Message One, 17 August
So here I am, all alone on the island at last – not that I’ve been waiting for it, in fact I’ve been rather dreading it. But I’ve lived here my whole life (as did my pater and his pater before him) and I’ll bally well not fly the coop now. And that’s what I told the Governors, too.
There was a lot of fuss about possibly evicting me, and whether it would infringe my human rights or constitute a health-and-safety issue, but then it rather got lost in the upheaval of getting the rest of the population off the island to what is currently considered safety. Although with the sea levels rising the way they are, I give ‘em about five years
Anyway, chin up, Denju old fruit! You’re alone on the old place now and you’ve got to maintain morale. Even Sergei, my ham radio chum from Olabi Island, who occasionally sallies through the static to exchange pleasantries with me, has gone silent now. So for once in his puff, old Denju hasn’t a soul to talk to. Lucky rest of the population, some might say.
The soldiers who performed the evacuation (sounds awfully cloacal when I put it like that; not to say that Carteret isn’t rapidly becoming the arsehole of the Atlantic) anyway, they left me plenty of stuff, enough to live on for the rest of my natural, I should say. I’ve got millet, tinned fruit and veg, rice, and of course bananas and coconuts a la carte.
For entertainment there’s my radio (broken, so no World Service any more), an old wind-up gramophone and a couple of Helen Forrest and Artie Shaw discs, plus the entire contents of the village library (which consists of the Bible, Moby Dick and the complete works of PG Wodehouse) to read. Again. At least in my last moments, I can practise my English, I suppose.
However, to my chagrin, the bloody buggers didn’t leave me any booze, which is a rather significant oversight, and it’s too late to call them back now. Dash it all, as Bertie Wooster might say. On the bright side, rootling through everybody’s abandoned homes for the stuff they couldn’t be bothered to take with them has entertained me jolly well for the past week, and it was only when I got bored of Cumara Saston’s stash of Norwegian pornography that I sat down to write this letter to you, whoever you are. Hullo.
Well, that’s all for today. I would stick this in a plastic Coke bottle, but I’m concerned it’ll get punctured and the message will be lost. Silly, I know. I’m sure nobody will ever read it anyway, but hope, human breast, etcetera. There’s a couple of cork trees still standing. All I need now is a glass bottle for the traditional send-off.
Message Two, 29 August
My dear fellow, (although I am aware that the person who eventually finds this might well be a lady, I prefer to write as if engaging in a one-to-one manly chat. Female readers are welcome to censor the parts they find offensive).
I have momentous news! No, the seas haven’t receded (in fact the water’s lapping at my toes even now, and Pookaput Hill used to be the highest spot on the island at ten feet above sea level). I have found, in the back room of Tassunte’s General Store, in a broken freezer under an old tarpaulin, twelve bottles of Smirnoff Ice!
At first I was somewhat overwhelmed by this discovery, as Smirnoff I know to be a type of vodka and I wasn’t sure old Denju’s shrinking liver could take quite that much, even spread over a year or two. However, when I opened the first bottle (best before April 2005, but who’s counting?) I discovered it to be a sort of cloudy lemonade with a vodka aftertaste – as though it’s been mixed in the bottle. Awfully clever what these brewery Johnnies can do. And it tastes rather good.I consumed a bottle of the stuff with my sunset cigar tonight, and have so far felt no ill-effects, only beneficial ones. Just what an old fellow needs as he sits and watches his country sink; by a sort of alchemy, it transformed my normally maudlin thoughts at this hour to ones of poetic melancholy. What ho, God and Nature, Life and Death, speckled stars and insignificant mankind. All that sort of carry-on.
If I turn my head to the west I can see the twin bamboo pillars where the dock used to be, crowned with Carteret's carved coat-of-arms. To the east there is a lagoon that was once the football pitch, now a thoroughly swimmable six feet underwater. To the north, over the horizon, are my children and grandchildren in their new home on Olabi, where I’ve asked Sergei to keep an eye on them. (Like most intelligent people, I don’t trust the government to do so). To the south there is nothing, until you hit Antarctica.
Good night, Carteret Island. I am writing this by the flame of a cinnamon-scented tea-light (also looted from the General Store, household section) and when I’m done I shall roll up this paper, put it in the empty bottle of Smirnoff Ice (how ironic, when the it’s the polar caps melting like ice-cream which have brought us to this pass), stuff it with a bit of cork and seal the lot with wax. I think I’ll throw the bottle west. Perhaps it will wash up somewhere in America?
Denju Gantua (2nd Lt., Merchant Navy, Ret’d – I forgot to mention that in the first letter)
Message Six, 22 September
Dear Nobody, or Everybody,
Rather dismaying news, I’m afraid; the autumn storms have come a lot earlier than even the meteorologists predicted – although when did they ever know their fundaments from their fibulae? For the past three days I’ve been – well, cowering is probably the mot juste, but sheltering, certainly, in Tassunte’s General Store, or what remains of it, as vicious rains lash the island. It’s all rather glum-making.
