More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism, part 22

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, edited extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More thrills than skills: A half-life in journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

IVAN was the pool man in Old Towne, a graceful residential area.

It was a place of elegant villas in well-tended gardens full of dazzling flamboyant trees, neatly-manicured lawns and generous swimming pools.

There should have been a lot of work here for Ivan. The pools were grey with volcano ash and the bottoms silted up with pumice gravel thrown out by the towering Soufriere Volcano which growled away, clearly visible.

But Old Towne was deserted. It was a ghost town of lavish but abandoned homes.

In August 1997, the scientists retracted their earlier view that Salem and its neighbouring residential areas were safe from the volcano.

The government of Montserrat promptly ordered all the residents out – wealthy local businessmen and expatriates alike.

But on a steep tarmacadamed road, next to a villa called Connemara, with a shamrock sign on the gate testifying to the Irish antecedents of its erstwhile owner, there was still a rambling bungalow in use.

It was the home of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, or MVO.