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Bequia, February 2017

Updated: May 10, 2021

Bequia walkway

I was hoping that our arrival at Gatwick for our annual spell in Bequia wouldn’t prove to be an omen. All Virgin Atlantic computers were down, worldwide apparently. We had plenty of time to chat with the Virgin ladies as they placated the assembling crowds. Virgin has merged with Delta (Delta has 40% - does that count as a merger?) and, perhaps unwisely, opted to go along with Delta’s computer systems. Eventually, something got sorted out.

Dover Beach

We tend to be rude about the Dover Beach Hotel in Barbados, where we stay for a couple of nights. But it has its virtues and, actually, gets better and better as the years go by. It scores highly on two of my personal, very minor, tests: face flannels in the bathrooms; and marmalade for breakfast, even if it is jelly and in rather horrible little containers. Some of the classiest hotels in the world fail on this demanding test. So, good on you, Dover Beach! (I see from The Week that the composer Michael Tippett said that if there’s no marmalade in heaven, he won’t want to go.)

The main merit of the Dover Beach is that it’s reasonably near the airport and also near our favourite restaurant, Champers.

Flight to Bequia

The only direct way to get to Bequia is by the only airline that does the route, SVG, providing a one-stop lesson in the merits of a bit of competition. There used to be three airlines: Mustique, Grenadines and SVG. Then SVG bought out, or merged with, the others; so now there’s only one. A nice little monopoly.

SVG manages to charge US$550 for the round trip, which must make it the most expensive flight in the world (it’s only 45 minutes). And it’s all organised in a laid-back sort of way. They tell you to reconfirm by phone, but no one answers. They tell you to check in two hours ahead, but no one shows up till half an hour later. The plus side is that when they call the flight (five minutes before scheduled departure – us all saying it won’t be on time), they take five minutes to get us all on board – very “free seating” – and off we go.

I have to confess that there is an alternative, cheaper but indirect and much more laborious. You take a more normal scheduled flight to St Vincent, run by the dreaded LIAT. LIAT has slightly defeated the immense efforts that have certainly gone into finding a suitably rude phrase for it. The best is “Leave Island Any Time”, followed by “Luggage In Another Terminal”. We must all try harder.

When in St Vincent, you get a taxi to the ferry terminal. The ferry takes an hour and costs about £5. Very reasonable, if not alarmingly cheap.

Arrival in Bequia

We arrive at the Sir James Mitchell (“Son Mitchell” to his friends) International Airport; are met by Sandra of the Challenger taxi service; driven to the Village Apartments; welcomed by George and Val, who run it – and, actually, Martha the cleaning lady who roars with laughter whenever she sees us.

I obviously can’t go on with this – I mean, a recitation of the things we do. Too boring to record and even more boring for others to read about. One of the attractions of Bequia is that life has its routines and that it all stays much the same. But some things do change. What has changed this year?

Not much, although on the whole things improve, little by little, with one glaring exception: the Frangipani Hotel, as to which (inevitably) more below.


One improvement – congratulations to Action Bequia – is rubbish and street cleaning. Not perhaps the most glamorous or inspiring topic, but it has been the latest of the main tasks undertaken by Action Bequia. (Action Bequia is the charity, entirely privately funded, set up by the ever-energetic Richard Roxburgh, to do things that the local government should be doing, but isn’t and won’t.) Miraculously, there is less rubbish lying around. There are wheelie bins at strategic points – and posters saying “Keep Bequia Clean” and various other more imaginative messages that I forget. Perhaps they’re working.

Plantation House

Another improvement, although as yet only an improvement in progress, is the Plantation House. This is an old colonial-style house in grounds on the waterfront that has been allowed to decay. The rumours were that it was owned by Italian mafiosi some or all of whom were in prison and failing to attend to their property. Who knows? But now it has been bought by an enterprising New Zealander. It looks great and is apparently open for residential guests. Very few have so far been spotted. Early days perhaps.

Bengt Morstedt

The man behind some of the developments that seem to work is Bengt Morstedt, a Swedish property man who lives in London and Bequia. Bengt owns and runs the only really top class hotel on the island, the Bequia Beach. This year he has taken over Jack’s Bar, the café/restaurant on Princess Margaret Beach, previously run by other Swedes. The Swedes are taking over.

