Cayman Islands has a boat culture. We see boats go up and down the canal outside our condo everyday. We take the occasional cruise to Rum Point or at sunset ourselves. But we are nowhere near as connected as are most people on the island who have boats or access to boats.

Back in Canada, thirty grand would get you a pretty nice little boat to run around in. That same boat down here would cost three times that amount, and that wouldn’t include maintenance. We don’t have that kind of money. Nevertheless, we do like to see the boats go by, especially at Christmas, when many of them dress up their boats with lights the way that we do back home with our houses.

This has become such a tradition that there is now a Parade of Lights at the nearby Camana Bay, that is regularly attended by hundreds of people. There is music and street food, and a local television now broadcast the event island wide with prizes for the best in the small boat and large boat categories.

We have gone in the past, but this year decided to make it a group event with island friends who like us brought chairs and snacks and drinks. Pam and I got there early to stake out a good place to view, and then settled in for a good old natter while we waited for the parade to start.

There were fourteen boats this year, some of them with over three thousand lights. Each boat adopts a particular theme to promote. Of particular note were “Baby Shark” with its movable jaw and “Water Angel” with its curtain of lights hanging from the fishing rigging. After the parade and the prizes, we were treated to a fireworks show.

Christmas is still not Christmas without the snow, but there are compensations in this part of the world. Gathering with friends for a pleasant evening by the water with the cool Christmas breezes blowing is one of them.

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Our church meets in the Harquail Theatre, not far from where we live. We tried going to larger churches – and there are plenty of those on island – but for us it is the sense of community that binds us to Christ, and that is often missing in larger congregations. Because it is a theatre, we often get to see coming productions in the process of building their sets on stage. We have watched with fascination as the set for Moon on a Rainbow Shawl was taking place. It was a marvel of construction that had room for four families that share a “yard” with another half dozen people walking by on the “road” behind their “houses.”

The play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, was written in 1957 by Errol John, a Trinidadian, who won a contest to write a culturally relevant play set after the last war. It was first staged in London, England to rave reviews and its storied past includes cast members James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, and Maya Angelou. The play is set in a dirt-poor Trinidadian yard and we get to know the people living in it as if we were their neighbours.

The mother, Sophia, is at the heart of the drama. She is the Caribbean matriarch no one dares to cross with her biting sarcasm and gaze that would freeze hell. She is also exhausted, hard-working and vulnerable with an equally exhausted husband, Charlie, and a young baby to tend. Their only hope is their teenage daughter, Esther, who has just secured a scholarship to high school. Drunk from partying, one night Charlie steals some money from a local restaurant as a prank.

Sharing the yard is Rosa, who works at the restaurant and has seen the theft. She is carrying the child of her lover Ephraim, who also lives in the yard, but she has not told him of her pregnancy. Ephraim, for his part, is planning to leave the island to find a better life in England. Mavis, the town’s prostitute, entertains a revolving door of men in an effort to make ends meet. In short, they are all trapped in the same yard by their poverty.

The cast included seasoned Caribbean professionals, including the set designer and director, Henry Muttoo, MBE, the artistic director of Cayman National Cultural Foundation, but also a number of students from the local John Gray High School who were more than able to hold their own. It was a brilliant production, well-acted and staged, with a tone and resonance that was tender and as far as we could tell, authentic in its depiction of Caribbean life. We get so few chances to see what our fellow residents of this island face on a daily basis as we spend most of our time with expats doing expat things. It was something of reality check to see what resilience, grit, and perseverance are needed to face what for some are lives of overwhelming despair in trying just to survive.

November 11 is called different things, depending on where you come from and who your parents were. My parents were both born in London, England, and both served in the last war, so you will forgive me if I have no patience with those who would like to see the world move on and forget the two world wars ever happened.

Perhaps because this November 11 marks 100 years since the first war came to an end it seemed to have particular significance for me. Perhaps it is my own aging frame that sees what my parents went through in a clearer, more compassionate light. I am not sure.

