An Adventure with the Aunt, May 2021
by Jill Mead
Juliet was born in the UK and lived in the USA and the Caribbean as a child.
She went to a bizarre, eccentric useless Norfolk boarding school but she’s probably the cleverest person I know, apart from her daughter. She then studied at the Central School of Art Foundation and Textiles. She is a Gobelins tapestry weaver, whatever than means, I have to Google quite a few things Juliet mentions although one of her most endearing habits is saying ‘as you know…’
She has worked in Art and Opera, travelled between the UK and the Caribbean, working on and off in Cuba for 35 years. She still lectures in the Caribbean every spring, speaks fluent Spanish and a bit of French and German.
She was Head of Design for the Directorate of Cultural Heritage of the City Historian of Havana 2000-2006, published several books on Caribbean history and culture (one about Havana for children), continues to draw, write, photograph, has all manner of eclectic interests and she’s a magnet for trivia. Oh and she’s a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars.
Myself and a friend accompanied Juliet recently on one of her adventures. We didn’t have a clue what to expect. We met a handful of kids and jumped on a bus. It was a pretty cold day but no-one seemed to mind.
Kensington Gardens was our destination and en route to a pirate ship we visited the Peter Pan statue. When I asked Juliet why she loved it so much she replied ‘Because it’s covered with fairies with kind faces and long beautiful dragonfly-ish wings, two of them are having an earnest conversation with a squirrel, there are mice children can stroke and count, and a snail. And the mice are polished from over 100 years of stroking.’
The children were all enchanted and indeed stroked, and counted, and asked and keenly devoured every morsel of information Juliet threw out effortlessly.
Then we fed ducks and swans and parakeets. Not quite parrots but as cheerful and noisy.
We were all loving every minute. And after learning, safely, how to use a cutlass we hunkered down on a patch of grass with our packed lunches.
A map was spread out of pirate routes and keen, fascinated faces craned over.
Who knew a pirate wore an eye patch to train one eye for night vision, so as to be able to board a galleon in the dark, stealthily and without a lantern to advertise his presence.
Kids love gruesome stuff and learned about the pirate system of compensation for injuries. 600 pieces of eight for the loss of a right arm. 500 for the left. Bit unfair if you’re left handed. 500 for a right leg, 400 pieces for the left. Is there such a thing as being right or left legged?
I’m genuinely surprised a finger is the same compensation as an eye. As are many of the kids: lots of questions ensue.
Juliet’s surrounded by children when we get to the Diana Playground. Many more than just from our group. We’re informed that ‘as we know’ the little tiny boat, devoid of kids, alongside the massive wooden galleon is of course the actual pirate ship. Because pirate ships were small and swift, and could easily overtake large, lumbering galleons whose captains usually reduced their artillery in order to illicitly cram more treasure on board.
Kids swamp the small ship now and Juliet starts an ascent onto the galleon with her cutlass between her teeth.
As chocolate doubloons are dished out, a real mid-18th Century silver coin with a value of 8 Spanish reales is handed around. Where’s Long John Silver’s parrot when you need him to squawk ‘Pieces of Eight’ on cue?
Questions fire forth. ‘Is that real? Where did you get it from? Can I hold it now? Are you a pirate?’ ‘No, I’m not a pirate but when I was small my father gave me his copy of ‘To Sweep the Spanish Main’ by Rear Admiral Evans, published in 1932. From the moment I read it I wanted to be a pirate, and when we lived in New York in the 1960s I formed a ‘pirate crew’ with my three brothers. Our flag showed a skull and crossbones above the letters ‘BBP’ which stood for “Barclays Bloody Pirates”. I still want to be a pirate.’
We bloody all do now.
She’s a remarkable, fascinating person. But aside from being an intellectual match for Stephen Fry, she’s clueless about social media. Thinking sliding into your DMs referred to Doc Martens and when I sent her a ragbag of pics of our adventure day she replied how much she loved them but wished just a little that she didn’t resemble Keith Richards.
What’s not to love.
Jill Mead @speediemeadie66