Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 18

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues
The Revo Blog. Part 16 - 25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 16a - photos
The Revo Blog. Part 17 - 25th October 1983 - midday onwards

26th-27th October - the war continues

The night passes without incident. We've survived our first day of war. From 1.00 am onwards, there are jets circling overhead constantly, but otherwise it's comparatively quiet with no direct combat.

All that changes at 5.00 am. Just before dawn, the still-dark sky is ripped apart by phosphorescent flares and there's an immediate response as anti-aircraft guns blast in response. We hear three loud blasts as bombs go off in the distance. Tanks are grinding up the hill and there's firing immediately around our house. H emerges from her room to say she could hear PRA in the bush beneath her window and then she saw one of them running out from the trees.

We all gather together again and switch the radio on, aware that we have limited battery life and there's still no current, but we have to prepare ourselves to face whatever this next day will bring.

Trinidad radio tells us that the US are sending reinforcements.

Incredible. They must be meeting more resistance than they anticipated. But this is tinged with terrible sadness as we know that there can't be that many people prepared to lay down their lives for a revolution that no longer exists. Once again, we reflect how different the scene would have been if the invasion had happened before Maurice and the others were murdered.

Since the coup, invasion is seen as preferable to the alternative. That, more than any other single factor, is a measure of the depths of the crime committed at the fort on the 19th.

Throughout the day, the fighting continues. Sometimes in the distance and sometimes frighteningly close by with helicopters, jets, tanks and anti-aircraft fire. You never know if each lull could signal the end of combat or if things could get still worse.

Excerpt from my diary: The 'present' has shrunk to RIGHT NOW. NOW IS FOREVER.

We still have no current and are operating the radio on batteries. At some point, we decide to drink the water. This seems incredible looking back now but in reality there's little choice and it's a risk we decide we have to take. We feel our fate is not in our own hands anyway and what will be, will be.

As yesterday, we receive frequent visits and updates from PC.

PC says there's fighting on the streets of Tempe.
PC says the loud blasts are from the camp behind the Lord Chief Justice's house.
PC says he's been to Queens Park, where the US troops are based.
PC says we just need the inevitable end to come and he led the GIs to a hidden arms cache.
PC says many of the PRA are stripping off their uniforms and melting into the bush.
PC says the prison has been bombed and the Mongoose Men (hated and feared as the henchman of Gairy, the dictator ousted by the Revo) are out on the streets.
PC says Hudson Austin has been located at Sans Souci, Tempe junction. There are rumours he's holding hostages.
PC says there's lots of looting going on in town.

Every detail he imparts has significance beyond the obvious. One thing is clear. Tempe is in a small geological bowl surrounded by hills - the Governor General's house, the Lord Chief Justice's house, Richmond Hill with the forts and the prison, Mt Parnassus ... No wonder the fighting is so close by.

And yet - in spite of this - it's impossible to stay huddled in our yard now that the first day is over and we don't know how long this war will last. In the late afternoon, H and I go for a walk down Tempe road during one of the lulls. We reach Midway, where there's a small group of people liming. As we walk a little further, there's a blast and smoke rises up from beside the river - just yards away from us.

It's amazing how quickly we've become desensitised to the dangers. A couple of days ago, that one blast would have had us scurrying for shelter in panic. Now we just stop in the road and say it might be better not to go any further. We wander back and join the limers. While we're sitting there, perched on the wall, we're passed by vanloads of people on their way to Queens Park to see the US troops. P returns, having made a trip into town and tells us that NCB, Huggins and all the tourist shops have been looted, with one bar completely smashed in by an armoured car.

Thursday 27th October

There's sporadic fighting throughout the night but now that we've become accustomed to the concept of war (how fast that happened!) each day is different.

On this third day, PC comes round at 7.00 am accompanied by his young daughter, R. H and I walk with them to Tempe junction. The Shell garage on River Road has been razed and there's damage to the nylon factory. We come across a dismantled PRA anti-aircraft gun in the bush by the road.

There are lots of people on the streets and vehicles pass, bearing white flags. Our hearts ache as we note that the general mood is one of victory. I think it must be relief that the end must surely be in sight and people are euphoric to have survived through this last week when one trauma has followed another with no respite.

But now there are new horrors to assimilate. We're introduced to three men - and are told they are Mongoose Men, escaped from the prison. Then there's another man we meet - and our stomachs lurch when we hear he is the counter revolutionary charged with planting the bomb in Queens Park that killed three women, back in 1980. And a Rasta is pointed out to us as having recently killed a priest.

Whereas we've always felt in Grenada that everyone we meet is likely to be on the same side, that is patently no longer the case. It's not only the US troops we have to fear. We resolve to watch and smile and take things in, but keep our mouths firmly shut.

If anything, the soldiers we meet are anything but frightening. Most of them are very young and many of them seem scared - and also confused.

'Who are we supposed to be fighting?' one of them asks in a plaintive voice. 'We thought it was the Grenadians, but ....'
He looks round helplessly at the unthreatening people wandering along the road.
'Is it the Cubans? We just don't know ...'
The lack of certainty has clearly disorientated them.
One of them even asks us how long we think they'll be here. Like we would know ...

There's one soldier who has 'Better Dead than Red' stencilled on his helmet and I have to stifle the urge to giggle. Doesn't he know how much of a walking cliche he is? But then I realise. Just as much as our survival mechanism has often consisted of seeing this all as a movie, this must be true for them too.

Queens Park is a hive of activity. The field is filled with rows of tanks, armoured cars and personnel carriers - all the paraphernalia of war.

Choppers take off and land, supplies are shifted, soldiers hang out. H and I zap into our own new roles and make light conversation with the GIs who tell us they're from 8th Battalion, 2nd Division.
We walk round and onto the esplanade. The mood is heavier here. There's large scale looting, with some committed to getting as much as they can and others angrily berating them. Drivers whoosh past in stolen government vehicles. Nothing is off limits.

As we wander round town, we see the bombed remains of Butler House, scene of so many happy parties in the old days. All of the banks and most of the shops have been broken into.

And then I see something that penetrates the information-gathering shell I have taken on and makes me want to break down then and there and weep. A group of people are tearing up Revo books in rage. Maybe these are people who were always against the Revo. But I have a terrible fear that for some, the hideous experiences of the last week may have become associated with the Revo itself and not with the actions of Coard and his cohorts.

We walk into the Ghetto, where the mood toward us is cool. We're relieved to find we don't appear to be viewed with suspicion. We sit and smoke and reason for a while. The vibe here is split with some of the Rastas expressing fears that Grenada could become more like Texas or Jamaica. Several of them say they're convinced Coard is working directly for the CIA and I seize on this possibility.

