Joyce huffed and puffed, causing macho men to tremble

The woes of the past few weeks required a period a long, long way from home, in a faraway place with a strange-sounding name. I chose Grenada, in the eastern Caribbean, off-season in tourist terms, which means instant departure, cheap flights and cheap accommodation. I arrived at a tiny cove, carved lazily out of Caribbean rock. The sea is invitingly calm, the day warm, but, like everywhere in the Caribbean, nothing is what it seems.

On the third day came the news of Hurricane Joyce, making her way out of the south-east trade winds and heading for the islands. We were to learn a new discipline: hurricane watch. We taped windows and battened down the hatches. Joyce was "kicking brass" at 120mph, with an intense eye, stalking a wide area.

Nothing has yet surpassed the intensity of Janet, the hurricane of my youth that was made immortal in a calypso: "Janet hide in the mountain/Janet blow away a million building/Janet sister was Katie/Janet blow away the whole of Miami."

I know that progressives have long argued against the naming of hurricanes after women. But the calypsonian recognised the wills and wiles of the sorority, and implicitly warned us of the devastating reply to Caribbean machismo. And Grenada is the land of machismo, of tall, dark-skinned, physically powerful men who have retained that elegant and imposing African presence. Their macho style is legendary.

I was sitting at the bar, and one of the regulars told his tale. He had taken to beating his wife. "Ah only hit she a few lash from time to time." He found that rather normal. As he heaped his sorrows upon me, the barmaid smiled. He tells his story to any new visitor. His wife took her case to the local magistrate and got a restraining order. He could not return to his home, although he must continue to pay the mortgage. Now, he told me, he has to pass the house daily, and a Rasta man sits in the porch with both legs cocked high, smoking a spliff. As he left the bar I shouted, Marley-style, "Rastafari!"

And now Joyce, stamping her feet just off Tobago, swivelling her loose hips with a huff and a puff, reduces macho men to mere shadows. Hour after hour, we were warned that she was coming, at a reduced speed, but suspected of being a tease and a taunt. Big men who, just hours before, had been strutting their stuff now buckled and whinged before this powerful female presence, their voices reduced to a whimper. They were off home, locked in, knees trembling as Joyce sashayed across Barbados, bombarding roofs, tossing and turning fixed objects into flying missiles.

The local weather office at Port Salines airport in Grenada hinted that Joyce was playing tricks, dangling carrots in front of frightened men. She had slowed down to puffing winds of 40mph. She had become a tropical storm instead of a hurricane. But she could not be trusted.

In the end, we were spared, with strong breezes. Joyce spat showers of rain, swivelled on her heels and charged out to open sea.

If any island needed to be spared, it is Grenada. Seventeen years ago, one half of the government executed the other half and murdered more than 120 citizens. President Reagan's troops invaded, and a hell of a firefight ensued between them and Cuban workers at the airport, who were supported by young Grenadian soldiers. A blood-spattered island is slowly recovering from this traumatic experience.

Expectations were severely crushed once more when the newsreader on the radio announced that my friend Rosie Douglas, the prime minister of Dominica, had been found dead in his bed on Sunday morning. Just a few months ago, in April, I interviewed him for the Channel 4 programme Trouble in Paradise. I probed his thoughts and tested his ideas in a way I had not done in more than 35 years of friendship. Gloom returned to my tortured head. I shed a tear and whispered: "Farewell my friend."

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 09 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Schools that teach children to lie