Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Are People Peeing on Front Street?

I saw someone peeing in Jermyn Street the other day. I thought, is this the end of civilization as we know it? Or is it simply someone peeing in Jermyn Street?
Alan Bennett

THE FIRST MEMBER OF MY FAMILY washed up in Bermuda in about 1880. John William Eldridge was a carpenter with the British Army and was posted to the encampment above the old town of St George. I do not know if the weapons resting on the gun carriages maintained by my great-grandfather's younger brother were facing out to sea, or whether some might have been pointed at vital places on the narrow strip of land making up the archipelago.

My great-grand uncle John married a local girl, Marian Elizabeth Florence Thomas, daughter of James Thomas, a warder, in St Peter's Church, St George's, in 1882. Marian was only 16, and a daughter, Ada Florence Eldridge, was born and christened in Bermuda in 1883. This is all in the Bermuda Government Archives, and I have turned the appropriate pages there.

John, Marian and the newborn baby left Bermuda and returned to England. As far as I can tell, John's family were somewhat unsure about that Bermuda marriage, and the couple were wed again, in London, in October 1885. They never returned to Bermuda.

My father arrived in Bermuda in the summer of 1943. He would have been about 18. Technically in the Royal Navy, my father was an assistant in the on-shore canteen in Bermuda. He was not off sinking battleships and submarines.

My mother's parents, the Lancasters, had originally set foot in Bermuda in the first week of August, 1925. They returned to England a few times with money saved in Bermuda, hoping to make something of themselves back home. My grandfather misjudged the times, or simply didn't have any luck, and lost their nest-egg trying to sell furniture near Blackpool during the Depression. They went back to Bermuda once and for all not long before the Second World War, my grandfather working for the British Forces in the NAAFI. I believe my father worked in some capacity for my grandfather.

I am the result of the unhappy marriage of my British parents. My father remained with my mother (conveniently) for seven years, claimed his Bermudian "status", and that was happy families over and done with. Just in case you thought I was clothed in celestial glory.

Adding up the days, weeks, months and years, I have spent most of my life in Bermuda. I remember best the first twenty years, 1950 to 1970, when Bermuda was a fairly simple place: green landscapes, pink sand beaches, pastel-coloured cottages, and exquisite turquoise waters swirling over purple reefs. Party politics, organized government that took itself too seriously (if nowhere near as seriously as it would thirty years down the road), and the destruction of all that was charming about the landscape in the name of wider roads and broad vistas soured my view of Bermuda. The oleander hedges that had cast blossoms onto the narrow lanes (narrow enough to naturally restrict speed) were ripped up, and outlooks installed. Then buildings were erected to fill the former natural spaces. And now you could conveniently see all these blots on the landscape clearly!

Older hotels, charming and, delightfully, of another world, making them unique and attractive, were pulled down (I watched two of them, the Hamilton Hotel and the Bermudiana, burn down in the 1950s) and hideous cartons were put up in their place. American-style holiday units, horrific anywhere, were encouraged. Within twenty years some of these were already empty, home to vagrants and addicts, stinking of piss and shit. In the past ten years most of the hotels have been pulled down, and condominiums and small clubs have been built or planned. Grand hotel schemes have been touted by Bermuda's current Leader, who also handles tourism and transport, with promises made and broken on a monthly basis.

Even the cottage colonies are closing down. Golf courses and clubs have closed. The City of Hamilton's Front Street was once considered the window of the world (and the British Empire) with fine goods in beautiful shops, with polite and knowledgeable staff. The better shops have shut down, many famous fronts have been demolished and boxy office blocks have filled the gaps. Government decided to ignore the laws about the height of buildings and suddenly ten storeys is not too tall. Even the tourist souvenir shops in Hamilton are closing as Government is catering to maxi-ships which can only come alongside at the former Royal Navy Dockyard. Simply, the cruise operators bring their own hotel (and catering and entertainment) to Bermuda, filled with its own guests, staffed by its own employees. Thousands of tourists who are on these all-inclusive sea voyages (so not inclined to buy much more than a postcard when they reach a port) pour into the Dockyard at once, some, perhaps, wanting to go to a beach. However, the roads and public transport are not up to this.

The little (historic) Town of St George where my great-grand uncle John was stationed is closing down too. And green Bermuda has been paved and concreted over.

It is the business of hotels, like colonies, to be one step behind the times.
Alan Bennett

I recall crime in Bermuda, of course. However, I do not recall living there in fear of my life as gunshots ring out. In 2009, so far, there have been 40 gun-related incidents, 14 people have been shot, and some have died. There have been other murders using machetes and knives. It is gang warfare. The Bermuda Government had refused to admit there were gangs in Bermuda for years. This year the word "gang" is everywhere. Yet nobody, somehow, sees anything. Dozens can clearly observe the murder of a boy at Elbow Beach, yet nothing is seen. Violence on the fields at sporting events is obvious, sometimes it is even on film or caught on mobile phones, but there is no witness.

The gang violence is, apparently, over "turf". The many gangs have carved up a narrow strip of land totalling about 20 square miles. Who the hell wants to sit in his few acres, proud as hell, shooting at anyone who comes onto it, afraid to step out of it? Drugs have rotted the minds of these gang members.

To be right up to date: Many people who attended the Christmas Parade in Bermuda recently felt so offended by the vulgar, violent dancing, language and behaviour, and unseemly costumes of the young girls marching that they hurried their children away and headed home, saying: "Never again!"

Who are these young girls? Who are the young boys in the gangs? They are the children of children in many cases. They are children without proper family backgrounds. "Your daddy's not your daddy, but your daddy don't know…" was an amusing calypso song when I was younger. It's a way of life. The grannies and aunties who raised these boys and girls are church-going, narrow-minded women. They are religiose, rather than religious, seeing evil in gays they don't know, but not seeing evil in their family members that they should know. Bermuda tends to be a matriarchal society at home (so many of the men are simply missing), battling an angry, mostly-male Government. Could the angry men in charge be horribly embarrassed by the boys on the walls? Or is it politically convenient to have an underclass to blame on the British and old history? It is better to have perceived blame than to dispense wisdom?

Bermuda's Ministry of Tourism has the motto "Feel the Love" … I'm not sure that many Bermudians are feeling it these days. How many tourists feel it? I dare a tourist to pause after a Bermudian snaps "Good morning!" at him. My English master used to walk into our classroom and say: "Good morning! The usual insincere wish!" He got that right.

Bermuda is a divided country, ruled by a minority. It was divided and ruled by a white minority when I was a boy. That was quite wrong. It is still divided and ruled by a minority because the Government wants one thing for Bermuda, independence from Britain and an American-style leadership by an individual (not surprising considering the current Leader was an American citizen, and may still be in his heart of hearts), and the people, apparently, want something else. The Leader himself has said that they had to fool the people for their own good. Orwell wrote: "Ignorance is Strength". So, it is wrong, don't you think, to promote ignorance?

"This is your Raja speaking," the excited voice proclaimed. After which, da capo, there was a repetition of the speech about Progress, Values, Oil, True Spirituality. Abruptly, as before the procession disappeared from sight and hearing. A minute later it was in view again, with its wobbly counter-tenor bellowing the praises if the newly united kingdom's first prime minister.
The roaring of the engines diminished, the squeaking rhetoric lapsed into an inarticulate murmur, and as the intruding noises died away, out came the frogs again, out came the uninterruptible insects, out came the mynah birds.
"Karuna. Karuna." And a semi-tone lower, "Attention."
Aldous Huxley (Island)

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Hostels are accommodating to their guests.