I made a really bad water colour painting of a palm tree today. So I’m wondering – am I an artist who needs my ‘edge’? What happens to your work if you find yourself living somewhere with too much pleasure and you get too mellow and soft…all your rough edges smoothed down. You find yourself painting something pleasurable instead of angst-ridden…or is that just a dreadful cliche, am I usually just digging myself out of the ‘hole’, seeking some sanity, in the madness of Modern Existence? This is a problem for an artist who situates themselves in a contemporary context. Where’s the edge? What’s the concept? Does any of that stuff even matter now I’m so relaxed?

You’re getting so relaxed your mind’s slowly turning to marshmallow, and I’m wondering if that’s an entirely good sensation. The whole notion of relaxing…’unwinding’ is an interesting one. I can avoid mass media immersion here. Sure, you can check out slices of news on the Net, big stories you really should know about…but really don’t need to know about. The drip drip drip of stress that works its darkness upon you until you find you’re carrying the weight of the world’s troubles on your back, your shoulders, your neck…

I try to imagine living here year round…if you slow down to island time, where does your motivation come from? A kind of fuzziness takes hold in the sun in the sea…slip into easeful sleep, a pleasant numbness. The crashing waves create a backing rhythm for life on the island. It might be a small land mass but the ocean, the world is out there, surrounded by wide horizons wherever you go on the island. So you have this sense of being ‘away from it all’, being unreachable, out of reach that is of the strangling tentacles of modern urban life.

‘Man is embedded in nature…not as removed as we think.’ (Lewis Thomas ‘Life of a Cell’) Nature immersion. The consolation of nature. Restorative nature. A hermit crab slowly struts sideways across the patio in its borrowed conical shell. They’re also called soldier crabs because on certain moons these crabs all gather together in ‘armies’ down on the beach and swop shells they’ve outgrown. They’ve been known to ‘borrow’ other vessels too – empty black plastic film canisters for example.

When I was first here in 1990 I stayed for 4 or 5 months up in the bush in a yellow and white wooden shack. There were 7 of us squashed in there at one time. Six (male) surfers and me. It was…interesting and intense. It was also very basic. No cooker, so we slow cooked on coal pots every evening. Dinner would take about three hours. We could only take two minute ‘boat showers’ as the water supply was reliant on rainfall. Bush rats ran along the rafters. The toilet was down the hill, a raised box over a stinking hole with a particularly lethal ‘Jack Spanial’ wasps nest above your head. But it had fantastic views…

Anyway, there wasn’t much to do of an evening apart from watch our sweet potatoes and plantains slow-cook so we made our own giant chess set. The board was a painted concrete slab and all the pieces were various sized and shaped shells, from Pawn to Queen, a set of each painted black and white. Problem was the hermit crabs would come up during the night and steal the shells…next morning an ongoing chess game had radically re-arranged itself and there would be jet black or gleaming white painted shells scuttling around the ground and away into the bush. It was a brilliant example of nature’s chaos…and order.

It was also mosquito heaven up there, as we were surrounded by salt ponds. The first two weeks were a baptism of fire – absolute misery. I couldn’t see my skin for the livid red lumps that itched like hell. Aloe vera cactus grew everywhere, that magical ingredient in every commercial skin care product, so we ‘d slice open the tough prickly skin to get to the jelly inside and smear it all over our bites. I even tried it on my hair as a sticky conditioner, I remember it was very hard to wash out. When they package aloe vera for the beauty industry they must put it through a major purifying process because the stuff stinks. If people experienced it in its raw state, a stinking green jelly, it would not be quite so desirable as those pretty illustrations of green fingered aloe on white plastic shampoo bottles.

