I’ve no interest in food. None. But for the three other journalists on our press trip, eating was a consuming interest. In one Bahamian restaurant after another, I sat while they examined each other on their knowledge of this or that London or Bangkok or New York restaurant or lovingly described memorable meals. Celebrated chefs’ careers were discussed with devotion. When a dish was placed in front of them they photographed it and posted the image on social media. (Their mobile phones were as integral to dining as knives and forks.) Between meals they described how uncomfortably empty their tummies felt; after meals how uncomfortably full. They were gluttons, but saw gluttony not as a sin but as a virtue and a mark of cultural sophistication.
I wondered whether any other sins had been upended into virtues while I wasn’t looking. From time to time I ran past them a selection of anecdotes illustrating other categories of sin committed by me in the past — sin motivated by lust, greed, anger, cruelty or grandiosity. To make them more interesting or amusing, I chose ones with adverse consequences for myself, such as loss of liberty, fines, termination of employment or medical problems. I can report that these other sins are still thought of as bad, but are easily forgiven in those with the misfortune to have lived through the medieval 1970s.
One day, after a brief cerebral interlude at Nassau’s pirate museum, where we learnt that in the 18th century the pirate community was noted for its democratic principles and gender equality, our party of six were taken on a walking, eating and drinking tour of Nassau’s ‘Old Town’. I would sooner have been lying on a white beach. But as we trod the crowded pavements of the capital in single file between bar, restaurant and food stall, I enjoyed looking at the quaintly dilapidated and colourful old town houses and what remained of the British civic colonial architecture.
The tasting tour took in six food and drink stops and lasted five hours. Our dour and slender guide spoke for about four and half. It was like eating and drinking to a Fidel Castro speech. As well as telling us everything there was to know about Bahamian food and culture, she told us about her personal life, her impoverished background, and her triumph over adversity through sheer guts and determination. The effect on my consciousness of the two rum cocktails I drank in a pub a short distance down the hill from the governor’s residence, the fourth stop on the tour, was, in its way, a rags to riches story as remarkable as hers.
The final stop was at a rum supermarket. The music in here was ear-splitting. The guide went around the group and made us call out like children what had been the highlight of our tour. Mine, in truth, was reaching the end. But when it was my turn I lied and said it was the rum cocktail in the pub. The guide said that my answer was a typically British one in her experience. I knocked back my single allocated shot and went outside to wait in the street for the others.
The rum shop was a stone’s throw from the quayside and the still blue water contained within the harbour walls. For want of anything better to do, I checked my phone for emails and messages. Before I got to these, a breaking news story alert flashed up. Two hours earlier, south of Jamaica, there had been an undersea earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale. A tsunami warning had been issued for Jamaica and several other Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas. Also the coast of Florida. Miami seafront was being evacuated, it said.
I looked at the people going about their business on the bustling street. They weren’t Daily Mail online readers obviously. I looked at the still water in the harbour and the placid sea beyond and pictured in my mind’s eye the tsunami arriving on the horizon. One by one the other journalists emerged from the rum shop and I showed them the breaking news story on my phone. The woman from Good Housekeeping magazine couldn’t have cared less; she was on holiday, tsunami or no tsunami. The man from the Times was jubilant. If he wasn’t so stout he’d have done cartwheels down the street. But the dude from the i newspaper, a food writer, was panic-stricken, first demanding immediate evacuation from the island by helicopter, then becoming furious with the rest of us for not being even a little bit frightened. His performance had to be seen to be believed. Meanwhile I quietly gave heartfelt thanks unto the Lord for sending a tsunami to change the conversation from bloody food to something else.