Climax of my love with the ex-armed robber as we visit my mother in Jamaica as she is dying

A picture of Caroline Turriff with her mother in Kingston Jamaica while Caroline was working for the BBCMy aunt Beverly in Jamaica, who shouldered the burden of organising my mother’s 24 hour nursing care, had been urging me to phone my mother more often saying my mother’s health was waning. After almost killing myself trying to look after my mother in Jamaica I had decided, since I went into rehab, that I needed to focus on my own needs and was more distant from her.  Before I’d left Jamaica, a psychiatrist I’d been seeing said: “your mother is already dead, she died a long time ago. You need to stop focusing on her and look after yourself or you’re going to die.” Ama, the head of one of my rehabs in London, was softer, saying that although my mother was mentally not there I could still have a relationship with her soul. But traumatised by the experience of my mother’s illness, my contact with her had become sporadic since I entered rehab and the psychiatric unit.  Beverly phoned me saying I really needed to come to Jamaica as my mother was deteriorating rapidly.  I would certainly have relapsed, risking death again, if I’d gone on such a stressful trip on my own.  So Fred who was by now my lover, new best friend, everything to me, came too.

We set off for Jamaica in the summer of 2006, not knowing what to expect. But I knew that, with Fred by my side, I could handle anything.

When we saw my mother it was a terrible shock for both of us. She was sitting, emaciated on a chair, like a concentration camp survivor, her eyes closed and mouth locked in a frightening grimace. She was completely paralysed and her hands were bent double like claws.

A picture of my mother Hyacinth Turriff at a nursing home in Kingston Jamaica when I went to visit her while I was attending the Waterview psychiatric unit

At first, when she saw me, she didn’t recognize me was just staring blindly into space. But then she did realise who I was and gave me a filthy look. It had been a year and a half since I’d last seen her. My family in Jamaica obviously couldn’t tell her that I’d gone to rehab, she wouldn’t have understood, so they just said I had been doing a course in the UK. I saw a Mother’s Day card which I’d sent her earlier in the year, proudly displayed alongside a picture of me. Her nurses said she had clutched the Mother’s Day card for two weeks after she’d got it. She must have been feeling abandoned.

With tears in my eyes I said I was sorry that I had had to leave her but that I had almost died in Jamaica and had to go back to England. I thought something close to the truth would make her feel better. She cried when I said that, and we hugged. I took photographs of her in that terrible state, not wanting to forget.

Fred was incredibly supportive and would even go to see my mother on his own, telling her he would always look after me. That he’d been with me, seeing my mother’s plight in her dying days, gave us a special bond that I had with no one else in recovery.

We went briefly travelling around Jamaica so I could show him my second home. I took him to my abandoned flat, with its beautiful views, now ready to be sold. Its emptiness was like the shell of my former using life I’d left behind. He was surprised by the style and luxury in which my family in Jamaica lived, more familiar with yardies in South London. Ironically as he had less than 10 quid to his name, because he was white everyone in Jamaica thought he was rich and was constantly hassling him for money.

We drove around the magical tropical landscape of Jamaica in a navy blue Toyota Yaris. I took pictures of him staring wistfully into the distance at a lush roadside spot, bursting with greenery, deep in thought. He looked absolutely gorgeous, my tanned white van hero. He took a picture of me (with my fake Chanel bag) in a beautiful spot outside Kingston where he said we would get married.

A picture of Caroline Turriff at a wedding venue outside Kingston Jamaica

This trip was totally magical the absolute apogee of our love and relationship. I was absolutely convinced our love would never end.

As my mother was often completely detached not recognising anyone, couldn’t eat or drink and had no veins left for a drip, my aunt and I decided that we would let her die. I am haunted by this decision, as I saw her, briefly, smile so she was still capable of pleasure. I don’t think she wanted to die. I wonder if I would have made this choice if my mother had not been so abusive to me as a child. But my aunt Beverly was exhausted with the effort of catering to my mother’s needs and organising care for her. This had gone on for six years. We could have fed her through a tube into her stomach but decided the torture of her illness had gone on long enough.

I said goodbye to my mother for the last time, knowing I would never see her alive again.

A picture of Caroline Turriff and her mother Hyacinth Turriff at a nursing home in Kingston Jamaica when Caroline went to visit while she was attending the Waterview psychiatric unit

I gave her some water, urging her to drink, part of me not wanting her to die. She didn’t understand that she was dying. But there were tears in both of our eyes.

Determined to take some mementos of my mother back home, we carried a massive artificial palm tree, in a terracotta pot on the plane to England. This was so huge it caused some consternation at the Air Jamaica check in but with Caribbean tolerance they let the 6 foot plant through in its ramshackle packaging. I’m sure BA would have banned the tree from the plane. For the entire flight back, Fred and I held hands, both of us trying not to cry. When we got to Heathrow, Customs were very interested in the plant, thinking that this was a novel way to smuggle cocaine. I was terrified they were going to smash it up in their hunt for drugs. But when I said I had taken it from my mother’s room where she was dying, they backed off and didn’t search the plant. It was proudly positioned in a corner of my flat in the dry house, reminding me of my mother.

I was assured by the doctors when I left, that it would only be a couple of days after liquids were withdrawn from my mother that she would die. But in fact she clung on for eleven days, starving and thirsty, desperate to stay alive. Everyone around my mother had tried to instill faith into her so she was not so afraid of death. But at the end she was clearly terrified of going and clung onto her pretty wretched life. This has given me not a fear of death, but a fear of being incapacitated and helpless like her. I am far more frightened of Alzheimer’s than dying.

I was in my flat in the dry house when I got the email saying she had died. I clung to Fred, not wanting to be alone. He stroked my hair and said he would always be there for me.

After a disagreement with my family in which they almost had my mother’s funeral without me, Fred and I went back to Jamaica for the ceremony. Although I have said that I never cried, I did cry on the way to my mother’s funeral. Fred was there, arm around me, wiping away my tears. At the funeral all the speakers kept asking why my mother had suffered so much. The state my mother was in for her last six years – paralysed, uncontrollably shaking, with psychotic hallucinations and screaming day and night – was so terrible you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But I do believe it was a result of her decision to have a lobotomy in her treatment for Parkinson’s rather than the implant that had been recommended by the doctors. This was just the last in a series of poor choices my mother made after my father left her, caused by her rampant stubbornness.

While I was heartbroken by my mother’s death, I felt we had done the right thing. Her life had shrivelled to a husk, she was barely living any more. Little did I know how desperately I would miss my mother as time went on, wishing she was still alive and had never got ill.

