Tag Archives: Bermuda

A week in Bermuda: the perfect holiday!

An itinerary for visitors:

Having had a series of visitors during this last year I realised that the itinerary we used for them might be of interest to others. So here it is:

Day 1: Meet at airport, drive to home (or hotel) and sit in garden with cool drinks, listen to tree frogs and wait for the sunset. If your visitors have come from UK then keep them awake until past 9pm – they will still wake early but won’t be asking for breakfast at 4am the next day. The BA flight arrives around supper time but the passengers are very well fed generally, +/- wine, so I have discovered the best solution to “do we have supper?” is a bacon roll with a glass of wine. If you are island visitors staying in a hotel then perhaps a bowl of Fish Chowder – practically every restaurant/eating place serves this.

On the water.

On the water.

Day 2: This might depend on which day of the week it happens to be, so the days are interchangeable with the basic premise of “just one big thing each day”. So this day is a Kayak paddle with snorkelling. It does help if you have your own kayak and water access but even if not there are plenty of places to hire kayaks. We are lucky enough to have water access into Harrington Sound so we paddled across to Trunk Island and swam around the shallow waters there, good site for the snorkel-naive to practise.

Experiments with GoPro (image with permission from SL)

If based at the West End then Mangrove Bay and the islands around there would work just as well. For our last visitors we did a picnic lunch and took them into Hamilton for dinner. This coincided with Harbour Night, gombeys and craft stalls along Front Street. At the moment Harbour Night is only during the peak summer months, but I did see a news article that it might be extended later into the Autumn or that the Winter tourist program might have a similar event on a regular basis. Gombeys are amazing so if you don’t catch them at Harbour night look out for the Saturdays in the Park at Queen Elizabeth Park (Par-la-ville) or if it’s winter then Tuesday’s at Pier 6 along Front Street.
For dinner my recommendation is Angelo’s in the Walker Arcade, good menu, pleasant ambience and always tasty food. Of course that depends on your budget, but I am assuming you don’t wish to take out a mortgage to fund your island holiday.

Image with permission from SL.

Image with permission from SL.

Day 3: Start with a Jetski adventure. See previous post for suggestions. This was probably my son’s favourite activity, the girls on the other hand were “glad we have done it but never again” – with varying degrees of tremor when they finished! Substitutions for this would be a Wildcat Round the Island tour or one of the Boat trips around the Great Sound.
After the Jetski we visited the small Hayden Chapel, with a bottle of water and half an hour to watch the view or read a book. If you are closer to the East End then this would be a brief visit to Tucker House in St George or to Carter House on St David’s Island.
For lunch we visited the Southampton Princess Hotel – their Pulled Pork Tacos are delicious and I recommend the strawberry lemonade. I understand the cocktails here are also good, but I was driving 😟

The afternoon is for one or more of the South Shore beaches.

Image by SL

Image by SL

Day 4: In the morning visit Miles Market to pick up a picnic lunch then hire a Boston Whaler from Grotto Bay for the afternoon – 1-5pm, very reasonable cost at $140 plus fuel. Remember sun lotion, hats, snorkels and water.
If you wish to have a slightly bigger boat I would suggest St George, Mangrove Bay or Somerset. The advantage of doing this in Castle Harbour is the wreck off Nonsuch Island and the almost deserted beach that is only accessible by boat. Round this off with a drink at the bar at Grotto Bay or Swizzle Inn, then supper at home. I chose not to cook so a take-out from East meets West solved that issue.

Day 5: Dockyard, Glass-bottom boat, Mini-golf with a drive back via the sea-glass beach. To be honest the glass bottom part of the boat trip is the hook to get you on the boat, you don’t actually see that much under the boat, but what you do get is a gentle chug out to the Wreck of the Vixen, a feeding frenzy of bream, chub and snapper and maybe a few turtles on the way. Oh, and a rum swizzle! This is very reasonably priced at $45 per person and the tour guides are great. We were on a boat piloted by the youngest Captain on the island who started driving boats at the age of 4 – he is a little older than that now!
Don’t like mini-golf? What’s not to like – our very sceptical visitor was a convert after the first six holes, or was that just because each set of six ended up at the bar?



Day 6: Tobacco Bay for an early snorkel – before 10:30 the visibility is best as after that people kick up sand and you have to go further out in order to see the big fish. Then take a walk to the end of the little promontory with a can of drink and sit watching the parrot fish around the rock towers. That brings you to around midday for lunch at Blackbeards Restaurant, just around the corner overlooking Achilles Bay. I would highly recommend the scallops wrapped in bacon. Sun cream and hat are vital here if you want to sit and look out at the sea while you eat.

Replete with lunch you take a drive to St David’s Island for a gentle walk along Cooper’s Island nature reserve. The second and third beach along from Clearwater Bay are just amazing, white sand, unspoilt, turquoise sea, everything that’s good about Bermuda.

Then to cap this day off I suggest a Sunset Cruise. Our last visitors went with AnaLuna Adventures and they asked me to give the company five stars in the TripAdviser Review – they sailed to Flatts Inlet, swam around the island there and then off into the sunset with champagne. Idyllic.


Day 7: This is where you have some choices to make : shopping in Hamilton, any of the museums, a wander in the Botanic Gardens or perhaps a walk along the railway trail at Baileys Bay. It is your last evening so a meal out perhaps? We enjoyed a relaxed meal at La Trattoria, good choice on their menu, and attentive wait staff (my husband suggested that was down to having two beautiful young ladies with us, but whatever, they were fun).

Day 8: A brief trip to the Zoo/Aquarium (it still isn’t fully open yet but at least what they have done is looking very good, much better displays than previously) and then drive into St George for the Ducking Stool at 12:30. Note this doesn’t happen on Friday or Sunday so you may need to shift days around. It was pouring with rain when we went this week, but the Town Crier announced that he wouldn’t let a bit of rain prevent the wench from getting what she deserved! So we all got soaked in one way or another.
End the week with a bacon butty and glass of wine looking out across the water.

Prescription: Seven day course of treatment. Repeat often, prn (when required) with food and wine.

Tribe Matters: Devonshire

The Tribes of Bermuda

The Tribes of Bermuda

Tribe:  a social division of people defined by a common characteristic

Early on in the colonial history Bermuda was divided into tribes which were further subdivided into shares.  The painstaking work that this entailed fell to Richard Norwood, a teacher from England.  Each tribe was 1,250 acres and each share was 25 acres – the divisions in straight lines across from North shore to South shore making plots of land of varying width but crucially each with access to a portion of coast. There were 8 tribes divided in this way, with St George’s and several other discrete islands remaining as company land. The tribe was then named after the Adventurer who had purchased most share within that tribe.

Thus the tribes were named:

  • Sandys – Sir Edwyn Sandys
  • Southampton – Henry Wrothesley, Earl of Southampton
  • Mansil’s – Robert Mansell aka Mansfleid (who later sold his shares to Earl of Warwick)
  • Paget – William Paget, Fourth Lord Paget
  • Pembroke – William Herbert, Third Earl of Pembroke
  • Cavendish – William Cavendish who became First Earl of Devonshire
  • Smith’s – Sir Thomas Smith
  • Bedford’s – Lady Lucy Harrington, Countess of Bedford (later sold to James Hamilton)

They were referred to as Tribes up to 1684, presumably as churches were established within them. The remnants of the earlier naming is seen in the multiple “Tribe Roads” that dissect the island perpendicular to the long roads.  To call them roads is somewhat ambitious – some only wide enough to roll a barrel.

I have focussed first on Devonshire because that’s where I am living.

William Cavendish is, I have discovered, a common name – the one in question was born 1552 and died 1626 and was the First Earl of Devonshire, but research is complicated by unimaginative naming of children, all William, with the occasional Henry thrown in randomly.

William Cavendish must have had a large extended family – his father had three wives and his Mother married four times, dissatisfaction as much as death prompting the changes.  Anyhow, he was the second son of (predictably) William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick.  Second son? Yes, Henry was an embarrassment to his Mother who disowned him so William became her favourite.

William Cavendish, First Earl of Devonshire. (1552-1626)

William Cavendish, First Earl of Devonshire. (1552-1626)


















Some of my English readers will recognise the “Devonshire ” and correctly link him to Chatsworth House (in Derbyshire, just to confuse everyone).  This now enormous estate was originally purchased by William’s father for £600; his money came from land he had amassed in his name during the dissolution of the monasteries – he was Privy Councillor and Treasurer to Henry VIII.  Sadly William the elder lived only long enough to conceive three sons and spend just five years owning Chatsworth – maybe three wives is not such a good idea. So at the age of 5, our William was left fatherless, with two not-so-very-nice stepfathers to come.

He was educated at Eton, Cambridge and Gray’s Inn.  He didn’t inherit his vast estates until he was 56 when his mother died leaving him four impressive estates in the English Midlands.  William was a Member of Parliament for two years – first for Liverpool (1586) and then for Newport, Cornwall (1587).  It might seem odd that he represented areas so far from his family home, but explained by the acrimonious relationship with his stepfather George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.  In 1605 William became Baron Cavendish, step one on the ladder to peerage. Debrett’s informs that he advanced to the dignity of Earl of Devonshire in 1618.

William married Anne Keighley, a fecund lady who gave birth to 6 children in 8 years; of course they named the eldest William. They hired Thomas Hobbes, later philosopher, as tutor to the young boy, a relationship lasting over 20 years and enabling Hobbes himself to invest in The Somers Island Company.  Inevitably this new William became Earl of Devonshire and so on almost ad infinitum (current incumbent is called Peregrine, and it’s a Dukedom now)

All that is preamble to explaining how he managed to own 10 shares of land in the parish of (now) Devonshire.  fellow parishioners included Pennistone, Dike, Barnard, West, Lukin, Ditchfield, Nicholls, Fletcher, Delaune, Roger, Palmer and Rich.  Of course, it is unlikely that many if any of them actually came to Bermuda, preferring absentee landlord status – the rules are tighter these days.

It has been hard to find anything pertaining to the character of  William Cavendish. One small extract from “History of The Virginia Company” by Edward Duffield Neill describes how Cavendish quarrelled with Earl of Warwick, each calling the other a liar over a matter not detailed.  It is said that he challenged Warwick to a duel and that the Privy Council subsequently blocked the ports of England to prevent them reaching the continent (were duels perhaps banned in England ?)  Cavendish was apprehended at Shoreham, Essex , but Warwick reached Ghent.  The whole incident contributed to the Virginia Company Charter being declared null and void in 1624. It is said that their wives remained friends throughout.

Devonshire has for its coat of arms that of the Cavendish Family.

Bermuda stamp

Bermuda stamp

Sable (black) shield

3 stags heads caboshed (cut of behind the ears)

coronet of an Earl – silver balls on points with gold strawberry leaves between

Cavendish green serpent

2 rampant stag supporters



This is the sign along South Road approaching Devonshire from Smiths (needs a soapy brush)IMG_2062

Out and About

Who would give you a car wash for your birthday?

Who would give you a car wash for your birthday?


I had the car washed this morning – one of those that pulls you through which is always a scary experience. As a new customer I was given this leaflet and I must say I had never thought of buying someone a carwash as a birthday present.  I have to thank Chuck because I have inherited his unused points and points can be exchanged for soapsuds 🙂





Camouflaged zebra

Camouflaged zebra


Outside my husband’s office they have resurfaced the road and this is how they have reinstated the pedestrian crossing!






Car park round the back

Car park round the back 


Just up from here, I think it might be called Park Road, there is the junction where you fail a driving test: coming from Wesley Street you turn right into what looks like a one way street but for about 15 feet it is two-way and if you don’t pull over to the left, well, sorry, you have just failed.






From a tourist guide book 1952

From a tourist guide book 1952


or get her a pink bike?


Bus stop

  Bus stop

Maybe not suited for wheelchairs

Maybe not suited for wheelchairs


North Shore Road, outside a primary school – double buggy not such a good idea!




















Why do the guns point inland?      Alexandra Battery

Why do the guns point inland? Alexandra Battery

Old fire hydrant

Old fire hydrant

New fire hydrant

New fire hydrant







Leaking tree

Leaking tree


Paget Marsh is a boardwalk through dense vegetation, a nature reserve run by the Bermuda National Trust.