Last night I heard a choir sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a song that came out in 1945 just as the troops were coming home from the war. It held particular significance for those that returned battle weary and broken. The lines, “at the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of the lark,” reminded that embattled generation of a famous poem from an earlier war, “… and in the sky, the larks, still bravely singing, fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

I remember my mother sitting quietly on the couch when that song came on the radio. She wasn’t crying. I never saw either of my parents cry at anything. They were far too tough, both of them. But only a fool could fail to see her grief, her broken and shattered dreams of a life she and so many of her generation could never have.

Mom went through the terrible bombing of London, sleeping every night with her sister and her Mom in the London Tube listening to the destruction above them and emerging in the morning to see what was gone and what still remained. It was likely that those three months of nightly terror gave rise to her lifelong anxiety attacks. Partly out of desperation to get out of London and partly to “get back at the bastards,” she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), serving in the south of England in a secret radar installation near Worth Matravers.

They trained the WAAFs to identify the larger incoming blips that were German bombers, and smaller blips that were the British fighters. Mom’s fiancé was a fighter pilot. WAAFs never knew which smaller blip was a close friend or brother when the smaller blips disappeared. It was only when the fighter planes landed that Mom would find out her fiancé, Dennis, was killed over the Channel. They never found his body. Three months later she met Dad, on his way to the war in Africa. They met and married in two weeks. They didn’t see each other for five years. They clung to each other like drowning combatants for the rest of their lives.

People don’t know about these things anymore. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is now just some song to sing when the blokes are kicking the ball around in Liverpool, or when high school kids walk the aisle to graduate. Everything gets degraded in this meat grinder of popular culture. When you try to share what this all meant to parents you saw struggle and suffer with their wartime grief, you get looks of withering contempt. Who wants to know that stuff anymore.

Well I do. My parents paid an enormous price in the loss of loved ones and the loss of six years of their lives to the war. They paid another price in emotional and psychological damage for the rest of their lives. I do not want my children and grandchildren not to know who my parents were, and the price they paid to bring an end to the barbaric brutality of the Third Reich and its Holocaust.

My parents were heroes. Broken and damaged, yes, but heroes all they same. I honour their memory for I know that we are not likely to see their generation again.

For almost a dozen years now we have lived close enough to the equator that the changing of the seasons, although a reality, are almost imperceptible. The winds change directions, there is more rain, the seas become rougher or the temperatures become marginally cooler in the evening.  While we love the warmer climates, we do miss the uniqueness of each season: the clear, crisp, sparkling of the snow, the vibrant burst of new life in spring, the warm sunny days of summer and especially the brilliant array of fall colours. With that in mind, we opted this year to confine our summer travels to the west and spend our October mid-semester break in Ontario.

We were only off for one week but managed to pack each day to the fullest so that we were able to tie up loose ends in terms of our finances, condo and some purchases that need to be made in London. We were happy to be back enjoying the gracious hospitality of Randy and Sylvia in their cosy grannie suite, which is full of wonderful memories for us. It was an incredible joy to worship at West London, surrounded by dear friends with whom we have shared fellowship and served alongside for many years.

   

It was a whirlwind week, starting with a baby fest meeting six new great nieces; all under the age of 19 months. Spent a lovely evening in the new home of my nephew Jesse and his wife Christyn and had Chinese with three brothers and their wives. Long time friends, John and Bonnie treated us to their signature salad and pumpkin soup and Al and Shelley created an amazing brunch.  Kim made us quiche at her allergy friendly Urban Oven business and we had a nosh of India food with friends Matt and Kate. Made a quick trip to Cambridge area to catch up on the lives of precious and like-minded friends Beth and Stephen. We even stole a morning away in which I had tea with my dear high school friend Jane, while Steve headed to our old stomping grounds in St Thomas to meet up with teaching friends. Still, there were many others that we longed to see but time did not allow.

