A year or two ago there was some kind of competition which people outside TT could enter to have a chance of winning a free trip here. It was won by an English woman with a posh voice and a sense of humour that didn’t really come through on the video clip of her acceptance speech. One of the reasons she wanted to visit the country, she said, was because: “I’d like to learn how to lime” – she had heard of the concept of liming and wanted to give it a try.
She was being self-deprecating (I think), taking the mickey out of herself for being a fancy, uptight Brit who wanted to know how to be laidback. This lady’s idea of liming probably wasn’t, in fact, anywhere near reality for someone of her age and gender. She must have been about 60 and middle class, but what she really wanted to do (and this is pure speculation) was hang out with some black studs, drinking Carib from the bottle, having a spliff round the back of the bar and possibly ending up horizontal and debauched in a room with an airconditioning unit rather than a heater.
With the exception of the climate, she could have got the same result hanging around her local pub in suburban London, drinking gin and tonic and making eyes at the beer-swilling Chelsea supporters in the hope that one of them fancied a bit of mature womanhood. But that would have been on her own doorstep, with prying eyes all around and the prospect of embarrassment and being thrown out of the church choir.
Everybody knows the official version of the origin of the term: British sailors were made to suck limes to combat scurvy, a disease with a degenerative effect on the body, making sufferers lethargic and generally unhealthy. The lime-rich diet enabled these otherwise robust seamen to engage in their primary land-based activity: hanging around outside bars.
It’s funny, though, how the habit was adopted, just like cricket and machismo, by the local population and turned into an apparently indigenous thing.
The magic ingredient in limes is vitamin C, so it is not clear why they were chosen as opposed to other members of the citrus family, but then if one of those had been the fruit of choice, the practice of liming would probably never have been given a name; ‘grapefruiting’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Maybe it’s because Trinidad and Tobago’s limes are smaller than the lemon-shaped ones you find elsewhere, and if they’re fresh it is quite easy to eat one without peeling it.
The way things are in this litigious world, where it is seen as potentially profitable to identify bad things as someone else’s fault and sue them for it, it is perhaps surprising that Trinidad hasn’t taken the UK to court for introducing a practice that reduced the drive and efficiency of its young male population. That would give the world’s lawyers a subject on which to let loose their creativity. The counsel for the defence stands up: “On behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, m’lud, I draw your attention to the health benefits that allowed – and continue to allow – these people to go on ‘liming’ well into old age”.
If that seems unlikely, you probably also think nobody has ever done an academic study on the subject.
“But, m’lud, I draw your attention to a scholarly paper by one Thomas Hylland Eriksen, entitled ‘Liming in Trinidad: the art of doing nothing’. Mr Eriksen is professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo, and he lived in Trinidad during the 1980s. I bet you didn’t realize you were being studied, did you?
“Liming”, says Prof. Eriksen, “means, roughly, hanging around’. It involves ‘the sharing of food and drink, the exchange of tall stories, jokes and anecdotes etc, provided the activity has no explicit purpose beyond itself.’ In other words you can’t dress it up as a productive activity with any objective other than passing the time.
“A typical lime begins when two or several acquaintances (neighbours, colleagues, relatives or simply friends) meet more or less by chance; in the street, at the grocer’s, outside somebody’s home or in the rum shop.”
You can’t do it at home, though, he says, because it is “open to others who might want to join in… Groups of people meeting in each other’s living-rooms are therefore not true limers.”
Thanks for clearing that up, professor. It had been bothering me, like the difference between going down the pub and having some friends round for a few drinks. “…unless the context allows for the intrusion of gatecrashers,” he adds.
I would like to tell you more about this insight into what people do and why they do it, but there’s 21 pages of it, and anyway, I think you know. Take it easy, guys.
Or, as they say in that posh lady’s circles, “Lime on, Simon.”