top of page

The question

Apple#448 To write or not to write? A week in the sun

This week I have been wondering if writing is for people who experience less than others, or for those who experience more? Is writing used by those who think about life instead of living it - or for those who experience life in such a way that they can’t deny the urge to express their experience in words? Sometimes it could be preferable to say to someone ‘come and see’ rather than to tell them a second-hand story. But what if you can’t come with me, and need my description to bring a new perspective to your own life? Stories can transport and transform us, can’t they?

When I can’t work out how to say what is going on in me it is soooo frustrating; I want to get something ‘out there’ and there just ain’t nothin’ happenin’. But these last few days I decided to just be instead of thinking about the being, and there is definitely something wholesome about that for me right now. It’s not just a cover-up for writers’ block. The whole trendy ‘being in the now’ movement challenges a lot of the nonsense we use to distract from the ‘this’ of our lives, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, calling it ‘mindfulness’ seems less helpful than - I dunno - let’s say -‘heartfulness’: putting more focus on the mind would seem to me to be the opposite of what we are looking for, and not nearly all-of-me-ish enough.

Turks and Caicos is a Caribbean island I had forgotten existed until Luca suggested coming here for New Year (and before you snigger at my ignorance, prove that you can pin point it on the map! Tell me what the capital is called; how many islands make up the country? Name which countries have colonised it in since Columbus landed here over 500 years ago!*)(and guess which English captain attempted to seize the island from the French in 1783**). I have just spent a week with my husband and son in this phenomenal, sunny place. We went swimming and saw some fish, and ate some of them. It was nice. I am tanned. And tired.

Is that enough?

Maybe not.

I’ll see what I can do.

On Grand Turk the sun shines all day like a beaming, bountiful grandmother. The azure water surges and ripples like a living breathing sand-skin, giving a wondrous deep deeeep deeeeeeeeep clear sight into the reefs; fish as marvelously colourful as any child’s painting saunter nearly to the shoreline, inviting you to visit them at home - a few hundred yards out and between 15 and 7000 feet down - where only your ability to hold your breath at depth restricts how long you stay to appreciate their home (inquisitively friendly as they are). The stars in the dark night sky are golden points numbering thousands (to match my body’s mosquito bites). Donkeys, dogs and ponies wander wild through the lanes, the occasional cat (and cockroach) pays a visit to the open-air restaurants, where they offer conch fritters*** or lobster hash on a good day. (What tempting exotic names! What a pity we didn’t try them on the one day they were on the menu!).

If water is your thing you can spend all day swimming, snorkelling, diving, and paddle boarding: it is wonderful wonderful beauty and I wish I were a mermaid. Forever.

On land you can hire bikes or golf buggies and whizz up or down at maximum 20 miles an hour, but there is not reeeeeeeeally much to see: a bit of coast, a bit of scrub, a bit of rock, a few homes and shops. The south end of the island, where cruise ships come in almost daily for a few hours at a time, is (in my unhumble opinion) a blemish of touristic over-development, with palm trees in a straight line, sun loungers so close you can smell the flavour of your neighbour’s ( ) cocktail, and stalls full of colourful imported ornaments. None of these ‘souvenirs’ can possibly remind you of anything you will have seen or experienced here: nothing of what you see is in the least Grand-Turk-ishly authentic. Not that I actually went there, admittedly; reading about it in the guidebook and seeing it from a distance was enough for my imagination. The north east end has a lighthouse, some worth-reading historical information on boards, and a pina colada bar (mmmmmh): at least that is all I decided to engage with. There are touristy activities on offer like a zip wire or pony riding as well, but we left all of that to the herds. We fancied tackling the bit of nearly inaccessible cliff, so we spent a happy couple of hours scrambling around and ooh-ing and ah-ing at rock formations, shells, and other natural debris at the shoreline.

The island offers an unexpected mixture of natural glory and manmade dereliction; it is obviously a poor country, with poor infrastructure, and the devastation of 2 major major hurricanes in the last 10 years left many buildings so badly damaged that they stand, still window- and roofless (or often practically everything-less), waiting for re-investment; or, perhaps, to crumble to the ground entirely (is it easier perhaps to build new?). Even the Tourist Board building has been left with its sign visible but otherwise completely unattended and boarded up, as if to say ‘You are welcome to share this idyll: help yourselves!’. And it seems that no-one minds the litter that lies in so many public and private spaces, including on some of the most naturally amazing beaches. The enormous salt fields, remnants of the once-thriving global salt industry, lie magnificent still as inland water vistas, and are invaluable for birdlife; but many of them are full of obviously dirty water, scattered with household and construction rubbish. Sad to see such neglect; it apparently just doesn’t matter. If I moved to live there I would just have to start a litterblitz project (like mother, like daughter? - my mum set a good example also in this, in her village).

I like how locals shout out ‘good night’ from their bicycles in the lanes as dusk descends, and, although I get terribly hungry, how food takes aaaaaages to arrive in the restaurants: you know, as if a real but possibly rather ordinary somebody is cooking my meal with all the care that it takes to get it right. I like the few gloriously hand-painted shop fronts on some scruffy corners – bright pink or startling green, with a soda bottle painted on or to advertise ‘fish and grits’ or the opening times all naïve and wonky. I like how dogs wander freely in and out of anyone's yards and buildings finding little dips and dells in the shade to doze in. And I like the quirky local stories like how the taxi driver and his wife are known to either neither or both turn up when called. (But who ever needs to get the airport any more than a few minutes before the plane will depart?)

So you get a bit of the feel of the place. It’s a wonderful world, and I’m getting to experience a wonderful lot of it. And sometimes I manage to put words around the experience. Is it worth the paper it is written on?

* Bahamas, Bermuda, Britain/ England, Jamaica, Spain (not in that order)

** that dude Horatio Nelson, whose family blood very possibly runs in my veins

*** pronounced, unexpectedly, ‘conk'


bottom of page