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East of the Island Barbados Museum

2nd March 2017

Women and Money Management, Help with a Cabling Nightmare and Garrison Historic Area

    A bright sun pierced the chinks in my curtain, and I could hear a strong wind outside. Soon I was on the veranda with Rex, sipping coffee, and exchanging pleasantries with the builders as they made their way to the Sandals hotel development. Most of the chaps, of a wide age range, had a ready smile and a flash of gleaming white teeth.
View fron the Veranda
    I bumped into Alex, Mike Atkins' nephew, and invited him in. He lived about 20m away across the road with his mother. Indeed, the street contained a few of Mike's relatives, some being absent at the time we were there. Alex was a quiet, friendly, unassuming lad, in his early 30s at a guess. We had a long chat with him, though his quiet voice and thick accent made him hard to follow. He cleverly steered the conversation around to women. The young man had a girlfriend, and was having philosophical thoughts about whether he should settle down or not.
    "Who is the boss in your household?" he asked Rex.
    Meryl was sitting just a few hand slaps away, so Rex had to exercise supreme skills of diplomacy. I could almost hear him sucking the air in between his teeth as he considered his response. "Well ...., we work on a partnership basis," he replied, fortunately a sentiment echoed by Meryl, and I could see Rex visibly relaxing.
    "But who is in charge of the money?" persisted Alex in his quiet voice.
    "Well ....., we each have our own bank accounts which we access separately. But we trust each other to know that neither of us would go and waste a load of money on something unnecessary. We don't need to ask each other if we can spend our money," responded Rex. He fired back a question back to Alex, "Is it not the same in Barbados?"
    "No," he replied. "In Barbados if a woman wants money for a new hair-do, she asks her husband. Or if they go out for a meal, the husband is expected to pay for everything. The woman never spends her own money." Hmmm..
    "But in Barbados the women all work till they are 80," joked Rex. Alex smiled, and Meryl gave her other half a black look. I kept out of this conversation, it was going nowhere.
    Alex then proceeded to tell us about the large two-storey construction that he was having built next door to his mother's house. His intention was to live in part of it, and rent out the rest. We learned from Alex that young folk in Barbados experience hard times getting onto the property ladder; not much different from Britain really. He was a plumber by trade, so was obviously completing all the plumbing tasks himself. Then it became apparent that he was attempting some of the electrical wiring tasks himself. He recently had hit an obstacle. The builders had concreted in a long length of conduit from a consumer unit downstairs, and he could not run a cable through it. I tried to ascertain what the problem was from the lad, but there seemed to be a communication barrier between us on this score. "Why don't we go across and you show me?" was my suggestion as to the only way to get to grips with this.
    His face lit up, and soon Alex, Rex and me were walking amongst builder's rubble inspecting the consumer unit. The conduit was of course buried out of sight, all we could see was where it appeared into the consumer unit. A piece of metallic tape for pulling an electrical cable through, of the same rigidity and size as a car oil dipstick, was hanging out of the conduit. He demonstrated how, even using pliers to grip the metallic tape, he could not shift it further down the conduit. "So do you know how the conduit makes its way across to the end point?" I asked. He drew an imaginary horizontal line from the consumer unit, which turned vertically after 30cm and made for the ceiling, at which point it rotated to the horizontal and travelled 15m across the whole length of the building, and then shot up vertically to the upstairs. A quick climb upstairs, and a hole in the wall 1.5m up showed the end of the conduit. A water heater would eventually sit here.
    I immediately saw the problem, and his efforts using the tape he was employing would be wasted. He had managed to push it around the first right angle bend, but he could not force it around the next. It took a while to convince him that his current approach would be fruitless. I then spent an even longer time explaining the concept of blown-fibre as used in the IT industry. Sadly, this was not Alex's field and he was either dumbfounded, or thought I was off my rocker; probably the latter. I asked him if he had a long length of string, perhaps I should have used the word cord since string was not in the Bajan vocabulary. 10 minutes later I had a roll of kite string in my hands. "We need to blow the string through, or suck it through the conduit," I explained. 5 minutes later we had a vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile, Rex was doing a sterling job in generating spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations to manage the task in hand.
    I arranged for Alex and Rex to hold the vacuum suction pipe to the conduit at the consumer unit end, while I fed the string down from upstairs. Within seconds I heard screams from downstairs. Large quantities of water and grit had been sucked out of the conduit, and the vacuum cleaner was frothing away. We sorted the cleaner out, and continued with our task. Some minutes later, Rex bounded upstairs to announce that the other end of the string had finally reached the consumer unit. Alex was amazed at this magic, and extremely grateful. I then explained he would have to use the thin string we had just fed through to draw through an even thicker piece of string, something thick enough to finally pull through the electrical cable. Now he understood, and we left him to it.
