edge

The Gentle Warrior Spirit of Trinidad

Photographs by Mark Lyndersay.

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is Barbara Jardine and my ebony bracelet, “The Warrior”, is the headline act of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s new British-Caribbean Trail.

One end of my Warrior bracelet terminates in the carved head of a woman [wearing] an armoured helmet of silver, tourmalines and iridescent green & black beetle. The other end is a hand, cupping a spherical garnet – a drop of blood. Made almost 50 years ago in my final year at the Royal College of Art, she was purchased by the V&A.

I come from Deep South, Guayaguayare. Until age ten, life was within the idyllic ‘bubbles’ of the oilfield: Guaya, Coura, Moruga and Beach Camp. Moruga Camp [comprised] six wooden houses on tall iron ‘stilts’ surrounded by dense forest. At midday it would suddenly darken. I remember rain roaring on the galvanize roof as, at age three, I sat in my nanny, Theda Francis’s ample lap, being fed tiny, intensely flavoured pieces of salt cod, tomato and hops from a blue-and-white enamel plate, spirals of scented orange peel drying overhead.

I have an older and a younger sister. We are very different, but extremely precious to one another. We all had sons, four boys within five years, and they, too, are close.

“Family” is where one feels safest and loved most. Our father, born in 1910 on a Caura cocoa estate, served in the Royal Navy in WWII. His working life was gruelling, weeklong, alternate night and day shifts on oil rigs. A stern, tall, beautiful man, he married late, aged 38. Home-schooled and shy, he made his daughters’ education his life’s priority. He died at 63 completely out-of-the-blue. The day before, at Piarco, heading back to London, I’d slipped into the departure lounge without saying goodbye, to save him the awkward farewell emotions. I wish I’d gotten to know him better. Our mother died at 71 after a long illness.

I’ve lived in the same place for almost 30 years, in a 1973 apartment building designed by the late, respected architect, John Newel-Lewis. Behind our building, the forest degrades and shrinks from fires each year, but is still full of wild creatures. The entire front of my apartment is made up of sliding windows in a 20-foot ceiling, giving a marvellous feeling of space and light. The panoramic view of the city and Gulf morphs with every moment. Even with the urban sprawl, it is still beautiful and a privilege.

My first school, a single wooden classroom with Demerara windows in Beach Camp, Palo Seco, is still there. At ten, I joined my elder sister at a ‘good’ British all-girls boarding school, a far cry from the fun-filled, foolish Famous Five fiction I’d read. Clanging bells and paired ‘crocodiles’. Twice-weekly baths in shared, tepid, scummy water. Foul and alien food – rice pudding instead of rice & stew chicken. My first winter in England was the coldest on record for 60 years. I’d never been cold before.

We came home once a year for the summer holidays on an interminable BOAC flight heaving with excited, unaccompanied children via Newfoundland, Greenland, Bermuda, and Barbados. I remember clearly the slap of hot, moist air in Bermuda when the plane door opened.
Somehow, we understood the cruel sacrifice it was for our parents.

As a borderline flower child, I danced with naked, stoned hippies at the first Glastonbury festival. I’ve whirled like a Dervish (not as easy as it looks), meditated (or tried to) with my mantra, struggled with Sufism and grappled with Gurdjieff. But I am still not much the wiser. I can barely fathom pi r squared, let alone the meaning of God. Rare, brief moments of awareness, though, make me fairly certain there is more to life than tangible realities.

I’d expected to follow the love, engagement, white dress, babies, happily ever after stuff. I did fall in love, but my partner and I made the mutual and, at that time, unconventional decision, in 1977, to become unwed parents. I was 26 when we officially became “A Family”. Sebastian arrived into the world with blue, blue eyes wide open, and, despite the initial murmured disapprovals of some, was embraced with joy and wonder, the firstborn of a new generation.

In 1979, as an essentially single, self-employed parent, I moved back to St Augustine, the support of mother, aunt and sisters, and the safety of the familiar old house with its huge stinky-toe tree, noggin walls, creaking floors, rattling brass beds and cold-water shower. All presided over by the diminutive Jugganath Lala, Family Retainer Extraordinaire. It gave me the space to focus on my craft for the first time since returning to Trinidad seven years earlier.

