Engagement · Glastonbury · Glastonbury Abbey · Town Crier · Uncategorized

Appearances at the Abbey

Since moving to Glastonbury in 1980, I’ve always enjoyed my visits to the Glastonbury Abbey and long before I became Town Crier of this lovely town. Actually, there isn’t a complete Abbey there now, only ruins. After the carnage and mayhem seen here in 1539, presided over by King Henry VIII, clinically referred to in the history books as “The Dissolution”, Glastonbury Abbey was targeted for state robbery and destruction, its last Abbot, Abbot Richard Whiting meeting a most miserable end. He and two others, after sham “trials”, were dragged up the Glastonbury Tor and executed on the top of it. He was later “hung, drawn and quartered”. In November every year, we remember him, usually with a short service on the Tor with the laying of flowers. The last one I attended, as Town Crier, was quite moving.
But the ruins nevertheless have a great appeal to tourists the world over.

The massive grounds are home to quite a lot of wildlife too.

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My wife and I have bought yearly membership to the Abbey. We often drop in, sometimes with our grandson, and enjoy the peace and space of this historic location.  Guides, in costume, are available to show visitors around.

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As happens every year, the Mayor, Town Clerk, Macebearers, Town Councillors and myself are invited to attend two big Pilgrimages.

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One is a Roman Catholic Pilgrimage the other, an Anglican one. Sometimes they occur in the same weekend. My parade associates refer to these as “Back-to-back” Pilgrimages! They are significant events in the Glastonbury Calendar and attract thousands of worshippers and spectators. Slow processions through the streets of Glastonbury also take place.

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The macebearers and I often share our little joke at these times. At Pilgrimages, we either find ourselves sitting in puddles of rain (usually) or very occasionally, in puddles of sweat (as happened this time, during our exceptionally hot summer!)

But this year, I had two other Town Crier jobs in the Abbey. Firstly, I was contacted by a gentleman called Nico, who wanted me to “cry” at his engagement. His plan was to “pop the question” to his good lady in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey and then to have the local Town Crier, standing by, to shout out the glad tidings, if she said “Yes”. What an inspired decision, I might add, to utilize the Town Crier!
After the initial contact and explanation had been made, a flurry of secret text messages followed concerning the date, timing, exact location and my “choreography” before crying.

When the big day came, I parked in my usual spot that’s reserved for me when on “Civic Duties”, just behind the Town Hall, which is conveniently next door to the abbey. As I was climbing into my regalia, a lady passed by and said, “You’re hear for the engagement then?” I nodded. Clearly, Nico’s plans were not entirely top secret.
Once robed up, I flashed my yearly entrance card at the girl in the foyer, before making my way towards the outdoor café in the Abbey grounds to try and be as inconspicuous as possible – well as much as a man wearing frilly lace, white tights, buckles on shoes, triangular feathered hat, an eighteenth century great coat, yards of gold braid and shining brass buttons can be! It was a good spot with a clear view of the planned “Engagement Zone”. I stood and watched. My good friend Ali passed by -she happened to be visiting the Abbey at the same time – and she kindly agreed to take a few photos of the events as they unfolded. We took the obligatory selfie.
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We watched carefully. After about ten minutes I was beginning to feel that the Vicky had decided to shun married life with Nico by replying negatively to his question.
Then suddenly, in the distance, there was a flurry of activity.

I could hear and later see a solo violin playing near some steps, joined shortly after by a lone guitarist. The melodious music wafted across the lush green grounds. Then I saw the couple. He was reaching for the ring!!
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I said to myself: “This guy will go far! He’s chosen Glastonbury Abbey, arranged some live background music and even booked a Town Crier….this chap has got it well and truly sorted!” Ali felt much the same. The big question was this. When do I advance prior to a Town Crier announcement being made? We waited and watched. Then I saw the smiles, hugs and long passionate embraces – all the clues I needed to step forward and introduce myself to the blissfully happy couple.
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It was a delight to be the first to congratulate the newly-engaged couple and to kiss the lucky bride-to-be. I spun round, took a few paces forward, unrolled my scroll, took a deep breath and announced their good news to passing visitors and a professional photographer who had also clearly been hired, to photographically capture the event!
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As I said, this chap did it with style!

A rather similar secretive stream of messages and texts between myself and my very good friend, Heidi, preceded my appearance at the Abbey to “Cry” at a 25th Wedding Anniversary party a few months later. Again, I lurked in the grounds of the Abbey until being summoned to spring a surprise on the couple and their guests with a “Proclamation”!
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That’s one of the terrific things about being a Town Crier – I’m often able to share in the happiness and joy of others. It’s the best job in the world!