The rumours are that Bengt plans a new airline. Could this be the competition to SVG that we all look for? I fear not. There seems to be only one plane so far. The tall blonde lady who is in charge of it, Andrea, probably also Swedish, said that the fares wouldn’t be cheap. The plane would be faster. Guests of the Bequia Beach would be charged the same as SVG, but grockles like us (I paraphrase her slightly) would pay more.


There are what I have come to think of as the usual moans: “much quieter this year”; “not so many boats in the harbour”. I’m never able to detect these changes. But apparently December was bad for business. Why, I wonder? Perhaps people are indeed put off by the price of getting from Barbados. Why go to Bequia if it’s cheaper to stay on another island? Or perhaps it’s all down to Brexit. Most things are. Or the weather. November and December saw non-stop rain and even January more than usual. The tourists may not be happy, but the water tanks are full and overflowing.

White powder

I picked up a bit of gossip from Leandra (or Lea to her friends), who runs the Café Cameleon that serves proper espresso coffee. She told me that last year a ship was wrecked off the coast. Locals managed, after the coast guards had moved on, to find a large consignment of naughty white powder secreted in it. Whoopee!

The Frangipani Hotel

I need to turn to the Frangi. Oh dear. The same old story. Complete lack of management, continued decline. The rumour persists that staff haven’t been paid for months. Bernadette who ran the bar has finally left, after many years of threatening that she would. The mystery is how they survive for so long without any money.

Breakfast has become a joke. We still go, despite having the facilities in our apartment to produce the Full English and despite being able to get a much better breakfast at the Cameleon Café. Why such loyalty? To meet up with the gang, to swap reports about last night’s dinner, to make considered decisions about such weighty matters as which beach to go to, and – today, Sunday 5 February – to decide how to avoid watching the Super-Bowl on the ubiquitous TV screens.

But why is breakfast a joke? Not funny HaHa, rather funny sad. They tend to run out of the most basic things, and we have to go out and get them or do without. One day it was no limes to make the papaya slightly more exciting. I go off and buy half a dozen limes, which I donate to the hotel.

Next day it’s bacon, making eggs and bacon a struggle. So again, off I go. I’m beginning to feel part of the staff, unpaid, but so apparently are they. I get the bacon from Doris. Doris runs a highly efficient shop, hidden in a back street, that serves the yacht community and sells everything you could want – at a high price. Again, I donate it to the Frangi. Much embarrassment ensues with two consequences. They then somehow manage to get their own supplies; and we get a free breakfast.

Mac’s Pizzeria – and Kitchen

Now for a positive story. Mac’s Pizzeria has for a long time been a favourite, doing pizzas obviously but also other things, all at very reasonable prices. Judy, the owner, has been wanting to sell for a long while and now has – to some Californians. We have befriended the new owner, Kevin, from San Diego – a lean, youthful-looking, ex-salesman, with a wife, Tracy, who has been in the restaurant trade. He has greatly enlarged the place, creating a new terrace with a great ambience. It seems busy at all times. It shows what can be done.


One evening, we were having a pre-dinner drink at the Frangi. There came from behind us the unmistakeable tones of Henry Blofeld. He was regaling some friends with a Nicholas Soames anecdote: slightly racist, not the one about the heavy wardrobe with the key in the door. Mary was able to jog his memory about a dinner during Mary’s Melbourne days when he was doubtless there doing his test match commentary. He assured her that he remembered it all vividly. What a charmer! He was having a rest from his duties as part of the entertainment on one of the cruise ships that was in the harbour. I got the impression he was rather fed up with his duties.

Reading Group

(Reading from left to right, back row: Tulla Hacking, Annie Singleton, me, John Hay, Barry Singleton. Front row: Carol Hay, Anthony Hacking, Mary.)

The reading group continues – with a tentative extension of its range: Russians.

(A word of explanation. For reasons now becoming lost in the mists of history, even though covered in earlier journals, about six of us assemble on the balcony of the Frangi, at about six in the evening as the sun is setting, armed with our rum punches, and I read to them for about half an hour.)

This year, and last, it’s been classical short stories, the biggest supplier of “content”, to use modern terminology, being Guy de Maupassant. But this year, to general approval, we have tried the Russians. Tolstoy – gripping as well as harrowing. Turgenev. Chekhov. Interspersed with our old friend Maupassant.

