Long tails & Bermuda shorts

Most people start writing on day one of a new adventure, I'm starting a year after relocating to Bermuda. What can I say... I've been busy with the day job! Contrary to the belief of many close pals, I'm not in the Caribbean, but in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I'm a Brit in a far flung, little heard of corner of ye ol' British Empire but rather than this being a home from home, life as an expat couldn't be stranger than out here in the triangle...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

36-24-36: The Vital Statistics of Bermuda in 2011

For those of you that were left concerned by my last post that my festive season was lining up to be a big lump of coal, fear not. By the 23rd I was fully into the swing of things and rocking around the Christmas tree on the rock. Originally a little dismayed to be doing Crimbo without the fam this year, I sought sanctuary in the company of the other expat orphans and let's just say Christmas Day started on a beach and ended in a hot tub... not too shabby for Ali!!

So now we find ourselves in 2012 and it's time to look forward. Actually scrap that, let's look back for one more post. After all, they say the lessons from the past hold the key to the future. Plus, it's been a tough first day back at the grindstone for most of us so no one wants to trawl through oceans of text, I'm going to let the motion of the numbers do the talking...

8 = The number of students expelled from a local Grammar School in January after delivering the "birthday punches" that landed a 14-year-old student in hospital with a fractured rib and minor concussion.

800 = The number of people that turned up for a hospitality job fair in February, where just 155 jobs were available.

90 = The age of the island's only general hospital, King Edward VII Memorial, when demolition began in March ahead of a much-needed $247 million redevelopment programme due for completion in 2014.

521 = The number of condos added to a list of Bermuda properties that can be bought by expats in April following amendments by Government to immigration law.

20 = The number of scantily-clad cheerleaders grab that arrived on the inaugural AirTran Airways flight from Atlanta to Bermuda in May as part of a promotional exercise for the vital new tourist feed. While the island's air links were strengthened, the cruise network suffered a series of blows in 2011 with news that Carnival Cruise Lines was slashing its visits from 16 in 2011 to 4 in 2012, similar cuts were announced by Princess Cruises and Holland America deciding to pull the plug on Bermuda stops in 2013.

$200 million = The size of a three-year bank loan negotiated by Bermuda Government in June to cover expected new borrowing and the refinancing of short-term debt.

47 = The age of political party, United Bermuda Party, when it officially closed its doors in July. The UBP ruled Bermuda for 30 years until 1998 and was replaced by the newly formed One Bermuda Alliance as the Official Opposition Government. Meanwhile, Bermuda’s retail sector continued to struggle. Car dealerships faced the worst slump for decades, with vehicle sales for July down 44.7% compared with July 2010.

$7.5 million = The size of the budget cut that led the Bermuda Police Service to declare it was running out of money in August, just four months into the fiscal year. Numerous Bermuda charities also felt the credit crunch in 2011, highlighted in August when the popular children's charity's, The Sunshine League, was forced to close the doors of its 92-year-old children's home.

2 = Bermuda's ranking for quality of living against other jurisdictions in the Caribbean/Central America region in a report released by the Financial Times’ fDi intelligence division in September. In the same report, Bermuda didn't even make the top 10 for business friendliness.

71,258 = The official population of Bermuda according to 2010 Census figures released in October. Since the last census in 2000, the number of Bermudians has grown by 4% (to 50,533) and the number of non-Bermudians by 2% (to 13,513). 8% described themselves of ‘mixed’ race and 55% as ‘black’ — a drop of 1%. The ‘white’ population fell from 34 to 31%.

76 = Where Miss Bermuda, 23-year-old Jana Outerbridge, was placed in 61st Miss World Beauty Pageant, which took place in London in November. Miss Venezuela took the crown and runners-up up were Miss Philippines and Miss Puerto Rico.

$1 billion = Bermuda's current net public debt according to figures released by Premier Paula Cox in December. She also announced that Government spent $129 million more than it raised in the last financial year.

As the year drew to a close the Premier made the following statement to outline her hopes and visions for the year ahead:

“My greatest wish for Bermuda in 2012 is to see our people stand up and recognise the opportunity we have to make this country great. As Government, we have a significant responsibility to craft a vision and to devise a policy and legislative framework to make that vision a reality. However the most critical element is for us as a community to work towards the common goal. Too often we behave like atoms, each shooting off in different directions.”

