Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

Waiting at a country bus stop in a downpour.

Not sure if I've just missed one. No raincoat.

No phone signal. Two o'clock in the afternoon and already too dark to write a will. No wonder everyone that can do leaves the country at this time of the year. There isn't a bus shelter so I insinuate myself backwards into the hedge. A passing car sends a spray of rainwater up my legs. A motionless row of Devons, fetlock-deep in mud beside the five-bar gate opposite, contemplate me miserably.

I try to remember what sunshine is like.

I close my eyes and try to imagine hot sun on my face. I can't. It's impossible. A month ago I stepped off a plane in Antigua. Here, at least, I have success recalling the shock of the heat radiating from the tarmac as we marched from the plane to the arrivals terminal. I remembered, too, the bright and efficient young woman who met us and expedited our transfer.

'Welcome to Antigua, ' she said. 'Anyone been to the Caribbean before?' Of course she was only teasing. Of course we'd all been to the bloody Caribbean before. Some of us had been so many times, we affected to be sick of it.

But your Low life correspondent rose naively to the bait. 'I have, ' I volunteered. 'Ten years ago. Dominican Republic. On an all-inclusive, ' I added modestly, in case it was a boast too far. But she was totally impressed. She clasped her lovely slender brown hands together and exclaimed, 'Rivers!'

'Rivers?' I said. 'Oh, yes. Beautiful rivers, ' she said, almost swooning at the thought.

'You people go to Dominica for the sea and the beach. But we locals go to sit beside the rivers. To us a river is the most beautiful thing on God's earth.' It hadn't occurred to me before that, for some people, rivers are an amazing novelty. I assumed they ran all over the place: even those poor benighted countries on the fringes of the Sahara desert had huge ones. Broadens the mind, travel, I said to myself, smugly and without originality, as they crammed us all into the ten-seater aircraft that was to take us across the Caribbean sea to the tiny French-run island of St Barth's.

In spite of the smallness of the plane, there were two white Frenchmen sitting shoulderto-shoulder in the pilots' seats: one of them exuding professional calmness, the other palpable nervousness. …

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