Antigua, Nevis & St Kitts (13th March - 27th March 2009)

How was the holiday Dad?

Good company, but the food was rubbish!

Dad's plane was due to land at Antigua Airport at 1415 having left from London Gatwick. We didn’t know the flight number or airline but were pretty sure that we knew enough to work them out; we were of course wrong, this is, after all, the Caribbean. We arrived at 1345 and looked for the flight Information Board but there wasn’t one. Neither was there an Information Desk, so we were unable to ask anyone when the next flight from London Gatwick was due or indeed why there was no Information Board. I guess if they had had an Information Desk then they would have got so sick of people asking when the next flight from Gatwick was due to land that they would have installed an Information Board. Not to be put off we visited each desk to see whether they had a flight from London arriving at 1415. Yes, said the ever-helpful Virgins, it’s just landed. Marvellous we all thought and walked round to arrivals. The Kids waving a ‘Welcome Grandad’ sign posted themselves in a prominent position outside Arrivals although Selma and I were repeatedly ‘moved on’. At Antigua Airport you are not allowed to wait outside arrivals! Anyway, we lingered covertly and watched; Pilots and Stewardesses arrived and left, then the First Class and finally the Rif-Raff but no sign of Dad. 45 minutes later Selma returned to the Virgins Desk who then explained that their flight was about 1415 not exactly 1415 and not The 1415 Flight. We finally identified Dad’s flight by asking intelligent and/or helpful looking passers by and by this means finally tracked the 1415 to a Thomson Flight delayed by 30 minutes but now just about to arrive. The kids enthusiasm was now waning and at any second we imagined that Dad would emerge to be faced with Jack and Ella having a right old ding dong - in the end they held it together and Dad was suitably welcomed to the Caribbean.
We arrived back at the harbour and Selma, Dad and I jumped in the dinghy and set off to the good ship leaving the kids to play on shore. We thought that all of us landing on Brimble could be too much after an 8 hour flight. On arrival Dad found his bag padlocked which was a surprise because he hadn’t padlocked it but all became clear when he revealed that it wasn’t his bag; it was very similar though. We returned to the shore and then with the help of the Marina Office, who deal exclusively with the Super Yachts and now lost baggage, tracked Dad's bag down to the airport and located the owner of the impostor bag to a resort in the north of the island. Two hours later we had completed a swift taxi tour of the island and repatriated the two bags to their rightful owners. In the case for the defence I can confirm that Dad’s Gill sailing bag was indeed identical to the one he pinched; except, of course, for a padlock and nametag stating it wasn’t his. That night we reintroduced Dad to the pleasures of Rum Punch.

We enjoyed a few quiet days in Antigua whilst our new crew settled into tropical shipboard life. We visited the Capital St Johns for the second time, took in another trip to Shirley Heights, properly explored the museums in Nelsons Dockyard, did a bit of swimming and snorkelling and even had time for a bit of boat maintenance. Antigua proved to be a surprise favourite for us all but we were now on a bit of a schedule to reach Anguilla in time for Dad’s flight on the 27th March. Time to move on.

We checked out with Customs and Immigration in Nelsons Dockyard and then sailed round the coast to Deep Bay where we BBQ’d on the beach and then made a large fire out of driftwood. The next day we sailed the 50 miles to Nevis which was a staggeringly good downwind surge with poled out foresail and double reefed main in 20-25 knots of wind. We made a steady 5-6 knots the whole way with clear skies and a lovely Atlantic swell. En route we passed the small remote island of Redonda which is a great tale worthy of telling. In 1865 an Irishman living on Montserrat called Matthew Shiell decided that he would claim Redonda for his newly born son. This he did and the Kingdom of Redonda was born. When the boy who was known as M.P. was 15 the whole family sailed over to Redonda and the boy was crowned King Filipe I of Redonda by their local Bishop. They had a party and went home to Montserrat. M.P. moved to England where he was a science fiction writer, but maintained his title and indeed created several literary Duchies. Later on in life he spent sometime unsuccessfully pushing the British Government to recognise his Kingdom and his title. King Filipe I sadly died in 1947 but not before passing his title onto fellow writer John Galsworthy, King Juan I. Unfortunately, King Juan I turned to drink and tried to sell off titles and on several occasions the whole island in exchange for beer. Just before he died in 1970 he passed the title to Jon Wynne-Tyson, King Juan II who remained king until his abdication on April 1st 1998. Control of the island then transferred to an Antiguan artist and writer, Robert Williamson, King Robert. Bob the Bald continues to rule the island to this day which despite it’s colourful royal history has been left pretty much to it’s own devices for hundreds of years.

