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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!

 www.thewolsztynexperience.org

I Had a Shower

March 13, 2022 — 3 Comments

Water rarely cascades from our showers but this morning as I stood under the steady flow, shampoo in my hair, a thought washed over me. WAPA, the Virgin Island Water and Power Authority of whom I have written before, might fail us on a regular basis but that is due to … what shall I call it, um…. inefficiency not due to a maniac giving orders to lay siege to a city.

Stand with Ukraine

Mariupol, once a Cossack encampment but granted city status in 1778, is now the tenth largest city in Ukraine, and an important regional hub for higher education, business and industry – over the years being a trading centre for grain, as well as steel and iron works. The Kalmius River flows through the city, which sits beside the Sea of Azov, which in turn connects to the Black Sea then once through the Sea of Marmara to the rest of the world. A chain of seas. All of which makes Mariupol an important city.
The population of nearly 432,000 has, since being secured by Ukrainian troops in June 2014 after the annexation of Crimea in the February and start of the war in Donbas in the April of the same year, been under attack from Russian forces several times.

Any child born there since 2014 has known nothing but the threat of a hovering Russian president desperate to regain the boundaries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It is a volatile part of the world that has seen numerous invasions, incursions and ethnic strife since the end of World War II. All terrifying for civilians in the midst of them.

This latest, the result of an aging demagogue desperate to stamp his boots in the history books as the man who redrew the 21st century map of Russia, has united large swathes of the world in a concerted effort to stop the madness. To stop the killing. To stop the horror and destruction.

Oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, infamous for nefarious dealings as a street trader, a doll-manufacturer, a commodities trader, a serial marriage maker, and famed as the owner of Chelsea Football Club, has been sanctioned. Mr Abramovich repudiates having a close relationship to Vladimir Putin despite being the man purported to have put forward Putin’s name to Boris Yeltsin as a worthy successor to the then Russian president. It is also supposed, as reported in US media, that Mr Abramovich is the bag man for President Putin. A ‘put-in-your-cash-here and take-it-out-there’ financial middleman.

Having assets frozen does I’m sure lessen one’s ability to move around the world, but I can’t help thinking men as canny as Mr Abramovich, and the other oligarchs, have many avenues to their riches.
Riches that will not find their way to assisting Ukrainians on the brink of desperation. Although Michael Grove, Secretary of State for, amongst other things, Housing and Communities, has suggested the possibility of the mansions in London owned by the oligarchs be used to home Ukrainian refugees, which add a pleasing synchronicity to the issue. But these businessmen’s riches will not help those children locked in terror, cringing in basements crying out for warmth, food and water.

If you have wondered how to help Ukraine, the following links could be a good place to start.
The Wolsztyn Experience was started by Howard Jones MBE, a friend of a friend. The company runs steam train experience holidays in Poland and he, and his wife, are now working with local authorities to care for Ukrainian women and children who are seeking safe haven in Poland, by funding safe accommodation for an indefinite period. The company is looking to lease a small hotel, plus other local properties to house displaced families arriving with often only the clothes they are wearing.
www.thewolsztynexperience.ord

Another option is through William Harris, a young man I know who lives in Germany. He is the son of one of my oldest Australian friends and through his digital food distribution company has arranged for trucks to deliver necessary supplies to Ukraine. They are not a charity but have been prompted to put their resources, and resourcefulness, to use because it’s personal – a number of their team are Ukrainian. The community support Will’s company has received has been incredible and, in the first week, they sent 300 tonnes of emergency supplies across the border. Currently they are focusing the money they raise on supplying trucks from their own network to other community drives who get donations but don’t know how to freight the goods into Ukraine.

They are also in touch with a group of doctors in Ukraine who have stressed the dire need for medical supplies and so the company’s next step is to send surgical supplies to bombed hospitals in Kyiv and other cities, or wherever they can get them.
This is the Go Fund Me page for donations.

Mariupol is under siege, Kherson, Kharkiv and Kyiv on the brink, with now it would seem Lviv and other cities in western Ukraine are being brought into Russian sights.

As this invasion drags on, it could be easy to start to glaze over at the humanitarian disaster unfolding, to become immune to the horror of war in Europe. To forget how restorative water can be.

I had a shower, and I won’t forget.