The Taylor Stories
a collection of short stories by a Tobago holiday-home owner
In early 2004, an English couple, Malcolm and Annie Taylor, visited Tobago, almost by accident. They fell in love with the island and by the end of their two week holiday had purchased a villa on the Sanctuary Villa Resort. Malcolm subsequently wrote a series of amusing short stories that have appeared in various publications, including the Daily Telegraph, The Lady and Tobago Today.
A Cottage In The Country
by Malcolm Taylor
Tomorrow we're heading back to town, having spent the past month moving in to our new country cottage. Originally we thought the journey time would be about an hour and a half, but on a good day we now reckon it will take at least nine hours. Still, it's a small price to pay. Let me explain.
For the past thirty years I’ve been working in London as a television writer/producer/director and my wife as an actress and illustrator. As we work hard and under stress, we’ve often dreamed of having somewhere in the country to escape to – a quiet English village, say, about an hour and a half’s drive from our London home. At the beginning of the year we decided that it was time we tried to find this country idyll after it suddenly dawned on us that tempus fugit, and we were standing in the middle of the road, so to speak, like a couple of dazed rabbits waiting for the approaching truck to run us down. After looking at properties in several rural locations we realized that property prices in the countryside, within spitting distance of the capital, have rocketed so much that even something quite modest was out of our financial reach. Disheartened, we retreated homewards to rethink the great master plan.
When my daughter, Ellen, rang the next day for her weekly moan, I wasn’t overly receptive. She was about to start a very demanding job as a T.V. Producer and desperate to get away for a spot of sunshine before she did. Could we go with her?
‘No’, I said, ‘we’re trying to find somewhere in the country where we can relax and I can write in peace.’ I added that we weren’t having a lot of luck. Of course she eventually persuaded me not only to change my mind, but to arrange the whole shebang, so I picked up the Sunday Telegraph and surfed the travel section. Sunny destinations within striking distance of London in the first two weeks of April are thin on the ground unless one thinks inter-continental, which I wasn’t. There were the Canaries, of course, but we’d had a couple of unhappy holidays there, so they were off the list. Our beloved Greek islands might be sunny but might not, and certainly would hardly be hot enough to sunbathe – a priority demanded by the Drama Queen. What about Cyprus? We’d never been, and it might just be hot enough; it’s pretty far south and I had spotted an ad:
It seemed just what we were looking for, but I’d never heard of a town called Tobago in Cyprus. A call to the advertiser confirmed that the newspaper had made a mistake and his ad should have appeared under the heading ‘Caribbean’. Andrew, as I came to know him, seemed very relaxed about it, as well he might, for by the end of our conversation he’d not only got a provisional booking from me, but also, presumably, a free ad in the paper the following week. He told me all about the island and the 21 acre estate, Sanctuary Villas, where his house was situated.
He explained that he’d bought it off plan four years ago as both a holiday home and a rental investment (the management provide a letting service) and, apart from the fact that the centrepiece of the scheme, a luxury hotel, complete with cascades and other water features, had still to be completed, he was well pleased with his purchase. After approving his e-mailed photographs I booked a Monarch flight and a car through a local firm he suggested and we were ready to roll.
Our daughter was as thrilled as we were to be going to such an exotic location, and the spur of the moment decision only served to heighten our anticipation. We were not disappointed, and immediately felt at home. The laid back, friendly ambience of Tobago reminded us of the Greek island Corfu where we spent our honeymoon in 1969. Sadly, over the years, package-deal tourism, greed and over- development have ruined it. The attitude of the friendly local people we loved so much has changed dramatically; and though we still visit old friends there occasionally, money, and the making of it, seems to have replaced the traditional family values of friendship and warmth. Nothing can detract from its natural beauty of course, but even this has been blighted; the desecrated olive groves, on which the economy of the island was based for centuries, have, to a large extent, been uprooted to make way for unsightly, strident hotels and cheap apartment blocks, to cater for the bottom end of the tourist market.
There were three things I noticed as we followed Redman in our hired car en route to the Sanctuary – hens and their chicks pottering about everywhere (free-range in its truest sense!), the enormous height and dignity of many of the young men (and women), and the calmness of the car drivers as they negotiated the bottleneck of traffic around the Canaan Penny Savers. Cars just pulled in and picked passengers up or dropped them off at will, holding up the line of traffic behind them. No horns? No anger? No shouting abuse? Didn’t the other drivers need to get somewhere in a hurry? What sort of a country tolerates such selfish behaviour? The answer to the last two questions, I now realize, is ‘No’ and ‘Civilised’ respectively.
The resort was exactly as Andrew described; if anything the houses were even prettier than I imagined, with their distinctive blue roofs, delightful terraces, and splash pools. In the first two or three days we did all the usual touristy things - swimming at Pigeon Point, watching the birds being fed at Arnos Vale, trekking through the jungle trail (I saw a lot of ants carrying leaves but not much else and emerged waving a white flag!) and just generally winding down. By the end of our first week we were very happy. We all knew we’d never find anywhere else we’d rather be, so decided to consider our purchase options. By chance we heard that a house across the way, which we’d admired, had just been put up for sale by a charming and helpful couple who wanted something more spacious for their growing children and large number of family visitors. It perfectly reflects the name of the nearby village of Pleasant Prospect. Located on a ridge overlooking Buccoo Reef (you can see Pigeon Point from the upstairs bedrooms) it is in an ideal position and, as an added bonus, the Grafton bird sanctuary is only ten yards from the front door. We agreed to buy it on the spot – which might sound a little impetuous, but the house positively shouted ‘Buy me NOW!’ Little did we imagine that when we decided to look for a cottage in the country we’d end up finding one in another country - four thousand miles away!
