Updated: Mar 4
Summer 1980. My world was changing. I'd got a job. A real job. A real, full-time job. A real, full-time, permanent job. Things were looking up. There were a couple of downsides to this. I'd have to move away from my second home that was The Highlands and find a new local to frequent, for this job was a little too far to commute to from Gorleston. After all, Derby was a minimum of 160 miles and three and a half hours away. That also meant that I'd have to find a new first home too.
That was how the future Mrs. Bygone Boozer and I found ourselves erecting our tent at Elvaston Castle one evening in early August. A quick pint or two in the now lost Red Lion in Chellaston followed by a good night's sleep under canvas and it was time to go home hunting. By lunchtime I was getting pretty peed off. Having paid the equivalent of the GDP of newly-independent Vanuatu to a letting agent for a list of potential properties, and having worked my way through it, I'd found that they'd all already been taken, some several months earlier. My options were becoming limited, as was my supply of coins for the phone box, when I dialled the last number on my list.
No. That place had gone as well, but the distinctly Caribbean-sounding voice on the other end of the line said that he'd a room in a house of multiple occupation available if I was interested. By now I was prepared to take anything that would provide me with a future roof over my head so that we could head north and not lose any more time from our planned mountaineering break in Scotland.
And that was how I met Tom Douce and acquired a domestic base for the start of my new working life. It certainly wasn't the most salubrious of places that I have lived in but it provided somewhere for me to lay my head and, not unimportantly, somewhere to park my car, for the house was just two doors away from The Carib, another one of Tom's properties. One with a nice, spacious, car park.
Tom had arrived in England from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948, married Iris, a Derby girl, and set himself up in business. (The Windrush Foundation has a page featuring him which can be reached by clicking here.) One of his interests was The Carib, a pub/club which sat on the corner of Douglas Street and Osmaston Road. Early evenings on weekdays it operated much like the former but as the weekend approached its vibe became much more club-like.
The Carib didn't start its life as a drinking establishment. Initially it was Douglas House, built in the 1850s it served as home for iron master Thomas Swingler. By 1911 it had become the Queen Victoria Memorial Home of Rest and later still served as a Toc H hostel where Rolls Royce apprentices used to live. In 1973 Tom opened The Carib and it soon became a centre for the area's West Indian community.
I started simply popping in once a week. Around six-thirty or seven I'd close my front door, turn left, walk up the slope into the car park passing my Triumph lined up next to Tom's Rolls Royce and enter into the aromatic bar where I'd hand Iris a few notes to cover my week's rent and order a pint and a packet of crisps. I can't be certain, but I think it was a pint of keg Stones that was served up with my pack of cheese and onion. Crisps weren't the only thing on offer. There was dried fish in a basket and Jamaican patties for sale along with the usual pub fare. Without trying to reinforce stereotypes many of the regulars drank Red Stripe or bottles of Lucozade whilst consuming their piquant patties and preserved piscine pieces. All this quaffing and munching accompanied the most exuberant domino playing that I'd ever seen. I'm sure that the sound of the tiles hitting the tables could be heard from two streets away.
That one visit a week became two or three, especially when the weather got colder as I'd worked out that it wasn't too much more expensive to pop in for a pint and some warmth than to feed 10p pieces into the meter in my room in a vain attempt to get it to a temperature where I couldn't see my breath. After an hour or so I'd return to my room and retire to bed, accompanied by the strains of reggae. It might not all have been reggae. There may well have been some ska and rocksteady stuff too, played for the benefit of the older clientele, drifting up into my bedroom. If there was, I wouldn't have known. My musical knowledge is basically limited to the fact that raising a note by an octave doubles its frequency and that that of middle C is about 262Hz, so the chance of me being able to distinguish between genres by picking out the presence of quarter note walking bass lines or double skanking on the offbeat was, and still is, highly unlikely.
After a few months I moved from my room in Douglas Street but still would pop into The Carib every now and then, but as time passed my visits became fewer. In 1983 Tom gave up The Carib and it changed hands once again around 1987 after which it never reopened and soon fell into disrepair. Picture The Past has this image of it from 1991.
The building was demolished and, in a return to the site's 1911 role, Douglas Court Care Home was built. All that remains of the original Douglas House is the boundary wall running round from Douglas Street onto Osmaston Road.
Although my address book still contains Tom's phone numbers, both his one from nearby Cambridge Street and also that of the Carib (Derby 32387), he died in 2008. And whilst both Tom and The Carib have now gone, a few weeks ago I heard from his son Jeff that Iris is still going strong.
Yes, it's a changing world, so let me leave you with that track performed by Earl 16, one of the many airs which would drift up into my bedroom all those years ago.
Edit March 2023.
I've been contacted by Tom and Iris's son Barrie who pointed me to an interview that Iris and her son Tom Jr. gave to Radio Derby last year about the days of the Carib International Club. To listen to it click here.
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