A Nice Winter Break
The omens weren’t good. We’d had various emails telling us that the weather had been unseasonably wet even for the rainy season; that we needed to replace two, if not three rotten windows, and finally, to add insult to injury, that one of the security guards we employ on our complex at Sanctuary, noticing that one of our guests had left the French doors on the terrace open, had shinned up twenty feet of the back trellis, whipped into the house, nicked a hundred dollars and a mobile phone, and strolled out through the front door before you could say ‘Robinson Crusoe’.
We’ve owned our house in Tobago now for five and a half years, and like the old song says ‘An’ it don’t seem a day too long…’ warts and all- and there aren’t that many of them. The security guard business was upsetting though. It’s the first time we’ve had a break-in – or even a walk-in - during our entire stay. Still, at least it was an inside, opportunistic theft; it would have been far more worrying if it had been a violent, unknown burglar. When questioned by the staff he confessed and was immediately sacked, and our guests received full reparation. Enough said.
When we first bought ‘Tosca’ we went out three or four times a year for two or three weeks at a time, but the hassle of surviving the early morning M25 dodgem track to reach Gatwick before employing even more survival techniques to get through security and then the long trudge to some distant dispersal point – ‘Gate’ is far too promising and romantic – has finally got to us, and we’ve settled for two trips a year, each of a month’s duration.
We rent the house out when we’re not there, which helps pay the bills, and as September to December are always quiet months we’ve settled on an annual November trip so that we can get everything as new and sparkling as possible before the season gets under way at Christmas time. It’s almost the end of the rainy season and so many things need reviewing at that time in a tropical house; the inevitable mildew on the wooden roof of the terrace needs removing; railings repainted; tank and pool motors overhauled; not forgetting window frame replacements. I suppose we should be sensible and, like many of our neighbours, gradually replace the wooden frames with plastic ones, but somehow there’s something about the wood – perhaps it’s its natural fragile quality – that makes us stick with it.
It was beautifully, dry, sunny weather when we arrived and we decided to get all our chores done as soon as possible so that we could sit back and relax for as much of our time there as possible. Sadly, two days later I was hit by a stomach bug that was currently doing the rounds, which necessitated my being as close to a loo as possible. So for the next week, while Annie dashed about, I limply languished in the shade on our wonderful terrace. It did cross my mind at the time, as I sipped my restorative brandy, that if I was going to be laid low, I couldn’t have picked a better convalescent home!
By the time I was fit enough to be out and about the weather had changed and we were subjected to four days of almost continuous rain - the sort of deluge that blurs the surrounding scenery into an impenetrable ‘white out’. From our terrace, for instance, you can normally see beyond Buccoo reef, across the Caribbean, as far as Pigeon Point, but on days like these, you couldn’t even see the sea, which is only a few hundred yards ahead. Ah well, book reading time!
The most difficult job in Tobago is to actually find someone who will not only say they will do some work for you, but actually do it! By and large the Tobagonians are extremely nice friendly people, and as such they want to please you – and that includes telling you what they think you want to know. So if you meet up with a joiner, for instance, who has so much work on his hands that he can hardly cope, and you ask him if he can make you a couple of windows in the next three weeks, he’s more likely to tell you a lie - ‘Sure thing man; no problem’ than the truth – ‘No chance, man; I’m flush up’, because he knows you want to hear the former, not the latter reply, and he wants you to be happy. But once you’ve believed him and gone on your merry way you could well end up being very sad – and mad – when he doesn’t deliver.
We’ve experienced these sad-mad frustrations on so many occasions that now, whenever we need some specialist work doing and our own contacts are too busy, we look to friends for possible introductions. This year we turned to Keith and Ros for help and advice in finding a reliable joiner to make replacements for our rotten windows. They kindly introduced us to a company which had fitted out their new house with the whole shebang - doors, windows, louvers, the lot, and because of their recent custom we were given star treatment and the new windows arrived only three days late - or bang on Tobago time.
Incredibly, stomach upsets and rainstorms notwithstanding, by the end of our second week we had managed to put a few coats of paint on our decking, ordered the windows, fitted a new kitchen tap, pruned the garden, and arranged for our septic tank to be emptied – a word of advice; it’s best not to be around if you think there’s even a whiff of a chance that somebody might give an airing to business you thought had long since been buried – it might put you off your breakfast!
It was Saturday night and we thought we’d celebrate our achievements by treating ourselves to a ‘happy hour’ cocktail in the bar at Stonehaven Villas – which invariably means we have two for the price of one.
It’s so nice to sit outside on their posh terrace and watch the sun go down way beyond Buccoo as you gently sip your Pina Colada through a straw. It’s such a very …well… reassuringly English thing to do! But what followed certainly wasn’t.
