From the bed in my new house I can look straight out to sea through open doors without moving a limb or craning my neck. I’m on a level with the ocean and I’m watching the sky streak pink and darken as I write. I realise it’s getting dark later, in the month I’ve been here. The Cookie frog’s singing ‘coo-kie. coo-kie’. Just returned from an end of the day stroll on the beach below with the dogs. The beach is called ‘Lava Flow’ and there is indeed a stretch of porous rock that looks just like the black lava fields of Iceland, except this rock has tiny stripy shells embedded in its bubbly holes.

‘Lava Flow’ is just one of the many bays around this 21 square miles of island, they have evocative names that suggest natural phenomena or historical narratives: Trunk Bay (‘Trunk’ is turtle, it’s where they come up and lay their eggs), Shark Bay (speaks for itself) Carrot Bay, Cooten, Josiah’s, Fat Hogs, Paraquita, Fish, Sea Cow, Cane Garden,  Apple Bay, then Smugglers Cove, Soper’s Hole, Frenchman’s Cay and Nanny Cay. Trunk Bay, where I am, is private land that’s been sold off in exclusive pieces. The plan, eventually I’m told, is for a gated community. To me, this smacks of segregation, people living behind walls and intercoms…you build walls to keep people out but walls also keep you in and breed paranoia and mistrust.

Three large black dogs are my newly adopted family that come with the house-sit. There’s Ralph, leader of the pack, top dog, with his swaggering rolling gait and way of leaning right into me for affection and howling at me if he doesn’t get any. A typical Caribbean guy. Then Frankie, his half-brother and partner in crime, rather more handsome but doesn’t have Ralph’s charisma. Gertie’s Ralph’s mother and Frankie’s sister, she hangs back when we’re out walking and is always last at the dinner bowl. Ralph, half as big as her again, an overgrown puppy, expresses his ferocious love for  her by barging into her violently, taking her neck into his jaws and growling at her face. He reminds me of my son. They take themselves to the beach every morning and pretty much spend the day there, frolicking in the surf, you can see them from the headland high above, three black spots on a white beach. They only return home for dinner. What a life. They sleep on the terrace outside my room every night and when I open up the doors and step out into the morning I’m slobbered with wet kisses. I feel very safe with the pack guarding the house which stands open to the elements 24/7.

The house overhangs the bay, the Atlantic Ocean pounds the rocks all night and day. When the bigger waves build up they make big booms and the house shudders and shakes. My heart is racing at a different rate. The pounding waves are in my head, my stomach. Cannot sleep. Like being in a boat at sea, no calm, no respite. Turns out the house is built over a cave, which explains the BOOM. It reminds me of the ‘blowhole’ at Boscastle harbour in Cornwall. My room at Good Moon Farm was incredibly tranquil, this is like being thrown into the Perfect Storm. The waves erode your calm, they keep on coming and batter you into submission. on rough nights I resort to earplugs for a tiny bit of inner peace.

I reckon I could make house-sitting out here a lifestyle. There’s a lot of comings and goings, people need their houses taken care of in their absence. I could ‘sit’ those houses indefinitely. Maybe.

I did another couple of drawing workshops on the beach. We documented the afternoon session with time lapse photography, with really interesting results: a whole time based process is compressed into a minute or so. A drawing emerges from nothing, that’s the magic, the hidden process behind the end product, what you don’t usually get to see. In the frame you see the drawing and the model, and behind, the movements of the beach. Now and again my hand comes into view offering instruction. In other sequences I’m flitting around from student to student, suggesting poses next to the model, managing the group, making demonstrations…I’ve never seen myself ‘teach’ before, fascinating.

