In the 1970’s we used to stay in Vieux Fort. The kids were not very old and they enjoyed the amenities of the Halcyon Days Hotel. There was table tennis under a roof; outdoor tennis in the blazing sun, even a mini racetrack with go-carts, but they were strictly out of bounds for our under-age children.
The staff was truly enthusiastic, but for the most part adorably incompetent; they really tried their best in an age before mass tourism really took off and people had to learn how to be hospitable. We loved the place and the staff. During the almost a decade we stayed there several times a year – long enough to fall in love with St Lucia – we got to know many of the families well.
The evenings were taken up with such esoteric pleasures as crab racing in the ballroom, a gentleman who performed on a monocycle – he might have been called ‘Sexy Rexy’ – and, of course, the incomparable Harmony Trio whose nightly performances rocked the place. Talk about good, clean family fun!
Then there were the long walks up and down the beach, to the south as far as the outskirts of the ‘big city’ of Vieux Fort, and to the north almost as far as Savannes Bay. The sea was full of seaweed and not attractive for bathing, but the beach made up for all that.
The restaurant was above the ballroom, and each evening the flight of stairs leading up to it was packed with guests, all hoping to get to a table first the moment they were allowed in. There
used to be rival groups of Canadians, obviously different people each visit – or maybe not – who, once they had imbibed enough of the nameless red or white that was served with indiscriminate abandon, would start singing either in French or English, each group trying to outdo the other in volume, if not in harmony.
We developed friendships until ‘death did us part’ and their memories will remain with us forever. Mike and Mary were from Hungary but lived on Long Island outside New York. When we eventually moved into our new house at Cap Estate, they changed their affections and began to spend their vacations at Cariblue, now Le Sport, just so we could continue to enjoy our vacations together.
Mike was an engineer and had made millions in air conditioning for skyscrapers. He was, as are many deserving people with unusual skills, insufferably arrogant and impatient when he deemed it necessary, but he also had a heart of gold. He used to play chess with our son.
Once, in the restaurant, he could not resist giving an honest answer to the restaurant manager’s facile enquiry as to whether everything was to our satisfaction. Mike prodded the meat on his plate and pronounced: “Look at this! It feels like a rubber duck; it looks like a rubber duck, and in fact it tastes like a rubber duck! Take it away!”
Mike was one of those people who, no matter how unimportant a little lie might be, are unable not to tell the truth. Of course, the rest of us just nodded and mumbled ‘Fine, thank you.”
We have thousands of Mike and Mary stories. He had once designed an air conditioning unit for a very tall skyscraper and had received complaints after six months that the running costs far exceeded his calculations. The owners of the building were seeking compensation that ran into the millions. According to Mike, he spent days going through his calculations, visiting the building, revisiting the plans but could find no reason to explain the horrendous costs that the a/c system was incurring, until he had an idea.
“Remember Sherlock Holmes,” he told us. “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” We waited for the inevitable explanation. Mike was the master of suspense. “They had installed the wrong fuses, not the ones we specified, and that was causing the problem. It was their own fault for trying to save on pennies.”
Mike was vindicated. What happened next?
“I sent them my bill: $2,500 for the correct fuses and $225,000 for my efforts and hurt feelings! How dare they doubt my work!” They don’t make them like Mike any more. God rest his soul.