Letters to my sons.

Trying to explain the world to two very small children.

Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

The Story Behind The Picture. J’Ouvert 2002.

without comments

J'Ouvert in Arouca 2002
ME in 2002.

So here I am, stood in the spare bedroom at number 24 in Arouca, so drunk that I can hardly stand at 8 or 9am in the morning, covered in paint and grease. How did that happen?

It starts on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday in 2002. I’ve been roped into going to Trinidad Carnival. I’m told it’s great and I’ll have a good time. And as a dutiful fiance I have got up at stupid o’clock to catch a flight from Heathrow to Bridge Town, Barbados and then onto Piarco, Trinidad. The flight is long and I don’t remember much about it except that we were buying duty free cigarettes for Grandpa Ken. The amount allowed was two cartons but it was buy two, get one free. So we did. We are about to clear customs with one extra carton – in my mind because it was free we shouldn’t need to pay any tax on it. Tax is a percentage and any percentage of zero is still zero.

11 hours after leaving London we are in the new Piarco airport, the one Basdeo Panday had been banging on about last time I was there, despite the fact it was massively over budget and, more importantly, not finished. Panday is no longer PM, Patrick Manning was handed the PMship by the courts after an electoral tie.

The passport control people have the same attitude as last time – “give them a uniform and they think they are Hitler” – as the saying goes. No smile, no “hello”, just inane questions – why are you here? The temptation to launch on an existential musing is great but I resist. “Carnival” I answer. She looks at me in a strange way – at the time I thought it was a look of contempt. I will learn later what that look was. Then the grilling regarding where I’m staying, who lives there, why do they live there etc etc. I pull out my Palm Pilot and before I can look anything up, my papers and passport are stamped and I’m in the country.

Then we wait for the bags. And we wait. My body is telling me it’s 10pm at night but the clock says 6pm. The air conditioning, that was so good in the passport control area, isn’t as good in this bit. And I’m starting to get warm and a mild case of culture shock. The bags eventually arrive, ours are almost last but this works in our favour as the queue to clear customs has almost evaporated. And then, there we are, at the front and the man is talking to us. I can barely understand him, my ability to translate Trini to English is not up to conversational level yet. He really looks glum, he clearly doesn’t want to be there. Mummy answers his questions, he is happy and waves us through. He doesn’t mention duty free cigarettes, so neither do we.

We walk into the main area and a man tries to pick up our bags from the airport trolley. I ask him not to but he is very insistent. He explains that the trolley can’t be taken past a few metres from where we are stood. I tell him that I’m happy to carry them. Mummy is looking for Aunty Helen, see’s here and I pick up the bags and off we go. Mummy’s bag is very heavy but I pretend it’s not as I don’t want to give the porter the benefit of being right. For the few TT$ he charges, I really should have used his services.

I say hello to Helen, bags go into “Colours”, her Nissan, with bright colours down the side and a quick hop to Arouca to drop the bags, say “hello” to the family and then straight off out to a party. A quick drive down the motorway, we turn off and we are at a blocko – a street party where the street has been blocked off. I’m hungry and they have food but not a lot of it is veggie. I find some salad and breads and have a beer. I can’t remember how long we spent here. Then back to Arouca and I was very tired so I went off the bed. I’m not sure how long I slept until Mummy woke me up with an egg sandwich in one hand – ordering me to line my stomach – and a half bottle rum in the other. Time, for me at least, has stopped but it was dark so anytime before 6am Trinidad time. And now we were going to J’Ouvert in Arouca. I don’t remember who drove us and where we were dropped. All I remember was a handful of guys with buckets of paint and grease and they dirtied me, and the rest of the group, up. From head to toe. I’d played “dutty mas” once before at Nottinghill Carnival with Pure Lime and it wasn’t an altogether fantastic experience – it had rained and Mummy had gone missing on the route. By the end I was cold, wet and dejected. I was hoping for better. Once we were all painted up we wondered off some where and I had my first swig of rum. The bottle went round and came back empty. Luckily the owner of the local rum shack had decided to open up and a few more bottles were bought. Then it rained. For the first time in Trinidad I felt cold as I huddled under the eaves of a house. This was going to be Nottinghill all over again, wasn’t it? The rain shower lasted only a few minutes and a few minutes later all evidence of it had evaporated – literally. I was onto my second bottle of Stag, dry and warm and off we went to join the parade.