Aerial roots

Aerial roots







No door

No door











No self-respecting girl...

No self-respecting girl…

Clothes to pack 1952 Travel Guide to Bermuda

Clothes to pack











HMS Bermuda Floating Dock

When you first explore Spanish Point you may be forgiven for wanting to go home and contact Greenpeace about dumping at sea. For, sitting in the mouth of Stoves Bay is a rusty hulk, which, if not quite of Brobdingnagian proportions, dominates the view across to Dockyard.  If it wasn’t there you could see past Long Point to Cobblers Island, Lapstone, Nets Rock and beyond Hogfish Beacon across the Great Sound Ledge to Pepperpot Beacon and Cockburn’s Cut. It is from across the water that this sad skeletal shell originated. Once, tidily tucked behind the safety of the South Breakwater, it was HMS Bermuda Floating Dock.

Installation at Dockyard 1869

Installation at Dockyard 1869


If you think of Bermuda as a giant fish-hook then Ireland island is the tip of the hook, the far end of Middle Road, the last of the rocky outcrops connected by short bridges, reaching out into the deeper waters of the oddly named Grassy Bay.  Ferry across the Great Sound is the quickest route.





A patient explanation from my husband told me that while small boats can be careened (nautical jargon for tilted) to one side for repairs and cleaning, larger ships require some form of dry-docking. Bermuda limestone is too soft and porous for a water-tight dry dock construction (which is also the explanation of occasional wet walls indoors in old Bermuda homes) so an alternative solution was necessary.

The floating dock was proposed by Lord Clarence Paget in 1866:

The only further work connected with this Vote relates to the proposed dock at Bermuda, We propose to construct a great iron floating dock, and there have been various plans before us for the execution of this work. One of these is quite of a novel and ingenious character. I do not venture to describe it, but I intend to lay a model of it in the Library, that hon. Members may see it for themselves. The plan, although it is one of a hydraulic first-class dock, dispenses almost altogether with any steam machinery; and, what is still more remarkable, the inventor proposes to build it here and to go out in it. (from Hansard, Commons Sittings)

The model mentioned in the above paragraph is kept at the Science Museum, London.  The design was patented by James Campbell and construction began at Woolwich in 1866.

The dock was 381 feet long by 123 feet wide and 74 feet deep. This was big enough to take ships of the Bellerophon class.

HMS Bellerophon 1866

HMS Bellerophon 1866

The building was completed by 1868.  It cost  £247,589 5s. 7d. to build. (Hansard)

Two steam-sail ironclads, HMS Agincourt and HMS Northumberland towed the dock as far as Madeira, then HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince, the most powerful ironclads of the fleet, took it across the Atlantic.  A sail was placed inside the U-shaped dock to make use of following winds and HMS Terrible guided the stern for the whole journey.

35-day Atlantic journey, 1869

35-day Atlantic journey, 1869


July 4th 1869 as they left Ponto Santo

(National Maritime Museum)





There is a picture of HMS Warrior resting inside the floating dock with the dock in an elevated position – this is taken from an engraving by Thomas Dutton, but is historically inaccurate – it never happened – more a product of his imagination.

Thomas Dutton Engraving

Thomas Dutton Engraving

The dock was used through until 1906; more than 78 lifts are documented in the Dockyard records.

Intrepid in bermuda Dock  ? date  from Battleships-cruisers.co.uk

Intrepid in Bermuda Dock (?date)
from Battleships-cruisers.co.uk








But after 40 years service she was no longer big enough to manage the Royal Navy Dreadnought class of the early 1900s. (Confusingly the navy re-use ship names so the famous Flagship HMS Dreadnought of 1906 was actually the sixth ship of that name)










The next part of the story, how the dock ended up ay Spanish Point, has two versions and I have not been able to unravel the truth.  Two Bermudian experts, Edward Harris and Richard Gould, have tried before me.  The former describes the arrival of the floating dock at


But it is Richard Gould who provides detail of the dismantling process and proposes a story to explain how it becomes abandoned. In 1996 Gould and Souza published results of an archeological exploration of the wreck  – History and Archaeology of HM Floating Dock Bermuda, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 1996 25,1:4 20. They quote from an unpublished diary of a dock worker at the time, D Barrit, who described the arrival of German ship-breakers in January 1907. It took over a year to remove the copper, bronze and brass which was done in-situ at the dockyard, then in March 1908 tugs hauled the remains to the opposite shore and secured it with anchors and hawsers.  Subsequently it seems the hulk broke free of the restraints during storms and drifted to block the mouth of the bay.

In April 1908 a Certificate of Abandonment was issued.

The wreck of the floating dock

The wreck of the floating dock

In the mid twentieth century attempts were made to reduce the wreckage with dynamite. It was partially successful and opened up a channel through for small boats, but the remains are still clearly visible. When we were there this weekend a heron was using the elevation to find its lunch, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera.

Does it fall under UNESCO’s underwater heritage protection rules?

Is it heritage or an eyesore?


Bermuda Fish Chowder

Fish Chowder with Sherry Peppers and Rum

Fish Chowder with Sherry Peppers and Rum

The first time I ate Bermuda fish chowder was when we came over here on an exploratory visit in March 2013, at the Royal Palms Hotel  (the hotel just voted by TripAdvisor as the best in the Bermuda and best in Caribbean – though Bermuda isn’t actually a Caribbean island). It was a Sunday evening, quite late as our plane had been delayed, and officially they had finished serving food – but kindly they made us two large bowls of fish chowder, so far still the best I have tasted on the island. (As an aside, this degree of hospitality was shown throughout our stay and we used the hotel as our first base on island while we were finding a home – they will store your luggage, order taxis, advise on anything, offer laundry service and at 5:30 every evening open a bottle or two of wine for happy hour)

Anyhow, back to fish chowder. This is nothing like the clam chowder served in New England or the Irish seafood chowder with prawns, though I am sure they taste very nice,  – expect more a thick dark red-brown spicy meal enhanced by a large dash of sherry peppers and rum.  I suppose it is the fish version of Brown Windsor Soup, but that particular soup lost any popularity from being the staple starter offered by Fawlty Towers, the 70’s British sit-com with John Cleese as incompetent proprietor of a hotel where you’d only stay once.

Bermuda fish chowder is delicious!

First I will give you the recipe:

Outerbridge’s Bermuda Fish Chowder

Ingredients (makes lots – probably enough for 10)

4 Quarts water
1 ½ Pounds white fish fillets
Spices: thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, ground cloves
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons oil
3 Large onions, chopped
8 Stalks celery, chopped
1 Garlic clove, minced
2 Green peppers, chopped
1 Can (28 oz, 794g) whole tomatoes, chopped
1 Can (10 oz, 285g) beef consomme
1 Cup catsup (ketchup)
½ Cup chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 Teaspoons lemon juice
2 Pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
6 Carrots, diced
1 Jigger (2 ounces) Gosling’s Black Seal Rum 
4 Tablespoons Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers Sauce
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, put water, fish fillets, salt and spices. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and let simmer for 30 – 45 minutes.
2. In a frying pan, melt butter and oil and briefly sauté onions, celery, garlic and green peppers. Then add tomatoes and consommé and simmer covered for 30 minutes.
3. Transfer this mixture to the fish stock and add remaining ingredients. Simmer partially covered for 2 hours. Adjust seasoning.

Serve soup piping hot and pass around Outerbridge’s Original Sherry Peppers Sauce and Gosling’s Black Seal rum   





Gosling’s Rum Bermuda Fish Chowder

Ingredients ( makes enough for a large family)

4 qts water
2 lbs fish fillets (Rockfish, Sea Bass) or 5 lbs Grouper heads
1 tbs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
20 peppercorns
¼ tsp ground cloves
2 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
3 large Bermuda onions, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers
28 oz can of chopped tomatoes
1½ cup good chicken broth
1 cup catsup (ketchup)
½ cup parsley, chopped
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 lbs potatoes peeled, small dice
6 large carrots peeled, small dice
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
4 tbs sherry peppers

1. In a large pot bring the water to a boil and put in the fish fillets, salt and spices. Lower flame and simmer for 45 minutes.

2. In an another cauldron large enough to contain all of the ingredients melt the butter and oil together and sauté the onions and garlic until just golden. Add the celery and green peppers and sauté another few minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Strain the fish stock into the cauldron. Pick out the fish and add it to the pot as well, discard the spices. Add the remaining vegetables to the pot and simmer partially covered for two hours.

The soup should be thickened, but not thick and be a dark reddish-brown and very aromatic.  At the end of the cooking time add the sherry peppers sauce and Black Seal Rum. 

You will probably notice the two important ingredients :  Sherry Peppers and Rum

Sherry peppers are pimentos marinated in sherry for several months.  They appear to have originated from sailing ships who used them to mask the taste of dubious food and since nineteenth century Bermuda was a mix of maritime and agriculture it was a small step to start producing this on island.  Outerbridge’s is, I believe, the only commercial producer on the island and possibly the only anywhere.  Their website gives a detailed history and tells you there are 17 extra herbs and spices in the mix.


If you don’t want to pay $7 for a 5oz bottle then you could try making your own – I found one recipe using sherry, grated ginger and Scotch bonnet peppers that you marinate for 2 weeks, then add 1 cinnamon stick and 10 peppercorns for another 2 weeks before finally adding 25 cloves and 1 whole crushed nutmeg for the final 2 weeks.  For me it seems easiest to buy the bottle. It can be used for other things, in bloody mary’s I am told.

The other local ingredient is Gosling’s rum. The Gosling family have been in Bermuda since 1806, so not as long as the Outerbridge family who arrived in 1620, shortly after the colony started.  But long enough to establish a most profitable business in wines and liquors.  Black Seal Rum gets its name from the black sealing wax (when I was a child I thought his was ceiling wax and wondered how candle wax got onto the ceiling in the first place) that they used to stopper the bottles.  Incidentally, mix Black Seal Rum with ginger beer (also made by Goslings) and you have a Dark’n’Stormy – a very good rum cocktail, so my daughter informs me.


Obviously the other main ingredient is fish – wahoo is recommended but I don’t know how easy it is to get that in England if thats where you are  (Update: it is available, from frozenfishdirect.co.uk but its not cheap).   I watched a cookery demonstration and she recommended any meaty fish. One of the above recipes calls for grouper heads – not exactly something I have to hand.  (extra note – the demonstrator cook’s advice was to add the bay leaves towards the end and fish them out before serving)

You will also see above they call for Bermuda onions – thats a whole other post so you will have to wait for the rundown on those.

I looked up the origin of the word chowder, expecting perhaps an Indian origin and was surprised to read that it probably comes from the French term chaudier for stewpot. The word cauldron is linked.  The OED suggests caldaria, Latin for a place for warming things.  Another site informed me that a chowder is differentiated from a bisque by potato rather than cream as it’s thickening agent.

The oldest documented chowder recipe seems to have been in 1751 from the Boston Evening Post, but I expect that was a New England clam chowder – Bermuda fish chowder never has clams or shellfish in it.  In the nineteenth century recipes began to appear in cookery books:

  • 1828 The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph
  • 1832 The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Child
  • 1841 The Good Housekeeper by Sarah Hale

Aren’t they brilliant names – reminds me of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook that my Mother gave me when I got married.  Might have been used more if given to my husband.

You might be asking where you should go to get Bermuda fish chowder, but I have to say I have not tried all possible sources so it would be wrong of me to claim I know the answer. I am still enjoying researching this and to date have not had a bad experience anywhere. Most restaurants on the island will serve it, for around $8-$10.  Do say yes when offered Sherry Peppers and Rum.  Or of you plan on trying out the above recipes then please feel free to ask me round to taste the result, I will be honest!


Coral Reef

This post was triggered by two events – one was a talk about coral reefs at a recent International Womens Club lunch (yes, I have become a woman who does lunch) and the other a wander along the coastal section of a nature reserve to the east of the island that was littered with huge chunks of old and rusted metal, possibly from metal barrels or vehicles.  So yesterday I listened to two lectures on iTunesU about coral reefs (iBioSeminars, Dr Knowlton from the Smithsonian Institute).

Bermuda is the northernmost coral reef at 32 degrees north, sitting on top of a very very old volcano.  The sea mountain itself is basalt but it is topped with limestone made by organisms that fix calcium carbonate from the water such as corals.