We anchored up off the capital town, Charlestown, at about 1600, an hour or so ahead of schedule and dinghied ashore. Our plan was only to explore the capital and to crack on up the coast the next day. Charlestown must once have been a spectacular and exclusive town in days gone by but a recent hurricane and years of underinvestment had left the whole place looking really tired. You could imagine what it was like 100 or even 50 years ago but the feeling we had was that it had been forgotten about and what should have been a real jewel of the leeward islands was actually quite the reverse.

The next day we moved up the coast to a shallow anchorage called Oualie Beach on the north west side of the island. Despite high recommendation in the pilot we were unable to find a good spot to anchor and so sailed the 3 miles or so across ’The Narrows’ to St Kitts. Approaching the southern shore of St Kitts we passed the unusually named Shitten Bay and Bugs Hole but didn’t stop preferring to anchor in an absolutely idyllic spot called White House Bay. We dropped the hook and all jumped over the side for a snorkel ashore.

At ten past five having enjoyed the dubious pleasures of a cockpit shower (this is where you stand to wash as opposed to what you wash), sitting quietly on the port side saloon bunk and dressed simply with a towel round his waist, Dad completely lost his memory. ’This may be a strange question’ he thoughtfully enquired ’ but where am I?’

For just a part of a second we all wondered whether he was joking but in as much time as it took to wonder the hope evaporated as we looked at Dad’s surprised and slightly confused expression. There was no doubt … we had a problem. The stunned silence that followed was finally broken by dad … ‘Where’s Les?’ he asked.

This all happened in a few seconds. ’Do you know who we are?’ Selma asked ’Of course I do’ Dad shouted, clearly unhappy at such an idiotic question! ’you’re Selma and John and they’re the children‘, he hesitated, waving his hand airily at the children, the slightly vacant pause that followed although dramatic at the time was only indicative of Dad’s ’normal’ memory and we inwardly sighed as he finally added ’Jack and Ella’. We quickly figured out that Dad did know who we were, the boats name, his address at home, names of friends and so on. What he’d forgotten was the previous month or so which was a complete blank.

We made a brief attempt at filling this gap and explained to Dad that we were anchored in a remote bay on the east end of St Kitts, that he was on holiday for 2 weeks and that we had already visited Antigua and Nevis. Dad could remember none of this. We checked his temperature, looked for the more obvious signs of a stroke, enquired as to how he was feeling; no pains in the chest, sweating, sickness, headaches and then having exhausted our collective medical knowledge and concluded our examination agreed that we hadn’t the faintest idea what was wrong.

At this point Dad interrupted our discussion ’This may be a strange question … but where am I?’. We’ve just explained that to you?’ I suggested, further taken a back by this added potential complexity. Dad thought hard, ’really? very strange’ he concluded. Too bloody right was my thinking on the matter. Not only had Dad lost his memory but we now realised that he was also unable to retain any information. I kept thinking about the joke where two goldfish repeatedly reintroduce themselves every time they swim a circuit round their bowl.

At this point we turned our attention to the various pills that Dad was taking and more accurately the anti-histamine that he had taken just before we set off snorkelling. We checked the side effects; ‘confusion in the elderly’ was amongst them although we decided that Dad was much more than confused and we weren’t entirely sure as to what constituted ’elderly’. The time for expert advice was upon us so we dialled the Brimble equivalent of 999 - Dr Alex on Sat Phone.

As ever Alex was quite unperturbed by the situation and suggested that we ’pop him up to the hospital for a quick check up. It could be the antihistamine or he could have had a stroke or it could be a problem with his heart …’. I concluded that either everything was absolutely fine or Dad was in grave and imminent danger.

We found a taxi advertised in the Chris Doyle pilot and Henry of ’Henry’s Taxi’s’ himself agreed to pick us up on the road by the bay in fifteen minutes. ‘Where’s Les?’ Dad asked.

Whilst Selma and I readied the dinghy and packed a bag the kids helpfully tried to probe Dad’s memory to ascertain the extent of the problem. ’Do you know what a marina is?’ asked Jack with a penetrating look. Dad refused to be taken in by these subversive questions and ignored them, however, Jack took this as a ‘don’t know’ response and increased the complexity of the questions moving swiftly on with ’do you know what this is?’ waving a mobile phone in his face. I dragged Dad out of the boat and into the waiting darkness.

