Henry S. Fraser: Letter from Britain (Part 3) and from home!

British mail box in the countrysideHenry S. Fraser

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sunday October 12, 2014 – This is my column number 200 for the Sunday Advocate – the second double century in my career – because I’ve written 251 columns for the Sunday Sun, between 2003 and 2008. I feel proud of these double centuries, because I never made more than 10 runs in any innings in school cricket (I was better with the ball, because I could bowl fairly straight, and had several bags of five wickets in junior school, before being scared out of senior nets by the frightening speed of our Lodge fast bowlers Anthony “Towser” Mayers and Richard “Prof” Edwards.) But I got to wondering how many double centuries our cricketers are making, compared to the days of Lara, Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards. And just when I was feeling sad about our cricket I discovered that Kraigg Brathwaite made 205 unbeaten for victory against Bangladesh last month. Of course I didn’t discover that while in Britain, because 90 % of their sports pages are taken up with football. Even English county cricket gets short shrift in most papers, compared with the British obsession with football.

So what are my final thoughts from Britain, while looking forward to home again in Paradise? First, we had great weather … the rainy English summer just never happened and our Bajan sunshine lasted all September … Secondly, we saw some excellent TV documentaries, and a treasure trove of good films – from James Bond to historical epics – a welcome change. Thirdly, the art – the great, the good and the con. I saw the Late Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain twice, it was so good – Turner is my hero among artists. Fourthly the history, and the British love for heritage. Even my 10 year old granddaughter has been an “assistant” / junior tour guide at a National Trust house!

Finally, the food: many British restaurants are now among the best – from gastronomic pubs to specialty restaurants. One especially memorable meal in Glasgow was at the Cail Bruich restaurant in the West End … Cail bruich is Gaelic for “Eat well” and we certainly did – Scottish with a French flair… And the Loch Fyne sea food restaurants – well represented by one in Reading – are superb. And pub food has really transmogrified over the years; but I have to eat lots of salads, in order to indulge in some of those amazing deserts.

I greatly enjoy the British papers – superb columnists, many provocative, mostly clever and insightful, on a par with our own Orlando Marville and Oliver Jackman! Of course British papers range from credible and comprehensive to downright rags, and sometimes a glaring headline shouting from the news stand must be checked in the Independent or the Guardian to get the truth. Here are some of the striking headlines I couldn’t resist saving: “Whitehall IT fiasco gets 100 times worse” – explaining the mega-disaster of Britain’s billion pound Tax IT confusion. “Two teachers every month banned for seducing pupils.” “Patient score sheet to expose hospitals serving worst food.” “Most people unwilling to report poor care in NHS” (National Health Service). “DNA proves Jack the Ripper was a Polish barber.” “UK imams put fatwa on jihadists – clerics condemn ‘poisonous’ ISIS.” “The Prison system is a stain on our society.” And finally “Dying from ‘broken heart’ explained by scientists”! But that’s for another column …

There was an ad which hugely impressed me, appearing in many papers – for Sandals; and at the top of each ad, some on a full page, under Luxury Resort, was Sandals Barbados. And it was the ONLY evidence I could find in British papers all September, that there are hotels in Barbados! Welcome Sandals, welcome!

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Which brings me back to Barbados. But first our departure from Britain. British Airways have introduced a new, heart-breaking, panic-inducing, life-threatening hurdle to travel at their Gatwick check-in hall. Having checked in on line, declared your baggage and printed your boarding passes the night before, expecting quick passage through to departure, you arrive at the familiar BAG DROP but are directed to a row of machines to scan your boarding pass and passport in order to print your own bag tags. Most passengers found that it simply didn’t work, for many different reasons, as I found out when we were forced to join the long queue of 100 passengers going to the BAG DROP desks, where there was ONE staff member when we joined. We made no progress in the queue until a second staffer joined 10 minutes later; a third joined 20 minutes later and a fourth after about 40 minutes. We spent 55 minutes in that queue, longer than I ever spent over many years before the bag drop facility!

And when we reached the desk the staffer printed bag labels in seconds, we were finished in less than a minute (I’m obsessional … I time these things) and he agreed the “new method” had been untested and was a disaster. We’re tempted to find a sailing vessel next time.

So we’re back in Paradise, where service in general is far more casual, and the main people hustling are the mini bus drivers, still selfishly holding up traffic, breaking the law and some are brazen with their right to break the law. I’m hearing that our literacy rates are even worse than we thought, while many in our population have no clue what is intrinsically right or wrong. Meanwhile, the recession drags on, apparently with little investment of the nine billion dollars in our banks, and little effort is being made to eliminate mosquitoes, to protect us from the chikungunya epidemic that’s practically brought Jamaica to a halt. The good news is: 1. Sandals is hiring. 2. The Garrison Tunnels will be open to the public before the end of October, I understand. And 3. Christmas is coming, so we can start spending the money we don’t have on all those imported goods we love. But I remain optimistic!

Postscript: A Memorial Service for the artist / ceramicist / sculptor Bill Grace will be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on Wednesday, October the 22nd, at 5pm. It will be followed by an exhibition honouring his life and work: “We are one”, at the Punch Creative Arena gallery, Division of Fine Arts at the Barbados Community College, for two weeks.

henry-fraser-150Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website:  profhenryfraser.com