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Gordon Barlow Nov 13th 2021 5:16 pm

Back in the Day
The New Hebrides (the independent nation of Vanuatu since 1989) was an Anglo-French condominium in the Pacific Ocean – and a Franco-Britannique one called Nouvelles Hebrides, to the French. It had a bizarre constitutional set-up – the result of a strange episode in its history as a European protectorate. Some selective BE members might be interested in the set-up.

By the late 1800s, most of the islands in the Pacific had fallen under the control of the European empires of the day, plus the USA. The native peoples of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia had no weapons to match those of the Western powers, who simply divvied up the territories among themselves.

France claimed New Caledonia, Britain claimed Fiji. Germany wanted the New Hebrides, but neither Britain nor France wanted a German presence in the region; they also didn’t want the Islands themselves. The logical thing to do would have been to split the entire archipelago down the middle; but logic has never featured strongly in Anglo-French intercourse over the centuries. What they did was agree to run the Islands jointly, as a “condominium”. It was referred to by one and all, when we lived there in the 1970s, as a pandemonium.

The imperial headquarters of the British and French expatriates composed two legal Codes, one for each populace in its own language. Expats of other nationalities were obliged to choose which Code they would be bound by. Additionally, there was a Condominium Code, applicable to all residents – British, French, all other foreigners, and all natives.

A fourth collection of rules comprised a Native Code that applied to all natives and all native-white affairs. This was published (as was the Condominium code) in both English and French, by a printer in Montreal. The translations did not always correspond exactly, but that’s life. Or c’est la vie, of course.

Finally, there was a fifth set of laws that the natives had to cope with, and that was their own “Custom Law”, analogous to England’s Common Law. It was unwritten, and little known among expats. It didn’t vary much from village to village – although, with seventy Melanesian and four Polynesian languages spoken in the archipelago (none of them written), there existed some scope for disagreement.

When I had nothing better to do at the office, I waded my way through the Islands’ constitutional laws, Custom Law excluded. I was intrigued by one odd law in the Native Code that prescribed six months in prison for the crime of “aiding and abetting adultery”. The mind boggled. Surely there wasn’t a travelling cheer-squad that attended each adulterous mating, that the European powers were trying to abolish, like suttee in India? One of the BDAs (British District Administrators) explained it to me, amused by my indignation.

Marriage was taken very seriously by the Melanesians, newly converted to Christianity. But, you know, boys will be boys, and the more attractive of the young bachelors did not always resist the temptation to seduce married women, when the opportunity arose.

An unfaithful wife would be beaten by her husband; Custom Law allowed that. Her partner in infidelity might be killed by the husband; Custom Law allowed that, too. But the Native Code forbade murder, and it took precedence over Custom Law. How could the murders be stopped?

The chiefs had come in a delegation to the European administrators. If the white rulers really wanted to be helpful and stop the killings, would they please amend their Native Code and outlaw adultery? Perhaps it could carry a penalty of six months in pokey, to allow tempers to cool. Well, of course they would! No problem! However, by legal definition, the lawyers said, “adultery” could only be committed by a married person. Outlawing adultery would catch an erring wife, but not her unmarried paramour.

“Aiding and abetting adultery” was not the most elegant of terms, but it did the trick.

Gordon Barlow Nov 20th 2021 8:05 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Another “back in the day” report from the New Hebrides in the South Pacific (the stage-play of that name was based there), where my wife and I lived from 1972-75. It (the report) jumps about a bit, but that can’t be helped. It’s how I reminisce. Here we go…

At a party one night, we had chatted to this English couple cordially for a couple of hours, and gotten on like a house on fire. We were a bit taken aback at the response to our invitation to dinner the next Saturday. “Sorry,” the wife said, “but Richard will probably be sick that day.” Wow! How do you handle a brush-off like that?

“Ohhh,” she said. “I’d better explain that.” And she did, and we let it go, and sure enough Richard was sick that weekend. (We checked.) His malaria, contracted in Kenya some years before, where they used to live, was of the recurring kind, which laid him out for three days around the same day every year. They had it on their kitchen calendar. It never happened in England, because the climate was different there – but in New Hebs, the tropical humidity was just like home, for the virus.

