IN THE CANDID CORNER: Royal cosmetics
We should not be found loitering on colonial turf after closing time. – Errol Walton Barrow
The visit of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Princess Sophie, Countess of Wessex, to the Caribbean on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II during her Diamond Jubilee year has taken place at an interesting time. In his speech to the joint sitting of Parliament, Prince Edward said the two of them were “poor substitutes”. As gracious hosts, we welcomed them both.
Visits to Barbados from members of the Royal Family have been perceived differently over the years.
I recall when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1966. I was in primary school at St Jude’s Mixed, as it was called back then. The principal and staff prepared us, as teachers always do. We were all armed with miniature flags and we were taught how to wave the flags as The Queen passed by in her vehicle.
I remember the occasion well. We assembled outside the school and proceeded in twos along Ashbury Plantation private road. In those days, private roads on plantations around the country were blocked off with a metal bar toward the end of the year. I recall a childhood story of a pillion rider who lost her life as her boyfriend rode into the iron bar. He ducked at the last minute to avoid the impact but his girlfriend’s neck was broken.
On November 30, 1966, we lined the highway between Ashbury and Golden Ridge as we awaited the appearance of Her Majesty’s vehicle. As loyal subjects on the verge of Independence, we waited as we looked and we looked as we waited. Clothed in our khaki uniforms and many of us barefooted, we stood two abreast as we looked eastward toward Four Roads, St John.
Suddenly, our gaze became blurred as a shower of rain, almost like a Royal outrider, drenched us, leaving us little time to seek shelter in an abandoned plantation building, the floor of which was carpeted with ashes of a kind used in the Ash Wednesday tradition. The barefooted among us acquired shoes instantly, though the wear was short-lived.
By the time the showers of “wetting” had passed, our teachers, themselves soaked, shouted: “She is coming! She is coming!” as the true outriders appeared. Before we knew it, the procession had disappeared into the west and all I remember seeing was a little white hand turning this way and that as we waved our flags in return. What for, we really did not understand at that time.
Now that we are all old enough to understand, the visit of a member of the Royal Family does not loom as large today as it did then.
Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, coordinator of activities for the visit, acknowledged that there might be rumblings among the public concerning the visit. As she put it, “we do what any good host would do”.
This is the kind of hospitality for which we are known and on which our stability as a tourist destination is built. In this regard, the usual visit to the “Royal cosmetique” is no embarrassment. Spending close to $1 million during a prolonged recession is quite fine. No problem!
I am elated that Prince Cave Hall got a new sign. The picture of new drapes arriving was refreshing.
The outside also received a facelift. At the “new” Kensington Oval there was still a need to add facilities in spite of the amount of money spent on it for Cricket World Cup 2007; yet, it is still not “fit for Royalty”. The minister added that for the joint sitting of Parliament in the Senate Chamber, cosmetic work was carried out and some roads were resurfaced.
Talking about roads, I regret that the road linking Brighton Plantation yard and the junction going south to Dayrells Hill was not part of the route of the Royal visit.
Maybe Prince Edward and Princess Sophie could have been brought cross-country on to Colonel Wilkinson’s lion at Gun Hill or to the cane breeding station at Groves. In that way, the work on Middleton Road being carried out by a Ministry of Transport and Works team since last summer would have been speeded up.
On the issue of connecting, Minister, cosmetics or no cosmetics, I agree that “there is a generation that does not connect with the British Royalty in the same way that our parents and grandparents would”.
But, Minister, that is also the case in Britain because the Royal Family is seen by many as a drain on the treasury and this evokes some hostility toward Queen Elizabeth, who remains our dear Head of State in spite of 45 years of nationhood.
So by the time my grandchildren come along, given the generational disconnect with the Royal Family, we will have to find other reasons for sprucing up our edifices and paving our roads. And when we put our best foot forward, it will be for more deep-seated reasons, not just cosmetics of the Royal kind!
I trust their Royal Highnesses enjoyed their visit to Bim as they grapple with the changing reality of Royalty.