An island so beautiful that no one deserves to live there.
It is mentioned by Shakespeare in The Tempest and is the oldest Dependant Territory of the United Kingdom. The white sands on 365 beaches and colonial style buildings, a speed limit of 30 mph and a Governor in a plumed hat complete the island of Bermuda. The coast can be rough with bending palm trees and pounding surf but calm evenings see the magical sunsets of the North Atlantic. This is not the Caribbean but a rarified world of 20 miles by 1, a scorpion shaped island favoured by our Royal Navy, traded away for Liberty Ships by Churchill and a sunny place for shady people.
With one car for each household the mode of transport for the male of the household is by scooter limited to 125cc and each year many deaths occur on these old and rarely serviced machines probably due to drinking too many of the ‘dark ‘n’ stormy’ cocktails and the slippery roads covered with palm fronds and rotting banana leaves. These roads are thin and wind through granite gorges through to yellow and pink mansions and then to slum areas. In the former, manicured lawns throw sprinkled water like diamond fragments onto the spikey Bermuda grass and ragged gardeners with history etched into their faces tend, scythe and clip the banana trees and hedges. In the latter poorer areas, a rural slum in paradise exists with rusting fridges, old furniture and other detritus spilling onto the verges. The poverty here is rarely seen by the tourist who, if they venture in will encounter black feral chickens and frogs in their path but smiles in the main.
Over the years Bermuda had become synonymous with what is called money laundering and these private financial activities are remote from the everyday life of the populations in the Western and indeed the developing world. But still Bermuda is seen as a natural target for thin news days and populist agendas when the papers in Britain target Bermuda for not being transparent and the staggering wealth secreted there that could solve all the funding problems. Not that it is illegal and unlikely to change, it just looks and smells bad. Think Bezos and Google and that will explain it all. When the HongKong and Shanghai Banking Corporation purchased Bank of Bermuda it was said that if the UK were to punish the banking system with windfall tax then HSBC could just re-locate to Bermuda and keep its activities secure and out of reach of the Treasury.
Canadian and American accountants work here with their tennis court burnt wives who appear thin and wrinkled from too much sun. They slink around the island from coffee to tennis to white wine at $300 a bottle just chattering about nothing in particular and comparing their all too groomed and over achieving children and perfecting their smiles. They all support charities that help what they can not see or want to see. That is of course the under-employed black population who could not be more different.
Their children sometimes come from from multiple fathers, their job prospects thin and the cheap food available to them from supermarkets that import the worst from America in type of food ensures they develop a body shape that condemns them to a sedentary life. However some do escape and have their education away in the US, leaving those who can not afford a break to second rate schools that are over crowded and drug ridden. When the fortunate some home, if they do, what they can do to help Is questionable. The banks do what they can to support initiatives but the slack is taken up with the all too often balls and parties with the same attendees, corporate sponsors who try to assuage guilt and make the donor feel better. It is all in a good cause.
In the two major banks and all the other companies the receptionists and low level staff tend to be black Bermudians while the white members of what is called the Forty Thieves Club rule the management and take the best of the money in bonuses and salaries. It is often noted that due to a zero inheritance tax the original owners of land who were in the main white could accumulate wealth rather than handing it out to the Government.
But not all is negative here as the UK provides the police training, offers teachers and tree surgeons, the Commanding Officer of the Bermuda Regiment and underwrites a benign oversight of its responsibilities to the country. It helps that members of the House of Commons enjoy short trips to study and report back on the state of relations, and Independence issues, which are always in the background. Few are likely to rock the boat, it seems to work at the moment.
The Governor living in a fabulous mansion with all the trappings of Imperial and Colonial state is paid for by the people of Bermuda who do pay some form of local tax and he represents the British Sovereign. In the last two world wars The Bermuda Regiment sacrificed men as other Colonial Regiments did and many Bermudians served in the Navy and Air Force. Cherrie Blair practices in Bermuda as a QC and had advocated for a fairer work place.
Once seen as the exotic destination for snow weary New Yorkers, Bermuda views the tourist trade in a different way. Cruise ships now berth in St. George where tourists might purchase a few dollars worth of postcards as the fine shopping experience and arcades remain on board. This means that the old stores on Front Street are just facades for banks, insurance companies and wealth managers. Golf tourism takes much needed ground water so that Americans can amble on immaculate grass, or if life is too hard the availability of golf carts will keep them unfit and shapely.
Into this wonderful, disparate, beautiful and in so many ways exciting world I found myself. The contradictions of life-style and inequality shown from Bermuda were evident in all my travels so perhaps Bermuda is no different, just that it is a microcosm that one can examine at leisure and with an inquiring mind.
How I started my adventure begins with that pub in Victoria Street, the undeserved bonus and redundancy that swiftly followed.