It's so much easier to believe than what in my heart of hearts I know to be true - that the Revo was destroyed from within. And if we focus instead on the traditional enemy - the CIA - we fail to learn the terrible lessons and Maurice and the others will have died in vain.

We meet people who began by fighting but then could see how little point there was and so backed off. As we walk up behind the Ghetto, we see that many of the houses here have been damaged and we see the charred patch on the ground where the chopper came down in Tanteen playing field. At the top of the hill, there's an abandoned PRA tank, with people busy syphoning off the petrol.

Back in Tempe, we see more evidence of people's determination to bring the war to a quick conclusion. S has organised search parties and has already found four PRA and delivered them to the US troops in Queens Park. Poeple have been evacuated from the houses round Tempe quarry so the US can flush out the PRA reputed to be holed up there.

And there are more contradictions when we get back home. W has looted a turtle back and while C and I are arguing with him about it, P arrives. As well as cigarettes and soap, he has taken the framed portrait of Maurice from Grencraft. We don't know what to say. Overwhelming sadness bubbles up at the poignant symbolism.

Suddenly, L arrives, pouring with sweat and coated in mud and accompanied by three other guys. They're carrying sacks of flour, tools and god knows what else, looted from a military camp. This isn't as bad as looting from shops, I guess, but I'm concerned that it's all being shared out and distributed from our verandah.

But the bottom line is that Grenada is their home and, as outsiders, we have no right to take the moral high ground and say what is or isn't acceptable. It's the steepest of learning curves.

Another terrifying development. We've just heard the US troops have arrested J, a friend from Tempe. But he's not even in the PRA ...

That night there's heavy fighting again. If war is a disease, we've moved from an acute to a chronic stage with occasional flare ups to remind us it's still far from over.

But war is manmade and has nothing on Mother Nature. There's a massive storm during the night and we derive a sense of satisfaction that the lightning is brighter than the phosphorescent flares and the thunder outblasts the bombs.

Monday, March 30, 2009

He's running and he's running and he's running away

If you've been hanging round these here parts for some time, you'll probably already know that my partner is a running nut.

This year he's taking part in the London marathon (again) and raising funds for a charity that is very close to our hearts - ALD Life. And this is where YOU come in. Please read on ...

ALD Life was set up by a friend of ours,
Sara Hunt, to raise funds for research into adrenoleukodystrophy and to support children and their families who are affected by this terminal brain disorder.

oth of Sara’s sons have ALD. Alex was diagnosed at the age of 7, back in January 2001. Within months he was blind and paralysed. Sara’s younger son, Ayden, showed signs of the disease developing last year - the same age his brother was when his symptoms first appeared. Ayden has undergone chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Although theoretically this should be an eventual cure, the path has been far from easy and there have been complications.


Please help us to raise funds to help fight this cruel disease. You can read Alex and Ayden’s full story here.

You can sponsor G online, which is quick, easy and secure. Please go here

Thank you so much for your support.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 17

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues
The Revo Blog. Part 16 - 25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 16a - photos

25th October 1983. Still before midday ...

When this is all over I'll freak out, I tell myself. If I survive. Right now I just need to concentrate on living in the moment and getting through.

We've been smoking since the first wave of helicopter gunships appeared over the hill opposite at 6.30 this morning. But not cigarettes. Spliffs are rolled 'ital' - pure ganja without tobacco - but we're all now feeling the need for an ordinary ciggy and there are none in the house.

So just before midday, when PC ambles up our path oblivious to the gunfire for the second time that day, we hope he'll be able to help. He can - but only up to a point. Yes, he has a friend who owns a shop nearby and would be able to sell us cigarettes. No, he won't get them for us and bring them back. One of us will have to go with him. All eyes turn to me.

Looking back, I wonder about this. Any one of us could have gone with him ... I guess we all have our roles to play and this was mine at the time. It doesn't make me braver - or even more stupid - than the others. It just is what it is.

PC is so chilled and laid back it's impossible to imagine anything terrible happening to him. Or to me while I'm with him. Anyway, I'm acutely aware that every decision - small or large - is potentially one of life and death. I could stay in the house with the others and it could suffer a direct hit at any time. If this were to happen while I'm out with PC, it would save my life. On the other hand, leaving the comparative security of our four walls for the unknowable outside world would seem to hold a greater risk. But not necessarily.

You just can't know the consequences of any action - or inaction - and in the end you have to do what you have to do. We need cigarettes. I'm prepared to go. So I do.

And here's a thing. Most of this day is crystal clear in my head, the memories as fresh - or fresher - than yesterday's. But there are gaps and I think they're significant. For example, I have no recollection of saying goodbye to the others when I left with PC. Did we all hug and kiss, knowing we might never see each other again? Or did I just give a cheery wave and set off with false bravado, refusing to acknowledge the awful possibility? I really can't be sure ...

At first it's OK. I follow PC through the bush though within minutes I'm confused and disorientated with no idea where we are. But there's no close fighting and I don't feel particularly scared. We emerge at his friend's shop and go up the stairs and into his house at the back for a smoke. The guy (whose name I don't recall) tells us he's been on the phone to someone in town who says the PRA are still holding St Georges.

To my disappointment, PC sits down and makes himself comfortable and the two men chat. They're drinking rum and acting like it's just a social call. Now I've got the cigarettes I feel like my mission's accomplished and I just want to get back to my own friends. But my companions are not budging. I sit and twitch for a while until I pluck up courage to tell PC I want to go home and can he please take me? He's in no hurry. With no clear sense of where we are, I can't just leave without him. Besides, I balk at the thought of going through the bush on my own.

He tells me to go downstairs and wait for him outside and, hoping it will increase his sense of urgency, I do as I'm told. But this is not good. I'm alone now, in unfamiliar surroundings and outside. Though there appears to be no fighting in the immediate vicinity, I can hear the sounds of gunfire and the grinding of tanks not that far away. I can't go back in and risk irritating PC. But I can't set off on my own either. I have no choice but to stand and wait. And wait. And wait.

With no means of telling the time, I have no idea how long I stand there alone, my heart pounding as anxiety wells up in my chest. It feels like forever but the rational part of my brain knows it must be far less than it feels. After several lifetimes have been and gone, PC emerges at last and comes down the stairs. Red-eyed and staggering a little, he's chirpy as ever, but I no longer believe he's invulnerable. I'm torn between hugging him in relief or shouting at him in frustration. Neither are really options, so I just follow meekly as he leads me back through the bush.

This time I'm shocked at how close I've been to home all this time. If only I'd known, but since I didn't there would have been every chance that if I'd set off alone I could easily have wandered in the wrong direction and got completely lost.

And, of course, as soon as I arrive bearing nicotine, I'm greeted as the conquering hero by the others, who have been suffering their own versions of the same anxieties all this time. Small triumphs.

