Isolation diary: Picturing the beach

There is a meme going around Facebook – post your favourite photo of the beach. So here is mine. Just say aaah…

I took it some years ago in Jamaica and there is quite a story behind it. My cousin was British High Commissioner in Jamaica and we went to visit him a couple of times while he was there. Most of the time we were based in Kingston, so we got a different perspective on the island from most holiday makers. But one weekend we all rented a house on the north coast and enjoyed the amazing white sand and warm turquoise sea.

As it happens that year I was Mayor of Kingston upon Thames, so I arranged a courtesy visit to the Mayor of Kingston, Jamaica, who welcomed me warmly and presented me with some Appleton Estate rum. That visit set off a chain of events which eventually led to something that happened last week.

Through the Mayor we arranged to visit some primary schools in some of the poorer areas of downtown Kingston. I was hugely impressed by what the teachers managed to achieve in very challenging circumstances. Educational funding only covered the most basic provision so all schools had to call on external support, usually from the parents. But in the most deprived areas parents simply could not afford to contribute. As a result schools were desperately short of text books and other resources.

Now you may not know, but for the last twenty years or so I have been making a living as an educational writer – mainly writing Computing text books for the 16 to 19 age range. I contacted my publisher Heinemann, who also have a Caribbean imprint, and asked if they had any ideas about how the need in Jamaican schools could be met. They told me that it was quite common for businesses and other bodies to sponsor books for schools – it gave them good publicity whilst doing good. What is more, the publisher offered an attractive deal for bulk purchases.

So I chatted with my cousin and his partner, who is German, and between them they identified some spare funding in the social fund at the German embassy. We also used contacts in the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) to identify 70 primary schools that were most in need. Within quite a short time those 70 schools each received a pack of reading books – one fiction and one factual title for each age group – courtesy of the German embassy, USAID, and Heinemann.

The books (not written by me!) were designed to encourage reluctant readers, especially boys, and were themed around the obsession with cricket. I still have copies of them all.

That isn’t actually the end of the story. A couple of years later I was asked to lead a team to develop a new textbook for the Caribbean market for the CSEC (equivalent to GCSE) syllabus. There were two local writers but they needed an experienced writer to act as lead author. That brought me a business trip to Barbados – not something we teachers usually enjoy! I used the beach photo above to illustrate a section in the book about presentation software.

The book turned out to be my best seller, shifting over 35,000 copies so far.  It is currently being revised and updated. I was asked to work on the new edition, but I have retired from writing textbooks now and was happy for others to do it. However some of my original material is being re-used so I have been in conversation with my publisher in the last few days about the royalties, and the copyright of that photo, if they use it again.

Let’s use social media to share photos of beaches and other happy places and to tell our stories.




Please note

We have been in full self-isolation since 16th March to protect my husband whose immune system is compromised.

If you are in self-isolation then join the Lib Dems in self-isolation Facebook group.

You can find my previous Isolation diaries here.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Gordon Lishman 29th Mar '20 - 6:16pm

    Mary – to complete the mutual admiration circle, I liked your comments on books in W Indian schools. I participated in a programme some years ago about recycling university textbooks. It leads to the thought that there might be a specific need for books in the current crisis – and further on to the LibDem Helen Tamblyn- Saville who opened a specialist children’s bookshop in Retford where she was our candidate in 2019. As one way of keeping the business afloat, she’s offering to provide books to children who need them. Check for the gift shop.

  • Yeovil Yokel 29th Mar '20 - 7:20pm

    Old 1930’s/40’s joke:
    “ My wife’s gone on holiday to the West Indies.”
    “Your wife’s gone on holiday to the West Indies? – Jamaica?”
    “No, she went of her own accord”.
    OK, I’ll stick with the day job…..

  • I was sorting out some old photos today and I came across some of a beach in Mauritius. Not that anyone is going to that beach at the moment. Mauritius is in lock-down.

  • The beach is at the Baie aux Tortues.

  • If you are prepared to work with the time differences then a little Internet searching will find you many carribean beach webcams.

    Looking at some UK beach cams, some seem to have turned off their webcams, so are displaying an image from several days back. Others are quite interesting as the webpage often shows a high summer “look how many people love this beach” picture, with the live webcam showing a sunny and empty beach – which to me is much more enticing; somehow I think a 4+ hour trip to a beach to do a few hours surfing/bodyboarding with the family, followed by a 4+ hour journey home would fail the exercise locally criteria 🙂

    Personally, my current favourite beach is Newgale in S.Wales (webcam turned off) where last summer my son managed to master the art of standing up on a surf board.

  • Thanks, Roland – here is a list of beachcams:

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