I was cleaning up my old blog site and dusting it down and I found the last unposted blog I wrote before we were publicly attacked and hounded out of the country. We were stressed and with the feeling that the state and the corrupt people were closing in on us. Rafa was hardly sleeping and we did not know who to trust with our fears but as usual we were surrounded by a lot of love, just as well when we discovered what was about to happen.
so here is the last blog I didn’t publish, as by then I realised how interested everybody was in me!
I have no air con in my car, but at least my car is back on the road so I should be thankful for small mercies. However most of my journeys are short so I never get to build up enough speed for effective ventilation, and I seem to arrive everywhere red faced and sweaty with my hair looking like a bad 1980s blow dry. I have also stopped kissing people since I got quite badly splashed with sweat they other day by two overweight and over cooked diplomats, and I fear I could be giving people the same delightful treat.
We have been very busy in the last few weeks. Our good friend Stephen against all the odds managed to direct and stage a great British play Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, translated by a friend of ours and performed by some great Cuban actors. We went to the opening night and I made it to another night with a different caste. The theatre was full every night. I felt as though Cuban actors had met with the great tradition of British theatre, all under Stephen’s directing expertise as a Meisner coach. The money for the play was raised the old fashioned way with a lot of hard work and determination from Stephen and the caste with some help from the film school.
We organised a fundraiser auction of donated art in our house and friends generously donated through the 100 club (100 cucs each), and also got to buy some great art. A lot of our good friends here in Cuba helped with promotion and their personal generosity was amazing. Paulo and Nico were outside offering to park and clean cars. They made 9 and 7 cucs each and I had to admire their resourcefulness although I am not sure how well they cleaned the cars, especially as it was raining!
The play was a headlining event in British Cultural week. The British Council had helped a lot and brought over a couple of good films but the rest of the British week was a bit of a let down and seemed to be made up of a bunch of Cuban musicians and DJs getting dressed up in comedy Union Jack garb. Not one British DJ or band or any music from what I could see in the programme that under duress was sent to me by email. My requests for posters and flyers for the film school was ignored and Rafa never received an invitation to the inauguration of the film week, making the British embassy the only one that fails to invite us. How uncool! I live in hope that things may change next year but the British Diplomats always seem a bit out of touch and haughty in that very old fashioned way.
The film school has been going through some hard times and the last few weeks have been very tough for Rafa and the whole family. Not much sleep and a lot of stress. The school has lost a large portion of money that was coming from the Cuban state (long story that anybody unfamiliar with the creativity of Cuban funding would never understand) and like the whole of Cuba it has to learn to grow up, and grow up fast. Becoming more sustainable and self sufficient by looking for international money when the world is still gripped by a global crisis, is not easy and in the meantime sacrifices will have to be made.
When the axe will come down it looks as though salaries may have to be cut a long with some of the great projects the school is involved with. Production and post production services need to be sold internationally if the Cuban state will allow it. In the area of international workshops there are many plans to expand and grow. The film school has always been the island on the island, and its chemistry of international and Cuban culture means that it is worth fighting to help the project to survive and keep its philosophy, and not be allowed to fall into mediocrity or be institutionalised rather than reaching out to the tres mundos.
In the meantime the boys are nearly out of school for the summer and both did fantastically in their yearly reports and evaluations. We may be a bit poorer but our children are at least a bit smarter! I am planning our trip to UK and France. Now we are 5 in the family there are not too many places we can stay. A good friend is lending us her boat in London and we will head down to Devon to stay in my mother’s new holiday pad and then to France to stay with friends in the Dordogne and take in a bit of Paris on the way back. Looking forward to getting away with the family for the first proper holiday in a long time, we certainly need it!
Quite a lot going on here in our family life, including a little attack of chicken pox and a half term holiday of 2 weeks, meaning that our latest role of full time parents has been pushed to the limit.
We are still feeling like a family that has been washed up in a port during a hurricane, and we have stayed here until we know it is safe to go out, and we know where we are going. This being easier said than done, and oddly (or not) our safe little port is my own beloved country.
