Puddin and Souse

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The last time I was here, a decade ago, Edward & I were invited to the home of my first boyfriend Roger and his wife; she and I were both pregnant and exhausted - as we bonded over swollen feet, the lads got stuck into the rerserve rum and we had a splendid evening - apart from having to drive back to the hotel (me) from the midddle of a canefield in the middle of the island in the pitch black with a helpful singing soul (Edward) for company.

Ten years on, Roger's daughter and my son are almost teenagers; his brother arrived back this week for Christmas - he lives in Switzerland with his wife - and we are all invited to a Bajan restaurant for a homecoming lunch. Roger and Kiki live bang in the middle of the island, in St George. His family have been there for hundreds of years, working on, owning and latterly restoring some of the beautiful old plantation houses that are falling into disrepair all over the shop. His dad is 86, remembers the 13 year old me like it was yesterday (which both makes me cry and delights me at the same time) and pitches up this morning demanding a rum like the rest of us have coffee.

To be honest, I was debating whether to bring the bots or not. I remember myself these interminable lunches, adults banging on and drinking and the pudding and souse the only thing to eat. It's a similar peasant dish to haggis or black pudding - the unspeakable parts of the animal mixed with whatever is to hand - oatmeal, blood, whatever. Pudding and souse I remember to be just bloody awful - pigs intestines mixed with cucumber and vinegar and hot sauce. I love flying fish, adore pumpkin fritters and could live on goat curry, but pudding and souse is plain yucky.

However, I am out-voted by Roger's family and there is no debate whatsoever on this. We are all whisked away to the restaurant which is in an old rum shop on stilts. Open on all sides with huge shutters and a view which is exactly the same as it has been for two hundred years. Even at ten thirty, there is a little queue. We move plastic tables about and the lads come back from the bar with quart of rum, Sprite, Coke and a plastic tub of ice. The breeze is soft and Chelsea is playing on the screen behind the bar. Freddie is cross-eyed with happiness. Some Rastas chat to him about Didier Drogba; he grows about seven feet, takes a slug of Sprite and calls one 'mon.'

Luckily the food arrives - we have spicy jerk pork, flying fish and barbeque chicken - our plastic plates are piled up higher than we could ever hope to finish. There is macaroni pie and even chips for Roger's daughter (I had threatened to mangle the bots if they ordered them..). We get stuck in - Roger's dad enthralls me with tales of going to the school where my father taught by horse-drawn buggy; being taken to choose the rod that would cane you from the bamboo grove; shares my memories of tea-parties on long-ago Friday afternoons with my parents; long Sunday lunches at the tumbledown Atlantis Hotel, falling into the sea on the East Coast, sandy and hot from swimming, swarming the buffet like starvelings. These are parts of my life that I thought had been lost forever; I cannot begin to describe how valuable the jigsaw bits are.

So I won't. I'll leave you with us ordering another quart of Mount Gay; great gales of laughter; new friends and old; wonderful food that feeds the heart and belly; memories and reminisces; good-natured ribbing and jostling at the bar; the wind playing across the canefields and through the banana trees; the settler-built church on the hill that has served this valley for centuries; the bots full of chicken and Coke and sweets someone has found for them.

It will be hard to leave.


  1. Here in the South, souse meat is described as "all the pig except the squeal"

  2. I don't know who you are but I find what you write very moving.

    That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.

    Yet you went back and it was successful.

  3. A beautiful description - funny and warm in equal measure.
    One of my son's favourite dishes is haggis - my husband makes a dish with chicken breasts stuffed with whisky-soaked haggis (maybe that's why it goes down so well).

    Blue - that poem has taken me back along a happy highway too! AE Housman?

  4. Trish@Mum's Gone to .... A E Housman it is.

  5. I enjoyed your story!

    I wish you a Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2010!!

  6. I know what souse is...indeed. We have a version or two of it in the South. I think I'll cook up a batch this morning!

    I love coming home from the type of Holiday you are amidst. Suntanned December faces in the South of England-nice no?

  7. Heavenly memories that can be shared. Oohh how I want to be warm again at Christmas...Have a fabulous time, it certinaly sounds it! Merry Christmas!

  8. I've been saving up these island posts to read on a day like today. They are everything I hoped and expected. Your descriptions of our close neighbours warms my heart and takes me back in the most wonderful way.

  9. A girl - enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Let that sun warm your bones, chile!


Please leave a comment if you can be remotely bothered - anything you have to say is valuable and I absolutely love hearing from you all. Elizabeth