Tag Archives: bermuda

Big Birthdays

My 60th birthday is just around the corner. It feels like A Big One, a final trip over the threshold of middle age and the beginning of a long, slow fall into the basement of old age.

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How will I mark this bitter-sweet occasion? Gill is generously taking me away somewhere for a couple of days the week before….I know not where. I will hopefully celebrate The Big Day somewhere with the family. And then it’s off to Greece, to magical Zagori in the Pindos mountains of Epirus, an intriguing area I only discovered last year.

No doubt our group of 13 will eat plenty of the excellent local food and partake frequently of friendship-inducing tsipouro, between bursts of energetic mountain-climbing, gorge-walking, horse-riding and whitewater-rafting.

Early Big Birthdays are hazy. Or perhaps I was too focused on bean-counting studying and exams to celebrate 18th and 21st milestones.

I suppose the dedication paid off. I spent my 30th in beautiful life-changing Bermuda, although a joint 29-and-holding Miami Vice party with cute Canadian Diane Olchowik is even more memorable. A long night of Don Johnson no-socks and sleeves-rolled-up dancing and drinking culminated in a bit of skinny-dipping in Sonesta Bay as the sun rose on the island’s legendary south shore beaches.

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Fast forward 10 years and I was working in Germany for a few months. I had just met Gill, now my beloved wife of nigh on 20 years, and she helped to co-ordinate a lovely surprise 40th birthday bash at my brother’s place, while I was home for the weekend.

The Big 5-0 was marked by a moment of madness: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak and a staggering 5,895 metres above the wildlife of Tanzania’s Serengeti. The motivation was as much to raise money for a very good cause as it was to shake a fist at the advancing years.

Actually, we climbed Kili in February, a few months ahead of my birthday, to take advantage of one of the climbing windows. May came and it was an excuse for a long weekend of drunken debauchery in the blues bars, pizza places and casinos of Soho.

And here I am, on the cusp of 60. How did that happen? Where have all the years gone? Will I make it to 3 score and 10….?

I’ll report back on the 60th activities. Just in case it’s the last Big Birthday I feel like marking in any memorable way.

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RIP Johnny Barnes – Bermuda legend

I lived in Bermuda through much of the 1980s. Every day on the way in to work – wearing canary yellow shorts and long, dark blue socks as I fidgeted on the hot plastic seat of my Honda 80 cc moped – I’d pass the Crow Lane roundabout, the main access point in to Hamilton, the island’s capital.

There, happy, smiling, white-bearded Johnny Barnes would wave to everyone, so close that he would often also high five motorists, cyclists and bike riders. Every day.

He did this for more than 30 years. He became a legend, for locals and for tourists alike. A statue was erected near his waving spot.

Sadly, Mr Happy died recently, aged 93. He only stopped waving and smiling at the roundabout in December 2015.

RIP Johnny. Thanks for the memories and for the love.

Below is the full text of an obituary printed today in no less a publication than The Times. A fitting tribute.

Bermudian bus driver known as ‘Mr Happy’ who became a tourist attraction after years of cheerfully greeting the traffic.

For 30 years Johnny Barnes woke each day before 4am and walked two miles from his house to one of the busiest roundabouts in the capital where he spent several hours waving at commuters and telling them, “I love you, God loves you”.

With his white beard, arms thrown wide and broad-brimmed hat, he was familiar to most of the islanders. His large smile and cheerful greeting were infectious and he became known as “Mr Happy”.

“I enjoy making people happy,” he said. “I like to let them know that life is sweet, that it’s good to be alive.” Tourists often came to be photographed with him and a group of local businessmen erected a statue in his honour near the roundabout in 1998.

He was born John James Randolf Adolphus Mills in 1923 and raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, a sect that preaches the return of Christ to Earth. His mother often told him that — according to the children’s rhyme — as he was born on a Saturday, he would have to work hard for a living. Once she sent him to deliver a message to an elderly lady. He successfully handed it over but his mother still scolded him on his return. “I delivered it but I didn’t speak to her,” he recalled. “My mother said never, never, let no one come to her and say that I didn’t speak to them. She said I must speak to everyone.” It was a lesson that he took to heart throughout his long life.

He became an electrician on the Bermuda Railway. Later, he worked as a bus driver. Full of the joys of life — and his mother’s words — he made it a tradition to wave at passers-by from the bus depot as he ate his lunch. “If we learn how to love one another, there would be no jealousy, no anger, no envy. Everything would be just right,” he said.

Barnes married in 1949. His wife, Belvina, was also a happy woman because, as he said, he “covered her with honey” all her life. He always told visitors to their house how much he loved her. They had no children.