When we rocked back up to the UK unexpectedly we managed to organise a temporary shelter in the storm for our children thanks to relatives, friends and the kindness of the people of Nottingham. It was not easy, but we managed to bring some normality back into our children’s lives and have even had some fun along the way. Life has been simple and totally revolved around the family and building a new future for all of us.
How are the children? I really don’t know how all this has affected them, but they have each other. Sleeping has become a huge issue and sometimes we feel as though we have 3 babies. I’m getting used to waking up with one child climbing into bed with me. These phases happen wherever you are and whatever you are doing, but they had their lives turned upside down, the contents of their home disappeared fast and they have had to live through a lot of uncertainty. Generally I am so proud of them, the way they keep slotting into one culture and language after the other. We are all together and healthy and that is the most important thing.
Rafa has been a rock as usual, but I have had my moments of emotional turmoil, mainly caused by the injustice and ingratitude of our recent experiences. My little ones had been thrown into so much uncertainty, something I would NEVER have done to them. Trying to find that way forward did not always seem easy. Once we had moved to our house and got the children into school and Saskia to nursery, we started to think about ourselves.
We had arrived in the UK on a holiday but now we had to think about what to do next. The first thing was to sort out Rafa’s papers here, we were nervous as leaving Cuba in 2 weeks meant that we had not had time to check everything out. We assumed that having put up with me for 10 years and being the father of 3 British children that this would be a relatively straight-forward process and made an appointment to visit the best immigration lawyers in town. Seventy five pounds later we fell back onto the fashionable streets of Hockley, pretty devastated at the mess we had found ourselves in due to our undignified exit from Cuba.
Although I had been psychologically healing and moving on, suddenly I was right back to square one and I could only think of 2 people from the film school, the short fat ugly one with bad teeth and her pathetic spaniel faced puppet. Very childish I know but it makes me feel better. I cannot use their names anymore as these two pathetic, dishonest and weak people disgust me so much, I have had to caricature them! In fact when I think about Cuba, despite everything, I think a lot about all the love and good people we knew, but then these caricatures pop up like some crazy spoof horror film, both unattractive and sinister. The kind of people happy to throw a family out of their home in 2 weeks. Would you respect these people?
We were realising yet another consequence of the undignified way that we were forced to leave Cuba. We did not have time to prepare Rafa’s papers to come to Europe. Europe was always part of the plan, we just thought we would make our move in a more civilised way. Anyway, we were told that cold September morning that Rafa would have to leave the UK for between 3-6 months, go back to Guatemala where they do not issue visas, fly to Panama where they do, pay hundreds and hundreds of pounds and hang around alone waiting for his papers to see if he could join his family to come and live with us in a country, where we were not even entirely sure that we wanted to stay. Our 2 years in Cuba had cost us a lot of money and it was looking as though they were going to cost us even more. We still don’t know when we will ever see our remaining possessions again and we are still living out of a few suitcases.
We had never been split up ever since I had rocked back into Rafa’s life from Buenos Aires pregnant, all those years ago. The thought of Papa not being with us for Paulo’s birthday, Christmas and Nico’s Birthday and all of us alone during a long winter was too unbearable to imagine. We wandered around the house in a daze, occasionally stopping and hugging each other and trying to work out a more palatable solution. Rafa had asked the Spaniel if we could stay 2 or 3 more months in Cuba to prepare our move with more care, we had 3 kids for God sake! He had mumbled his refusal, like he always mumbled.
Now we were thinking of wild and crazy plans just to keep the family together, imagine! I bet you can’t! And all this anguish caused by an institution that prides itself on international humanity and understanding. A tad cynical I have become.
Serendipity led me to meet a lovely Mum in a playground, who had worked as a human rights lawyer, and with a large book on European immigration law and her help and reassurances, we began to develop a plan, so we could set sail again, together, for a new life. It had to be a place we all wanted to live, and also a place where we could feel safe and NEVER suffer injustice or persecution again. A place that we could make our home ……. our own home!
Suddenly out of all the madness we had a plan again and one that was always a contender, even before all this happened. We began to feel a little bit better. Bad teeth and Spaniel would not win this one, and the scary pop ups began to go away again.
