In the process of writing, rewriting, editing and finalizing a book much gets scratched, binned and discarded. In my personal experience little of that material ever makes it out of the process alive: it either gets reworked or buried deep inside the trash can. In the case of The Night of the Rambler there are two rare exceptions to this rule:
- “Cold War” is a stand-alone piece of short short fiction I etched as a trial for a section of the novel. It found a home in the WEEKender supplement of Sint Maarten’s The Daily Herald on July 30th 2011 and then appeared in the online magazine The Island Review on January 22nd 2014. Click here to read “Cold War”.
- And then there is the following, a historical summary that was edited out of the novel at an early stage for reasons that I trust will become fairly evident as soon as you start to read. Nevertheless, somehow this fragment survived, stored in some hard drive backup, so here it goes:
Anguilla is a tiny dot of not-too-much-land, ten miles long and four miles wide at its bulkiest point. Its total area is roughly 35 square miles of shallow, arid ground over sandstone, which, at its highest, towers a couple of hundred feet above the sea. Anguilla owes its name (eel, in either French, Spanish or Franish) to its flat, snake-like shape, although nobody—not even local Amerindians—bothered to inhabit the island permanently until well over one and a half centuries after it was christened by European sailors passing by.
Then, some desperate outlaws escaped from St. Kitts and settled Anguilla roundabout the year 1650. Their choice of island would come to be regretted by them (they were obliterated by a Carib raid a few years later) and by British politicians many centuries later. Be that as it may, the new settlers found very little in Anguilla, and very little that was exploitable (much the same found by the invading British troops in 1969), yet they decided to stick to their original plans, to try to work a miracle and make a living in a desert island. Which tells us as much about their mental sanity as it does about the situation in which they must have been caught in St. Kitts, but that’s another story.
Either way, after a few ups and many downs, it became evident to a minor bureaucrat in the British Empire two centuries later that the experiment had failed. Famine, drought and extreme poverty had convinced the post-slavery British rule that Anguilla was unsuitable for human living condition (fit only for goats, I think was the official line of thought), so they prepared a plan to evacuate the entire population to a large number of destinations, but predominantly to the continental colony of Demerara. Twice.
Of course, the fact that I write this, and more so, the fact that you read it, tells you already that both plans failed. Following the second unsuccessful attempt to dispense with the colony of Anguilla, the Crown decided to lump a bunch of islands together in some sort of overarching Federation. Among these islands counted St. Kitts and Anguilla, joined, despite the sixty-five miles that lie between them, into one “Presidency”. This decision, too, would come to be regretted by senior British politicians. Then again, you show me a diplomatic move taken by British officials which the country has not yet come to regret and I’ll show you an impending crisis in the future.
Meanwhile, a war was fought in Europe to end all wars. And then there was another conflict. Thus, ironically, the first war after the end of all wars came to be known as the Second World War. Go figure. Britain emerged victorious from both wars, but the country was in tatters. All of a sudden, having an Empire was more a burden than a benefit, and, although the Caribbean is well west of Eden, arrangements were made for the creation of an independent republic in the region, the Federation of the West Indies. It would comprise the ten entities previously aligned in the Federation of the Leeward Islands and the Colony of the Windward Islands—which included dozens of islands of different size, nature and cultural background. I suppose by now you might have a vague idea of how successful this new arrangement would turn out to be.
And yet, on the second day of August 1956, the British Caribbean Federation Act received Royal Assent, setting in motion the legislative machinery that eventually would see the official establishment of the Federation of the West Indies, on January 3, 1958. The ten-Presidency state was dominated by the overbearing presence of its two most important players: Jamaica and Trinidad. But the feeling in Jamaica was that Federation was a burden for the country—moreover, one that brought very little benefit in return. In September 1961 a referendum was called in Jamaica to decide upon the question of secession from the Federation. The separatist initiative won the campaign and Jamaica left the union in order to seek it own independence from Great Britain. This led more or less directly to Trinidad’s Prime Minister, Eric Williams, using basic arithmetic to illustrate the future of the state by asserting that “one from ten leaves nought.” Without Jamaica and Trinidad, the two poles of the organisation, the “Little Eight” had little hope, indeed, of succeeding. The Federation collapsed in January 1962.