Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Perfect Cuba Libre

I've been wanting to post this little story for a long time.  I'm jumping ahead a few weeks I know and I will return to first thoughts on joining Viajero in Brooklyn in a later post. Meanwhile please indulge me while I start my Amazon memories with this little piece of nostalgia...
On that first trip south from New York, en route to Brazil we meandered through the Caribbean, through the gentle Leeward and Windward Islands of St Kitts, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada. Sometimes we stopped for no more than two or three hours, other times it was a couple of days. Each island had its own special flavour and atmosphere.  The docks were often right in the centre of the main town, and contrasted from sleepy little colonial towns sitting between the hills and the bay like Basseterre at St Kitts to the bustling French-Creole atmosphere of Point-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe.
The most memorable stopover and always thereafter my favourite port of call was Bridgetown, Barbados. I remember the first time there clearly - it was November 30th 1966, the day Barbados ceased being a British colony and became a self-governing state. It is now of course, the date celebrated in Barbados every year as Independence Day. The country had a new flag, a new Prime Minister and something to sing and dance about and we spent the best part of a week joining in with them.
Soon we were all singing God Bless Bim and wearing shirts in the colours of the flag. Our second engineer, Frank Stinchcombe, known to all as the Saint was in his element – and it was here that I was to see him at his best when it came to creating the perfect Cuba Libre.
After a day working below on whatever tasks needed doing while in port, Geoff and I would meet in the Saint’s cabin at about 4 PM. “Come in, m’dears,” he would say in his rich west country accent.
Tall and bony he would be seated bare-chested at his desk in the second engineer’s cabin with
Emile Straker and The Merrymen invariably cranking out Archie from his HMV turntable. He would swivel towards us in his grubby khaki shorts, train driver’s peaked cap perched on the back of his head and peering at us through his National Health spectacles he would say, "you're just in time for some liquid refreshment". 
Geoff would be in an equally grubby white t-shirt and shorts, with me a shorter and smaller version of the same. Having left our engine room shoes at the top of the hatchway, we would enter in our socks and sit opposite him on his day-bed sofa taking care not to soil his furniture any more than it already was.
He kept a fine silver ice bucket on his desk from which he would delicately select one or two cubes of ice using fine tongs set aside specifically for the purpose. He would carefully drop each cube into crystal Old Fashioned glasses, always kept for such occasions. Next he would open his desk drawer and reverently take out a bottle of the very finest Mt Gay Eclipse Rum which he would open and generously splash over the ice. He followed this by taking a lime from a fruit bowl on his desk and using a sharp paring knife would cut it into three segments which would be dropped into each glass. This was followed by a liberal measure of Coca Cola poured from a freshly opened can.
Finally with a flourish he would pull a ten inch screwdriver from his pocket, wipe it down with a piece of grubby cotton waste which had been sticking out of his back pocket all day and gently stir the contents of each glass as though he were at the Rivoli Bar in the Ritz.
Nothing before, or since, has ever tasted so good. Cheers to you Frank! 

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