Meanwhile in our hurricane port, recovering and plotting our next move, my children have had an opportunity to be British and learn about their other half. They have been the coldest they have ever been in their lives and the whitest, but they have never complained! They have embraced the music and TV, and the fact that this is their country too, they love fish and chips and baked beans, Ambrosia custard (not the school one) and Ribena. Re-confirmed that British sweets and music are the best in the world, something announced to us by a friendly taxi driver a few years ago as he shared his toffees with us on the way to the airport.
The good people that we have met and who have helped us in these few weeks, we will never forget you. You accepted us for who we were and never judged us with our crazy stories from another world, another reality. I feel sad that I have had to break a few British people’s romantic notions of Cuba and tell them what it has become, no matter what it may well have been one day.
I have also seen my country in a different light. I admire the hardworking people and a welfare state that goes way beyond anything that existed in Cuba both in terms of healthcare and education. Although us Brits all love to complain, I value even more that ability to complain and stand up for your rights. I love and admire the amazing intellectualism and analytical thought that my country is famous for, and also the multi-culturalism, which means that even in the small city of Nottingham I have met people from all over the world, doing well and surviving on this little island. Also my children have heard me swear much less due to the fact that in my experience we are the most polite drivers in the world. After 10 years away I still cannot believe it when people politely let me pull out in front of them and everyone waves thank you for the slightest courtesy.
Every weekend my children have enjoyed amazing free activities in galleries and museums and parks. Saskia has a French class at her free nursery and my boys extra Spanish classes in their school. They have also learnt a fair bit about the Islamic and Hindu world and taken part in Eid and Diwali celebrations.
But ……….. nobody has any time anymore in England. Everybody is so busy in their little lives that spontaneity has fallen by the wayside. Or is it just living as an ex-pat all these years mean that I have learnt to embrace spontaneity and serendipity and grab every opportunity that life throws my way. I am not used to having to reserve and plan things weeks in advance.
Maybe I no longer know how to live like a Brit but I do know how to be a foreigner, and I don’t mind being the foreigner. The unbearable lightness of being? Now my family belongs to an international world that knows no borders and that is where we are going. And I want my OWN house to fill with my family, beautiful things, and friends visiting me from all over the world with stories to tell.
I cannot deny that I have learnt so much about humanity on my adventures so far. I could also say I don’t want any more adventures but I know that is not true, but I do want a bit of security and stability, at least for a while.
I wish I had more time to spend with you Danay, one day we will meet again and have that cup of tea you promised me. Like all the wonderful Cubans I connected with you rapidly, and will never forget that interview in your mother’s house in Santa Fe. But we didn’t get to hang out as we wanted ….. but you are going places and so are we, so I think our paths will cross. In the meantime all my friends in the UK are going to know about you and your music!
We arrived in Cuba with so much love and TRUST. We were so glad to have got out of Guatemala, away from the violence and corruption, and so happy to be in Cuba with Rafa working somewhere as wonderful as EICTV, the school he loved so much. We were safe, we would be looked after.
Or that is what I thought, how wrong I was. We had been left a 15 year time bomb by the last director and it was ticking ….. Even after she left she had her spies in the school informing her of everything Rafa was doing and was writing public emails to criticise and damage him. Recently she wrote waving the white flag …… way too late for that! Maybe she too was a little unstable after 4 years in the school …. anything is possible.
My husband was a student at the film school in the second generation, to him in those days it was a utopia, and it was the school of 3 mundos (3 worlds). They were pioneers creating a new world of cinema as many of the students that followed were. I have met a lot of his friends, they are all still great friends and wonderful inspiring people. Now in 2013, nearly 30 years on, what has it become? Just another film school? But a film school in Cuba with a great heritage, and one lucky enough to have exceptionally good teachers ………. I met a lot of great people at that school but also an awful lot of fake people holding on to their lies, some more clever than others. They were the ones that disappeared from the scene when the going got tough.
One woman spent the whole of the first year showering us with presents, the children too, acting as though she was a good friend, I never trusted her and I was right. I felt sorry for her boyfriend who always seemed to be following one step behind her like a loyal dog. Another character, who Rafa invited for over a decade to Guatemala for the film festival, paying her flights, was nowhere to be seen. Did not even call us to say goodbye. Is this the way decent people react?
