Blue Angel and Clary Sage

During the school holidays when we were children, the Sister and I used to get Our Mum to make us jam sandwiches and we’d take them and a plastic flask filled with water, or if we were really lucky, Tizer, and go into the garden or over the park to have An Adventure. We never really knew what An Adventure was; we’d just knew that’s what the Famous Five and the Secret Seven did so we followed suit.

In sixth form I was the first to put her name down for the school trip to Majorca because I knew it would be An Adventure. The Lower Sixth trip was such an adventure – coach to Dover, boat to Calais, train to Paris, train to Barcelona, boat to Majorca and then the reverse ten days later – that I immediately signed up for the next one the following year when we flew – yes! On an plane! – British Eagle from Heathrow. That one WAS an adventure, too. As Head Girl I should have set an example but was the reason everyone got grounded as I sneaked out with the stunningly handsome Miguel, the singer in the hotel’s nightclub, when I was supposed to be tucked up in bed! But that’s a tale for another day…

And then, back to Spain aged 18 instead of going to university for another Adventure; my flight from the Psychopath with my young child – another Adventure; chucking in my job in middle age to go back into tourism another Adventure; building Avocado Cottage – another Adventure; writing books – another Adventure – appearing on the West End stage ‘at my age’ – another Adventure.

Yes, I’m an Adventure junkie. But I’m now telling the Universe that I’m so over Adventures. I’ve been there, done it, got the T-shirt and the Ph D in it! The last few days have been and Adventure And A Half.

I left Avocado Cottage on Tuesday afternoon as Hurricane Irma was very near. My stomach was in a complete knot; I felt sick and I was teary. Several lovely Antiguan friends had phoned to check I was ok and that I wasn’t going to be on my own. Before leaving I sat and visualised a cape of protection all over the house and charged Ms Blue Angel to keep it all safe. Then I locked up and headed for B’s crying all the way.

She had asked me to get some ice so we could have food in the cool box when the power went off. I stopped at Ding’s Supermarket in Jennings village, wiped my eyes, and managed to grab the last bag of ice in the store. It was stuck to the inside of the freezer and a very pleasant, helpful young man, another customer, pulled it free for me. The store was full, but there was no sense of panic. Just everyone telling everyone else, “Stay safe.”

B and C had been to see the shelter we had planned to go to but said it wasn’t good at all. So, in spite of being surrounded by water as Jolly Harbour is, we decided to remain put in their house. B had talked with several people and we understood that should there be a storm surge/tsunami the house is in a favourable position because of its location and the way it faces. And we joked that at least we would all float off together holding hands.

But as the afternoon wore on the joking stopped. The reports on TV and radio were very serious. Irma was still heading right for us and was a Category 5. Off the scale. Never experienced before. I started to feel physically sick.

We were fortunate that Jolly Harbour has its own generator and so we still had power. We’d been told it would be switched off at 6.30pm; as it turned out, it never went off! Rumour has it everything has been outsourced and the person responsible for turning it off couldn’t get back to do so because of the adverse weather conditions. Whether that’s true or not, all I can say is that I’m so grateful we had power all night. It meant we could listen to the radio, watch TV and use the internet to keep in touch with loved ones. It was so touching and reassuring to read all the messages and emails from family and friends.

Gradually as twilight fell so we could hear the sea lapping ever louder and the wind starting to howl. I’d picked up on something I’d heard the Met Office forecaster say on TV that land to the south of the eye wouldn’t experience winds as high as the predicted 185mph. I held onto that thought all night. I found two weather websites that seemed to agree with that theory as they were showing winds with a maximum high of 90mph. B made me keep on reading those forecasts to her.

We hastily had some soup and bread. C prepared himself a nice little ‘Last Supper” with some smoked salmon. The wind was now shaking the shutters and lashing the house. We pushed a wrought iron bench against the inside of the front door to protect it. Every time the knot in my stomach tightened when my thoughts moved back to Avocado Cottage and what might be happening to her, I remembered Ms Blue Angel and said a silent affirmation of protection.

I. Was. Really. Scared.

Then I remembered my clary sage oil. I had been looking for frankincense oil before I left the cottage because it is the oil of protection. But I didn’t have any. So I grabbed the clary sage. Clary sage is the whacky baccy of the world of aromatherapy. LOL! We put some in a saucer and sprinkled it around and took some deep breaths. After a while I could actually feel myself calming down.

Finally, about half eleven I decided to try to get some sleep. We were all mentally exhausted as well as physically. The waiting, the not knowing, were just draining. I’d slept very little on Monday night. I’m partially deaf in my left ear, so I lay on my right and much of the crashing and banging and howling of the storm was blotted out. I woke up once or twice but finally woke up properly just after five. It was still dark but we opened the shutters and looked out as daylight came. And soon after daylight the rain started – five hours of non-stop torrential rain and thunderstorms and this after Irma had passed! But she had passed. She finally decided to veer ever so slightly WNW at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute.