The Islands were an embryo offshore tax-haven, back then, and probably still are. When they went independent as the nation of Vanuatu, they confiscated non-residents’ land (including ours), and that’s never a smart move. Anyway, back then…A new client flew in from Australia one day, checked into his hotel, and woke up with a high fever in the morning. The local British doctor was bamboozled. “It looks for all the world like malaria,” he said. “But the fever doesn’t come overnight. And you say you’ve never been up in this area before.” “That’s right,” the visitor said. “I’ve lived in Sydney all my life… except during the War, of course.”

Of course. Thirty years had passed since he had been a soldier in New Guinea, and the malaria-parasite had lain doggo ever since – coming to life as soon as conditions were suitable.

I was lucky with my malaria, when it came. It was the common-or-garden variety that required only a few days of heavy sweating at home in bed – and no repeats. Its worst effect was the weakening of my immune system that enabled Hepatitis ‘A’ to catch hold immediately afterwards. That kept me under for another week or so, but it didn’t recur either.

Neither illness warranted a trip to hospital, that’s the focus of this story. As a joint British-French protectorate, Efate (the main island) had two hospitals - one British and one French. The latter was staffed by French Army doctors, who rarely met a leg they didn’t feel obliged to amputate. The British one had a better reputation, and very few people died in it.

The British one (Paton Memorial Hospital, called “PMH”) was a short boat ride across from the main island, followed by a long and steep stairway up a rocky hill. A ferryman was on call 24/7, at least in theory. One had to phone him at his home, and wait at the dock while he got dressed (if he was in bed) and rode his bike down. His duties then were to help manhandle the patient on board and off at the other end, and help him or her up the exhausting stairs – to the hospital if still breathing or to the mortuary if not. The hospital had an excellent survival ratio, although the path didn’t.

By coincidence, Linda and I were familiar with the initials “PMH” from our three years in Nassau, Bahamas. There, they stood for the Princess Margaret Hospital, named for the Queen’s sister. The time interval for us had been only fifteen months, so Linda’s mistake was forgivable.

She had to phone and reserve a bed for after her appendix operation, which she had delayed until after the Queen’s visit. Royalty was on people’s minds. Somehow her call was answered not by the switchboard but by someone at the nurses’ station, who assumed it was an internal call. So the greeting was casual: just, “Hello?” Linda, thrown a bit by the informality, asked “Is that Princess Margaret?” “Uhhh…” Linda, uncertainly: “Is that Princess Margaret?” Silence. Had the line gone dead? That was common enough. Linda, again, giving it one last shot, “Is this the number for Princess Margaret?” Finally, politely, puzzled and apologetic, a small voice ventured, “She’s not at this number. This is Nurse Bong.”

I must say Linda was treated very respectfully, when the time came. It’s always nice to have friends in high places, isn’t it?

uk_grenada Nov 24th 2021 10:35 am

Re: Back in the Day
In my youth i lived in Iran.

As the child of a british diplomat, i of course went to the british embassy school. This was the best school in the country imho, and definitely the only one that educated in english, so it was the school for all diplomatic children. It was also the school for the shah's kids. School plays and sports days were graced with Shah Rezah Pahlavi and his wife or girlfriend, an ex model, french? and his huge security detail who were under strict instructions not to interrupt the fun.

We used to go to his palaces for parties. I will always remember one where the theme was cowboys and indians. We were all given very professional looking bows and arrows [soft tip, very low powered, but very accurate] or replica revolvers [toy isnt the right word] which we all kept. Anyway, in full battle we rattled round the palace, avoiding various priceless antiques - mostly. However in one living room we were shooed out by a security guy after someone managed to hit a painting. It wasnt a very nice painting, a blue daub of a weird looking woman. The boy who did it complained to one of the shahs kids, who complained to dad who told the guard to not restrict the fun. Im not sure ho much the shah paid picasso to paint his wife, but i thought it wasnt worth it at the time. Today i wonder how much he charged for commissions.

uk_grenada Nov 24th 2021 10:42 am

Re: Back in the Day
One christmas, we did a play, that needed us to make a set inside a british castle. I had a kids plastic knights outfit, and i was asked to donate it to the effort, which i did reluctantly. After the play i proudly told the shah that was my plastic armour on the set, but they had stuck it together so couldnt be used again. He smiled and asked if i would like a persian shield, and i said yes please. He just took one off the wall and handed it to me. A week later his secretary wrote to my dad confirming that the shield was now my property which was legally fortunate, and at which point he looked at it more closely.