We go on a hike to see an old ruined plantation house in the woods – vines and creepers hung in shreds from the treetops to the ground like fine electric cables in old buildings spilling their guts. ‘Monkey Don’t Climb’ trees, their slender trunks covered in vicious barbs. Almond shells littered the ground.  So still and quiet, hushed like a long forgotten theatre set, our voices echoing. Great lumps of coral embedded in the brick and stone walls, all covered in sludgy green mould. A rusty cannon embedded in the sand at the edge, where beach meets bush.One of the very few relics of the slave era –  ghosts of the past, hidden away behind the beach and away from the light of day – a secret, beautiful but troubling place. It keeps its secrets close.

We go off on an adventure to Brewers Bay (a givewaway reference to the former slave-rum industry here) on a mission to collect a special curved vine for basket weaving. Shilo, the guy who lives on the land, had invited Aragorn to bring Drake and George, a Rasta basket weaver from St Vincent, to collect the vines. We veer away from the bay and inland to a fertile piece of land deep in the bush, it has one of the few running rivers on the island – a trickle of a stream but a welcome sight. So we follow a badly deteriorated track, the truck virtually cutting through the undergrowth, foliage whipped across my face through the open window. When we finally arrive in the clearing it’s apparent something’s wrong – the place is covered in garbage and no one’s home. We check out Shilo’s living quarters – a derelict ruin of an old rum distillery complete with the original huge cast iron ‘copper’ once used to melt the sugar. The sugar cane was once all hauled down from above, old stone walls demarked the former industrial buildings.

Where Shilo used to sleep was now a garbage pile of white polystyrene food containers – they are everywhere – a horrible sight in the midst of lush green palms and mature fruit trees of pineapple, citrus and passion fruit. The place is completely abandoned, been left to rot – an old mattress, mildewy clothes piled up on the ground, discarded. Looks like he hasn’t stayed here for a long long time. Or rather, nature here swallows up everything so fast, if you stop hacking away at it and clearing the bush, it will consume all remnants of human endeavour. It is a sad sight. The guy is obviously in a state of dreadful decline – alcohol and drugs fueling his despair, his fruit trees choking under the vines.

While the other guys go in search of their vines and get to work with machetes, we climb the hill to rescue what fruit we can find and fill a big basket with knobbly, thick skinned but wonderfully fragrant green and yellow lemons. One of the guys climbs the tree and shakes it free from the strangling vines, the heavy fruit falls to the ground, soft landing, and we scoop them all up in our T.shirts. We fill half a sackful of tangerines, the springy branches have to be pressed right down to pluck the small fruits from the tree, we find a couple of grapefruit and then a dozen passionfruit, large hard yellow ovoids, like mythical golden eggs, already fallen from their vines.

Just as we were walk back to the truck, Shilo arrives with the roaring of engine and screeching of brakes. He is off his face, yelling and cussing out of the window, then goes to ram our truck out of the way. It’s a really hairy situation – I get down behind the truck as the other guys tried to calm him – as far as I know he could have a gun. I know there’s a crack problem here that can cause this out of control aggression, there are the occasional shootings, no more than anywhere else proportionate to a population this size, but, again, on an island everything’s magnified, the only way out is across the sea – the repercussions are directly felt.

It takes a good twenty minutes for Shilo’s rage to begin to dissipate. I know instinctively what this is about, it not about us being on his land without permission – or even taking his fruit – he’s so far gone he probably wasn’t aware of even having a lemon tree…the fruit would have rotted on the vine or the ground. It’s his humiliation at our having witnessed his degradation. Shilo and Aragorn had been good friends for many years, he’d even been Best Man at their wedding in Dominica. Now in his late 50’s he’d succumbed to alcohol and crack – he was on the way down and prospects didn’t look good. Maybe it was loneliness – up here in this remote spot all alone for years. Maybe it was the dark shadow of living with the ghosts of slaves toiling in the rum distillery that drove him to madness. Nothing made any sense.

After some futile placatory words, we made our way out of there quickly, picking up the other guys on the way through, machetes still in hand by their sides, with a whole truckload of thick curly vines for the baskets. We had a lot of bounty but it left a bitter taste in the mouth. Trouble in paradise indeed.

