I’ve told this seasonal story a hundred times but I think it’s worth telling again. I was on holiday on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis, in the bargain break period leading up to Christmas. I had booked myself on an early morning nature walk which led up the steeps sides of the local extinct volcano. Tree ferns dripped and exotic palms loomed out of the permanent mist that surrounds the peak. Vervet monkeys clattered through the branches and rare orchids peeped through the undergrowth.
As we slithered back down to level ground, we emerged into beautiful mid-morning sunshine. In the lane by the car park stood a classic West Indian gingerbread cottage, surrounded by a beautiful garden. Amongst all the unfamiliar flowers and greenery, a mass of pink roses grew up a trellis and cascaded from the veranda. More redolent of the Cotswolds than the Caribbean, if it wasn’t for the steam rising from the plants in the ever hotter sun.
Incongruously, the owner had decorated one of those prehistoric-looking Norfolk Island pine trees that are common in the area with ribbons, tinsel and plastic baubles. They had even placed a fairy on the topmost branch. The whole thing glittered wonderfully against the perfect blue sky. It was the height of kitsch but at the same time very touching. Attached to the base was a shakily-written sign which read ‘Peace and love to all mankind’.
I tell you, after a week of tropical buffets, talcum powder sand and sun burnt extremities, I had more or less forgotten it was Christmas. Suddenly I experienced a massive rush of seasonal good will. I almost got weepy! I took a picture for the folks back home, already planning to use the image for next year’s card.
As I got back on the tour bus, a wizened old lady emerged onto the veranda and started shouting in patois and gesticulating wildly in my direction. What’s she saying, I asked the guide? She’s putting a curse on you for not asking permission to take a photograph of her tree, he replied.
End of Christmassy feeling for yours truly. The bus drew away, and I am slightly ashamed to admit I responded from the safety of my seat with a very traditional hand gesture.