Return to Trinidad

BY AMANDA CUMMINS

On my parents’ return to Trinidad it was to a bigger job, a bigger house and a bigger diary.

They had attended, and given, many parties during our first stint in the West Indies. Parties mainly for friends, with very little business entertaining. And very good parties they were, too. However, this was different. This new life meant entertaining Big Time.

Diplomats, politicians, bankers, etc. The biggest etc was the Governor General who became Trinidad’s President. Every year it was expected that there would be a drinks party at which he would be present, but this was dependent upon liaising with his secretary and other secretaries to find a date upon which the President could attend and one which did not conflict with anything else. July was always complicated, what with 4th July at the American Embassy and Quatorze Juillet at the French Embassy.

My parents had known the President of what was to be a Republic for many years. He was the last Governor General and the first President. His family and mine were old friends. I knew him as Uncle Ellis. As Governor General, of course one treated him with deference but it was all rather relaxed. When he became President, I was told that I must remember to call him Your Excellency and Sir and NOT rush up to him and kiss him hello.

I was at school in England for my parents’ first Big Party in Port-of-Spain, prior to Trinidad becoming a Republic. Apparently, it was judged to be a great success. H.E. the G.G. and his wife thought it all lovely.

Fast forward to the period after Trinidad & Tobago became a Republic and the Big Party at home. With the President in attendance.

My mother said afterwards that there are some days on which you simply do not get up. Or retire to bed as soon as you’ve got up.

The day before the party what seemed to be most of Trinidad’s police force appeared to “walk the garden”. Sniffer dogs in the poinsettia hedge along the drive, policemen poking about around the house. Our dogs were a bit miffed about the invasion but there were no incidents to report between Labrador and Alsatians. Our other dog, the flea-infested but rather sweet guard dog we inherited, fled upstairs. Which was forbidden.

On the morning of the party, Mum felt confident all would go well. The caterers were poised, small “booths” created in the garden from which drinks and eats were to be dispensed. A small section of a steel band was organised to lurk beneath the avocado trees. Nothing could possibly go wrong: all she had to do was collect the flowers she was going to do for the house, have her hair done and then relax.

Confidence is a many splendoured thing. Occasionally misfounded.

There was due to be a dinner for 20 after the party. Cooked by Sylvia who always, but always, had a blip about parties: she had taken to her bed in the night with a flu. Cue the doctor. Mum then went to collect the flowers which had been ordered: they weren’t there but there might be a chance of flowers from Guyana if the flight was on time. It was beginning to get a bit stressy. Next: hair appointment. A notice on the door saying “due to a family bereavement, we will not be open for the next four days”.

During all these ridiculously insubstantial hiccups, my father was in the office and unaware that there was a meltdown in the offing which was fast escalating into a potential Vesuvius moment.

Somehow, flowers were located and a different hairdresser found a slot for the coiffing. Sylvia was comfortably ensconced in her bed, antibiotics and our cat for company. Someone was found to oversee supper after the party, the caterers were in control for the party. An even keel was regained.

My mother’s only remaining worry was the dogs. Master plan: they were to be shut, with their beds and biscuits, in the laundry room at the back of the house.

The arrival of the President was preceded by a police escort: a big car with a pennant, others cars and motorbikes, all with lights flashing. My parents stood in the doorway, 300 people behind them in the garden. It then went terribly wrong. Just as my mother said “how lovely to see you”, there was what in West Indian parlance is called A Confusion. Someone had inadvertently opened the door to the laundry room: two dogs came whizzing past the President, down the drive and into the street beyond.

“My dear, you look marvellous” said the President “but I think we need to do something about the dogs”.

Mummy pulled up her skirt and dashed down the drive, into a sea of policemen.

The security detail attached to the President turned into dog catchers, with my mother in command. Further up the road there were two corporals standing guard outside the head of Trinidad’s Defence Force who was happily having drinks in our garden. They were seconded to dog catching duties.

The girls didn’t go very far, thank goodness, and were brought home quickly. All was well. The party was a great success. And most entertaining.

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