(WARNING – some of you may find the following article annoying as it was written after the author shortly enjoyed a fabulous holiday in the sunny Caribbean. Readers forced to stay in grimy and cold parts of the world during this period should skip forward below).
I have recently returned to England from Barbados, the eastern-most island in the group of volcanic islands stretching in a parabola arc across the Caribbean. The trip was obviously thoroughly enjoyable across a number of fronts – not least the cool rum punches, the sea fishing and the seascape. However, away from the usual tourist stuff, I noticed plenty of things I thought worth recording.
Barbados has been an independent nation since decolonisation in 1966, the year of my birth. Despite throwing off the shackles of colonial status, Barbados remains a remarkably pro-British and pro-Anglosphere nation. This is understanderble on a number of fronts. For starters, a huge slice of its earnings derive from British tourism. Britons and Americans are among the main nationalities who visit. From what I could see there were few continental Europeans there. There are many reminders of its past, not least the grim reality that Barbados’s wealth as a sugar-growing island was initially produced by imported slave labour. There is a moving and large statue of an emancipated slave, dubbed ‘freedom’, close to the main airport on the island. No citizen of this island needs to be reminded of what oppression is. As a Briton I am conflicted about this vile part of our history, in that yes, we built up the island on the back of this institution, but we also were among the first rank of nations to actually abolish it.
You might think that because of this legacy, there would be a great deal of resentment of the British, but if there is, it is very well hidden. School kids regularly sport English soccer T-shirts, there are red telephone boxes everywhere, you drive on the left hand side of the road, and Nelson’s column is still proudly displayed in the centre of Bridgetown, the main city. And of course there is cricket. Brian Micklethwait of this blog has already written about this, but surely if the Anglosphere has a defining sport, it is (I now expect abuse from Jefferson’s Republic) cricket. The Barbados people are mad on cricket. Sir Gary Sobers, the former West Indies all-rounder, is probably the country’s living symbol.
Barbados is a deeply religious island. The Anglican church continues to pull in large congregations. And yet despite, or possibly even because of the Anglican faith’s hold, this is a liberal island. For example, prostitution is legal. I was taken aback at how young men, often in the middle of one of the busiest streets in the capital, were offering to sell me drugs. (I did not take up the offer). Of course this was perhaps not so surprising, given the proximity to Latin America.
The people seem to be very entrepreneurial. Taxes are low. Immigration is restricted to those able to show they are financially self-supporting. Men and women are constantly on the lookout to sell you a house, fix you up with jewellery and tell you the best place to get a meal, offer to take you fishing, and the like. Yep, I know the vantage of point of a tourist means I probably missed out on all signs of serious poverty, and after all many people left the island for opportunities elsewhere after WW2, but nevertheless I was impressed. There was nothing like this sort of businesslike buzz when I recently visited France, for example.
On other fronts, Barbados folk seem fairly patriotic. A limited period of military service for young men is compulsory, though it seems not to – yet – cause great unrest. I did not have a chance to check the local press much – I was on holiday! – but I have the impression that there is no great demand for stuff like compulsory ID cards, though like I said, immigration controls are strictly enforced.
I am not trying to claim any profound insights here nor to present the country as some sort of paragon (some may say I had consumed too much Banks beer). But let me finish on this note. Here we have a beautiful island, surrounded by the blue Caribbean, filled with industrious folk speaking English in a lovely accent, who love cricket, Mount Gay Rum, and hot music. What’s not to like? Screw the summer holiday, pack your bags, save your pennies, and go to the Gem of the Anglosphere.