Although there's still no close gunfire, we're shaken when fighter jets screech overhead in the direction of St Georges. My diary tells me that at 12.40 we switch off the radio for twenty minutes. I have another memory gap here and can't remember why we do this.

At 1.00pm two helicopter gunships circle low over Mt Parnassus firing down. The house judders again as there's an immediate response from ground fire. In shaky writing my diary records that I think one chopper has been shot down, but as this is directly overhead and we're indoors, I can't be sure.

Excerpt from my diary: Jets and ground fire. Loud explosion - we all think it's the chopper coming down. 1580 still off air - has it gone on longer than expected? Shooting lasts perhaps 5 mins. 1.40 - more firing - not so close. 1.55 - more firing - jets. Vehicles go up our road v fast. Jump jets circling right over. Firing overhead again - for about 10 mins. 2.20 - circling over Queens Park. Groundfire. Overhead again. Heavy artillery fire. Circling Mt Parnassus, Richmond Hill, Queens Park. 2.38 - 2 bombs dropped on Richmond Hill. Force to throw you against wall. Great red flash and debris spraying out then smoke. 2.43 - still firing on Richmond Hill - Forts Matthew, Frederick and Adolphus. 2.46 - 2 more bombs. Walls in my room cracked. Then silence.

I said earlier that some parts of this day I recall with absolute clarity. The last events recorded in that diary entry above fall into that category. Richmond Hill, rising just beyond my bedroom window, has huge strategic importance. As well as the three forts, the prison and the mental hospital - the 'crazy house' - are also lined up along its summit.

L, P and I are sitting on my bed, our eyes fixed on the horror we see unfolding through the window. The others are all sitting on the floor in the hall outside the toilet. They've succumbed to attacks of the giggles - everyone talking about what a good cure for constipation war is, but how none of them dares to go into the toilet.

After the first two close blasts, L panics. He throws himself down to lie prone on the bed with his hands over his head.
'I don't like the bombs. I don't like the bombs,' he moans.

P and I are the only ones still looking through the window, watching with mounting horror as the blasts move along the crest of the hill, each closer to us than the last. I'm alternately scribbling notes and taking photos. When the final bomb throws us away from the wall, I feel as though my heart has stopped. I can still see the vivid flash and the black debris hurl into the air at the point of impact. The image is burned into my retina.

'Oh my god,' I breathe, before raising my camera and taking a couple of quick shots. In the lull that follows, we can hear the sounds of bawling. My mind shuts down to avoid imagining the source of those terrible cries. I'll freak out later, I tell myself. When all this is over. If I get through this time ...

The ghastly almost-silence is shortlived. At 3.06 the choppers start circling again, higher this time, and there's distant shelling. At 3.28, PC comes back yet again. He's been checked by the PRA, who say they are looking for a radio technical operator. He says the US now control Region1, but I'm not sure what that means. He also tells us that either Fort Rupert (where Maurice and the others were murdered - can it be only 6 days ago?) or Butler House (he's not sure which) has been bombed. He's going to hide out in the bush now and may not see us again for some time. While he's there we hear PRA armoured cars grinding up the hill behind the house.

Soon after PC leaves, tensions spill over and there's an argument between B and W.

Excerpt from my diary: 3.50 - 4 jets high circling over NW. 4.39 - rapid gunfire out the back. Tank? Sounds like the armoured cars we saw. Yes it has to be - deep heavy rumbling behind shots. Planes circling still. 4.57 - fighter jet overhead.
5.00 radio 610: 'invading forces have strong advantage. Cuba acknowledges unknown number of casualties ... 2 choppers crashed. Sporadic fighting in St Georges. Fort Frederick and Govt House still being fought over. 3 civilians killed. Thatcher has very considerable doubts about the invasion. HMS Antrim to stay clear of operations.'

At 5.05 the radio goes dead and we realise the current has been switched off.

At 5.25 - PC returns with a dire warning. Don't drink the water! There's a rumour it could be poisoned. Right. So now we have no electricity and no water. We try to assimilate this latest information and the implications. And that's not the only dreadful news. PC also tells us that he's heard that three hundred people died at the fort on the 19th.

The evening continues in the same vein. Sporadic close fighting and then lulls of varying length. With darkness falling and no light apart from candles, no radio or music and no water, we have to decide whether we want to spend the night huddled all together in the dark. Another argument breaks out, this time between P and L, and W and C decide to return to their own home.

To be honest, I don't like this. I preferred it when we were all together. But I can see that the tension is just too great and we can't carry on like this through the night.

L and I go to bed and spend the night making love with a desperate passion and then just lie holding each other. Without saying it aloud, we both know we're thinking the same thing. Could this be the last time? Will we be alive in the morning?

Each of us have different coping mechanisms and mine has been to keep busy busy busy at all times. The enforced inactivity of lying in the dark, never knowing if the next instant could be our last, is harder for me than any part of the day itself had been.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 16a

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues
The Revo Blog. Part 16 - 25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours


If you've been following these posts from the beginning, you'll be aware that I took photos during the invasion and the period immediately after. These photos were widely exhibited during the 1980s, but have sat gathering dust in a portfolio since then.

With each post that I have published in this series, I have spent a substantial amount of time hunting out appropriate images to use. Once I arrived at the point where I was recording the events depicted in my own photos, it made sense to scan the images and include them here.

But I had serious reservations. In the first post, I mentioned that I had been contacted some time ago by an ex US marine who wondered if I had any photos other than this one - the only one available online at that time.

I'm also very aware that there is an abundance of forums etc where ex and current soldiers swap memories and anecdotes of the 'good old days'.I was very concerned that any photos I published on my blog could be copied elsewhere for people to share with the prime purpose of identifying fellow combatants, taking the events they depict out of context. Once an image is published online, it's impossible to prevent this happening.

After long and careful thought (and the advice of many online supporters and friends who have kept me going and whose support has been invaluable) I came up with the answer. As is so often the case, once I worked out the solution it was glaringly obvious. I will only use photos with content that will not enable non-Grenadians to identify themselves and each other. Although this means I won't publish some of the best images, this seems a small price to pay.

On an unrelated personal note, I want to apologise for the delay in producing the next post in the series. This is due to a combination of other work needing to take priority and a septic thumb, resulting in all typing being done with one hand.

I'm sorry if you're waiting for the next episode and promise to get round to it ASAP.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Welcome to the edge of the world

I'm delighted to be hosting Elizabeth Baines today as part of her virtual tour to promote her book of short stories, Balancing on the Edge of the World.

Elizabeth is one of those writers who chooses each word with infinite care - as you're about to see as you read on. I'm also lucky enough to have met her in Real Life, and know her to be warm and generous-spirited - qualities that also show through in her writing.