There are plenty of churches here if people are looking to be ‘saved’ from the evils of addiction, around 52 of them, of every denomination. They compete fiercely for their congregations. On Sundays there are traffic jams of people in their Sunday Best trying to get to church all over the island.

On the local radio, after the weather and dollar rates, a deep sombre voice speaks the obituaries over funereal organ music, each one a long long list of all those who have ‘survived’ The Deceased. For an old man with children and many grandchildren this can last for five long morbid minutes, including all the cousins, in-laws even godparents/godchildren, plus their current locations – St Thomas, Puerto Rico, St Croix, and all over The States…even more bizarre when inter-cut with jaunty adverts for local business with cheesy straplines, like this one for tyres:

‘Remember – everything’s riding on it…’

When I first came to this island in 1990, Roadtown was one road and a few buildings – to call it a town was stretching it a bit. Now they have traffic lights, roundabouts, even the odd traffic cop. And traffic jams. There are vibrantly coloured Caribbean style houses dotted around with corrugated roofs and carved verandas called things like ‘Sunny Caribbee’. And there are banks. Lots of banks.

There’s another island far away where the name ‘Roadtown’ suddenly became a place everyone wanted to know about. That island is Iceland and Roadtown, so they say, is where all the ‘Icesave’ money ended up when their currency crashed a few years ago. I had the surreal experience of being one of the very few (only?) people in Reykjavik who could describe ‘Roadtown’ when it appeared on the front page of the national newspaper. That day in Reykjavik the snow was falling thick and fast, it was still dark at 11am. And their money was in the ‘Sunny Caribbee’…

Anyway, back to Roadtown. We were on a mission to check out the local gift shops for original crafts for the Caribbean Craft Festival in March. They’re all open because a cruise ship had come to town. A ship that from certain angles seems bigger than the whole of Roadtown, and carrying over 4000 passengers increases the town’s population by about half again. It’s enormous. Like Manhatten pulling up for the day.

But business is very very slow. No one’s buying. I eye what’s on offer. Ah yes. Bags from Equador. Juggling balls from Guatemala. All kinds of Rasta stuff in red, yellow and green. The Rasta ‘brand’ is worldwide, I’ve seen Rasta stuff all over India, Nepal, The Philippines, Morrocco… Everyone adopts it as their own, but here in the Caribbean, Rastafarians themselves often had a very uncomfortable relationship with the authorities and immigration here used to take a stern approach to ‘dreadlock soldiers’.

There are also plenty of shell boxes from China. Those small heart shaped shell boxes – they sell them on Southend seafront! All the stuff you see anywhere in the world. The stuff that’s flooded the ‘artisan’ markets in every tourist zone on the planet. There’s no such thing as ‘local’ anymore.

Or is there? Yes. If you look closely, through all the kitsch tourist crap, you’ll see gorgeous rag-rugs in myriad colours, children’s linen dresses painstakingly hand embroidered, characterful brown cloth dolls wearing African prints, beautiful hand-woven softest of straw hats, all made by elderly ladies in the east end of the island. They say they’re the best straw hats in the Caribbean. But no one wants to buy them. For two reasons: no one appreciates the work and unique quality of a truly skilled hand-crafted item, and even if they did they’d be unwilling to pay a fair price for it. Aragorn stays and chats for a while, they’ve all known him since he was a boy. He’s trying to get them involved in the Crafts Festival but they’re tired, they’re resigned. These ladies, strong matriarchs all, are the last of their kind, these fine honed skills will die with them. It’s a depressing scenario.

