I have not the slightest idea when it was built. Well, that’s not altogether true. I do have a small idea. Nothing you could take to the bank, you understand. It’s more of a soupçon mined from the few remaining parties still interested in, or capable of, recalling what had made Saint Lucia Saint Lucia—and what over the years had slowly but surely dismantled us.
At this point I feel an irresistible need to confess: it had taken more than a couple shots of Chairman’s Reserve to jump-start my sources’ memory banks, a sobering fact that had returned me to a particular night several years ago, when I was aboard a taxi en-route to Castries, having spent several wonderful daylight hours with generous friends in Laborie.
From the foregoing, it should be obvious that I speak of a time when I had not yet resumed permanent residence on this Rock of Sages, let alone become a journalist with a debilitating, evidently incurable addiction to local politics. Although Laborie had always been star-crossed, it was then still a neighborly fishing village—a long, long way from being declared a republic by a cardboard general afflicted with quixotic fixations!
As I recall, we were somewhere pitch-black just past Dennery, my driver and I, when his cab abruptly started bucking and carrying on like a Creole horse with the scent of fer de lance in its nostrils, and coughing up noisome smoke from its overheated engine.
Speaking of my well-oiled and quite likely hallucinating cabbie, the only remedy he could think of was that I should sacrifice to the cause of getting back to Castries on the particular night the several coconuts stored in his trunk, a going-away present from my generous fellow Laborians.
And now, you’re wondering, dear reader, why Chairman’s Reserve taken as a memory sharpener, had brought to mind a nutty cab driver convinced his radiator couldn’t tell the difference between regular coolant and coconut water. You might just as well ask Tennyson’s Light Brigade why six hundred men rode into the valley of death—as if it had ever been theirs to reason why!
For the especially curious, let me assure you we made it without incident to Castries after countless stops and coconut-water refills. But already I’ve digressed farther than intended. Let us return to the inspired recollections of my bibulous fellow history buffs. After several hours of apocryphal digressions, I finally came away more or less convinced the Castries building under discussion had been constructed by “the British.” No amount of further refreshment could elicit an actual opening date and even now I am no more the wiser. (Perhaps Margo Thomas, Saint Lucia’s most resourceful archivist, knows. Alas, I’ve not been able to reach her.)
I did not need to be told the building had first given service as Police Headquarters, then as Port Police Station. Or that it had died under another name: Central Police Station.
I take a perverse pride in the fact that I was the only under-age cop to inhabit the Jeremie Street police precinct. My recruiting officer, a health nut and police sergeant named Stanley Scholar, had been sufficiently dazzled by my, er, outstanding 17-year-old weight-trained physique to turn a blind eye to both my date of birth and the fact that I was a whole inch shorter than was at the time acceptable to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
At the Morne Police Training School our instructors were the beloved Sergeant James, ably assisted by proud corporals Niles and Sealy. All three clearly enjoyed their work nearly as much as their students enjoyed them.
Fellow recruits included the long retired police sergeant Ellis Black and deceased police commissioner Frederick (brother of the famous Short Pants), who would, years after I ceased being a policeman, sue me for stating in a newspaper article that he ran a dangerously divided police force. (Still think there’s anything new under the Saint Lucia sun?) I won my case and Frederick his mind.
Upon graduation from training school, I was assigned a bed already occupied by a million bed bugs, and a huge black wooden kit box that my fellow officers and I kept at the foot of our bunks.
It is hardly a secret that my short spell as a member of the RSLPF delivered few moments of which I might retrospectively be proud. You could say my soul was never in it. I needed a job (or so my folks insisted!). There was no STEP, no NICE, no YUP and even I knew beggars starved who dared to be choosers.
Countless times, while on night duty, I was awakened by an unconscionable irritant bearing sergeant stripes that had first taken the trouble to strip me of my boots, my black tunic and cape, even my socks, while I slept. I remember this happening at least once while I was on duty at Government House, supposedly protecting the day’s imported administrator from other than mosquitoes.
But then all of that hilarity can be found in my book It’ll Be Alright in the Morning. If what you seek is a respite from things present and future, if only for a few minutes, I urge you to get yourself a copy from STAR Publishing.
I’ll say this, in the meantime: being a cop in Saint Lucia back in the day was a whole lotta fun. No one got killed mysteriously. Well-intentioned informants were everywhere. Murders occurred once or twice every five years or so. And you didn’t have to wait years for an appearance before a judge and jury after charges had been laid. True, we had for a while a white commissioner, but then I had come close to handing the poor man a heart attack. Oh-oh, here I go again. For crissakes, get the book and read all about it for yourself.
You will understand by now, dear reader, that I just had to write this piece, if only because some of my most pleasant recollections as a young man are associated with the top floor of the building formerly known as Police Headquarters, Port Police Station and finally Central Police Station. I was driving around a near-deserted Castries on Sunday morning when the monster building confronted me, triggering some of the thoughts earlier expressed.
Try as I might, I could not recall desperate cops of the banchay era being forced to drag their work equipment, desks, diaries, clothes and so on, into the street to avoid flying turds or other shrapnel from exploding toilets. Unbelievably genial convicts regularly kept the premises clean and disinfected, including the holding cells.
On the rare occasion when there was a police shooting, the target was usually some stray porcine that had been dumb enough to get caught foraging in somebody’s unmarked grave, the punishment for which was death by firing squad. I never found out for certain what happened to the porky afterward but my suspicions remain.
It is also my suspicion that Central Police Station is where the city’s biggest rats take refuge after a hard day’s work. Spreading their peculiar killer diseases all over Castries must be quite tiring.
Kenny Anthony alone knows why—despite the several years of pleading by citizens forced to work there and by the people they sought to serve—he built or repaired police stations in nearly every community, yet permitted the island’s main station to deteriorate into what it is today: without doubt the city’s worst eyesore, an apparent house of horrors waiting to confront vacationing cruise-ship passengers—the epitome of all that is evil in our speedily decaying society, representative of our now internationally notorious justice system, not to say our politicians whose miscalculated venal decisions have made Saint Lucia what Saint Lucia is today.