So for today's tour I'm providing rum punch, plantain chips, guava cheese, sugar cakes and a large bowl of fruit. All of it virtual sadly ...

Hi and welcome, Elizabeth. Once you've got a full glass in your hand (yes, I know it's early but I want you to feel relaxed here) we can make a start. You're one of those rare talented writers who can turn their hand to almost anything. Could you talk a bit about the different process required

for writing full length novels, short stories and plays?

Wow. This is a huge question!

Let me see. Well, I’ve already talked on my visits to Dovegreyreader Scribbles and Sarah Salway’s blog about some of the differences for me between writing short stories and novels: the fact that a short story will arrive more as a single image or phrase and that novels arrive as more complex packages of ideas; the fact that novels feel like an ongoing forwards rush whereas short stories feel more like looking at a widening picture from a single point.

Clearly the difference between writing prose and writing drama is even more radical. I can never start any piece of writing until I ‘hear’ its voice – ie its tone, pitch and language – but this experience is especially pronounced when it comes to plays. Even if a piece of prose is a dramatic monologue, which is probably the closest prose can come to drama, (such as my story ‘The Way to Behave’ in which the speaker is an avenging wife confiding to a listener-reader how she took her revenge), the narrative voice always feels like something I’m more in control of. With a play I feel much more as though I’m listening to something ‘out there’. I think this is because a play is of course essentially a collection of different voices – indeed clashing voices (that’s where the drama comes from) – which must flow and be allowed free rein in that ‘real-time’ which is the event of a broadcast or live play. Clearly, prose also includes dialogue which needs to be authentic-sounding and true to character, but it’s a very different kind of dialogue from that of plays, harshly pruned and selected by the narrator, so writing prose dialogue does feel to me more like a conscious process. Of course when I’m writing a play what I’m ‘listening out’ for at the start is not just the individual voices but, importantly, the overall sound that they make together. In truth this overall sound is the result of my own consciousness – the take I have on the story of the play, and the idea I am bringing to it: my sense of the idea motoring a play has to be very strong; it’s one of the ways I know a piece is going to be a play rather than anything else. But because that overall shaping creates a sound for me, what I call the music of a play, it does feel like something ‘out there’ I’m listening to.

As I mentioned on Sarah’s blog, once you get these things right and in place at the start of a play – the individual voices, the overall sound of a play, the situation and the idea behind it all – it will proceed logically and, in my experience, fast and furious: I have never not written a play quickly once I have started (although sometimes it takes a while to get going – ie, to ‘hear’ it). I’ve said that a novel feels more like an ongoing rush than a short story, but it has nothing on a play. A novel for me is a series of narrative decisions (some conscious, some half-conscious), but, in my experience, in a play the decisions are mostly made at the beginning, even though I may have no conscious idea of how the play will develop or end. Instinctual as the first drafts of prose pieces are for me, they are nevertheless more contemplative than those of drama.

All of this is true for both radio and theatre, but theatre of course has another dimension. While radio, like prose fiction, is verbal and internal – a ‘private’ communication to an individual reader or listener in which the reader or listener is required to imagine the story or action – theatre is of course not only verbal but visual, concrete and communal. When I’m writing a theatre piece I have a very special experience which is almost physical: I ‘feel’ the space of the stage, imagine myself inside it for the sake of the actors, as well as how it looks for the sake of the audience. And in spite of everything I’ve said about it seeming like a largely subconscious process, I do have to keep a part of my brain on highly conscious alert to think practically about the mechanics of the staging. Screen-writing, of which I’ve only done a little, is of course different again, and far less verbal altogether: a single closeup of someone closing her eyes in despair can tell you just as much a long speech about that despair, and in terms of the medium can do it much better. A lot of what you’re doing in screenwriting therefore is describing a series of pictures (and the worse thing about that is that it’s really the director of photography who has the final power over the pictures!)

I suppose because I write drama, I don’t often write short stories that are true dramatic monologues, as many other contemporary short-story writers do, but I come to stories for something different. As I mentioned on Clare Dudman’s blog, many of those stories of mine which employ a first-person narrator – such as the small girls in ‘Power’ or ‘Star Things’ – are internal, and they are not naturalistic in the way a true dramatic monologue would be, but incorporate the character’s voice into a more complex overall narrative voice. I think there are really only two ‘proper’ dramatic monologues in Balancing: ‘The Shooting Script’, which is related directly and colloquially to the reader by a struggling writer, and ‘The Way to Behave.’ But even ‘The Way to Behave’ takes some narrative license: there are ominously symbolic descriptions of a garden which a naturalistic ‘character’ wouldn’t be so likely to bother giving, and it’s perhaps significant that the BBC omitted them when it abridged the story for broadcast.

I've often wondered what it would be like to adapt a piece of fiction into a play, but I've heard it's really hard to do with your own work - knowing what to leave out, what works and what doesn't etc. Can you tell us about your experiences with that?

Well, you know, I’m not all that keen in principle on adaptations. For me if a piece is prose fiction, that’s what it needs to be, and to turn it into drama is inevitably to turn it into a different beast altogether, but I must say I have given in to persuasion and circumstance now and then. And you’re right, it’s harder with your own work than with that of others: the adaptation of an Arnold Bennett short story I was asked to do for radio was a much easier and far less involved task than adapting the two pieces of my own I did for the same medium. How can I describe it? It’s like taking your own child and deciding not only to get him plastic surgery but a change of internal organs, and brain surgery while you’re at it to alter his personality, and not only that but to get in up to your elbows in the gore and do it yourself.

Take the story ‘Power’, which is included in Balancing, and which I adapted for radio. As prose fiction, this is a very internal story. It’s an internal monologue consisting largely of the unspoken thoughts of a little girl whose parents are estranged (although her mother won’t accept this), her father being now largely absent. To cope with these things, her father’s absence, her mother’s distress and denial, and the consequent negligence of herself and her younger sister, the girl decides she has magic powers, and via these ‘magic powers’ she enlists next door’s cat as a kind of familiar. This is all very secretive, and in the story she doesn’t even share her notions about the cat with her sister. The focus of the story, charted through her developing relationship with the cat, is the psychology of the girl as her parent’s marriage goes downhill, and the consequent deterioration of her behaviour and that of her sister, with ominous implications for the future of their emotional health. And really that is all – though it’s quite important enough, in my view.

