Up to March last year, I used to go to Hellshire Beach practically every week. I thoroughly enjoyed the breeze out. And I’m sure my car also benefited from the highway run, however short. It escaped the confines of going at 30 miles per hour between Kingston 6 and 7. I have to confess that sometimes I exceeded the speed limit on the highway. I could feel the car urging me to go faster.
Once, when I was well over the limit, I was stopped by a policeman. I mischievously told him, “Is not me, sir. Is di car break di speed limit.” He admitted that his brother in the US had a similar car and, after driving it, he certainly understood the temptation to speed. But he gave me a stern warning to obey the law.
A National Public Radio article published in January 2019 had an intriguing headline: “A speed limit on Germany’s autobahns: ‘Like talking gun control in the US’.” It’s an apt comparison. Idiots are willing to crash and die for the illusion of freedom. Hordes of gun-toting domestic terrorists are likely to descend on Washington, DC, this week to disrupt the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. If they do, this may prove to be the breaking point that forces Americans to overturn lax gun-control laws.
HEIGHT OF LUXURY
Off the highway, I would always stop at Tommy’s prosperous stall, next to the Fesco gas station on the Hellshire main road. Depending on the season, I would get sweetsops or naseberries or june plums; and roast breadfruit, if it was a week for fried fish. I usually alternated between steamed and fried fish to cut down on the calories.
As soon as I got to the beach, I would get cane from Derrick who knew exactly which piece to pick for me. A nutritionist once told me that a serving of cane is one joint. I had a good laugh. I told her that if I was going to limit myself to one joint, I really couldn’t bother. At Hellshire, I would gleefully enjoy my five joints of delicious cane.
After ordering my fish from Aunt Merl’s fish place, I would go next door to Prendy’s and sit in the sun on their patio. Even though I wasn’t patronising their shop, they generously gave me permission to stay there for about 15 or 20 minutes. Between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., that’s all the time you need for vitamin D to be produced by the sun. If it was a Sunday, the Flavor Unit sound system would be niceing up the place and I would request The Isley Brothers big tune, “Between the Sheets.”
Then it was time for my fish. If it was fried, it was in oil from the Coconut Board shop. I don’t use generic ‘vegetable’ oil. I don’t know any vegetable named ‘vegetable.’ I would sometimes take my own frying pan just in case it was an extra-busy day and there was no pan available for my single fish. When one of my friends, Enith, saw me handing over frying pan and oil, she exclaimed, “I thought an American Express black card was the height of luxury. Now I know it’s Carolyn’s custom-order fish at Hellshire.”
APARTHEID ON THE BEACH
It was definitely the fish that took me to Hellshire, not the beach. There’s hardly any beach left. That’s the other meaning of my headline. The beach itself is suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Most of the sand has gone. Only rocks remain. Years of neglect have resulted in the destruction of protective reefs. Successive governments have failed to conserve this prime beach enjoyed mostly by working-class residents of Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine.
From what I’ve seen, it’s mainly uptowners who go to the nearby Fort Clarence Beach. If you looked closely at the patrons of the two beaches, you could conclude that Jamaica is an apartheid state. Now that Fort Clarence Beach is being overdeveloped under new management, it’s likely to become even more exclusive. It’s already looking like a down-market Puerto Seco Beach Club. But the entry fee will probably still be prohibitive for the average Jamaican.
Last Thursday, the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change hosted a virtual media sensitisation meeting on the “Beach Access and Management Policy For Jamaica (Green Paper).” I was surprised by how few media houses were represented. Perhaps, they assume this is not a priority issue for their audience. On the cover of the 94-page document, there’s a surprising claim: “Jamaica’s beaches are managed sustainably and the natural resources conserved for the enjoyment and benefit of all.” In the present tense, this is pure fiction.
The Executive Summary identifies the actual concerns of citizens:
“1. The unavailability of access points to facilitate physical access by the public to the beach;
2. The lack of sufficient public beaches of a good standard for bathing and other recreational activities;
3. Payment of fees for access to the foreshore and/or use of public beaches; and
4. The loss of physical and visual access to the sea and coastline as a result of coastal developments.”
In the Q&A, a passionate participant raised the matter of beach access in Negril. I asked about the future of Hellshire Beach. I’ve managed my withdrawal symptoms by visualising past pleasures and new possibilities. If this beach is to recover, the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change must stop the erosion, no matter what the cost. Pretty green papers must be turned into sustainable environmental action that benefits all Jamaicans.