“We have to operate like a flock of geese flying in formation pushing forward and helping each other on the trail. When one gets tired the other takes the lead, but we arrive at our destination together. United, not all the same, but sharing a common goal. The only way to have change is to make it happen. 2012 will be no different from 2011 in terms of some of the real challenges we can expect to face as the global economy continues to sputter. However 2012 will require us to push ourselves further than we have before.”
“We must be far better, more productive, more creative, more welcoming than we have ever been. Remember that old slogan, ‘Bermuda is you, Bermuda is me?’ Well let’s start living it. Let’s make 2012 a year of revival. Let us build one another together.”

The official start of 2012 was traditionally marked on the island with the dropping  of, not one, but two Bermuda onions in Hamilton and St. George's. You hear that NYC?! We take your ball and we raise you two onions!! Happy new year to my copious amounts of readers :-)

Monday, December 19, 2011


So it's December 19 and no doubt elsewhere in the world where there's snow, or at least a chill in the air, it feels like Christmas already. With a week to go, still not feeling it here in the triangle yet. I've been to a ton of xmas parties, seen a zillion trees and Hamilton has been lit up in all its glory for weeks but still nada. So rather than get too concerned I've decided to let my Christmas spirit do it's own thing (it'll come to the party eventually) and not succumb to silly season brain mush just yet. While the rest of the planet ponders over light issues, such as whether X Factor was justly won, which is the best track from the Bieber Christmas album and how many baubles are too many on the tree, I'm keeping it real with a dissection of a heavy issue in this post... discrimination. 

Firstly, the fact that here in Bermuda, which was considered part of the developed world (last time I looked), discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is legal. A few weeks back an ad in The Royal Gazette for “Wanted: homosexual house cleaner (heterosexuals need not apply)” caught my eye. This seemed a little strange but all was revealed when a human rights campaigner came forward to claim authorship, trying to make a point about how backward it was that sexual orientation has not yet been added to the Human Rights Act. This is despite years of protests and claims from the Government that it would be looked at. 

This ludicrous situation was highlighted by legislation aimed at protecting the rights of disabled people in the workplace coming into effect at the beginning of December. Reading this in the news, I was surprised that this wasn't the case years ago. The same could be said for proposal the Government made in November to outlaw age discrimination. It's seems crazy that this isn't already a done deal as it is in the UK. 

News this week demonstrating that you really can't judge a book by it's publishing date was the completion of the Everest Marathon by 70-year-old Bermudian, Giorgio Zanol. He became the first ever septuagenarian to do so as the cut off age is normally 65 due to the intense pressure of this event on the body, but Giorgio jumped through all the hoops to run the race. This is an impressive feat at any age, but poor Giorgio's 40-year-old son, Marco, went along for the ride and sadly had his achievement overshadowed somewhat by his father's performance. 

Rather upsettingly it appears that discrimination is rife on the island, and not just among humans. Carrots are suffering too. In a move that mirrors the toughening of work permits to ensure that skilled local people are given preference over guest workers from overseas in recruitment process, the embargo on foreign carrots has become more strict. The ban on imported carrots, unless insufficient Bermudian carrots are available, was put in place to protect local farmers. Don't get me wrong, Bermuda carrots are delicious, sweet, with a delightful texture. However, it has to be said, they're not the best looking in the world. In the main they are short, disfigured and nobly. As there are no laws in place on discriminating on the basis of looks, I shall voice this opinion freely without fear of retribution. I happen to believe that there is enough room on this island for carrots of all races. I, for one, would certainly appreciate a good looking baby carrot to accompany my turkey on Christmas day. Bah humbug!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Third party power of endoresments

The power of the third party endorsement lies at the heart of PR. If something is good, don't say it yourself, get someone else to, and preferably a journalist. Now, I'm going to let you into an a little industry secret... very few of these so-called independent points of view are genuine, or at least uncoerced. Very often, a journalist's opinion has been moulded by a press release, particularly in the short-staffed newsrooms of the credit crunched media when there isn't time to source and research a story from scratch. Then's there's the happy customer quote, what we in the business like to call the "case study," to superglue a stamp of approval on your product, service, policy, political agenda. 