What exactly are corals? 

Definitely animal, and the individual in the colony is called a polyp.


One I prepared earlier!


The polyp is effectively a column with a mouth at the top, it is radially symmetrical.

They all have nematocysts – harpoons of sting cells to catch prey.

Inside the coral is a community of algae, bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses, which are essential for the health of the coral.


Zooxanthellae are algae that live in corals  – under the microscope they look like small green balls. They use sunlight to make sugars that the corals can use to grow.




Coral animals are hard to classify – even for the experts.

They all belong to the Phylum Cnidaria

Not all of them will make rock, some serve as anchors or to attract fish.

There are different kinds and four groups make stony skeletons:

True corals, Blue corals, Organ pipe corals, Fire corals (this one hurts lots)

Fire Coral: Millepora alcicornis

Then there are sea fans and soft corals which don’t build rocky skeletons.

They grow in complex shapes and one family can make several different shape colonies.

Corals do actually reproduce sexually, releasing eggs and sperm in a mass spawning event that occurs a set time after the full moon – the timing is down to a specific hour after sunset and studies have shown for example that one species will spawn at two hours after sunset and then another species on the same night but four hours after sunset.  Such tightly controlled reproductive life would be something of a bind for humans.

This next bit is important: 

Coral reefs face risks as great as that for the rain forests  

The risks come from:

  • Pollution
  • Overfishing
  • Rising sea temperatures
  • Coral diseases 

All of these lead to a process called coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching is destroying the coral reefs around the world.

It is named “bleaching” because the corals lose their colors.

It occurs when the algae get stressed and stop photo synthesizing.

They are stressed when it is too hot, too sunny, or the water is too acidic.

So the algae die and the coral spits them out – so instead of seeing the algae inside you can see through the polyps to the stony skeleton which is white.

Without the algae the coral cannot build skeletons so cannot grow.



Bleaching of coral. Photo from The Royal Gazette

The coral in the right side is bleached.

One cause of bleaching I had not fully appreciated is sun tan lotion where the ultraviolet filtering chemicals dissolve in the water in as short a time as fifteen minutes.  Biodegradable sunscreens are apparently available (Badger; Caribbean Solutions) so will be on my shopping list for next summer.

Corals also suffer from diseases, with unimaginative names such as “white band disease” and “black band disease”.  But as yet it isn’t known which bacteria or viruses might cause the diseases because they don’t yet know the normal microbiological life in coral. There are over 6000 identified species of coral bacteria!

One of the theories of coral disease is linked to seaweeds producing sugars that get absorbed into the coral which cannot handle them – diabetic coral if you like.  It is a problem because of seaweed overgrowth where weed-eating fish have been decimated by overfishing.  They have documented coral reef destruction with increasing density of seaweeds in the reef area.  Seaweed grows much faster than coral and so tends to take over pretty quickly.


Coral reefs are being lost at a rate of 1-2% per year.

Why does it matter? 

For Bermuda,

  • The reef protects the island from the force of tropical storms – without it each hurricane could be as damaging as Fabian was in 2005.  
  • The reef provides a habitat for commercially important fish 
  • Recently there has been pharmaceutical interest – some species of cone snails that live on the reefs can produce analgesics. 
  • Being the most northerly coral reef, thousands come to the island to see the reefs and fish. So loss of the reef would seriously damage  Bermudian economy. 
  • The reef is a natural boundary that protects the shoreline from the power of the waves – inside the reef the waves will be typically several feet lower and so less coastal erosion occurs.

For other places such as the Phillipines some areas are highly dependent on the reef for food and employment, so their economies would be seriously affected by loss of the reefs.

What can I do?

  • Take only pictures, leave only bubbles.
  • Choose my seafood wisely – only sustainable fish
  • Don’t buy coral jewellery
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Plant a tree – trees reduce run off into the oceans
  • Take away my own rubbish, but also pick up a piece of other rubbish each time I visit a beach
  • Stay informed and spread the word …


Spittal Pond

Saturday saw us walking around Spittal Pond, a nature reserve on the South Shore in Smith’s Parish.



As you can see from the map, it is a Ramsar site, which means it is a wetland of international importance.  The Ramsar convention, named after the place in Iran where the first meeting was held, was agreed by 18 countries in 1971 to conserve and sustain wetland areas across the globe.  Now there are 168 country members and a over 2000 designated sites. Bermuda has 7 Ramsar sites of which Spittal Pond is the largest. 



Why “Spittal”? 

Variations of the English word have been used since the Middle Ages and seems to be a diminutive form of hospital – these were referred to in Middle English as Spitals or Spittles.  For example, Spitalfields, in London, was an area around St Mary’s Spital, a priory hospital (not the exclusive group that run psychiatric resorts).  There are several places in England and Scotland with a form of Spittal in the name.  Someone has tentatively linked the name of this pond with a nearby farm they held sick cattle – seems a bit far fetched, though we did see the farm and some very healthy looking cows. 



It has not always had this name – in the earliest maps it was labelled as Brackish Pond and in some Peniston’s Pond after a one-time owner. 

Brackish is an apt description – the mud-flat-lagoon is frequently inundated with seawater during storms and so although it doesn’t have a permanent connection to the sea it has a variable salinity, becoming almost freshwater after rain.  There is a wealth of information on the plants to be found around the pond on the Bermuda Conservation website: 


A long time ago, when I did biology at school, I recall disliking plants and botany – animal biology and eventually human biology seemed so much more interesting.  Maybe it is a sign of getting old, but I quite enjoy identifying and photographing plants now. 




Ok, so maybe not the best specimen or the best photo, but it is one of my own! 

The rocks and the sea

This is my favourite part of the reserve, where the waves pound upon the slopes of rock, foaming across the flat limestone.  Image


Then as you climb up the hill along a barely marked track you reach Portugese Rock (aka Spanish Rock).  Here, in 1539, a Portugese sailor carved initials RP into a rock, with a cross depicting the Portugese Order of Christ.  The actual rock has been removed and replaced with a bronze copy – now with additional initials carved by unknowns on and around the plaque.  That was 70 years before Bermuda was settled by the English, how do we know it was a sailor and what he was doing here? We do know the Spanish arrived first, in 1505 Juan de Bermudez is reported to have discovered the islands.  That ubiquitous reference Wiki…… claims he never landed, but someone must have done at some point – witness the rock and also the vast numbers of pigs found here when the English did eventually arrive (hogs left by Spanish ships in earlier years, clearly they found the land plentiful for pig production). 

March is said to be the best time to visit Spittal Pond as migrating birds stop over, sometimes flamingos – I would love to see them in the wild (They have some very noisy ones at the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo).  Whales can also be spotted from the shore during Spring. 

We did see a green heron, coots, ducks on the pond and in the sea crabs and large bright blue fish that are possibly Blue Tang or Parrotfish.  There are some large West Indian Topshell Snails and hundreds of West Indian Chitons – you can find all of these on the Bermuda Conservation pages. 


It isn’t a long walk, the area is just over 60 acres. You do need sensible shoes and be prepared to clamber over rocks and wade through long grass.  It is a Bermuda National Trust property, entry is free and it is open from dawn to dusk. 


Pregnant in Bermuda

I am not, but the wife of one of my husband’s colleagues has just had a baby, which led me to thinking about how antenatal care and childbirth is managed here on the island.


The Queen visited in 1953 and was introduced to  Bermuda triplets. The paper reported that they were the first in over 200 years but the Outerbridge family had triplet boys born at a home on the North Shore Road in 1927. I tried to look up how common triplet births might be here but the search term triplet births in Bermuda led me to a page on raising goats!
( http://www.weedemandreap.com/2013/01/a-simple-guide-to-raising-milking-goats.html )

Although Bermuda is a British Protectorate the medical system is more akin to that in the States. So the bulk of maternity services are private and financed through insurance which is compulsory (the company has to organise health cover for employees).
The Bermuda Hospitals Board lists 9 Obstetricians on the island, (http://www.bermudahospitals.bm/bhb/find-physician/index.asp )
though the September 2013 Healthcare Directory states there are 7 (issuu.com/bermudasun/docs/health_care_part_3_-_july_2013 )
and there are around 600 births per year. In 2009 there were around 840 births annually, the drop probably reflects the reduction in population and loss of expat-workers during the last 5 years.

Unlike in UK where midwives are the primary carers during most normal pregnancies, here the obstetrician model of care persists. It is common to be delivered by your obstetrician and, perhaps not unrelated, the instrumental deliveries are higher than one might expect.
It seems to have taken a great deal of pressure and effort by concerned groups of midwives to enable them to practice as independent professionals and to offer the option of home births.

Antenatal medical checks are apparently more frequent than in UK and the tests include things such as cervical smear in early pregnancy, which in current UK practice is usually not done. (on the basis that the hormonal changes will affect the cervical cells so diagnosing pre-malignant change is inaccurate during pregnancy). It is difficult not to think that this is driven by the way healthcare is funded, but thats another issue and one it seems that even caused trouble for President Obama so I will avoid it! However you will have all the usual screening: Quadruple test for assessing Downs risk, ultrasound, Foetal heart rate monitoring, usual blood tests, glucose test, and if you should need it they have facilities for chorionic villous sampling in early pregnancy or amniocentesis in mid pregnancy to detect genetic abnormalities. If anything you will be seen more often and tested more often than if experiencing UK antenatal care and you will have access to a midwife and an obstetrician for all of this care – GPs do not tend to take on anything but the most routine antenatal checks.

Back in July of this year two Bermudian doctors (Dr Alton Trott and Dr Yusef Wade) set up a new and modern OB-GYN service at offices close to the hospital. They are both American trained but decided to return to Bermuda once they started their own families. Both can trace their families back hundreds of years on the island. The reporter who interviewed them was impressed by the comfortable clinic room “lined with bookshelves and with a fire place”. They have a website: http://contemporaryobgynbermuda.com

Prenatal classes are offered at the hospital, on Tuesday evenings, a four-week programme. You are permitted one birth coach (they were called husbands when I did this).

Baby Showers are customary

Gibbons stock absolutely everything you might need and many baby gadgets you don’t. There is no Mothercare or Early Learning Centre and the M&S only stocks a small selection of baby clothes. An overseas trip might be recommended for variety and to avoid turning up at a coffee morning with babies in identical outfits!

What are your options for delivery?
There have been 42 home births, some of them water births – but this is in the last 9 years, so clearly not widely available yet. If you are contemplating this you should speak with Sophia Cannonier, who was Bermuda’s first doula, or look up http://www.consciousbirthbermuda.com/ConsciousBirth/Welcome.html

The maternity unit has four delivery suites, each painted attractively, but the process is likely to be quite traditional. I don’t think they do six-hour discharges over here. Visiting times are strict and siblings can only come between 4pm and 6pm. The wards are locked and have a security guard – it sounds severe to write that but I suspect this is in fact reassuring.

There is a neonatal unit, but I cannot find out how many incubators or cots it has. They do send babies with more complex needs across to Halifax, Nova Scotia
No direct flights that I can find, a cost of around $300 each way and a journey time of at least 6 hours. My daughter, currently working in neonates in UK, told me of a poor mother in labour recently who had to be taken to another hospital to deliver because all of their neonatal beds were in use – I don’t think that would be a wise move from Bermuda. That does mean that if you have any difficulties with your pregnancy or the baby needs extra monitoring then you might need to consider being abroad for periods of time.

What about working in Bermuda as a doctor? Both UK and US have accredited training posts here for their programmes in most areas of medicine, including O&G. The issue of malpractice insurance needs to be looked at closely. Obstetricians tend to expect to pay more for this cover than some other specialties, in part because the child has until they are 21 to sue for problems that may have occurred during the pregnancy or delivery. So the premium on Bermuda for an obstetrician has risen in the last few years – around $200,000. The birth rate on the island is too low to compensate for this. The solution reached just last year was for the obstetricians to become employees of the hospital (King Edward VII Memorial Hospital) and receive cover under the umbrella of the local insurer. This allowed maintaining a threatened obstetric service on the island.

Once you have had the baby – it is a wonderful place to bring up children!:)


Verdmont days and the cat lady

Where most English would start a conversation with a comment about the weather, Bermudians, almost without exception, will start with “Good morning” Don’t the English do that too? of course, some will, but it seems less universal now than it probably was a century or so ago. The correct response to a Bermudian greeting is to repeat “Good morning!” And to look up with a smile. They often add “and how are you today?” – and seem genuinely interested in your response. This is probably the basis for the Bermudian reputation for friendliness.

