First of all, thank you for your kind words of support, but please know that Antigua is not the Hell-hole I’ve made it out to be, it’s actually a pretty nice place if you’re into brimstone and fire. That said, Julia and I have the distinct ability to make even the most pristine, magical places our own little versions of Hell, I’ve just not written about them… yet. Even the Cook Islands, one of our favourite places of all time and one of the most beautiful places on Earth, had its shitty bits: from abusive drunken lady at our first bungalow, to Robert Robert’s Runway Lodge (not Run-a-Way Lodge as it was at the end of the airport runway). Run away we did when we found the place was infested with mosquitos and cockroaches the size of chickadees. Then there was magnificent Mangaia, both the most amazing and most horrid place we’ve ever been. Perhaps some day I’ll share that story with you all. (See Cannibals in Drag). Of course then there was Guatemala… good ol’ Guatemala, Zona Uno, the murder district, where we stayed. There is nothing about a Paul and Julia holiday that is ever normal and if I sat at the pool-side bar chatting with plump Canadians the whole time, there really wouldn’t be much to write about. Hang on while I fish some dead insects out of a boiling pot of spaghetti. Now back to the story.
We returned from our junket to the west side of the Island in one piece and even had time to stop at a supermarket in a town called Swetes, which could be pronounced either “sweets” or “sweaties” but we decided on the latter as my armpits don’t lie. We bought some ice cream and had to eat it quickly as it started running down my hand within seconds of walking outside. Half the village seemed to be hanging out in the supermarket parking lot, with girls in uniform freshly out of school and hipster dudes in their low riders (pants and cars) blaring music behind tinted glass and windshields covered in stickers, exhaust pipes buzzing like a wasp with a caffeine high. Of course none of this made sense to us, but I supposed two white folks in a mustard yellow SUV eating ice cream outside a local supermarket probably looked a little out of place as well. When in doubt, I always employ my best “screw face,” which is Jamaican slang for someone you don’t fuck with, although most of the school girls looked more “screw” than me.
We finally got back to our cottage and were greeted with the sweet smell of Sure Tox, for those of you from Winnipeg it’s like waking up to the smell of Malathion and knowing for the next couple days you could enjoy summer again. Could this be the answer to my ongoing bug malaise? Time would tell. That night we once again hit the pool and had a few drinks, me especially. I finished the Cavalier (1.5 litres in five days, not bad) and broke into a one litre of Myer’s not realizing how much stronger the Myer’s tasted. I passed out good and hard that night, then awoke around 7:30 feeling unmotivated. We decided on an early swim then a drive to another famous beach called Half Moon Bay, which was up the east side of the Island.
We headed out, but I wasn’t right in the head, especially for driving. Thank goodness the road up the east side was much less populated with only a few small towns, countryside, some crop lands, and freshly downed power lines, a relic from the recent hurricane Gonzalo which arrived in Antigua as a tropical storm then gathered enough force to become a hurricane while parked over the Island. Supposedly it blew over most of the road signs, but I was skeptical because even the good road signs were faded or rusted beyond recognition.
After about twenty minutes we arrived at Half Moon Bay, parked in a small lot and were greeted by fantastic scenery, a near perfect semi-circular beach with large waves on one side, but calm waters for swimming on the other. This was a favourite beach for topless sunbathers and I must admit, I indulged as well, much to the chagrin of the ladies nearby. Finally we saw a truly magnificent beach, one that offered privacy, scenery, great swimming, and beautiful colours of green, turquoise, brown and black rocks.
I ventured around the rocks to the surging sea and was greeted with a vista of a deserted island and roiling waves. At one spot the waves crashed and cascaded over steps of rock like a water feature in a posh hotel. We stayed for a couple hours and enjoyed every minute, plus the weather finally turned and we saw more sun than rain, and more blue sky than grey cloud. Things were finally looking up and I had barely a new welt upon my virgin skin, what little virgin skin I had left, so our strategy of fogging the cabin with insecticide and keeping our doors and windows closed seemed to be working. When we got back to the cottage it was time for another swim to cool off and decompress from another day on the road, albeit an easier one than the day before. We stepped into the water just as Geoffrey turned up for an evening swim.