Glastonbury · Town Crier · Uncategorized

Competitions

 

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Town Criers, by definition, tend to be rather solitary figures. Wearing brightly-coloured regalia, white tights, yards of gold braid, frilly lace, white gloves, buckles on shoes, ringing bells and shouting their collective heads off – it has to be said, they do stand out in a crowd. Our dress is designed to do exactly that. Even though we may be surrounded by an admiring public, clicking away on their cameras, iPhones, iPads, iPods and the like, in some respects, we stand there very much alone, as pieces of bellowing, animated living history – or at least, until people come up to us and have a chat.

So, it is therefore, quite heartening, every once in a while, to meet up with other Town Criers and their escorts. Town Crier Competitions provide a means of doing just that.

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Yeovil Town Criers’ Competition, April 2016

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Observing how other town criers manage the whole business of “crying” can be quite illuminating and at times instructive.

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For a start, the way they ring their bells is fascinating. Some ring their bells “hell-for-leather” in what you might call “fire alarm mode”, (I probably come under that category!)

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Others simply perform gentle, deliberate, measured and quite frankly, economical bell rings.
Some do all the bell-ringing first before shouting the “OYEZs” three times. Others intersperse bell ringing with the obligatory, introductory shouting.
One crier from South Gloucestershire, a most informed and jovial gentleman, showed me his bell over dinner. He owned a bell that came with a fascinating and positively romantic history, of which he was keen to impart. The bell was once used on a horse-drawn fire engine!

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How’s that for a piece of history!  His pre-cry bell-ringing action was pretty engaging too.

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Before his cry, he would hold the bell up and ring it from below, as you can see in the photograph. (I managed to restrain myself from shouting out: “Where’s the fire?”)

Then there’s the shouting of “OYEZ, OYEZ, OYEZ!” which is French for “Hear Ye!” One delightful lady Town Crier engages in a ritual of flinging her arms out, at full stretch and  follows on by actually the singing the words with full operatic abandon!

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It wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a Wagnerian opera! This was quite a novelty, I thought, although perhaps an afternoon of it, on the High Street, could become a tad tedious for shopkeepers? Each crier seemed to have an idiosyncratic way of shouting out the words. That alone made the contest interesting – even before we got on to the contents of their cries!
As I mentioned before, some criers are female and very pretty they look too, but inevitably, they do not generally have the lung capacity and strength of projection possessed by their male counterparts.

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The most successful of them are those who do not try to match the men, but develop their own individual style, within the limitations that evolution has bestowed upon them. If they over-shout they tend to screech.
Personally, I shout “OYEZ, OYEZ, OYEZ!” long and loud but without the frills or silly antics.

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I look for some spectators in the distance and imagine that I am trying to shout to the people beyond them!
I couldn’t help but notice that the “message” of a few Town Criers became very fragmented and a little hard to follow at times. This is simply because they took numerous pauses for breath and only managed a few words at a time in between huge gulps of air. I have realised that convincing and effective “crying” has to strike the correct balance between breathing to stay alive, trying to say a full sentence without breaking it up and maintaining a creditable volume throughout. Crying almost continuously for several hours (not in competitions, I hasten to add) is quite physically exhausting. I often return home from a Town Crying session, totally drained and with a deep husky voice reminiscent of Barry White!
For most competitions two cries are performed. Firstly, a “Home Cry” is made, extolling the virtues of our respective towns.

Here is my “Home Cry”, written for me by Lisa Goodwin, Glastonbury’s celebrated wordsmith:

OYEZ, OYEZ, OYEZ!
I bring sincere salutations
from the town of Glastonbury.
A magical, mythical place
a celebrated sanctuary.

Everyone knows the famous Tor;
it won Olympic recognition,
yet there is so much more
to our history, myths and tradition.

Waters of chalk and chalice well,
rich in myth and story.
Saints and Kings, the Holy Grail,
tales of heartbreak and glory.

Our Abbey on the Isle of Glass;
still considered the holiest earth,
though many years have passed
since the mother church was birthed.

Men who walked these hills of green
rooted a tree, most auspicious,
the Holy Thorn, a bough to the queen,
presented every Christmas.

In Glastonbury we recognise
so many faiths in unity,
and from the heart we harmonise
unity through diversity.

LONG MAY GLASTONBURY FLOURISH!

