JUST LIKE IT IS: Diplomatic memories
By Peter Simmons | Sun, April 15, 2012 - 12:00 AM
I have always considered those who claim that what they write or say is totally objective and free of any subjective influences as visitors from outer space.
In the real world which normal human beings inhabit we are all influenced by the vast variety of factors and nuances impinging on us daily.
My life story is one of forgiving, but never forgetting to remember.
My writings on the Trayvon Martin affair and the police action against the St Vincent and Grenadines Ambassador to the United Nations showcased police ineptitude, institutional racism and racial profiling, facts of life not unfamiliar to me.
These factors grounded a bruising encounter on a West London street between myself and three passengers in my car with the British police in 1969.
It is seared indelibly in my mind but did not merit adverting to 43 years on.
Indeed, when offered a choice of diplomatic postings by the Prime Minister in 1994, I opted for the Court of St James. On my first meeting with Foreign Office officials they told me they knew of my unfortunate run-in with the police and would do everything to ensure it was not repeated.
And it was not. Indeed, one of the most striking features of my last tour of duty was that, whereas in my earlier stint in London (1966-1970) every Monday morning nationals came into the High Commission reporting negative police activity, in the last stint of eight years, I only knew of two reports.
Furthermore, there were two Barbadians in the Metropolitan Police in senior positions, one who grew up in Farm Road, St Philip, in charge of the large Richmond area which covered the official residence. When I left London in 1970, if anyone had told me a black man would rise to that position I would have told them to go fly a kite.
Far from a number of grim experiences in earlier times, a number of new experiences enriched my last posting. On my first visit to Downing Street to call on Prime Minister John Major, I wore my Garry Sobers tie. It attracted his attention and he told of his colossal admiration of the great man.
When I handed over one of our best aged rums and one of the same ties, he was overwhelmed, warning it would make some colleagues jealous. I was delighted watching Question Time the following Tuesday to see him wearing it in the Commons.
He reciprocated by inviting me to the first day of the England/West Indies Test match at the Oval, his home ground. When I expressed surprise that he was missing the weekly Cabinet meeting, he reassured me his priorities were right. He was delighted to also invite Wes Hall and Sir Everton Weekes to lunch.
Cricket runs deep in the veins of many Englishmen. Looking for a school for my teenaged son, the nearby Hampton School was highly recommended when the residence was in Thames Ditton. I wore a Sobers tie to the interview with the headmaster, Dr Able, who looked at it intently and asked with joyful curiosity if it was what he thought.
Confirming his suspicion, he told me that going up to Oxford his tutor had a picture turned away from him on a shelf and informed him it was a picture of the greatest batsman who ever played the game, naming Grace, Bradman and Sobers. He answered Sobers and was told he was in.
A young cricket buff, he had an outstanding Oxford career. He became very fond of my son, Peter-Che, who when told he was going on holiday in Mauritius asked why not cricket-famous Barbados. Saying it was too expensive, Peter-Che told him he would have a word with me. I got him a top West Coast hotel at a special rate and happiness was assured.
He said on his return it was their best ever holiday. The highlight was visiting Kensington Oval where he met Sir Everton and Seymour Nurse. Hampton signed on to the Garry Sobers Tournament and on moving to Dulwich College that school also joined. He continues to offer some of our teenaged cricketers scholarships at the prestigious school and they do us proud.
A head of mission’s family can play key supporting roles. After a Trooping The Colour parade, Prime Minister Blair invited my wife and me back to 10 Downing Street for cocktails. Hearing from Mrs Blair that they had holidayed on an island off the African east coast, my wife asked if they had considered a Barbados holiday.
She thought Barbados’ profile too high but promised to discuss it. The rest is history and evoked a comment from the prime minister that he could not work out in his mind how I could leave paradise to live and work in cold, dreary London.
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