Well, this just isn’t enough for a 45-minute radio play. Radio is the most internal of dramatic forms, but there’s still a demand for action, and a certain amount of objectivity. So that was the main point of the prose story – its absolute insistence on subjectivity (because it was about subjectivity) – out of the window. I had to take the basic scenario and turn into something quite different and develop it. The child’s thoughts about the cat were no longer internal but shared with her sister – then it could be a plot conveyed through dialogue. Clearly, and more obviously, the scenes she relates in the prose story had to be fully developed in dialogue. The visual descriptive detail was necessarily lost – many of the things the girl noticed in the story, and which are thematically resonant, are not things any girl would say out loud – but in radio these could be replaced with sound effects which are the main evocative matrix of a radio play, and a main element through which its story is told. And then much more had to happen: I had to develop a much more obvious plot for the dramatic action and tension a play requires, in which the parents’ preoccupation leads to physical danger for the children. And – because that’s how it is in radio (or a least was then) – I was required to abandon my ominous ending and create a happy resolution!

Ah yes. The happy ending. If only life was always like that, eh? More rum, dear? Try one of those sugar cakes. They're delicious. Moving on ...

Do you think the advances in new technology - e-readers, POD etc, - are a Good Thing for authors?

Gosh, Debi, I really don’t know what to think for sure! I can’t really say I have looked into the implications of e-readers, but on balance I can’t help thinking that generally the technological developments are good and have potential, at least, to extend the life of books. After all, it’s been the prohibitive cost of traditional printing and warehousing that’s meant so many books just get remaindered or pulped and then forgotten. Look, for instance, at Faber Finds, which uses POD to bring forgotten classics back to life – that’s just wonderful. And you can suggest books to Faber for this treatment – that’s a democratization, isn’t it? And the internet generally has given out-of-print books a new life: I know there’s been a lot of fuss about Google print, but I for one am happy to see out-of-print anthologies with my stories in getting an airing again.

Thanks so much for being here today, Elizabeth. That's a lot of words up there. You must be tired. Sit back now and enjoy the ambiance. Don't worry about leaving any of that punch for visitors - you've earned it and they can bring their own!

Elizabeth Baines is a writer of prose fiction and prize-winning plays for radio and stage. Her short story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World, was published by Salt in 2007 and was long-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Award for the Short Story 2008. Her novel, Too Many Magpies, will come from Salt in late 2009. Elizabeth was born in South Wales and now lives in Manchester. She has been a teacher and is also an occasional actor. She writes the critical-commentary blog Fictionbitch and also has her own author blog.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 16

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day
The Revo Blog. Part 15 - 25th October 1983. Invasion - the first 2 hours
The Revo Blog. Part 15a - Faye's journey continues

25th October 1983. War - the next 4 hours

It's at 7.45 am, just over two hours after the fighting first began, that we hear the mysterious disembodied voice telling us the American soldiers have taken over and instructing us to tune into 1580 frequency.

Can it really all be over that soon? Continuing heavy artillery fire all around us suggests otherwise.

At 7.55 am we hear the first broadcast on the new frequency but the message is not intended for us.

Do not approach within fifty nautical miles of Grenada. Any aircraft flying over will be treated as hostile to the multinational forces.

Grenada is tiny and defenseless. It's clear the US can do what the hell they like with no one to stop them. The announcement is repeated in Spanish and then the broadcast continues with a 'history' lesson:

In 1979 the New Jewel Movement seized power and turned the nation into a Cuban surrogate. People were imprisoned without trial. Economic policy bankrupted the country. Children were brainwashed. Tens of thousands of people left Grenada. There were no elections. A more repressive clique is now operating on the orders of a foreign power. They terrorised foreign visitors. The US have been forced to attack in order to rescue their own citizens. Stability and tranquility are rapidly being restored.

We gawp at each other, appalled at this blatant and crass attempt to rewrite history. Who is this message intended for? Are they honestly trying to persuade Grenadians that this is what they've been experiencing for the past four and a half years?

Where to start to convey how corrupted this version of events is?

Economic policy bankrupted? When ordinary people were better off during the Revo and had more hope than ever before?

Children brainwashed? Did they need to be brainwashed to recognise their place in a search for a fair and egalitarian society with justice for all?

Tens of thousands of people leaving? When the total population is only about 100,000?

No elections? When this is what Maurice had promised to work towards?

Now operating on orders of a foreign power? Do they mean Cuba? Who did not hesitate to condemn the coup? And when the US are the foreign power who have in reality taken over by force?

Terrorised foreign visitors? Eh? Who? When? Whatever we may think about the leaders of the coup, it was clear they were desperate to appease foreigners in the country ...

US forced to attack? When we all know they've been looking for an excuse ever since 1979? And that just a few short months ago they carried out a naval exercise nearby on the fictional 'Amber and the Amberines' - clearly practice for invading Grenada and the Grenadines?

Rescue their own citizens? Does this mean the medical students whose safety has been assured by the RMC?

Stability and tranquility being restored? So how come the battle is still raging around us? In spite of the comparatively low numbers of people opposing them since the coup sapped the will from the vast majority of the people?

So since they must know that those hearing this fantasy version are fully aware of the reality, just who are they hoping to convince? It's mindbending. As the announcer finishes speaking, we find out just how mindbending the battle for hearts and minds can be when his voice is replaced by music.

Not reggae now. No uplifting messages of rebellion and survival. This time our ears are blasted by US disco music. The cultural takeover has begun, hot on the heels of the bullets and the bombs.

Image from Carriacou.biz

At 8.05 am there's more weasel words from 1580: that the US and our Caribbean neighbours were concerned for us. That they are here to restore peace and order. It feels like they're making it up as they go along. But then the words become more sinister and heavy again:

Do not hinder our efforts to stabilise your nation. Everyone stay at home. Foreigners should all stay neutral. The military forces are from neighbouring countries and the US. Stay inside and away from windows. Confiscate weapons from your children. Co-operate. Report the location of those resisting the international forces. Allow the forces into your homes. Ignore instructions from non-friendly forces.

There's so much to take in. Over the last week there have been so many ghastly developments, so many emotional swings and extremes to try to adapt to. We're numb but our minds are racing, trying to keep up and maintain some kind of clarity of thought.

There are more words on 1580 at 8.15 am. The contradictions are piling up and it really does feel that they're thinking on their feet as much as we are. This time they tell us that the US forces have come in at the request of our Caribbean neighbours. That they constitute an emergency relief operation. They are only here to get US citizens out. They have no intention of harming Grenadians. This time there's no mention of their role in intending to stabilise the country, though they do say peace and democracy will be restored in the near future.

Meanwhile, we can still hear the sounds of fighting, though it is more distant now. Each time this happens, we have no way of knowing whether or not it is temporary.

Excerpt from my diary: Make tapes, take photos, write this. A horrible calm. Our outsides remain really calm but our insides are doing really strange things.

8.25 am - more words and yet another psychological tack with a direct appeal to those opposing them:

Members of the PRA and militia - do not resist. Do not risk your lives. Help us.