I had not discussed my mother’s illness and death with my father, believing he would not be interested. I broke my silence when I got back to the dry house after the funeral having a rare emotional conversation with him. He came out with one of his bombshells. “Well you know your mother never really loved you,” he said. “The person she loved was me.” This was hurtful because it was true, she had unconditional love for him, still worshipping him despite all his infidelities. The closest she came to saying she loved me was “I would love you if you were tidy.” I decided the timing of his comment was unforgivable and didn’t speak to him for three months.

After my mother died, there was a certain amount of chaos around her estate. No one could find a will, raising the spectre she had died intestate. Eventually the will was discovered saying that, although everything was left to me, I could not inherit it until I was 45. As I was 36 at the time this seemed like a life time away. This made no sense as my mother had been totally unaware of my drug addiction and up till the moment she lost her mental capacity I had been (more or less) successfully running two properties, two mortgages, a job and a set of tenants. I’d always known about this will but had never thought my mother would die before I reached 45.  Her desire to control me was now extending beyond the grave.

I had sold my flat in Maida Vale, thinking I could live on the interest and move back into my house in Notting Hill. This turned out to be a miscalculation. So I had one house I couldn’t afford to live in and needed to buy another property for when I finally came out of the dry house. This was going to prove impossible because of my mother’s will. So I now had an unwelcome battle on my hands to change the terms of the will.

As my mother’s death had approached, the craziness that had dominated my life in the first half of 2006 had subsided. I was no longer leaping out of bed at 3am to iron the leaves of artificial plants, or hopping like a frog on speed down streets at night  to avoid dark patches that might conceal a dog shit. My mother’s final illness and death had forced me to be an adult.

While all this was going on, Fred was still incredibly loving. Despite this, I began to pine to have a boyfriend who was less rough, and didn’t smoke. After over a year of being with me I thought, by now, Fred should be middle class. But he was stubbornly refusing to be a Sloane, saying “fuck” and “fuckin’” every other word and teaching me how to speak fluent Cockney rhyming slang. Despite saying he would give up smoking to be with me, he lived with a fag hanging out of his mouth. He had also developed a belly since he’d left the rehab. And amazingly (to someone like me who had an eating disorder) didn’t want to lose weight.

I developed an obsession with an Italian man, Leonardo, who was posher, thinner and didn’t smoke. Unlike blonde, blue eyed, white van man Fred, Leonardo had skin the colour of a café crème, ochre eyes and thick black corkscrew curls. I thought he would get on better with my family. He didn’t have a criminal record as long as the London Marathon. “Fuck” wasn’t his favourite word. I had met Leonardo at “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” and would accidentally (on purpose) bump into him at meetings where we would discuss “recovery” while he batted his long black eyelashes at me.

Fred and I had a massive row after one of these incidents. I said I wasn’t sure about the relationship with him and that perhaps he should move out. He left, smashing his phone against the wall, but came back half an hour later saying he wasn’t going anywhere. He had rented out his flat, so he could pay me rent so didn’t actually have anywhere to go.

I was torn wanting to leave him but at the same time not trusting the other guy. Leonardo had shagged a friend of mine, then dumped her, causing her to relapse. On the advice of my support worker I made a list of pros and cons for the two men. It was clear when I read the list that the only option was for me to stay with Fred. We renewed our relationship with a fabulous shag, spending our second Christmas together. As the New Year dawned a new obsession was upon me, far more dangerous than the leaves or the mobile phone. I decided I wanted a baby….                            Sign up for updates on this blog

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Next week: my miraculous recovery from a lifetime of depression.

Struggling to cope with my mother, fugitive chickens and napping US Presidents on Jamaica’s election day and I stage a one person anti-Iraq war protest in the back seat of my car

Jamaica pix summer

When I got back to Jamaica, my mother’s health had deteriorated sharply. Instead of crying and wailing she was now screaming loudly, and it would start at 5am and not end till after midnight. Every morning, before it was light, I was jolted out of bed by her screams, a terrifying alarm clock. I was so traumatized by the experience I wanted to kill myself. I felt like my insides had turned into a nest of snakes that was devouring me alive. But then I discovered the solution to this nightmare. My mother was on Ativan, lorazepam, a much stronger benzo than Valium. And when I nicked one of her pills everything went into a purple haze. She would still be screaming in her wheelchair but, with the lorazepam, it was as if it was happening miles away and I was alright, on a drugged up cloud. But I wasn’t taking the pills all the time, I didn’t get hooked. My mind kept going back to the decision my mother had made in 1999, after she’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, not to have the implant, as recommended by the doctors, but to have a lobotomy instead. I suspected that the lobotomy had led to the strokes and wished to god my mother had taken a different decision. I realise now that my mother almost went mad when my father left her and didn’t really make a single sensible decision after that.

But as my aunt had said there were two options in Jamaica: suicide or enjoying the ride. And despite my despair over my mother, I was enjoying my work. I was doing a lot of pieces for From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Radio 4 which was great as I got to perform all the oddball characters as well as writing the script. They said I was a shoe in for the actors’ union Equity. Not realising the humour of the promise, the government in Jamaica, as part of its road building programme, had vowed that all the country’s roads would be “Pothole Free by Two Thousand and Three.” Commissioned by Radio 4, I crossed the island to take a look, at one point being overtaken by a chicken as the roads were so bad. I was told by a woman in one town that the reason it was so bad was “we na ave na representation,” and that M.P in Jamaica stood for “Missing Person.” Swerving to avoid a pothole was so sudden and dramatic in Jamaica you practically lived with your hazard lights on. When I got on the bus back to Kingston, the enticingly named “Juggernaut of Love,” the conductor said about the potholes: “dem cause a whole leap a accidents. And people lose dem life like nuttin cos of pothole.” But, I said, pointing to huge black patches of newly laid tar, the road repair programme was clearly underway. The driver sniffed that the government would find twenty potholes and patch ten and completely ignore the other ten because the more patching that went on the more jobs they could give out. “And with all this road work goin on,” he said, “who yu t’ink will win the next election”

“I couldn’t say,” I said.

“Well,” he scowled. “Nat the Opposition.”

My first election day in Jamaica, October 2002, was quite an experience. For the first time in my life, I saw fugitive chickens strutting along the main roads in Kingston. Goats, dogs, or even a confused cow would not have been such a surprise. But fat, glossy, brightly coloured chickens? Such prized birds were normally kept under lock and key as, my taxi driver said, “Uno cyan move wid a chicken much faster dan a goat.”

The reason for the fowls sudden freedom became clear as I set off with a photographer at 6am. Frightened by the prospect of election violence, the entire population of Kingston had left, or disappeared, transforming it into a ghost town. Even the buses had gone.

We were following the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former US president Jimmy Carter and his oddly named “Café Observers,” whose job was to supervise the election. At our first polling station, everything was apparently going to plan. Only the voters were missing.

But after a while three turned up – including a large fleshy woman brandishing her candidate’s card, with clear instructions who to vote for. So much for secret voting.