Three decades on, my son, Sebastian, lives in Ireland with a family of his own, the beauteous Caitriona and four cats. He and I have a deep, genuine respect and love for one another. But I’m perfectly content living alone with the company of an ill-tempered, 42 year-old macaw and neutered pothound, surrounded by the love of family and friends.


At 17, with a secretarial course under my belt – “Something you can always fall back on, dear” – a handful of O’Levels and a sense of fairness, independence, courage under fire, I started a year’s foundation course at Guildford Art School. A few months in [because of militant student protests], the main college closed. I sketched and painted by day, and, three evenings a week, attended a metalwork class with five older ladies, my first taste of what would become my life’s work.


“Swinging London” was the place to be in the 70s. We were young, beautiful, optimistic and our lives overflowed with possibility and excitement. I lived in a rundown, terraced mansion house off the legendary Portobello Road in the very “happening” Notting Hill Gate, in a draughty third floor apartment and its hungry, coin-eating water heater. The annual Carnival was evolving on my doorstep and Caribbean people and food filled the markets in Ladbrook Grove. Island Recording Studios was just up the road. All youth mourned when Jimi Hendrix, already a legend at 27, died of an overdose in his London flat.

In 1971, I was one of only six students accepted in a three-year masters degree in jewellery and silversmithing at the venerable Royal College of Art. There was a glamour to being part of “the Elite”. I remember trying to feign insouciance when musician Brian Eno, long hair died red, white and blue for a US tour, black egret feathers sprouting from the shoulders of his sequinned coat, casually chatted to his then girlfriend, potter Carol McNicoll, in the college canteen. We were punk before punk was invented!

I saved enough to return to Trinidad after a long six-year absence. In the last days of my holiday, I rekindled a brief holiday romance with a boy I’d met when I was 15. One week after I returned to London, I was back for my father’s funeral. And back into the arms of a delighted lover. My fate was sealed. The lustre of London was dead.

My most important pieces have always been narrative and autobiographical, the intense emotions at the time being essential to their making – though not necessarily consciously. Only sometimes years later, they reveal to me their stories. The Warrior, along with The Pearl of Wisdom – recently purchased by our own National Museum – are two such pieces. Both were made in that final year at the RCA, at a time of self-doubt and questions, but also a time of laser-like focus and technicolour emotions.

I graduated with prizes and accolades, but couldn’t care less. In a week, I was on a flight home to a very different life.


In 1997, in a drain on the roadside, I found a beige bundle of fluff that looked like something from a horror movie. Grommit the Cobo, a common South American vulture, who became a most uncommon pet. When I fearfully picked him up, a hole above his left eye in his exposed skull was pulsating with maggots. He was so weak, he couldn’t even fold his wings. This was the beginning of an extraordinary love affair.

I taught Grommit to fly, not without some accidents including downed power lines and a good few household breakages. Soon, he was spiralling playfully on the thermals with other corbeaux, who had sought him out the moment he became fully-fledged.

For years, like a needy child, Grommit did not want me out of his sight, and his acute eyesight made it difficult to get away from him. Walks became embarrassing. He would run alongside me. Even driving, he would fly at eye-level alongside the car. Twice, he dropped out of the sky beside my parked vehicle in the middle of the city. Over time, many people would get to know him and the ‘mad-ass white lady’. He became an urban legend as far afield as the rum shops of Deep South.

Within two years, Grommit had reintegrated with his original colony, seamlessly merging the natural world with apartment-living, chicken gizzards and ‘sponge cake’. His days were spent between both worlds, spiralling thermals with his kind and visiting La Basse – but always returning several times a day, manoeuvring his three-foot wingspan through the open windows, to snack, snuggle into my neck, or relax before taking off again.

I wasn’t sure of his sex until, four years old, he suddenly began to perform an extremely formal ‘dance’ for me. Fixing me with an unmistakable intent and [a purely] masculine stare.

After having been part of my life for 14 years, Grommit, thankfully, found himself a proper mate (named Clementine in the delightful children’s book written by Andy Campbell and published in Trinidad). I had gone abroad for several weeks. On my return, I stood in the window, expecting him to appear out of the sky to greet me with much joyous bobbing and hissing, as always in the past. But my absence, the call of of his new, feathered love… Workmen in the apartment must have been the final straw. I never saw him again. I imagine him up there, among his own, but watching over me.