The cruise ship tourists, the walking dead, wander around in a passive daze, they only get animated when a chicken arrives with her brood of 5 chicks, everybody stops to watch and are aghast when the cock stamps on one of the chicks who gets in the way of its food..one of the Tortola ladies shushes it away with her broom and cusses it ‘wicked ‘ol man’ to much hilarity. Tourists love chickens. We’re all reminded of how something ‘live’ has to happen to stimulate response and curiosity – this passive waiting to sell and passive looking reduces everyone involved. If there were demonstrations of craft going on people may well get curious enough to buy. But the Culture Department are clueless and seem happy for the sad situation to continue – there’s no funding or support or even encouragement for these crafts skills..

We have to go to Duff’s Bottom Department Store to get some basics. It’s essentially a large warehouse full of cheap goods. Expensive cheap goods. It sells similar stuff to the Pound store or Factory shop back home. Over the entrance is a large sign that reads:

LOOK WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE

Which is about as ambiguous as it gets.

Then, when you’re inside, a load of other loud red signs greet you:

NO EATING

NO DRINKING

NO SMOKING

NO PLAYING

and then

KEEP CHILDREN

UNDER CONTROL

 AT ALL TIMES

Finally, at the checkout:

ALL SALES ARE FINAL

NO RETURNS

NO REFUNDS

NO EXCHANGE 

The store is run on hard line lines, evidently. I’m not surprised to see the place is empty. No music, only the pulsing roar and rattle of the air-conditioning unit.

You can tell a lot about a place by the basic products it stocks. There are two whole aisles devoted to fake flowers, in a variety of shocking colours. There are large resin pineapples in dirty yellow and brown, arranged in clusters that sound more attractive than they actually are. China swans in pairs. China angels with glitter and more fake flowers. Rows and rows of thick brightly coloured quilts and sleeping bags in clear plastic . On an island where the temperature never falls below 70 degrees. But most confusing of all – small bags of shells from China for $2.95. The exact same shells that can be found on the beaches just minutes from here. Transported thousands of miles from China. Maybe they were exported from here to there and back again. That’s globalisation for you. Utter madness. Its the same everywhere, I know, it’s just a small island is such a microcosm of  ‘the way it is’ and you notice it all the more because its repercussions are so immediately felt. Like ripples in a saucer.

I buy a tube of toothpaste. This purchase is processed at one counter, then passed along to a booth where another lady takes my money from behind a wire mesh screen and writes out a receipt. It’s a serious transaction and it takes time. We’re on ‘island time’, there’s no hurry.

As we drive back up the hill I see a bunch of young guys hanging around on ‘jobless corner’, they wait there to be picked up for construction work, but they look like they’re just hanging out, totally chilled, no one looked in work mode…it was nearly 4pm in the afternoon after all.

Whenever we drive round the island you have to allow for all the unscheduled stops to hail people. Everyone has to be hailed, greeted, the time of day passed. With Aragorn this is usually about the state of their gardens, what they’re growing, if they want to exchange any crops or seeds or cuttings. If anyone has any fish or lobster to sell. Or breadfruit. He lapses into patois as the conversation demands, it’s pure theatre.

Back up in the hills we drop in on various people from time to time, most of whom are engaged in grand building projects – dream houses for some. One place looks like a stark modern art gallery, all polished concrete floors and tall white rectangles. They have cowhide rugs and an antique metal bath that stands in a large almost-empty room next to a floor to ceiling window with stunning views out to the ocean. It’s all a bit rock n roll. Others go for Spanish hacienda style, some for the traditional Caribbean tall triangular corrugated steel roof on a square wooden villa. ‘The Downturn’ doesn’t seem to have hit here very hard…yet.

We’re planning a live drawing event in Trellis bay where the shop/studio/gallery  is – they have an outdoor stage on the beach  which is perfect for some ‘live models’. We’ve put an advert in the local paper using one of my drawings, a strong woman in a bikini flying diagonally off a trapeze. It causes a (slightly hysterical) laugh at the newspaper’s small office when we drop by, they love it and say it will definitely cause quite a stir…I’m leading the series of workshops, as the advert says: ‘Led by visiting London artist’  – which makes me sound a bit of a star and is all very exciting.