He became an electrician on the Bermuda Railway. Later, he worked as a bus driver. Full of the joys of life — and his mother’s words — he made it a tradition to wave at passers-by from the bus depot as he ate his lunch. “If we learn how to love one another, there would be no jealousy, no anger, no envy. Everything would be just right,” he said.

After his death his wife read out his final message: “My mind and heart would have liked to continue at the roundabout forever, sharing love, cheerfulness, happy wishes and prayers with each of you. However, our Loving Heavenly Father knows best, so He said, ‘Johnny, it is time for you to rest’.”

Johnny Barnes, Bermuda’s “Mr Happy”, was born on June 23, 1923. He died on July 9, 2016, aged 93.

59 and descending

May 10, 2016.

I’m 59 today.

A year from now, I’ll be in the 60s Zone. No longer Middle Aged, I’ll be starting the long, slow descent into Old Age. There will be no Renaissance period for me.

30 years ago, I had a Miami Vice themed 29-and-holding birthday party, in the garden of our rented Bermuda home. We were tanned, lithe-limbed, supple, sockless and solvent, the dollars flowing as freely as the rum.

Now I’m unemployed and it’s more likely to be an artisan macchiato, or a peppermint tea, than a dark-and-stormy. Joints ache, hairs sprout, pee gushes. More blustering Boris Johnson than dashing Don.

Small craters erupt on my creased face, like the foothills of Kilimanjaro on the Serengeti plain. I hope they’re not harbingers of skin cancer, often recently afflicting my family. And they didn’t even get to enjoy a few years in a sun-drenched tax haven.

So I’m going to carpe that diem like it’s never been carped before. Grasp that nettle as tightly as an expat does happy memories of 30 years past.

Time for a 59-and-clinging-on party, perhaps….

 

 

Bombs and terrorism

On Saturday 24th April, 1993, I was on holiday back in Bermuda. That day the office of the Japanese company I was working for, high up the tower of 99 Bishopsgate in the heart of London’s business community, was destroyed by an IRA bomb.

An IRA bomb destroyed the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in the City of London.

Hidden in a stolen tipper truck parked by the HSBC building, the device – a huge and deadly concoction of fertiliser and diesel – killed 1 person, injured 44 and caused £350 million of damage.

I never worked in the building again.

The long-running mainland UK bombing campaign by the IRA eventually came to a halt, after decades of murder and devastation, and thanks to tortuous political negotiations.

On Wednesday 6th July, 2005, I stood in Trafalgar Square with colleague David Kuo and hundreds of other Londoners awaiting an announcement from the IOC, in Singapore, about the venue for the 2012 Olympics.

Paris was hot favourite. London won. I have never known such a perfect, instantaneous outpouring of elation as on that hopeful summer lunchtime.

The following day, Thursday 7th July – known as 7/7 in a poignant homage to New York’s 9/11 of 4 years earlier- Islamist extremists  detonated 3 separate backpack bombs in quick succession on the London Underground, Soon after, a 4th ripped apart an iconic red double-decker bus, in Tavistock Square.

52 people died and more than 700 were injured.

On Wednesday 7th January, 2015, two Al-Qaeda inspired Islamist terrorists entered the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 11 and injuring 11 others.

In related attacks across the city, a further 5 were killed and another 11 wounded.

On Friday 13th November, 2015, ISIS-inspired and Syrian-planned extremists carried out a series of deadly attacks on bars. restaurants a music venue and the Stade de France sports stadium in the heart of Paris.

At the moment, 129 people have died and 350 have been injured.

I was in Paris earlier this year.  Security was visibly high, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, and suspicious drones had been seen in the clear blue skies of a Parisian spring.

Gill and I are going back to Paris in 11 days time. We’ll be staying near to the site of some of the restaurant attacks last Friday.

We could cancel but I believe we should still go. To carry on life as normal, as France is defiantly doing today, and because the risk of something happening to you exists every day, wherever you might be.

The politicians will slowly work towards a potential solution for the current Syrian crisis, and the ISIS threat. But this is much more complex than the Irish terror we faced for so many years, and could take a generation to resolve.

In the meantime, life MUST go on. As it always does.

Golf

Is there something in your life that you dip into, and out of, over the years? Like embroidery, or jigsaw-puzzle puzzling? Or an attempt to learn a foreign language?

I’ve had bursts of golfing enthusiasm at different times in my 58 years. And over the last couple of months, it’s been a veritable feast of hooked drives, double bogies and missed short putts after years of swinging famine.

