Sunday, 22 February 2009

To The Lighthouse

I have been burying myself in P G Wodehouse, not Virginia Woolf. So when B suggested we should go to the lighthouse, it seemed only fair to give a little homage to the good lady who made my last year at college such a headshredder.

It was about 5pm. We took a taxi up to the rough and dodgy back streets which make up the north-west end of Georgetown. The lighthouse is stranded mid-street, opposite the molasses silo, looking rather forlorn. It’s brick, hexagonal, fetchingly red and white striped, built by the English in 1869 to replace the wooden Dutch one.

It was locked. There was a large chain on the gate.

We shouted to the watchman, who ambled over incuriously. It emerged that his incuriosity stemmed in part from his being deaf and dumb. He pointed overhead, and we looked up to see an Afro-Guyanese head poking from a window. “Yawgortiz?” “Sorry?” “Y’all got tickets?” “No!” “OK”.

Not sure whether “OK” meant “sod off” or “never mind”, we lingered. Something appeared from high above. A rope, lowered inch by inch to our faces, with the key to the lighthouse on the end of it. We let ourselves in.

The last lighthouse we climbed was on honeymoon. What a difference. This one had wooden steps instead of stone, leaning drunkenly, a hexagonally corner-turning handrail. Over halfway up, we came to the key dispenser. Turns out he’s a real lighthouse keeper, manning the inland light for ships coming into the Demerara. He keeps the log, handwritten, in big school notepads with a ‘Lighthouse Logbook’ label glued on to the front.
(note death-like grip on the railing)

We carried on up, into the narrow neck, popped out the top and opened the wooden doors to the platform. When I say ‘platform’, perhaps ‘tinfoil’ would be a better description. The rail was mercifully solid, no namby fencing or other health and safety pansyhood. Broad, interesting, unbeautiful view of the docks, run-down quarters of town, building sites. Then up into the light itself, wonderful wavelets of inches-thick glass, a golden light that B guesses is gas-fuelled. Well-oiled cogs, a cared-for object. It makes me notice that I haven’t seen many such here.

Back down to solider ground, we chatted for a while with the lighthouse keeper. Gave him 500 dollars and rightly guessed that his significant “Thank you” meant “forget the change”. A bargain at the price, though.

1 comment:

  1. Changed my mind on the gas bulb - mainly because the photo on my blog clearly shows the voltage of the light bulb! The flue above the bulb must be there to vent some of the heat away - I can testify that the bulb is pretty hot - especially when you put your balding head in the line of those great lenses whilst trying to crawl in to get a photo! On hindsight, possibly the most interesting bit of the mechanism is the bit which rotates the light. Now I'm not sure about this, but I suspect that it might be run by a weight, wound up to the top of the tower, being slowly pulled back down and turning the mechanism... Can that be right? Might have to return with a toolkit!