More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 25

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, 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.

Americans, Jim and Beverley Harris, retired a few years ago to the Providence Estate House in the north of the island – still thought to be ‘safe’. Providence must be – by anybody’s standards – a dream house. It certainly was for Paul McCartney who stayed here through the 1970s.

By the side of the generously-sized pool, in which I am now swimming, he sat with Stevie Wonder and wrote Ebony & Ivory. But for Jim and Bev, the dream has gone sour.

“We came here for golf, tennis and a relaxing retirement. Not for the excitement.” A helicopter chartered by the Volcano Observatory flew low overhead to land a couple of hundred yards away drowning out Bev’s words. “Look at it, it’s like Saigon these days.”

White expats and native Montserratians only mixed at a superficial level. It was hardly surprising. Whilst the music of Handel floats over the pool deck at Providence, up the road in St John’s, people dance in the main street to reggae from a ghetto blaster. You sense that the reggae stimulates and satisfies those in St John’s rather more.

Ernestine M Y Cassell, director of Montserrat Tourist Board, was a real trooper. ‘The show must go on’ seemed to be her motto: in the midst of all this, she announced a rather extraordinary and forward-looking tourism initiative for the beleagured island. As the volcano threatened to blow its top, she announced a campaign to attract ‘adventure tourists’.

“Montserrat is currently the focus of world interest and now is the time to market the island,” she resolutely declared. “I can’t sit here until the volcano subsides.” She thought there is a niche market for people looking for thrills and for serious vulcanologists: people in anoraks – to you and me – who get seriously excited by pyroclastic folows, magna domes and mega-eruptions.

She admitted to me she was breaking new ground, so to speak. “My university course in marketing never told me how to market a volcano.” Ernestine, who had been running the island’s tourist industry for more than ten years, was a graduate of the International