My love affair with Cuba was intense and dramatic, of course, how else could it be? I will always remember MY Cuba. The sweet kind people that came into my life and they were the ones that were there for us at the end to help and support us, when all the bureaucrats in the government, the foundation and the film school, had done their work at ruining a family life in a few days and possibly psychologically damaging my children. I still haven’t found them a school place in their new home, we arrived too late. But who gave a shit about my family in the end?
A few weeks ago my husband told the children over a Saturday breakfast that he was no longer director of the film school. Nico, my 7 year old just shrugged his shoulders and sighed and said that at least we wouldn’t have to worry about saving the film school anymore. But things got tough when they realised they were leaving their beloved French school and all their friends and Cuba ……..
A cowardly, total lack of humanity is the only way I can describe what has just happened to me, and my family. Ironic that with film school money, a previous director had co-produced a documentary series called Ser un Ser Humano. Not much humanity came my way from the people with power at the school. The anger and indignation, and also the horror of what we have just been put through, is lessening day by day, but writing this blog, I hope will be some kind of catharsis, and help me turn the page and leave all this soap opera behind, and move on to better things.
Also ‘me and my blog’ have become one of the characters in this ridiculous story, which should be a film script or a myth. The British wife is now, like Miss Scarlett in Cluedo one of the characters of this tale, where we became victims of corruption, deception and betrayal. I remember in the last tough days, receiving a phonecall from a woman (who thinks she is a lady) from the fundacion, telling me that she was a friend and a professional. I had to laugh, there was nothing friendly or professional about this woman. She behaved like the worst kind of bureaucrat from the beginning to the end.
My husband has had to take a lot of personal punches in the face and plenty of bullshit over the last few weeks, but everybody who knows him knows that he is an honourable man, who loves and protects his family, and loves Cuba and that film school. He is also Guatemalan and has been through a war in a country where you are taught to keep your mouth shut, and not share your worries, and at times in Cuba, there seemed no other option. We always thought we were going to be safe though.
We have received accusations of being counter revolutionaries and having private meetings with the American office of interest. So ridiculous. We met the poor guy 3 times. Twice when they threw their huge annual party for all the people involved in culture in Havana and the usual Havana personalities, journalists and other diplomats, and once when he came to visit the film school. We invited a lot of ambassadors to visit the school in the 2 years we were there, and when we invited the Head of Mission we really did not think he would make it, as it was outside their 25 mile zone. To his credit he applied 3 times and finally got permission. We admired his tenacity and received him once in the film school, I wrote about it in this blog. This was our only time meeting him.
Thieves, thieves everywhere ………
When I arrived in Cuba, our house, although beautiful, was a crumbling den of corruption by the sea, the tip of the iceberg of what we were about to discover. The woman in charge was running a food, beer and coffee business from the house, selling through the rubbish collectors and whoever else. When I arrived it didn’t take me long to get to the bottom of everything. All this stuff in the house and there was nobody living there. Food for hundreds of people, including many luxury items had entered in the last 6 months, we could do nothing as everything had been signed off. The woman still works in the kitchen at the film school and I dare say she is still stealing.
We could not ignore what was happening, as it was right under our nose in our own house. As I said, we threw them all out and then our house was burgled. Nobody at the film school who could help, seemed to want to, in fact the opposite, the head of administration was openly hostile towards me when I wanted help with the police and the investigation after the robbery. Other ¨friends¨ in docencia (the faculty) told me just to forget about it and it was all conveniently swept under the carpet. It took us a year to get the guys to pick up the rubbish again, they were really pissed off at losing their business, the British wife had made a stand and she would have to pay. We certainly did when thousands of dollars worth of money and property disappeared one night from our house. Rafa was about to travel and only a few people in the school knew that he had cash in the house for a few hours. Too much of a coincidence.
I tried not to let all this dark stuff get me down, and we were happy to be away from military fascists, narcos and violence in Guatemala. I loved Cuba but I was wisening up fast. The people who I had found to work in my house either refused to work with the film school as they described it is a nido de ratas (a rat’s nest) and pushed everything back onto me, or they ended up stealing from me too! After a year I had almost cleaned it all up and had my great right hand woman in charge. Without her I could never have got through the last year, she was my rock and one of the most wonderful and honest and hardworking people you could want to have at your side. Rafa on the other hand had more than a house to deal with …..