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

 

After an interval, our “Own” cries are done. Sometimes we have a free choice and on other occasions, we’re given a theme. “Birds”, “Grandad”, “The Queen’s 90th Birthday” have been some recent topics!

The Town Crier competitions are run according to the rules of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Criers.

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Anxious Town Criers and Escorts wait their turn

The rules are quite strict too. Here are a few of the more interesting ones to give you an idea of the limitations that exist:
• The length of the cry must be between 100-125 words.
• Props, including the use of animals, must NOT be used by Criers whilst a competition is in progress.
• A crier may only take one means of calling attention onto the crying platform and carry a scroll for their cry.
• The order of the cry will be decided by a draw.
• The draw will take place in the presence of a majority of the participating Criers.
• All competitors must be available within 1 minute of their name being called.
• Criers must not wear badges, awards or medals relating to previous championship wins, or any such decoration that could influence the judges.
• Any Crier encouraging crowd participation may, at the discretion of the Competition Co-ordinator, be penalised or disqualified.
• All cries must be non-political, non-religious, and in good taste.
• If, during a cry, there is an exceptional noise or distraction (for example Low Flying Jet, Helicopter, Motorcycle, Explosion, Peal of Bells etc.) the Crier may stop their cry and restart, either from the position in their cry that they had reached, or from the beginning of their cry, without loss of points.
• Town Criers will be judged on:
– Diction (The pronouncement of the words)
– Inflection (The pitch of the voice and it’s variation)
– Volume (The output of sound)
– Clarity (The ability to be understood despite the volume)

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The Judges

 

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The all-important “Draw”

My escort or “consort” for Town Crier competitions is Councillor Denise Michell, a member of the Glastonbury Town Council.

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Councillor Denise Michell (ex Mayor of Glastonbury) – a worthy prizewinner!

I’m often asked why I don’t bring my wife along to these events. I should explain that my dear wife, June, is quite a private person and prefers not to get involved in Town Crier Competitions and I totally respect her wishes. However, June is perfectly happy to see me attend these events with our very good friend Denny. Denny enjoys dressing up in historic costumes very much.

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She is very successful at it too, winning the “Best Dressed Escort” prize at the recent competition in Yeovil. (We also won the “Best Dressed Town Crier and Escort” prize at the 2018 Ilminster competition, by the way).

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Our recent successes have been keeping the trophy engraver busy!

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Denny and I have attended four competitions to date……we’ve been in the prize winners every time. Long may it continue!

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After the competition is over, a three-course meal, alcoholic drinks, chats with fellow town criers or escorts and of course, the presentation of prizes, is a lovely way to round off  the day.

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During the course of a year, I receive numerous invitations to attend town crier competitions. Town Councils and the like tend to put them on to boost tourism. Seeing and hearing 25 town criers walking down a main street is quite a spectacle and cameras are usually out! Unfortunately, they generally occur on Saturdays in the summer months, when town criers are inevitably at their busiest, opening fetes and so forth. If I’m at a town crier competition then I cannot be available to serve Glastonbury, when called upon to do so. Clearly, there has to be a limit and so I usually support our two nearest ones every year

At the end of recent contests we were enthralled by the performance of an eight year old boy (grandson of one of the contestants!) – believed to be the youngest Town Crier in the UK. Since some of us are not in the “first flush of youth” shall we say, it was good to take a glimpse into the future!

 

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A young crier

Glastonbury · Town Crier · Uncategorized

How it all started

 

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Last week I was asked by a couple of people about how I came to be a Town Crier. It’s a question that many visitors ask every year, so here’s the full story about how I ended up “on the streets”, ringing a big bell and shouting my head off at the public.
As a supply teacher, I had been employed to teach science by Glastonbury’s secondary school, for the best part of a year, to cover a staffing gap in 2013.

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 St Dunstan’s  School, Glastonbury

It was on the very last day of the school year that, for me, a very significant event took place. It was the July end-of-term assembly and prize-giving ceremony. It was a blazing-hot day and I was stood at the back of their massive sports hall, along with several dozen other perspiring and totally exhausted teachers, teaching assistants and office staff, watching the proceedings. It’s always a delight on these occasions to applaud all those students who have won awards for their efforts, both in and out of the classroom.
Whilst standing there, I recognised one of my old pupils from when I was teaching at a different school not far away but about 20 years before. He was sat next to the Headteacher. He was dressed in a very smart suit. His father, Graham Coles, Glastonbury’s much-loved Town Crier, had sadly passed away a few months earlier and his son was there at the prize giving to present the “Graham Coles Memorial Cup” for outstanding achievement in sport.

