MONDAY MAN: Brit’s heart is in Barbados
FRANK BLEACH’S FACE is illuminated with a broad smile every time he speaks about his love for Barbados.
He arrived in Independence Square, The City, wearing khaki shorts and a bright yellow polo shirt. A cap on his head bore the name “Barbados”, a beaded chain in the colours of the National Flag hung around his neck, and a 50th anniversary badge was pinned on his left bust.
He isn’t Barbadian by birth and has no familial ties here, but that hasn’t daunted a love affair with the island that has spanned over the course of 41 trips. Or, as Bleach is sure to emphasise, “42 [times] if you count that one time I landed in Barbados on my way to a day trip to St Lucia”.
“In England they call me Barbados or Bajan,” the septuagenarian said, laughing.
Bleach couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly what attracted him to the island so much.
It could be the corn meal cou cou and flying fish of which he spoke glowingly. Even the cow heel or chicken steppers soup that he cannot go without. Maybe, it’s the local sweetbread that he always takes back to England to his friends, “or else”.
Whatever the Brit’s reason, his love for Barbados is so permanent that he has two Broken Tridents tattooed on each of his ankles.
“I just don’t know; I think it is the people [and] the fact that I feel safe,” he told the DAILY NATION.
His first trip was back in 2000 with his now former wife. And after that initial introduction, he returned in 2004, then again in November of 2005, then in February as well as November in 2006. Soon it became a habit for him to fly here twice a year and when he retired in 2009, his visits increased to four times annually.
A resident of south-east London, Bleach spent about 35 years working as a motor vehicle technician and later in the parts department of the same company. In 1995, when he was made redundant, he moved on to work in another establishment for 15 years before he reached the age of retirement. After that point and a divorce, and with a desire to return to the island, Bleach sold his home to instead rent a flat and used some of his pension to finance his trips.
Bleach boasted that he has been to every corner of Barbados and many places therein, so much so that, according to him, “a lot of Bajans ask me for directions to get to places”.
“Even though I’ve been here so many times and been to so many different places, each time I return it seems that I find something new. The day before I came here I thought I would do something different and I went up to the airport in a [route taxi] because it goes a different route to the Sam Lord’s bus – and I got a Yorkshire bus. I can get anywhere on the island.”
One of his special places to visit is River Bay, St Lucy. However, of late these trips have been cut short because of his medical issues. With a bubbly personality, Bleach revealed that they have taken a little pep out of his step.
“I used to like going up River Bay cliffs. I would get off at River Bay and I would walk right up to the incline and go to the old abandoned hotel. Then I would walk back but I can’t do it right now because I have a lung problem and so I get out of breath,” he explained.
As a result of his condition and limited finances, Bleach knows he cannot travel forever, but he still plans to continue to come to Barbados until, as he put it, “whichever one runs out first”.
“My glass is half-full, never half-empty, and I just look at life positively. This may be my last trip – you never know – [but] I think if you are going to live life scared, you might as well not live at all.
“When I get back [to England] I have to get some tests and if they put me on medication, I won’t be able to leave for three months because I have to be monitored every week and that would hopefully stabilise it. I understand I will never get better and it [my health] might gradually decline; improvement would call for new lungs. Therefore, it can only get worse and it is best to hope it [condition] remains stable, but why should I let that stop me from living?” he asked.
He has not let his current situation dishearten him, however. Instead, he has already booked a flight to return in July for the Crop Over Festival and has resolved to partake in the celebrations.
“I’ve done Foreday Morning five times. I did it last year but I only walked along Spring Garden and told the others I have to stop now and walk back slowly,” Bleach recalled.
“I’m making the most of it. I don’t give up. I can’t walk as far but I do it. To me Barbados is just perfect and the people are friendly.
“People often ask me why I don’t go somewhere else, but I won’t know anyone. I wouldn’t want to go on my own because I’m getting very old now but here I know where I am. I’ve got loads of friends, both Bajans and some tourists from Canada, and I love it here. Yes, there is crime so obviously you don’t go silly places, but I’m a definite fan of Barbados,” he added. (SDB Media)