Its on loan, in the british museum.

Gordon Barlow Nov 27th 2021 1:46 am

Re: Back in the Day
Gosh, you certainly moved in high circles, Grenada! Something to remember, that's for sure.

My time in Iran (all ten days of it, in 1964, with Linda) was at a completely different level! The closest we got to royalty was the ruins of King Darius's palace at Persepolis. We hitched down from Qum, and wandered around the site quite unsupervised. I had always wanted to go there, because I had been impressed at school with Shelley's poem "Ozymandias". I found out later it - the poem - referred to a ruined statue in Egypt, but never mind! The place lived up to my expectations anyway.

After taking our few pennies’ entrance money, the ticket-seller disappeared, trusting us not to steal any of the ancient stones. (Wikipedia has a photo of what they look like now, but back then it hadn't been tarted up for tourists at all.) We inspected the site at leisure, but once the snow began to fall, we disappeared too, jumping on the first truck headed south - to Shiraz, where we spent the coldest night of our lives. The next day, we walked to the western edge of town and flagged down a bus to the nearest port (Abadan) to find a ferry to Kuwait.

There were no ferries, for some reason, so we haggled for a passage on a boat carrying cattle. They spoke Arabic in that part of Iran, which was some relief. Not that either of us spoke Arabic, but at least I had a dictionary with 800 words of it. Our departure was quite a contrast to our arrival in the country. At the Turkish border we had fallen in with a convoy of returning expats in almost-new Mercedes Benzes they had driven down from Germany for resale. Two days in, one of the drivers nearly drove off a cliff, so he was fired in favour of the team’s new emergency backup. We two drove into Tehran in as grand a style as a couple of young travel bums ever did. The cattle-boat was a bit of a comedown.

A vivid memory of mine from the voyage is the flash of a pearly white bottom as Linda perched warily on the pooping seat way above the poop deck (what else?) before I joined the five crewmen and faced the bow, staring diligently ahead until she clambered down and rejoined us. It was a rough sea, and I’ve never known how she managed. If she’d fallen off, it might have been five minutes before any of us dared to look round and discovered the loss. Inch’Allah, we all muttered – “It’s in the hands of God”.

We got in at three in the morning, and slept on the porch outside the Immigration shed until the staff arrived for work. Those were early days for Kuwait. The arrival-procedures have probably been brought up to speed since then.

uk_grenada Nov 27th 2021 9:22 am

Re: Back in the Day
Persepolis really is something isnt it. The fact you can still see the burn marks where alexander accidentally set fire to it with his boyfriend. Did you see the stone floor of the treasury bowed by the weight of tons of gold? To think darius didnt add protective walls because at the time it was 1000 miles to his borders. We visited most of the sites, Isfahan The river at Qum is fascinating, its literally carpeted. They put new carpets in the river bed with a stone at each corner to wash for a few days.

One basement vault of the national bank contains the crown jewels, far more impressive than the british ones, their collection of faberge eggs, and peacock thrones is fascinating, beats topkapi. While i was there the shah attended the airshow at farnborough, and said he wanted to have one. So one day they just shut the airport and had one. The british and americans brought their toys and we all had a wonderful day , none of that strange european idea of not flying supersonic or not using actual weapons. They blew big holes in the desert, using a vulcan bomber, and fired real missiles from a lightning. I was told they did make sure nobody was there first!