At the next station a large group of voters were already queuing patiently – some in green supporting the Opposition and some in orange – supporting the government. Secret voting again. It was here that disaster struck…. Not for the election, nor for Mr Carter, but for me. Foolishly I’d asked my driver to pop into a nearby McDonalds to get some coffee. Suddenly, Carter emerged and, despite frantic calls to the driver, by the time he returned with the coffee, the Café Observers had completely disappeared. “Get Carter!” I shouted, as we sped around trying to pin point what polling station the former President was in.

Thankfully we bumped into the convoy as it made its way to another polling station in the same constituency. This was the first “garrison community” – enclaves of Kingston totally controlled by the ruling People’s National Party or the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party – that I’d visited on election day. And the atmosphere was frankly frightening. Crowds of angry Opposition supporters rushed at our car, banging on the roof and bonnet and urging us to go to a nearby polling station where they said: “de police an’ PNP conspire ‘gainst Labourite ca dem na wan’ JLP get fi vote.”

The polling station was packed with Opposition supporters and “electoral liason officers” who explain to their party faithful how to vote. A lone PNP official hid silently in a corner- ignored by everyone. Heavily armed soldiers in camouflage barred the doors to the station – preventing the mob of JLP supporters from coming in.

Despite the fact that any voter who’d turned up in an orange shirt would certainly have been beaten to death, Mr Carter and the Café observers said that, “everything seemed to be fine.”

At the other polling stations in the constituency, I was impressed by the fortitude of the Jamaican public – determined to cast their vote. Hundreds of people queued for hours in torrential rain, some had umbrellas, others sheltered under trees, none were dressed for the rain. If the weather was this awful on election day in the UK, I thought, only the MP’s themselves would bother to vote.

But the Carter observers decided, after a while, that the rain was too heavy and retreated to a restaurant for lunch. Determined not to lose him again, I took up a seat where I could observe every move of the Observers.

But after two and a half hours the Observers and myself were confused. Where was Mr Carter? We had the sneaking suspicion that the sprightly 78 year old had, in fact, slipped off for a nap. Well, what’s good enough for a President of the United States is good enough for me, I thought, and had a tiny snooze in the back of my car.

And who won the election? The bus driver was right. The road building programme worked and the government was elected for a fourth term.

After a lifetime of visits to Jamaica and seven months of living in the country, I saw another sight I had never seen before……A man with a vast multi-coloured umbrella attached to his head pedalled purposefully up to my door on a bright red bicycle. “Can I help you?” I asked – “Apartment 14?” – he replied. – “Yes…” I said with a worried look (preparing to say that I did not want a mango, discount air-conditioning, flip-flops, a Bible or an insurance policy. ) “Who are you?”

“Your postman,” he replied, a smile cracking his dark, sturdy looking face.

“My God!” I cried. “I’ve never seen one of those before.”

……. And with that he handed me a letter, from abroad, the first that had actually arrived in the entire time I’ d been there. “Out of many; one postcard,” I thought, paraphrasing Jamaica’s national slogan, “Out of Many, One People.”

It was estimated by local businesses that twenty million letters went missing in Jamaica every year and that 80% of letters from abroad, which often contained money, got “lost” in the post. In search of my absent letters I went down to the Central Sorting Office in downtown Kingston.

As I entered the building, I glanced at a pristine but empty post office open to the public on the ground floor. A post office without queues! I thought, as I made my way up to the Central Sorting Office – a vast cavernous concrete space with windowless walls and harsh artificial lighting which reminded me of a giant underground car park. The place was deserted apart from a small, dapper, moustachioed man who helpfully suggested – with a friendly smile – where my mail might be.

“In Japan..”

“I’m sorry?” I replied – confused.

“You see this is a special period,” he said, gravely adjusting his tie, “since September the 11th and the World Trade Centre.. an all dat business wid de Amtracks.”

“The Amtracks?” I said wondering what the American rail network had to do with the Jamaican postal system.

“The Americans naa let any of de mail in.”

“To Jamaica?” I said.

“No where,“ he said. “Not on dis side of de worl,’” he continued. “Becaa dem wan’ de germ to die before it reach dem…So de mail from Englan’ dat used to go t’ru de United States affu go all roun’ de worl’ before it reach ‘ere. It go t’ru Asia t’ru Panama t’ru Pakistan t’ru Mexico – caa den de Americans t’ink de Amtracks will ketch dose people firs.’”

“Who are you?” I said ..

“Herbert Brown …Chief Inspector of Mail…In Jamaica,” he replied with a helpful smile.

“And what about the mail inside Jamaica?” I continued, thinking of the dozens of telephone, electricity, water, gas and mobile phone bills which had failed to arrive for me or anyone else in my building.

“Well de terrorists cyan strike at America’s friends too,” he continued, glancing away. “So we affu be extra careful…..we jus trying to protec’ the public.”

“But what about before September 11th?” I said. “I understand there were problems with the mail even then?” At this point he directed my inquiries to the Postmaster General or her deputy – who were both in a meeting for the rest of the week.

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One missive from the UK which did arrive was my boyfriend from the BBC, Mike R-Phone, who’d come out to see me in Jamaica. He was kind and caring and highly intelligent and worked as the overnight manager at the Cable Straightening Department at the BBC. We had so much in common but he was quite a lot older than me. It was a bit like Tarquin, he was entirely suitable but the sparks just weren’t flying off the love horse shoe. I still thought an orgasm was a top secret region near the North Pole and that great sex was an attempt to hoodwink the human race that only happened in films. I wondered what all the fuss was about. He was kind and loyal and supportive towards me, seeing the terrible state my mother was in. He had money and properties, in many ways he was Mr Right, but I just wasn’t attracted enough. Maybe not going for Mr Right, but instead Mr Donkey Dong, Mr Dangerous, Mr Hot and Mr Unavailable, was why I was still single at 32. But it was a relief to have someone out there to support me with my mother.

As the situation with my mother got worse and worse, her screaming and distress more and more pained, my suicidal thoughts escalated and I thought I would slash my wrists. Every time I did my driving lessons I felt like I was dying inside and wanted to crash the car. My driving instructor noticed that I could barely drive anymore and asked me what was wrong. “My mother’s ill,” I said, “it upsets me,” I wasn’t able to go into detail about the horror I was going through. I told my aunt I was suicidal and she said they had better find me a flat to live in on my own. She found a fabulous one bedroom flat, an upper maisonette in a little complex. It had an amazing view of a rainforest covered mountain in front and lush, verdant, gardens behind.