I’ve been lucky enough to play locally in Surrey, with my brother (club captain in 2014) and nephews at the beautiful Hankley Common GC , and at our local West Surrey course with neighbour Steve. In the USA with old friend Michael Warren at Richter Park in Connecticut. And, most spectacularly, at Bermuda’s coast-hugging Mid Ocean Club with friend and MOC member Phil Barnes. And, just last week, with all the Anderson boys at the somewhat unloved Kent & Surrey Club at Edenbridge in rural Kent.

We’ve watched  frankly unhealthy amounts of the game on TV, especially the closing stages of the golfing Majors, staying up late to see the epic closing rounds of the Masters and US Open, and the unscheduled Monday finish to this year’s Open at soggy St. Andrews.

And just last week, I wandered up the road to the practice day of the Senior Open at glorious and historic Sunningdale, getting up close and personal with the game’s legends, and enjoying a free lesson from the R&A coaching gurus.

A veritable golfing overdose, after years of cold turkey away from the game.

And what have I learnt?

That golf is a metaphor for life.

One day you can play a single stroke, or hole or – if the game’s gods are smiling on you – a back nine almost as well as a professional. Or way better than your handicap, anyway. But mostly, you’re likely to blow a decent round with a bad drive, a triple bogey and a mindset that means you’ll lurch from crisis to crisis after that single error.

In life, you’ll think you’re on a roll after passing an exam, or getting lucky with that nurse you always fancied in A&E. Or finding a pound coin left in the gym locker.

But then…..BANG. The door of optimism will be slammed in your face, as surely as Tiger Woods will – allegedly – whip out his fairway wood at the first sight of a blonde cocktail waitress.

You’ll fail your physics paper by 1 mark; the nurse will dump you in favour of a single handicapper; the gym sub will be increased by £10 a month.

You’re a flick of a sand wedge and a single putt away from a birdie, but moments later you’ve under-clubbed, taking 3 to get out of a steep bunker and the birdie has slipped from your grasp as quickly as Europe have snatched victory from the jaws of a Ryder Cup defeat.

Call me pessimistic, but life in the long run is more likely to be a 3 putt rather than a chip-in from off the green.

Although there’s always been the ring of truth in Gary Player’s well-worn quotation:  “the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

Time to hit the driving range, then. Until a new jigsaw puzzle distracts me. Or the next Italian lesson.

Bermuda – a pivotal place

What’s been the most defining time – or place – in your life?

Marriage? The birth of your first child? When Michael Thomas scored that last minute goal against Liverpool to win the title for Arsenal in 1989? Or when the school bully smashed your head against the climbing frame in the last week of summer term?

For me, it was the 7 years or so I spent in Bermuda in the 1980s.

Not that there haven’t been other equally significant moments – passing my professional exams; marrying my lovely wife Gillian; taking 8-14 to tie the nail-biting cricket match for my school against our local rivals. But the relatively short time I spent on the tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean has had a disproportionately important part to play in my 58 year life story.

Why? Probably because of age and circumstances. As a newly qualified 24 year-old bean-counter, jumping on a plane to a strange place where I didn’t know anybody, was – with hindsight, at least – quite a brave thing to do.

We’ve just returned from a holiday to the island – our first time back in Bermuda since 2000 – and it has only reinforced what a special, beautiful place it is and how it will always be deposited right at the front of my ageing memory bank.

The pink, sandy beaches are still unspoiled, empty and inviting. The golf courses are as challenging and photogenic as ever. The fish chowder at the Lobster Pot restaurant still tastes as good as in 1982….laced with rum and Outerbridge’s sherry peppers, of course. Hiring a scooter is still the best way to see the island. As long as you don’t fall asleep on one as I did, feeling tired and emotional after a long, hard day playing hockey.

Scratch the Bermudian surface now, however, and you’ll see some differences compared with 3 decades ago: the population is declining; the economy is mired in debt; there are perpetual immigration challenges; there is unemployment for the first time in decades; and gang warfare has resulted in occasional shootings.

But for the resident and tourist alike, this place is still pretty close to Paradise. If you like idyllic beaches, turquoise water, any water or land-based sport, a temperate climate, good food, Gosling’s Black Seal rum and a party, it’s hard to think of anywhere else that’s much better.

From a personal perspective though, the clincher is people. Of those who I first met over 30 years ago, some are now spread around the world, some are native Bermudians and some are long-term residents. But all are kindred spirits.

It’s as though time has stood still. We share a mutual passion for wonderful Bermuda, and I will always count my blessings for the time I spent there and for the friends I have made through being there.

I know that when I’m dribbling into my cornflakes at the nursing home, I’ll still be able to conjure up a rejuvenating image of drinking Amstels at the Robin Hood on a Friday night, strains of “Don’t You Want Me Baby” leaking into the humid night as we hatch plans for tomorrow’s sporting activities and party location.