First, we flew to the celebrity fantasy island of St Barts, one of the four French islands comprising the French West Indies. (The other three are Guadaloupe, St Martin and Martinique.) I was feeling slightly unwell with something that later turned out to be a cancer. Furthermore, as I was travelling by train to Gatwick late in the evening before the flight, a man put his neck on the rail and was decapitated directly under my seat as we pulled into a station. I felt the corrugation distinctly. I got out and knelt on the platform edge and peered down. A well-built chap wearing a very desirable Belstaff waterproof coat, zipped and buttoned against the cold, was lying on his back, the bogie resting on his throat. I mention these negatives as a caveat to what follows, because I wasn’t feeling quite myself.
St Barts airstrip is reputedly one of the trickiest landings in the Caribbean. In the event we touched down with a gentle double bounce like a robin alighting on a twig. In the tiny, informal, air-conditioned terminal the officials were all white. I ran to the gents. A young white Frenchman was running a mop over the tiles; the hand dryer was a Dyson Airblade. I noticed a chemist’s shop across the road and popped over. White assistants in white coats served white customers. (A strip of Panadol Extra was ten quid.) The man driving the minibus from the airport to the hotel was white. He looked exactly like Jack Nicholson, right down to the Ray-Ban Wayfarers. He’d had the real Jack Nicholson in his bus recently, he said. How Jack had laughed.
The people at the hotel and on the beach were white. ‘Oh, it’s lovely,’ they all said when I commented on it. ‘There’s no crime here at all. There’s no need to lock anything. Not your car, not your house. Unlike St Martins, for instance.’ And then we’d look across the sea at the dark, low-lying island opposite and shudder.
Every other car on the winding road was a Mini Cooper convertible; in our hotel car park it was every car. The island is ten miles square with 10,000 residents and six gendarmes. Everything is flown in. Nobody raises their voice. Nobody stares. It’s a bit like science fiction. You can buy a Versace hammock for 12 grand and lie in it and meditate on your humble beginnings.
We stayed at the Hotel Saint Barth Isle de France. It was like walking about in the pages of a glossy interior design monthly. The hotel’s only fault that I can think of is that one was mortal there the same as anywhere else. I lay on my goose feather bed in my new, colonial-style air-conditioned bungalow, staring up at the silently revolving fan and the Belstaff jacket that appeared and disappeared in front of my eyes.
Then we flew to Anguilla, a tiny eel-shaped island and tax haven administered by good old Britain. There is no Dyson Airblade in Anguilla’s airport lavatory. Cold water, no paper. The man driving the minibus was called Aslan. Yes, that’s right, he said — after the lion. He was black. He drove on the left. The island had a dilapidated air. Many houses were half-built or half–demolished: it was hard to tell which. The DJ on the crackly radio could not have been more stoned.
Our hotel was called The Viceroy. I was hoping for something wooden and colonial with verandas. We turned in the drive and were confronted with a concrete monstrosity. My room’s balcony was overhung with a concrete apron and the impression was of a coastal defence gun emplacement. The bathroom was solid marble. Even the wastepaper basket was marble.
The guests at the Viceroy were mostly Americans. The French might know how to live, but the Americans know how to party. Party night on Anguilla is Thursday, when there is a band on at the Pumphouse. One of the hotel guests hired a coach for anyone who wanted to go. The bus left full, and everyone on it was drunk.
The Pumphouse is a wooden shack next to a salt lagoon. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. That night a rhythm and blues band was playing like there was no tomorrow. Everyone in the place was dancing. We drank tumblers of rum. The place was so packed I was jostling for space with the lead guitarist. It was here, I think, that I decided I like Anguilla. I was introduced to a very tall local man. He was a cricketer, he said. ‘For Anguilla?’ I said. ‘For Somerset,’ he said.
In the next days Aslan touted us round some of the beaches. The dreariness of the island’s interior hadn’t prepared us for the dazzling beaches. One day we were taken by speed boat to a tiny atoll in a glaucous sea with a pale blue wooden shack serving as a bar and restaurant, and left there for the afternoon. Frigate birds fought acrobatically over the offal that the cook lobbed out of the back door. The Belstaff jacket followed me there too: it reappeared among the swooping frigate birds. I lay on my recliner and realised I was mourning him, and I considered the tragic implications if I was alone in that.
Hotel Saint Barth Isle De France: seven nights in a Garden Room from £3,045 per person. Viceroy Anguilla: seven nights in Studio Ocean View from £2,755 per person. Prices are based on two persons sharing on a bed and breakfast basis and include international and inter-island flights and private car transfers. For further information please contact Elegant Resorts Reservations on 01244 897515 or visit www.elegantresorts.co.uk.