It was a relief to be out of my mother’s flat and I went on a shopping spree buying things for the new flat. My aunt took this money out of my mother’s funds she was controlling so it didn’t cost me a penny (or so I thought). I settled into my life as a freelance reporter (and dutiful daughter) at the flat, working till 4am as it was so hot during the day. At least it wasn’t like Oxford and I wasn’t sprinting around the library at god-knows-what-o’clock. I was now rent-a-hack and was working for every newspaper that would pay me as well as the BBC. I had finally found my stringer’s job and there wasn’t a mud hut in sight. But I still, unlike most reporters, switched off my mobile phone all night and wouldn’t answer my landline before 12pm Jamaican time, 6pm in the UK. When they tried to get hold of me earlier and asked where I’d been, I’d always say I’d been in an early morning meeting. Of course I had, I’d been meeting Bunny in my bed.

I made a friend in my new apartment building, Candy, a former beauty queen who was very kind and wasn’t blonde or a Baroness so didn’t make me feel like the Elephant Man. My family were behaving strangely, I’d always been very close to my two cousins, Suzanne and Michelle, like batty and bench as they say in Jamaica. But now I was in Jamaica they never invited me out or came round to see me. People said that it was because they were jealous as I had a lot more money and was all over the newspapers and the BBC. And having discovered that diet apocalypse, Xenical, I was much, much, thinner than them. But whatever the reason, the support I had from my family was limited in Jamaica and I felt very isolated. Almost missing the company of the nurses at my mother’s flat, I felt incredibly lonely and started drinking on my own at home. Not drinking with a meal as I might have done before but, for the first time in my life, drinking alone to get drunk. After 3 double vodkas the loneliness would just go away, replaced by a warm fuzzy feeling in which I felt OK. I had no idea that this meant my alcoholism was progressing, from binge drinking to proper alcoholic drinking on my own.

And it was to get even worse. I covered a big story before Christmas which had an unfortunate impact on my life, introducing me to a different crowd in Jamaica, far away from my respectable family. 19 British Nationals had been arrested in Jamaica’s tourist mecca, Montego Bay, carrying almost a tonne or six million pounds worth of marijuana in their suitcases. While saying they knew nothing of the drugs in their luggage, all 19 had identical designer suitcases which customs thought was odd. UK officials then said there were thousands of British nationals posing as genuine holidaymakers staging organised drugs runs from Jamaica to the UK, sometimes travelling with young children to reduce the risk of being searched or even to hide the drugs. This had escalated partly because of the story I had covered the previous year about the large number of Jamaican drug mules on every flight to the UK. Because of the outrage my story caused in the UK, it led the British government to impose a visa regime for Jamaican nationals entering the UK. This cut the flow of Jamaican mules sharply, leading the drug traffickers to target British passport holders instead. I went to interview the miserable suspected British drug smugglers in the lock up in Montego Bay. They’d probably never seen such conditions in their lives and had plenty of time to make friends with the giant rats. I was hanging out with friends of the imprisoned traffickers in Montego Bay and, for the first time in Jamaica, sampled Colombia’s most notorious condiment. I also came into contact with various Colombian drug dealers who all had Identikit Mansions in Montego Bay, with that drug dealer favourite an anti-aircraft missile disguised as an umbrella stand. They loved me with my fluent Spanish and soon started phoning me up incessantly, asking me to go to Hawaii with them. At that stage I thought this was hilarious and would say to my friends when a call came through: “Hang on I’ve got a drug dealer on the other line.” Little did I know that, later, as my addiction to cocaine progressed, my drug dealer would become my best friend.

That Christmas I threw myself into the party season, trying to forget about my isolation and my mother’s illness. But I didn’t end up face down in a plant, I was strictly vertical. At one party, I was approached by an incredibly tall, handsome, mixed race, man who said his name was Tarzan. Not only was he gorgeous but he had a masters and was living in the States. I was very taken with Tarzan, marriage fantasies started to flit through my head. Of course due to the shortage of Emperor penguins in Jamaica, (no wedding of mine could take place without this essential element),the wedding would have to be in the States. And when Tarzan came out of my bathroom, loincloth hanging from his thumb, I practically wet myself. But I was a good girl, now I was in Jamaica, and didn’t have sex with him.

We kept in contact on the phone when he went back to the States, (frequently interrupted by the drug dealers), and arranged to meet in Miami soon after Christmas. I went to the hotel, in delicious anticipation of amazing sex: his physique was super human, he spent 9 hours a day in the gym. But when it came down to it he was critical about my body saying my nipple was the wrong shade of pink and my eyebrow had a split end. This made me feel as attractive as a baboon’s bottom on an Imodium day. Yet again, like Akbar, here was a gorgeous man I fancied the pants off but the sex was as cold as an Eskimo who’d swallowed the key to his igloo. I despaired at every finding a proper shag. My marriage fantasies dimmed, (the flamingos would have to wait), I set off to Jamaica with a nasty taste in my mouth.

On my way to Miami I’d been pounced on by a Colombian Venezuelan man, called Shagger, who lived in LA. He zoomed up to me at the check-in, forced himself into the seat next to me on the plane and begged me to go out to lunch at Miami airport, which I declined. Although very good looking, I didn’t fancy him as he looked like a weird lodger I’d had, who’d had an overly close relationship with the tadpoles in his room. Little did I know that this man was a sex god who would show me what sex really was.

Back in Jamaica I had finally got permission from the government to go into the country’s only women’s prison at Fort Augusta, outside Kingston. This had taken 6 months to organise, no foreign journalist had ever got in and was basically a massive coup. There were a large number of British inmates in this jail, all there for drug smuggling. My preparation was extensive, this was a big story that I was covering for Radio 4 on the BBC. But when I got into the prison, past all the security, I realised there was one element of preparation I’d missed: my tape recorder wasn’t working at all. The devastatingly poignant and powerful interviews all came out like the white noise when your TV’s broken down. I phoned a friend who worked in Jamaican radio, Tomlin Ellis, desperately needing help, saying “I’m in the prison but my tape recorder is dead as a goat’s testicle floating in a Jamaican stew.” He shot out to the prison, bringing me a working tape recorder, allowing me to cover this scoop. I’m eternally grateful for this favour which would otherwise have left me in the same flustered, red-faced, position I’d been in when the taxi driver in Buenos Aires had shot off with my tape. This meant all my incredibly emotive interviews about the bombing of the Jewish centre in Buenos Aires were probably recorded over by a bootleg recording of the Beastie Boys.

According to the prisoners, the conditions in the prison  were horrific: rats the size of cats, cockroaches everywhere, mealtimes “like a warzone” and people sleeping on the floor. Some of the British prisoners complained of being beaten by the guards, one after she’d tried to commit suicide. The prisoners felt the British High commission in Jamaica had abandoned them. The High Commission said the prisoners committed the crimes because they thought they were in desperate economic situation in the UK but that, until they landed up in a Jamaica jail, they had not really understood what desperation was.

