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Gem of the Anglosphere

(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.

14 comments to Gem of the Anglosphere

  • In all important respects (i.e. as a pleasant way to spend a summer’s afternoon) baseball is just cricket with peculiar rules and lower scores. This latter is odd given that most US sports seem to prefer to go for score inflation…..

  • Jonathan Bailey

    Ah, Barbados. Twenty one miles long and a smile wide as they used to say. I made at least a dozen trips there with my family between the late 1960′s and 1977, the last time I went. It doesn’t sound like it’s changed very much at all. The people were always incredibly friendly. If you got lost drivng around and stopped to ask someone to point you back in the right direction, you’d likely end up with a meal to go with your directions.

    Now that I have my own family, maybe it’s time to investigate going back.

    Thanks for bringing back the fond memories.

  • Tatyana

    Vacationing in Trinidad (actually, on the island of Tobago) last year, I’ve had similar experience. Locals are very proud of being the Commonwealth members (they even have a separate counter for Commonwealth in their airport), mad on cricket, very friendly (one addition- counting on tips for their help), majority of kids go to Anglo countries for their education and then tend to go back (at least staff @ the hotel I spoke to). Tiny Trinidad is considered to be on the 9th place in South America, or that’s what the locals told me, and immigration is restricted for neighbouring continental Venesuelians.

    I have to say, thou – I hated the sugary Angostura Rum cocktails, had to teach the barman how to do the Cosmo’s and he still managed to err on the cranberry juice side.

    Also, another observation: the resort was full of elderly British ladies of the Ms. Marple type, one of them was positively shocked, shocked with me, as she put it, “Getting friendly with the locals” (When I was invited to the local nightclub/beach lobster party – and accepted)

  • Peter

    Is Canada out of the Anglosphere on account of the fact that, other than in certain specific immigrant communities (noting that all Canadians are immigrants in some way or another), cricket is not terribly popular around here.

    Looks like fun. Great outfits. I like the tea breaks too.

    That said, and at the risk of being cliche … it’s ice hockey or it’s not worth playing. ;)

  • You won’t get any guff from this Republican / republican about cricket.

    Of course, I grew up in the colonies meself, and could play cricket as soon as I could walk.

    It is, I think, the ultimate game — and I speak here of Test matches, not the one-day abomination — in that it contains drama, subtlety, strategy, patience, skill and stamina.

    Anyone who thinks cricket is boring needs to go back to watching ice hockey (all energy and vigor with little to show for it at the end).

    I, after all, once watched Barry Richards (232) and Graeme Pollock (278) take the horrible Aussies apart at the seams.

    Of course, I also once watched Geoff Boycott take four hours to make 36, but one has to take the rough with the smooth.

  • Wayne Kerr

    Comparing cricket to hockey is crazy, i love the cricket but ice hockey is easily the best game in the world. Speed, power and skill.

    Do you have to go all the way back to Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock to remember the last decent performance against us horrible Australians? At least we don’t take bribes to play badly.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “As a Briton I am conflicted”…

    wtf?

    If you write English like that I suspect you are not a Briton.

    Conflict is a noun, man.

    Jeez.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “Anyone who thinks cricket is boring needs to go back to watching ice hockey (all energy and vigor with little to show for it at the end).”

    OK I give in, cricket IS boring, and I will (always have) watch hockey instead. Nothing wrong with a little energy and vigour – not to mention the odd scrap :-)

    But what do you expect to get at the end of any game, except a result? And in what way then, does cricket differ?

    Puzzled. Please explain.

  • Particularly impressive on my visits, were the immaculately white-shirted and well behaved school children waiting for their buses along the main roads of the inner island every morning.

    I assume their studies would be of curriculum more familiar to a Briton educated before the nineteen- eighties than would be the case at home

  • Matthew O'Keeffe

    Barbados … if only you could still get the Concorde there! Actually, Tom, I think what you say about Barbados may be true of most of the Caribbean. Everyone I met in Jamaica had family back in the mother country – another factor in the close links with the Anglosphere. I have also spent time in the Turks and Caicos which has a fabulous unregulated banking industry for tax exiles, drug dealers and other enemies of the state. A negative aspect of the Caribbean, though, is that most entrepreneurial people tend to up sticks and go to England or America – leaving their more relaxed brethren behind. In this respect it is a lot like Ireland (where I have also spent many a pleasant holiday).

  • Paul P

    Jonathan,

    Good article and I agree with most of what you wrote. The transport runs on time. People are very polite, very friendly and generally law abiding.
    They seem to have a healthy entrepreneurial attitude and work hard (the american influence?).
    They are also the richest per capita in the carribean. AFAIK.

    That said Barbados may be liberal in many ways but not all….eg. it is still illegal to be gay over there.

  • To Andrew:

    “First they came for the verbs, and I said nothing because verbing weirds language.
    Then they arrival for the nouns, and I speech nothing because I no verbs.”

  • Actually, Barbados isn’t volcanic–it’s an uplifted coral reef. There are also (non-native) monkeys on the island. Most of them are in a preserve, but some of them wander the woods on the Atlantic side.

    And once, when I stopped to ask directions (yes, I am a man, but have some androgynous features…) from a gas station as I left the airport in the rain, my ears were assaulted by the most incomprehensible pidgin (or perhaps a creole of some kind–I really couldn’t tell), based on which the oldest man in the world couldn’t have found his way. He was friendly, though.

  • Johnathan

    Rand, I bow to your better take on geology! The coral could explain why the water on the island is so pure and therefore used to make rum.

    Andrew Duffin, nuts to you and stop being such a grouch. There are quite a few examples of nouns being turned into verbs. And in case you wonder, I am British and proud of it, though a few barbarous Americanisms do creep into my language.

    Pip Pip!