At 8.40 am there is constant heavy booming from the top of the hill when we lose the radio signal. There's still a spy plane circling high overhead. It makes us feel even more isolated and vulnerable when we discover that there's no news at all about what's happening on the regional radio stations.

Then at 9.00 am we catch some news at last on the BBC World Service. It just confirms the details originally given on RFG about the first assault but then they go on to say the US have captured the radio station and the airport. The broadcast is momentarily drowned out as a fighter jet shrieks across the skies overhead.

The announcer goes on to say the troops moved off from Barbados during the night and that they consist of Jamaican, Bajan and US forces, but the US presence is supposedly just to supervise evacuation of their own citizens. There has been no comment from the Pentagon. British troops are not involved.

Image from BBC

At 9.20 am, Trinidad at last acknowledges the situation, saying that PM Chambers has ordered an emergency meeting, and that Reagan is to make a broadcast on US TV.

At 9.30 am, I note in my diary that the close firing has stopped. 1580 is still off the air and we don't know how to interpret that. Just behind the house is Richmond Hill, where there are forts, the prison and also the mental hospital, known locally as 'the crazy house'. The Hill has come in for some of the heaviest fire and now that it's quieter, we can hear bawling from there. My diary also says that we hear that a chopper has been brought down but we don't know if it's true. (NOTE: I have no recollection where we heard that information, which was indeed true.)

On radio 610, we hear the voice of the old cowboy himself at 9.30 am when Reagan speaks, together with Eugenia Charles, PM of Dominica and chair of the Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS). It's reasoned propaganda, mainly focusing on the lack of elections in Grenada. Reagan says that the OECS requested US help on Sunday and they agreed to intervene for three reasons: to protect innocent lives, forestall further chaos and restore law and order.

Image from USA Today

He seems keen to focus attention on the Caribbean presence and minimise the suggestion that the US is pulling the strings. Troops, he says, include those from Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia, and St Vincents.

9.45 am - more bombing close by. Radio Antilles reports that invading troops have taken over the radio station, Pearls Airport, the power station at Queens Park and the unfinished international airport at Point Salines, having cleared the runway of barbed wire and obstructions.

Ah yes. Point Salines. That will be the airport still under construction in the south of the island that the US have been saying for years is far bigger than Grenada needs for tourist flights and is intended for military purposes. And the first time it's used ... is for the military purposes of the US.

10.00 am - CBC reports one US soldier dead and thirteen Cuban construction workers taken prisoner.

10.10 am - 1580 is still off the air. We hear gunfire and then there's a heavy blast nearby, followed by more. There must be PRA in the bush behind the house. From the window we can see a plane firing down. Actually see the fire spurting. There seems to be more than one of them, but because we're inside and they are directly overhead, we can't be sure.

11.00 am and still no 1580. Blasting and anti-aircraft fire has been going on non stop. Radio 610 reports that Guyana and Cuba are condemning the invasion. They say that three Cubans have been killed and one US soldier died when his helicopter was shot down. Several Cubans have been imprisoned. Though there has been no UK intervention HMS Antrim is standing ready to evacuate the 250 (???) British citizens on the island.

CBC says that thirty two Russian military advisers have been arrested and that the fighting is being led by Cubans. But we know that the Cubans on the island are nearly all engineers employed in constructing the international airport. Where are the regional stations getting their information from anyway? From US sources? Because they've already amply demonstrated just how high a value they place on the truth ...

There's gunfire on either side of us now. Just yards away in the bush around the house, people are fighting and maybe dying.

My diary reports close gunfire at this point, heavily underlined.

I look at the faded pages of my diary now and I can see what I was doing. My frantic urge to record led me to compulsively note down every nuance, knowing in the shrunken timescale that each note could be my last. Anyway, how else was I supposed to pass the time? Keep busy. Keep busy.

And maybe this was also a way of extracting a tiny fragment of control when patently we had none whatsoever. I might not have been able to control what would happen to me, but at least I could record it.

Maybe too that need to exert a minimal degree of control (and keep busy) was why, when PC popped back to see us at midday, I decided to go out through the bush with him on a mission to track down cigarettes ...

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 15a

Faye, the film maker whose search to uncover the truth about the Revo started me on this journey of my own to record my experiences, is currently in Grenada.

Her visit is timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Revo on 13th March.

Although I'm sure she must feel overwhelmed by the knowledge that what she is doing is both complex and painful, she is generously allowing us to travel the road with her by blogging the details.

See here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 15

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October 1983. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues
The Revo Blog. Part 14 - 24th October 1983. 'Back to normal' day

25th October 1983. Invasion - the first two hours

It's 5.00 am, just after dawn, when H emerges from her room and draws my attention to the distant buzzing overhead of what we know must be a US reconnaissance plane. Moments later, we're joined by C and W. L, his belly ache forgotten, P and B all converge and we gather together in the one room.

Nothing's happened yet but we know - just know - that's going to change any second now. I slot a blank tape into the machine, load a black and white film into my camera, grab my diary and a pen and switch on the radio.

I have a compulsion to record. To bear witness. Somewhere in my brain I'm thinking that if I die, the tapes ... or the photos ... or the diary ... will survive as a record.

And then it starts. 5.30 am. First the fighter jets, spewing fire as they cross overhead, with the immediate response from batteries of anti-aircraft fire all around us. The windows rattle. The house shakes. We don't know whether to sit, stand, run, huddle ...

The announcers on Radio Free Grenada, a man and a woman, give the news in voices trembling with suppressed panic. They know the radio station will be a prime target.

'Our country is under attack! All Grenadians report to militia bases. All health workers go immediately to the hospital. Foreign troops landed at 5.40. Our troops are engaging them in battle. Grenadians - go out and block the roads to obstruct the enemy's progress!'

(NOTE: My diary says here that radio 610 reports a nuclear-powered ballistic sub has just left Barbados. Did I fiddle with the radio dial? It seems unlikely, but I suppose I must have done.)

A swarm of helicopter gunships swoops low over the hill opposite, almost touching the tops of the palm trees. All around the house there's an instant response from PRA fire. I press my camera to the window and fire off a few shots of my own.

I've seen this movie, I remember thinking. Apocalypse Now. And I know what happens.

There's a feeling of being in the epicentre at the end of the world. This can't be right. The sky should be boiling. The earth should be ripping apart. The sun should explode into a million fragments and cast us into darkness.

But none of this happens. While the jets roar, the bombs drop, the guns spurt, the tanks grind and the chopper blades clatter - the sky is still blue, the sun still shines down regardless and the palm trees still wave - even if the breeze is manmade.

Lines from Bob Marley's Redemption Song run through my head.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Have no fear for atomic energy -

Cause none of them can stop the time.