But Bermuda succeeded the minor miracle last week of securing, not one, but two of these golden nuggets.

Firstly, there is a video masterpiece, "Trip of a Lifetime," currently going viral. It features superb footage of the young and the restless and the beautiful cliff diving, or 'falling of the rock' as they term it, set against a fabulously cool soundtrack. It certainly has the pull factor making you want to get on a plane and find this place of dramatic backdrops, tangerine and lilac sunsets and brilliantly bright beaches. It did it to me and I'm already here! In less than a week it's generated over 70,000 hits and a little controversy, as a Bermudian father of four died performing this very same pursuit this summer

All things considered, the video is however proving popular and begging the question why don't tourism use this organically grown ingredient in its mass visitor cultivation campaign.

Then it was more "pwoar" than "fore" when golf pro, Darren Clarke, clapped eyes on the island while competing in last week's PGA Grand Slam of Golf at Bermuda's Port Royal course last week. He cancelled his Europe golf plans, deciding, in the words of Mark Twain, "I'd rather stay in Bermuda."

The positive effects of a stay in Bermuda for another celebrity were also highlighted recently by news that Masterworks Museum of Art is due to stage a memorial for the works of John Lennon, whose visit to the island in 1980 inspired his albums "Double Fantasy" and "Milk and Honey."A little known fact, or at least one that I was unaware of until last week, and it's my favourite Lennon song, was that his hit "Woman" was actually written in Bermuda. As reported on Bernews.com, the former Beatle said an interview: “The song ‘Woman’ came about because, one sunny afternoon in Bermuda, it suddenly hit me what women do for us. Not just what my Yoko does for me, although I was thinking in those personal terms … but any truth is universal."

The demo tapes recorded in Bermuda are available on YouTube. As Lennon was murdered just weeks after the release of "Double Fantasy," this Bermuda vacay strikes me as an important part of music history that seems to little-known. 

This was all followed by news released on Friday about the Government's plans for a $200,000 National Tourism Plan. Since January the Tourism Department has been working hard on set of "strategic imperatives." Might one suggest a tad less naval gazing and a little more seeing what is right in front of your eyes. In times like these, when resources are limited, the old fashion adage about the importance of working with what you've got rings true. Why spend a fortune on cosmetic surgery when you could play to the strengths that are landing in your lap. Encourage more extreme sports tourism using the viral as as a springboard, launch a series of golf AND relaxation packages and use the superb tourism generating model provided by Gracelands to turn Villa Undercliffe in Bermuda, where Lennon wrote his final albums, into a pilgrimage paradise. Or at least start selling the Bermuda emblazoned t-shirt that Lennon wore as a collectible!

John and Sean overlooking Spanish Point. Who knows what Lennon could have done for Bermuda tourism if he stayed alive long enough to talk about his experiences of the island...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life's a lottery, even for Golddiggers!

Following the news in the last couple of weeks of over 120 redundancies in Bermuda (Bacardi -13, Citi Hedge Fund Services - 105, Bermuda Motors - 5), some revelations from a visit of the UK's Minister for Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham, to the island, AKA our new BFF (Best Friend Forever), were very welcome.

Mr. Bellingham, or "Hen" as he is fondly known to us offshore offspring, had some really nice things to say about Bermuda, which we hope is not just lip service because he wants to hold our hand. He said that we could be a model for other Overseas Territories and that if anyone dared called us a "Tax Haven" in the playground rather than our proper name of "low-tax jurisdiction" then their ass is grass! I'm paraphrasing obviously.

Hen's visit came as the UK Government starts work on a new White Paper on the Overseas Territories.
One particularly interesting proposal that may feature in the report is that good causes in the OTs could start to benefit from funds raised by the UK National Lottery, which brings in a whopping $44 million a week. As a Brit living in BDA I can see this idea from both sides of the Atlantic and I have to say I don't think it's one of the best. Yes, that's a lot of money that could be shared across all corners of the UK - even the bits that aren't physically attached, but given the state of the UK's bank account, I'm sure that money, even ten-fold the money, could easily be spent on shore. Yes Bermuda has it's own challenges presented by the global economic meltdown but it is still pretty wealthy, home to the uber rich and the living is, comparatively, easy. And if it's not then you are probably less inclined to drown yourself at Elbow Beach than in the Thames, lets face it.