I was already falling in love with my Cuba, a world of good and interesting, decent people. But at times I felt more comfortable on the terrasa of my friend’s apartment in Buena Vista than playing the role of director’s wife in my beautiful beach house. Many aspects of the film school for me had begun to represent all that was going wrong with Cuba, and I had to keep it to myself. There were good people in the school, and I tried to focus on them and not the fake ones. In the second year some great women arrived bringing with them an international vision and experience, there seemed some hope that the school could move forward into the real world.
I loved meeting all the people who came to visit and the wonderful teachers who brought their energy. When there were a lot of workshops happening the place could be buzzing with healthy energy from outside the madness.
The wise grey haired academics*, always treated me kindly, the good team in production and photography, Luciano and the ladies in the library, the sweet people in the dining room, the humble workers, tired of working amongst a mafia. But I had become tired of dealing with so many doble caras (two faced people) full of their own self importance. My Havana life was much more fun and genuine.
* Especially Daniel Diaz Torres who directed one of my all time favourite Cuban films: La Pelicula de Ana.
Every month we had parties in the house to thank the teachers who travel for little money to give classes at the school. I threw some great parties, we all had fun and danced a lot. I love music much more than film, and like to push people out of their comfort zone. My days of working in record companies in London meant that I had a huge appreciation of diverse music. I will always remember how much people danced in front of the sea and how my favourites became theirs. In Cuba, I got into my rumba, always loved cumbia, rediscovered Blaxploitation, and fell in love with Danay and her gang.
I always wanted to invite the students more so they could escape from the pressure cooker, but the first time I did invite a group and took some time and had fun chatting with them and made sure they had some special cocktails that we did not normally serve but in the end, someone stole 26 electric candles from me! I had just bought some new ones on Amazon half price and a German friend had brought them over for me from London. I felt like a little girl who had just had her birthday present stolen, I loved my cheap but cool candles and everyone knew it. Another stealing mystery, but we couldn’t touch the students, some of them were just too full of entitlement and hostility. It seemed I deserved to have my candles stolen ……… In the end some students even stole the words from my blog but that’s another story.
I met many lovely students on an individual basis, especially in my first year, but as we entered our second year, they seemed increasingly more interested in complaining about petty issues rather than looking at the big picture, and their way of dealing with everything seemed to be with hatred and violence and lynching amongst themselves most of the time, but the Rapidito Mafia (as they had become known) were always happy to lynch anyone available from what I could see. A Shakespearean mob manipulated and misinformed and sometimes unstable. One week they would be saying one thing and the next ……
As a psychologist I began to find their behaviour erratic and often disturbing. I felt a bit sorry for them, maybe this so called utopia had turned into something more akin to Lord of the Flies or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest then anything more poetic or wistful. The isolation of the school and the intensity of the community did not seem healthy anymore. Havana was so close but so far. It seemed cruel to isolate these young people from life and Cuba. If you ask me the school should move to Havana and maybe things could be a little bit more normal rather then some over-rated psychological experiment that has passed its sell by date.
I just wish I had had more time to dance with my friends, instead of listening to the problems Rafa was dealing with, night after night after night. It drained me. This organisation was on its last legs and we were realising that even people we had considered friends could not be trusted ….. and the time bomb was ticking louder and louder ….
The Cuban State is what it is and it seems they have been looking for scapegoats everywhere in these last few years. Two Brits just got out of prison, there are now 20 Canadians in prison, all for minor allegations. They threatened my husband with prison 3 times, mainly for irregularities which had been going on at the school for over 15 years. He took it like a man as they told him to do so! Then they took him to the school and did it in front of the whole school like a crucifixion, with no chance for the truth to come out. The people who should have been up there, those that had been sucking the cow all those years, were nowhere to be seen. Cowards!
When we were thrown out of our home and the whole family left the country in just 2 weeks. I had to give away most of my possessions from a family life of 10 years and 3 children, everything in my kitchen, most of my clothes, my books. I was scared of what could happen to us. Can you imagine going through that? I wept as I tried to decide which books to keep from the children’s collection, which memories. Hiding their Lego in boxes to be taken away.
