GOWANUS Winter 2000

Letter Home From JB de Callao

By Anthony Milne


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Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl for all his feathers was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold.  - Keats

I was just saying to my wife Ermine on this frosty Christmas morning
here in London, sub-zero, I would like some carne vinadash.

Don't make the mistake of coming up here now. I JB de Callao, Port of Spain business man, tell you so. I came by BeeWee for a short business trip, not realising. Bringing my wife was another big mistake. It is like hell up here in London in what they call a "cold snap." Minus eight, they say. Fog so thick you can't see your hand in front your face, and frost white. like snow on the ground. But no real real snow at all though, and I never saw it before. So no white Christmas.

I got so damn excited when I thought it as snowing I went outside to
see and people thought I was crazy. Only a few drops fell and I hear
an Englishman say, "It's hail". A piece hit me in my eye and when I
caught myself and run back inside I could hardly see.

No carne vinadash. This morning I have to settle for corn flakes.
Helluva thing. I like my carne vinadash too bad (you might know it as garlic pork), because you know the de Callao family is part
Portuguese. Not any kind of barefoot Potagee from Madeira like
Camasho. We are from Lisbon, distant relashions to the Marquis of
Pombal. What you call "vintush", high class, as compared to "rapash", selling salt fish and rum. You didn't know about that eh? That some
Potagee have class?

Not that I didn't try to make some carne vinadash up here. These people never heard of it; not to mention pastel and ponche de creme. I manage to connect with a butcher in Bayswater, a creole fella in a white apron.

I took him for a Trinidadian, so I say, "Pardner, I want to make a
little carne vinadash for the Christmas". He say, "Beg your pardon
guvner?" in one helluva English accent. I say to myself, "What the hell is this boy?"

So I said, "Excuse me sir, you all have any pigs? I want a small one,
live if possible." He look at me as though he wanted to call the
RSPCA. Then he said, "Sorry guvner, no; but I've got some lamb chops."

I say, "You can't make carne vinadash with lamb chops man; what the hell you going to call it, lamb vinadash?

He look like he didn't like that, but I feel he didn't really understand what I was saying. After that I give up, and I had to settle for the corn flakes. Big Christmas day.

Last night I was to go to midnight mass with my wife Ermine. When I look outside I change my mind. It was dark like midnight from 4 p.m. I wasn't sure if it was the moon or sun I was seeing. I went this
morning instead, 9.30, still dark like hell and fog too besides.

Church of the Holy Rood. Damn funny name for a church, and I wasn't sure at first if it was a Catholic church. I though it might be
Methodist or Salvation Army or waht have you; you could hardly tell up here. And you know we are bon-bon Catholique and I didn't wan't to sin my soul by ending up in some kinda synagogue or something. I hear they have one helluva big mosque by Regents Park too.

Anyway, I got lost on the way to church though it was just round the
corner. I could hardly see where I was going and arrived late, in time
for what looked like the consecration. I believe His Grace says once
you get there for that is allright. Ermine missed mass. She has
refused to move from her bed, five blankets over her including her
head, in the boarding-house where we are staying since we got here
three days ago.

I would have gone to the London Hilton but I didn't want the press to know I'm here. I said, "Ermine you should go and do some shopping at Mark and Spinster man, first time you been in London." She said I must leave her right there and just tell her when I was ready to go back to Trinidad. I suppose she will make me see hell when we get back to Port of Spain and she is back to normal. I had to give her a valium hoping she wouldn't have a nervous breakdown.

I took one myself the first day we arrived to get the courage to go
outside to try to see the place. That's when I got stuck.

I put on three pairs of socks, long-johns, a track pants, three
jerseys, two shirts , two sweaters, and a coat, hat and gloves. I say
nobody go kill me with the cold up here. I could hardly move with the weight man; I was walking like a robot. I try to get on two pairs of
shoes too but they wouldn't fit no how; not wrong-foot, back-to-front, nothing. I put a torch in my pocket too, just in case.

Outside on the pavement I had to wait 15 minutes for a No 52 bus to go to Buckingham Palace. Just to see the place nuh; I don't really know the Queen. And I know she has enough troubles already with those boys; the Royal Princes or whatever. I hear one is an architect or something, a little bit funny, and the next one in the Royal Air Force
I believe.

The young one I don't know about. But a paper up hear like the Bomb say they running woman left, right and centre and divorcing
their wives. And the wives not so far behind neither, even poor
Princess Di before she get kill in a car accident with a Syrian man, I
think it is.

The Queen don't like it but the Archbishop of London don't seem to
mind too much. Old Geroge VI must be rolling over in his grave, and
and Duke of Windsor must be laughing.

By the time the bus come I was stiff, and when I try to get on I
couldn't move; my blasted shoes was stuck to the ice on the pavement.

I was still waving and calling out to the driver when he close the
door and went. They don't waste no time up here. Luckily I saw a
police and I call out to him.

I was embarrass like hell, but I say, "Excuse me constable, I new up
here. I am JB de Callao from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I
don't have my passport on me but everybody know me, even the Prime Minister, Mr Panday. The thing is I have a serious problem."

"Had too much to drnk then Mr Cowley?" the constable say. "Can't find your way home?"

"Drink? I say. "I don't drink at all, don't touch it, very seldom anyhow." This time my foot start to feel like it freezing off. "Constable my foot has stuck to the pavement."

"Stuck to the pavement has it? Well you'd better unstick it," the ass

"If I could unstick it I wouldn't have call you, you constipated..."

But I catch myself just in time. Is a damn good thing I took that
valium. I would have liked to tell him where I would stick my foot if
I could unstick it. But I hear they lock you up for anything up here,
especially if you have a kinda suntanned Portuguese complexion like me.

So I said very couteously, "Sir, if you could just help me chip off
some of the ice holding my foot to the pavement I would be very

Then he look down and at last the fool understand what I was saying.

"Oh dear," he say laughing, "you have got a problem." Then he take out his bootoo and start to chook the edge of my shoe. Then he hit it two, three good lash. My foot was so numb with the cold I didn't feel a damn thing. At last I was able to lift my foot again. I thank the
police and told him I would mention it to the Queen, if I saw her.
Then I limped back to the boarding house.

Well after that I done with that. I call up the Englishman I was to do
business with and I sayI wasn't well. We would have to postpone the meeting. A few months hence, I said. Or he could come to Port of
Spain. He was disappointed but I couldn't help it. Then I call BeeWee and book a passage home right away.

I am wrting this wearing gloves, so you must forgive the back
handwriting. In fact I might be back in Port of Spain before you read
this, once I can get Ermine, my wife, out of bead and carry her to

Never me again.