Henry S. Fraser: Things that delight me over and over!


Jamaica national flower, Lignum Vitae

Henry S. Fraser

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sunday June 29, 2014 – In 1949, a splendid little book, Delight, by English author J.B. Priestley, was published, to the delight of thousands of readers. It was described as a collection of short essays on the little things in life that caused even him, a self-confessed old monster, to stop and smile! A few years ago a new and equally whimsical version appeared – Modern Delight by Nick Hornby and others – a collection of the little things that delight a wide range of people. It encouraged me, ever since, to enjoy even more the many things of great beauty and charm that we often take for granted. So this column is, in a way, a personal confessional.

One of my greatest delights at this time is the spectacular carnival of bougainvillea, in every colour, on every corner, around the country. But I’m equally delighted by the sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic sequence of flowering trees bursting into bloom. This display in our garden usually starts with a few lonely frangipani flowers, and the delicate blue flowers of the lignum vitae. This elegant tree has perhaps the hardest wood in the world and its flower is the national flower of Jamaica. Its reputation for producing abortions (and a haemorrhagic cystitis) allegedly led to a law banning it in Barbados, and so there are only a few really old specimens – the avenues at Harrison College and Queen’s Park House – but happily it’s popular once again, and I have both mature and younger specimens.

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The lignum vitae is followed sometime in April / May by our two yellow classics… the poui and the cassia fistula. I planted mine side by side, but they rarely coincide exactly in their proud displays. And then there are the hundreds of flamboyants everywhere (Poincianas in the rest of the Caribbean, named for the Duke de Poince, the seventeenth century French Governor of St. Kitts). Temperature and humidity determine their day of display – April in the drier coastal Christ Church, but not until May or early June on higher ground, in our “mountain districts”!

Other simple delights: the wonderful warm, wet welcome of our many dogs. The affection of the tough “rescue dog” Bruno, the Rottweiler-Mastiff, which I found at the RSPCA. He’s the best of watch dogs, but has a really soft heart for his rescuer, and eyes that would melt the hardest heart. And then there’s my big Dog de Bordeaux; Simba who loves to give paw, and Tiger the Doberman, who can smell a stranger a mile off and barks like mad! What’s great about them all is that the later I come home the happier they are to see me!

And the beauty of trees … in my garden; at Queen’s Park, with our magnificent baobab; at Andromeda; at the Flower Forest; at Welchman Hall; at Bath; those splendid palms along the highway; the spiritual silk cottons and ficuses everywhere. Stand and look up at them at dusk and sense their majesty and the power and beauty and grace of God and all creation.

And the sea – the glorious sea, that most Bajans ignore. Enjoy its calm on a sunny day, when you can float at peace, and enjoy the sense of strength and health as you swim and feel truly part of the universe. And enjoy the energy and beauty of the surf at Accra or the Crane or Bathsheba, our most sacred place in the great cathedral of the Scotland District.

Other simple delights I enjoy every day are the warm and sincere exchanges with people I meet every day. A greeting, a word of “Hello”, “Good morning” or “How are you”; and simply “making four eyes” with the other person is a pleasure for everyone who shares in that way, and a privilege many in this world never have. (And yet how many people move through life with eyes averted, sullen, sad, bored or rude, never caring to share the warmth of a simple greeting.)

And then there are the gastronomic delights, which for some seem to be the only pleasures, creating morbid obesity, illness and early death. I can think of nothing more delightful than Greek yoghurt with honey – one of my few imported favourites, with which I’ve had to replace my favourite Pine Hill yoghurt, now no more; and then there’s my wife’s hot coconut bread and cassava pone – to die for! And as a West Indian, nothing delights more than my first taste of red pea soup and ackee and salt fish whenever I go to Jamaica, or a shrimp roti in Trinidad!

But what is life without love. The delight of sharing with close friends and family is exceeded only by the infinite joy of going to sleep and waking up with the most wonderful wife in the world! Amen!

Brickbat: To FIFA, the World Cup and the entire game of football, which has deteriorated into an aggressive, all-in wrestling match. The fouls that are allowed, the fisticuffs and wrestling, the tripping and the dramatic histrionic displays of pretended injury with instant recovery have made a mockery of the game, formerly known as football and now more correctly designated “Wrestle ball”. I’ve been frankly disgusted by the whole charade. And I condemn equally the local game, where photographs show wrestling players with the caption “fighting for the ball”.

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