Where to start? Maybe with a disclaimer. You know the sort. The not-my-problem, not-my-fault, sloping shoulders kind of sentence, but whilst none of the above – termites, pipes, and the crapaud – are technically of my doing, the way I’ve handled them is.

Can I say a couple of words in my defense before I continue? I am, for the most part, a competent woman – if not always calm. Many of my more than forty years of marriage have been spent as a part-time wife – due to my husband’s work. Many of those years have been spent in countries not my own, though I’m never entirely sure which that is. What I’m trying to say is that I can handle most things from sick kids to attempted coups d’état to snakes in the house, but this last month I seem to have lost my élan, my mojo. And I don’t like it.

We still own a property in Houston – a funky loft in an old warehouse that is currently under eminent domain which means we are not really able to sell. It is therefore often a luxury storage unit used either singly or in unison, should John and I be traveling together.

Upon my arrival, a flying solo visit to Houston for health checks – all good, thanks for asking – the ’T’ appeared. Beam and sheetrock-munching termites met my entry to the bathroom, the laundry and closet. My revulsion swallowed, I sprayed the bejesus out of every wriggling mass and watched their death throes with delight. Then I cried and phoned my husband.

It was a busy couple of weeks. Sorting, packing and attempting to make our once fabulous loft look presentable should the eminent domain status become imminent and the men in City Hall finally decide to purchase then demolish our building. It was a sad and stomach-churning couple of weeks watching our bathroom be ripped apart as termite nests were excavated and evacuated and poison poured into cracks and crevices.

The trade winds met my tired return to St Croix, along with John, Bonnie and Stan and for two days I revelled in my island home – the scent of jasmine lingering over us as we enjoyed sundowners on the patio and watched hummingbirds flit into and around firecracker and duranta as the the cat and dog looked on with resignation.

Then a scratchy throat followed by a teeth-rattling, cheek-throbbing, eye-stabbing sinusitis became the prequel to a cough that defies coughs and laid me low, but not enough to let me allow my husband cancel his busman’s holiday to England to help our son build a pergola.
Remember, I am a competent woman. Then the ‘P’.

It was Stan, the dog-who-chose-to-live-with-us, who alerted me to the issue by lapping from the bathroom floor. A puddle hunt found more water. Enough to soak cardboard boxes in a cupboard. Enough to seep into the hall from somewhere behind the wall. I emptied the cupboard, muttered, mopped, coughed and cried. Then I phoned my husband.

Get Mingo was his advice. Mingo, one of the men who helped turn a crumbling house into our island home arrived with his usual grace and agreed with John’s over-the-phone assessment. A burst pipe. Another wall to be jackhammered. More destruction. It is, in America, a long weekend celebrating independence so nothing will happen until Tuesday. Meanwhile I mop.

The Virgin Islands have been in desperate need of water. The earth has been gasping for rain. And we got it. Not as much as we wanted but enough that leaves lost their limp disinterest and blooms lifted their wilting heads.

And still I coughed and mopped.

The deluge presaged a power outage. It is an expected occurrence – storms or not, a periodic happening, a few hours here and there. But after the fans began to idle and lights flickered on, the only water to be seen came from behind the walls, not the taps. No matter. We are fortunate to have both city and cistern water. An easy switch over. But no gurgle, no pump pressure, no water. I turned stopcocks on pipes this way and that. Still no gurgle, no pressure, no water. And no phone call. Even I could not phone my poor husband, asleep in England at one in the morning, because I’d somehow screwed up the easy switch over!

I coughed, I cried, I mopped. I had a bourbon.

Then I heard it. The ‘C’. A crapaud, French for toad and the name by which the cane toad is known here. They are ugly. They are dangerous. They emit poison that can kill a curious cat and playful pup. Flashlight, long tongs and a bucket – empty of mopped water – in hand I went searching. Not to kill but to relocate. Stan and Bonnie watched my efforts from the patio.

Crapaud croak. Not the joyful ribbit of a frog after rain, rather a guttural snort that suggests phlegm and all manner of nastiness. But, having announced his presence, silence ensued. I gave up, coughed, and we all went to bed.