I have become so accustomed to the greeting, that I was flummoxed by one visitor to Verdmont who opened with
“Can I take a picture of your cat?
I said “Of course” before my next thoughts – I don’t have a cat / is there a cat? / should I be feeding a cat? / I haven’t seen a cat
And (retrospectively somewhat embarrassingly) – is this lady alright?
The next ten minutes saw us both herding the cat (yes, there is one) into a photogenic position in the sun. The resulting photograph was very good and I wish I had had the presence of mind to ask for a copy as a reminder.
Come to think of it, I have not seen the cat again; she wouldn’t have taken it with her would she?
Is there a cat?

Last week visitors were mostly American, off the cruise ship at Dockyard. It is an enormous boat, the Norwegian Breakaway
Arriving on a Wednesday with 5000 passengers it stays until Friday when it returns to New York. In years past cruise ships came all the way into The Great Sound and moored alongside Hamilton Front Street. Now they are mostly too big. We have seen a sail-training vessel and a navy ship in Hamilton this Summer but most of the cruise ship passengers now come into Hamilton by the ferry, which, incidentally, is a really pleasant way to see the islands and to approach the city.

Years of medicine, practice and teaching, have taught me to avoid stereotypes, but these visitors challenged me greatly on that front – they were enthusiastic, earnest, loudly interested, and by the time they left I knew their names, occupations, family history and, for one lady, her blood pressure medications (I guess I am prone to make enquiries about such things but at no point did she know of my background!)
It’s refreshing, and interesting.
Afterall, my favorite occupation is people-watching. 🙂


Halloween in Bermuda

Preparations for Halloween began back in September.  These were on display in Gorhams:






Just about every organisation seems to be putting on some form of party or event.

Bermuda National Trust have an evening of Ghost Stories told by John Cox who is described as ‘Bermuda’s favourite ghost whispererhttp://www.bnt.bm/documents/GhostStoryFlyerQ42013.pdf

I had the pleasure of meeting John at Verdmont last week – he is reassuringly normal, no baleful stare or spine-chilling handshake, at least not then in the middle of the day.  You can hear one of his real ghost stories on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwgEiw_t3NQ where he talks about his own home and the family ghost Mary, but for the Verdmont ghosts you will have to go to the talk on Thursday.  I am not sure I want to know – I have to open up and close up when it is very dark inside and it is creepy enough without thinking about apparitions. The first time I was in the nursery there I scared myself as I brushed against the cradle, setting it rocking with a rhythmic tap on the floorboards – or was it me?




The local newspaper boasts article headings such as

“Will your pet look scary for Halloween?”

” A friendly mansion? Don’t be fooled…be scared, very scared”

and the more down to earth one

“Residents balk at price of trick-or-treat candy”

(I did buy some, but we have eaten it, the mellow-creme-pumpkin sweets are particularly addictive)

I was brought up in England and during my childhood Halloween was a minor event, less celebrated than Bonfire Night and possibly slightly frowned upon in my standard CeeofEE familyIt is, after all, based on a pagan festival to do with magic charms, faeries and spirits. For my own children we went along with some dressing up and visiting immediate neighbours for trick-or-treat but not the full-fat-American-style Halloween that appears to take place here on Bermuda.

Dressing up is apparently to fool or scare the evil spirits




And the treats are to appease the faeries, who are, apparently, angels who won’t commit to either God or the devil and so are condemned to walk the earth until judgement day.

The story behind pumpkin lanterns seems to relate to an Irish scoundrel called Jack who trapped a devil in a tree.  He only let the devil go when it was promised to him that he, Jack, would never go to hell.  But when he died he didn’t make the grade for heaven either and so was given a turnip lantern to help find his way back to Ireland – he is still searching.

So the Christian Church set up “All Saints Day” on 1st November, the day after Halloween.  Do you remember that really long hymn we sang at school assemblies For All The Saints ? 

Eleven verses, each ending with an un-singable  Alleluia, Alleluia, one of those hymns more ancient than modern.

I think through this hymn I confused Saints with Knights, but then St George was usually depicted as a knight in armour.  St George is honoured here in Bermuda  – confusingly being the name of a town, an island and a parish, all at the far eastern end of the island.  That was where they first settled back in 1609 (the wreck of the Sea Venture) and 1612 (first colonists to arrive on the Plough).  It is a really pretty town with quite a lot for visitors to see, deserving a whole section of its own.

Some Saints have their own days for commemoration; of course St Georges Day in England is celebrated on 23rd April, the day on which the Roman soldier George of Lydda was executed for his Christian beliefs.   I was surprised to find out that there are several different lists of Saints and George does not appear on the Eastern Orthodox Calendar even though their art depicts the familiar George and the Dragon images.  That he usurped Edward The Confessor as England’s Patron Saint as late as 1552 is probably part of the reason that the town, island and parish were named after him on Bermuda, not all that long afterwards.


Well, I need to go and buy some more treats, just in case so will leave you with more images of Halloween on Bermuda:



The Library







Devonshire Old Church

Devonshire Old Church



This is the church in Devonshire that was built to replace the one destroyed in the 1716 hurricane.  It was an ambitious upgrade for the parish, the original having been a smaller wooden framed build with palmetto thatch.  But in 1851 it too proved too small for the congregation and was replaced by a new church on adjacent ground and renamed “Christ Church” rather than merely Devonshire Parish Church.  For fifty years the old church was left to decay, used only for housing an old hearse. 



This little building is where the new hearse was stored in the late 19th century.  Nowadays the hearses are owned by Funeral Homes or Undertakers, not by the Church but you can still get a horse-drawn hearse http://www.marquisranch.bm/carriage.html

Back in 1612 when the first English colonists arrived on Bermuda, there was not the wide choice for religious worship that there is today – it was Church of England, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London.  In England The Act of Uniformity 1559 specified that everyone should attend church once a week and that the Book of Common Prayer be used for the order of service. If a commoner objected to this Act, by not going to church, they were fined, but if a member of the clergy refused to sign the Act they were shipped out to minister to the colonies – maybe a better lifestyle but certainly a drop in income as the annual stipend was about ⅔ of that in an English parish.  

The early church ministers in Bermuda were appointed from among the unemployed or non-conforming clergy.  So it was that one of the early ministers, Lewis Hughes, had been disciplined for his connection to a witchcraft case back in England.  Records document him as a conscientious and dedicated cleric who travelled across the whole island by foot in his duties. 

If you are interested in the history of the Bermuda Anglican Church there is a comprehensive book “Chronicle of a Colonial Church” by AC Hollis Hallett, covering the early years 1612 to 1826. 

One amusing story from this book is about a woman called Elizabeth Carter who was imprisoned and fined for correcting the preacher, William Edwards, during his sermon on 30 January 1673: he was preaching on the Book of Esther but managed to mix up two of the characters as he told the story so she promptly stood up to tell him he had it wrong. I don’t suggest anyone tries this at home, the penalty may not have changed much. 

I had a pleasant wonder around the church and church yard at Devonshire Old Church.  The grounds and church were restored in 1903, financed by Aubrey Cox, and from 1938 onwards it has been used for Christenings, Weddings and Funerals.  



The building at the top left of this picture is the “new” Devonshire parish church.  http://www.christanglicanchurch.bm

I haven’t yet found out why the burial plots are fashioned like they are with whitewashed stones.

And I didn’t explore too closely the one where the stone slab cover appears to have been disturbed! 




For those who are wondering just whereabouts Devonshire is, here is an old map of Bermuda:


Shall we meet for coffee?

When a friend asked to meet for coffee this weekend I was thrown into a mad housework mode: steam-mop the floors, hoover the rugs, polish and dust etc.  This friend had helped set us up on the island, passing on to us furniture, kitchen stuff, rugs, TV, dehumidifiers and countless other things so my predominant concern was that she should see we were looking after “her” stuff – that it was ours now faded into the background.  I even considered washing the sheets and emptying the dishwasher – no, I do not entertain in the bedroom and this person is nothing like my Mother so she won’t be checking up on my domestic neatness.

I needed to be rational, this degree of stress was way out of proportion to a coffee with a friend.  Then the obvious realisation came: we could go out for coffee!


It just so happened that in the library I found a book entitled “Best Bermuda Coffee, 2010”

(“Coincidence,” said Hermione airily, pouring herself some pumpkin juice. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

What a cushy book to research, 30 coffee outlets, each serving six or so varieties of coffee and repeated visits to check consistency – why didn’t I think of that?!

You might be surprised to learn that there is no Starbucks on Bermuda.  Over 20,000 branches, even in Romania, but not Bermuda.

Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.” ( http://starbucks.com ) but not in Bermuda.

It is a law that only a local company can trade in Bermuda and by definition a local company has to be majority (>60%) Bermudian-owned and Bermudian-operated. Banks and Insurance companies are subject to different rules – we can look at that in a later post. Also The Prohibited Restaurant Act 1997 forbids the opening of food franchises in Bermuda.  How did KFC get in? They were here before the act so subject to a “grandfather clause”.

You can, however, drink coffee bearing a Starbucks label, but I guess this may be a recent development as it is not mentioned anywhere in the book – I did get it out of the library to peruse. The author set out his intention to update his research, but I couldn’t find a more recent edition, maybe he found he preferred tea. The little coffee shop I frequent before the library opens, Chatterbox, is not mentioned in the book so maybe it is a new outlet – it makes nice coffee and serves Starbucks breakfast blend.

Coffee is not grown on Bermuda, it is imported from the large coffee-producing countries, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, mostly via America. In 2010 the most commonly found was Illy, which is 100% Arabica coffee from Italy.

According to the human manual on life (aka wikipedia), three quarters of the world’s coffee is from Coffea arabica with the rest mainly Caffea canephora (previously called robusta ).  The latter has a more bitter taste but is resistant to leaf rust, a form of coffee-blight that has devastated crops this year, so we are looking at a price-hike soon.

I have drifted off topic a little, the aim was to find a place to take my friend for coffee tomorrow.  She will be in the City of Hamilton  – a city by virtue of two cathedrals, but not much larger than a very small town.  Confusingly, the city is not in Hamilton Parish, that is further East along the island.  So I need to find a place in the city for coffee. Most of the hotels and larger restaurants do coffee but none qualify for the author’s 4-cup accolade, so I focussed on the reviews of the 17 coffee houses.

The first coffee house in Britain was in Queen’s Lane, Oxford, established in 1654, though some sources say it was in Oxford Street, London in 1650 or Lombard Street, London, in 1662.

It was an Oxford Scholar, Nathaniel Canopius, who brewed the first cup of coffee in England in 1641. ( http://canopius.com/who-we-are/our-name/ )  He was a “protosyncellus” of the Constantinople Church and later became Chaplain of Christ Church, Oxford.  A coffee house was the birthplace of Lloyds of London – this is a diversion but an interesting one so bear with me …

Edward Lloyd, opened in 1687, a coffee house on Tower Street, London, later moving to Lombard Street as his customer base grew.  Not long before this, the King, Charles II, had tried to shut coffee houses down because he felt they brewed rumour and discontent as much as coffee. The Kings edict proved unpopular – he reversed it 16 days later! Anyhow, Lloyd was an entrepreneur of the seventeenth century and he began “Lloyds List” in 1696, a list of ship arrivals and departures and inside information on the conditions on board these vessels. Before long his customers were talking about sinkings and accidents, from there a small step to selling insurance!  The whole story can be read in “Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk” by Peter Bernstein.

It is probably not surprising then that Bermuda has so many coffee houses given one of its main businesses is re/insurance.

Is coffee bad for you?

I could have easily phrased the question “Is coffee good for you?” and the answer can be both “yes” and “no”.

Probably the first experiment on the subject was carried out by Gustav III of Sweden during the 18th century.  He used a pair of identical twins who had been convicted of a crime.  He commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment with restrictions: one should drink only coffee while the other was given only tea – for the rest of their lives. Two doctors were assigned to monitor the prisoners’ health, but the doctors both died before the experiment ended, as did Gustav III who was assassinated.  As it was, the tea-drinker died first.

