Guitar dreams on a fantasy island Petit Saint Vincent in Southern Grenadines

AT SOME point between the long-haul flight, the short haul flight, a couple of shuttles and a 40-minute cruise (London – Barbados – Union Island – Petit Saint Vincent), reality retreated from view, and everything was new. I had arrived at a guitar workshop retreat as a pasty exguitarist with delusions of muscle memory and phantom calluses atop my fingers. Starting anew was essential.

And so, over the course of the following five days, I learnt how to play the guitar all over again.I also learnt that while Petit Saint Vincent is a perfectly pretty name, PSV is so minuscule an island that three letters are plenty. I learnt that whatever blue is widely considered the bluest, is actually not, and that the bluest ever blue is that which surrounds PSV – Vantablue, for those in the know. I learnt that a full body massage from two women and four hands is called a Hawaiian Hang.

I found that you should never read on a boat when facing starboard or port, but I have not yet learnt which side is starboard and which is port. And I realised that at a certain point, when a place is so different and so new, and there are no tangible reference points to cling to, only established fantasy can prop up one’s understanding of such real life reverie.

petit saint vincentAtlantic Coast Petit Saint Vincent

PSV is evocative of all manner of things, and they all belong to the world of fiction. You can swim with sea turtles and underwater acolytes of Jean-Michel Cousteau. You can trek to tropical peaks guarded by oversized iguanas.

There are shades of Swiss Family Robinson in the pulley systems and colour coded flags designed to signal your wants and needs.

And there’s Bond in the hidden-away-ness of it all, not to mention the characters who line its bars at night. On my first evening I was told of the movie stars who flee here to escape the eyes of the world, and on my second about the visit of a paranoid billionaire seeking refuge from modern day pirates.

petit saint vincentPetit Saint Vincent Restaurant

I had no such worries. By my third morning I had I’d begun to forget what worries were at all, feeling borderline infantilised by my island experience. The learning, the newness, the Indian Ocean, lukewarm like baby’s bathwater.

Spending days retracing melodic scales I’d practiced as a child, and being pampered to a degree that far outweighed anything I’d experienced in those same years, was potent. I’d been seduced by pampering – the old enemy of initiative – so I set about spending my remaining days blistering my fingers into oblivion on the guitar.

petit saint vincentPetit Saint Vincent Bedrooms

The man tasked with turning this overgrown baby back into a man again was Justin Guitar, a touring teacher so good that some members of our group sessions were veritable disciples, following him around the world, clothed in shirts emblazoned with his doctrine: “Reading is important, but guitar … is importanter”.

feature petit saint vincentPetit Saint Vincent

With his aptronymic name, his motherboard forearm tattoo, and his jukebox-like repertoire of songs, it was only the absence of a spell check function that stopped me thinking Justin Guitar was a robot from the future sent to replace literacy with guitar on the teaching syllabus.

A fantasy too far, even for PSV. Robot or not, Justin (real name Justin Sandercoe) is an incredible teacher, able to foster an environment where there’s no judgement and nothing is off the table. I left PSV with fingertips calloused and my body tanned, in the skin of a man departing a desert island but with none of his tired mind. I had been renewed.

by Charlie Navin-Holder

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