We drove home about seven, extremely happy and contented; I parked the car and headed for the house, ahead of Annie, to unlock the door. Suddenly I heard her crash to the ground behind me; I turned as she gave a howl of pain. I could see immediately what she’d done – she’d caught one of her flip-flops on the edge of one of the concrete runs the car sits on and tripped over. As she fell she’d automatically put her hands out to break her fall – which they did – but her right wrist had been broken by the hard concrete too; in fact it looked a mess, even to my inexperienced eye. Fortunately we have a neighbour who is a doctor, so while Annie put her already swelling wrist under the cold tap I telephoned him and he agreed to see her right away. He was waiting for us at his door, but before he’d even examined her he spotted her arm and reached a diagnosis. ‘Collis fracture; not a good break; go straight to A & E.’
The hospital is up on the hill, just below Fort St. George in Scarborough. It should have been vacated years ago when the whole operation was supposed to transfer to the new building on Signal Hill, but due to the well-documented corruption and fraud scandals surrounding the building contracts, the premises still haven’t been finished, though a Chinese workforce has now been brought in to complete the works a.s.a.p.
The old building really is a disgrace, particularly when contrasted to the smartly dressed nurses in their crisp white uniforms. The walls haven’t been painted in years, and the A & E waiting room is partly open to the elements – which accounts for the fact that several hens were scratching and pecking around inside the building on the night we were there!
Within half an hour of arrival Annie was seen by the Triage nurse to assess the damage who put her arm in a sling, but it was a further six hours before she actually got to see a doctor – ah well, same as the UK – no change there then! Although it was reassuring to note that ‘Falls with Fractures’ were included on the displayed list of acceptable emergencies; it was a pity she hadn’t feigned unconsciousness though as I noted we would have been accorded ‘Priority’ treatment!
Dr Baker was most thorough and efficient and after studying a set of X rays he decided to try to minimise the damage to the wrist by manipulating it back into shape – well as much as he could without surgery. Assisted by the surgical registrar who mercifully happened to be around, she was given a dose of morphine before they began the procedure. Happily ‘spaced out’ and free of pain she just grunted amiably while I nearly passed out witnessing all the tugging and pulling that was going on.
After a further X ray to confirm the success of the manipulation, we were told to report back to have the ‘soft’ cast replaced with a hard one on the following Tuesday and sent home – eight hours after our arrival, and what seemed a lifetime since sipping our celebratory drinks at Stonehaven. It crossed our minds the next day that we might return to the UK a week early; the discussion went something like this:
ME: I suppose we could go back a week early. I mean you’re not going to be able to
swim or anything, are you?
SHE: No, that’s true…… on the other hand…
SHE: It’s freezing at home.
SHE: And there’s no help there… I mean I’ll have to struggle with all the housework
and things… at least, here, we have Catherine coming in every day.
ME: Oh, you don’t have to worry about that; you’ve got me…
SHE: (after a dismissive look) Exactly! (Pause) No, I think all things considered, I’ll
be better off staying put. (She settles herself on a comfortable lounger on
the terrace, and stretches lazily) Mind you…
ME: Yes dear?
SHE: I wouldn’t mind a large gin and tonic…
ME: Of course dear… coming up my love…
Yes, there was certainly a slight feeling of exploitation in the air as the weeks progressed, though I must admit, as I took over a lot of the everyday mundane jobs in the kitchen like making tea and buttering bread – usually done by herself – it did occur to me that as the bill-payer and general admin organizer, I might have the better part of the bargain.
On Tuesday we duly turned up at the plaster room of the hospital where Harrison Morrison – ‘Twenty years in the business, and the only full-time plasterer on Tobago’,
proceeded to swaddle Annie’s wrist in a damp fibreglass bandage, which set like stone within seconds of being applied. Apparently it’s the new alternative to plaster.
Doctor Baker gave us a report and all the various X rays that had been taken to present to our own doctor on our return home, and so we took our leave.
We arrived back in London the following week, and anxious to set the wheels of follow up care in motion as soon as possible, I drove Annie to our doctor’s surgery the same day. We must have looked the picture of health as he waved us both in to his surgery, and he started chuckling to himself as soon as he clapped eyes on us.
’I think he’s going to crack a joke’, I said to myself, ‘And I think I know what it is. Please don’t’. I looked at him hopefully; but alas, wit will out. ‘I see’, he said, giggling inordinately, ‘I see you’ve had a nice winter break!’
Malcolm Taylor 2009
I hope you enjoy my other articles -
Cottage In The Country and
The Coconut Season