In the late afternoon, B and I sat on the jetty behind her house, taking in the view, sipping wine and chatting and laughing – admitting how scared we had been and shedding tears of gratitude as we absorbed all the delights of a still-slightly-stormy Caribbean afternoon that we’d both thought we might not see.

Miraculously there was no damage more than lots of water on the porch and leaves and branches lying across the road. Irma had done her little pirouette to the north at the very last moment and for that people in Antigua will be eternally grateful because our beloved sister, the other half of our twin-island state, Barbuda, took a direct hit. Bullseye! This meant we had been less than forty miles from the eye. But poor, poor Barbuda! Contact had been lost for several hours and when it was finally re-established the picture wasn’t looking good. And when the Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, set off – looking like a cross between Crocodile Dundee and the Man from the Prue – by helicopter to see for himself, the news that came back was dreadful. Barbuda had been demolished by Irma. A small child had been killed. The pictures and videos of all the collapsed buildings on this, the most beautiful, idyllic of Caribbean islands were heartbreaking.

Early this morning I left B & C’s and drove back to Avocado Cottage. I was very apprehensive all the way at what I might find so I made myself take in the scenes I was witnessing on my drive back. The roadsides were stacked with neat piles of broken branches and leaves and debris waiting for the disposal trucks to come and collect it all. People were clearing their yards, sweeping up leaves and twigs, hoisting broken branches outside, washing down galleries and patios, taking down the plywood that they’d used to board their flimsy windows and doors – letting the daylight in. The two smiley ladies at the petrol station waved and smiled as they told me the air machine “Nah workin” (I have a bit of a flat). The sun was out and I suddenly found myself singing “Oh, what a beautiful morning” out loud as I drove.

I have to say that the Government prepared well for Irma and congratulations and all credit to them. I now realise that when I’d watched the Prime Minister on TV on Tuesday the expression on his face and the tone of his voice were reflecting the responsibility on his shoulders and the fear he knew we were facing, including his own well-being and that of his family. But he did a splendid job and we all owe him and those who work under him a great deal of thanks and gratitude. At least Antigua with its 90,000 people can help Barbuda with her < 2,000.

Everywhere there is an air of normality – of just getting on with it. That’s what these brave, resilient people are doing. They’re thanking God and praying for their brothers and sisters on other Caribbean islands who have faced devastation. Such a contrast to the stories I’m hearing from friends who work in tourism whose clients are complaining they had no dessert on Tuesday night (I kid you not); that they hadn’t been offered a free phone call home (this before it was even daylight on Wednesday morning); that if the airport re-opened at 2pm why did they have to wait until today to leave (erm probably because no airline had planes parked at VC Bird Airport during a Category 5 hurricane they have to fly back in); that they weren’t being offered an alternative holiday on another island (which one? Or do you fancy a little Caribbean Island Hop?); that the rep hadn’t been in that morning and she’d said she’d be in every morning at 8.30am (she couldn’t leave her house as it was surrounded by 3ft of water!). There is nothing in the world like these experienced travellers, who CHOOSE to come to the Caribbean in hurricane season and then think only of themselves. Not a thought to what the staff and hotel’s neighbours might have gone through. If you haven’t already done so, you might like to read my fictitious account of a tropical storm hitting Antigua in Singles’ Holiday.

But, I’m not ashamed to say that as I approached my road I could feel my panic rising. The first good sign was that the bottom of the road – where it meets the Five Island Main Road – wasn’t too bad. This gets flooded after an hour or so of ‘normal’ rain, but today it looked no worse than that. I pulled up outside Avocado Cottage with trepidation. From the outside, everything looked okay. On closer inspection, it WAS, okay. No guttering down, no windows broken (I hadn’t been able to board them before I left) no trees damaged. Even the lids were on the water tanks.

I went through the side gate and up around the pool. It’s full of leaves but they can be fished out so not a problem at all. I unlocked the front door and pushed it open. I stepped in. A large, dead cockroach lay on its back just inside. And that was the worst thing I faced.

Everything was as I’d left it!

Not a drop of water had come in. Ms Blue Angel had passed her test with First Class Honours. I think I’m going to rename her Clary Sage. I found myself crying again, this time tears of joy, gratitude and blessed relief. The power still isn’t back on – but they’re doing their best and are dealing with areas of greatest priority first. I will wait my turn like everyone and be thankful that I still have my home intact and I am safe and well. (I’ll post this once I can get online to do so.)

To the Universe: To a Power Greater Than Myself: To Ms Blue Angel:


And now, please, CONTINUE TO PROTECT US! Because Irma’s called for her mate Jose. He is following close behind and is expected to be here tomorrow (Friday night!)

Please! Please! Please! Enough already! No more Adventures.

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