The filmmaker, Mariel Brown, dedicated three years to the making of The Solitary Alchemist, a full-length documentary of my life and work. There can be few greater compliments but watching myself, a relatively shy, private person, on screen was excruciating. I felt like a snail without its shell. Exposed. I wanted to hide in a cool, dark place.

All colours are glorious in the right context. The thought of a yellow jacket makes me nauseous. But a yellow poui takes my breath away.


I am excited by the Warrior’s renewed exposure through the V&A’s new British-Caribbean Trail that connects us, the Caribbean people, and their British colonists, through precious artefacts. I have stood beside her case in the V&A’s grand jewellery gallery. When people quietly gazed at her, I wanted to say, “I made her. Look at ME”. But it is enough that she IS, and that her message of graceful courage and dignity continues.

I’m a bit of an old rocker at heart. The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction was the first record (45rpm) I ever bought at age 15. I used to love to boogie, and may still break away, not often, when by myself. I think an old lady 'moving to the music’ looks ridiculous. I hardly ever listen to music intentionally anymore. I can’t when I work. It affects my focus.

Trinis, to me, are disproportionately creative, beautiful and bright. We could have been and done anything. Many of our brightest and best leave, taking their gifts with them and never coming back, making their mark far from home.

Trinis are like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, living for the moment while taking it for granted. Without respect or gratitude for our bounteous gifts and with no thought for future generations.

The emotions I feel for the land of my birth are as varied and confused as it is. Trinidad and Tobago are two very different places, as are the people. I am definitely more at home in Trinidad. I love it, but it is an infuriating paradox. This two-island country has been more blessed than anywhere else on earth [with] our diversity, natural wealth, climate, environment, history. But we have not nurtured it, nor do we realise how fragile it is. Our diversity makes us one of the most culturally intriguing nations on the planet, and yet we hold on to our ‘tribes’ and divisions instead of embracing [one another].

The Gentle Warrior Spirit of Trinidad

Photographs by Mark Lyndersay.

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is Barbara Jardine and my ebony bracelet, “The Warrior”, is the headline act of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s new British-Caribbean Trail.

One end of my Warrior bracelet terminates in the carved head of a woman [wearing] an armoured helmet of silver, tourmalines and iridescent green & black beetle. The other end is a hand, cupping a spherical garnet – a drop of blood. Made almost 50 years ago in my final year at the Royal College of Art, she was purchased by the V&A.

I come from Deep South, Guayaguayare. Until age ten, life was within the idyllic ‘bubbles’ of the oilfield: Guaya, Coura, Moruga and Beach Camp. Moruga Camp [comprised] six wooden houses on tall iron ‘stilts’ surrounded by dense forest. At midday it would suddenly darken. I remember rain roaring on the galvanize roof as, at age three, I sat in my nanny, Theda Francis’s ample lap, being fed tiny, intensely flavoured pieces of salt cod, tomato and hops from a blue-and-white enamel plate, spirals of scented orange peel drying overhead.

I have an older and a younger sister. We are very different, but extremely precious to one another. We all had sons, four boys within five years, and they, too, are close.

“Family” is where one feels safest and loved most. Our father, born in 1910 on a Caura cocoa estate, served in the Royal Navy in WWII. His working life was gruelling, weeklong, alternate night and day shifts on oil rigs. A stern, tall, beautiful man, he married late, aged 38. Home-schooled and shy, he made his daughters’ education his life’s priority. He died at 63 completely out-of-the-blue. The day before, at Piarco, heading back to London, I’d slipped into the departure lounge without saying goodbye, to save him the awkward farewell emotions. I wish I’d gotten to know him better. Our mother died at 71 after a long illness.

I’ve lived in the same place for almost 30 years, in a 1973 apartment building designed by the late, respected architect, John Newel-Lewis. Behind our building, the forest degrades and shrinks from fires each year, but is still full of wild creatures. The entire front of my apartment is made up of sliding windows in a 20-foot ceiling, giving a marvellous feeling of space and light. The panoramic view of the city and Gulf morphs with every moment. Even with the urban sprawl, it is still beautiful and a privilege.