People are saying, ‘Oh I hadn’t realised you’re only here for a short time now, that you’ve only got a couple of weeks left’. Please don’t remind me. There comes that point in a trip when you’re over halfway through and your thoughts turn to home after having so successfully ‘switched off’. At the start of a trip endless time seems to stretch before you, then seems to catch up with you until you’re counting the days and each one becomes so very precious. I’ve only a short time left on the island to make an impact. Already I’m ‘famous’…every person I meet says ‘Oh you’re that visiting artist from London doing drawing workshops’ There’s a lot to be said for being a big fish in a small pond…

So to up the anti, I did some live painting on the beach last night at the Full Moon Party. Salvaged some old bits of ‘4 by 2’ plywood, white washed them and set up on upturned chairs for makeshift easels. There were three of us, all women, we planned more of a collaboration but in the event just got so absorbed by our own stuff we ended up with three entirely individual pieces. Actually, Petra, a Berlin based artist I met just a few days ago, and who needed no encouragement to take part, produced 3 dynamic landscapes in broad washes in quick succession, recognisably the pyramid hills with their higgledy piggledy shacks and structures of  Tortola. In fact she has large abstracted paintings of Tortola all over the walls of her Berlin apartment: azure seas and lime palm trees hang over old leather sofas and polished wooden floor and jostle for space with bold line drawings of the Reichstag. Great culture clash.

It was the most fun I’ve had with a paintbrush for a long time. Well, since we painted the beach huts on the South Bank, which was similarly in public, but not at night under the full moon with a ragga band playing and four fire balls alight and spitting sparks into the wind. Not to mention the drunken hoardes. A couple of  ‘Dark and Stormy’ cocktails helped things along and three hours later I’d produced something pseudo Basquiat: cavorting female forms, a bit of Caribbean colour…vaguely reminiscent of my work but through the filter of strong rum and show(wo)manship. I mostly ignored the bizarre feedback I got all night, people asking (very politely): what style of art was I making? and: what was I ‘trying’ to do here? and: what’s the message??

One guy suggested we were all on mushrooms and having a psychedelic experience. Natural highs, I assured him.

Which reminds me of the psychedelic cat story I heard yesterday:

Cats freak out when they eat lizards. Apparently lizards eat some kind of poisonous plant and when they, in turn, are consumed by cats it has a hallucinogenic effect. So you see cats around here all wild eyed, spitting and tensing up. Presumably they enjoy the effect because cats eat lizards regularly.

Loving the random people this island throws up: it’s a transient kind of place, people pass through, you never know who you’re going to meet next and because there’s the Caribbean ‘easy’ vibe people do connect up. The small scale of the place means people are in close proximity, you could be standing next to anyone at the bar, a multi millionaire, Richard Branson’s PA,  an owner of an airline…or a beach bum fugitive, because everyone’s in shorts, Tshirts and flip flops.

One of the coolest person I’ve met yet is a Belgium woman who jumped a boat from St Martin. We saw her at The Last Resort the other night. She sings like a dark angel, Portishead covers, whilst strumming a ukelele held high on her chest…a troubadour. She lives in a caravan in Belgium and has recently made a study of urban fox behaviour in London, our confrontation with The Wild…we promised each other we’d come back for the winter.

The ‘Last Resort’ is a one acre island and restaurant that sits in the middle of Trellis bay. It is legendary for its raucous nights…we decided to uphold the tradition on Friday night with seriously competitive table football (never play an Italian woman – they are unbeatable). After the tourists ‘go home’ ie back to their boats by 11pm (boating people like to make an early morning start) it becomes a ‘after hours lock-in’ with unlimited access to a well stocked bar and music selection. At the end of the night you all pile into a drunken overloaded boat with serious steering problems, veering and teetering back across the bay between moored boats and pray you make it…

I now have the use of a jeep; scary but fun. Big stonky ‘tractor’ wheels on rough tracks, gradients so steep I can hardly see over the bonnet as we go up, up, over the brow of an unexpected hill then down at an impossible angle, riding the brakes to the scent of burning rubber. I just have to get to know the roads now, remember to stay on the left, (even though they’re left hand drive cars so the passenger always has the unnerving experience of facing the oncoming traffic) and the hairpin bends and enormous potholes that threaten to kill the suspension and shake up your vital organs. I can drive myself round the island, queen of the road, local radio jabbering away exuberantly announcing the high of 80 degrees, the wind and surf stats, before deliciously smooth reggae harmonies ease me down to the nearest beach:

‘Strengthen your mind…we’re living in ser-ious times…myst-er-ious times – we’re living in ser-ious times…’

Nice.

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