But even if this little windfall doesn't come off, there is hope for the Bermuda piggy bank yet. Britannia may rule Bermuda but Bermuda rules the waves apparently. Explorer Nick Hutchings is convinced that all that lies glittering at the bottom of the ocean is gold.

He is busy photographing the ocean floor around the island in the hope of confirming that rumours of 'yellow magnetic veins' than began with a submarine trip in the 80s are in fact true. As well as gold digging, he is also investigating whether the seas off Bermuda are home to black stalagmites that produce gold and copper ore or other valuable metal-rich rock that could be sold off a $40-275 for a ton of crust. Nick - if you need any help, I have my PADI certificate!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Mile Wide Club

There has been much future-gazing and debate in recent weeks about how to get more peeps to the Bermuda hood to spend their big bucks and in doing so secure its, wait for it, the byword of late, sustainability. So we're talking cruise ships and air travel.

Firstly, a study of Bermuda's shipping channels has brought the matter of how to cater to ever-expanding  cruise ships to the fore. Sadly, unlike those perfectly round desert island you get in children's stories, Bermuda has all sorts of curves and corners (plenty of junk in its trunk you might say) to navigate in order to bring a ship into dock. The island started its life as a volcano and so actually consists over over 200 islands, although I imagine some are mere dots in the ocean. The report speculates that in order to accommodate the cruise ships of the future, a 70-metre wide by 10-metre deep channel, known as Town Cut, that ships use to access the historic town of St.George's in the East would need to be widened through the elimination of at least three islands and a cost of around $70 million. The reason... St George's gets 100 times less visitors as it did 4 years, mainly due to issues of water access. Similar plans are underway to scope out increasing the size of channels into the island's capital, Hamilton.

When reports like this come out it is easy to get carried away in thinking, well this is the only option and a must-do to save Bermuda's tourism trade from extinction. However, an examination of the bigger picture, reveals that as cruise passengers spend an average of $210 each according to Government figures, far less than the average hotel nightly room rate,so attracting hotel guests will have a much bigger economic impact. Therefore increasing the ease of passage to the island by air should be the focus of everyone's attention.

This conclusion hasn't been overlooked. The Government is busy drawing up a National Tourism Plan and as part of those discussions the subject of air travel has been a key focus. The prospect of Bermuda having its own airline was even raised. Now this sounds a little crazy at first but when you consider that Air Jamaica and Cayman Air exist and have so far survived the downturn unlike other larger airlines then maybe it's not complete madness. Currently BA has the monopoly on direct flights from the UK and it's rumoured to be one of their most profitable routes. No big surprise as it has to be one of their most expensive routes relatively speaking by mileage. My bank account has definitely taken a few rather big hits for my trips home and I very rarely get visitors. Although maybe I'm kidding myself that it's on account of the air fare: -(

I already have a powerful vision of what shape BDAAIR could take and maybe much of my inspiration comes from the spirit of Venga Airways from the classic "We're going to Ibiza" 90s tuuune. My feeling is that boarding the airline should give you island flavour from the moment you step on board. I'm picturing stewards in Bermuda shorts, a welcome Dark n Stormy, menus featuring fish chowder, local fish entrees and rum cake for afters! Yum! Maybe even a live set from Will Black in the first class lounge. You'd barely even notice the 7 hours go by, you'd be having so much of a good time. Rather like a night on Front Street before you even land. Somehow it's 3.30am, you're in Cafe Cairo and no idea how you got there... but that's another story for another blog post!!

However, even with the best airline in the world, it still matters what's on offer when you arrive. I've been seeing the island through a tourist's eyes over the last few weeks. It's that time of year again when a few friends' work contracts have come to end. I won't dwell on that as it's still a little raw :-( Looking on the bright side, I have got to be part of a number of 'bucket list' expeditions as deserters tick the boxes on their 'things to do before you leave' lists.

One such adventure led me to join a horse riding trail along the beaches with Spicelands one morning just before popping off to the office for the average working day. We were joined by some tourists from New Jersey and talking to them en route highlighted issues that most tourists are likely to face. They found a lack of up-to-date information about what to do on the island before they arrived and then difficulties with logistics when they did work out what they wanted to do.