We hadn’t seen Geoffrey since the moment we had arrived and knew he was somewhat hard of hearing so we had to speak loudly, but Geoffrey was not the shy type. He had an interesting past and one that included several years in Winnipeg during the 1960s and early 70s working for IBM. They were fond memories, but he intoned: “I certainly do not miss that cold. What’s the corner that everyone talks about: Portage and Main? That must be the coldest corner in the world. I remember it well.”
I mentioned about our chat with the owner of the Rusty Pelican and his encounters Prince Albert and Pete Townshend and he said “Yes, Pete, I’ve known him for the better part of sixteen years, very nice man.”
“So,” I inquired, “Has Pete ever been here?”
“Well,” Geoffrey replied, “if I told you I’d be giving away secrets wouldn’t I? But yes, if you must know, he has been here, as a matter of fact, he was here not too long ago.
“Seriously? Is he coming over any time in the next few days.”
“Oh no, he’s no longer on Antigua. He’s starting another tour pretty soon, but Janie is very close with his girlfriend, Rachel. She was here last week as a matter of fact; she and Pete are very much involved with animal welfare around English Harbour.”
“A funny story about Pete, actually.” he continued, a broad smile stretching across his face, “Most of these celebrities like coming to Antigua to avoid publicity, but they do like being recognized. However, when I was first introduced to Pete, I said ‘Who?’ and that was probably the only time I was right about someone.”
It didn’t take much to get Geoffrey talking and his stories seemed detailed enough to be believable, although he always qualified them with the caveat: “I don’t know too much about celebrities, but…”
He proceeded to tell us it was his job to set up Keith Richards, his then young wife and daughters, with a place on the Island for a couple weeks. He was in real estate at the time so he knew where all the nice villas were, although few were available for rent in those days. He had no idea who Keith Richards was but thought he was a fairly rough looking fellow and seemed out of place with such a young and beautiful wife. Keith stayed for a month in English Harbour and used to jam with some fellows at the local pool hall, the same pool hall where Eric Clapton frequently played.
“Eric Clapton?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Oh yes.” Geoffrey continued, smiling again, “Funny story about him too. I heard this famous guy was in town with his yacht and was at the local pool hall. Of course, I knew nothing about him so I went to investigate. This pool hall holds about fifty people, but that night it was overflowing with about a hundred and fifty people. Someone told me a fellow named Eric Claxton was playing inside, so I walked around asking people who ‘Eric Claxton’ was.”
It took little prodding to keep to Geoffrey talking, but from there the subject switched to actors.
“We’ve had a 007 here.” He said mischievously, his eyes darting back and forth as if searching for paparazzi.
“Roger Moore?” I asked.
“Yep, Timothy and Vanessa Redgrave, along with her daughter Joely. Funny story about that too,” Geoffrey said, “Do you mind if I tell you one more story? I’m on a bit of a roll.”
“Please, go ahead.” We said, with nothing else on our itinerary besides pool time and drinks.
“Well, Janie had them over and of course I walked in on them having tea. I’m Canadian so we don’t exactly have tea and we’re not particularly interesting people, no offence of course, but to the British we’re rather dull. Anyway, I come in and they’re all sitting around listening to Timothy recite Shakespeare, which I suppose is what these people do at tea-time. Timothy stopped for a second, said ‘hi’ to me, then just continued on. That’s all they really said to me, so I never officially ‘met’ them, but I can tell you that Timothy and Vanessa boinked on that bed down there.”
He pointed to the bottom suite of the main house.
“Anyway, I must be off, great chatting with you.”
Well this day really took an interesting if bizarre turn. Here we were, in this little out of the way cottage of Antigua talking to a guy who’s met more stars than Ben Mulroney (I was going to use Jian Ghomeshi, but he his name shan’t ever be spoken in Canada again). What made it truly entertaining, assuming his musings were authentic, was that Geoffrey didn’t appreciate any of these encounters. I guess we’ll have to plan our next trip to Antigua based on Pete Townshend’s touring schedule, although Eric Claxton (nee Clapton) was supposed to be back in town in about a week’s time for their big pre-Christmas yacht show.
I turned in early that night—very early—and drank only a single glass of wine. I needed sleep to shake off the rum psychosis from the night before and we had a big drive on Wednesday: we were headed to St. John’s, the capital city, a full thirty minute drive away and likely a traffic mess. I needed my wits about me.