Some people can claim to be a connoisseur of wine, or modern art or wild orchids; I have become rather a connoisseur of hurricanes. You can’t live permanently on an out island of the Bahamas for 16 years with out earning a history of hurricanes.
One remembers each hurricane intimately, but not with any fondness, with more a resigned, dull feeling. Rather like past principles of a school. The dread they instilled, their names you never forget.
This week Hurricane Irene arrived out of now where. One moment our island was filled with innocent, happy tourists enjoying the last of the summer, the restaurants filled, the dive boats busy, the beach caressed by the bodies of Europeans, smug in the knowledge that Harbour Island was simply the jewel in the crown, there was no more beautiful beach to compare in late August.
But Irene turned her attention on us. The tourists fled, the restaurants slammed shut and the dive boats sailed to safer harbors.
As the island began to shut down, I found myself in Florida, with a dog having emergency surgery and preparing our foster child for his new school. With four other children, two more dogs, a parrot and cat back on the island, I was desperate to get home. After much stamping of feet, I found a pilot prepared to fly the dog, me, and our new chainsaw (oh, the romance of a chainsaw) back to The Bahamas, currently a country being evacuated.
It’s an eerie feeling landing into an airport preparing for a natural disaster. There are no planes, and inside the terminal (although this is possibly a rather over rated term for the North Eleuthera airport) there are golf carts and equipment piled up inside, rather than out.
I took the last water taxi running from Eleuthera to Harbour Island. As I watched the boat pull away from the dock, to return across the bay, an overwhelming sense of isolation swept over me. We are a tiny island, in the middle of an ocean, with a 130-mile-per-hour hurricane rushing towards us. We were utterly powerless.
The town was deserted, shops shut, houses boarded up, just the faint noise of tap tap tap as Bahamians nailed on their last shutters. The elderly had been moved into the churches, the young were getting drunk. More babies are born nine months after a hurricane than any other time of year.
Irene remained an unwanted visitor over our island well into late evening. Emotionally bruised we began to resurface from our hermetically sealed homes, our sensory deprivation tanks. Irene had raped our island, torn our landscaping apart and played with our nerves. My eldest son, a sleepy teenager, found a damp baby humming bird, dazed and confused in our ravaged garden. He protectively brought it back to his room, where he fed it banana and gently wrapped it in a warm cloth. In the morning the bird was dead.
There are many things hard to forgive when nature decides to wield it’s uncontrollable power, our Bahamian friend Pandora lost the roof to her house, Marissa’s home flooded, and the island’s historic library tragically faired worst of all.
In truth our garden will grow again, the sun will shine once more and we will remain island bound. But perhaps after all, hurricanes, volcanoes, and earthquakes are a message that something much greater than us is in control, and we should possibly pay more attention to our planet.
Every morning I awake looking just like this, fresh as a daisy, not a hair out of place, not a wrinkle in sight. And I lounge comfortably wearing Viyella, against a wall, or in an arm chair, thinking gentle calm thoughts. Every morning.
I have lived on an out island in The Bahamas for 16 years.
I have experienced heat waves and hurricanes, mammoth land crabs, scorpions and swarms of flying cockroaches. I have swam with sharks and handled snakes.....
But what the F*** is this?
And why was it watching me as I woke up this morning?
I went to school in Scotland, well not for as long as I should have, because somewhere in the middle they sent me home for a few weeks.
GORDONSTOUN. It's far away from anywhere and freezing cold. It may have changed now, but in my day the girls had more hairs on their legs than the boys (in a frantic effort to keep warm you understand) We had to take an early morning run before an improving cold shower. And we are talking about the very NORTH-EAST of Scotland.
Although the school might not boast the strongest academic achievers it does offer its own Coastguard and Mountain Rescue services and it's own Fire Brigade. It even has its own fire engine. Whilst English schools are fritting about with hockey sticks and cricket bats we 'stounians are slipping down fire poles and launching life boats.
All my cousins had been to Gordonstoun … Prince Charles had been to Gordonstoun, my uncle was a governor of Gordonstoun. The die was cast.
At the end of each term, the school would let out a sigh of relief and lay on a special train to carry the pupils safely down south. We threw out all the loo rolls as we went across the Forth Bridge and I remember someone trying to shoot the engine driver with a BB gun, as the train turned a long, slow corner. We jumped up and down with delight at the attempt. Our frozen little minds never thinking through the consequences.
It was a special kind of humour we developed up there on the windy shores of the Moray Firth. The kind of humor that lasts for life, shared only by a few.
When Charles Finch, an former Gordonstoun Guardian (head-boy), years before I got there, comes to stay with us, I revert to being seventeen. Under his influence, serving cat food disguised as pâté seems very, very funny (as does stripping naked during a sailing race, to put off the opponents and trying to hump a giant iguana in the Exumas).
A few summers ago Charles encouraged us to fly into Cuba, in an unidentified aircraft, in the middle of the night. We made it without being imprisoned. But not without difficulty. Charles thought his connection with the Ministry of Culture would somehow ease our arrival, unbeknownst to us our pilot had been trying to contact the Ministry of Agriculture.
So when Charles suggests swimming in the Serpentine to promote his growing empire, CHUCS, of course I agree.
Arriving at the Lido, dressed in jogging leggings with bikini beneath, I see other guests, with blow drys and designer dresses (Boris Becker had the blow dry, his wife the designer dress) I began to be suspicious. I was carrying my smudgy three-year-old. Not the correct cocktail accessory, at all.
As teams were allocated it also became apparent that I was one of only two women swimming, amongst a platoon of chiseled male models and Charles, safely dressed in a flattering CHUCS UVA sun top.
There was no turning back, anyway a Gordonstoun girl would never do that. But there was no bloody way I was going to remove those leggings. The whistle blew, the guests cheered, the press cameras flashed and the relays began.
The end result? A lot of very good photographs of Charles smiling triumphantly, not a silver hair out of place, easing himself out of the water like a Greek god. And a lot of disastrous photographs of a freezing cold India, inexplicably dressed in soggy leggings, desperately in need of one of Boris's blow drys, with Serpentine duckweed hanging from one shoulder.
Charles is a survivor. Possibly this is why he became the Guardian of Gordonstoun.....and I was....not.
"No messing around whilst I put your sister down for a rest"
Settling down to a game of Monopoly, only to be interrupted by the arrival of this fly, the size of a hotel, who promptly gave birth to two baby maggots before flying off again, abandoning them and the rent.
Property management in the Bahamas is not as easy as it appears.