sprinting for the dressing room. Even the commenters were enjoying themselves, commenting: ‘these guys are so accurate they should be picked for the next test.' Next moment, the riot police arrived. Loathed, feared and hated, in their smart uniforms they looked very much the part. Sadly apart from the knife-like creases in their shorts, they weren't the brightest in the knife box especially regarding the direction of the prevailing wind. They tossed tear gas at the rioting crowd and the wind obligingly blew it back and into the pavilion; gassing players, guests, and me and my sister.
     Instantly, we were blinded, unable to breathe or speak our mouths and eyes burning. Gary Sobers and Wes Hall, experiencing tear gas in India, and knowing the drill, fought their way into the mass of screaming, crying, heart-pounding, plus a few vomiting, VIPs. While Wes passed out wet towels, Gary took us by the hand and led us down to the dressing rooms, where the taps were flowing water so we could  staunch the burning. 
     Sadly, not the end of the incident, when riot police began beating up a small boy, lining up to hit him with their batons, Wes Hall plus my sister went racing out into the yard to stop them!
     As one might say, a memorable visit. Next stop Barbados.
     Already several miles out of my comfort zone, Barbados had yet more surprises up its sleeve. There I saw a ghost … called locally a yuppie. Absolutely, most definitely, no doubt abut it at all. I was renting a room in a very old house just outside Bridgetown. The children who lived next door warned me … they had seen it … this dark grey presence. The house also possessed at least one very much alive mouse, which ate part of the bar of chocolate I had just bought. This was reposing in a paper bag, not two inches from where I was sitting on my bed – and I didn’t even hear it. Not so much as a crackle.
     It also had a hotel. Not Sandy Lane which I visited several times – although it wasn’t as posh or as expensive as it is now. I mean the Atlantis in Bathsheba on the east coast, where everyone lived on a diet of fish, and no one bothered to get sick or die. The woman from whom I bought oranges, often walked into Bridgtown to the market, over 10 miles, catching the bus back.  She was 83. 

   Anyway, Enid Maxwell,  big wig in government, decided to offer me a job as manager and I somewhat foolishly accepted. How hard can it be, I said.
     Three months later I was discovered praying in the refrigerator, ‘please God don’t let anything else happen today.' The refrigerator in question happened to be very large, easily big enough for me to get inside, and for lobsters to get out.
     They have been brought up from the beach, that morning, by Reggie, a sweet boy who gardened, at least he did unless it was raining, when he positively could do no work in case he got his hair wet. In those days, over on the east coast, it was widely rumoured getting your hair wet resulted in either death or pneumonia.  Anyway, when asked to put the lobsters in the fridge to keep them quiescent … he didn’t. 
     Oh, did I forget to mention that the larder was kept locked and I had the only key, otherwise the food walked, especially tins of evaporated milk. Had I been paid as badly as the staff, I would have resorted to stealing too.
     Anyway back to the lobsters.
    If Reggie had put them in the fridge, he had obviously not latched the door, unless one of the lobsters happened to be a relative of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. When I entered the larder to collect them, they were climbing walls, literally, except for the ones that had gone to earth under the heap of yam or bluggo on the floor, which is hairy and dark brown. Somewhat like the rats that also lived in the larder. 
     If that had been a single incident, perhaps resorting to prayer might well have been considered overkill, but considering I had maids who lay down on the beds chatting when I wasn’t actively standing over them, and we had to wash sheets by hand in cold water in the yard, and on a Sunday when everyone came to the Atlantis for lunch, we began the day at 6 am picking rice.
     Have you ever picked rice? It came in from Guyana in sacks, with tiny stones among the grains. Before we could cook it, these had to be removed by hand – a job for four of us sitting around the table most every day, and especially early on a Sunday when we served a gargantuan buffet lunch for 30 or so people that took siestas on our newly washed sheets.
     Despite all that, I was happy in Barbados. Back in Bridgtown, I wrote my first magazine article for which I was paid the princely sum of £25, moved out of my haunted house into a beautiful flat with a frangipan tree in the garden, that scented the washing; worked for Deanie Skinner, who ran a secretarial college, and was most courteously asked to leave the island by the Chief of Police within 14 days because I had no work permit.
      So there we are. Did Barbados have any silver linings? Of course, remember I wrote a book, A Fishy Tail.