Gordon Barlow Nov 28th 2021 11:52 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Another few paragraphs about life in the New Hebrides back in the day, while I'm in the mood! The New Hebs (before it went independent as Vanuatu) was a fascinating place. This archipelago in the South Pacific was and is populated by ethnic Melanesians, with a scattering of Polynesians – biologically related, very distantly – to Australian aborigines and native Hawaiians, respectively. Plus a few ethnic Europeans on the fringes, stealing slaves for Australia’s sugar farms (until 1901) or operating coconut plantations, or trading.

In the 1970s, the two nations made half-hearted attempts to establish an offshore tax-haven (paradis fiscal, in French). Their attempts were thwarted by the inadequacy of international communications. The overseas phone service was an antiquated radio link. (“Do you copy?” “Roger; wilco.” “Foxtrot Uncle Charlie…” “Over and out!”) We were connected to the world via an undersea cable to Australia during the scheduled British sessions, and one to Tahiti during the French sessions. I was once cut off in the middle of an incoherent exchange with a prospective client in New York, when the session changed cables! I pleaded with the French operator (je vous en prie!), and she kindly gave me an extra three minutes. There were reckoned to be 113 separate Melanesian languages, some spoken in only one or two villages, and four Polynesian ones. The lingua franca was and is a simple local pidgin-English called Bislama.

The territory was governed eccentrically by France and Britain in tandem – not in any Euro-bullying fashion but in cordial partnership with the local village chiefs. The European powers had only invaded in the first place, in the late 1800s, in order to forestall Germany’s presumed intentions. Their later governance concentrated mainly on the affairs of all non-native traders, visitors and residents. When the Christian conquerors arrived, they stopped the traditional practices of head-hunting, cannibalism, and wearing no clothes, and tried manfully to stop domestic violence and revenge killings. The Native Code of the Islands (explained in one of my earlier posts, above), negotiated by the two European administrators and the village chiefs, put the punishment of violent crimes into the hands of the Europeans. Offenders were prosecuted in The White Man’s courts, and served time in The White Man’s jails.

The British jail was a source of wonderment for us “British” expats. The rickety fence was designed (deliberately) not to keep prisoners inside but to keep their families outside. Why would anybody bother to escape, when his village chief would only send him back? Except on special occasions, naturally.

At one village wedding, a British Magistrate friend of mine caught sight of a prisoner he had sent to jail earlier that day. “I carefully didn’t catch his eye, and he carefully kept out of my way,” my friend told me. “Neither of us wanted to spoil the party. No harm done. He took himself back to jail before morning. I did check that.” What is now called “community service” was part and parcel of jail sentences. True story! Work-gangs of twenty men (violent offenders all) swarmed up and down the town streets armed with sickles and machetes, under the benign supervision of an unarmed native policeman. A chain-gang without chains…

Because old habits die hard, the jail was always full. So there was always a waiting-list of sentenced offenders who had been sent home to their villages to await official recalls by the government radio station. The station was on the air three times a day – half an hour in each of English, French and Bislama, each time: news, followed by public announcements. “This message is for Henry Bong, believed to be (…!) on Malekula. Please meet the Motor Vessel Maskelyne at the jetty on Saturday morning. On arrival in Vila, report to the jail to commence your sentence. Also, Peter Vatu on Erromango, please meet the Maskelyne at about noon on Saturday –” [and so on until the half hour was up].

And, wonderfully, they all did report, unless they were severely sick or injured, or had a wedding to attend… I don’t remember what they did if they didn’t know where the jail was, when they got to Vila. Asked a policeman, I suppose.

Gordon Barlow Dec 8th 2021 8:33 pm

Re: Back in the Day
A few more words about our time in The New Hebrides during our time there in 1972-75 – “back in the day”… One of most interesting islands in the group was Tanna, famous for being the home of a strange local cult dedicated to the worship of a Messiah they called “John Frum”. The cult was invented (formed?) by a few local villages of unsophisticated native Melanesians as a way of explaining the appliances, cars and heavy machines, and the planes that carried them, brought into the islands by white invaders – specifically, American support troops during the Pacific War of 1941-45. It was reckoned that the name of the Messiah was actually “John From America”, but opinions differed. (It seems logical enough to me.)

