Living & loving the Caribbean lifestyle, with James Fuller
“Yuh can only be late once,” my friend said, peering across the table at me. He raised his eyebrows with slow confidence as if to say ‘you know I’m right’. “Yuh not late till you reach,” he added, driving home his point.
Having said I’d head home from a boys-only curry duck lime at 9pm, I had been signalling my intent to get away for the past hour. Each declaration had been met with supreme indifference and not a little bemusement. My attitude was perplexing to all assembled. I’d become used to this. Arriving in Trinidad from England years ago, I’d regarded the Caribbean’s famed relaxation about all matters time as nothing more than a well-worn cliché. My initiation was swift.
A couple of days after touching down at Piarco International Airport, a family beach trip had been organised, departure 10am the next day. Next morning I decided to get into the laissez-faire spirit of things, and plonked myself on a chair by the door in readiness at a devil-may-care 10.01am.
And so the waiting began. I lost track of the times I applied and re-applied suntan lotion, checked and re-checked my beach bag, polished and re-polished my sunnies, velcroed and re-velcroed my sandals.
But ‘all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’. I was beginning to feel distinctly lonely.
My sister-in-law appeared around 11am, still in her pyjamas, sporting magnificent bed-head hair, and set about cooking what looked suspiciously like a five-course meal. “A little something for the beach,” she beamed.
“Oh – OK,” I grimaced, my new-arrival bonhomie sinking fast.
In days of old, stewardesses on international flights landing at their destinations would make passenger announcements like: “Welcome to London – please put your watches back one hour.” As I sat on my chair regarding my sandals, I imagined an alternative version: “Welcome to Trinidad – please put your watches… well, it doh really matter.”
We left a little after 1pm.
Over the years, and as a way of lessening my own personal torment, I’ve learned to look out for trigger phrases amongst my friends and family, and translate what they actually mean. “Ah leavin now” (I forgot I was meeting you); “Ah get tie up in a lil traffic nah” (I’m just getting dressed); “Yeah, ah at de top ah de road” (I’m just leaving); “Yeah man, ah get held back at work” (I’m in a bar); “Ten minutes” (universal ETA; expect arrival between half-an-hour and three hours, but never ten minutes); “It have plenty rain on dis side boy” (I’m not coming).
I’ve learned to accept this as just the way it is. Timings are an indication not an obligation. ETAs are flexible – that’s understood. Cast iron appointments are flexible – that’s also understood. Strategies are developed, of course. For Christmas events, families are told to arrive for 3pm when the intention is not to serve food until 5pm. Sure enough, the main body of guests will arrive around 4.30pm, and all is well. In cricket matches, it’s even an established tactic. If you fear the opposition, or are already in a bad position in a multi-day game, just turn up late. The sun is going down just after 6pm, come what may, so take some time out of the game – less time to take licks.
An old friend of mine, sadly no longer with us, never bought a watch in his entire life, maintaining he had no need for one. You can imagine what scheduling get-togethers with him was like. It was best just to travel to a place where you knew he would be rather than complicate matters. Rumours that he’d be late for his own funeral turned out to be untrue – but I can hear his rich, resonant chuckle at the prospect.