In the wider world, on February 15th 2003, there was a global day of protest against the imminent Iraq war. It was the largest protest the world had ever see, up to thirty million people. And me. George W Bush and Tony Blair were claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be launched in 45 minutes. The UN weapons inspectors hadn’t found the weapons but that was because, our Dear Leaders said, they were being concealed at top secret locations and would be found when they went in. In Jamaica everyone was too frightened of offending Big Brother America by protesting in the streets. But when I heard it on the radio, I staged a (very noisy) one person anti-war protest in the back seat of my car. As I had no banner, or megaphone, I waved around a leg of fried chicken I was eating instead. I should have had George W Bush flavour chicken, known in Jamaica as jerk.

But it wasn’t just the people of Iraq who were about to have a spot of turmoil in their lives. My ideal husband, Tarzan, dumped me saying my Advanced Conversational Orangutan was simply not up to scratch. He also, rather cruelly, said I was “clingy” as I “had no one in my life in Jamaica.” Well kick a girl while she’s down. I lay flat out on my bed for an entire night, wailing silently. Of course I couldn’t cry. Once again my fantasies of the zebra, flamingos and Emperor penguins (no wedding of mine could take place without a private zoo) hit the crash barriers of reality. But little did I know that Tarzan had a massive surprise in store for me.                                                                                               Sign up for updates on this blog

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Next week: Tony Blair takes us into war on Iraq, I become the Imelda Marcos of fake designer bags, have my first orgasm and dial 999. And free love on the NHS, threesomes with the Surgeon of Death.

Doing time with my mother, misplacing the Jamaican Prime Minister and losing Queen Elizabeth, the Invisible Head of State.

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When I arrived in Jamaica in October 2001, the situation with my mother was disastrous. She was practically paralysed, only just able to move one arm and a leg and it was difficult to understand what she said. She had regressed mentally and wasn’t an adult anymore and found it hard to fathom what was going on. She would wail and cry for hours on end, frustrated at the state she was in. Nurses looked after her day and night. I settled into her apartment in Kingston, preparing for a long stay. But although she was in a terrible state, the nurses were loving and caring, and my mother sometimes seemed happy, surrounded by a love she had never really had.

But what was I going to do? I couldn’t look after my mother, she was too heavy for me to lift. And wiping the bum of someone who’d never looked after me was more than I could bear. So I set about finding a job. My friend Novia, who worked at the Jamaica Observer, one of the two main newspapers there, took me in to see the editor. They said they needed a reporter and I thought why not? I settled into life as a reporter at the Observer rapidly, covering stories from child murders to the tragic delay of a lobster at a hot local restaurant. I soon dropped my English accent, as I had to repeat everything fifteen times, and assumed a “miggle” class Jamaican accent instead.

I had a very unwelcome phone call from the UK. The artist I’d had a fling with was onto me accusing me of giving him bird flu and saying he was in quarantine. When I explained that I had never had bird flu in my life he said my father’s parrot had been singing the calypso song, “Feeling, hot, hot, hot…” and must have given it to me. I was astounded by this blatant parrotism which made me realise that casual sex can have a nasty sting in its tail.

“If you didn’t laugh so hard in Jamaica, you’d have to kill yourself,” my mother’s best friend wisely said. After I’d been in Jamaica for a couple of weeks, I knew exactly what she meant. I was always howling with laughter, or on the verge of tears. My first major task, apart from finding a job, was establishing the internet at home. This meant going to the offices of Cable and Wireless (a British firm) where convenience was a four letter word.

Upon entering the room, I was surprised to see an abnormal number of plants. On closer inspection, I realized that many were customers who, after decades of waiting in line, had sprouted roots.

Some customers had suffered an even worse fate and disappeared entirely – vaporized by the wait. There came a succession of phantom numbers called by the automated voice.

“One hundred and thirty three!……..” Silence followed. The representative adjusted her black rimmed monocle and pressed a hidden button.

“One hundred and thirty four!……..” Again a deafening silence…

I wondered if some of the numbers belonged to senior citizens who’d passed away in the queue.

Eventually my turn came. I leapt from my seat. The Sales rep looked pleased to see me. But then disappeared for an hour.

“Unfortunately,” he said, returning, “we won’t be able to set up your internet account today.” Then, with the magic phrase allowing every Ditherocrat to wash their hands of absolutely anything, “The System,” he said, “Is Down. You see that Christmas tree,” he muttered, looking darkly to his side. “It’s that…….”

“Your computer system is a Christmas tree?” I said confused.

“No,” he said, as if speaking to a deaf-mute of restricted intellect. “The Christmas tree has interfered with the computer system.” Then seeing I was stubbornly remaining in my seat he carried on: “it’s probably a virus.”

“What virus?” I continued. “The Ghost of Christmas Past……..? or Santa Claus……………?”

“Neither,” he said. “You’ll have to come back again on Monday…..”

After calling in advance to check everything was OK, I presented myself at Cable and Wireless on Monday. As I sprung at my rep, with Internet form in hand, I noticed a sorrowful expression descend on his face

“The System..” he said, a tear beginning to well in his eye, “Is Down Again….”

“Has it tried Prozac?” I screeched. “I find it works quite well!”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’ll have to come back another time.”

Eventually on the fifteenth trip to Cable and Wireless, I managed to get online.

Life at work was pretty chaotic too. Due to the constant bungling of our Transport department, I re-christened the “Jamaica Observer” the “Ja-Later Observer” as we always arrived so long after everyone else. One day I was due to interview the Prime Minister at the opening of an Important New By-Pass. After driving at horizontal-hair speed, we arrived at this Major National Event. Unfortunately we were alone. Apart from a wizened tarmac layer stumbling along the road.

“Excuse me sir..” I cried. “Have you seen the Prime Minister going down this road?” He moved not a muscle – probably fazed by the “sir.”

“You dere!” the driver said. The man spun on his bony heel …”Di Pri’ Minista….where ‘im gone?”

“What ‘im look like?” the tarmac man asked.   “‘Im a short man wid big ears?”

“Dat’s ‘im!” the photographer cried. “Where ‘im go?”

“You see dat goat?” MacTar said, pointing his finger at the wiggling backside of a fast-retreating goat. “Im go dat way”

“FOLLOW DAT GOAT!!!!” The photographer shouted to the driver. We quickly caught up with the goat and followed it some distance along the road. Until we bumped into a buxom higgler, selling sugarcane, squatting by the street.

“Where di Pri’ Minista’ deh?” the driver said, craning his neck out the car.

“Mi cyant seh,” she said, thrusting the drinks towards us. “Mi eyes is nat too good.”

“Here tek thirty dollars,” the photographer said. “Where ‘im gawn?”

“Left at dat gas station,” she said. “But mus be a hour ago.”

We hurtled down the street at 90 miles an hour until stopped in our tracks by a pack of wandering goats.

“Goat Man!” the driver said to the man in charge of the goats.