With no possible concept of how those machines came into existence, the cult ascribed their presence to magic – pure and simple. Their former belief-system was abandoned as false (since it had failed to account for the machinery), and the villagers bent their minds to understanding how the magic worked. If they could discover the trick, they could conjure up the products without the intervention of any foreigners. This was the core of their religion.

When the Americans went away (promising to return, as Americans do) they left behind the fruits of their magic, which they had called “cargo”. The villagers tried to maintain the equipment, the way they had been taught. How hard could it be, after all? Of course they failed, and had ever since waited patiently for their man to return and disclose the magic formula. I’m told the cult still exists. In 1972 the village we visited had a mock airstrip and a mock plane, and the elders met every so often to check whether John had snuck up on them overnight.

As they learnt from the Christian missionaries, a few decades is not an unreasonably long time to wait for the return of a Messiah. Sigh…

Gordon Barlow Dec 16th 2021 6:26 pm

Re: Back in the Day
One of our adventures in Vila - if you could call it an adventure - was our modest contribution to tourism there. The place cost an arm and a leg to stay at a hotel, back in the early '70s, so no budget travellers went there at all - with only very rare exceptions. There was simply no middle ground between the hotels and sleeping in the wild. So after a trip to Bali, where there was a middle ground, Linda & I turned our backyard maids’ quarters (it came with the house; we didn't have a live-in maid) into a simple, informal hostel. We charged a buck a night (maybe $10 in today’s money) for a bed, toilet, coldwater shower & basin. No cooking facilities. The word spread gradually on the budget-travellers’ grapevine. Hey, it was worth flying into Vila after all; there was a place there that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Before then, Vila was just not on the backpackers’ list of places to go.

Embarrassingly, the situation was getting out of hand by the time we left. One night we had two in the tiny room, six in tents, and three in our house. That’s when we got rumbled for doing business without a licence. I fought the case, before it got to court. “Oh come on! A buck a night is a hobby, not a business! Sheesh!” The authorities saw the sense of that, and we were reasonably well-regarded people, so they let us continue raking in the dollars! The year before, Linda had taken pity on a couple of backpackers at the airport who were looking for a cheap place to stay, and brought them home to our flat for the night. By an absolute fluke, we had met the chap nine years before when we were doing our backpacking adventures in Europe, so they stayed for two or three nights. But that's another story. Later...

Gordon Barlow Dec 24th 2021 6:25 pm

Re: Back in the Day
Here's the follow-up to the reference in my last post, about the couple who came to Vila and the girl whom Linda had met years before. It's a "small world" story, and here it is now.

One day when I got home from work there, I found two strangers in the flat. Linda worked for a tour company at this time (1972), greeting each plane-load of visitors to the Island. This couple had asked her to recommend a cheap place to stay, but they were backpackers, and we had been backpackers once, so... (Those of you who have travelled will know what I mean.) Linda was hopping up and down and telling me she and the girl had discovered that they were at the same church retreat when they were fifteen, in Victoria, Australia. The husband's name rang a faint bell with me, so I got out my old address book containing the names of people I'd met during my travels through the Middle East and the Soviet bloc in 1964/5. And there he was: Bruce Stephenson, mother’s address in Canada, Thessaloniki, Greece, October 1964. “I don’t remember you”, I said, “but the book doesn’t lie”.

We thought about it, then, “Zorba the Greek!” Bruce cried. And so it was. That was a movie in the town cinema, in English with Greek sub-titles, and eight or ten of us foreigners from the hostel went to see it. It was a great movie, with some good laughs. We laughed at the funny lines a second before the locals did, which made them even funnier, we thought. Afterwards we sat around drinking coffee back at the hostel, and some of us exchanged names and addresses. “If you ever get to Canada...” - that sort of thing.

Next day, or the one after, I was ready to hit the road again, going east. I had already promised a lift to two fellows, each of whom stuffed an alarmingly large rucksack into my Beetle. Then some girl from the Zorba session asked if I had room for one more. Well, not really, but what can you do? The boys got out where they wanted, but over the next few months she and I drifted eastward, then westward, then north, then west again... After a certain amount of off-again on-again foolishness, we married in Toronto in 1967, and stayed married until she died two years ago.