P G Wodehouse is normally perceived, particularly by Mary, to be a bit tricky, the fear being that the non-Brits will be bemused and mystified. I think we made a partial conversion. Wodehouse did, after all, spend most of his life in the States, and wrote a lot for American audiences. I read Jeeves and the Song of Songs, which seemed to go down pretty well, aided by a somewhat unexpected musical accompaniment. The story is about discouraging a ghastly female from marrying one of Bertie Wooster’s chums. Jeeves’ solution is to get her to sing “Sonny Boy” in an East End working men’s club after two others (unbeknown to her) have already sung it. The audience, in Jeeves’ view, will have “lost their taste for that particular song” and will “express their feelings warmly”. Barry Singleton, a loyal member of the group, knew that the song had originally been sung by Al Jolson. We managed to get it on YouTube and to hear Al Jolson singing it on the balcony of the Frangi.

Another departure was to try one of the ghost stories of M R James, a medievalist having been Provost of King’s College Cambridge and then of Eton, writing ghost stories in his spare time. I read The Ash Tree. I may see if I can find others. I still remember the headmaster of my prep school reading them to us in the dark – and frightening the lives out of us. Incidentally, did Montague James himself believe in ghosts? He said cryptically, “I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me”.

White Jeff

A highly energetic, wiry, tough American is in the process, apparently largely single-handed, of doing great things along the road into town. The road is divided down the middle by a flower bed with no flowers and a profusion of weeds. He has been clearing the weeds, planting new bushes, laying gravel to stop the weeds, and painting the stonework. What activity! Has he got permission? – joke! More to the point, who pays him? No one, apparently. He’s called Jeff – and does employ a helper, also called Jeff. But the latter says, “No, he’s not Jeff, he’s White Jeff. I’m Black Jeff”.


On our last day, it seemed that Paradise was being invaded by vandals. The wooden stairway that is part of the trail that goes over the headland between the town and Princess Margaret Beach had been burnt down. Actually, not quite. It turned out that someone had started a fire on the stairway, which had burnt a big hole in it, making it, so it was being said, impassable. Who could have done such a thing? Leandra thought it must be local hooligans, teenagers having a prank. I passed on the news to Curtis, the taxi driver. He was sure it must have been a taxi driver. The taxi drivers were certainly no fans of Action Bequia when it was being planned and built, but surely they would have come to accept it. Locals now use the trail as much as visitors. So, who knows? Maybe we’ll know more – after we leave. The good news was that in a few hours temporary repairs had been done and by afternoon it was all passable.


I was being much teased about my idea of going back to London via New York. It does sound bizarre. It’s driven by my thinking that, at my time of life, I’ve done enough night flights. You can’t return from Barbados to London direct during the day. What you can do is go to New York during the day, spend the night in New York or, more precisely, the airport, and take one of the few day flights that there are between New York and London. And this we did, to much ribaldry from all and sundry – abetted by Mary’s serious doubts about the whole idea.

I’m glad, and slightly relieved, to say that it went pretty well. On getting back, I sent an email to the doubters:-

“I sense an interest in what disasters overtook us as a result of my perverse idea of going back via New York. I have to report - sorry! - that we survived, although Mary may send a dissenting opinion.

“The low point was perhaps JetBlue, the Americans' answer to easyJet with a sprinkling of Ryanair. Perfectly efficient, but fairly basic. One delightful compensation for me was that I found myself next to an attractive young woman who told me she was an actress, Laura Harrier, and that she is the "love interest" in Spider-Man Homecoming, out this summer. Can't wait! Her mother, Linda, runs the Bequia Mission, I think she said.

“Before that, the flight from Bequia was unusually trouble free. We didn't have to do a tour of all the other Grenadine islands and therefore got to Barbados in good time. We could check in with JetBlue as soon as we got there and were assured we had time to leave the airport and have some lunch. Which we did at the splendid Champers. I can't quite claim this as a bonus as we tend to do this when going direct. But still, it prepared us for the sparse rations on JetBlue (actually, non-existent, I think, even for ready money).

“The immigration at JFK was bearable. One disappointment: no framed photos of the Donald welcoming us into the States. Too busy, I guess, signing executive orders identifying who would NOT be welcome.

“We took a taxi to the JFK Hilton, ignoring all sorts of advice that it wasn't necessary. It was. On arrival, we got two very large gin martinis, followed by pretty large steaks. We slept well.

“The flight with Virgin, leaving at the ungodly hour of 8.15 am, was trouble-free. So, all in all, I thought it worked ok. I think Mary did too. . . Over to her!”

Tony Herbert

26 February 2017

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