An island with the memory of youth

Allan Fotheringham May 4 1992

An island with the memory of youth

Allan Fotheringham May 4 1992

An island with the memory of youth



Seasoned students of the comics will recall Alley Oop, the Stone Age figure in a bearskin bikini with a face even more fierce than a modern linebacker. invented by a cartoonist by name of V. T. Hamlin in the early 1930s, Alley Oop—an uglier Piltdown Pete—strolling through the jungle one day came upon a giant camera. It turned out to be a time machine, into which you could walk and be transmitted at the flick of a switch to another generation, another era, another civilization.

It was a precursor of the transfer of matter—as future boffins will be able to do with us, pressing a button as we go through the geiger counter at the airport and immediately transporting our bodies to Tokyo, rathe! than going through this boring airplane business.

There is, believe me, the same sort of time machine implicit when one flies into the otherworldly island haven of Bermuda, sitting all by itself out in the Atlantic, sealed off from cares, frozen in the past.

There is the impression that one has walked back into 1942, all the blondes in picture hats, all the men in jackets and ties at all the right times of day, every building either pink or white, all of it right out of a movie script starring Sonny Tufts and Gene Tierney.

New York City authorities released a study last week revealing that the typical Manhattan cabbie—surprise!—was no longer a cigarchewing, wisecracking Irish product of Brooklyn, but in fact was more likely to be an immigrant from Africa or the Caribbean or elsewhere.

This will come as a major shock, of course, to any resident of Toronto where today’s cabbie almost certainly arrived by parachute from Chad that very morning and has no idea where the airport is, let alone a hotel or where might be the address of Aunt Annie in Mississauga. (Ottawa cab drivers hold The Guinness Book of Records mark for surliness, and every happy cabbie in Vancouver is a superannuated hippie from the Sixties, but I digress.)

In Bermuda, frozen in the 1940s, a cab driver goes by the delightful name of Llewellyn Phipps.

He is prototypical: middle-aged, gentle, polite and regards his job as rather alike to what in other cultures would be regarded as a respectable trade—a butcher perhaps, or a barber, possibly a minor-grade lawyer.

The gentility of the taxi trade extends throughout. The Coral Beach and Tennis Club sits high on a cliff looking out towards Spain. It believes in no change. It has belonged to the Smith family of Bermuda for eight generations. Ever since, as a matter of fact, Capt. Christopher Smith sailed bravely from England in 1624 on a ship named Return and, finding Bermuda a rather agreeable place, decided not to.

There was a cannon mounted on the property in 1626, the early settlers prepared to defend their island against the Spanish. About two centuries later, two guns were mounted to ward off Napoleon. Now, the only threat is the size of the bathing suits on the damsels on the sweeping white beach.

Bermuda and tennis go together, as those of us still fleet of foot know. The first two courts were laid down 53 years ago. A few months later, the first invitation tournament was held. The winner of the men’s singles, W. Donald McNeill, several months later, this now being 1940, won the United States Lawn Tennis Championship at Forest Hills. The first lady champion, if you must know, Miss Gracyn Wheeler, defeated the famous Sarah Palfrey Cooke at Forest Hills.

Ladies at the Coral Beach and Tennis Club tend to have names like Gracyn. If not Muffy and Mimi and Fluffy and Cindy. This is the New England Establishment at play. At play, but not too swift, please. At dinner, a dignified gentleman who looks like a former secretary of state moves slowly between the candlelit tables, resplendent in his blazer, club tie, Bermuda shorts, knee socks and cane. Could be a Smith, probably is.

Bermuda is perhaps the only resort in the world where you have to dress better than you do at home. This is a novel approach, since the basic idea of a holiday is to put on shorts and sandals and little else. Not so, on the island in the middle of the Atlantic.

This may be the honeymoon capital of the world, especially at Easter, and the handsome young couple in casual sweaters slipping up to the bar for a nightcap seemed appropriately happy. They lasted less than 30 seconds—a whispered word about dress code and it was back, we presume, to bed again.

The cabins are pink. The curtains are festooned with pink flowers. The bedspread is pink and white. The required costumes on the tennis court, as could be expected, are all white. Andre Agassi not.

There is a majesty in all this, of course, one redoubt in the realm where rules still count and the chaps retire for cigars and port after dinner while the ladies go elsewhere to talk about the children. It is an experience everyone should touch, a return to the days when school ties held true and F. Scott Fitzgerald was dancing in the ballroom.

Madonna would not be happy on Bermuda—nor welcome. Muffy, in her picture hat, would not be amused. The name of the daily paper is the Royal Gazette. Those of us at the Coral Beach and Tennis Club, where a tractor with a rake obliterates the footprints in the sand so the photographs will look better, approve of this last vestige of the 1940s. One keeps looking around, expecting Benny Goodman to be walking in with his clarinet.

All hail Alley Oop and the time machine.