“Actually, I’ve got a PHD in Goat Management” said the man who was a British VSO volunteer.

“OK doctor Goat Man,” the driver said. “You see di Pri’ Minista pass dis way?”

“I believe I did,” the Goat Man said. “He was with a convoy of police going towards Old Harbour Town.”

We whizzed off down the street. Eventually a convoy of twenty police cars blocked the way.

We leapt out of the car in front of a small roadside shack with a hand painted sign saying, “Helpe yourself to Fishe.” Chaos was inside. Around fifty government officials, bouncers and journalists sat waiting around. The Prime Minister was in a low key mode – so low key that after 5 minutes looking around I still hadn’t spotted who he was. “The Prime Minister…” I whispered to the photographer. “Who is he?”

“Dat man in de cap over dere…”

I rushed to the bathroom for a Two-Minute-Tart-Up thinking that if I looked Hot he’d be more likely to do the interview. Although with the opposition spreading rumours about the PM’s sexuality this might have been a waste of time.

I sidled up to the table where everyone was still extracting fish bones from their teeth.

“Prime Minister!” I said. “I’m from the Observer. I’m very sorry we’ve arrived late,” I stuttered, “our car crashed into a cow.”

“I’m sure it did,” he scowled. “Let’s do the interview now.”

So all was well. But in the following day’s paper the Headline ran: “PRIME MINISTER OPENS NEW BY-PASS.”

Unfortunately the photo showed the PM with a large flounder falling out his mouth.

But it wasn’t all LOL at the Jamaica Observer. As Christmas approached, I was writing a much more serious story for them. 23 Jamaicans had been charged with smuggling cocaine after disembarking from an Air Jamaica flight to Heathrow; a week later another 16 Jamaicans had been charged with the same offence at Gatwick. The British High Commission in Kingston then said that up to 30 passengers on every flight from Kingston to London were drug mules. The deputy head of the Jamaican narcotics police said “the drug courier situation is the most available form of employment for most people in Jamaica today.”

I was covering this situation for the Observer but, of course, knew it would be of interest to the British press. But I felt that as the people I’d interviewed, especially the Jamaicans, had spoken to me thinking I was publishing a story for the Observer alone it would be dishonest to sell it on to the British press. Jamaica had been so kind to me, I wasn’t sure I wanted to paint it in such a bad light in the British press. Also the story was published on my birthday and my friend Susanna and her baby Tupai had come to stay. The British press went wild over the story, splashing it all over the front pages. It was the biggest story I’d ever broken. Not that I’d sold the story to the British press but they had “borrowed” the information from me. I could have had a front page exclusive in the Sunday Times to show people at the BBC that I wasn’t just larking around on my career break. But I think this incident shows I lacked the killer instinct to really make it to the top in journalism.

In the meantime, Susanna and I were enjoying the New Year in Kingston. Susanna had brought her baby and everywhere we walked around the city, people would point and mutter, “white baby, white baby. What you doing here?” We took him to Harry Potter, his first ever film, the greatest cinematic experience of his life. He went wild, shrieking at all the scenes, jumping into the hat of the woman in front and then, overwhelmed, fell sleep. He was obsessed with dancing to the doorbell at my mother’s house which had a ragga ringtone.

But whenever Susanna and I were together, mishaps would surely follow. Thus one day Susanna was smoking in my bedroom on the top floor of my mother’s house, when she dropped the cigarette end onto the roof below. This was unwise as the roof was made of straw and immediately started to burn. Someone called the fire brigade but instead of stopping at the address we’d given we could hear them circling round the block twenty times. In the meantime my mother had to be evacuated in her wheelchair as the flames grew higher and higher. My mother’s best friend, generally known as my aunt, swooped in and gave Susanna a very dirty look. We shot out into the street, hearing the fire engine moving further and further away. Then, as it came round again, hurled ourselves at the engine, hanging onto the ladders to make it stop. By the time the fire fighters got to the blaze, it was five hours after we’d called them and my mother’s nurses had put it out. Another little hiccup we had was getting rather pissed at an upmarket party and launching into a moving rendition of “Swan Lake” in the Ladies loo. Susanna was the dying swan and crashed, convincingly, to the floor.

My mother had always disapproved of the friendship between Susanna and I and her attitude to Susanna was chilly to say the least. But now Susanna was shocked to see the state my mother was in. When Tupai’s baby bottle was lying on a table next to my mother, my mother picked it up with her one good hand and suckled it in her mouth. She cried every time she saw the BBC news on the television, not wanting me to go home. And when I tried to explain to her about all the journalism I was doing she said: “but have you done your homework, I hope you’re not going to be late for school.” The greatest trauma of my mother’s life had been my father leaving her, and with the brain damage caused by the stroke she regressed to a time in the past when this hadn’t happened at all. So I was eight and still at primary school, and my father and her were still together at our house in Kensington. My mother became obsessed with Butch Stewart, the richest man in Jamaica, Chairman of the Sandals resorts and Jamaica Observer, who she’d been friends with when I was a child. Every time she saw a pale looking man pruning the poinsettias in a nearby garden she would whoop with delight saying “Butch Stewart is doing the gardening.”

After I’d been in Jamaica for a couple of months, I really felt I was blending in. I caught a cold when the temperature dropped to 85*. And I refused to walk anywhere on the street. “Miggle” class Jamaicans do not walk – for fear of being mugged. The only white people on the streets of Kingston are lobsters in green shorts with a map.

But after various problems with taxis, including being offered a vibrator by a taxi driver’s mum, I decided to Learn To Drive. Although a driving license can be purchased from any supermarket in Jamaica –   between DOGFOOD and DIAPERS in aisle 39 – I decided that it would be safer to Actually Pass A Test.   When I opened my wages and out fell a peanut shell I realised I had to go for value and low price. After skimming through the telephone directory I concluded that the “Lucky Strikes” school of driving had the cheapest rates.

As the car approached my house I noticed something wrong.

“The door!” I said. “It’s gone!”

“De doar?” the driver said with some surprise.

“Yes,” I said, pointing to the space where once a door had been.

“Oh dis door….he said, as if I might have been referring to a door somewhere on Pluto…. “It soon come.”

“How soon?’ I said. “In time for my driving lesson?”

“Not dat soon,” he said. “I tek it off ‘cos de AC don’ work..Is nice an cool like dis”..

Some rules of driving in Jamaica I noticed on my first lesson were:

ALL cyclists (male, there were no female cyclists) rode with their legs sticking out at 90* from the bike – which looked as if it had been “liberated” from a 10 year old as it was much too small.

Despite this, all cyclists had Deep Faith and peddled furiously towards the oncoming traffic in hopes of a quick entry to the Afterlife.

A red light did mean red except at night when it meant “accelerate.”