Loud music, more Stag – and the odd Carib – more rum and loads of people doing the same thing. I have no idea how long this went on for but I recall that we did either two or three laps and the booze was flowing like water. Eventually it started to get light – so it must have been around 6am – somewhere close it was raining as a magnificent rainbow appeared. Which triggered me and I cried a little with joy and thanked a god I don’t believe in for promising not to kill us all again. I think we walked home and once the photos were taken we went into the back yard to be hosed down and cleaned up. I then retired to bed and slept for rest of Monday and until the early hours of Tuesday. Mummy kept waking me every few hours to administer water and some soup. I did manage to spend some time asleep with my back uncovered and the mosquitoes did their worst. My back ended up looking like a pizza.

I’ve use the term “we” a lot – I genuinely can not remember who was there and wasn’t. I was there, Mummy was there, Uncle Keith was their and because I remember the photograph in the newspaper, Aunty Hazel was there. Your cousin Tricia was there. I think Uncle Hayden was there and it’s possible Uncle Hazley was there. I’m sure more people I know where there, but I just can’t remember. If I can find the photos then I’ll confirm.

My first ever J’Ouvert was brilliant and an experience that defines and almost certainly “opens” another chapter of my life. It was the point that I starting bonding with Mummy’s family and started to get an understanding of the history, the culture and the people of Trinidad. And with that understanding I got a deeper understanding of Mummy herself. It wasn’t just the day that opened, it was also my mind.

P.S. My miserable Nottinghill was a one off and I’ve had many brilliant experiences since with Pure Lime.
P.P.S. The passport control woman’s facial contortions were a mixture of jealousy, I bet she was working for the whole of Carnival, and pity, as I’m sure she knew I wasn’t up to it.

Written by Administrator

May 22nd, 2020 at 10:22 am

Posted in Family,Memories

Tagged with

Missing Mrs D.

without comments

Dear Boys,

Yesterday we set off for the annual Trini Limers cricket match and it was a very good day. An annual catch-up with people flying in from around the world – some staying for Nottinghill Carnival, some not.

And for the very first time, it really hit me that Theresa was missing. I wept at her funeral as both of you did, but the momentous loss was always just out of sight, hidden over the horizon with only the odd sight of smoke from a fire, to give it away. Easy to turn away and pretend it hadn’t been seen then to engage, walk over and confront it.

Yesterday there was no where to run. At the end of the match there was a brief act of remembrance and once again I cried. Grief is, at it’s very core, a selfish act. The person who died maybe doesn’t even know they are dead, they aren’t suffering, and in some circumstances will have wanted to die. But those of us left behind are now missing out and we don’t want to, and we don’t know why we should have to. 

With the benefit of time and the suppressed emotions and memories forced to fore, what better time than now to really get all the poisonous grief out of my system? Because ultimately that is what grief – a hideous toxic chemical that had a half-life of millions of years, it  can not be broken down, only expelled. Caribbean funerals are great at this – no stiff upper lip nonsense. Cry and wail all you want and no one judges, everyone left to grieve in the fashion they see fit. Your great grandma, Uncle Wayne and then your grandma; they all had fantastic and emotional send-offs. So did Theresa.

We all went to visit her in hospital, a week before she died. She was still strong, still bossy. She wanted water with 4 ice cubes in it. We gave her a kiss on the forehead as we left. Mummy was visiting almost every day but I had stayed away. I apologised for not visiting more and said I would explain when you guys weren’t there. She told me she knew why and it was okay – and I sincerely believe that she did know why: in the face of death I run away, I distance myself from it. I did it with my mother – I ran away to France and then to South Wales. I moved back to the North East when they moved to the North West and then, sensing that even that was too close, moved to London. I had even planned my escape to back to Chamonix when I met your mother. Her emotional and loving gravitational pull and then the birth of you too – there is no way I could ever leave of my own choosing.