This morning I mopped, I coughed and town water once again flowed. I phoned my husband to admit my incompetence and get instruction on how to turn all the stopcocks back to the correct position on the pipes.

Water still seeps, Stan has chewed the furniture, the crapaud still lurks and I still cough.
A litany of minor woes that have left me a gibbering wreck, damn it! So, please, if anyone sees my mojo, send it back!

In 1920, Hugh Lofting, a Brit who spent most of his life in the United States, wrote the first Story of Doctor Dolittle. In today’s world the original words are not considered worthy of the Newberry Medal for children’s literature it garnered in 1922.

However, the fictional animal – Pushmi-pullyu – the two-headed llama is an apt metaphor for my feelings about also being essentially British but with American citizenship. These United States, which I was proud to join twelve years ago, do not now feel the same. A feeling of disconnect colours my view to the extent I don’t know which way to go.

Nastiness permeates the political arena and has filtered into the public sphere to the extent it seems barely possible to discuss contentious issues without hate, or even a semblance of civility.

Why? Because racism and the politics of guns and abortion, notwithstanding the spectre of Trump and his acolytes, some of whom are attempting to out trump Trump, is eating into my soul and destroying all that I liked about being a part of this country.

I am fortunate to be able to bury my head, figuratively if not literally, in the sand as I walk the beach each morning with my dog, but still the news drifts in on the trade winds.

202 mass shootings in the US in 2022, and it’s only May. A mass murder is defined by the Department of Justice as ‘the killing of three or more people at one time in one location’. Last weekend there were six separate incidents – no, let’s be honest – mass murders or attempted mass murders:

May 13 – Water Street and Juneau Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – 0 killed, 17 injured
May 14 – Jefferson Avenue, New York, Buffalo – 10 killed, 3 injured
May 15 – Airline Drive, Houston, Texas – 2 killed, 3 injured
May 15 – El Toro Road, Laguna Woods, California – 1 killed, 5 injured
May 15 – N Filmore Street, Amarillo, Texas – 1 killed, 4 injured
May 15 – 25th Street, Winston Salem, N Carolina; 0 killed, 7 injured

The Second Amendment declares ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed’ is enshrined in the Constitution but that was in 1791.

Which one of those murders over the weekend of May 13th to May 15th, 2022, could be said to be at the hands of ‘a well regulated Militia’ and not a madman?

How can We the People not see that gun ownership must be controlled, must have safe guards to remove the ease of the purchase of firearms? To have stringent background checks. To close the loopholes.

The Violence Project reports the vast majority of mass murders are committed by men – around 95% – and that “white men are disproportionately responsible for mass shootings more than any other group.”

Interestingly, white men are largely behind the drive the tell women what they may and may not do with their bodies. A recent NBC poll showed only 5% of Americans believe abortion should be outright illegal. Yup! But that hasn’t stopped Governor Pete Rickets of Nebraska from declaring that, even in cases of incest or rape, a woman may not have an abortion. How dare he?

The same NBC poll reported 63% of Americans are opposed to overturning Roe v Wade but that hasn’t stopped governors like Greg Abbott of Texas from introducing a six-week abortion ban. A drip-drip eating away of the 1973 ruling. Maybe biology isn’t his strong suite and he doesn’t know pregnancy starts from the first day of a woman’s last period, in effect leaving only a one or two week window to end a pregnancy. A woman might not even know she is pregnant at six weeks. Maybe he doesn’t know menstrual cycles are not an exact science. That they can be varied, can be impacted by stress, by diet, so that window for some is even less.

If Roe v Wade is overturned, the United States will join places like El Salvador, Haiti, Iraq, Senegal, the Republic of Congo and others countries considered by the West to be third world.
Countries which do not have stellar human rights records.

Tolerance, compromise, civility, acceptance are all alien words in America now. Racism – blatant and insidious – is rampant in parts of the country. A country in danger of regressing. Of losing global credibility.

