Although The Handsome Dutchman and Castaway have an overwhelming number of things in common – so much, in fact, that we can create a sort of reinforcing and sometimes dangerous echo effect with each other – there are still some areas where the Scottish-Dutch cultural divide cannot be breached.
One of these topics is single sex education. For a Dutchman and even a Handsome one, it is an alien concept. Something he has no experience of and seems almost not to exist in his homeland. Castaway, on the other hand, is the product of an all girls education and a firm believer that girls flourish in that kind of environment. In my own experience, it was not only a nurturing and caring space but also one where activities were not gendered. All activities were simply for girls. Mucking about with oscilloscopes was just as valid as chamber music. Debating and playing golf were equally acceptable. Everything was encouraged and the only expectation was that you did your best and you were kind to others. Unexpectedly, however, given that it was also a very academic place which put me firmly on the path to university and career, it is while here in Trinidad and on a career sabbatical that I have become grateful for the breadth of education I received. I spent a lot of my lunchtimes and after school occupied with musical activities and I remain pleased that the digital piano the Handsome Dutchman gave me as a birthday present while we were still in Scotland arrived intact (and that we somehow had the foresight to ensure we bought a model that would stand up to shipping to tropical climes). However, I spent time, almost in equal measure, building things in the physics lab and it is the skills I developed there which I am coming to rely on more and more.
Trinidad is a country with pretty good infrastructure in terms of utilities. In fact, our broadband is a good deal faster than that which we had in Aberdeen. It does not mean, however, that we are not subject to an erratic supply of electricity, water and telephone. Power outages and surges are frequent occurrences. Even on a good day, the voltage can be inconsistent. The water supply has to be electrically pumped uphill and some odd water pressure can create vacuums in our pipes in the inflow but also, unfortunately, in the outflow of our toilets. The landline can be somewhat hit or miss, to the extent that whenever I have to call Europe and inevitably the line is bad, I have taken to announcing that “I am calling from the Caribbean and the line may be poor!” All this means that Castaway is a frequent visitor to the hardware store to acquire a variety of electrical and plumbing goods. I change fuses in plugs or the transformers several times a month. I have become really familiar with the mains fuse boxes as those fuses trip even more frequently. The calculations we did when working out how many transformers to buy have stood me in good stead as the calculation has to be redone whenever something gets plugged in somewhere new. I have become adept at identifying where the vacuum has appeared in our pipes and applying the plunger appropriately. Most importantly of all, I can get the air conditioning unit back online when the fluctuations in voltage have messed it up. The Handsome Dutchman may not believe in single-sex education but he certainly benefits from there being no boys’ or girls’ tasks in our house – this girl does it all.