 

Saturday morning we left early for a three hour drive to meet up with Jon and Nic and the kids in Fort Erie for lunch and a quick visit by the Niagara River. The weather was cold, rainy and the fall colours not yet in full splendour but it was a beautiful drive and a fun visit. We then drove three hours to downtown Toronto to have dinner with Joe and Jane and catch up with the news on Steve’s side of the family. Finally crashed at an airport hotel to get a few hours sleep before heading to the airport at six for our flight home.

When you see people as infrequently as we do, every conversation is intended to share our hearts joys and struggles of the past year. Each conversation is rich, precious and often deeply painful. We went back to work exhausted, with our hearts burdened for many of our friends but rejoicing in the joy of being part of wonderful families and so blessed by the friends with whom we have had the privilege of sharing this journey.

When Richard Burbage died all of London mourned. He was the greatest actor of his generation: the thoughtful Hamlet, the heroic King Henry, the deceitful King Richard, and the lost and lonely King Lear. He was carried in pomp and circumstance through streets so thronged with mourners that the event overshadowed the death of Queen Anne 10 days earlier.

But when Shakespeare who created all the characters and plays that Burbage acted in died his passing was almost unnoticed. Now think of our day. Name some great movies you know. Wizard of Oz? Star Wars? Who were the actors? Judy Garland? Harrison Ford? Now who wrote the screenplay for those films? See? The problem is not just the silly Brits of Shakespeare day.

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep is one of the best and most underrated American novels of the last century. The metaphorical language. The gritty dialogue. The filmic prose. It is a wonder of concision and tension. But when it came to putting that into a screenplay Chandler declined and even William Faulkner faltered. So the studio brought in Leigh Brackett to whip the script into shape. Under her skilled hands both Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe and his doll Lauren Bacall shine in what has become the classic film noir.

Fast forward 40 years to George Lucas struggling to follow up the success of his first Stars Wars saga with a sequel that will take the story to the next level. Who does he tap? Leigh Brackett who is still churning it out at 62 but who tragically dies of cancer shortly after completing the first draft. So George Lucas brings in Lawrence Kasdan who has just recently written the screenplay for the first Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kasdan writes a second and then final draft of what will become The Empire Strikes Back, widely considered the best in the franchise. Kasdan will also go on the write the screenplay for Return of the Jedi before going off to write and direct his own projects.

Where is this all going to might say? Well I recently saw Solo, the most recent and most poorly received of the current rash of Star Wars films. It is, in my humble opinion, not only the best, but likely to be seen as such 30 years from now. Why? Because Lawrence Kasdan is back as the screenwriter and he knows what he is doing. The script is tight, revealing only as much of Solo’s backstory as is necessary to keep the plot moving, and eschewing maudlin sentimentality on the one hand and studied ironic cynicism on the other. Kasdan’s Solo is a believable and charming rogue, both cunning and conned and well worth second look in a sequel.

Whether he will get that look is more up to politics than the power of pertinent prose. It is Burbage that England mourned, not Shakespeare. Money and popularity have always wowed the crowd But is is Shakespeare who is remembered and studied 400 years later. And who among you knew the name of Richard Burbage before you read this post?

I grew up in Parkway West, an idyllic little enclave nestled between Don Mills and Scarborough in the northeast corner of Toronto. Walking to Don Mills Collegiate meant a very pleasant two kilometre hike skirting the Donalda Golf course, across a little wooden bridge over the Don River and up a few residential streets to the school. I loved the walk through the trees and watching the seasons change. By the time I was ready to teach, Toronto had grown too big for my liking, so I took a job in St. Thomas, in part because I could walk to work.

We always seemed to live two or three kilometres from where I worked. When we lived on Hammond, I taught at Scott Street School. When we lived on Metcalf, I taught at Elgin Court. When we moved to Myrtle and later on Trevithick, I taught at Locke’s. Given that it was St. Thomas there were always railway tracks to hike along or over. I used to love the smell of honeysuckle that would often grow wild besides the abandoned rail lines.