Admittedly booking a horse ride was not as easy as I'd anticipated. You have to know what you want in order to get it (like so many things in life, sadly). We wanted to ride on the beaches but in peak season you can only do that at 7am but I only know that from word of mouth rather than any information I found and certainly not straight from the horse's mouth - although that would make life a lot easier! Then there was the issue of finding the stable. I must have gone past them hundreds of times on my travels but when you are trying to find the place before sunrise, you're still half asleep and neon signs that you can actually see are a no-no, it all becomes a little complicated. It's these finer details that stick in your mind as negatives when you are on holiday and your trying to make the most of every last second of freedom and instead you're bogged down in admin.

Yep, with holidays it's the whole package deal that counts, limiting the emotional excess baggage and getting value for money and a smile at every turn. I'm just hoping that the policymakers remember that before they overly concern themselves with digging deeper shipping channels when they should maybe try scratching just below the surface to create those magic moments dusted with sparkling customer service and a smidgeon of charisma. Come on Bermuda, show them why you rock and you're not just some random rock no one wants to visit...

Monday, September 12, 2011

To Labour or not to Labor...

In PR land, August is commonly known as 'silly season' due to the lack of hard news it generally generates. Here in Bermuda there's been plenty of silliness to populate the summer season but a surprising abundance of real news centring around a number of labour disputes. You can't blame a worker for picking this time of year when the weather is at its sweetest to wanna down tools.

Unfortunately it is also the time of year when the island is at its busiest with tourists, ready to be inconvenienced and put off for vacationing here for life. Not a great way to go in a struggling economy Bermuda!

There was an eight-week bus strike after drivers were up in arms by the sacking of a colleague who refused a drug test after an accident that injured a passenger. This rather shady grey matter is finally expected to be sorted through arbitration. Then came a strike notice from City of Hamilton workers disgruntled by the sacking of two colleagues. A ban on overtime for dockworkers as a cost-saving measure has led to delays in food shipments that come into Bermuda on Sundays reaching supermarket shelves and restaurants. As if the lettuce wasn't limp enough already! Then it was the prison workers threatening a strike over 'sub-human' conditions as they claim to face more dangerous criminals than ever before. With many of the island's working population off-island on vacay, it begged the question who was on the island and functioning last month. Would the last one to leave the island please turn off the light!!

As we hit the Labor Day holiday on Monday, September 5, most the disputes had reached some sort of resolution. Oh the irony, if they had continued over this U.S. celebration of the economic and social contributions of workers. However it wasn't all best foot forward towards as unions threatened to boycott this very day's festivities, marking the 30th year that the date has been observed in Bermuda. The unions felt it was "counterproductive” to participate in celebrations as they see International Workers’ Day on May 1 to be “the true Labour Day.” I've gone cross-eyed, isn't it counterproductive to strike about something so seemingly trivial in the first place?! Come on people, let's sit down and settle this over a nice tea break. 

All this silliness led me to make the most of the day off rather than spend it pounding the pavements with a placard. I went off to Chicago, which certainly lived up to expectations that it would be my kind of town. Skyscrapers, shopping, sunshine, Starbucks washed down with more than a few cheeky vinos, cosmos and slices of deep pan to the sounds of ja-aa-azzz. I learnt that Chicago is actually known as the 'windy city' for its political uncertainties as a swing state rather than the high winds off Lake Michigan as often assumed. 

Back on the island we're are in the full throngs of dealing with physical winds. We missed the lovely Irene on the way out by a mere few days, only to be greeted by the far too friendly Katia on our return. Luckily she turned out to have more pout than puff for this little island. Now Maria is hot on her heels this week, but it's too early to tell whether her she will strut her stuff this way and make a swing for us with an over-stuffed handbag. Nevertheless I'll be hurricane-force super-glued to the highly addictive www.stormpulse.com once again...

