Beverley Baxter March 15 1951


Beverley Baxter March 15 1951



Beverley Baxter

Everywhere Baxter found people who just want to live and laugh and work and love.

THE Queen Mary is rolling her way home through an illtempered slate-grey sea and a drizzling mist that lingers like a tedious guest. Many passengers find themselves mysteriously fatigued to day and intend to remain in their cabins. Others are sitting in their deck chairs gazing earnestly at a 1)00k but never seem to turn the page. A few boisterous fellows are walking the deck and even smoking pipes.

In fact I almost expect to hear these tough voyageurs burst into the old chorus:

Soon we’ll be in London Town.

Sing my lads, yo-ho;

And see the King in a golden crown. Sing my lads, yo-ho.

A white-faced woman has just remembered she left something in her state cabin. It is going to be a close thing.

Once more I am returning to London after dipping myself in the Ganges of the New World. It has been a bewildering trip in the multiplicity of impressions crowded into so short a space of time. While I am still old-fashioned enough to enjoy crossing the Atlantic in a ship I must admit that the airplane has supplied a magic carpet that makes a fool of time and distance, but crowds the mind with more than it can absorb.

Thus I have been able to visit Jamaica, the Bahamas, Florida, New York and Toronto as if they were outlying suburbs instead of far-flung territories.

What then has been the chief impression of this six weeks’ tour of the Atlantic and the Caribbean? I hope you will not consider my answer frivolous because I do not mean it to be, but my chief impression of this visit is the extraordinary number of nice people there are in the world.

Humanity is in the grip of fear and hate. Science is bending its genius to the creation of bigger and better weapons of human destruction.

The Four Horsemen ride once more and the earth is waiting to be one vast grave again. Yet in every country in the world there are friendly, kindly people who desire nothing more than to live and laugh and work and love ... It is enough to bring tears to the heart.

Perhaps we have something to learn from the natives of Jamaica in spite of the backwardness of their social and political development. One cannot defend the deplorable rate of illegitimacy and illiteracy, nor is it good for the natives or the reputation of the British Empire that ldack hoys pester visitors by begging. But if you can put these things aside there is a gentleness and natural graciousness about these dark children of the sun that is quite enchanting

There hardly seems a tree in all Jamaica that, does not bear some kind of fruit. No battle is fought against nature for survival the sun, the sea and the good earth nourish and keep you. No wonder the natives sing all day and most of the night. Their songs lack variety, and the only musical instrument is the guitar, but I never grew tired of those lazy voices and their haunting songs.

I was staying with Lord Beaverbrook at his home in Montego Bay and usually at dusk we would go for a walk. He is a great favorite with the natives who address him as “Lord” or “His Lordship” and hugely enjoy doing so. In fact we would frequently find ourselves joined by two or three natives who walked with us, laughed at our jokes but took no part in the conversation. When the Beaver would make some remark to them they would reply. “Yes, His Lordship” or “Yes, Lord,” then smile at their own social achievement.

The young women walk like goddesses, for they carry anything from heavy baskets Continued on page 38

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to clusters of bananas on their heads.

I don’t know whether our girls’ schools still make their pupils balance a plate on their heads when they walk, but they should. The graceful bearing of the Jamaican girl is something that belongs to the world of poetry.

Britain gave the Jamaicans universal suffrage too soon, and on my return to Westminster I shall support any move that a Royal Commission be sent to the island to enquire into the corruption of administration and the wicked attempts to stir up hatred between the blacks and the whites. Even in this paradise, set in a sapphire sea, the machinations of ambitious men bedevil the natural goodness of decent folk.

Yet I left Jamaica with a feeling that I had been with gentle, lovable people - and that in spite of fierce argument at Lord Beaverbrook’s table in which Premier John McNair of New Brunswick would quietly meet the onslaught and score without turning a hair, when Canadian Finance Minister Douglas Abbott would proclaim his views with all the confidence of a man who believes in his past and his future, when Paul Martin would take the argument up in a manner that showed us why he is in the running for the ultimate leadership of the Federal Liberal Party, and when Edward Molyneaux, once the fashion king of Paris, would wonder what kind of a cyclone had hit him.

Yes, there was fierce argument by night, even if we went out that selfsame door through which we came.

A Colored Man to Lunch

I did not intend to visit Nassau but had to make a plane connection there. Air travel has still a degree of uncertainty and we were informed that we would have to spend the night there as the plane from Miami would not arrive until the next morning. But, with admirable courtesy, British Overseas Airways had arranged hotel accommodation for us.