Trellis Bay is a great little spot just beyond the airstrip on Beef Island, joined to Tortola by a bridge. It’s grown ‘organically’ over the years I’ve been coming here and now incorporates a collection of more or less ‘raggamuffin’ shacks a couple of  thatched roof shops, a cyber cafe, a bar, ceramics workshop and gallery. Plus any number of hammocks, sculptures, a giant fishing net strung between the palm trees which serves as an impromptu trampoline of sorts, fantastical metal structures and all manner of random flotsam and jetsom. Washed up people too. The place does attract an international variety of waifs and strays. Just the other day, a Chinese girl turned up saying she was on her last dollar, she’s heard she could get work and a place to stay. Aragorn’s altruistic reputation precedes him but it’s a tricky line to tread. However, right now he does have an American Ukranian couple living in his sail loft with two small ‘fairy’ children. It’s unclear exactly what they’re offering in return but it’s always good to have extra hands around to mind the shop, beat metal sculptures and deliver the vegetable orders.

The star attraction in the bay is the Carib dug out canoe ‘Gli Gli’ built in Dominica in 1995, an Anglo-Carib collaboration. The Caribs being the indigenous people of this region, descended from the very few left after the Spanish massacres. The boat’s built from a single tree using, as far as possible, ancient Carib techniques, it’s 35 foot long and very very heavy. It has a bamboo boom and a hand-painted canvas sail. They sailed it down island all the way to Guyana, an epic journey, making links with other ‘lost’ Carib communities as they went. There’s even a BBC documentary about it.

Last time I was out here, 12 years ago, I helped re-paint its spiral design and then we took it out on Christmas Day which was slightly terrifying but exhilarating. It got a bit stormy…my small son Leo, 5 years old at the time, had to be strongly persuaded to come on board, the thing looked so cumbersome and unstable, but there he was, swamped by his too-large yellow life jacket, long blonde hair whipping in the wind, face a mixture of pure joy and blind terror. Then we saw a double rainbow up ahead and he looked up at me, eyes shining, and yelled

‘This is the best day of my life!’

This island is 12 miles long, 5 miles wide, and rises to 1700 ft in its interior. I’m staying in Aragorn’s house on Good Moon Farm. Aragorn, by his own description, is a sculptor, potter, designer, farmer, fisherman…and a good friend I’ve known for 25 years. We met in Norwich all that time ago – the anecdote is worth telling:

I was idly making drawings on paper all over the floor in my front room – I saw someone walk by the bay window out of the corner of my eye…then a moment later, come back again. Next thing, the doorbell goes. I open the door to a pretty young guy with black ringlets in a Charge of the Light Brigade jacket. He says:

‘uhm, can I come in and see your drawings?’

He puts me in mind of the Little Prince in the famous St Exupery story when he asks the pilot to ‘draw me a sheep’. Something absurdly naive about him. I’m pretty taken aback but he looks harmless enough and I’ve still got my travel head on, having recently returned from a year in Asia, so I’m ‘open to the new’. So he comes in and spends the afternoon and tells me all about his ‘partner in crime’ Aragorn, who’s from the Caribbean. So I’m imagining a gay black guy…when I finally get to meet the mythical Aragorn he’s a small impish white guy with long unkempt blonde hair. Caribbean born and bred. But not gay. The guy at the door, DN, disappeared to a Buddhist monastery in Lockerbie for years but Aragorn and I and the rest of our ex-Norwich ‘tribe’ have always stayed in touch.