They were unable to say goodbye to their school and half of their friends, they had to see their books, bicycles and toys being sold and given away,………or disappearing, and their mother working like crazy under enormous pressure to organize everything in record time. We could not have done it without the help of all our wonderful friends. We shipped a few precious personal things to Guatemala where we were not going, and ran with 5 suitcases to England leaving so many things in the house to be given away. The school paid nothing towards the move. Everybody warned us, don’t leave Rafa behind, you all have to get on that plane together. At the airport security they went through everything in my hand luggage touching my underwear with much interest and studying my magazines. It was pathetic, I had to bite my lip as I snatched a pair of my favourite knickers from his hands.
But in those last 2 weeks, our house was full of Cubans looking after us and keeping us safe in more ways than one, some people who had been friends since the beginning, others who appeared like knights in shining armour to help us with everything and anything. Filmmakers and their families, artists, students, actors, writers, dancers, and our wonderful team in the house making us eat, and helping by taking the children out to have fun and keeping things as normal as possible for them. Thank you everybody we couldn’t have managed without you. Maybe you were the counter revolutionaries we were supposed to be meeting with? I think you were all just decent people and wonderful kind friends!!! To be a counter revolutionary in modern Cuba is I believe verging on an oxymoron, if that makes any sense.
Also everyone in the diplomatic and international business community who reached out to us, my great friends in the international press, UNESCO, NGOs and human rights organisations and of course the wonderful Mums in the French school, an eclectic bunch. I will never forget all those people, friends for life who came to sit with us and give us hugs and love in our stunned bewilderment.
It seemed that some Cubans were grateful for the truth, but horrified about how we were being treated, they were truly ashamed, therefore they couldn’t do enough for us. Nothing seemed real, but we just had to keep our mouths shut and get out, but we thanked them for their solidarity. One thing I can truly say is that we came to Cuba with a lot of love and left with even more.
I miss my Cuba and my friends and my Latin world of good and genuine people some of whom I never got chance to say goodbye to ……. but as we would say in English ………. We were always between a rock and a hard place. Or that is how it felt like to me, and maybe to those Cubans crying in my house …… so much emotion. As Danay sings ……….. lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas…….. (tears)
Does utopia exist? I don’t know but what happened to my family is a reality. That everyone involved in this ridiculous fiasco has to live with their shame and they all know who they are.
And still some people kept telling us, stay calm, stay quiet ……. Think about the school. Phew …………. Think about the school? What about my 3 children and half of my possessions, and how they were trying to dirty my husband’s spotless reputation????
But on the upside I have never received so many messages of love and support ever in my life from all over the world, messages that touched me and got me through the toughest times.
The Cuban way to turn a blind eye is not what Raul is spouting in his doctrine of anti-corruption. But change is tough, and Cuba, or at least the film school, was not ready to change, now it has to ……… as all the truth came tumbling out …. THAT’S WHAT THEY WANTED.
Te quiero MUCHO Cuba ……you are survivors, just like Rafa and I, and my family and I wish you all the best!
It is always tricky dipping back into England every year but this year it was particularly hard. We were homeless, in limbo and I think we all felt disconnected and confused. I always go for a month but by 3 weeks I am on my knees.
The intensity of trying to catch up with a year of family trials and tribulations can be emotionally exhausting. Dashing round and trying to spend some time with my oldest friends is great too, but usually demands a bit of drinking and bad parenting (i.e too much TV and bad food to keep them quiet while I chat, no baths or teeth cleaning and every routine goes out the window). All this usually leads to lots of bad behaviour and two cheeky boys fighting and refusing to sleep.
Last year I went without the boys and just with Saskia who was 5 months old. I only went for 2 weeks but after the first week I was missing the rest of the family so much it felt strange but was certainly an easier and more relaxing visit. I even managed a great little trip to my beloved France to visit Saskia´s godmother, which really did feel like a holiday. Great food, wine and chat and swimming in a pool surrounded by ancient oak forest.