The police were colour blind – all lights at any time of day or night meant “green.”

The Red Man/ Green Man – standard in most countries – was not here. The Green Man was bent double, as if elderly or wiping something from his shoe….The Red Man – a large hand with orange stripes – revealed the danger of applying fake tan in the dark. . The Green Man suffered from a skin disorder and was – oddly – coloured White.

Only the young and fleet of foot should try to cross the road in Jamaica, I thought. The gap between the Elderly Green Man and Orange Hand was (I timed it) 2.7 seconds.This probably explained why the pavements were crowded with the disabled, old and clinically insane – they hadn’t had a chance to cross the road.

As February 2002 approached, a very important visitor was about to arrive in Jamaica who certainly wouldn’t be allowed to cross the road without a platoon of police to smooth her way. The Queen was coming and was going to visit Rema, one of the most violent ghetto areas in Kingston, where drug gangs and political killings were rife. She wasn’t going to walk around, in fact the government had booked a tank to ferry her in. She was visiting a school, Hugh Sherlock Primary, where some of the children didn’t believe she was real. I was going to interview the children for a report on “From our own Correspondent” on BBC Radio 4.”

My guide to the area – Delroy Johnston – a short thickset plumber with cropped hair said that everyone knew the Queen was coming, as the moment the visit was announced the bulldozers arrived. “You see dat rubbish dere ” – he said – pointing to a mountain of rotten food, rusting fridges, cookers, mattresses and the remains of a wooden house. “Its five hyears it bin ‘ere. But dem tek away ten skip load in the last two week.”

“So you’re glad that the Queen is coming?”  I said. “Fa sure,” he said. “We want her fa come all de time. Den de politician would affu fix de place up. In fact,'” he said – “I think she should move out of Buckin’am Palace an’ buy a h-apartment ’ere.”

He waved the machete at the school where the Queen would be visiting – inviting me to into the yard.

Half the school was newly painted in yellow, blue and white with panels showing Jamaica’s national heroes, birds and plants. The other half was a roofless concrete slab with vast open spaces where windows should have been. A wire from a pylon lay in the middle of the yard.

I approached a shy looking six year old with long curly lashes and asked if he knew the Queen was coming to the school. “Huh,” he said. “Who’s she?” Some older girls in their uniform of crimson skirts and braces gave him a withering look. “Of course we know she’s coming!” said Jaaliya – a tall thirteen year old her hair twisted into tiny braids.  “And what do you think the visit will do for the school?” I asked. “She could give us some money,” she said. I replied that I wasn’t sure Her Majesty carried cash around.. “That’s okay..” she smiled, “she can write me a cheque. And,” she added hastily, “bring a computer and TV for the school.”

“And a bicycle!” said 6 year old Kaneisha who looked about 3.

“And a Nokia!” said 7 year old Monique Reed. By this time a crowd of over a hundred excited children had gathered around pushing and screaming to get their orders in. “I need a bicycle too!” said one “And I need a Playstation Two!”  After being thumped in the face and pushed to the ground I decided enough was enough. We had already compiled a wish-list which included 25 computers, 20 bicyles, 18 scooters, 3 TVs, 15 Nokia’s, 23 Video Games, 4 dogs, 3 cats and a Barbie.

“I think you’re confusing the Queen with Santa Claus…” I said.

Fifteen pairs of bewildered brown eyes looked up at me in shock. “But the Queen is Santa Claus,” they laughed.

“Would any of you recognize the Queen without a crown?” I said to the children. They dipped their eyes and shuffled their feet in silence.

“Is she white?” eight year old Sachelle finally piped up.

“No,” said Jaaliya, in authoratative tones. “On TV she was yellow.”

“She’s sort of Pink,” I said diplomatically. “But she may turn yellow here.”

“Is she invisible?” whispered a six year old with ringlets. “Then where has she been all this time?”

“In Buckingham palace,” I answered. “What you mean a house like we?” said the six year old.

I glanced at the windowless corrugated iron shacks some of the children lived in, thinking the Queen would not put her dog in such a place.

Well what’s it like living in Rema? I said after a pause. “It’s nice…apart from the violence,” whispered the six year old with a hunted look in her eyes. “Night and morning we hear gunshots. But we just run and hide.”

I climbed into a taxi and left the area with some relief – until a shouting match erupted between mine and another driver. “Please stay in the car – that man looks dangerous,” I said. “Jus relax baby,” my driver said, pulling a six inch knife from his belt, “you’ll be totally safe with me.”

A place in which no one was safe (from cows) was the jewel in the crown of the Jamaican government’s road building programme – the “high speed” North Coast Highway, linking the island’s major tourist resorts. Stray cows ambled happily up and down the road, reducing the speed of motorists from a projected 80km/h to less than 8. The project was mired in chaos. The Transport Minister admitted he’d “completely forgotten” the original budget and completion date. And instead of starting the road at one end and finishing at another the government had built the road in multiple sections which were not joined up. So a smooth, perfect, section would be followed by a boulder strewn trench. The contractors had reportedly refused to guarantee the road would last a year. The government was rushing to complete the country’s biggest ever road building campaign not to buy votes in the forthcoming general elections, (clearly not), but to spread goodwill and work.

After six months in Jamaica I realised I wouldn’t be moving back to London at all. My mother was declining, her former aggression whittled down to the helplessness of a two year old. She was crying like an abandoned child, day and night, devastated at the state she was in. I couldn’t leave her on her own. And my career in Jamaica was flying ahead with my work for the Jamaica Observer and the BBC. The editor of “From Our Own Correspondent” said I was “an artist,” he loved my work and was eagerly awaiting more. I was drinking much, much less, it was barely a problem at all. I loved the magical realism of Jamaica and, with my new Jamaican accent, no one asked me where I was from. I would go back to London to finish my house and come back out to Jamaica to live.              Sign up for updates on this blog

Next week: failing to sell my eggs (my eggs not my chickens’ eggs) getting a makeover from Vlad the Inhaler and more celebrities causing chaos in Notting Hill.

Q: How do you avoid being shot by the police in Jamaica? A: be white, middle class, or duck…

JAMAICA PIX

I arrived at my mother’s house in Jamaica, just before Christmas 1993, frazzled after the 10 hour flight and dying to go to bed.

“I’m not having you mess the place up,” she said, as I walked through the door. “Your clothes look messy, you’d better go and stay in a hotel.”

“I’ve come 5,000 miles to see you, I am not going to stay in a hotel,” I said, trying to muster up sufficient outrage which was difficult as I was ready to drop. I say outrage but in fact this “welcome” from my mother was familiar, every time I arrived in Jamaica to see her the first thing she would say was “go and stay in a hotel.” I was very messy, a consequence of having severe mental health problems all my life. That the messiness was connected to her and my father’s behaviour never crossed her mind at all. When I was fifteen, my mother took me to a solicitor’s office and said she was evicting me from the house. Because she said, “all you need to do is leave one cup in the middle of the room and the whole room looks like a slum.” The solicitor said that to evict a 15 year old, for creating an imaginary slum, would land my mother in problems with social services and the psychiatric unit as well. My mother was totally silent but the threat of eviction remained.