Back in England we had to wait three months for our purchase to be processed. Although your system of 10% deposit on Agreement and the balance in ninety days is les stressful than ours, where buyers and sellers can change their minds right up to the last minute, the business of purchasing in US dollars, transferring funds which then get converted to $TT is convoluted and tedious. A friend explained this practice as being ’helpful for foreigners’ I found it quite the opposite, and I suspect the only people advocating all these currency conversions are the bankers and the lawyers.
When we came out last month to move into our ‘cottage’ we were delighted to find a much greener island than we had left in April, but we were not so enamoured by the mosquitoes, sand-flies and all the other jab suckers which seem to have a predilection for chubby, English flesh. Fortunately we met Sampson, who looks after the Grafton bird sanctuary, on our first day, and he advised us to apply a mix of oil of citronella and Vaseline. This did the trick and we were much more comfortable as we got on with the task in hand.
We were very fortunate that Susan Sami, the previous owner, who has impeccable taste, had left us many of her things. Nevertheless there was still a good deal of furniture and equipment to acquire, and we decided to do this by using Tobago suppliers wherever possible. This proved to be a wise decision because we quickly found out which shops stocked what, and introduced ourselves to lots of local people at the same time. These introductions were sometimes confusing because we were never sure if people were giving us their Christian or family name. Where we invariably introduced ourselves as Malcolm and Annie Taylor we were often only given one. ‘Redman’ it transpired was actually Oswald Redman, which makes me wonder if Martin, the head of maintenance at the Sanctuary, and Curtis, his number two, are actually Steve Martin and Tony Curtis! It reminds me of the politer society of my schooldays where everyone was called by their surname except by their friends who either used their first name, or more usually their nickname (they are somewhat out of fashion in England these days but my friends still call me ‘MT‘). But if that’s the case, why did ‘Lay Lay’, the wonderful tiler, introduce himself with his nickname? I give up!
We gave ourselves a month to get the house sorted - which included having the terrace tiled, building a pool walkway and installing stair banisters, as well as buying beds, linen, and all the kitchen and other necessary appliances. It was an ambitious schedule, especially for foreigners on unfamiliar turf, but armed with the advice of Frances and Claudia at the Sanctuary we soon became frequent visitors to Numero Uno (great gospel music!), Phillips, Unique, Singh’s, C.I.L. Jay Gees, The American Stores, Abraham’s et al. Waiting for items to arrive from Trinidad was the greatest trial. There’s a rather smug sign in Standard listing what the management considers to be a customer’s priorities, it’s headed ‘What Is A Customer?‘ Without hesitation my wife turned to me and muttered ’Someone with the patience of Job.’ Correct! As I write, a couple of items we ordered weeks ago are still waiting to be shipped, and will have to be delivered after our departure. There were a few things we wanted that we simply couldn’t find anywhere on the island so we decided to fly to Trinidad for the day. This turned out to be quite an excursion involving missed flights, lost luggage and a twice confiscated, twice returned throwaway lighter…but that’s another story.
With all this shopping and organizing we didn’t have the energy to do much gallivanting, so we spent most of our ’down time’ in Pleasant Prospect. It has a lot to offer : Marie’s shop, which sells most things, including newspapers, a bakery (great bread), an organic vegetable shop (family farm), a Pizza Boys (cheesecake too), a cash point (‘Hole in the wall’ to us), the Latecomer’s Bar (good pub grub) and one of the best restaurants on the island, Indigo. Not many villages I know can boast such an array of facilities.
We did manage to grab a few hours relaxation a week at Pigeon Point (still our favourite beach because of the facilities and safe bathing). We got to know Pam (recently married), who runs the gift shop, and Sybil ’Sunny’ Rock, who rents out the loungers, quite well on our first visit, so it was a real pleasure to revisit the place - except on one occasion. One day, after a late afternoon dip we flopped on to a couple of loungers discarded by earlier visitors, who had already paid the required $10 a day rent. Before we could even stretch out, a young woman we’d never seen before came up and demanded a further $10. Bearing in mind the lateness of the hour and her officious manner we refused and left. Over trained, over zealous, or simply under the scrutiny of her boss - whatever, it smacked of a greed we’d never previously encountered on the island - or since, I might add.
So, we’ve moved in. We’ve spent our last day buying another painting from the Art Gallery, talking to the helpful Peter Blincow at Automative Excellence about the possibility of buying a roll-on-roll-off jalopy, and having a late afternoon swim at Mount Irvine Bay. Tonight we’ll have a good steak at the Indigo, and tomorrow we’re off home.
I still can’t quite believe that less than six months ago Tobago was only a tiny dot in the Caribbean as far as we were concerned - and now it’s our second home. Phew!!
If you enjoyed Malcolm's article above, you will undoubtedly enjoy his sequel - The Emerald Lighter
Article first published in the Sunday Telegraph in July 2003 and subsequently in Tobago News