When I dared to venture out I discovered that not only had my sturdy little two-room hut with adjoining verandah been blown away, but that the little dam the soldiers built when they left (very much a case of shutting the stable door when the stallion’s scarpered) had burst, and that consequently the entire western half of the atoll is now underwater. It looks as though my life expectancy will outstrip Carteret’ Island's, at this rate. Assuming I can build a boat, or call for help, that is. The land area is now a mere two hundred metres square. I share my quarters with two small banana trees, a coconut palm, the island's lone postbox, and the remains of Saston’s Norwegian magazines, half of which was taken by the storm.
It occurs to me that I am in fact living a real-life version of Desert Island Discs, as presented by the fragrant Sue Lawley (how I miss the World Service at these times). I have my luxury item of Smirnoff lemonade, the Bible, a selection of records, and the rest of my life to enjoy them, however short that might be. True, the vestiges of the island’s library does not boast the collected works of Shakespeare, but in my opinion half an extensive collection of Scandinavian pornography and the complete novels of PG Wodehouse are a more than acceptable substitute.
I shall toast you, my invisible friend, with my sixth bottle of Smirnoff Ice, and put the message inside the empty bottle as usual (the cork tree blew down and floated away in the tempest, but I managed to save a chunk).
Ta-ta for now,
Message Eleven, November – watch broken, not sure what date
As you may have gathered from my previous messages, (assuming they arrived in one piece and the right order, which is more than the Carteret Island Post Office on top of whose sole mailbox I am currently sitting, with wavelets nibbling at my toes, could ever guarantee), things have taken a turn for the worse.
Not only am I down to my penultimate bottle of Smirnoff Ice, but nearly the whole of the atoll’s landmass is now either waterlogged or entirely submerged. The nets full of stones the soldiers put over the higher ground, to stop the soil erosion, have done precisely sweet Fanny Adams to help. I honestly think I could have done a better job with a bucket and spade. There we go, building our little castles in the sand, only to watch them wash away at the end of the day, and now it’s finally happened to my island. A people displaced, a country submerged. And my cigars got all wet in the last squall. I put them on the General Store roof in the sun to dry, but now they taste of seaweed.
Even if there were only 783 Carteret Islanders (current pop: one), it’s still something significant to be lost. Carteret Island, sixteen square metres and shrinking, is bigger than itself – or should be: the first nation-state to be lost to that hungry old devil, the sea, thanks to that even more ravenous beast, mankind. But I’ll bally well lay ten bob to a farthing this local disaster didn’t make Fox News. Global Warming Drowns Island – fat chance of a headline. Perhaps it might get on the World Service. I like to think of one of those lovely lady BBC announcers reporting it. It would almost make it all worthwhile.
Still, despite all the trouble and strife, old Denju will take a nip of the Blitz Spirit, keep the home fires burning – until the bloody tide comes in, anyway – and bid you, my theoretical chum, farewell from what is not much longer to remain Carteret Island.
P.S. Sorry to disappoint in case you’re eagerly awaiting the next instalment, but since all the knives, forks, scissors etc. were washed away in the most recent storm, I intend to drink my final bottle and smoke my last dry cigar just before the next storm hits, then smash the bottle on the side of the mailbox and cut my throat with it, so this is in fact adieu rather than au revoir, I’m afraid.
Sorry to be so dramatic about it, but I never much cared for the idea of drowning: funny for a fellow with twenty-five years in the Merchant Navy. Oh well. So long.
Message Twelve, Christmas Eve
I have to admit I’m as surprised as you are to be writing this – especially in blog form, rather than the traditional message-in-a-bottle format which seems so successfully to have captured the imagination of the world.
I suppose the first thing I have to do is thank my sponsors and indeed saviours at Smirnoff, not only for my dramatic helicopter rescue from the top of a postbox in the very teeth of Hurricane Derek, but also for raising Carteret Island, literally, from the dead. Their work to restore the place to its former shape and size, and to rehouse the original population has been absolutely breathtaking, and not only when one thinks of what it must have cost.
Still, as Jude, the Head of Communications, said when she dragged me, gasping and dripping, into the Hercules, “you can’t buy publicity like this” and as ever, I expect she’s right. I’m sure we’ll get used to all the new differences pretty soon: the giant bottle carved into the now-drained football field, the brand logo instead of the coat of arms on the national flag, and of course the subtle name change from Carteret to Carbonate Island. Because after all, even if we are now a wholly-owned subsidiary cum-theme-park-cum-tourist attraction, anything’s better than dying with your country, isn’t it? Dulce et decorum est, that old lie …
I think I might go and sit out on the post box and watch the sunset tonight, for old times’ sake. I can still just about see it past the building work for the Tonic Hotel. I never did finish that final bottle of Smirnoff Ice. Perhaps I’ll get to send my last message after all.
One Luxury by Richard Meredith was ready by Silas Hawkins at the Liars' League Surf, Turf & Vodka event at Proud Galleries Camden on Tuesday 23 June 2009.