Monday, August 8, 2011


Just about recovered enough from my return from my UK vacation (a week ago!) to write a post. And I'm not even joking. When you live in a paradise far far from home, the whole idea of a holiday being all about a little R n R flies out of the plane window as soon as you take off. Time off becomes all about finding time (and somehow quality time) for ever person you want to see. And with ten days back in blighty, the longest period I've been home since I bumped off to Bermuda in April 2009, achieve it I did, but forsaking my health. Ever since I landed I've been plague by face ache, which, having been mis-self-diagnosed as sinusitis and following a surprise root canal today, seems to have at last subsided.

But alas I did have a faaaabulous time with faaaamily and friends in Newmarket, Cambridge, Nottingham and North, Central, South AND South West London town. It was my first British Summertime in three years and it did me proud with only one minor shower and plenty of pasty pins stalking around the place. I left the island in 90%+ humidity and torrential tropical downpour, so it was somewhat of a relief to experience summer not on steroids.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the upbeat spirit under UK skies. Relying only on the top line news that makes it across the pond, most of what I hear is doom and gloom about redundancies and interest rates, interspersed by the odd Royal wedding to lighten the mood. However, what I was warmly greeted with was a true sense of camaraderie and more union jacks flying high than I've seen in years. This perspective was helped along by my enjoyment of some thoroughly British pursuits - a spot of horse racing, watching some rowing from a pub garden, M&S underwear shopping, a BBQ in an English country garden, a picnic in a park, a drippy 99 complete with Flake, Soho, the Southbank, breakfast at the Wolseley and copious amounts of cider and Pimms on a sunny afternoon in Parsons Green to round it all off.

The atmosphere on the Southbank was particularly sparkly as for the Festival of Britain they had lined it with bunting and recreated the seaside with a few tonnes of sand and a fairground complete with helter skelter and candyfloss.

The only thing to dampen this summer splendour was the news of Amy Winehouse's death while I was in town. You either love her or hated her and loved her I did and my happy memories of catching her intimate Somerset House gig in 2008. But even that almost seemed like another symbol of the time of great excess lingering over from pre-credit crunch being put to rest to make room for this revival of Cool Britannia ignited by the countdown to the London 2012 Olympics.

That said, this account may have been slightly differently had my trip been scheduled a week later to coinicide with something entirely different being ignited all over London - riots. Nothing like a bit of anarchy as the archnemesis of the great and good in the land of hope and glory.

Everyone always asks me what I notice has changed after so long away and I have to say not much. What is always striking though is the amount of people that dissect the same place without colliding. Something you never notice till you spend most of your time on a relatively deserted island. When you are in the Big Smoke day in day out you develop some kind of inbuilt homing device to allow you to select the exact angle at which to cross a train station concourse and the conviction to stick to your chosen course no matter how big and burly the obstacles are that try to play "Chicken" with you along the way. The batteries in my own station survival SatNav are definitely dead. I couldn't count the times I said sorry for getting in people's way en route to my Gatwick Express train, it certainly wasn't the hardest word that morning.

One thing that is most definitely new is a piece of Turkish culture that has made its way to British shores - the fish pedicure. You may or may not be familiar with this concept but basically it is where you stick your feet and in a bucket  of water containing tiny fish that nibble away the dead skin from your weary soles. The fish pedicure was everywhere I went - Newmarket high street, a shopping centre in Cambridge, a spa in Elveden Forest in deepest Suffolk. Everywhere and totally unexpected.

On arrival back to the island's airport I was disappointed not to be greeted by the usual steel pan musician. Sunday must be his night off. So what's new in the triangle?? Well we've got our own skin eating water life it appears - Sea Lice!! The talk on the BDA streets was all about how the annual Non-Mariners festivities (basically a big excuse to blag your way onto a boat, raft up to other boats, float and drink) was marred by the arrival of an outbreak of jellyfish larvae that get caught up in swimwear and sting like a bi-atch. Not quite as relaxing as being gently nibbled and exfoliated but we don't like to be left out from overseas trends.

Another international craze that has finally made it here in recent weeks is Planking (the art of being photographed imitating a plank in unusual situations in case you didn't know). The best I've seen so far on zee island is the planking on the statue of national hero, Johnny Barnes...

The Chief of Police was less enamoured to see a off duty police officer outed for planking on a police vehicle. He quickly issued a statement along the lines that despite appearances the police were busy on the streets of Bermuda trying to keep the public safe.

No time for planking for the Police in London this week that's for sure. Sad, sad times.