Zorba the Greek” influenced my life in another way, too. We might not have been in the New Hebrides at all, except for the lure of Crete, where the movie had been filmed. Somebody on our travels had told us about the caves of Crete, which had become a hippy hangout. We were never hippies, but we were low-budget travellers, and living in caves on a Greek island with eccentrics like Zorba became part of the dream. In 1970, after three years in Nassau, Bahamas - underworked and overpaid - we decided we were rich enough to retire there. On the way, in Perth, Australia, Linda took a course on teaching English as a second language, and I taught myself how to make a fortune playing the stock market. What could go wrong? Well... At the same time as I was wondering what had gone wrong, a trust company in the New Hebrides was advertising for professional staff. I went there and did my thing, while Linda showed tourists around the island and met visitors off the planes.

We never did make it to the caves of Crete, and nor did Bruce and Pam. Somebody told me the hippies are still there, and good for them. In idle moments, I wonder if any of them ever got stoned for sexual misbehaviour like the widow in the movie. Linda and I got stoned in Egypt, once, not in the nice way; but that’s another story.

BEVS Dec 25th 2021 2:25 am

Re: Back in the Day
Evening from New Zealand Gordon.
I am just popping by here to wish you many Best Wishes.
I hope your festive season is filled full of cheer.

M 🎄

Gordon Barlow Dec 25th 2021 3:47 am

Re: Back in the Day
Thanks for the thought, M. Always lovely to hear from you. I don't think I ever knew that you lived in NZ. One of my favourite countries, with nicer people than most places. My wife's bridesmaid (1967) lives outside Auckland, and one of my flatmates in London (1963/4) lives in Christchurch. I've visited them both, but not for many years. Too late now to think of going there again, with all the Covid stupidity. Anyway, our son and his children all live in Norway, so that's always my first port of call. All the best to you.

Gordon Barlow Jan 2nd 2022 6:42 pm

Re: Back in the Day
In the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in the South Pacific, a pidgin called Bislama (from the French beche-de-mer, the sea-cucumber animal of the region) became the official language when political independence came in 1989. It was the lingua franca of the scattered islands before that. During our three years there in the 1970s we never mastered it. Shame on us, really, because it really didn’t need much mastering; it was the simplest pidgin imaginable. Basic English words strung together separated only by long and blong (= belong). Pretty much. We all made it up as we went along. It doesn’t seem to have developed much since we lived there, although the native politicians changed the spelling of words to disguise their English origins.

The national motto (Wikipedia says) is "Long God yumi stanap", which translates as “in God we stand”: yumi is “you-me”, and stanap is “stand-up”. I would have said “blong God” was more correct, but what do I know? Bambae is “soon” or “later”, a vaguely phonetic rendition of “by and by”. Olgeta is “everybody”, literally “all together”. And so on. Wonderful stuff!

Well, that’s what politicians tend to do, especially in artificial nations with no common language and no sense of the ridiculous. In other circumstances, the process works in reverse. One of Britain’s former Australian colonies has a city called Air Delight, named for a British Queen Consort. Fortunately, the original spelling, Adelaide (she was German, actually), has been retained. Thank God for small mercies.
The English language pops up in one form or another in unexpected places all over the world, as a by-product of Britain’s former trading empire. The Bay of Islands off Honduras is populated with families of early settlers from Cayman and Jamaica, as evidenced by the surnames; and they still speak English. Same thing on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. On the north coast of Panama, the black residents of Colon are descended from the diggers of the Canal, recruited from Jamaica and the eastern Caribbean islands. After Castro’s revolution, English-speaking residents of the southern islands of Cuba fled to Cayman, from where their ancestors had emigrated. (And what a smart move that was!)

What should amaze us, but doesn’t, is the fluency of English spoken by so many black people of African descent in the Caribbean and North America. It was the strict policy of slave-owners and traders to split up tribes, clans and families on their arrival in the New World, in order to minimise the danger of revolt. Pidgins and patois originated to provide means of communication between owners and slaves and among the slaves themselves. (They spell it “patwa” in Jamaica.) Nevertheless, most blacks in the US, for instance, speak standard English.