So what can I say of Theresa? She was the first of the Trini crew that I met when mummy took me to her and Edison’s house. Her smile when she first saw me – I knew I was going to be accepted. She had a clarity of thinking that I envy – how ever big the project, she seemed to know the different steps required. She was honest to the point of brutality but not for brutalities sake – she took no joy in it. Always ready to listen. After my mother died she became more of a mother figure than the big sister she had been before. There was always veggie food for me and her macaroni pie …

No person is perfect and after a death there is a tendency to re-write history to the extent that the deceased has a Midas touch and their shit smelt of roses. We had our differences over the years – and the odd argument. But nothing major, nothing worth noting.

I still miss you T. Your wise words, your unflinching optimism that every problem can be broken down and solved piece by piece until the obtainable goal is easily in reach, the telling off’s for being defeatist, the pep talks when I was down, having the right words at the right time at the right pitch. Grief is selfishness. I want all that right now, I don’t want to have to dig into my own psyche and find answers for myself – I want you to do it for me. 

And I can’t find the picture that I want – of you asleep on our sofa, with Philip the dog keeping you company. So instead I’ll use a picture from the Ion Bar, now a Sainsburys, from around 2002.

Theresa D’Abreu 1966 – 2018.

Written by Administrator

August 19th, 2019 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Family,Memories

The power of advertising – 35 years later.

without comments

Dear Boys,

When I was about 5 or 6 years old there was an advert on the telly for a brand of bubble bath called Matey. We didn’t have bubble bath in our house, it was seen as an expensive extravagance but this didn’t stop me and Uncle Phil pestering Grandma Audrey in an attempt to get her to buy some. We didn’t try it on with Grandpa John as we knew we could never convince him.

The advert promised that Matey would not only clean the children in the bath but the bath itself, which I thought was the angle I could use to sell the product to my mother. Surely never having to washout out the bath after Uncle Phil and I had been in it would be enough to secure a purchase? No. My mother didn’t believe adverts, pure and simple. In her life time cancer causing cigarettes had been advertised on the TV, even claiming that they were good for you!

Our pestering must have had some effect because eventually we did get some bubble bath but I’m sure it wasn’t Matey. I do remember using the shower attachment to swill away the remnants of bubbles.

So fast forward about 35 years and I was out shopping and I needed to get bubble bath. And then I saw a bottle of Matey next to Sainsburys own and started to hum the tune from the advert. When I saw that it was on offer at half price and cost less than the usual type I had no excuse not to buy a bottle. So I bought some. It may have taken about 35 years but the advert never left me. I remembered the tune and one of the three selling points.


Written by Administrator

January 1st, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Posted in Culture,Family,Memories

PPPPick Up A Penguin

without comments

Dear Boys,

When Uncle Phil and I were younger Grandma Audrey used to buy Penguin biscuit bars. Grandma Audrey told Uncle Phil and I that the blue biscuits were the best. This wasn’t true because all the bars were exactly the same, it was just the wrappers that were different colours. As children we didn’t know this and we took our mothers mischievous joke to be real and argued about who should get the blue one. Usually in a packet of 6 there would only be one blue, the rest would be either green or red. And Grandma Audrey would take the blue one and tell us how nice it was!

If one of us managed to get the blue one then we would laud it over the other, telling them how great our Penguin was while the other begrudgingly ate our own, unable to enjoy it because the other one had the blue one.

And such is life. I have given up looking at what other people have and wishing that I had it too. Instead I have decided what I want and how I want to live and then do it and enjoy doing it.

Written by Administrator

February 2nd, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Family,Memories

1983 Election

without comments

Dear Boys,

I wrote about the first general election that I remembered and now I want to share some thoughts on 1983’s election.