For the medical readers, caffeine is an adenosine antagonist.  Adenosine inhibits dopamine.  Caffeine leads to an increase in dopamine in the pre-frontal cortex which leads to higher arousal, faster processing of information and more rapid motor responses.  This leads to some reports that caffeine is an antidepressant, but the real picture is far more complex. while it will increase attention, it does not in itself generate pleasure and does not improve memory.

On the benefits side, caffeine is an antioxidant and soaks up free radicals, and you don’t want those running around.  It can help with headaches, is a frequent component of analgesics sold over the counter, and recently caffeine has been linked with reducing the risks of prostate cancer, the chance of gallstones and some types of heart failure.  But on the other side, it raises blood pressure, is associated with osteoporosis and can contribute to dehydration.

So the jury is out and the pendulum will swing with the vagaries of popular-press-reporting of (mostly) pseudoscientific papers.

I, however, will continue to drink coffee.



And we still haven’t decided on where to go for coffee tomorrow.

Of the places reviewed, one is described as “the ultimate coffee house in Bermuda” .  I feel I should insert a drum roll here. …

Rock Island




For fifteen years this company has roasted coffee beans on site – which is why it smells so good – and they offer home-style baking such things as Courgette Cake and Lemon Cookies.  The furniture is, well, unusual – none of it matches, most of it is old, but I have tried two different seats and both were decently comfortable. The artwork is more interesting than most of what is on the portrait gallery and for people-watching it is a wonderful place.

The coffee is 100% Arabica and offered in the usual variations – espresso, machiato, latte, cappuccino and americano.  They even knew what to do when I asked for a plain black coffee.  I don’t suggest you ask for tea though, as they really do focus on coffee.


It’s on Reid Street, by the way with on the street parking immediately outside which gives you an hour for $2.  If intending on a larger cup you might like to park at Cavendish Road and walk down or City Hall and walk up.  City Hall, although more central to the shops is actually a little cheaper, but still limited to three hours.



So that is my decision made.

Coffee, tomorrow, at Rock Island Cafe, around 2.30. 🙂





As back in UK the Royal Mail float dominates the news ( you hadn’t noticed?) alongside “plans for strikes in the run up to Christmas” (again) I have been finding out about the postal service in Bermuda. Since we were once a British colony, now termed “British Overseas territory”, you won’t be surprised at the similarities between UK mail and Bermuda mail.

For example, the post boxes:




These are Bermuda post boxes.

British ones were not always red – they started off green so as not to be an eyesore. But Bermuda did not get Post Boxes until 1882, some thirty years after the first mainland box at Carlisle and eight years after the introduction of pillar- box red. Anthony Trollope introduced them to England, the author of The Palliser books, The Barchester Towers series and more. ( I love the TV series of The Pallisers, and Barchester Chronicles shows Alan Rickman in a pre-Snape character with a remarkably similar name! watch them if you haven’t already )
Apparently he wrote every morning before going to work at the Post Office ( http://anthonytrollope.com ). He did also visit Bermuda in his role of Post Office Inspector and even wrote a short story based on the islands, "Aaron Trow", but his reports of Bermuda were not that favorable which is probably why the island makes more of John Lennon’s visit here than that of Trollope.

Back to post boxes – in Bermuda and England alike, the form of a cylindrical stand-alone pillar with a horizontal flap for mail near the top became the standard design. The smaller the flap the older the box. Age is also denoted by the name of the monarch – my photos show two George V boxes, one George VI and a more modern Elizabeth II. On Bermuda now there are 46 post boxes – no, I have not counted them all personally, the fact came from a book published last year celebrating the Bermuda Post Office Bicentennial.

Right back in the beginning, around early 1800s, the island mail was carried by a man on a horse who rode west on Wednesdays and east on Thursdays. If you had a letter to be posted you just waited alongside the main road until he came by. No house deliveries, you would be sent a message and have to walk to the Post office to collect it – and pay for it. The rates were 4d per ounce.

Then a chap called William Benet Perot arrived in Hamilton, Bermuda, built a house that he called "Par-la-Ville" (it means beside the town, it was on the edge of town) from where he ran a Post Office.


The building still stands today, with part of it now the Bermuda Library. The post office itself is still operational – with an interior of cedar wood counters, probably looks much the same as it did back in the 1800s. Keen to provide an out-of-hours service he made a hole in his front door through which customers could post their letters along with the money to pay for postage – like much of the rest of the world, Bemuda now ran a prepaid service. Unfortunately for him when he added up the money it seemed never enough for the number of letters in the box. So he introduced ink “stamps” called “Perot Provisionals” – customers could buy the envelopes in advance with one of these markers on: his signature and the words “paid in Hamilton” or “paid in St George’s”. These were used between 1848 and 1856, but only 11 are known to still exist. The last one that changed hands did so in 2005 for £60,000.


Now the first English stamps were made in 1840, the rate was 1d for a letter. So the charge in Bermuda, by then 5d per ounce, was excessive and they brought the charge down to 1d to match England. The first Bermuda stamps had a left facing Queen Victoria with the country name written across the top and value across the bottom. I know that on British coins the monarch faces in he opposite direction to the previous one – the Queen faces right so Charles will face left – but with stamps I cannot see any rules or pattern to which profile appears (willing to be enlightened).

I inherited a stamp collection from my grandfather, which one day I will sort, catalogue and tidy. I added to it today with a Bermudian First Day Cover that was issued in May this year:


They are Gombey dancers, I will write about them at a later date.

How did the mail actually reach Bermuda?

Obviously this involved boats, The Packet Trade, from Tudor times through to 1823 (nobody on Bermuda until 1609 so maybe no Tudor ships came this way). A “paquebot” was small, fast and lightly armed – against pirates. In 1823 the Admiralty took over the service and from 1850s it employed contract carriers. One of these was “The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company”. It ran boats from Cornwall to Halifax via Bermuda. By steamship in 1850, from Falmouth it was a 40 day journey.

Around 1900 the post office in Hamilton became the General Post Office, there was one at St George’s and a sub post office in each parish, found along the main roads on the island. I think I said before there are only really three roads so if you drive along you are bound to find a post office.


If you are coming to live over here, you probably want to know how much it all costs now – sadly a bit more than 1d per ounce.
A letter to England will cost $4.45 (up to 100g), slightly cheaper to US at $4.30. There is no longer any surface airmail, all goes by air.
It is currently £4.60 to post a letter (200g) to Bermuda from London. Note to daughter: it helps to write the correct address, including the surname and add “Bermuda” to the envelope – though I can reassure you it does arrive if you don’t do this, but takes a little bit longer.

To my shock when I first collected a parcel at the Post Office I was handed a Stanley knife on a string – this is to open your parcel, the post office collects import duties and adds a $5 clearance fee on top – please don’t send me Christmas presents, and definitely not ones I might be embarrassed to explain.

Does Bermuda have Postmen?

Yes, and women. They have mopeds rather than push bikes. I did see that bikes are being withdrawn in UK for health and safty reasons – reportedly a postman fell off his bike when the chain broke and was awarded £10,000 for damages. So perhaps it is understandable, they cannot afford to be paying out for injuries at that rate.

The legendary “postman vs dog” situation happens in Bermuda too: last month a vicious (have I spelled that right, I tend to write viscous) dog aptly named “Trouble” bit a postman’s leg “almost off” and only ran off when the quick thinking postie threw a barbecue at it … Yes, I have trouble imaging all of that (http://bermudasun.bm – Sep 29 2013) .

Back in 2005 a dog bite triggered the postal workers to march on the cabinet building and demand more stringent dog control laws (still awaited). Again the paper report is graphic, I won’t repeat it.

Bermuda postmen have it easy in comparison: In Exeter, UK, in October 2012, one postman was “eaten alive by fleas”. (Telegraph)
And the Daily Mail reported that one letter could not be delivered because of the giant spiders:


I do believe that Bermuda Postmen have the better deal – they are allowed to wear Bermuda Shorts in Winter, a practice banned in UK ( Roymayall.wordpress.com)

I will happily accept responses by mail for this post 🙂
Ask my daughter for the address!





Glass – sea glass and window glass

Disambiguity: For the IT nerds who have landed on this page I know nothing about “Google Glass” the new wearable computer, but feel free to read the blog anyhow!

The topic came up when a visitor to Verdmont asked if the glass in the windows was made in Bermuda …..
My attempt to answer this question has led through several hundred years and from sand to bottle banks.

Google can sometimes produce random results and search terms “Bermuda + glass” did not disappoint – in the randomness that is, it didn’t answer my question. So result no. 3
“Pyramids of Glass found in the Bermuda Triangle”


Impressive, apparently 2000m deep, it is a smooth glass pyramid 200m tall with two spouts on the top that create a giant vortex: the answer to the Bermuda Triangle, of course, it’s obvious if you think about it. Thinking is not high on the list of the many websites that have copied and pasted the quotes from “renowned scientist Dr Verlag Meyer” – he doesn’t exist, his name just means “Meyer Publishing House”. They do exist – publishing car magazines, so probably not related to this “power plant focussing cosmic rays” or “ancient supply warehouse for Atlantis” . This hoax has popped up repeatedly since 1991 when it was a newspaper article (newspapers are black and white paper versions of the Internet) and despite this pyramid being “larger than Cheops” and that the scientists have “high resolution computerized data”, there is not a shred of real evidence – underwater glass pyramids do not exist!

Back to my search page and I land on
Bermuda’s best sea glass locations


Sea Glass Beach (HCL)

Sea Glass Beach (HCL)

Sea glass is the result of years of tumbling in waves and sand, the original fragments of bottles and broken glass are smoothed and frosted. People collect it, for decoration, jewellery, or mosaics. So last weekend I dragged my husband off to one of the recommended beaches for sea glass – now I have a bowl of fragments in green, brown and white and have lots of creative ideas. To my family: guess what you are getting for Christmas!

The beaches, by the way, are at Alexandra’s Battery in the east end of the island and Convicts Cemetery Beach (note to self: must explore that name) at Dockyard in the west. Check before you go to Dockyard because developers have bought Alberts Row, the Victorian buildings that stand in front of Convicts Beach and access may be restricted while they build.

While we are down at that end of the island and thinking of glass I have to mention the Dockyard Glassworks, where you can watch the very skilled artisans make sculptures, flame worked pieces and blown glass. It is hot inside the warehouse but they provide stools and seats and at the other end of the building you can buy Bermuda Rum Cake which, according to their advertising, lasts 3 months – cake lasting that long? Not in my house!

So far we have glass sculptures, sea glass and a dubious glass pyramid, but no answer to my question about window glass.

I changed my search terms:

Windows + glass = stained glass windows

With all the churches on Bermuda (see archives) you would expect some to have stained glass windows – they do:
The Anglican cathedral in Hamilton has the “Angel Window” by a local artist – I will have to make a trip there as there are no google images of the actual window. This is where it gets a little muddled – the cathedral is called “The Most Holy Trinity” and it stands in The City of Hamilton but there is also a “Holy Trinity Church” that is in the parish of Hamilton. With me so far? Now both have remarkable stained glass windows, both claim “the most beautiful in Bermuda”.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones was a pre-raphaelite artist who designed for William Morris and Company, who produced stained glass windows in the late 1800s. He designed over 100 stained glass windows, including the set of five in Holy Trinity Church, Bermuda.

While I can find lots of images of his work, I haven’t yet found one from either Holy Trinity – you will have to visit for yourself.

The windows at Verdmont are not stained glass! they are very simple:


They are 18th century sash windows with relatively small panes fitted into wide muntins – you can see the layers of putty and paint on the outside that keep the glass in place. In a pattern of “twelve over twelve” with cedar frames, recessed in the wall – the white surrounds are mainly decorative as opposed to protection for the wood.

In England at the time this house was built (early 1700s) there was a window tax. This tax continued until 1851, just before the erection of Crystal Palace – just as well I guess. In 1746 a glass tax was introduced as well, based on the weight of glass used – effectively a double tax on windows. Cheaper glass was used in public buildings – the thick small panes like bottle bottoms common in pubs were considered defective so the tax levied was much less. Fortunately Bermuda didn’t have a window or glass tax, but even so Verdmont had larger windows than many homes of the time.