My first school, a single wooden classroom with Demerara windows in Beach Camp, Palo Seco, is still there. At ten, I joined my elder sister at a ‘good’ British all-girls boarding school, a far cry from the fun-filled, foolish Famous Five fiction I’d read. Clanging bells and paired ‘crocodiles’. Twice-weekly baths in shared, tepid, scummy water. Foul and alien food – rice pudding instead of rice & stew chicken. My first winter in England was the coldest on record for 60 years. I’d never been cold before.

We came home once a year for the summer holidays on an interminable BOAC flight heaving with excited, unaccompanied children via Newfoundland, Greenland, Bermuda, and Barbados. I remember clearly the slap of hot, moist air in Bermuda when the plane door opened.
Somehow, we understood the cruel sacrifice it was for our parents.

As a borderline flower child, I danced with naked, stoned hippies at the first Glastonbury festival. I’ve whirled like a Dervish (not as easy as it looks), meditated (or tried to) with my mantra, struggled with Sufism and grappled with Gurdjieff. But I am still not much the wiser. I can barely fathom pi r squared, let alone the meaning of God. Rare, brief moments of awareness, though, make me fairly certain there is more to life than tangible realities.

I’d expected to follow the love, engagement, white dress, babies, happily ever after stuff. I did fall in love, but my partner and I made the mutual and, at that time, unconventional decision, in 1977, to become unwed parents. I was 26 when we officially became “A Family”. Sebastian arrived into the world with blue, blue eyes wide open, and, despite the initial murmured disapprovals of some, was embraced with joy and wonder, the firstborn of a new generation.

In 1979, as an essentially single, self-employed parent, I moved back to St Augustine, the support of mother, aunt and sisters, and the safety of the familiar old house with its huge stinky-toe tree, noggin walls, creaking floors, rattling brass beds and cold-water shower. All presided over by the diminutive Jugganath Lala, Family Retainer Extraordinaire. It gave me the space to focus on my craft for the first time since returning to Trinidad seven years earlier.

Three decades on, my son, Sebastian, lives in Ireland with a family of his own, the beauteous Caitriona and four cats. He and I have a deep, genuine respect and love for one another. But I’m perfectly content living alone with the company of an ill-tempered, 42 year-old macaw and neutered pothound, surrounded by the love of family and friends.


At 17, with a secretarial course under my belt – “Something you can always fall back on, dear” – a handful of O’Levels and a sense of fairness, independence, courage under fire, I started a year’s foundation course at Guildford Art School. A few months in [because of militant student protests], the main college closed. I sketched and painted by day, and, three evenings a week, attended a metalwork class with five older ladies, my first taste of what would become my life’s work.


“Swinging London” was the place to be in the 70s. We were young, beautiful, optimistic and our lives overflowed with possibility and excitement. I lived in a rundown, terraced mansion house off the legendary Portobello Road in the very “happening” Notting Hill Gate, in a draughty third floor apartment and its hungry, coin-eating water heater. The annual Carnival was evolving on my doorstep and Caribbean people and food filled the markets in Ladbrook Grove. Island Recording Studios was just up the road. All youth mourned when Jimi Hendrix, already a legend at 27, died of an overdose in his London flat.

In 1971, I was one of only six students accepted in a three-year masters degree in jewellery and silversmithing at the venerable Royal College of Art. There was a glamour to being part of “the Elite”. I remember trying to feign insouciance when musician Brian Eno, long hair died red, white and blue for a US tour, black egret feathers sprouting from the shoulders of his sequinned coat, casually chatted to his then girlfriend, potter Carol McNicoll, in the college canteen. We were punk before punk was invented!

I saved enough to return to Trinidad after a long six-year absence. In the last days of my holiday, I rekindled a brief holiday romance with a boy I’d met when I was 15. One week after I returned to London, I was back for my father’s funeral. And back into the arms of a delighted lover. My fate was sealed. The lustre of London was dead.