    15 minutes later, we were ready to go off for the day. Alex collared me as we were about to leave, and took me back to the working end of the kite string. He now had his electrician with him, and they were about to haul through a long length of earthing cable instead of thicker string. "Just make sure you make a good join between the string and cable," I cautioned. As I turned to leave, he produced an immersion heater switch, and asked for advice on wiring it. I explained the concept of switched live and neutral, which side of the switch connected to the consumer unit, and which side to the heater, and left the two of them to it, thinking how on earth is the other chap an electrician?
George Washington House
    We departed at last, at what seemed hours after our planned departure time, but I was glad to be of assistance, and Rex was proud to show off his managerial skills again. A pleasant bump along the coastal road to the sound of harmonious hooting brought us to the Garrison Historic Area on the south eastern edge of Bridgetown. Rex parked adjacent to the large oval-shaped Savannah, which was once used for parade grounds, and is now used for jogging, and as the home of the Barbados Turf Club.
George Washington Reading from his Diary
    The colonial powers: England, France, Spain and Holland, were often at war over the prosperous islands of the Caribbean. Protecting the colonies was therefore of great importance and is reflected in the fortifications created along the western coast of Barbados. This 151 acre garrison, the first in the West Indies, and the largest in the British Colonies during the 18th and 19th centuries, is of great historic interest and offers many features. Sited near Carlisle Bay, it began with St. Ann's Fort, on its present site, in 1688. It was established in 1780 as the military headquarters for the Imperial Forces stationed here. Most of the garrison buildings date from 1789 onwards, when Barbados became the British army's headquarters in the Windward and Leeward Islands, who were stationed here until 1905/6. Today it is the home of the Barbados Defence Force including the Barbados Coast Guard Force. Headquarters of the Barbados Cadet Corps is at Cherry Tree Cottage on Garrison Road, overlooking the Savannah.
    On 30th November 1966, the Garrison Historic Area was the location where the ceremony was held for the lowering of the Union Flag (the flag of the United Kingdom), and the raising of the Barbados flag, thus ushering in full independence for the country of Barbados from the United Kingdom.
    In June 2011, The World Heritage Committee put a Heritage Stamp on the Historic Bridgetown and the Garrison areas. These sites were listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) World Heritage List. UNESCO's website is quoted as describing Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison as "an outstanding example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which testifies to the spread of Great Britain's Atlantic colonial empire".
    Rex had conveniently parked opposite the entrance to the George Washington House. We walked across to the ticket office, and a petite lady with short, fuzzy, grey hair greeted us with a big smile. Soon she was organising our tour around the site. "Go spend 10 minutes upstairs in the house on the self-guided tour first, then head up to the clock-tower for the changing of the guard. Do you want to visit the tunnels too?" she asked. We replied in the affirmative. "Come back after the changing of the guard, and then we can slot you into a tunnel tour and house tour," she advised, and one of her colleagues took us across to the self-guided tour at the top of the house.
    The building, built around 1720, is the oldest "house" within the garrison, known today as the Bush Hill House or the George Washington House and Museum. It was acquired for the "New" Garrison in 1789, and was used primarily as the Resident Engineers Quarters. In the latter half of the 19th century it was known as the Bush Hill Commanding Officers Quarters. In 1906 the house returned to private ownership, and was used as a residence and later as offices. The Governor of Barbados acquired the property in 1999, after which it was restored as the George Washington House and Museum.
Depicting Slavery
    In 1751, at the age of 19 and some 38 years before he would become the first U.S. President, George Washington visited Barbados as a companion to his half-brother, Lawrence, who suffered from tuberculosis contracted during his spell of military service. It was hoped that the tropical climate would prove therapeutic. The two rented the house and stayed on the island for six weeks. After the visit Lawrence went alone to Bermuda for several months before returning to Mount Vernon. He died at home of acute consumption in July 1752. Barbados was the only country that George Washington ever visited outside colonial America.
    The upper floor of the building, where we found ourselves, is devoted entirely to displays of items typical of life in the mid-18th century, the items being richly described with both visual and audio aids. On display are some medical appliances of the time: pharmaceutical bottles, thumb lancets and cupping glasses which "were heated to create suction to draw blood to the skin's surface". An interesting display is a reminder that Washington contracted small pox, a deadly disease that was rampant at that time and quite frequently resulted in death to those who contracted it. Thus Washington was fortunate in the doctor who tended him and helped restore him to health. According to the record he was successfully treated by a Dr. Lanaham "a third-generation Barbadian" who was "a practitioner of physick and surgery", and the note adds the thought-provoking comment by historian Eustace Shilstone that "The course of the nation and perhaps of the whole world may have been changed if the doctor had been less skilful and attentive; a theme which needs no elaboration".