By 1983 the family had moved from Grimsby to the North East and by the time the election came around in June 1983 we still hadn’t got used to the colder weather. Margaret Thatcher won the election by a huge majority for a number of reasons. The main reason was the Falklands War the year before.

I remember waking up one morning and hearing on the radio that Argentina had invaded the Falkland Islands as well as South Georgia. We were still living in Grimsby and I my first thought was: Scotland has been invaded. I had no idea where the Falkland Islands were but they certainly sounded Scottish. Also I wasn’t really sure where Argentina was so in my mind it was quite clearly possible for Argentina to invade some Scottish islands – why they would want to do so didn’t enter my mind. My father explained that the Falklands were in the South Atlantic which didn’t help much. He then explained that the Islands were about 8000 miles away. I felt safer at that point as we used to go on holiday to Scotland and stay in cheap and grotty cottages. Argentina were more than welcome to dusty, smelly cottages without TV’s, central heating and had burn water coming out of the taps, that tasted rank by the way. Of course not all Scottish self catering cottages were in such a state, it was all my parents could afford at the time.

As an eleven year old child I really wanted a war because war was exciting. Bombs, bullets and airplanes. As the diplomatic efforts sped up many people around us, my parents especially, were hopeful that war wouldn’t come. They had both lived through World War 2 and many of the older people at church had fought either on the home front or the actual front. When an old man asked me what I thought about the Falklands, I told him that I wanted a war. I didn’t understand the look on his face at the time by I know now: pure pain.

Before long the boats were off to take back the Falklands including two aircraft carriers, HMS Hermes and Invincible. Military bands played as the boats left port in a “Task Force” and different news readers tried to pronounce “junta” correctly. Even with the Task Force sailing 8000 miles, peace was still a possibility because it would take 6 ot 8 weeks for the Task Force to get into position.

We were the last family to get a colour TV in our street but we were the first to get one with TeleText. TeleText was a massive revelation at the time. While watching TV you could press the “Text” button and you would get a “page” of information usually a menu on Page 100. From there you could enter page numbers to get the information you wanted. News was on pages from 102 to 125 and if you went to page 150 you got a news flash. The news flash page allowed you to see almost all of the screen and a few lines of news. If you pressed the Recall button the news flash would disappear and you could carry on watching the TV until the page changed and then it would pop-up again. The problem was you couldn’t change channels because the TeleText was tied to the TV channel you were watching. This wasn’t really a problem for us as we tended to watch BBC1. One night we were watching TV when the News Flash come up on the screen. I read it incorrectly as I though it said that Sheffield had been bombed by the Argentinean’s, in actual fact the ship HMS Sheffield had been hit by an Argentinean missile. My heart fluttered at the thought of a city being attacked, could it be Grimsby next? Our teacher at the time had been a little mischievous in the run to the war telling us that if things got bad and escalated we, his class, could be drafted in to the army to fight. It had happened elsewhere in the world he told us. This information didn’t dampen my desire for war and when I re-read the New Flash and saw that it was a British ship that had been sunk I really was excited. I asked my dad: “Does this mean war?” “Yes it does” he replied with much foreboding. I looked at Uncle Phil and we smiled at each other – nothing like a good war to get an 11 and 13 year old excited.

It must be remembered that in 1982 we only three channels on the TV and no rolling news. Before the news every night there was a half an hour program dealing with the days war news. During the conflict the Argentinians claimed that they had sunk Hermes at least three times. They also claimed that they had shot down a considerable number of Sea Harriers. This lead to the famous quote from John Hanrahan: I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back. They used this quote during the opening titles so it was repeated every night and soon learned.

I remember watching some war footage with my mother not long after the conflict finished and it showed a Harrier launching an air to air missile that followed an Argentine plane before hitting it and blowing it up. I let a “YES!” at that point but my mother rebuked me: “That was someones son that just died” she told me. I think that was the point that it all started to sink in. War isn’t a game, it isn’t fun – it is about people trying to kill while not being killed themselves.

