Remembering a visit to Barbuda

One of my books – Journeys of a Lifetime –  contains a description of a visit I made to Barbuda. Here’s what I wrote in  2004

” Barbuda is a flat sand-coloured leaf loating on a pool of blue. Water laps its edges amd the wind, whistling across its desolate  landscape, makes me feel uneasy and unsafe, fearful that at any moment a wave may flow  across the whole island and engulf it….      Barbuda bangs and clangs  like a ship buffeted by winds  that seem to strike it from every direction…”

Later, I called in to the rum  shop and had a stiff drink.

 

 

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The Codrington Library, its connection to slavery, sugar and Oxford

 

The Codrington library at All Souls, Oxford.

 

Some years back, I made preparations to go  to the Eastern Caribbean.

 

“ If you go to Barbuda,” said Bill Heine  who presented a programme on BBC Radio Oxford, “send me a postcard.”

The capital of Barbuda is Codrington and Bill remembered how a portrait of  Codrington hung in All Souls College, Oxford which he had attended. He’d found Codrington glowering down on him unsettling.

When I got myself to Barbuda ( it’s the sister island of Antigua)  I went to the post office to buy a postcard and a stamp.

There were no postcards so I bought two envelopes, wrote on one, folded it up and put it inside the second envelope.  Next,  to buy  a stamp.

The man behind the counter offered me an array of stamps. “ Pick,” he said. They all had different pictures on them including ones of Winston Churchill, a parrot and a kettle. I chose the parrot one.

“ This OK for Europe?” I asked him and he replied cheerfully: “ Whichever.” The card reached its destination. Job done.

Today it’s Open Doors Day in Oxford so I am going to All Souls to see the Codrington Library which has been closed to visitors for some months.

The Codrington family set up sugar plantations in this part of the Eastern Caribbean in the 1600s.

Now, here’s the irony: under Codrington’s rule, slaves were forbidden to learn how to read  while at the same time, Codrington slave money was used to establish a library for the privileged few back in England.

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Famous writer pinches things in Regents Park

 

From Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On

I was given this book for Christmas and am now on page 361 out of 753. Quite a bit to go which is great as I won’t want it to end.

Also reviewing another book at the same time and the temptation, with KOKO, is to pick up a pen and make notes. Fatal. I’d be making notes all the time.

Here’s one anecdote out of many: he cycles through  Regent’s Park every day for the exercise but one day it’s raining so he walks.

“Almost out of piety and a respect for a tradition I filch a couple of  branches from the base of  a balsam poplar  on the north side of Regent’s Park. The buds are hardly open  and thus are briefly heavily scented.  Now in a glass on the sitting room mantelpiece they bring a flavour to the room as they have done every spring for the last forty years.”

http://www.maryrussell.info

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Here’s what I’m reading

 

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Never knew what a Tidy Betty was till I read about one here.

 

 

 

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Books my mother gave me

 

 

It was a chance remark overheard on a train, someone recalling a book given to them by their mother, not one I recognised.

Mine were The Hound of Heaven and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The first has a blue cover and the other a soft leather cover, smooth to the touch. I can feel it now. But wait – they have long since disappeared, shoved into battered cases and pushed under the bed. Or stowed in black plastic sacks and carried from one Earls Court bedsit to another and then lost on the momentous journey that led to married life.

Lost but not gone for they were treasured gifts from my mother to my teenage self in the days before teenagers were invented, categorised as YA, isolated in bookshops  a month and cut off from the chequerboard of poetry.

And so, some years,  I give myself a treat by swearing faithfully to read  a book of poetry a month.

Last time I did this, about ten years ago, I kept my New Year’s Resolution for three or four months and then forgot….

I may do better this year though then again I may not.

I can’t recall how I heard about Portadown poet Sam  Gardiner. Perhaps it was his marvellous witty poem  Protestant Windows for it was this one that made me buy the book – published by Lagan Press in 2000.

 

 

Here’s the poem:

 

 

Protestant Windows

 

They come at sunset peddling daylight, two

Salesmen wearing glasses through which they view

His shabby sliding sashes with disdain.

“Wood?” they suppose and feign

Dismay. “Yes, comes from trees.”

And he raises the drawbridge ten degrees,

a hurdle to reservists

but child’s play to frontline evangelists

with news of paradise

in earth ( at this address to be precise)

in whitest white PVC.

 

“Think of all

the blessings. And if economical

heavenly comfort isn’t what you need,

think of our Earth,” they plead

and their plastic-rimmed, double-glazed eyes glow

with love for generations of window

salesmen as yet unborn.“If I were you,

I’d save  my CO2

For atheists and papists. I doubt

They even know about King Billy.” “Who?” “William lll to you,

Brought sliding sashes to

Britain. Fetched in pure air and sanity.

Without him we’d still be in the dark.

“Sorry, we must go. It’s late,” they say

And beat a retreat to the gate,

And pause. Quick as a flash

He raises an effortlessly sliding sash

For a parting shot. “Plastic heretics!”

He shouts. The window sticks.

He lugs, a sash cord snaps. The window  drops

On his head, where it stops.

Latimer and Ridley know how he feels

As bloodied, martyred for his faith, he reels

Towards eternity,

Where planets, the  latest novelty,

Are looking less and less

Like being a success.

 

 

If you liked this blog, maybe have a look at my website: http://www.maryrussell.info  – and keep in touch.

 

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Trump would bewise to choose his words carefully

    Groper Trump would be wise to choose his words carefully and take heed of those who have gone before him.

In 1995, Jonathon Aitken, Conservative Chief Secretary to the  (British) Treasury, sued the Guardian for  saying bad things about him. All untrue, Aitken said and added: “ If it falls to me  to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British  fair play, so be it.”

  Stirring words except that his case against the Guardian collapsed and thus, having lied and perjured himself up to the hilt, he was unable to meet the costs of the case and was declared bankrupt.

Convicted of perjury, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison – where he found God.

Message to Groper Trump:  a loud voice and a blustering manner may work in the playground but don’t mess with the Guardian and Granada TV whose dedication to journalism and to exposing  a corrupt politician carried the day. Bravo!

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Always the bridesmaid?

Went last week  to see Pinter’s No Man’s Land at London’s Aldwych Theatre, starring Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.

Patrick Stewart had lost his voice and so his understudy took over.

At the end of the play. Ian McKellan came forward and praised the performance of the understudy. And quite rightly as it was excellent.

Two points: as the cast were taking their curtain calls ( there were three) McKellan kept the understudy’s hand  in his – a brotherly gesture or an attempt to prevent the understudy from stepping forward to take a well-earned applause of his own? Still, that’s the theatre for you.

And the second point? McKellan got the understudy’s name wrong so here it is:  Andrew Jarvis.

If you’re interested in the plight of the understudy – always the bridesmaid never the bride – have a look at David Weston’s excellent book Covering McKellan. He spent a year as understudy to Ian McKellan when the latter was touring Lear.

Poignant but a story that has to be told. All part of the theatre canon.

 

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