Trade is the most powerful of forces. The word pidgin is reckoned to be the closest the Chinese merchants of Canton could come to the English word business. (It’s plausible.) Pidgin is called creole in most languages other than English. In Haiti everybody speaks a French-based creole except the brown-skinned social elite. In Curacao, Papiamento is Portuguese-based. The best-known Dutch-based pidgin is Afrikaans – influenced by so many other tongues as to be almost a separate language today.

Almost. Chris, my flatmate in London all those years ago, spoke Afrikaans, and could be understood in the Flemish part of Belgium. Once, though, he narrowly escaped getting beaten up in a bar for speaking what the locals heard as mocking baby-talk. I guess sometimes, you just can’t win!

Gordon Barlow Jan 12th 2022 1:22 am

Re: Back in the Day
The New Hebs marked a major turning point in our lives – Linda’s and mine. It was there that we decided to have a baby, after seven years of marriage, and his birth in England heralded the end of our wanderings. Until then, we had been expats (Australian) in England, Canada, Bahamas and Australia. (Yes, we were expats in our old homeland. The old adage “You can’t ever go home again” really is true, as many expats have found!)

We had left Nassau (Bahamas) with almost enough money to retire to the caves of Crete. We had heard about the hippies who lived there – from the movie “Zorba the Greek” and fellow travelers we’d met along the way. Almost enough money…! Linda chose a school in Perth, Australia, to teach her how to teach English as a second language; and my job was to learn how to play the stock market well enough to top up the cash reserves as and when required. I won’t dwell on that disaster, and mention it only to explain why we were in the New Hebs working for a living the next year. Sigh.

Having restored the kitty, and thinking a baby wouldn’t change our plans, we packed up all our worldly possessions and put them on a boat for England. Well, not precisely, of course: there were no boats to England from the Islands. We have no idea how our gear got to England, but it did. We collected it from London three months later, having found a house in “The Lady” magazine that we could rent until the baby was born and a Kombi bought and converted into a mobile home.

Camping with a six-weeks-old baby wasn’t as much fun as we’d thought it would be. Some people can manage it; some of them have written about it on BE. We couldn’t. We got as far as southern Spain before exhaustion hit us. In Fuengirola, we parked the Kombi and spent the winter in a rented flat.

Showing more stubbornness than sense, we went on the road again in the spring. Via a brother-in-law’s flat in Italy, we got to Corfu before the exhaustion came down on us again. That was as close as we ever got to Crete. We retired to England, sold the Kombi, and rented a house in Bath near where my English grandfather had been born.

It took us a year to figure out what to do next and where to go next. I registered with an overseas-employment agency in London, and they found me a job in Cayman. We signed up for our customary three years, and never left. It proved to be a wonderful place for a young boy to grow up. At the end of three years I told my boss he couldn’t afford me any more, and retired to be our son's house-father from ages six till eleven. Linda kept working, and became a lawyer at the age of 70.

In the aftermath of the loss of Hong Kong to China in 2002 (if I have the year right), Britain gave all residents of her remaining territories full UK citizenship, and we three Barlows became British expats instead of Australian ones! Progress, eh? I let my Australian passport lapse, though Linda kept hers. I’m not sure if Ross still has his – maybe not. Anyway, he’s a Permanent Resident of Norway now, with three Norwegian children.

So. That’s the story – boring, probably, but it is what it is – of how the New Hebrides decision in 1974 changed our lives. We never did make it to the caves of Crete and the hippies who live there. I did my best to encourage Ross to explore the world, and he spent two or three years in hippie communities in Central and South America. He and a Norwegian girl lived in a treehouse overlooking Lake Atitlan for six months or more; I suppose he still owns the house, if it’s still there. He's 46 now, and unlikely ever to visit the caves of Crete! (Or to visit New Hebs, either, probably - although he really should do, on principle.)

It’s up to the grandchildren, now, to do their duty. I have to say things don’t look promising, but you never know…

BEVS Jan 12th 2022 1:29 am

Re: Back in the Day
It is not at all boring Gordon. It is very welcome.


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