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Graham Coles R.I.P.

I remember Graham with much affection; we were fellow radio amateurs and I also remember him from parents’ evenings as well, when I taught his boys.
Incidentally, by an amazing coincidence, the Town Crier before Graham was also a radio amateur (or radio “ham”)!  His name was Jim Bobbett. (His call sign is G0MSL, Graham’s was G0BKU and mine is M0BJO)

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Jim Bobbett

When I got home, I remember telling my wife, June, about Graham’s sad passing and the events of the last day of term. I ruminated with her on what a “fun” job it would surely be, to be the Town Crier of Glastonbury, being able to dress up and attend all those special events throughout the year. To be honest, I’d always fancied a crack at the job. In teaching, there’s always an element of “acting”, as any teacher will tell you. I would probably have enjoyed local amateur dramatics too, were it not for the fact that I just haven’t got the memory (nor patience!) to learn endless pages of lines. But in a Town Crier role, yes, I would be able to do a little “acting”, but the real bonus is that the “lines” would be written down on a scroll and I could just read them out. Perfect! The more I thought about the whole fandango, the more enthusiastic I became about the prospect of being a Town Crier.

However, I resigned myself to the thought that probably, the Town Council had already hired a replacement for Graham. I had a glance at the Town Council’s  website and sure enough, there was the advert for their Town Crier! However, my heart sank when I read the small print. I had missed the closing date for applications by four days! My dear wife June has always encouraged me; she is a wonderful optimist – she suggested I rattle off an application anyway and see what happens. That is what I did. Without delay, I hurriedly typed out an e-mail to the council, for what it was worth!
Several agonising months went by before I had a surprise communication from the Clerk of Glastonbury Town Council, inviting me to attend for an interview at the Glastonbury Town Hall. In the invitation it was explained that it would be a fairly informal interview but that at some stage during the interview, I would be expected to perform a “cry”.

The day of the interview came and so I made my way to the Town Hall with a little “cry” written out ready, just in case one was not supplied for me. As it happened, it was a pleasant, cosy chat with the Mayor and one other Town Councillor. I thought I fielded most of the questions very well. Then towards the end, they asked me to “do a cry”. Feeling rather smug I said: “Well, I just happen to have one written down here somewhere”, reaching into the inside pocket of my blazer. “I’ll just go to the end of this room”, I explained, as I started to get out of my chair, “I don’t want to deafen you!” Before I took my first step they said: “Oh, no – we want you to do it outside – at the Market Cross perhaps?” As we walked down the stairs to go outside, the caretaker rummaged in his dusty store cupboard and emerged  with a brass bell. He cheerily thrust it into my hand with a good luck wish and a bit of a wink. I was thinking to myself, just what would people make of seeing some guy ringing a bell and shouting at the top of his head, on a sunny late-summer’s evening, in the middle of town? Would I be carried away by the “men in white coats”? Would my friends quietly shake their heads in disbelief, walk on by and choose to avoid me in the future?  I consoled myself with the thought that this IS Glastonbury and compared to the many bizarre spectacles encountered in this eccentric little West Country town, this really would seem comparatively “normal”!
In the end, the interviewing panel opted to place me on the top step, infront of the Town Hall’s left side double doors.

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Glastonbury Town Hall

They scurried across the road and sat in a bus shelter on the other side of the road, outside of Glastonbury’s celebrated Italian restaurant, “GIGI’S”.

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GIGI’S

Steeling myself, I took in a big lung-full of air and belted out the following cry:

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!
Goode Citizens of Glastonbury.
I am straightly commanded, to let it be known to all persons here gathered, that at the hour of seven of-the-clock this evening, an informal interview was conducted, for the honourable position of Town Crier of this fine town.
Mr David Alan Greenway, Schoolmaster, will be duly scrutinised on his suitability for the post.
Give heed and take note, that the interviewing panel will be: The Mayor of Glastonbury, Councillor Sue Thurgood and Councillor Denise Michell.
We wish them “good luck” in the execution of their municipal deliberations and trust that they will choose with their customary good wisdom.
God Save The Queen!

I heard the story later on, that midway through my “cry”, a party of diners had emerged from the restaurant and enquired as to why I was shouting my head off across the road. “It’s OK……he’s just auditioning for the post of Town Crier”, the panel explained. Apparently, one of the diners retorted, “He’s brilliant; give him the job!”

To use that well-known phrase:   “……..…..and the rest is history!”