My most important pieces have always been narrative and autobiographical, the intense emotions at the time being essential to their making – though not necessarily consciously. Only sometimes years later, they reveal to me their stories. The Warrior, along with The Pearl of Wisdom – recently purchased by our own National Museum – are two such pieces. Both were made in that final year at the RCA, at a time of self-doubt and questions, but also a time of laser-like focus and technicolour emotions.

I graduated with prizes and accolades, but couldn’t care less. In a week, I was on a flight home to a very different life.


In 1997, in a drain on the roadside, I found a beige bundle of fluff that looked like something from a horror movie. Grommit the Cobo, a common South American vulture, who became a most uncommon pet. When I fearfully picked him up, a hole above his left eye in his exposed skull was pulsating with maggots. He was so weak, he couldn’t even fold his wings. This was the beginning of an extraordinary love affair.

I taught Grommit to fly, not without some accidents including downed power lines and a good few household breakages. Soon, he was spiralling playfully on the thermals with other corbeaux, who had sought him out the moment he became fully-fledged.

For years, like a needy child, Grommit did not want me out of his sight, and his acute eyesight made it difficult to get away from him. Walks became embarrassing. He would run alongside me. Even driving, he would fly at eye-level alongside the car. Twice, he dropped out of the sky beside my parked vehicle in the middle of the city. Over time, many people would get to know him and the ‘mad-ass white lady’. He became an urban legend as far afield as the rum shops of Deep South.

Within two years, Grommit had reintegrated with his original colony, seamlessly merging the natural world with apartment-living, chicken gizzards and ‘sponge cake’. His days were spent between both worlds, spiralling thermals with his kind and visiting La Basse – but always returning several times a day, manoeuvring his three-foot wingspan through the open windows, to snack, snuggle into my neck, or relax before taking off again.

I wasn’t sure of his sex until, four years old, he suddenly began to perform an extremely formal ‘dance’ for me. Fixing me with an unmistakable intent and [a purely] masculine stare.

After having been part of my life for 14 years, Grommit, thankfully, found himself a proper mate (named Clementine in the delightful children’s book written by Andy Campbell and published in Trinidad). I had gone abroad for several weeks. On my return, I stood in the window, expecting him to appear out of the sky to greet me with much joyous bobbing and hissing, as always in the past. But my absence, the call of of his new, feathered love… Workmen in the apartment must have been the final straw. I never saw him again. I imagine him up there, among his own, but watching over me.

The filmmaker, Mariel Brown, dedicated three years to the making of The Solitary Alchemist, a full-length documentary of my life and work. There can be few greater compliments but watching myself, a relatively shy, private person, on screen was excruciating. I felt like a snail without its shell. Exposed. I wanted to hide in a cool, dark place.

All colours are glorious in the right context. The thought of a yellow jacket makes me nauseous. But a yellow poui takes my breath away.


I am excited by the Warrior’s renewed exposure through the V&A’s new British-Caribbean Trail that connects us, the Caribbean people, and their British colonists, through precious artefacts. I have stood beside her case in the V&A’s grand jewellery gallery. When people quietly gazed at her, I wanted to say, “I made her. Look at ME”. But it is enough that she IS, and that her message of graceful courage and dignity continues.

I’m a bit of an old rocker at heart. The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction was the first record (45rpm) I ever bought at age 15. I used to love to boogie, and may still break away, not often, when by myself. I think an old lady 'moving to the music’ looks ridiculous. I hardly ever listen to music intentionally anymore. I can’t when I work. It affects my focus.

Trinis, to me, are disproportionately creative, beautiful and bright. We could have been and done anything. Many of our brightest and best leave, taking their gifts with them and never coming back, making their mark far from home.

Trinis are like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, living for the moment while taking it for granted. Without respect or gratitude for our bounteous gifts and with no thought for future generations.

The emotions I feel for the land of my birth are as varied and confused as it is. Trinidad and Tobago are two very different places, as are the people. I am definitely more at home in Trinidad. I love it, but it is an infuriating paradox. This two-island country has been more blessed than anywhere else on earth [with] our diversity, natural wealth, climate, environment, history. But we have not nurtured it, nor do we realise how fragile it is. Our diversity makes us one of the most culturally intriguing nations on the planet, and yet we hold on to our ‘tribes’ and divisions instead of embracing [one another].