    Other artefacts on display were reminders of the existence of slavery at the time Washington came to Barbados. On view are such things as spiked manacles, manacle and chain and barbed-neck collars "used as a form of restraint/punishment". Also displayed are agricultural implements such as a sickle, cane bill and hoe as well as other items found by archaeologists in digs close to George Washington House. These include stoneware, porcelain bowls, buttons, buckles, glass beads "probably used by slaves", pipe bowls, grape shot (cannon balls), gun flints, musket balls, bottle fragments and earthenware chamber pots. All these constitute a treasure trove helping to shed light on the Barbados which Washington visited.
    Information on little known facts were brought out such as "in the context of the British Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, Barbados played a surprisingly large and important role ... (and) was the central hub of the Caribbean for travellers and goods". It also had "one of the best fortified coast lines in the British Caribbean", something that proved of particular interest to George Washington who, with the approval of the Fort's Commander, examined these with great care. One report suggests that "the knowledge gained during his visits to the various forts along the west coast surely influenced his future military career". Washington was "an excellent horseman" and a "passionate landowner" too so it is of some importance that "What he observed for the first time in Barbados were some of the most innovative agricultural techniques of the day". These included "using dried cane stalks or bagasse as fuel in the boiling process', and "dung farming where animals were put into pens, fed grasses, brush or green matter to produce rich manure to renew depleted soil in sugar cane fields".
Main Guard
    The displays feature an interesting reference to the African, Olaudah Equiano, who "purchased his freedom for 40 in 1766 (and) worked in London as a hairdresser and a seaman", his autobiography rightly being considered "a manifesto for the abolition of slavery". This serves as a reminder that in the matter of slavery Washington found himself between a rock and a hard place, to use present-day idiom. He was a slave owner yet "struggled with, and recorded in his papers, the many moral dilemmas of owning human property". Indeed he was challenged on this matter in a letter from one Edward Rushton in 1797: "Washington, Ages to come will read with astonishment that the man who was foremost to wrench the rights of America from the tyrannical grasp of Britain was among the last to relinquish his own oppressive held of poor and unoffending negroes". George Washington did seek to free his own slaves but, according to the information presented, he and his wife together owned some 300 slaves and "It would have cost nearly 6,000 to free them all. However, his plantations made only 900 a year". So, as the display puts it, "the question of slavery was left to another generation to resolve."
    After our allotted 10 minutes, we departed for the changing of the guard, skirting around the perimeter of the Savannah, to join a small group of folk patiently waiting for the ceremony to begin. A jeep drove up and a couple of fellows alighted in ceremonial attire and disappeared into the brick garrison building.
    The building is the Main Guard, and overlooks the Savanna. It is one of the area's most outstanding buildings architecturally, and has a unique George III Coat of Arms, in Coade stone, which was designed especially for this building. In 1906, the Main Guard was bought locally and converted into the exclusive Savannah Club but is now owned by the Barbados Government and is the headquarters for organisations such as the Barbados Legion and Barbados Poppy League. It has a most imposing clock tower which chimes its way through the day helping those with no time-pieces of their own, people like me for instance. As with many of the other imposing garrison buildings, they are often built of London brick brought here as ballast, dating back to early days.
Changing of the Guard
    Shortly after noon, two guards were marched out of the Main Guard by a commanding officer, and he barked incomprehensible instructions to them as he lined then up smartly outside their sentry boxes. These chaps were old like me, all previous members of the Barbados Defence Force. The commanding officer then inspected the guards, and then informed them that whilst on duty they were not allowed to eat, drink, sleep, lie down etc. etc., as you would expect of course, though I don't recall that passage of instructions during the changing of the guard in London.
    A military band then appeared from the side of the Main Guard, and smartly marched up and down in front of the guards, trying to make the guards smile at some of the bum notes being emitted, without success. The band were of mixed age and sex, and like the rest of the crew, were all volunteers.
    Another commanding officer, this one sporting a handsome handlebar, greying moustache, extracted two blokes who had been marching at the back of the band via a shriek of commands, the new guards, and these were smartly marched up to face their counterparts who had only been on the scene for 10 minutes. Another barrage of barking and shrieking commands resulted in the old guards being replaced by the new. The band then marched off to a round of polite applause from the mainly British observers. A Scottish voice echoed from the depths of the Main Guard, "Thank you for the applause."