The bay where we were anchored was absolutely pitch black and deathly quiet, you could have heard a fish fart. You don’t often get real darkness accompanied by real quiet, there’s usually something to colour the night whether the stars or the moon, another boats lights, a distant streetlamp, fish jumping, a bird shouting for it‘s wife, insects rubbing elbows or whatever. In Whitehouse bay there was nothing, not even a white house. All you could make out was a faint shadow of two hills in the distance; you couldn’t even make out the shoreline a bare two hundred metres away. Before we climbed into the dinghy I explained to Dad where we were, where Les was and what we were doing. ’Very strange’ he mused. I desperately wanted him to shout at me and tell me that I‘d just told him that but he didn‘t. We set off into the darkness leaving Selma and the kids to look after the Good Ship.

Once on shore we clambered up a hill through the darkness and found the old road where I hoped to meet Henry. The road was as dark as everywhere else, there wasn’t a light in sight and the road was empty; it felt surprisingly lonely. The minutes ticked by as well as the promised quarter of an hour, but no sign of Henry. Although I felt that patience was the order of the day I was aware that Dad could have another attack at any second and if that happened I wanted to be in hospital not in the middle of nowhere so I thought I‘d call Henry to try and chivvy him on a bit. We’d brought Dad’s phone which apart from the Sat Phone was the only one working in the region so I‘d left the Sat Phone with Selma and taken Dad‘s. A good plan had I been able to figure out how to use it. Motorrola Phones should either be banned or alternatively be rebranded ’Counterintuitive’. Try as I might I could not dial a number out. As a last resort to rowing back to the boat I asked Dad to show me … bad mistake. He said no problem, took the phone off me, stared at it for a few seconds and then handed it back without doing anything; ‘Very strange‘ he said. We repeated this routine a few times before I realised that he was forgetting what I wanted him to do whilst he was still looking at the phone. I tried handing the phone to him and then repeating the question really quickly over and over again but he just looked at me as if I was a lunatic. I gave up just as the lights of Henry’s mini-bus appeared in the distance. We climbed into the back of the bus and set off on the 30 minute drive to Basseterre.

The ride to the hospital was a unique experience. Despite our unusual destination and the fact that by now it was nearly half past nine in the evening, Henry was determined that we should not miss out on the full tourist experience. ‘Welcome to St Kitts’ he said as we pulled away, ’as you may know our island is located in the Leeward Islands towards the north of the Caribbean. It is 16 miles by 7 miles with a population of 39,000. This end of the island is not usually visited by tourists or the locals but it will be soon because we are planning to build a new super-yacht marina here. In the distance over there you can see the flames of the sugar cane fields burning’. I couldn‘t help myself; ‘is that to clear the rubbish away after harvest’ I asked. ‘No sir, somebody’s just set fire to them’ he said and then added for completeness, ’the government’s been trying to put them out for day‘s!’ Quite why the locals set fire to the sugar cane or why the government and not the fire brigade put’s fires out on St Kitts was a bit of a mystery to me but I kept quiet. In the seat behind me, Dad listened with interest, said ‘very strange’ and enquired where we were again.

We arrived at A&E at about eight o’clock, it was heaving. There are many differences with a typical English A&E but what was most noticeable apart from the lack of anybody remotely related to the medical profession was the lack of apparently hurt people. At my last night-time trip to A&E in Southampton you were left in no doubt as to the injuries of those waiting because of the blood oozing out from the wound or the arm or leg hanging at a strange angle. If you were still unsure you could simply listen to the on-the-spot interview taking place with the police as the injured person tried to explain the sudden and entirely unprovoked bottle/knife/glass attack which had resulted in their impromptu hospital visit. Anyway, there was none of that at St Kitts. It seemed to me that most people turned up because it was a nice spot to meet and watch telly in the company of close friends and family. I presume that some of the people were poorly because occasionally someone disappeared for a while before returning to finish off the telly programme they had been watching but I’m not sure what was wrong.

I also wondered about the process. There was no signing in, no registration and no apparent way of queuing - most un-English. I asked the healthy looking lady sitting next to me what I should do. ‘Nothing, they’ll call you when it’s your turn’ she said, looking suspiciously at Dad and I who clearly had nothing wrong with us.

I sat with Dad having the most circular conversation of my life. I had already realised that I would need to keep explaining where we were and had long since given up wondering whether he remembered anything, because he didn’t. I developed a standard sentence which I kept repeating over and over again. In my own mind I pinned the blame for Dad’s condition on the antihistamines so assumed the effect would gradually wear off. But I was worried that in the meantime he would have a hell of an unpleasant time simply because of not knowing where he was. In reality this didn’t occur; not because of my repeated updates but because by the time he realised something was wrong he’d forgotten what was happening! After 40 minutes we‘d made little progress on the memory front but were called into the Triage surgery.