Plate glass production (a French development) was expensive because the plates had to cool slowly over days and then required many hours of polishing. Sheet glass came into production in 1838, requiring less time to cool and less polishing. But neither process would have been undertaken in Bermuda.

So I had arrived at an answer – No, the glass was not made in Bermuda.

It was brought in from England, for all 25 windows in Verdmont main house! some 600 small panes, then extra for the doors – a significant shipment.
What has happened to the windows of Verdmont over time does not seem to be known. It is unlikely that any panes are original, though some clearly are older than others. A few are cracked, not at all surprising given that the window shutters are on the inside of the building – unusual for Bermuda and a risk in hurricane season.

On an island with so much sand and limestone it seems strange that glass making did not take place. If anyone can demonstrate it did I would love to hear from you.


Beach with sea glass (HCL)

Beach with sea glass (HCL)

PS I haven’t forgotten about the bottle banks – “Bermuda recycles” will have to be another post!



Today is my second day as a National Trust docent at Verdmont. I have just opened up and am eagerly awaiting visitors. On Monday there were just two, and, despite that having no bearing whatsoever on today’s expectations, I am rather hoping for a few more.


Now I am not going to bore you with the whole docent speech, but you need to know a little about Verdmont. If you are English I suspect you will have in mind some magnificent edifice – the likes of Chatsworth or Hatfield – scale it down significantly, even smaller than Sissinghurst, paint it pink ( Bermudian-salmon-pink ) and place it on a hill overlooking the south shore, add a pleasant sunny day with a gentle breeze and now you know why I chose to volunteer here specifically.

Built in the final decade of the seventeenth century it is a Georgian style house, the first of its kind in Bermuda, two storeys with four rooms on each floor. Older houses were generally just one room deep, or built in a cross-like shape so this one shouts about the wealth of its owner – in this case from privateering (licensed piracy).
And the reason it is special is that structurally it has been unaltered for 300 years and even though there was a lady living here until 1952, there is no plumbing or electricity and no modern gadgetry of any sort.


I had to break off then – visitors 🙂
And they were from England (just a small twinge of homesickness)
Although I suffer from the English reticence when it comes to asking for money I managed to sell them a guide book.

So now I am sitting outside in my portable camping chair (after Monday when I fidgeted between uncomfortable chair and garden bench I resolved to bring my own) drinking coffee from my thermos. The weather is just perfect, less humid than a month ago but still a bright blue sky and about 27C. There is a cockerel making a racket somewhere distant down the hill and a Kiskadee has twittered at me a few times, but that’s all I can hear – close to perfect.

So where was I?
I will leave you to look up details of Georgian architecture – basically pleasingly symmetrical with large sash windows, in this case painted white and dark green, traditional for Bermuda windows. If you are really observant you will see in the picture that the back door is offset from the centre – this accommodates a beautiful if creaky, cedar staircase. Bermuda cedar is actually a juniper tree, native to the island, it makes for attractive golden brown furnishings of which there are some priceless examples at Verdmont. A blight in the early twentieth century has decimated the numbers of trees but there are several in the grounds here.


What little I knew of furniture before coming here was garnered from Sunday evening Antique Roadshow programmes. Now I can recognize a “split-splat chair” and marching legs but not yet spot a fake Chippendale. One of the visitors today (it is much later by the way, lunchtime was marked by a stream of people and no lunch), was a curator for a museum collection in Boston and he waxed lyrical about the intricacies of the dovetail joints in the cedar chests. I learnt more from him than he did from me showing him around. The pattern of dovetailing was used as a signature to the carpentry – I have just checked and there are at least four different patterns on the chests here. I am not sure if that was a characteristic specific to Bermuda as he said the chests in his collection were more uniform in style.

Cedar chest

Cedar chest



Well, it is time to close up now, a process that takes forever: the windows have internal shutters which are kept in place with bolts and horizontal bars and then the sill protected by a towel to collect condensation or rain. The lack of any form of lighting makes this all feel rather creepy and although in theory I know ghosts don’t exist, I can’t help feeling a little spooked. I have brought my torch today – the solid heavy one that suggests more protection than just the light it emits.

I shall post this when I get home (no Internet here of course) and tell you more about the national trust here in a later blog.
Where is the torch?


Verdmont, Bermuda

Verdmont, Bermuda

Hurricane – be prepared?

I have collated my hurricane survival pack, but is it all just hype and a waste of $ and time?


What are the facts? 


I excitedly downloaded some apps for hurricane watching, my enthusiasm a little dampened to find my husband already had them on his iPad (grudgingly I accept that his job in insurance makes them more than a passing interest). I spent a few happy hours watching Tropical Storm Erin, almost sad to see it fizzle out in the mid Atlantic.


Quote from Bermuda online (a really useful website if you ever consider moving here):

Studies conducted by the Bermuda Weather Service found that from 1609 to the present day devastating storms affect the island every six to seven years. Our tropical cyclone or hurricane season is from May through to November, with an average of one storm passing within 180 nautical miles of the island every year




It doesn’t take much research to discover that the last really big hurricane here was Fabian in 2003 – the library has numerous islander accounts of the event and 4 people died.  Windspeed was over 105 knots with gusts at 145 knots, waves reached heights of 35 feet and the storm surge was over 11 feet.



1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour = 1.15miles per hour = 1.82km per hour

(wind is considered a navigational fluid and hence measured in knots by meteorologists, but translated into miles per hour for most of us)


A hurricane is a tropical storm with winds of 74mph (64 knots) or higher. The name is thought to come from the Mayan God of Wind, Huracan.  In the Pacific they are called typhoons.  As it develops it grows from a tropical disturbance to tropical depression to tropical storm then hurricane.

I absolute love the topic of weather and clouds and climates, it probably came from a really good geography teacher, but to save me boring you I will distill it into a few sentences:


  • Sun warms the sea and warm moist air rises, leaving a low pressure area underneath ( a depression)
  • Winds spiral inwards, due to the low pressure and the Coriolis Effect (spin of the earth)
  • The system gains energy from water vapour condensing into cloud.
  • The winds blow counter-clockwise in Northern hemisphere forming a closed spiral of storms
  • Categories are determined by wind speed, 1-5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale (1973) (Robert Simpson experienced his first hurricane aged 6, went on to become a storm-chasing meteorologist and is now 100)
  • A storm surge is a wall of ocean that the hurricane brings as it breaches land.



http://www.nasa.com   (this website is amazing – has problem based learning modules and fun stuff)


The University of Florida actually has a hurricane simulator.


Now, where was I? 


I guess the basic question I am trying to answer is whether (ha) I am likely to experience a hurricane while on Bermuda.


Back in April, Dr Jeff Masters (http://wunderground.com) predicted 18 named storms and 9 hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Names, by the way, are selected in order from six lists of alternating male/female and a name is retired if there are fatalities.

I was initially sceptical, but it turns out that Jeff Masters is a meteorologist, lectures at university level, runs the Weather Underground website and writes a really intelligent blog. You can find them on Facebook where they post some really beautiful photographs of weather.


Erin was the fifth named tropical storm in the Atlantic this year in a season that extends from June to November.

The risk rises as the seas get warmer


Current sea temperature around Bermuda is 85 (really good swimming) and average windspeed yesterday across the island was 10 knots.  There are no alerts or warnings on any of the five apps I downloaded (I did say I get excited by weather).

So my survival pack sits by the door “in case


What’s in it? 


  • Torch x2 (a super light LED one that floats and has a secret compartment + a bike headlamp)
  • Wind-up radio
  • Spare clothes x2 sets
  • Blanket
  • Towel
  • Toothbrush etc
  • Food – pilchards, beans, sweetcorn, cereal bars and nuts
  • Water (in non-BPA bottles)
  • Can opener (overkill I expect as the cans all have easy open tops)
  • Knife, Spoon, Bowl, Cup
  • Waterproof document holder with passport, residency permit and cash,
  • Notebook, pen, book, batteries,
  • First aid kit, ibuprofen, sunscreen



Anything else you can think of?


Whenever we go on holiday I am greeted with a sigh of inevitability as I emerge from the house with “just one more thing” to fit in the car – it could be wellingtons, towels, washing up bowl (we camped a lot) or just a map book, but I always had something extra and thus I am still teased that it will be the same if we have to leave the house for a hurricane …. I can’t think what it will be, but I wouldn’t want to disappoint!


I haven’t really answered my question, and have probably scared everyone away from visiting.

To put it into context, before Fabian most storms veered off before reaching Bermuda; Arlene in 1963 caused some damage but nobody died, then further back the only really damaging one was one in 1926 (the naming system wasn’t in place at that time) which did result in 88 deaths, but all were from the Valerian British warship anchored close to Bermuda. Since Fabian there have been two tropical storms passing close by – Florence in 2006 and Igor in 2010.


Bermudian buildings are built to withstand strong winds – the older ones are limestone and the newer ones concrete, with limestone roofs and hurricane shutters on windows so I don’t envisage being homeless.  It is likely that the power will go and as good as Belco are, we may not have power for water pumps, toilets or cooking. I have candles and lots of books to replace the TV, but am sure I will miss the internet most!


Will the kit find its way back to UK with me when we relocate? A few years ago our children gave my husband for his birthday a “survival kit”  – one they had pulled together including fire-starting kit, compass, knife, space blanket, food packs etc. along with books on how to survive in various wilderness settings.  He still has it.  So, probably, yes I will take it back to UK just as it is – assuming we haven’t used it!



Sun burns!

Recent UK summers – that is, lack of sun – meant I had forgotten how uncomfortable sunburn can be, but with average daily sunshine of 9 hours for a Bermuda July I am ashamed to say I learnt the lesson once again.

With apologies to the non-medical readers, this post has a distinctly medical theme, but I have tried to keep it jargon-free. I shall attempt to answer the following questions:

What happens to the skin in sunburn?
Why is it dangerous?
What are the best treatments?

Under the following headings:

Ouch it hurts – presentation
Serves you right – risk factors
How bad can it be? – assessment
I told you so, try vinegar – treatments
Never again – prevention

Ouch, it hurts!

I knew I was burnt because my skin was red, tender and warm – oh, and I had just been snorkeling for two hours just before lunch with a pea-sized amount of sun cream liberally rubbed onto my whole body (we will get to how much and how often later, but you will all be thinking, quite with reason, how inadequate my preparation was)

A few facts:
Sunlight is composed of UVA, UVB and UVC. In fact to call it “light” encourages a relaxed attitude, I should use the term “radiation”. We don’t need to worry about UVC, it is reflected off the upper layers of atmosphere back into space. Most of the sun’s radiation is UVA (95%) but during the midday hours (10-4) UVB is twice as high as in the rest of the day and it is UVB that burns. UVA is by no means innocent, it is associated with aging, though the precise physiology is unknown.

Now I tend to brown nicely and rarely burn (Fitzpatrick Skin Type III – if you are a medic, then go look it up, but briefly it is a descriptive scale devised in 1975, used for research and has no real predictive value, though Fitzpatrick himself, a Harvard dermatologist, might plead otherwise).

Nonetheless, two hours after lunch and I was beginning to blister, a sure sign of deeper skin damage. The redness, by the way, is caused by skin blood vessels dilating and is the start of an acute inflammatory reaction. It is supposed to occur some 3-4 hours after exposure, peak at 24 hours and resolve over 7-10 days. That I was red so soon after exposure suggested I was over-cooked.

Cooking is probably an apt description, though the tanning is not merely desiccation and carbonization of the upper layers, it has more to do with melanin. Melanin is there to protect the skin, it will reflect some of the UVB rays. In “normal tanning” first the melanin that is already in the skin darkens by oxidation and is redistributed. Then the skin increases the synthesis of new melanin over the next 1-2 days.
But where I had overdone things, mast cells in my skin (they are really fascinating if you want to look them up) were releasing histamine, serotonin and the alarming-sounding tissue necrosis factor (TNF). This led to prostaglandin and leukotrienes which in turn attracted neutrophils and so on …. (You can tell I could get quite excited about the chemical processes in the inflammatory response)

But it is not so simple as just the surface layers of skin dying and sloughing off, the damage is deeper, the actual DNA is affected, and it is this that leads to the increased risk of skin cancer.


In the image the cells that can become cancerous are squamous cells, basal cells and melanocytes. The epidermis, top layer, is usually separated from the lower layers by the basement membrane, but in advanced skin cancer it will grow through this and invade the deeper layers.

