I am just about to hear the rest of Quest give a collective moan. Wait for it. ‘My favourite thing about Barbados is the library.’
Boom. Predictably, the girls’ eyes roll skywards. The sky by the way is a gorgeous, cornflower blue. The girls are sitting in my inflatable kayak. I bought the kayak before we left Wales, almost three years ago, after seeing two other kids paddling through the bay. It’s taken this long for my kids to do the same thing. Still, better late than never. After early morning school and breakfast, they get in and paddle it to Carlisle’s Bay bright, white beach. They play in the surf for a mid-morning break before heading back. It’s a head-shaker for me. This is everything-coming-together-properly awesome.
And yet, not everyone on Quest is properly enamoured. I’ll get to that in a minute. Firstly, let me tell you about Bridgetown’s library. It’s the best library I’ve seen in the Caribbean. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. I hear the National Library in Trinidad’s Port of Spain is magnificent. We caught a glimpse of the one too in the British Virgin Islands but it was closed as they were moving it near the big RiteWay supermarket and I’m not sure of its condition after Hurricane Irma. But I can vouch that the National Library of Barbados in Bridgetown is pretty wonderful.
It has large print books, a young adult section and a sprawling number of children’s’ books with surprising gems like Oliver Cromwell’s Warts and All. Perfect for Lulu’s Stuart Age history homework. It has enthusiastic readers dotted around the place, immaculately-dressed, serious-faced librarians and a combination of heavy wooden furniture and comfortable plastic seating. There is air-conditioning inside and a library bus outside which is often loading up so it can deliver books to the more remote areas of this tiny, completely non-remote island. It is also right by the beach. Like paddle in on the kayak, turn left, walk a hundred paces and you’re there. You see where I’m going with this?
Come midday when you need a change of scenery from bobbing around on Quest, you can brush the sand off your feet and walk into a cool space where books are worshipped and quiet is golden. Where has it been all my life? I go could go on about the twenty-dollar refundable deposit, the library’s card classification system and the three books we’re allowed to take out at a time, plus real ink stamps for the book’s due date, a thing of the past in our library back home but I will do my best not to bore you. At least if Quest’s crew’s reaction is anything to go by. The truth is that a library is, well, maybe it’s not so much what it is but what it isn’t. A person can live without ever entering a library. You can go about your life without missing one.
Life has become a little like that for our Captain. Recently, he’s been missing what he doesn’t have. It’s harder for him on Quest. Unlike the rest of us who get on with school, his work’s been calling him from home. This is his third baby, the one he can’t travel with. Not completely anyhow. For a few weeks now, this baby has been getting more and more maudy. It wants him back. It’s ok for Jack to leave it for a few months at a time, maybe six at a push but then he needs to return to Wales. And the rest of us crew are cool with that. After living on Quest for a solid two years, we were ready to going home last summer. Home is good too. People travel differently. For me, I like to get to know a place. With our slow schedule, doing school and then homework, boat chores and after moments of simple relaxation, it takes a bit of time and determination to see a place. For Jack, it’s different. He wants to sail. He wants to wake up, unfurl Quest’s sails and go. He likes the idea of following winds, slicing waves and then turning up somewhere new. No accident that I’ve become known as the queen of the anchor. The lover of the library.