The British eventually won the war and returned home to massive adulation. I remember being at South Parade Middle School on the day victory was announced. The lads who played football in the top and second to top year spent the morning play time singing songs about beating the Argies. I’m sure where the songs came from – someones dad probably went to football matches as there was plenty of swearing. Being only 11 and knowing that “your” country has just won a war, against the odds and thousands of miles away from home filled me with euphoria. Along with other feelings I experienced as a child, I have never experienced anything like it again.

My mothers reaction to the death of the Argentinian pilot has stayed with me because it showed a little split of her personality. She was born in 1937, two years before the Second World War kicked off so she got a full dose of the anti-German propaganda that was pumped into the population from 1939 – 1945 to justify the bombing of innocent German civilians – in the same way that the Germans were busy de-huminising their own population in order to justify murder. Some of this propaganda stuck as, from time to time, she would come out with something very anti-German and then laugh it off as rubbish. I remember just before we left Grimsby we were looking at tapes in Woolworth’s and she found one that had lots of songs on it that she liked. She showed to me and said “I was going to buy that, then I saw that it had ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ on it. I don’t want it now” and she put it back.

I went to a ruby match between England and Argentina recently and I was a little perturbed to see Sea Cadets holding an Argentina flag.  War propaganda leaves it mark. And so it did with the electorate. Just over a year later Margaret Thatcher was re-elected with a massive majority which she used to pass the most divisive of legislation. She was able to satisfy the needs of the people with money while pushing whole segments of society into poverty – poverty that remains today.

Not that I understood all of this at the time. On the day Thatcher won I cut out her picture from the paper and attached to the car window on the way to school. I understood what Thatcher said when she said that the country must compete with other countries and that meant reducing wages. As a 12 year old this made sense and it’s true. Unfortunately there is no way to compete against countries like China that use political prisoners as slave workers although this escaped me at the time as I was caught in the smoke and mirrors that is capitalism – or the version of economics that is called capitalism. But these are my memories of the 1983 election.

Written by Administrator

May 13th, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Getting the mental side right!

without comments

Dear Sons,

yesterday I removed the suspended wooden ceiling in the kitchen in preparation for the new kitchen being fitted. It was quite a job and took some inner resolve from me on a lot of levels.

First of all every part of my brain was screaming at me not to do the work and do something else instead. Lots of different negative thoughts were coming to the fore – your knee hurts, you have had a cold and need to rest, there is too much to be done by one person …. I was able to silence the thoughts by simply thinking of Sir Ranulph Fiennes having a heart attack on Everest in 2005 and returning 4 years later to summit.

The job was not that big but it was going to be a long day with lots of steps. First I had to load the dishwasher, put away the stuff already in the dishwasher and then put away the stuff on the draining board. This seemed to be the hardest job as my sub-conscience seemed to object to it most. The rails that the top draw of the dishwasher run on keep coming out and I had to mess around to get the draw out and then back in again. The vocal saboteur in the sub-conscience had a field day with this; why are you having to fart on with the dishwasher just to get the ceiling done? Well he over played his hand because we are getting a new dishwasher with the new kitchen – the sooner the ceiling is done, the sooner the new kitchen is fitted and the sooner the new dishwasher takes pride of place.

I packed the stuff that wouldn’t fit in the dishwasher up in a box and stored it out side and then moved the chairs and everything else that could be moved outside, outside. It didn’t take me long to have 95% of the wooden suspended ceiling down. The final 5% took far too long and was getting frustrating. My neck was aching from looking up. Also the guys who fitted the ceiling must have run out of screws because a few of the boards were nailed to the ceiling. I was able to smash the wood around the nails – I’ll grind them off tomorrow.