He lives here with Feddi his Italian wife (who he likes to say he ‘pirated’ off a passing boat many moons ago) and their two boys Zanti and Ceiba. I’m happy to say I’m Ceiba’s god(dess)mother and therefore very definitely have the right to be here…

The house is high up in the hills and looks out over the Caribbean sea through dense vegetation. The large terrace is cut to fit round a big old mango tree. The rest of the house is an eclectic hybrid of Caribbean, Mexican, Ottoman…a concrete dome rises from the top dotted with coloured glass spots that transform sunbeams into a light show. There are carvings, cuttings, prints, reliefs, of ceramic, wood, copper, stone everywhere you look –  an extravagant arts and crafts mix-up. All kinds of anthropological cultural crossovers are at play here.

http://www.goodmoonfarm.com The farm grows bananas, mangos, papaya, passion fruit, lettuce, spinach, peppers, pak choi, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, potato, sweet potato, plantain, herbs and more, on terraces stretching down towards the sea. The air is fragrant with spicy musk scents, the North shore breeze rushes through the foliage and waves crash far below. Empty blue expanse of sea dotted with pristine white sails making the short crossings between islands. Islands owned by Virgin, Google et al…

Drake, a gentle Carib guy from Dominica, runs things. He brings a wealth of agricultural knowledge that’s hard to come by in these parts as few islanders now grow their own food. A cultural reluctance for what’s considered ‘dirty work’ when the main aspirations here are to get into the finance sector, offshore banking business..or quicker, riskier dealings with ‘dirty money’.

Two ‘Wwoofers’ (if you want to know what a ‘Woofer’ is, and you should, check http://www.wwoof.org.uk), a couple of Young Americans, are camped up on a platform in the bush in return for a few hours weeding a day. Cats prowl around by night keeping the rat population down.

The tranquillity and unfamiliar nature confuses my stress addled mind. Eyes and mind refuse to settle – so much to notice: a tall slender papaya tree carrying its pregnant cluster of pendulous green fruits – skinny ghekkos dart and scatter across the floor, tiny heads raised alert – bright green crickets jump off the walls – walls that bear the mark of midnight mosquito massacres – a humming bird, high speed hovering in mid-air, darting from flower to flower, greedily dipping its tiny curved beak right inside their yellow trumpets – chatter of chickens – far off bleat of wild goats from the bush covered hillsides…

I have a good collection of mosquito bites down my legs and arms..Ceiba (10 years old) tells me to:

‘Chillax – don’t scratch!’ It would make a great T.shirt slogan. I’m ‘chillaxing’ big time…this is Chillax Central.

The boys tell me about lion fish. An American aquarium disastrously let loose some of these fish and they’ve made it down to the Caribbean and are systematically destroying all the reef fish. It’s an ecological disaster -these fish don’t belong here, they’re Pacific fish. They’re training sharks to hunt them down and kill on sight. That last bit may have been a joke at my expense…

Aragorn’s roasting breadfruit on an open fire – dry brown speckled casings reveal fat white flesh inside that indeed has the consistency of doughy bread. It was originally imported as slave food from Tahiti, a cheap source of ‘fuel’. When Captain Bligh was faced with mutiny, the Bounty’s hold was full of breadfruit bound for the Caribbean slave plantations. We fry it up like chips and eat it with respect. One of the cats strides in with a limp rat dangling out of its mouth.

Digital technology has utterly transformed island life. No longer isolated, now networked up to the world. We talk of the relatively recent revival of crafts and the hand-made. Aragorn and Feddi commission and buy traditional Caribbean handicrafts from throughout the region to sell in their beachfront shop/gallery. They have started an annual arts and crafts festival that celebrates historic craft processes, passed down through generations but now fast dying out. They’re well aware of the loaded connotation of ‘hand-made’ however – don’t be fooled, even your ipod nano is ‘hand-made’ by a nimble fingered 14 year old girl in a Chinese factory…

Tortola certainly has an identity confusion. It’s a ‘British Dependancy’ but American’s spoken here, the union flag waves and the currency’s the US dollar.

At day’s end we deliver organic spinach in baskets to the quay. People eye fresh vegetables greedily and ask where they can get hold of such a rare commodity. The moored up boats are a sea of bobbing white plastic…dare I say with white plastic people onboard…? There, I said it.