I recognize the privilege of options I have and the reality is that I am not so much drawn to Europe as pushed from the United States. That is the pushmi-pullyu effect I am feeling. I wonder was that how Hugh Lofting, a Brit with American citizenship, felt when he created his fictional character a century ago?

This is my island in the sun
Where my people have toiled since time begun

I could feel tears begin to tingle as Doc’s velvet tones greeted mourners making their way down the slope. It didn’t seem right that this warm and vibrant man was lying in repose at the foot of the stage and not sitting on a stool in his usual spot on the stage, a guitar resting on his knee.

But the open casket could not diminish Eugene Alexander Petersen – Doc – because his presence was everywhere. In the four guitars and a banjo resting amongst floral arrangements of sunset colours lining the stage; in the saddle draped over a bench; in the video showing snippets from oh so many performances; and in the mourners, many wearing madras, who came to show their love and respect for a man who touched so many lives – two and four-legged.

My links to this remarkable man are brief but memorable. Over my nine years on St Croix I met Doc only a handful of times. But our penultimate meeting, instead of the agreed upon hour lasted two and a half hours as we sat in his beach house and talked about his life, his music, his hopes. Doc had agreed to be part of a book I was writing about the island that has embraced me. Crucian Fusion, I told him, was to be a series of essays, tales and conversations. My conversation with Doc Petersen was called ‘A Calypsonian Vet’.

Like today, I laughed and cried as we spoke. We laughed about his story of the mother superior deciding young Eugene should play the mellophone, then the drums. Doc paused in the telling, “I wasn’t a good student.” I cried when, after I told him it was my father who introduced me to calypso, he sang Jamaica Farewell with me.

So whilst my links might be tenuous it is the measure of Doc’s gracious acceptance, his innate kindness, his sense of fun and his sometimes wicked sense of humour that make today poignant for me.


Oh, island in the sun
Willed to me by my father’s hand

Doc was passionate about history and traditions being passed on, and on, and on, and to that end he was instrumental in helping establish scholarships www.uvi.edu for students to experience different cultures whilst promoting Virgin Island culture in other countries. Specifically Denmark and Ghana, the two places of historical importance to these islands.

He certainly did his bit. He sang on the mainland, in Denmark, in Germany and around the Caribbean. He sang with Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights. He worked with Monty Thompson and the Caribbean Dance Company as they toured. He was singing until a few days before his death.

All my days I will sing in praise
Of your forest, waters

Your shining sand

The testament to his deep love of St Croix, Doc’s island, is seen many facets he has touched. Not only was he the first Virgin Islander to gain a veterinarian’s degree, he trained and raced horses, he was a calypsonian, a balladeer, an actor, a talkshow host and a radio presenter. And, although never married, a devoted uncle.
As Doc’s voice continued to issue from the speakers I thought about the words he was singing.

Never let me miss carnival
With calypso songs philosophical

Because whilst Doc could laugh, so too could he passionate about the serious side of life. His fervent belief that the Revised Organic Act of 1954, which declared the Virgin Islands an unincorporated territory, should be replaced by a Virgin Islands constitution, led him to be one of the delegates of the Fifth Constitutional Convention in 2009. That proposed constitution did not pass.

Doc was a West man and believed strongly in the redevelopment of his home town, Frederiksted, to which end he served on the Frederiksted Economic Development Board, as well as the WTJX Public Television board, and was determined Island Center – the venue where we all gathered this morning – should return to its former glory as a centre for the performing arts, not only performers from the islands but from around the world.

The coffin closed and Willard John, another cultural icon of St Croix took over as master of ceremonies. Music came from Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights, from a choir from the University of the Virgin Islands, and later from Tony Romano. Mr John gave the eulogy, then many spoke of their affection and respect for Doc, including the Governor of the Virgin Islands.

Unscheduled to speak, I watched as The Honorable Albert Bryan Jr stood behind the lectern and told how much Eugene Petersen meant to him. He ended by suggesting the world, St Croix, needed more people like Doc.