How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look?

Some say it's just a part of it

We've got to fulfill de book.

I remember distinctly standing in the middle of the room and making a short speech, shouting to be heard above the tumult.

'Look now. We don't know if we're going to live through this,' I say. 'We could be dead by the end of the day, or in the next hour or the next minute or before I get to the next word. Now is not the time to hang onto your ganja! Break it out, guys!'

And so they do. All the men have sizable stashes and we go about the serious business of getting out of our heads. And it helps, it really does. You can understand why, throughout history, soldiers have turned to drugs to get them through.

W panics for a bit and dives behind the settee, freaking out, but together we calm him somehow. B, who has been so ill and withdrawn these past weeks, is more animated than I've seen him for ages. Adrenalin, I guess.

We have surreal discussions. Is it better to keep the windows open, or shut? We rack our brains to access the common sense response. We know that if we close them, the glass is more likely to shatter. But leaving them open feels more vulnerable, illogical though we know that to be. We go with emotional over rational and decide to close the windows, in spite of the heat. But then a bird, panicky and disorientated, flings itself repeatedly against the glass and we don't dare open them again.

Should we take cover? Where? How? We try crouching down for a bit. I glance up and am impressed to see C sitting, apparently calm and composed, on the settee. (She tells me later that she was paralysed by fear and unable to move.) After a short time our cramped muscles start to protest and we feel silly, so stand up again. But what do you do in this situation?

'We all stay together,' C says. 'In the same room. It's what my mum told me they did during the blitz. If one dies, we all die.'

This seems a good plan and we all agree. Surviving, possibly injured, while those we love lie dead in another room seems a far worse alternative to death.

'US paratroopers are invading Grenada with helicopter gunships,' the radio announcer informs us with barely-contained hysteria.

But Grenada is so small that we see confirmation through our own window, instants before we're given the information over the airwaves and so we know. We know.

And then the broadcaster's voice is replaced by music!

'Let them come. Let them come. We will bury them in the sea.'

The defiant song that epitomised the spirit of the Revo, the words so hollow now. If this invasion had happened just a week earlier, Grenadians really would be out blocking the roads, fighting back with antiquated weapons, laying down their lives for the Revo rather than submit.

But the Revo is already dead. It died on the 19th up at the fort with Maurice.

More panicky radio announcements, this time punctuated by reggae - songs we've heard a thousand times before. Bob Marley's War. Peter Tosh's Peace Treaty.

And - how bizarre is this - standing in the centre of that concrete room, not knowing if we will live or die, time having shrunk to the merest milli-second (we could die now ... or now ... or now) but also high on the spliffs we've been chain-smoking - I find myself skanking to the familiar rhythms.

It's 6.50 am and the close fighting has slackened off a little when I glimpse a mind-bending sight through the window. PC is walking towards our house carrying a pumpkin! I shake my head, but it's not a hallucination. As though protected by an invisible cloak of invulnerability, he saunters up the steps to our balcony and into the house. He's so relaxed and cool (though also very high, I note from his bloodshot eyes) his presence has an instant soothing effect and any vestiges of panic dissipate.

PC tells us he's been through the bush and saw paratroopers dropped by rope from the helicopter gunships onto the Governor General's house at the top of the hill and also onto Richmond Hill, on the other side of the house. He saw equipment dropped too, in massive cylinders. How many different ways there are to kill people.

PC leaves and it's a bit quieter now. We have no idea if this is just a lull and if so, how long it will last. At 7.10 am, inspired by PC's example, I go to the end of the gap to fetch ice from the fridge in C's house. An ambulance screeches past on the road.

The scared voices on RFG keep making the same announcements.

'All health workers and volunteers to the hospital. Paint red marks on your cars.'

We have to do something. We can't just sit and there's only so much time you can spend fiddling with the radio and scribbling notes. So what do we do? We cook porridge and eat it standing, shoveling it into our mouths in haste. You never know when we might next eat, we reason. We have to keep our strength up.

In truth though, it's just for something to do. No one says that it might be our last meal.

Ten minutes later, at 7.45 am, RFG abruptly goes off the air without warning. We hear a disembodied voice with an American accent, seemingly coming from the sky. (Where did that come from? I never did find out ...)

'Tune to 1580 frequency. Please stay inside for your own safety. The American soldiers have taken over.'

In my diary, I write in large capital letters: IT TOOK 2 HOURS!

But of course it was far from over yet.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Revo Blog. Part 14

Previous posts in this series:

The time has come - how I came to the decision to blog the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 1 - background to Grenada
The Revo Blog. Part 2 - background to me
The Revo Blog. Part 3 - Feb-March 1982 (1 of 2)
The Revo Blog. Part 3a - why 'Revo'?
The Revo Blog. Part 4 - Feb-March 1982 (continued)
The Revo Blog. Part 5 - April 1982 - June 1983. London
The Revo Blog. Part 6 - June-Sept 1983. Sickness and signs
The Revo Blog. Part 7 - relationships
The Revo Blog. Part 7a - Faye's film
The Revo Blog. Part 8 - Sept - Oct 1983. Rumours
The Revo Blog. Part 9 - Oct 1983. The Last Days of the Revo
The Revo Blog. Part 10 - 19th October 1983. Coup
The Revo Blog. Part 11 - 20th October 1983. Curfew. Day 1
The Revo Blog. Part 12 - early morning 21st October. Breaking curfew
The Revo Blog. Part 13 - curfew continues

Monday 24th October. 'Back to normal' day.

6.00 am Radio Free Grenada. There's a broadcast from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying there are now two ships in Grenada's territorial waters but no invasion as yet. I can hear more than a hint of panic in their urgent pacifying claims that foreigners can come and go as they please and the Revolutionary Military Council has no desire to rule Grenada. Just words.

Today's the day when life is supposed to return to normal. Shops, offices and all other workplaces will be open and everything apart from schools should operate as usual.

As though the Revo hadn't imploded five days ago. As though the people's chosen leaders weren't all dead. As though those same people hadn't been slaughtered, terrorised, lied to and imprisoned throughout the last week.

What might today hold in store? With no opportunity for organising during the curfew, will there be a spontaneous uprising? If so, how will it be dealt with? Will the PRA turn their guns on their own people? Or will elements within the army, loyal to the true Revo, rise up against their masters? Either way, it's impossible to imagine a scenario that doesn't consist of Grenadian killing Grenadian.

Unless the Americans invade. And if they do, will people resist? Or will they welcome the invaders as a preferable alternative to a bloody civil war?

And how will the bombs discriminate between those who resist and those who accept?

It's impossible to know what to hope for. All we can do is live it.

