Friday, 8 June 2007
No.88: St Kitts and Nevis
Brilliant Banana Bay
Alex Horne – 8th June 2007
I’d spent fifteen minutes sitting outside Liverpool Street Station in the sun, staring at men in suits and trying to guess which one was going to approach me and say ‘hi, I’m Oliver from St Kitts and Nevis’.
All of a sudden my telephone rang. And I know what you’re thinking; ‘what do you mean all of a sudden, incoming phone calls are always sudden’, and you’re right – good point - but not if it’s a mobile phone next to an electrical appliance, then you get that ‘degede degede degede’ noise which acts as a warning. On this occasion there wasn’t. So I was well within my rights to say ‘all of a sudden’.
‘Where are you?’ asked Oliver.
I told him where I was.
It was in my interests to do so.
Playing games at this point would have been foolhardy.
This was a big one (i.e. a very small one).
‘Oh yes, there you are’, he said. ‘I’m right behind you’.
I turned round, smiled and waved at a large black man in a suit, striding purposefully towards me.
He didn’t smile back.
‘Over here’, shouted a different man to his left and I skilfully transformed my wave into a head-scratch and trotted confidently over to meet Oliver, a casually dressed white guy with a yellow wristband.
I felt a bit humiliated and wanted to explain myself.
‘Yes, most people think I’m going to be black’, he told me reassuringly. ‘1% of the population is white’. I felt a bit better. St Kitts and Nevis has a population of 39,000, 390 of whom are therefore white. I’d simply played the numbers game and been unlucky. I did still feel quite awkward and red though. I don’t know why. Despite meeting people from almost half the world’s countries I guess I’m still worried about appearing xenophobic. I should probably get over it.
Oliver’s been in the UK for ten years and talks wistfully about home. ‘It’s tiny. You can drive round it in about three hours. And it’s very safe. You never lock up your car or your house – I never used to keep me keys on me at all. There is a volcano there though…’ If you’re lucky you could probably drive round London in about three hours – between 3am and 6am – but all those other things sound like a different world. Still, Oliver is happy enough here. ‘It’s just the winters that kill me’, he said. ‘If the weather was like Spain I’d think about staying’.
He’s just bought two houses in the Caribbean; one in Trinidad where his mum lives and where he spent his teenage years, and one in Banana Bay on St Kitts itself. ‘Banana Bay’, I say, ‘that’s brilliant.’
‘Oh yes’, he nods, indulging me. ‘It’s a beautiful place to live if you’ve got your own place. But it’s not so nice to live there and struggle. Once I’ve paid for the houses I’ll probably move back’. The house on St Kitts has three bedrooms and a swimming pool. At the moment Oliver’s living in Cricklewood. Without three bedrooms and a swimming pool.
I say again that St Kitts and Nevis sounds brilliant. He smiles. ‘Those lilt and bounty ads have a lot to answer for. But I guess there is some truth there. It’s an idyllic place but nothing gets done quickly. Everything’s always tomorrow’.
Oliver’s return will also have to wait for a while. His girlfriend is from Australia (yet another international couple) and they plan to live over there for a few years before heading back to the Caribbean. ‘St Kitts is just too small for a 35 year old’, he explained. ‘Everyone knows everyone – you’d get bored in a week’. Would I? I thought. I’d love to find out.
Either way, St Kitts and Nevis certainly is a diminutive country – our smallest so far and the seventh tiniest population in the world.* Kiribati and Micronesia are both three times as big. And if the Nevis half gets its way and becomes a separate country sometime soon it could even make the top (bottom?) five. ‘It’s ridiculous’, laughs Oliver. ‘They’re even smaller – I think they’ve got an inferiority complex’. Now, I’m not saying Scotland has an inferiority complex but I’m sure there’s a parallel to be drawn there somewhere.
All of which means, of course, that this meeting is a major scalp for the project.
But even without the thrill of meeting someone from a country with a population one thousandth the size of Spain it was a very enjoyable half hour, by the end of which I’d almost entirely forgotten my earlier embarrassment. In fact for the last ten minutes we talked more about my life and work than his, with Oliver eventually confessing that he’d briefly considered a career in comedy himself: ‘Lots my friends told me I should give it a go’, he said. ‘But I did a best man’s speech once and shat myself’.
He told me he now works at UBS, a bank in the city.
‘No suit?’ I asked.
‘Oh no’, he replied. ‘It’s dress-down Friday’.
‘Oh yes’, I said, releived that at least one of my presumptions had been correct.
* Next comes Liechtenstein with 33,400, then Monaco (32,300), San Marino (28,500), Palau (20,000), Nauru (with a very accurate sounding 13,287), and Tuvalu (just 11,800). The Vatican has a population of 920 but thankfully decided against UN membership.