Ah well—there is something rather pleasing in noting that even progress has its inefficient moments. So this was Nassau! Sometimes it is called “the Island of Spivs” because there is no income tax. Since the British can travel there and pay all expenses with sterling it has become the winter playground of the rich, which irritates the social conscience of our Left-wing friends. I don’t know why.

Having deposited my belongings at the hotel I considered it an act of courtesy to sign the book at Government House. It was getting dark and when I had concluded that act of perfunctory politeness I would dine, see the island and go to bed.

As it happened the Governor’s car swept up to the entrance as I arrived and out got the Governor and his aide-de-camp. Ten minutes later we were drinking a cocktail, 20 minutes later the aide-de-camp sent for my things at the hotel, an hour later we went out for a dinner paiTy being given for His Excellency and at 1 o’clock in the morning I went to bed in a veranda suite of Government House to the accompaniment of distant native voices.

There really are an awful lot of nice people in the world. I was an airways passenger mislaid for a night on an island in the Caribbean. Let us agree that the Governor of the Bahamas, Major-General Robert Neville, is the King’s representative and that I am a member of His Majesty’s Loyal Oppo-

sition—to that extent we work for the same firm—but he could have discharged his duty with one cocktail or even a cup of tea.

“I am going to make a break with tradition,” he told me. “I intend next week to invite a colored man to lunch here. He is a Bahamian of high character.” Then his eyes twinkled. This governor will leave his stamp upon the Bahamas.

I was only in Miami for three hours and did not see the famous beach but already the neon civilization of the American age is commercializing and uglifying its palm-tree elegance. The motor cars patrol the streets in an endless cavalcade and the shops and restaurants bid for the tourist dollar with increasing efficiency and intensity. There are beautiful homes and elegant avenues but one feels that, like the Bourbons, they belong to the spacious past.

Perhaps I was prejudiced, but the unspoiled beauty of Jamaica had left me unprepared for this Los-Angeles-onSea called Miami.

The plane to New York was like a long railway car with rows of seats divided into three on the right and two on the left. Five hours of sitting beside a man one does not know, five hours of complete immobility and nothing to see. Airplane travel is the swiftest but the most boring method of transport ever intended.

Yet, even as I thought these harsh things, we circled over the Hudson at night with gleaming necklaces of light marking the streets and avenues of incomparable New York. You could not see such glory from a train or the deck of a ship. Perhaps it was worth that turgid five hours in the plane to soar like an eagle over the glittering Babylon of the West.

An hour later I was in bed being lulled to sleep by the symphony of New York traffic scored only for horns. The lapping of the waves in far-off Jamaica, the lazy singing of the natives, the sibilant silence of the Caribbean nights . . . slowly they faded before the traffic symphony.

New York was in a hurry. It always is.

Each time I come to New York I find myself offended by its cynicism and startled by its naïveté. The real New Yorker is a human paradox, a credulous creature who believes in nothing, a cynic who is easily moved to tears, a patriot who mocks his own country, a seeker and waster of wealth, an isolationist with his roots in the Old World, a harsh critic of Britain and a generous host to any visiting Britisher, the guarantor of world peace

with a secret longing to go fishing and let the world look after itself.

What an incredible city it is; what a mad, fascinating, irritating, imposing, place! I lunched with Roy Howard, the multiple newspaper king, at a club a mile or so in the air and watched the motor care like two endless lines of beetles. Then we saw a tiny ship like something in a doll’s playhouse, the quaintest, smallest toy ship you ever saw. And now I am writing on that ship as the great liner rolls its way home to England.

I come away more grateful than ever for the role America is playing in the world, but more convinced than ever that we cannot leave the civilized world to American leadership.

She needs the experience and wisdom of wise old John Bull and his sons who have set up branches across the seas. Against American impetuosity we must balance the instinct of the Britisher who knows the meaning of a misty moon and can tell when there’s rain on the hills. When America thinks that something has happened for the first time the Britisher must remind him that there is nothing new in the world and that there is a precedent for almost everything.

In a few hours I shall be back in London Town and will make my way to the old Mother of Parliaments to see how she has weathered the parliamentary recess. When I get a chance to speak I wish I could possess the courage to turn to the Chair and say:

“Mr. Speaker, I have returned to this House after traveling many thousands of miles, and I bring great news. Goodness and kindness have not died. Everywhere in all lands there are decent human beings, children of God though they be of different color and of many tongues. The human heart still beats and the human conscience is awake. Let this House take courage, Mr. Speaker. Humanity is on the march.”

The strange thing is that the Mother of Parliaments would understand, even though Mr. Speaker might take the view that it had nothing to do with the subject under discussion. ★