My kiss with Rihanna

YWhen you hold me, I’m alive: Well, thank you, Robyn

If you want to make her feel like she’s the only girl in the world, maybe best not take off for Barbados to stay in an all-inclusive couples hotel for a week and lave her behind in wet old Wicklow.

But it couldn’t be helped…. and she had a shed to paint.

I was packed off with instructions: ‘I told you last year to get one thing – pebbles, to text home and to behave myself this time.

She’d seen the photos from last summer’s Crop Over carnival and even dressed my bruises when I got home.

Behave myself? Fat chance when my old university friend Jevan, a Trinidadian who runs a business and lives in Barbados, is around and the cricket is on.

Cricket is more than just a game in the West Indies, it is the national conversation, you’ll see it played on the streets, in the schoolyard, on the village green, the taxi drivers will break off to respond to a wicket on the radio and locals will argue about how many Bajans should be in the team… it is the people’s game.

I watch the match with Donald Trump in the Caribbean Bank box at the Kensington Oval.

It is part of the fun of the cricket to dress up and Jevan is paying homage to King Dial, a dapper brightly-clothed regular of yesteryear at this, the Mecca of West Indian cricket (he has also brought his Donald Trump mask).

We are both paying homage to Mount Gay rum, the original brew which dates back to the 18th century.

The cricket is slow today, just three Pakistan wickets fall but the conversation and wit is quick.

Government ministers drift by in casual shirts, some in jeans. I spare the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers the request for the obligatory selfie, while an informal bank board meeting takes place in the box.

I am truly bowled over by the hospitality and they even invite me back the next day. I’d gladly oblige but I have a turtle to catch.

I let her slip last year on the Jammin Catamaran Cruise (too much partying) and am determined not to let it happen again.

Focus! I am on a small Club Barbados boat on the west of the island, the Platinum coast, beloved by celebrities who patronise Sandy Lane which is a stone’s throw (and don’t think it didn’t cross my mind) from our relaxed hotel.

It is where I have been billeted, courtesy of my ever-so-attentive holiday providers Tropical Sky

My bedroom sits almost atop the sea and I am awoken every morning to gently lapping waves and wood doves landing on the canopy.

But I have no thoughts of that today because today I have my game face on.

Time for a sundowner

Alas, my turtle is proving elusive. It is only when my guide tells me to stop chasing her and let come to me and when I see my new friend Jena lying spread out on the water that I catch on.

I perfected that flat-out starfish posture the previous night after the umpteenth Bajan Monkey rum cocktail.

Did somebody say Bajan Monkey cocktail?

It’s only then that I see Mr and Mrs Turtle cuddling up on sea bed.

Couples… they’re everywhere!

I don’t know if Jena and Ben had noticed the forlorn look in my eyes but they invited me to join them for dinner at Enid’s that night.

It is one of two restaurants on site, the other is the seaside Sunset which serves more international food as well as local staple such as macaroni pie and flying fish, and where you also get served breakfast and lunch.

My tip is to alternate and when Ben and Jena head home I hook up with the American Ski Club (yes, I know, but they’re out of season).

Ruby runs a cookery school on site for visitors and she runs it with a rod of iron, well a cou you stick (like a paddle) anyway, and she’s not afraid to use it.

So, what do they serve? Let’s ask Ruby.

She warns us that she will take it out o the worst pupil and when she sees that I am stirring the corn meal and okra mix as we make chicken cou you rather than beating it against the side of the pot then it’s me who gets the beating in front of the class.

After all that tough love the next morning is all about pampering with a Caribbean queen spending 45 minutes with her hands all over my body…. who knows the next day I might even get a massage.

Bajans are a truly beautiful people and I’ll spend the next couple of days with the most beautiful of them.

The men are just as impressive…. Bubba, our holy Cat sailboat pilot has been doing this job for 13 years but he’s never worn a tie or pair of shoes to work while Lyndon in the piano bar where we murder the karaoke does wear a dickie bow but it’s drawn onto his T-shirt.

Bubba time: Time to find me a turtle

But it’s the Bajan women I’ll spend most time with. There will be Cara, Pamela, Yvette, Venus, Marianne, Roxanne, Angelina, Asherly, Jada, Tara, Rosalind and Wendy-Anne.

I can only spend a minute or so with each though… they’re bus stops.

In Barbados you can adopt a stop and pay a token amount for their upkeep and floristation. Note to self: I don’t see a Sarah.

Not that you need to wait at the stops, the driver of the yellow reggae party bus will look out for you and beep his horn and draw up where you are.

It’s how all bus rides should be (it’s only B$2 or $1 to anywhere on the island).

I will toot up and down the coast all week listening to the thumping music wailing out and feeling just like a Bajan.

In Bridgetown, the island’s capital, the conductor stops for the locals, to stock up on groceries and he and the driver on beer… fuel for the road.

Admiral Nelson too. There he stands proudly in the centre of town… his link with Barbados, he died here and they transported him back in a barrel of rum to preserve his body. I’m heading that way too.

Back at base, Club Barbados, near Hometown where the first English settlers docked, they put on coach tours around the island.

The Mount Gay distillery tour will transport you back to the origins of rum while among other recommended trips are a caves and gardens tour and a catamaran party cruise (with a chance to see turtles).

I need the whole summer.

This is my last day though and it being a Sunday I go to church I have much to ask forgiveness for!

Church in Barbados is an occasion and this being Red Cross week it is extra special with the members togged up in uniforms.

There is a procession into the St James’s Anglican church, the oldest on the island., and a flag is presented at the altar.

The Coastguard Service, the Fire Service and other dignitaries are equally well attired while the locals are pristine in their Sunday best.

The vicar welcomes any visitors to the island and gives us our blessing. Bu it is I who is truly blessed to have spent this memorable week in their company.

Green is the colour: Bajan gardens are a must-visit

Renewed, and full of spirit, I seek out souvenirs.

I gather my pebbles (see, I do listen) and even throw in Ruby’s complimentary recipe booklet (I’m all heart).

Geraldine from the Activities Team, who has burned a Soca (So Calypso) CD for Daddy’s Little Girl while I get Banks beer for the Beer Monster.

Our club: Geraldine, Jim and Virginian Patsy

But there is one last thing I must do. I can’t leave the island without getting my Kiss from Rihanna.

Hers is the fragrance of Barbados… and it is the only gift for the only girl in the world.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in the summer of 2017

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