Caribbean calypso

The music in Trinidad, the political arguments in Antigua, the way the Bajans believe that only events in Barbados are truly significant and the elegant men and women of Jamaica will live in my heart a long time after my final visit, writes Ted Corbett.

When your eyes tire of the beauty around the Taj Mahal, or the Louvre or the Tate Gallery, there is another site you may care to visit where your eyes will never grow tired.

It can be seen on any working afternoon at about 4 p.m. when the clerks and secretaries leave their offices in downtown Kingston, Jamaica and head for home.

At that time you will see some of the most beautiful young people on earth; tall, slim, golden West Indians proving that they may be the most attractive guys to enhance a long journey.

I promise you it is a brave sight and I can also tell you the explanation offered by the locals.

On my first trip to the island many years ago, my guide told me: “Our ancestors were first taken into slavery on the east coast of Africa and forced to walk right across the continent.

“They were shipped in the most horrible conditions on the longest route to Jamaica. Only the bravest and best survived.” She told me about the 4 p.m. beauty parade. I went to see if the story was true and believe me I was not disappointed.

That is just one of the reasons why, when I am asked which tour I most enjoyed I always say “Oh, the West Indies, of course.”

The music in Trinidad, the political arguments in Antigua, the way the Bajans believe that only events in Barbados are truly significant and the elegant men and women of Jamaica will live in my heart a long time after my final visit.

Not only was every person leaving the central business district elegant, lithe and sinuous but the handsome faces shone with intelligence and their bodies hinted that there was sporting prowess to be proud of.

You can almost breathe the music in many of the islands of the Caribbean. I spent a fascinating night in Kingston on that first visit watching a lad who cannot have been more than 18, lead a small group through a non-stop jazz session that was still going after four hours when I admitted defeat and went to bed.

On another evening I witnessed a battle between two calypsonians in Port of Spain, Trinidad, but my most fascinating night came in a Trinidad music hall where the compere was a little fat guy as round as a full moon.

“Watch me while I imitate de cricket stars,” he told us and began with Courtney Walsh, then at the height of his powers, bowling off a run that stretched right across the stage.

Except that the comedian with the Courtney dip of the shoulders and the staring eyes was only 5ft tall, 17 stone — and left handed!

Some of the greatest athletes to grace a running track — notably in this present era one of the all-time great sportsmen Usain Bolt — have come from a city that has never seen a temperature below 54F and where the lovely warm days beg a man to strip down to his track gear and run, run, run.

It would take too much of this column's precious space to list all the great athletes who have poured out of Jamaica but let me remind you of Michael Holding, a man born to frighten you pale-faced.

I met him in the Bridgetown ground in Barbados surrounded by a bunch of Bajan cricket fans who wanted to know something about the new pace sensation Patrick Patterson.

“He is quick,” Holding told them, “and, as you must know, he has already taken wickets in Red Stripe matches and in a couple of international games.”

“Ah, yes, Mr. Holding,” came the reply. “But that doesn't matter. He has not yet taken wickets in Barbados.”

Michael laughed and I caught his eye. “I'm new here,” I said. “But it sounds to be as if the cricket fans of Barbados are all Yorkshiremen.”

“Oh, yes,” he answered. “But to the power of 10,000!”

I will never forget one trip through Kingston. We had been on a winter tour of Australia and New Zealand and finished on an Australian tour of West Indies. We arranged a short break in Montego Bay on the way home; a reward for all that hard work.

Ah, the best laid plans... the plane was late and we began to make our way north in the dark, in a car that was too small, packed with seven months of luggage and our precious computers and relying on a map not much bigger than a postage stamp. It was dark, we were tired and the car was disobedient.

We seemed to be making progress when I turned a corner and found the road blocked by protestors about to set fire to a bus. These guys are not going to have much time for two English people who are lost, I thought.

One of the leaders noticed us as we tried to shrink into the side of the road. “Where you guys headed?” he demanded.

“Montego Bay. We've been covering the cricket and...”

I did not need to say another word. A way was cleared, we were pointed in the right direction and there was something close to a cheer as we drove off. “Tell dat Mr. Gower we asking after his health,” they shouted.

Later we learnt we had been in the most dangerous part of the city, and that it was election time, when anger is high and deaths are common.

Maybe but I would not argue if I had to spend the rest of my life on that fabulous island.