Beatin’ de ‘Jack’.
I had been on the island for a matter of a few weeks. On Saturday 14th October Linton Rigg was holding a party for Carriacouan dignitaries. This coincided with Mr Alleyne’s birthday and he’d arranged his own celebration at his house in Back Street.
Up to this point I had largely avoided drinking any spirits and had stuck to ‘Carib’ and Heineken. I had been told about the mighty kick of ‘Jack Iron’ and had ‘fired one’ now and again. ‘Jack’ is a contraband rum of around 70 – 90% proof used for blending purposes but smuggled (at that time) into Carriacou where it was drunk neat, chased by a glass of water or Sprite. ‘Remember to breathe out’ was Goot’s advice on downing the fiery spirit.
‘Jack’, as a drink, was surrounded by stories, rumours, myths and legends. It was as if Carriacou and ‘Jack’ were an inseparable, interdependent duo. The rum came in by boat, carried from other islands. It was, as far as I could gather, smuggled in and carried to various rum shops around the island in large 5 gallon bottles called ‘demi-johns’. Rumour had it that when the police car and motor cycle went screaming out of town late at night heading for Harvey Vale it was usually an indication that rum was being landed in Windward at the opposite end of the island. Or was this just a case of bad intelligence?
Another story suggested that a regular supply was dropped off for the police as they sojourned elsewhere. It all added to the legend and the mystery of the trade. It was bought in a coke or sprite bottle without labels. At dances different groups had their own coke bottles standing in different corners. Everyone knew their own bottles which would be visited periodically during the evening as groups perambulated round the hall. They would then ‘Fire One’, chat, ‘lime’ and move on. And so it was that this symbiotic relationship translated into some very pleasant, well oiled evenings. The real danger came when the ‘Jack’ bit back and its bite, as I was to find out, could be pretty lethal.
On this occasion Marion had cooked up a feast for Goot’s birthday and we gathered afterwards on the balcony to drink and discuss the ways of the world. And so, tempted by the convivial nature of the company and the excitement of the various discussions I launched into a proper trial with the ‘jack’. I had been warned that ‘jack’ can be a real adversary not to be tampered with lightly. Youth and ignorance conspired to help me disregard such good advice.
Late in the evening the conversation turned to cricket. Both Goot and Marion were experts on the subject and talk turned to the coming test match between England and the WI. When the England team were touring the WI Goot always supported them, largely, I suspected, in order to promote debate. On this occasion, as on many others, the discussion became somewhat lively. I gradually found it more and more difficult to make myself heard (or so my fuddled head told me) and in order to make a particular point I climbed on to the balustade of the balcony.
A few seconds later, in an unreal moment, my feet lost contact with mother Earth. I seemed to have been lifted upwards involuntarily and I found myself rotating backwards and descending slowly and silently through the air. I remember the silence and wondering what was happening. As the back of my head hit the ground I saw a shower of stars in front of me, then my legs hit me about the head as they arrived to join the rest of my crumpled body.
I lay there in a heap but eventually managed to stand up and saw the concerned faces of Paddy and Rodge in front of me. ‘I’m ok I think,’ was all I could mutter and after checking me over the two guided me across Back street, past the college and up the steps of Mr and Mrs Mott’s Guest house where I said, ‘Goodnight’. That’s the last I remember until some twelve hours later when I felt the warmth of the Sun coming through my bedroom window and heard the voice of Bill Mott saying, ‘You’re awake. Thank God for that’.
I had no recollection of what had happened. I obviously had had concussion and it transpired I’d been violently sick and stroppy (sorry Bill and Louise). Later that day when I went to look at my landing place I discovered I had come down on a shoulder width patch of sand, between a concrete slab and the steps leading up to the balcony. I baulked at just how lucky I had been. I spent the rest of the day feeling as though I was floating on air. My head and body felt as though they belonged to someone else.
In the aftermath of this incident I found that every time I even saw a bottle of ‘jack’ I had to quickly run to the ‘heads’ to throw up. On coming out Goot would make me down a glass and I would immediately return the contents in full.
This ‘torture’ went on for some days with Goot determined that I would ‘beat de jack’. Finally, one afternoon I downed the ‘devil’ and kept it down. Goot was delighted and told everyone within earshot that I had ‘beaten de jack’. I wasn’t so sure but I did treat ‘Jack Iron’ with a lot more respect from that point on.