Following in the footsteps of Harley documents our research and travels in writing my latest book, The Adventures of a Black Edwardian Intellectual, The Story of James Arthur Harley. It is a wry look at our experiences, including the sublime, funny, unbelievable, poignant moments in realizing what Harley had undertaken and achieved.
So, who are we? I am Pamela, the author, as my mother calls me, and my mother, Enid, my fellow researcher and traveller in arms. We, tongue in cheek, refer to ourselves as the dilapidated duo, half-dead and bruk up. Why? I have a hereditary blood condition, sickle cell anaemia. The condition has taken its toll on my body, which I describe as the Taj Mahal - crumbling slowly. Most noticeably, I walk with a very pronounced limp. My mother suffered a heart attack in 2013 and, as a result, lost a tremendous amount of weight. We pride ourselves that we're still going and will get there in the end.
What's sweet in the mouth...
I received the K. Blundell Award from the Society of Authors to undertake further research in Antigua at the beginning of 2015. We had a flight from London to Antigua with a stopover in St Lucia. The flight up until this point was nondescript. Before the stop, the cabin crew served a chicken wrap snack, an extremely cold chicken wrap. Mother opted for just a plate of biscuits.
The wrap was good partly because I was still hungry; the in-flight meal had hardly satisfied me. Ten minutes later, I started to feel my stomach cutting and griping. Slight problem: the plane was coming into St Lucia, and the illuminated seat belt sign meant I could not go to the toilet. As soon as we landed, I bolted for the toilet. I made four visits to the bathroom during the one-hour stopover. Thoroughly drained, I didn't think I had anything left to empty. Luckily enough, I was OK until we got to Antigua. Staff from the Grand Pineapple Hotel, our base for our research period, met us at the airport.
I did not feel good with the heat, tiredness, and dehydration. I started to recognize the familiar signs of my stomach gurgling away during what seemed to be a journey that took forever. However, I was finally in Antigua and excited at the prospect of finding out more about Harley's early life and his family.
After a rest and refresh, we had dinner at the hotel's all-inclusive restaurant. I got back to the room, and my stomach started again. At this point, it is important to note that Antiguan toilets are not what I would consider accessible. They are low; bending down to sit is difficult for me; there were no handrails to hold. Clinging onto the toilet roll holder with one hand, I used the shower curtain to try and pull myself up with my other hand. Thus began a night of perfecting what I called the 'toilet limbo'.
This routine continued through the night. It did not help that mother said, 'what's sweet in the mouth is sour in the backside!'. I started to worry that the dehydration would trigger a sickle cell crisis, and my research trip would be curtailed before it had begun.
By 8.00 am the following day, completed drained; a night of toilet limbo, no sleep and jet lag had taken their toll on me. I managed to have breakfast; as soon as I ate, oh no, here we go again. I had hired a jeep for our stay. Armed with directions from the hotel waitresses, I drove into town to find the chemist. Thankfully, the problem was solved with one Imodium packet later, and the research trip could continue.