Reading v Non-Reading

A Serious debate is currently being waged in my head as I do battle with the concept of reading versus non-reading and good English versus rubbish.

The other day my daughter and I were consulting together on the lack of vocabulary possessed by my younger granddaughter, almost 15 who is not a reader (even the word reticent was unknown to her).When talking to me she frequently looks blank and asks her mother to interpret. (And yes, I often use complicated words liberally peppered with proverbs which no teenager is familiar with - our language has moved on.) As a consequence of not reading books, she is now finding English classes difficult, and written exams impossible as she sometimes fails to grasp the nub of the question. Naturally, she is dreading her forthcoming GCSE exams.

My grandson was another non-reader, both he and his sister oobsessed with computer games which is where their interest lies. (He was operating a mobile phone at two.) Fortunately, two years ago, when asked by his teacher to choose a book from the school library, among the assortment offered was
an old copy of A Fishy Tail. He snatched it up for no other reason than it was written by his grandmother. Now he reads under the covers by torchlight ... every night. Loved the first two Jack Burnsides, was not so keen on the third, and has read all the Harry Potters. I bought him Diary of a Wimpy Kid for Christmas.

On the other side of my argument, this weekend my eldest granddaughter (who loves Shakespeare) was talking about a ‘book’ that ‘literally saved her life’, telling me I should read it. What did I expect? Certainly not what I got. On a fan-fiction site, devotees upload their stories as they write them, snippets, chapters, punctuation and spelling mistakes galore. Readers pick them up and follow, eagerly awaiting the next chapter. The ‘book’ I was given to read had 336,000 hits and yet it was as far from being a readable book as it was possible to be.  

To begin with, I thought it a play. Except it wasn’t. The only way I can describe it is: an ungrammatical series of jottings, in which expletives ruled the roost, with absurd situations created just for titillation.

For me, fan fiction sites (and there is a huge number) expose a worrying trend in popularism – is there such a word – with authors appealing to the lowest common denominator. It is also a terrible indictment of our education system. At least forty years ago, people could write a fair hand with words spelled correctly and in the right place.

I can hear the outcry now. Does it matter? Surely you should be delighted that someone is actually taking the time to write?

Yes, it should matter and that is my dilemma. As I said in my opening sentence, part of me shouts, No while an equal parts shouts,Yes,it does matter.
I love that quote from Pygmalion: "The French don't care what they do actually, as long as they pronounce it properly."

The English language is one of the richest anywhere, so why are we restricting our vocabulary to 200 words, half of which comprise 4 letters and are banned by the BBC before the 9pm watershed?

I confess to finding profanity belligerent, aggressive and in most cases, unnecessary. (My grandfather used the words confound it and the word bluebell as an adjective ... that bluebell of a postman. I neither find expletives funny (as comedians on the television believe) nor clever (as writers on television series seem to think) nor do I think them an example to our young. I read on-line that J K Rowling and Piers Morgan swapped expletives. (It may well not have been true – fake news is yet another worrying problem.

Indeed, expletives are so widely used that no one notices or comments any more, using one particular word (f***) as noun, adjective, and adverb. (Indeed, if I asked for a different adjective would they be able to produce one?) My problem with this  ... if you hear something often enough, you begin to accept it as normal. Once it becomes 'normal' you then look for new ways to push the boundaries of ‘acceptable behaviour’ even further.

Have I solved my dilemma. Not really, my ideal world would be to read anything,  fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, comics, instructions, back of the cereal package, anything provided the grammar and spelling are okay!

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About the author:
In 1967, considering herself to be destined for a life 
of mediocrity,  Barbara Spencer hi-tailed it to the 
West Indies to watch cricket, the precursor to a highly 
colourful career spanning three continents,  in which 
she was caught up in riots, wars, and choosing 
Miss World. 
An award winning children’s author, and no stranger 
to schools and Waterstones, since 2015 Barbara has
been writing historical fantasy for an adult
audience; her first novel The Year the Swans Came 
was published in 2018.

Connect with me on:
Twitter: @BarbaraSpencerO


The Year the Swans Came – Winner of  a Chill with a Book – Readers Award January 2019
Discovering Diamonds Review – March 2019