Peace and Love

A Tribute to the British Virgin Islands

Two years ago, some kind friends invited us to join them sailing in the Caribbean. I was expecting smart boats and cruise liners, friendly people, good seafood, clear turquoise sea and sunshine.  I got all this but what I wasn’t expecting to find was a throw-back to the late fifties/early sixties. Sydney’s Peace & Love Beach Bar and Restaurant was just that.

We moored our boat on a buoy in Little Harbour, Jost van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands. Looking for somewhere interesting to have an evening drink, we took the dinghy to the nearby beach. Sydney’s was there – but, alas, not Sydney who died in 2010.

Memorial plaque to Sidney

His daughter, Strawberry, ran the place exactly as he did. When we asked for rum punches, she showed us the rum, the punch mixer, the ice and the plastic beakers. We served ourselves and simply told her how many we’d had before we left. Trust worked. The price was good – there were no bar staff to pay.

The pillars and rafters were painted white and covered with names, dates and messages from the hundreds of visitors over the years. Having no indelible pen, we had come unprepared to add ours, although finding space would have been a problem. The other decoration was T-shirts – all types and sizes, hanging everywhere.

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There was liberal use of the ‘Ban the Bomb’ symbol and hearts – Peace and Love. I was back in my youth.  We sat at plastic tables on plastic chairs which were anything but luxurious. But we got the atmosphere we wanted as the sun went down.

I wonder if it survived Irma? It was a shack on the beach. Somehow I doubt it.

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Brain Power

Winning article in the Scribble ‘Why I write’ competition:

I like words. There are loads in my head. I like the way they cascade onto the page. Sometimes a boulder blocks them and has to be removed by a glass of wine or two.

Or a run in the park. Or simply by a sleepless night, spent thinking.

I like the way words follow each other and inadvertently sometimes they rhymes.

I like the colour of adjectives: the noisy purple ones, the whispered cream ones, the silent white ones. And active verbs transitively being and doing, and living and dying. And rhyming. Again. I like solid Proper Nouns, upright citizens, not messing frivolously and promiscuously with adverbs.

I feel tactile words, smooth, bumpy, velvety. Especially velvety. Sensory onomatopoeia. And joyous words and melancholic ones. The sadness of tragedy. And greetings and partings. Adieu, adieu. And beginnings and endings. He arrived and then left forever. I like the control I have over them. I can choose whichever I want and put them in any order. Well, not any order. I like to write proper English.

Then there’s the sentence, coming to a full stop. Actually I prefer the semi-colon, more subtle in its pausing. I touched him; he touched me.  I like the satisfaction of a phrase well said, the feeling that the whole is far better than the sum of its parts. A good, solid wall is more than a collection of bricks. Of course, they don’t all have to be my own work. I like the thrill of reading something by a master of the art, soaking up the nuances and the expressions, storing them away, hoping I’ll be able to adapt them to my own style and so improve my writing.

And I mustn’t forget correct punctuation. Not just the fun of ‘eats shoots and leaves’ but the creation of a shape. Punctuation marks are the clothes pegs on which good writing hangs. Yes, I have been accused of being nit-picky but I can live with that for the joy of seeing a properly used apostrophe. And should there be single or double inverted commas? What about dashes or parentheses? I envy the Spanish with their inverted question mark or exclamation mark at the beginning of a sentence as well as at the end. How sensible is that? Or should I say, ‘How sensible that is!’ It all depends on whether I want an exclamation mark or not, a precious tool, not to be used to excess.

I love writing at my lap-top. I like being able to shuffle my work around without the eventual, inevitable illegibility of the paper and pencil. There is nothing more annoying than not being able to read what you have written. Good or bad, you can’t improve it if you don’t know what it says. And writing better is what it’s all about. I look back at pieces written months, years ago and realise I am writing differently now. And I hope the difference is an improvement. Practice makes perfect – whoops! Must avoid the cliché! Writing must be original; there are enough word combinations without resorting to hackneyed phrases.

Sometimes the loud words shout at me. Noisy thunder in my head telling me it’s time to get creative. A commotion, a din, a roar.  I’m most impressed when it’s a hullabaloo.  Or, if this doesn’t work, the persuasive ones mutter discreetly that I’m wasting my time on trifles and need to knuckle down. A gentle murmur. What a lovely word that is – murmur. I must try to use it more often. Occasionally, I’ll invent a word but there has to be a good reason. There are so many words already.

I have some special words. I like them simply because I like them, the feel of them on my tongue, the sounds they make when read aloud and maybe the images they conjure up: twilight, languor, euphemism. Putting them in a piece of writing can be a challenge and maybe I like them because they are rare. Delicious words are easy to use; who doesn’t revel in gorgeous, exquisite magnificence? I like horrible words, too. Repugnance and malevolence sound repugnant and malevolent, just as they should.

Words are tools; full stops and commas are helpers. Writing is putting them together in a private, imaginative world where anything can happen. It’s the work of my mind, something original, something that has never been said before. Sounds grandiose but it’s true. Writing allows me to be unique, maybe clumsily, maybe ineptly, but unique. I experience an addictive, adrenaline rush. It’s a pleasure only a writer knows. I know it. I know it especially late at night – my best writing time. I get lost in my own world, sitting at my desk with the curtains open, the silent darkness outside shielding me from interruptions, my notes and scribbles beside my laptop, a collection of pencils and pens in an old coffee mug next to my files and books. I don’t notice the minutes or hours. I don’t eat. I don’t hear ‘Isn’t it time you came to bed?’

That is when the noisy and the peaceful, the delightful and the rude words cooperate: nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs working actively and passively, pushed along by commas and colons. They form phrases, link into sentences, divide into paragraphs. Then they recruit their friends: metaphors and similes, irony and bathos and provoke me into using them. Characters emerge and start to talk to me. They can be hard to tame, willful and insistent on having their own way. They twist my plots and sub-plots. Eventually, I create a story or maybe we create it together. Perhaps I’ll get it published; perhaps I won’t. It will take many more sessions before it’s ready to go anywhere. But that’s the joy of it. I continue to write in my head long after I’ve shut down the laptop. It’s a recipe for insomnia. I’ll pay for it the following day.

So why do I write? Well, I need to do something with all these insistent words in my head, fighting to get out!