There were other reasons why I was in Jamaica, apart from to be un-welcomed by my mother and visit my family. I was furthering my reporting career by covering a story on a new police task force – the Anti-Crime Investigative Detachment, or catchily, ACID for short. ACID had notoriously shot two suspected criminals inside a hospital in Kingston in front of all the patients and staff. Perhaps the police were being humanitarian and thought the men might survive, despite being shot in the back of the head, if they shot them near A and E. A doctor I interviewed said the policeman had put his boot on the (unarmed) man’s head, in the middle of the maternity ward, and shot him at point blank range. The words, “you’re under arrest,” never came out of his mouth. At that time the police in Jamaica were killing 150 people a year which in a population of just over 2 million was one of the highest rates in the world. It was five times the rate of police shootings in 1990’s South Africa where the police don’t exactly have a reputation for TLC. Although the Jamaican police said all those shot were armed criminals who’d got into confrontations with the police, in fact most of them were shot in the back of the head. A senior police officer later explained this, saying it might be “to prevent them shooting someone in front of them” or because they were “running away.” It wasn’t just human rights groups that said these were extra-judicial killings and that these police units operated as death squads.

These special police squads started to be set up in the 1970’s when there was almost a civil war going on. Squad after squad were formed and then disbanded after they hit the headlines for excessive brutality and failed to make a dent in the country’s extremely high murder rate. ACID was the latest of these squads. Jamaica was at that time facing a crack epidemic with around 20,000 crack addicts in a population of only 2 million. The government blamed much of the violence in society on drugs and gangs and said that targeting the drug dons and gang leaders would cut the violence out.

The situation was complicated by the fact that human rights groups said that many policeman were involved in drug dealing themselves. A contact I met, an English aristocrat living in the countryside in Jamaica, woke up one morning to find six bodies on his lawn. Realising that the dustmen would not clear this away, he phoned the police to find out “what the f*** was going on.” He was told that he should be pleased as the police had foiled an attack on his house from a group of men trying to steal his cash. “I don’t have any cash” he replied bemused. He’d given it all to teenage strippers he’d met in dodgy clubs. He told me he later found out the police had made a deal with some local drug dealers which went sour. The police had asked for $50,000 dollars to turn a blind eye. The dealers had given them $50,000 but Jamaican and not US. The police had egged the criminals on saying there was cash at my friend’s house. As the men approached the house the police shot them all dead, proclaiming their civic duty in foiling an attack.

I thought the figures for police shootings were bad in the 1990’s but was horrified to find out that they’d practically doubled in recent years with almost 300 killed in 2013. Apart from drug deals gone wrong, the reasons for the killings has stayed the same: the police can’t get convictions against criminals in court. Juries are intimidated, the courts have huge backlogs, and cases are dismissed as the police evidence isn’t good enough. Most of the people shot probably do have some connection with crime. But some are entirely innocent passers-by or people in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Police violence in Jamaica is inflicted on the underclass. But there were other forms of violence that were much more middle class. Throughout the West Indies there was, during colonial times and for decades after, an excessive attitude to “disciplining” children. My grandfather, the head of the Jamaican civil service, left the family home to live with another woman but would return to the house to beat the shit out of his son. His son later developed schizophrenia and became totally dysfunctional. During my teenage years my uncle apparently decided that he “owned” the whole of Knightsbridge, leading to tiny problems with the law. The police would call our house after he’d eaten stratospherically expensive meals and expressed astonishment at being asked to pay or started removing all the furniture at the end of the meal. He ended up in Brixton prison which he apparently announced was “the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in in my life.” They didn’t keep him there he was too nuts. While at home he hacked down the rafters of his house, to remove bugs planted by the ninety year old neighbours who were clearly a sleeper CIA cell. I don’t know where my uncle is now or if he is alive. My mother always blamed his schizophrenia on the beatings and never forgave her father. She refused to visit her father while he was dying or go to his funeral.

Another friend of mine, and a neighbour also developed serious mental health problems and addiction after their parents repeatedly beat them. In later years, my drug dealer told me that his father, a senior legal figure in Trinidad, had disciplined him by hammering nails into his hand. A raging crack addict and dealer it’s not hard to see why. Some have blamed this excessive attitude in Caribbean parents on slavery and the harsh physical punishments inflicted on the slaves. But when I mentioned it to a friend of mine of Bangladeshi origin, who’s grown up in Britain, he said his parents were the same and so were most of his friends. There are countless other examples of this among parents not just in the Caribbean but in other developing countries and in Britain as well. I also have a white Scottish friend whose mother repeatedly beat him who unsurprisingly developed an addiction to smack. In fact as someone who knows an inordinate number of addicts it is amazing how many, even middle and upper class addicts in Britain, grew up with violence in their homes.

My mother would try to beat me with a belt when I was young but was largely unsuccessful as, from the age of 8, I was stronger than her. The last time she did this, for something that wasn’t even my fault, I pinned her down on the floor, and ran away. Unfortunately I took my carefully crafted departure note, along with bicycle and Bunny with me to the park when I left. So my strongly worded outrage and promise to “never come home” was not delivered to my parents until I got back, bored, that night. My father rarely smacked me, luckily in fact, as it had no effect on my discipline or obedience simply leading to kinky sexual fantasies in later life.

All these parents who beat their children excessively were probably beaten themselves, or grew up in violent homes. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as many of these parents, now forty something, have broken the cycle and treated their children with love. Thus many people I know who are alcoholic, drug addicts or have serious mental health problems have had children who are perfectly normal and have none of these issues themselves. This gives the lie to theories that alcoholism and addiction and mental health problems are genetic or inherited: some of the people I know who are most disturbed have the most balanced children now. Trans-generational trauma is my explanation for families with generations of alcoholics, mad people and drug addicts. If you grow up in a chaotic, violent, alcoholic home, where whisky is on the menu at 9am, you are likely to become an alcoholic or some kind of addict too. A significant number of people who have eating disorders have been sexually abused.  “All You Need is Love” sang the Beatles and you do need boundaries with children as well. But if children are sure they are loved and valued by their parents you can break the cycle of madness, alcoholism and addiction now.

Believe it or not I miss my mother and wish she was here now. She wasn’t bad but she was mad and dangerous to know. If she was here, I’d sit her down in a chair and say “what the fuck was all that about?” Unfortunately her answer is something I’ll never know.

Next Saturday: Big dicks in Buenos Aires and the biggest f*** up of my journalism career