This year for the first 3 weeks we were staying in a cottage in a beautiful Cotswold village close to my mother and sister full of smart well-preserved retired people. I had ordered a USB internet connection, which did not work and always have my mobile phone reconnected (which had no network coverage). I had happened upon a village that had communication problems that rival Cuba. I had so many things to do and so many people to call and catch up with on the phone but could not do much more than try to get through the days without one of my children spilling food on English carpets or waking up the neighbours during jetlagged nights.
We climbed up to Broadway tower with Paulo´s godmother and watched the boys chasing sheep trying to catch them and stroke them in their red El Che T-shirts.
They became experts on CBeebies, rude English words and fruit pastels, maltesers, Fruit Shoots, Hula Hoops and all the rest…….. I was so sad when they didn´t like cherries!
Before Rafa arrived ……… just trying to work out all the appliances, recycling and the TV and get them all in the hire car every day to shop at Budgens was enough. And having the elderly couple, who owned the place pop in all the time to remind me of the various recycling collections. Phew………..
By the time I managed to get them all up and fed in the morning Saskia was ready for her morning sleep and I had to put the TV on to keep the boys quiet and feed the pay phone, then it was lunch for the three of them and maybe a stagger to the park to see if I could find a corner of the playground where my phone might work whilst keeping my eye on three children ……….. not easy believe me.
I was supposed to be sorting out all the admin of my English life: banks, credit cards etc, shopping for the whole family for a year (no shopping in Cuba and 3 growing children and things as ridiculous as bath plugs and car parts, deoderants and low sugar Ketchup, tampons, toothpaste, digital radio).
We spent a wonderful half an hour in John Lewis with a fantastic Indian mama who kitted us out with footwear for the children for a few months. I dragged my non-consumerist man into New Look to get a wardrobe for Cuba in a 20 minute Sunday Summer Sale power shopping session before hitting the amazing Salisbury Cathedral. That was after a 20 minute Stonehenge stop off.
My boys had their first taste of surfing on a Devon beach and ate fish and chips and sausage rolls. We buried them in the sand of the dunes and experienced every weather in one day. Typical English seaside stuff.
When Amy Winehouse died it hit my hard. A strange thing when the death of a famous person feels close and personal. It was quite a shock and I hadn’t even been living in the UK for her rise to fame but I loved her voice, her style and her vulnerable irreverence and never read all the tabloid rubbish about her life. Maybe there is a bit of Amy in me, or maybe it was just the moment.
Then the riots ………….. a sociological disaster that will be discussed in newspaper columns for years. At this point we were all staying with a friend in London close to the action and the police sirens were going off all night. It felt quite strange to be with my Guatemalan husband in London during the worst social unrest in 26 years, But such is life ………
So my beautiful England I do love you, but I am not quite sure I understand my old world so well anymore. But thanks to all my family and friends for making this trip so wonderful despite the challenges of being on holiday in your own country, you always make me feel so welcome and loved.
We have moved out of our house and our things have left in a big truck headed for Cuba but not without some interesting issues along the way. One of which, I would like to share here as maybe it could be symbolic of my future life in Cuba!
Anyone who is British or has visited a British home or spent any time living in the UK knows the importance of the toaster and the kettle as the most humble but most valued of kitchen appliances. We are brought up on TOAST ……… Marmite toast, beans on toast, egg on toast, honey toast, toasted sandwiches, toast can be for breakfast, supper or just whenever you feel like filling up. Toast can be beautiful wholewheat toast with smoked salmon, toasted bagels with cream cheese, toast soldiers to dip into your boiled egg, or just plain white sliced toast soaked in melted butter ………. and they all can be equally delicious depending on your mood.
As a nation we are not so obsessed with having huge fridges, enormous gas fired barbecues and ridiculously extravagant domestic appliances that after a few days get forgotten about. But we always have a toaster and a kettle in every kitchen.
Now that I remember there was even a hit in the eighties by that popster Paul Young when he was still singing with Streetband called Toast ……… everybody was humming it. (I have shared the lyrics at the bottom of this post for your amusement). So you see our affection for toast reaches quite tragic levels that others really should not mock. Toast crosses all regional and class boundaries and in school common rooms is almost like currency, or in mine it was!