I continued to walk to work until we moved to London in 2001, and then I traded in my walk for a very pleasant country drive. In Malaysia I would hike up Wangsa Baiduri the two kilometres or so to Taylor’s College.  Once again I appreciated the opportunity to wake up and get a little exercise before I had to start my day, though you had to watch for the cavernous and uncovered storm drains. And walking home in KL’s blistering heat was no fun at all.

The Cayman Islands is much better. There is a pretty steady breeze most months of the year and you are never far from the sea no matter which side of the island you are on. I hike to the end of the street and past the ruins of what used to be the Hilton, damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Ivan. Then I skirt the Britannia Golf Course, closed now for rezoning, and up a new sidewalk to Camana Bay on the North Sound, taking in the sunrise in the winter. From there it is just a few steps to the school. It takes me about half an hour without breaking a sweat.

My body is slowing down considerably as I approach 70. If I don’t keep walking, I soon won’t be able to stand in front of a class all day. My mind is still sharp, and I am still learning, so to quit before I am ready would be a disappointment hard to bear. So I walk to work. It will be my great loss when I no longer have to. Or can.

I cannot remember when I first read The Diary of Anne Frank. I was young, too young to understand all that was said, alluded to, or implied. I know I was struck by Anne’s honesty, more so when I came to grips with what the Nazis did to her and millions of Jews like her. It is not easy to wrap your head and heart around that level of demonic evil when you are young. I toured the Annex when I was in Amsterdam, as a mature adult. We shuffled from room to room, dumbstruck by the banality of the horror that was written on every wall.

So when the Cayman Drama Society opened auditions for the play, I knew I had to try out. I wasn’t looking for a major role, just something to get my feet wet on stage after more than a dozen years coaching students from the sidelines. I tried out for Dussel, the fussy dentist that comes in halfway through the first act. I practiced a passable German accent and committed a few passages to memory. I was little taken aback when the director, Kirsty Halliday, said, “Very nice, now drop the accent and try it again.” I did, and got cast in the role.

This summer I used every available minute to commit the script to memory. Then I worked on all the cues surrounding my part. Rehearsals went on while I was away in Canada, but that couldn’t be helped. As soon as I got back I jumped back into all the blocking that I had missed and introduced myself to the cast. Fortunately, drama folks are a pretty accepting sort, and I soon felt comfortable and found their company pleasant. The schedule itself was tiring on top of teaching all day: two late nights a week and four to six hours on the weekends. But slowly the bits and pieces came together and we began to jell as a cast.

Kirsty had three primary ideas she wanted to embed in her production. She wanted to put the entire audience, all 80 of them, on the stage with us so there would be no escape, no turning away. The auditorium would become the warehouse through the audience would walk, behind the bookcase and up the stairs into the Annex. Then she wanted to visualize Anne’s nightmare scene, bringing the three Nazis on stage to terrorize her as she slept. Then in the final scene she wanted us all to march, zombie like, onto the stage and fall into a heap of bodies, eyes open and gazes blank staring out at the audience. The effect was devastating. Many sat in tearful silence for minutes after the show was over, unable to compose themselves enough to leave. The nine shows were sold out to the last seat for every show, and the reviews and comments have been overwhelmingly positive, many saying it was the best show that the Cayman Drama Society has ever done, and the strongest cast.

It has been so rewarding for me to have even a small part in such an important play. The cast, especially 15 year old Jasmine Line, who played Anne, the music, the set design, and the staging were all impressively professional. I enjoyed the camaraderie of our cast and the nightly challenge of bringing my character to life. I will likely do another show, now that I am back into the groove, but I can’t think that anything else will ever come close to the impact of this show. It is difficult even after a week away just thinking about what we had to go through each show. 

One night I spoke to the only Jewish rabbi on Cayman who had come to the show. After he had complemented me on my Hebrew during the Sim Shalom prayer that I offer, I asked him about his reaction. He said he found it moving and authentic. He also shared that he had lost two of his great grandparents in the Holocaust. I asked if he minded us, an entirely Gentile cast, presenting this work. Oh no, he said, very firmly. The truth must continue to be told so that this never happens again. Never again.