Dad sat down looking really quite well following 5 days of sailing in the West Indies and I tried to explain the situation. They took Dad’s details, address, DOB, blood pressure, medical history, etc. and as Dad sensibly answered all their generic questions they looked less and less convinced that there was anything wrong with him and increasingly convinced that I was up to no good. In the end Dad saved the day when he looked up at them and said ’Where am I’ and then to me ‘and where‘s Les?’. I knew that the penny had dropped for them when they started to call him ‘Dear’ and talked solely to me as if Dad wasn’t there … much to his disgust, although he can’t remember it!

We were sent back through to the Telly Room to join family and friends and I restarted my now word perfect verbal update loop, at the same time I began to see odd signs of recovery. ‘Of course I know you’re on a 12 month sabbatical’ Dad replied as I repeated a few questions to test how much memory was lost’. ‘Well, you didn’t know 15 minutes ago‘. I retorted - the evening was dragging a little bit. Things were, nonetheless, looking up.

The Doctor, Hyacinth, was good looking which was nice and seemed quite knowledgeable which was useful. Dad was put on a drip, blood was taken and a variety of tests completed, none of which suggested that anything was wrong. As the hours ticked by Dad’s memory rapidly returned to the point where he was both remembering what he was told and could also remember up to the point of dropping the anchor that evening. Despite this recovery, once the Doctor realised that the boat we were on was not a 30,000 tonne cruise ship but 4.4 tonne yacht anchored about as far from the hospital as you could physically get she said he must stay overnight. A private room was prepared and at 1am Dad was transferred and I left. Henry, the Taxi driver had waited the whole time because he knew that I wouldn’t get a taxi back. Nice bloke, his charge for waiting 6 hours was under £10.

During this time a variety of calls were made to Dr Alex and Les to update then on the state of the patient but as the recovery was reasonably rapid each call was a good news story, thank goodness. Still Les showed startling calm.

Dad stayed in hospital for 4 days whilst a variety of tests were carried out to identify the cause of the problem. The process is more one of elimination rather than identification and over the 4 days every known problem was partially or completely eliminated. Finally, on the day of Dad’s release, the Doctor explained that Dad had probably suffered from a severe attack of ‘just one of those things’ which have no side effects and is unlikely to recur; Dr Kelsick, who was great from start to finish, presented the diagnosis with slightly more panache and badged the problem as ‘Transient Global Amnesia‘. I should say that the staff at the John Francis Hospital were great and must put a word in for the Nurses who were all great.

On the 22nd March, Day 10 of the holiday, Dad was released from hospital. The medical profession, including Dad’s excellent insurance company at home, were unhappy for the patient to return to the wealth and luxury of the good ship. They were not convinced that a Super-Yacht was not necessarily the same as a super yacht and as such Dad was forced to rough it, with full board at the 5 star Mariott Hotel. The rest of the Halsall’s not willing to miss out on a free bath pretty much moved in as well … the hotel room was after all twice the size of the Good Ship. Even Colm and Rosie would have commended the room as acceptable.
The following few days were not what we planned but were nonetheless top fun. We all enjoyed the hotel and worked hard to help Dad to fully enjoy the benefits associated with ‘full board and lodging’. Despite our best efforts and some fairly brutal hints we struggled, it just seems that anyone over the age of 60 is entirely unable to be greedy when something is free; it‘s fine when you have to hand over money and pay for your greed but if it‘s free, a sudden mantle of goodness appears. Still we tried our best. During the first few days Dad also received several severe bollockings from Les who in hindsight was operating in a bit of an information void and was not sure whether she should worry a lot, a little bit, hardly anything or madly fly out and say goodbye or perhaps more reasonably supervise proceedings. I suspect that there was also a degree of frustration that somehow or other Dad had dumped the 2 week ‘roughing it’ holiday on the good ship B and was now enjoying a full board holiday at one of the most exclusive hotels in the Caribbean. Tough one.

Dad departed on the 28th March. He was accompanied by nurse Jenny and a large bottle of oxygen although as I understand it Jenny was more in need of the oxygen than Dad was. The holiday had been a long way from the planned 14 day cruise through the islands but in a strange way it had been fun. Alls well that ends well!

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Hi theer - you should be become a writer when you get back John (assuming it's you who writes this stuff!)

That whole memory thing happened to my dad - totally weird....any more developmnets on that front??

Sarah xxxxxxxxx