Anyway, not to put too finer point on it, the toaster is as important to a Brit as the comal is for the tortillas of Guatemala. I don´t think anybody would make a fuss about a Guatemalan wanting to import their comal into Cuba but I suppose it doesn’t have a tiny electrical element which apparently is not allowed. However I think I can bring my hairdryer so not quite sure about the logic. Rules are rules I suppose.
Anyway my poor husband has learnt the importance of toast to his wife over the last few years and now we even have toast with our desayuno chapin (typical Guatemalan breakfast) that my husband always makes for us on Saturday mornings. I now do not miss HP sauce but have chili sauce on my breakfast, something a few years ago I would have found impossible to contemplate. So I don’t see myself as someone rigid and inflexible but TOAST is TOAST!
When we visited our future house in Cuba there was no grill and no toaster and we were reduced to microwaving Bimbo style bread until it become like a rock. The two women in the kitchen urged me to bring a toaster and anything else similar. So on my list of essentials was my toaster and my little oven/grill. Anyway a few days ago we were told absolutely not to even contemplate bringing anything like that. I have to admit I took the news badly, there are many things I am willing to give up ………. potatoes, lemons, avocados, mangos, grapes and whatever else, as usually it is liberating to discover other alternatives and expand your gastronomic horizons. However TOAST is TOAST!
Needless to say my concern about not having my, soon to be abandoned, toaster (pictured here) seems to have incited what I can only describe as thinly disguised prejudice. Me and my humble toaster have become a symbol of extravagant capitalism rather than a simple cultural reference point. We have been told that the Cubans have lived for 50 years without toasters and we should use our contacts in the diplomatic world to acquire our toaster in Cuba as though it is diamonds or a Rolls Royce that I am hankering after.
So once again I feel difficult and my poor husband has been fighting nobly for my right to have TOAST but now I have been made to feel like the Princess of the Toaster ……. it could be the next Harry Potter sequel. I bet JK Rowling likes toast no matter how many millions she has made.
Toast by Streetband.
Morning all. I’d like to tell you about when I was a young boy. I must have been three or four months old at the time. I didn’t really know what I wanted, and if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anybody, ‘cos all I could do was gurgle. So I sat there in me highchair, thinking one day, looking at me tray and thinking what I’d give for a meal on there. So I started looking round to see what I could have. I was rubbing me eggy soldier in me head, trying to think, and then I looked in the corner and there’s a little breadbin with its mouth open, just staring at me, like. And then I looked in and I saw bread.
I thought, oh yeah, I’ll have toast,
A little piece of toast.
Well, then I started getting older,
I hated this, I hated that,
Expensive state was ludicrous
And cafes couldn’t cater for the finer things in life:
The upper crust was not for me,
I could tell that.
So I’d go back home,
Switch the kitchen light on,
Put the grill on,
Slip a slice under
And have toast,
A little piece of toast.
‘Cos there’s so much to choose from.
There’s brown bread, white bread,
All sorts of wholemeal bread;
It comes in funny packages
With writing on the side,
But it doesn’t matter which one you have
‘Cos when you cut the crusts off,
Have it with marmalade
Or butter, cheese, tomatoes, beans,
Or chocolate if you’re strange,
It doesn’t really matter.
Oh no, it all goes with toast,
I’m gonna think about it some…
That’s toast, mmm yeah,
Well I go down the supermarket
With me basket in me hand,
I’m walking from one counter to another
Trying to find the bread stall,
But I can’t find it anywhere
And then I bump into a mother
With a baby in a basket
And she says
“Oh look, you’ve started him off again,
I come down here for a little bit of peace and quiet
To get some bread to go home to make toast,
I like toast”
Yeah, but I don’t half like toast.
OK, scrape that toast, boys.
Yeah, just toast.
I can’t think about it any more. I’ve got to go and have some, it’s no good. Here listen, I’m getting a bit browned off standing here. Me too. Shall we go and have some toast? Good idea. Why not? OK. I’ve got the grill on. Got any brown bread? Yeah! Have you got wholemeal bread? Wheatmeal bread? All sorts of toast. Let’s go………
(They proceed to make toast, accompanied by various kitchen noises.)