    "That was the ceremony organiser speaking. He was in the Black Watch, took over this job for a while, and decided to stay," a short, stocky chap who was standing nearby informed us. "I'm staying just over there," he added, vaguely pointing to the east of the historic site. "This is my fifth visit to Barbados. Once you've been, you find you always want to come back. We've been to some of the other islands too, such as Antigua, which has a different beach for every day of the year, but there is much more to do on this island."
    He was an electrician by trade, and now solely serviced marine electrics on craft in the Christchurch vicinity in Dorset. He waved us goodbye with a cheery smile as he set off for the rest of his day. We returned to the ticket office, where we were immediately put on a tour down the tunnels with another couple.
Dining Room in George Washington House
    Our guide was a 52 year-old ex-army sergeant with a brilliant sense of humour. The garrison tunnels in Barbados are almost 200 years old. These almost forgotten underground tunnels are located about 12 to 17ft beneath the Historic Garrison Area, and stretch approximately 2 miles under the Garrison Savannah area. Research to date suggests that these mysterious tunnels (c1820) were used as a drainage course for the then swampy Savannah, and also to facilitate secret movement of soldiers, connecting them to still undiscovered locations throughout this military area.
    The tunnel at George Washington House was "re-discovered" purely by chance, in June 2011, while preparation work was being undertaken, by the Garrison Consortium, for the relocation of the on-site cafe. After research and exploration, it was soon realised that this tunnel extended far beyond the boundaries of the property measuring approximately 3,200ft in length! So far it is estimated that the network is in excess of 10,000ft.
    Our guide led us down concrete steps into a long, straight tunnel that started off 2m high, but the height was doubled by the time we had completed 216 feet. The tunnel had first been dug as a drainage trench, sinking into the coral bedrock. The top of the trench had been completed with ballast bricks, with three coping stones completing the arched roof. The tunnel we were in stretched 2Km on into the distance, the rest of it still needing more excavation, but this is where we emerged back out into the blinding sunlight.
    After a quick lunch we were given a tour around the ground floor of the house, our bubbly guide ably describing the artefacts within the rooms, weaving a series of stories behind it all. She must have thought I was Scottish since she sang us a Scottish tune with a convincing lilt. She was most impressed that we correctly identified a candle snuffer and could explain why the two "holes" in the privy were so close to each other. Apparently every so often the public can book a meal around the huge dining table, with period costume available to add to the occasion.
Bedrooms in George Washington House
    The ground floor of the building is furnished in the manner in which it might have been in 1751. On display are such basic items as a four poster bed with a rather lumpy mattress surrounded with mosquito netting, very much needed then as protection against these little pests, a small face basin and ewer in one corner and, under the bed, the very necessary chamber pot since at that time there were no indoor bathroom facilities. Other rooms display different requirements for "civilised" living: chairs of various kinds, a marble table top on which to place hot dishes, and various items of crockery and cutlery, some recovered from the nearby gully.
Evening Meal at the Harlequin
    The house provides interesting insights into the ways in which people of that day made the best of circumstances and were quite imaginative in "making do" with what was available. For example ice was not available so wine bottles were kept reasonably cool in two rooms so situated as to benefit from an almost steady breeze. Interesting, as well, was the means used both to filter water and to keep it cool. Water was poured into a carved stone "jar" and because of the vessel's porosity the water gradually dripped into another similar "jar" below it, and from this into yet a third "jar" below the second one. As a result, impurities in the water were filtered out and as some of the water evaporated it absorbed heat from the containing vessels and thus cooled the main body of water. These arrangements were found across the island, and known as dripstones.
    A small cinema in an adjacent building gave an excellent account of George Washington's history before he arrived on the island at the age of 19, and how he was changed by the visit.
    We then mopped up the rest of the self-guided tour upstairs in the house. All in all, this historic site is very worthwhile a visit. We were now cultured out, and decided to leave the Barbados Museum on the Garrison Historic Area to another day.
    We returned to our abode via a supermarket. Produce and services are a tad more expensive here than in the UK, but we learnt later that the value of sterling in the outside world had dropped dramatically.
    In the evening, we caught a bus up to St. Lawrence Gap. Despite pressing bells, pulling cords and shouts, the driver obliviously overshot our desired drop-off point by 400m. Still, the walk did us good. Meryl plied me with a couple of rum punches in the same bar we had visited two nights earlier. They certainly hit the spot.

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East of the Island Barbados Museum
Last updated 30.4.2017