Since the previous Town Crier expressed a wish to be buried in his regalia, a new outfit had to be made for me. A gifted local costumier, Cath Jenkins, was appointed to provide the new Town Crier livery. I didn’t know so many bits of me had to be measured to produce a new livery!

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Cath Jenkins, Costumier

We very soon decided on the style of livery for the new Town Crier’s coat.  Here is a photo from the front of the pattern book:

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Cath worked tirelessly in her studio, in Glastonbury’s Red Brick Building and I had to attend regularly for fittings and discussions. The green and black doeskin fabrics were ordered, along with about 3 miles of braid and a myriad of buttons of various sizes. Apparently, the ceremonial garments of the Members of the House of Lords are also made from doeskin, so I felt in good company!

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I  particularly like my buttons. They have “E II R” on every single one of them!  An emblematic link with the past, since once upon a time, Town Criers were the sole messengers of the reigning monarch.

Before Cath started cutting into the expensive doeskin, a mock-up was made from scrap fabrics – including an old tablecloth!

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Checking bell-ringing freedom of movement with the tablecloth mock-up!

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Cath making some waistcoat adjustments

The tricorn is quite unusual. It is lined with black chick and cock feathers as opposed to the usual single ostrich feather. Feathers are symbolic, as in the olden days, only a few people (including Town Criers) could read and write with a quill pen.

Eventually all was complete and once kitted out, I presented myself to the Town Council in full regalia, at one of their meetings in the Spring of 2014, where I performed a special cry, announcing that I was ready for Civic Duties.

My dream had finally come true.

 

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Uncategorized

The “Reggae Bus”

Feeling a little more energetic today, we decided to wander around the local shops in search of a few postcards and a new beach bag. Somehow or other we ended up in one of those pretentious and highly up-market shopping malls, stuffed full of pristine, air conditioned jewellery, handbag and designer clothes shops. Yes, the sort of shops over which my bank manager would have had a week of sleepless nights and palpitations if he’d known I was venturing anywhere near them! Yes, they were those shops that don’t believe in price tags: “….if-you-need-to-know-the-price,-Sir,- then-you-can’t-afford-it” kind of shops!

At one cosmetic shop we actually dared to set foot in, June bought some face powder and a mascara. What a palaver and breathtaking orgy of ‘red tape’, that little transaction proved to be. June had to sign three forms (something to do with Customs, I think I heard the salesgirl say) and was then subject to a barrage of questions – a commercial “Spanish Inquizition”, no less: “How long are you here for?”; “when will you leave?”; “Did you arrive from Gatwick?”; “Can I have your passport, please, I need to take down some particulars?” etc. etc……… I tell you, International arms dealers get less of a grilling!

The psychedelic bull, at the entrance to the Mall caused us some amusement, as we hurriedly left before full-body searches and 24 hr surveillance ensued.

Still unable to find beach bag and postcards, we decided to venture into Bridgetown, the capital of the Island. Walking to the bus stop, I found my first Methodist Church with a corrugated iron roof.

We had heard that there are three types of public transport: the white minibuses, the blue government buses and……….the yellow “Reggae” buses. The latter were an experience “not to be missed”. The buses are frequent and ridiculously cheap. One fare – 2 Barbadian dollars. That’s just under a quid! And with that fare you can travel the length of the island (about the size of the Isle of Wight).

We decided to give ourselves the full-on Barbadian experience by catching a yellow “Reggae” bus. They are so-called because they all play loud reggae music. You can usually hear the music approaching before you hear the engine. We flagged ours down outside the hotel – if you don’t put your hand out they hurtle by. Oh yes, that’s the other thing – they hurtle everywhere! The locals use them a lot. Perhaps they like living dangerously? Old ladies with their shopping, young mothers with tiny tots and distinguished elderly Caribbean gentlemen with grey hair, wrinkles, enviable loud shirts and walking sticks.

The bus took off from the bus stop like a dragster. Most bus drivers use the tried and tested procedure we all learnt for our driving tests: “Mirror, signal, manoeuvre”. Not these guys. They just pull out and goooooo! Just look out if you are an innocent overtaking driver at the time. I had to hold on with both hands because they corner on two wheels and every stop is an emergency stop! The seats are pretty small – all the more reason to hang on tight! We came home on a blue bus, through the floods after some torrential rain. So sedate after the white knuckle ride, I nearly fell asleep.

Bridgetown buzzes. June felt unsafe there. I loved the atmosphere. But there again, as June often says: “I live in my own little bubble, blissfully unaware.”