One thing's for sure. Whatever the day holds we have to get out of the yard where we've been confined for the last four days. As a first foray into the outside world, L and I go to Blue Danube, the little shop on the hill leading to town. Here at least, it seems the spirit of the Revo lives on. Though supplies are dwindling fast, the shop owner is actually lowering prices - not cashing in on people's desperation as might happen elsewhere. When L and I don't have enough money to buy everything we need, the owner allows us to leave with the shopping and owe him the balance.

Even though he can't know if we'll be alive to pay it. And we can't know if he'll be alive to receive it.

I've always believed you should try to live in the moment, but never has there been so little choice about it.

PC comes round soon after L and I arrive home. He tells us that when Maurice was freed from house arrest he appeared weak and confused, wearing only underpants and unable to walk without assistance - let alone carry a gun. Had he been drugged?

The news from radio 610 is that Amnesty International have sent a cable to Hudson Austin asking for a public inquiry into the deaths of Maurice and the others and the arrests of Radix and Alistair Hughes.

Image from Grenadamaroonspirit

H and I go together into town as she's feeling strong enough now. There are long queues for kerosene, calor gas and food. Panic buying means that the shops are emptying really fast. A crowd gathers outside Lacqua Funeral Home as two body bags are brought in. The bank is packed but we manage to draw some cash.

Not without trepidation, we head up to the hospital as we need to get a blood test form for H. There's an eerie sense of calm, as there was on the day of the coup. It's hard to believe that less than a week ago a slaughter took place a few yards up the hill at the fort. We're told that five women have been admitted with bullet wounds but the men's ward is full. We're not allowed into the wards to see for ourselves, but are told that last night the private block was emptied out and all the staff were sent back to the nurses' home - presumably for them to get as much rest as possible. With no one to answer their calls, patients lay in their beds all night and bawled for help that wouldn't come.

Tearing ourselves away, we next head for Cable and Wireless to call home. At least the phone lines are operating. Mum sounds freaked, though relieved to hear my voice. But she is furious when I tell her I have no intention to leave. I know how hard it must be for her but beg her to understand that I can't just wave my passport and run away.

Returning to Tempe, we meet PC again. He tells us he's found out his daughter's foot was mashed at the fort. We give him $20 EC to buy milk and medicine.

L has been into the country to St David's to check on his aunts. He returns with bags of fresh produce which are most welcome but the bad news is that he got into a huge row with a guy over coral and money. Everyone is so stressed and tempers are frayed. It's inevitable that tensions boil over and it feels like the potential for violence of one kind or another is just a breath away.

But with time having shrunk to the immediate here and now and still no idea what might happen next, we can't afford to keep still and feel the need to get as much done as we possibly can, while we can. L and I return to town with the empty gas cylinder but no one seems to think we'll be able to get gas. We're obsessing about the cylinder - it has assumed vital importance, since almost everything else seems to be out of our control. We meet P and leave the cylinder with him before returning to Tempe again.

Everywhere we go - locally, in town, on the buses - people are ranting against the RMC and don't seem to care who hears them. The mood is one of anger rather than fear. There appears to be almost total unity - pro Maurice and anti RMC.

There isn't a particularly large military presence on the streets and it really does feel bizarrely like life is carrying on pretty much as usual. Even up at the hospital and the fort (which is on the same hill) there's no obvious sense of the trauma of the last week or fear of what is to come. It's surreal and I have no way of knowing if this is how people always react when they're in deep shock. Maybe it's just the urge to survive.

Along the esplanade there are a couple of slightly antiquated looking guns pointing out to sea, each surrounded by four or five sandbags. They look like props from an old movie and when you think what they are supposed to be defending us against, they add to the surreal feeling that this can't be real.

When we reach back home, C is there. Poor C had gone to Carriacou, Grenada's tiny sister island, on the morning of the coup and so spent the whole curfew there on her own.

Image from grenada-beaches.com

When she had arrived on the 19th, she was greeted by a demonstration by local schoolchildren carrying placards: No Bishop. No School and several others specifically anti-Coard. Later there was another demonstration by older youths, No Bishop. No Work.

There was joyous dancing in the streets when the news filtered through that Maurice had been released and a motorcade drove through town, horns blaring and people cheering. Then RFG went off the air. Reports from regional stations were confused but it was clear that there had been extreme violence. C says the mood became very subdued, with people clustered round radios in the streets, waiting to hear what had happened a short distance away across the water.

Then, when the terrible confirmation of the coup was announced that evening, C says there was utter silence. Over the next four days the curfew didn't really operate in Carriacou, where there were only five soldiers on the whole island, and apparently not a single volunteer responded to the call for people to join the militia.

I can't imagine how terrible it must have been for C during those dread-filled days, totally isolated, knowing no one at all in Carriacou and alone with her grief and fear. However bad your own suffering, you can always find people who have it worse.

6.00 pm RFG - apparently Guyana opposed Grenada's suspension from the OECS, which means the decision is not binding. The broadcast also says that a contingent of soldiers left Jamaica on Saturday night - which was before the decision to invade was allegedly made.

And once again, this all feels surreal. They're not focusing on the same things as their listeners. It's clear their agenda has switched to a defensive stance projected outwards to try to avoid invasion, whereas everyone else knows there's unfinished business right here on the island.

P returns from town with the empty cylinder - there's no gas to be had anywhere. With only a partial cylinder left between us and C, we're going to have to be careful to eke it out by cooking communally and with care. W also arrives and now we're all together again. He told me a couple of days ago about a Tempe man who had an illegal gun. Today W saw this man in town - in uniform. He had been given a choice: to go to prison or join the army. They must be desperate indeed if he's typical of the kind of person they are relying on to defend the island against invasion.

And that's the end of 'back to normal' day. Only it feels like a day when we ran around like headless chickens trying to second guess what would happen next and preparing as much as possible for something we couldn't predict or even imagine. C is back with us, and that's the most important thing. At least we are all together now to face the next stage. Whatever it will be.

We don't have to wait long to find out.

That night L wakes up with dreadful stomach pains. From 3.00 am onwards, I pad backwards and forwards between the kitchen and the bedroom, massaging his belly, boiling up bush tea and worrying about how much gas I'm using.

Something is niggling on the very periphery of my consciousness but I can't work out what it is. There are so many things that are 'not right'. I'm anxious and half-asleep and I can't focus on what this particular niggle might be.

Soon after 5.00 am, H emerges from her room.
'Have you heard it?' she says.
'Heard what?'
'The plane - circling high overhead. It's been buzzing faintly all night.'

Image from BBC today

And now I identify the niggle and know its significance and why I'd been blocking on it. With tiny Pearls airport on the opposite side of the island, we never hear airplanes overhead. Yet H is right. This one has been circling for hours. Grenada has no air force, so this can mean only one thing.

We're about to be invaded.