David Lammy: ‘Camping in the Guyanese rainforest, there’s always the worry a jaguar might get you’

The UK Labour MP traced his roots in South America, loved childhood seaside trips to Skegness and likes to hide away in the Dordogne

David Lammy for The Times of London.

We didn’t take holidays abroad when I was growing up. My parents were West Indian immigrants and worked all the time. We lived in Tottenham, north London, in the Seventies and I recall hot summers out on the street, playing knock down ginger and football. I learnt to ride a bike in Lordship Rec and spent hours there during school holidays. There was also the lido, where I saw my parents at their most relaxed.

Until I was ten the only getaways we had were day trips to the seaside by coach. Word would go out to the West Indian community that my Auntie Joyce was organising one of her annual trips to, say, Skegness, Blackpool or Eastbourne. On the day there would be about six coaches parked outside Tottenham town hall, and hundreds of people would arrive carrying Tupperware containers of curried goat and chicken.

Wherever we were going we would always have a hall booked, and once there the rum flowed, the music played and the curry came out. I used to love going to the arcades to play on the penny slot machines and going on the fairground rides — all of that wonderful stuff you associate with the seaside. I don’t know what the local community made of the West Indian arrival en masse, but that was our holiday and it was really special.

I’m at my happiest in Guyana, where my parents were from. They took me and my three siblings there when I was four, but I don’t remember the trip. I went back to their village, Hopetown, when I was 19, having saved up that summer while working in KFC and McDonald’s. I fell in love with the place and returned every year throughout my twenties. When I was studying at Harvard and, later, working in California, it was easier to get there, and I got to know it phenomenally well. It’s an important place because it was one of the first villages to be set up independently after the abolition of slavery.

In the late Nineties I took three friends to Guyana for their first time there. We were pretty intrepid, jumping in a big truck and driving the length of the country, down to the Brazilian border. It took us three days, and we got stuck in mud at one point; in the depths of the rainforest you can come across bandits and slightly dangerous people, so we were petrified. Luckily, in the end some men helped us and we carried on with our journey. At night we stayed in the truck or slept in hammocks on the side of the trail — it was exciting, despite the worry that a jaguar would get you.

My wife, Nicola, couldn’t wait to get there after we met, and we made it to the Caribbean within six months of our first date. Once we had children I made a pact with her that we would visit every two to three years, and we have. We always go to Baganara Island Resort, an eco-hotel in an old plantation house on the Essequibo River. We have a white-sand beach to ourselves, and the kids swim in the river, fish and kayak — although they do get scared of the piranhas in the creeks. We have swum with caymans and gone on night hikes into the Amazon jungle.

As a politician in the public eye it’s not much fun being recognised in a resort when I have my belly out in the pool, so I like places a little less well known. We love trips to the Dordogne, where we usually stay in a farmhouse; we love French food and there are wonderful outdoorsy sports there, such as kayaking and boating. I’m not the best swimmer — the kids joke that when I’m in the Caribbean I rush into the water, but anywhere else and it takes me a few hours to dip a toe in.

David Lammy, 48, has been the Labour MP for Tottenham since 2000 and shadow secretary for justice since last April. He is married to the artist Nicola Green and they have three children. His book Tribes: How Our Need to Belong Can Make or Break Society is out in paperback (Constable, £9.99)

One thought on “David Lammy: ‘Camping in the Guyanese rainforest, there’s always the worry a jaguar might get you’

  1. What a lovely warm story about childhood holidaying while of West Indian parentage… playing in neighbourhood streets, English seaside towns, followed by back home to Guyana and then France. David, I think you’ve got a lot more to say on this…. do I sense a memoir in the works?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s