While we are talking about damage, sun damage can also lead to cataracts, particularly in India and Pakistan. Like sun-induced skin cancer the risk relates to exposure in children and young people, groups least likely to take precautions like wearing sunglasses and hats.

Serves You Right

For some reason this phrase carries echoes from my childhood. And it is appropriate since I did know better. Risk factors for sunburn include fair skin, infants and children, high altitudes, low latitudes, and the biggest – exposure between the hours of 10 and 4.

WHO developed a UV Index as far back as 2002, but inconsistency in its use has led to it being of less use than it might be. For grades 1-2 it is safe to be out without sun protection, for 3-7 it is recommended to stay in the shade during midday hours, for 8+ best to avoid exposure and always use protection. Today, in Bermuda, the maximum UV Index is 9. (http://accuweather.com )

90% of malignant melanomas occur in skin types I and II. Dark skinned people may be protected to a degree from skin cancer but are still susceptible to eye and immune system damage. A dark tan on a white skin will offer only limited protection, perhaps equivalent to using an SPF 4 lotion.

But I did use sun screen! Hmm – an adult should use 34g applied 20 minutes before exposure AND every 40-60 minutes.

Don’t waterproof ones last longer? Actually not, they are merely resistant to being washed off quickly but they still can only maintain the SPF for 40-60 minutes. I feel somewhat misled by the advertising!

How bad can it be?

Google “severe sunburn” and there are thousands of images, some horrifying. In quite a few the bearer is wearing a stupid grin. I don’t have pictures of my sunburn, I am too embarrassed.

If you are medical and presented with sunburn then assessment is along the lines for any burn – remember dehydration and pain levels. “Sunstroke” presents with fever, chills and nausea so if your patient is shivering and looking ill they may need admitting – you will have to present your case well to the on-call medical team as nobody is keen to use an acute bed for sunburn. In UK, 2011-12, there were 287 acute admissions for sunburn. (Hospital Episode Statistics- http://hscic.gov.uk )

I told you so – try vinegar

What sort of vinegar? It is a grandmother’s remedy, and online you will find lots of conflicting advice on what sort and how to apply it – there is no difference between white, apple-cider or malt, apart from the smell. I have no idea how it works, nor do dermatologists. Baking soda, cornstarch paste, calendula oil …. The list is endless.


Turmeric! Yes I am not kidding, applying a thin paste once daily apparently provides relief from sunburn – that one I must try!

With a doctor hat on I would suggest after-sun gel, one with lidocaine in if available, ibuprofen orally and plenty of water to drink. Aloe Vera has been researched but not shown to improve recovery time. Systemic steroids have advocates but again there is little evidence they help and plenty of risks, they are of no benefit topically either.

Never again!

There have been some recent surveys of Australian youth which suggest that the messages to cover up and use cream are wearing thin and along with fewer using protection are increased numbers suffering sunburn.

Meanwhile an SPF 8 cream is no longer considered sufficient but SPF 50 creams now cost well over $20 (£15) for quite small tubes. What is in these potions that makes them so expensive? One Aloe Vera sun lotion has a list of 43 ingredients.
There is a lot of hype about antioxidants and their protective effects against cancers but I was sceptical about their effect topically. My reading suggests, however, that some (selenium, CoQ10, alpha lipoic acid) have supporting evidence for topical use at least with regard to the aging effects of sun. Others, such as Vitamin E, pomegranate, ginger and grape seed extract, are currently being researched. The main problem with antioxidants is that they tend not to be absorbed well through the skin, so another topic of research is novel methods of application.

One thing I did learn was that sunscreen suitable for adults is probably not advisable for babies and infants – I guess it makes sense, given that baby skin is so much more susceptible to damage. Children need oil-based emollients with inorganic filters and should not be using the organic filters that are used to create higher SPF creams, specifically not oxybenzone.

And one last comment on fake tans – these are merely chemical dyes that color the dead skin layer various shades of brown, they neither increase melanin nor even moisturizer the skin. They use dihydroxyacetate (DHA) which has been used in cosmetics since 1920s, and while they may be mixed with moisturizers or SPF creams, none currently available provide sufficient protection for use instead of a proper SPF50 lotion.

You have been very patient while I have learned my lesson, my husband has been sympathetic – last weekend he bought me an SPF50 shirt to cover me up when swimming next time. It is bright yellow, so not sure how good it will be for snorkelling, do fish get frightened by giant yellow things?



Two solutions before coffee


This morning began with two problems:

A flat tyre and no internet

Admittedly, the flat tyre was yesterday’s problem, but replacing with spare wheel was only a partial solution ( yes, my husband did that – I am, for some purposes, most definitely female).
So finding a tyre repair place was today’s problem and without Internet!

Bermuda does have “Yellow Pages”, every bit as thick as those that magically appear on UK doorsteps. There is also a website:


Here both the hefty volume and the website includes street maps and restaurant menus, ….

Oh yes, no internet ….

There is also “Bermuda Pink Pages” at http://pinkpages.bm

This seems to be a search engine looking at brands, so if I wanted a specific make of tyre (or “tire” as the American spellchecker prefers) then Pink Pages would give me, for example, 3 local distributors of Michelin types. (Post-event research note: to reach the names of these distributors took five clicks as opposed to one for the Yellow Pages, and it didn’t list the place where I actually got my problem solved – not quite the “with a single click” or “on one page” that the site claims )

Back to my problem.

Sadly the Traffic Code Handbook (Bermuda equivalent of Highway Code) had no lists – I wonder if anyone has considered using advertising to pay for the production of this booklet – it would be really useful if it included a comprehensive list of all traffic related services. It is probably akin to medical schools not accepting pharmaceutical advertising, the government cannot be seen to favor any one line of business.

The free “Bermuda.com guide”, which I believe I picked up at the airport, has lots of really useful information:
Where to buy Waterford Crystal or Wedgewood. (AS Cooper)
That the dockyard is a wifi zone
A map of the best beaches
More than 20 different eating places
Where to hire a wedding car
Public holidays 2013
That the dress code is conservative

But not where to get your flat tyre fixed. 😦
(Not actually surprising given that it is issued for tourists and since there is no car hire on the island then flat types are probably not a major consideration). It does have a website:


Next on my pile of literature is New Resident, subtitled “Everything you need to know about moving to Bermuda”. This I was given by Donna-the-realtor, and had devoured every line in the first two weeks before we had a home, but it has been tidied away into the drawer. It actually is full of useful information – and I mean it this time, not just where to rent a jet ski ….
How to open a bank account
That there are six radio stations
What you could expect to pay for tea bags ($5.95 for 50 Twinings)
That the gender ratio of the island is 52% female
A map of the town
A chart of air and sea temperatures by month

But, sadly again,not where to get a tyre fixed.

New Resident is available from


They also publish magazines focussing on insurance, sport, home building, and careers.

My only other leaflets were a ferry timetable and a bus timetable, which might be useful if the search for a tyre place failed.

You can probably work out that I have, at this point in time, solved both of my problems. I cannot claim that fixing the Internet was my achievement, it was just working again when I got back, but I did solve the tyre issue – why it took me such a long time to realise I had a smart phone I don’t know, but perhaps attributable to low serum-caffeine-levels.

There is a wonderful App “Bermuda Local” which solved my problems.

Just remember the American spelling of TIRE

The Discount Tire and Wheel garage not only opened at 8am, but removed the nail, tested the tyre, and put it back on the car “kwikker than a KwickFit fitter”. You probably have to be British to appreciate that joke.



I woke to freshly brewed “proper” coffee and the question “Where’s the baby powder?”
Post-dream disorientation took me back 25+ years: babies, nappies, feeding, changing… let me go back to sleep, please. But now we keep baby powder for the ants.

The ants have found their way into the kitchen. 20130702-115541.jpg

This isn’t actually my kitchen, the kitchen ants are not photogenic, these ones are to be found on the path outside, every day running back an forth along an invisible scented line.

They are quite small, well of course ants are, but to me they appear smaller then the UK ants. Pheidole megacephala – big-headed brown house ant. Like the English ants it is a member of the Formica family (nothing to do with laminate worktops) but the Bermudan ants seem to have two-segment waists while UK ones have single segment middles (petioles).

Until today I had no idea there are so many different ants:


The “bigheads” were first found in Mauritius and its a long way to Bermuda so I guess they travel well; in fact it is listed in the top 100 most invasive species. There are two types of worker ants in this species: Soldier ants with the biggest heads, about 4mm long, and Minor worker ants that are half the size and whose heads are relatively smaller. I think the ones in my photo above must be minor workers as none of them seem to have large heads. They feed on dead insects – I have been advised that they will congregate around dead cockroaches but that I should first trace the line of ants back to their nest before moving the cockroach and then spray the nest.


Wellcome Images

I am told you can still buy DDT in Bermuda; banned in US in 1970s and UK in 1984, but still manufactured in India and still used to fumigate homes in some places in the world.
For the medical audience, it works by opening sodium channels in neurons, which for the ants means spasms and death. The toxic effects on humans include endocrine effects, it is an anti-androgen, and direct effects on the genes, hence is a carcinogen. The DDT story is as much political as it is science and the ban is as controversial as its continued use in some countries. Paul Mueller, a Swiss biochemist, received a Nobel prize in 1948 for his work on DDT and it did prevent millions of deaths from Malaria.

The following have all been recommended to me to get rid of ants:

Mint leaves…. apparently they dont like the smell
Cayenne pepper….the capsaicin in cayenne pepper is an irritant to ants
Baby powder….the cornstarch in baby powder is irritant
Cornmeal …makes ants explode: they take the grains home, eat them and then presumably drink some water so grains expand inside the ant, and then they go pop – but might take an awful lot of cornstarch to feed a whole colony
Cinnamon ….but some people dont like the smell any more than the ants
Bay leaves … not very tidy
Vodka. …. 3:1 ratio of vodka to water, sprayed liberally, but might give visitors the wrong impression
Washing-up liquid and water mix ….works for a while but then they come back when it has dried

We have settled on baby powder, as you have surmised from my wake-up call. I have no idea where the houseproud urges came from as I never had them in UK, but I am resisting the inclination to hoover it all up as soon as the ants take a break. The smell brings back some of the nicer memories of having children, it is relatively cheap and so far I haven’t heard any suggestion that it is carcinogenic….

Update on that: baby powder does contain talc which a recent meta-analysis suggests is linked to ovarian cancer


(Daily Mail version)


(Academic link)

OK so keep it well away from “intimate personal hygiene”, probably still safe for ant prevention.

I mentioned cockroaches earlier, the Periplaneta americana.


After fruitless search for one to photograph I have resorted to that well-known w…pedia for a picture. They eat anything that is not alive and are common in basements – guess who isn’t going to unpack the cardboard boxes when it is time to return to UK! I havent actually seen a living one out here yet, I am assured it is only a matter of time, and I rather wish it would happen so I can get over it as the apprehension at meeting one in the bathroom at night grows with every night I escape unscathed. I like the friendly name given to them here: Palmetto bugs.

On my search just now I did find this:


It think it is a June Bug (Lygyrus cuniculus ) which apparently fly drunkenly at night in June (obviously), but it doesnt look exactly like the one in my field guide book so I might be wrong. Any suggestions?

There are many prettier and less annoying insects and bugs, butterflies, millipedes and snails, but none of these are threatening my kitchen so not priority no1.

A strange experience

I turned into the road which wound steeply up the hill and as the engine struggled (it’s only a little Kia) I was confronted by a woman standing in the middle of the road waving both hands at me. Was I going the wrong way on a one-way street (easy to do as they don’t seem to have many road signs telling you things like that) or had there been an accident up ahead? Neither, she wanted a lift up to the hospital at the top of the road!

The Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute (MAWI) is a psychiatric hospital, established as St Brendan’s Hospital in 1846. The building is an encouraging bright turquoise color. It is a far cry from the Victorian edifices that house many of UK psychiatric units. In 1848 there were just 8 patients, now it has 89 inpatient beds and provides over 10,000 outpatient appointments.