Transatlantic. The animated tracking of the plane’s trajectory on a large screen at the front of the cabin. It charts the growing distance between ‘home’ and ‘away’. Stretched out across four seats, trying to snatch some sleep against the white noise of  jet engines. The black hole of ocean finally gives way to a necklace of lights that maps the land’s edge and I have crossed continents. I am ‘away’.

New York, night, torrential rain, I have an 8 hour ‘layover’ before my next flight. M collects me and we speed towards the city, skirting the harbour, tall container ships/buildings/islands then a glimpse of Liberty white in the distance guarding her rock. There’s a new tower where two used to stand, so big you see it first from the plane.

Ninth floor warehouse Williamsburg. The loft’s industrial piping creates a grid in the high ceiling space over the wall sized windows that give views across the wet city and blur all the lights. All the furniture salvaged from a mental hospital. The stark aesthetic is offset by large ephemeral abstract paintings, transparent bubbles and other microscopic motifs float, trapped behind layers of glassy resin, city lights dance off their surfaces. The rain lashes the glass and drips metallically off the air conditioning unit. The lack of sleep,  the jet lag, the total strangeness of suddenly being here, for just a few hours over night, all accumulate as a pleasant hallucination and I drift off for a couple of hours before the alarm wakes me at 4 and I’m in a cab speeding back to the airport, rewind, rewind…

The planes get smaller as I connect from continent to island to speck in the ocean. 6am flight to Puerto Rico. Turbulence: the seat belt light stays lit the entire flight, so we don’t move, no drinks or food are served as we all stay buckled in with the plane lurching from side to side, you leave your stomach and vital organs somewhere over the East Coast.

I disinterestedly watch the film playing above my head. There’s something instantly familiar about the miserable, resigned looking line of men, half undressed carrying their meagre belongings in grey plastic boxes..it looks just like JFK airport security but it’s a high security prison. The similarity between the two spaces is obvious. We’re all held captive in hermetically sealed environments and forced through processes designed to dehumanize and intimidate.

Full body X rays are now in force. Coats off shoes off belts off scarves off jewellery off. Once you’re in the prison that’s the plane you can’t go anywhere, you’re confined in a tiny space and you guard your personal space jealously and fight for a place for the few possessions you’re allowed to bring with you. You get a basic subsistence meal on a plastic tray with plastic cutlery. Everyone’s compliant and avoids attracting attention to themselves. We’re all hostages. Paying hostages. Subdued, the herding instinct takes over, we’re all so weary. It’s a thing to be endured, this journey, not an experience to be ‘enjoyed’ but all along the way you’re entreated to ‘sit back, relax and enjoy’. After all that security? In this tiny little space? No one expects to enjoy this. Even a complimentary drink is now something to be grateful for.

The Puerto Ricans applaud when we make a safe landing.

I have 4 hours in San Juan. I find a palm tree on the concrete concourse and lie beneath it just for a while, its fronds lift gently in the warm breeze and I catch moments of intense heat and sunlight too bright to bear coming straight from an English winter. There are a couple of vagrants lying in  automatic doorways, baseball caps, American University t.shirts, bare feet, filthy limbs sprawled out like deadmen. They barely stir in the swish of cool air from the forbidden interior as tourists dumbly exit like the undead. I’m head swimmingly tired, I’ve been traveling for 24 hours. Hot air traps the jet fuel outside, it’s choking and I reluctantly return to the air conditioned non-space inside and wait it out.

35 minute flight. Single prop plane. By the time you’re up you’re coming back down again. We pour out on to the tarmac at Tortola airport and squint in the bright light coming straight off the ocean all around us. Someone from the cabin crew holds out a heavy grey overcoat that’s been left in the overhead locker, I claim it as mine and a couple of guys shout out

‘you won’t be needing that here!’

‘no – but I will on the way back…’

‘so don’t go back!’