As I removed the wood I was throwing it out of the back door. When I looked out I saw a huge pile of wood that needed breaking up so it would fit in the back of car so I could take it to the tip. My first thought was “I’ll do this tomorrow”. The only problem being that the tip is closed on Sunday’s and I would only get the opportunity to dump the wood a week later. I didn’t want the back garden out of use for today and the rest of the week so I put my mental defeatism to one side and started breaking up the wood. After what had felt like an age I looked at the pile waiting to be broken up and it hadn’t gone down. Defeatism came back in swathes but I fought it again and this time indulged in some day dreaming; I was walking up to the Tete Rousse and looking forward to an omelette when I reached the top. Before my day dream was over the wood was broken up and in the back of the car.

Now all I had to do was clean up the kitchen. This I did and waited for Heather to come home with my lunch. It took another supreme mental effort to get myself geared up, sweep the floor and get the bits, handful by handful, into the bin.

The lessons from yesterday were clear – I am only constrained by my mental application. If I want to finish something then I need to get my head sorted first, then a make a list of what needs doing and then, most importantly, do it!

If I can apply the lessons I learnt yesterday to my Mont Blanc preparation then I’ll have no problems.

Written by Administrator

May 24th, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Posted in Family

More thoughts on my dream

without comments

Dear Sons,

I have spent most of the day thinking about the meaning of my dream from two days ago. Like I said yesterday I don’t believe in messages from beyond the grave but what if?

It is impossible to prove a negative but I’m going to have a go. In my dream my mother specifically mentioned Lewis and asked me if Lewis was with me. But what could that mean? Well taking on the role of a Spiritualist I have decided to interpret this dream. Unlike a spiritualist I can’t ask leading and vague questions to a large audience until I can home in on someone – I can only ask myself questions and that wouldn’t achieve much as I already know the answers. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Administrator

March 20th, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Culture,Family

A strange dream

without comments

Dear boys,

last night I had a really strange dream that has left me in a very funny mood today and the only way out of this rut is to explore it.

In the dream I was at the top of a staircase playing with a toy Lego truck while being bullied by my brother (Uncle Phil). We were both adults and I didn’t recognise the house we were in, it wasn’t somewhere I have lived. I was getting annoyed about being bullied when I heard my iPhone ring at the bottom of the stairs. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Administrator

March 19th, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Family

On the train, on the ‘plane.

without comments

Dear sons,

We tried to sell the house before Ken was born but we had no offers despite reducing the price from £330k to £290k. It was too close to Ken’s due date to think about moving so the house came off the Market and we are staying put for the near three years.

We are going to get a downstairs toilet put in, a new bathroom up stairs and get the kitchen done so we can enjoy the next few years.

With house prices falling like a stone it will be interesting to see where there are in 3 years time.

We will be getting the loft insulation redone now that the government said it would pay half. As soon as the scheme is announced we’ll be getting it done as I was about to do it anyway. I need to block off the letter box hole I’m the inner front door to stop the draught that blows through in the winter – a job for this weekend I think.

Ken is now sleeping for 3 hours at a time and William is getting used to his brother. It will soon be time for William to move to the back bedroom and sleep on the bed Grandpa John made for Uncle Phil about 25 years ago.

Today it was announced that XL Airways had gone bust. We flew with them to Barbados early this year for Lawson and Alison’s wedding, Alison being Bajan she decided to get married in her local church. The flight was terrible because the plane was falling to bits and filthy and the seats were very small and uncomfortable and also very shiny meaning that you slipped forward all the time or were pushed against the seat belt. Flying back over night was worse as it wasn’t possible to sleep. 67,000 people have been left stranded by the collapse. That is a lot of people stranded, most of whom are going to be out of pocket big time as they will need to pay for their flights home – single flights being almost the same price as return flights.

Our next trip to Trinidad will be with either BA or Virgin into Tobago. Grandma Claire is looking forward to seeing you both but especially Ken as it will be her first time.

Written by Administrator

September 11th, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Family,Misc

Kenneth Jeremy Caudle

without comments

Born today at 15:07 weighting 3.5kg’s.

Written by Administrator

August 19th, 2008 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Family