There are currently 4 Psychiatric Consultants and 4 training posts. In 2011 a new mental health plan was implemented, but even so one of the psychiatrists has openly stated that Bermuda is 40 years behind the developed world when it comes to psychiatry. The focus is only gradually changing to community management of mental illness but they struggle to cope with the many “revolving door” patients due to the lack of services outside. Stigma flourishes in the dark, as I realised during a conversation which was muted to a whisper for the phrase “she suffers from bipolar disorder you know, lots of issues”
It wasn’t referring to me, but for the fight against stigma I should say it could have been me.

So what should I do about this lady standing in the road? I felt apprehensive but for no good reason – she had no bag, no weapons, and when she spoke I could see she had few teeth. Her mouth betrayed the prolonged use of antipsychotic drugs – she had tardive dyskinesia and slurred speech. In the event I had little choice as she was by then climbing into my passenger seat. I felt guilty for immediately sitting on my purse and mobile phone, there was really no basis for my anxiety.

In our first week here we were warned about gun crimes and from the number of people mentioning it I presumed it was a big problem. The figures for 2012 showed that 5 people were shot dead and another 7 injured by guns. Equivalent figures for London are 89 deaths and for US over 30,000 gun or knife deaths. Ok so these are not fair comparisons, but overall crimes against the person in Bermuda are uncommon and are decreasing.

“It’s a hot day” I made polite conversation.
“This your car?”
A vague affirmation and “in Devonshire” as to where I lived.
Then, blow me down, just round the corner a man is waving me down, does he too want a lift to the hospital? It is within view, just 200 yards, so I decide he is just being friendly. Bermudians are very friendly. I have been instructed that Good Morning or Good Afternoon should precede any attempt at conversation and the correct response to this greeting is to make eye contact, smile and repeat. There have been times in my life when I avoid eye contact, not through any sense of guilt, rather because I prefer my own company or am feeling somewhat depressed, so I am deliberately looking up and smiling in case I am perceived as rude. Not sure if it is the weather or the friendliness, but my mood is certainly comfortably happy. My passenger too seems pleased with life and starts humming.

I don’t get to hear the whole hymn she is singing as we have arrived at the brightly optimistic turquoise building. I am sad in a way that I don’t get the chance to ask her about herself, about her medication, her life and her battle with mental health issues – yes, once a doctor, always a doctor, or maybe I am just plain nosy.

I drive on and find The Barn -effectively an enormous charity shop on behalf of the Bermuda Hospitals. I buy two books, one on brain surgery and the other on Bermuda wildlife.

Charity and Philanthropy

“Nourishing, developing, enhancing”
That’s the meaning of philanthropy (interesting etymological history on Wikipedia)
While charity is “the voluntary giving of help to those in need” (faith, hope and love come into it somewhere, but I never did concentrate at Sundayschool)

So, today I am joining my husbands office (def: a local centre of a large organization or a set of buildings – Ok so maybe I mean the people from the office) in a charity event: decorating at a local children’s charity, The Sunshine League.


It would probably make sense to volunteer to do something that uses your skills – as my family will testify, my decorating skills are not particularly good – remember the multicolored tiles in the bathroom? the orange walls in my office? – so quite why I am doing this is a mystery.

Volunteering on the island is a huge thing


As is philanthropy


I found as soon as I had landed I was being asked what/when/how I was planning to volunteer.
My advice he would be to take your time before committing, unless it is for a one-off event such as washing rubber ducks (serious, there is a rubber duck race for the hospice and the ducks need cleaning and sorting afterwards!)
So what am I volunteering?
I have signed up to be a guide at the local National Trust, specifically for Verdmont House


Haven’t you always wanted to be one of those people entitled to sit on the corner chairs in historic houses, quietly contemplating life and people-watching, creating stories in your head about the house or the visitors, offering small chunks of information and pointing out the Elizabethan cornices, dressing up in costumes (maybe not as a cook or gardener, but definitely the lady of the house), taking the challenge to keep a party of school children interested etc.
Maybe not your thing, but I have for several years had the ambition of being a National Trust Guide so why not!

I have to do a couple of shadowing sessions and then am on my own. It is a small house, relatively speaking if compared with places like Chatsworth or Blenheim, 300 years old and structurally mostly unchanged in all that time. Built in Georgian style before even George was on the throne, it has a pleasing symmetrical design and is situated on a hill overlooking the sea where a pleasant breeze takes the ferocity out of the heat. I am looking forward to working there.

I am not exactly sure I am looking forward to today’s charity! I didn’t bring any decorating clothes out here, it’s a very hot day, and I am not sure my creativity will be appreciated, so maybe I will be chief camera and document the day photographically (watch this spot).
Anyhow, it is time to go now, the others have paintbrushes in hand ….

Gibb’s Lighthouse


The hiking guide informed “it affords a panoramic view of the archipelago”
So off we set….
Maybe it was a mistake to park the car at, and hence begin the walk from the lighthouse itself – I needed a reminder that lighthouses are usually placed on a hill and if we started there then we had to end there – uphill all the way back!

But we are not totally daft and we had delayed the walk until early evening, hopefully cooler (a tiny bit) and, given it was the first walk for an embarrassingly long time, we chose the short circuit of 3km. Yes, it sounds very short but at 26C and 86% humidity, trust me its long enough.

There seems to be just one hiking book for Bermuda, that by Cecile Davidson, a local, published locally and available almost everywhere. Of the 20 walks, this was no 5, classed as moderate. Those who know me will already realize I am not the fittest person around, but I can walk comfortably about 6 miles in UK, unless it’s raining and I have a small paddy in the hope of reducing it to “round the block”. Here I need to recalibrate myself – humidity is harder than rain, ignoring for now the similarities, and the views worth stopping to appreciate occur every three steps. So the “moderate” “short circuit” walk was more than enough for a Saturday evening in June and there were a few moments when I wondered if we had been rather optimistic.


What did we see?
Part of the Railway Trail, St Anne’s Church from 1716, Church Bay, Tribe Road Nos 2 and 3 …
Oleander, Prickly Pear, Hibiscus, butterflies and lizards, a female bluebird, ….
Makes a change from the usual muddy field with cows!

You have to laugh a little at the “Queen’s View Plaque” where reportedly in 1953 on a state visit the Queen (Elizabeth II) stopped to take a look. I suspect she might have stopped more to get her breath after climbing Gibb’s Hill, but it doesn’t have the same ring about it “Breathless Point”

Would I recommend the walk – I enjoyed it and the views across Little Sound to Great Sound and of Dockyard and Hamilton are definitely camera-worthy. But it rather depends on if you are here for a week or a year – there are more amazing things to do if only a week, but if here longer and you find a quiet cool evening then yes it is worth the time.


Stage 2: find a place to live

Finding somewhere to live

Coming to Bermuda as expats from UK we needed a home to rent. While large companies might engage a relocation expert, we were left to work things out for ourselves.
Donna came to our rescue.
Introduced as “CBs mum” (CB, the IT guy ) she just happens to be one of the best realtors (estate agents for UK readers) in the country and she set out with gusto to find us a place.

“There’s lots on the market ” everyone said, most of which disappeared the day before we arrived. For $22K per month we could have considered renting Michael Douglas’s place …. Yes, well, did I mention its a small company, lets stick within the housing allowance!

Actually we did have choice and without knowing the country it was hard to weigh up the options:
Distance from Hamilton?
East or west end of island?
South or North shore?
Condo or stand alone?
Pool? Garden? Air con?
Traditional Bermudian or newer?

We viewed lots.
You should.
And Donna drove us slowly all round the island ( slow because the speed limit is 22mph – no kidding, and it is slow).

Tempted to divert from the topic in hand and tell you all about the strange road names, but that’s another chapter, we really do need to find a place to live, nice as it is we can’t stay in the hotel for two years!

In the end the need for a short commute won over. “On a 21 mile island how long can it be?” I hear you ask.

So we have opted for a “condo” (UK readers can interpret this as appartment/ flat/townhouse – essentially it is a home where some of the grounds and facilities are shared) about a ten minute drive into Hamilton. It is modern – the benefits of which we are just finding out as it seems that cockroaches and ants have difficulties getting in – fully air conditioned, again that’s a huge benefit when the humidity is 86% and rising – and has a fantastic view:


An Adventure

May 2013

Ever watched “Up”?
Well this is our adventure: two years, two fifty-somethings, never-done-anything-like-this-before, we surprised our family and got on a plane…. To Bermuda.

I will tell you more about us as we get further in, if its important, but mostly this is my grown-up scrapbook (remember all those camping trips when your parents made you keep scrapbooks of your holiday while it rained outside and you even glued in the French crisp packets?) OK, no glue and no crisp packets.

May 1st
Window seat for flight with amazing cloud formations as we came down to land. Bermuda looks very small such that I am impressed the pilot could even find it in the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

May 2nd
My body clock is four hours out so woke at 4am with energy that seems to have dissipated without any apparent achievements beyond getting dressed. Today is househunting day.

May 3rd
This is the slowest fast food ever:
KFC Bermuda.
And we now have 3 bank managers

May 4th
Explored the home furnishing possibilities in Hamilton shops.
Some very costly, wood more so than metal.

May 5th
Fruit muffin and banana feels like a healthy breakfast, but suspect the calories are hiding and will jump out as soon as I have swallowed them.
I ventured into the hotel pool, perhaps should have waited till the sun has warmed the water, but refreshing swim and made me feel good. But must work on those thighs, they have grown somewhat since I last saw them stomping along beneath a swimming costume. I would like to call it lymphoedema but it is more accurately described as fat.
So this afternoon I have started my adventure into study….. If you haven’t worked it out that it is creative writing by now then I am clearly not doing very well.
Robert suggested a walk, but neither of us seem to have gelled to the idea and we remain firmly seated in front of computer and iPad. It is Sunday, and even in Bermuda Sunday feels like Sunday.

May 6th
I am proud holder of a Bermuda Learners Permit with a lesson booked for Wednesday. I actually passed the theory test. When I can drive and we have the car it will all begin to feel less strange.

May 7th
Just two things to do today: inventory for flat and collect bank cards.

May 8th
Well of course the bank cards weren’t ready – this is Bermuda so what did I expect .
Today has been like a mountain, I had a driving lesson. Conclusion? Needs more practice. 30 years of UK driving has not prepared me for Bermuda.
The list of things I did wrong runs into double figures:
Not coming to proper stop at stop signs
Stopping when it wasn’t a stop junction
Stopping too far forward at junctions
Going left when told to go straight on
Turning into wrong lane of oncoming traffic ( it was an odd junction)
Speeding again.

And that was all after numerous attempts to reverse in zigzag and parallel park.

After all that I am not sure I want to drive at all.

Then I had a funny email from the bank:
” good day Mrs Law, we have in our possession your husband and your debit cards for collection from ….”
Sounded like they had taken him hostage.

So right now I am waiting for happy hour and free wine from the hotel.

May 21st

Yes a long gap, and lots has happened in that time, not least that I passed a driving test – never ever again.
There are three parts to it,
1. Drive forwards through a zig zag section marked with poles and bollards and yellow lines, stop at far end then “in your own time” which means not more then three minutes, reverse throu the same section, not touching either pole or line and stop beside examiner when finished.
2. Parallel parking – There’s apparently a fail safe way of doing it, if you only obey the rules…. For one who hates rules and rebels everyday that’s hard….
It’s all to do with positioning and turning the wheel, turning it to full lock, noe of this nanny pamby half hearted quarter turn, full lock and keep going slowly even though it feels as if you are at right angles to the impossibly small space.
2. The road test – they only take you on this if you pass parts one and two, so at last there is some relief half way through. Do not relax though, there won’t be many road signs and the instructor will speak rarely if at all. If he says nothing keep going straight on. So you can imagine the horrible feeling that prickled all over me when I turned right at a roundabout the approach to which he had been impassively silent…. And the even worse feeling as he said “did I tell you to make a right?” I heard myself respond (Oh Katie, surely you know it’s a rhetorical question) “No, but …” (For heavens sake you do not argue, years of driving with my husband have taught me that) The sentence dried up even as I thought it and was replaced with “sorry” and a certainty that I would be retaking this test next month. But somehow, somehow, I managed to pass, with the only two negatives being “that roundabout” and “you don’t need to give way at City Hall” (as if I knew where that even was).
I was ecstatic, jelly-like and nauseated, all at once.
A Bermuda Driving Licence, let me tell you, is something to be admired, and I will keep mine forever … Actually only for ten years, but by then, who knows.