Our journey back to Jamaica yesterday began with a taxi ride to Gatwick Airport, from the East End of London. Our driver was born in the Isle of Dogs, once in the heart of the London dockyards and part of the new wave of gentrification and new development. We talked about how the area had changed over the past 20 years. Much of London never had the ‘benefit’ of being destroyed during the Second World War, so massive redevelopment was always hard to do. The decline of the docks opened the way for a new wave of redevelopment, and it was spurred by the area being adjacent to a major financial centre. Many East Enders had been moving further east for years, and that process continued with the added pressure of new money and social groups wanting to move in. In a few words, the East End has become posh. Places with names such as ‘Leg of Mutton Lane Lane’ and ‘Westferry Road’ had real meaning.
The driver and I talked about how the area had changed physically. He mentioned that he had a book that looked at 500 years of the area’s history, its physical, social and economic make-up. I had been thinking that a great use of technology would be to make an overlay map that showed just that for any area. I had studied for years in the area and commented that I could barely make out where I was except for the trees; almost everything had changed. But, that is what progress means these days. We looked at the tall glass buildings, the wide streets, the fancy signs for new financial and commercial activities; men in suits and women in fashionable dresses–a far cry from the clothes of dock workers and their relatives. I thought of Jamaica, and Kingston’s downtown: progress had passed it by. People now flooded into the East End, after decades of people wanting mainly to flee the area. We continued to the motorway, and I thought about how improved transport links had made this side of London very dynamic: new rail links, new roads, a new small airport, London City Airport. That is what transformation meant.
East London transformed
We got to Gatwick and headed to check-in. (London’s airports are well served by public transport, and a train service runs every 15 minutes to this airport, to the south, but getting there from the east is trickier, so the roads are often quicker.) We completed the necessaries and sat to cool out in the lounge. Two ladies headed to Jamaica sat opposite us. They first felt miffed that they had not realised that showers and a spa were in the area. “It’s provided by the airport. I wouldn’t have bothered to bathe,” one said. I smiled and told her that it was BA who provided the service, and it’s common for them. She and her friend continued with their breakfasts, as did we.
“Glastonbury! Why do people want to go there, camping? That’s nasty!” My ears bristled. I asked her why she thought camping was nasty (remembering that she’d been prepared to go unbathed to the airport, moments ago). She explained it had to do with having to sleep on the ground. I asked her about her family background, and we had a discussion about life in Jamaica. She’d been born in England and never grew up in Jamaica. I explained that living with a dirt floor was common in Jamaica, and still is the norm in many places. She was not convinced that lying on vinyl would make it not nasty. I teased her more. She really did not like much to do with nature. She would go into the mountains in Jamaica only if she could get everywhere by car; walking was out of the question. I suggested taking a mule: she thought that was cruel 🙂 I suggested she talk to her mother about life in rural Jamaica. We continued and I asked how she’d feel about taking a walk up the Blue Mountains to the coffee fields. Again, she was fine if she could go on wheels. I shook my head. She rounded herself out by explaining how she’d bought Blue Mountain coffee on a previous trip to Jamaica, but had no idea what to do with the ‘granules’. She’d put them into a cup and they were “just swimming around”. She’d given the coffee away. I explained how to brew fresh coffee. The lights that went off in her head were very bright. MY daughter could barely suppress her giggles. She told the lady about staying at Strawberry Hill and going up further to Holywell.
Holywell: too natural; too challenging
The idea of staying in the National Park was daunting for her. We almost closed the case. We left them to visualise their trip to Negril and Montego Bay. My daughter could not resist telling the lady and her friend (whose roots were from Ghana) about the dangers of being in the sea, and what some people feel happy to do in the water. Some of that is truly nasty, she pointed out. She is my child! I suggested to the ladies to be less afraid of what nature has to offer.
We headed to the departure gate a little while after, and boarded with little fuss. We then sat on the tarmac for over an hour as ‘ground services’ fouled up, including having no bags loaded. We relaxed and start watching some films. We eventually got flying about 90 minutes late. The already long scheduled flight was already tiring us out. But, what to do? We settled in for a long session of movies.
I asked my daughter along the way how she’d enjoyed her trip to Europe. Very much, she said, but could not wait to get back to Jamaica. She was thinking about sleeping in her own bed and having her own dog chewing her feet, not other people’s pets doing that. She thought about the food she liked: fish and chips were very good, but… We enjoyed our long flight. We did not enjoy the long wait for bags, and I thought back to the problems in London, wondering if all had gone well with the loading. After about 40 minutes our bags arrived, and we cleared Customs fast and headed out to meet the wife/mother. She happened to be standing next to one of her ‘friends’, a government minister, and we exchanged a few stories about our trip, before leaving him to wait for his family. It was very funny once we exited Norman Manley International Airport that my daughter’s eyes were struck by all of Jamaica that she had missed: the views of mountains, the breezes off the sea, the goats in the road, the trash on the road side, men standing in the middle of the road begging, potholes. “It’s so nice to be back,” she said. Within minutes, we saw a car accident, with a small JPS car against a broken light pole. The irony of that struck us all. “Maybe, the driver was hurrying to cut off someone,” my wife quipped. She tried to figure out how the car had wrapped itself against the pole. We were back home.
We got home relatively quickly. My daughter was shocked to see her puppy, who had been shorn and sported his summer look, which was more rat than dog. What a life! She jumped indoors and he bounded after her. I laboured with the suitcases. What a life! The little girl and dog were getting back into touch with each other and I emptied suitcases and started telling a few short tales about the trip. I’d been sharing lots of pictures, so the sights were already familiar. My wife had to head off to a reception with the IMF’s MD, who had arrived earlier in the day. I asked to give my regards. Twenty hours of travel was taking its toll. I needed rest and I urged my child to do likewise: we were both in bed soon after 8pm local time (about 2am London time, so nearly 24 hours being awake). My wife told us that she had a breakfast date with the high and mighty, and that we had a drive to Port Antonio due up later today. Move it, move it!
I started to read the day’s paper and catch up with Wimbledon tennis on TV; that lasted about 15 minutes. Neither was that riveting. We had to get rested fast as we would be on the move again soon. Next stop, Rio, Brazil.
I have a week to learn some useful Portuguese phrases. Thankfully, the day just ending was a rest day in the World Cup; the knockout phase would start in earnest today. Brazil-Chile is on the docket. Serous things a gwaan.
No more need for French politesse. No more need for Cockney slang. Patois was back on the menu.