However, for me, the most telling words came from Willard John when he spoke extemporaneously. He said, “Doc was not a preacher, he practiced. He had a calming manner, a balanced spirit. His core beliefs were never reduced to words, but showed by his actions.”

After the benediction people danced out to the Ten Sleepless Knights playing Oh When the Saints Go Marching In. It was a fitting end to the celebration of Doc’s full and varied life.

As I sit now and write about Doc, I am grateful I knew a small part of the man and my thoughts return to the words he sang

As morning breaks
The heaven on high
I lift my heavy load to the sky
Sun comes down with a burning glow
Mingles my sweat with the earth below

Oh, island in the sun!

Where to Write?

April 18, 2022 — 5 Comments

It’s tax day in America.

Pushing the button that will send proof of a valid working life to the Inland Revenue Service is the culmination of days entering numbers in the correct boxes. It is a time of stark truths as those crunched numbers deliver the brutal realisation that, despite hours each day spent on the foundation of a chosen career, the three ‘Rs’ – researching, reading and ’riting – do not provide enough for the smallest garret in the least expensive city of the world. TimeOut.com tells me that for 2022 that city would be Manchester, England. Montreal, Budapest and Johannesburg would be my next three equal options. It’s an interesting list that stops at ten. St Petersburg, Prague and Porto are next, followed by Rome, Mexico City and Bangkok.


St Croix, where I currently reside, does not feature. It is not surprising. Living on an island is naturally a costly option. Having lived on a couple before – Singapore and Bioko, in the Bight of Biafra – it is perhaps something I should’ve taken into account when searching for the ideal retirement place. Retirement for my husband but not me. I’m a writer, a novelist, remember?

Out of that august list of inexpensive places I admit a couple of cities do rather appeal. Bangkok, the birthplace of my son, Edward, will always hold a large slice of my heart. Living la dolce vita in Rome does tempt me although as I’m in the throes of writing a novel based in Venice – there you go, anotherisland – it would seem the wrong option.


Budapest would entice me with its boulevards and the Danube, but Hungary is ruled by a president whose ideas on democracy do not marry to my own. It is many years since I visited Mexico City but a metropolis of over nine million people seems a bit crowded. Johannesburg. No. If I am to live in South Africa it would have to be closer to the splendours of the Drakensberg Range. The magnificence of St Petersburg could be an option but winter would be a problem – all that marble and drafty halls. And I do have an issue with Russia’s leadership. The two Ps, Prague and Porto, both appeal but I would need to do a little information mining, and there is of course the small issue of not speaking a word of Czech or Portuguese, but then I didn’t speak Thai when I moved there so that problem is not insurmountable.


I wonder how difficult it is to learn the tax code in these least expensive cities of the world? And what guaranteed do I have that in 2023 their cost of living won’t have rocketed due to people like me trying to sustain a living as a writer.


Maybe Canada would be similar to the US. And at least I speak the lingo. That being the case perhaps Montreal – the city favoured by Hollywood moguls as the ideal place to shoot movies. It’s not somewhere I have been but I’ve seen the photos of snow-covered streets. And men in earflaps. No, if I’m to live in a garret on a limited income, the thought of winter does not fill me with warmth.
I might sound English but my knowledge of the country is limited mostly to London and the West Country, and of Manchester I know little apart from Man City and Man U teams – and football is not a game that interests me. Textiles, canals and railways alway intrigue – there’s history on the doorstep – but language could again be an issue.


English comes in many shades – this is a lesson I learnt whilst living in the North East of Scotland where my use of ‘sorry, could you say that again’ became tedious. Mancunian might hold the same problem but I like black pudding and eccles cake so maybe I should put the city on a narrowing list of possibilities as I consider my options of attic living.


Or maybe I’ll just stay where I am. On an idyllic island in the Caribbean where my husband is gracious enough to support my writing, and in the belief that each new book I write is bound to be a best seller. And really, how many people can sit at a desk purportedly writing, or at least thinking of writing, whilst watching frigate birds soar and yachts manoeuvre into the crystalline harbour?


I have to believe that one day my tax report will show a healthy income, but then again, if that happens the taxman might cometh!

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