Thursday, April 18, 2024

SATURDAY’S CHILD: Hocus crocus

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When I was a little boy, the only toothpaste around was Colgate. Even though other brands of toothpaste came on the market, people used the word “Colgate” to mean toothpaste. 
It was not surprising to hear in the village store, “Mammy say to sen’ a Colgate for she.”
The response from the shopkeeper was inevitably, “What kind you want? Crest? Pepsodent? Colgate?”
It was the same with the newspaper. The Port-of-Spain Gazette was first published on September 21, 1825, and closed down in 1956. The Trinidad Guardian was founded in 1917 and so co-existed with the Gazette for about 39 years. Despite this, and long after the Gazette newspaper had ceased circulation, people continued to refer to the Guardian as the Gazette and to all newsprint as “gazette” paper. 
In the rural areas and the poorer parts of the cities, “gazette” paper was mainly used as toilet paper. It was not Plush or Charmin and might have been everhard instead of Eversoft but it had the Confidence of its users. In that sense, every movement was duly gazetted. 
This spin-off or use of the Guardian for a purpose beyond its core function may have created some branding issues for the newspaper. Even now some malicious people express the view that nothing has changed in that regard. The good news is that for a while every newspaper was flush with the news of the day and, even in the era before electronic storage and flash drives, could be wiped out. 
In the United States, President Harry Truman is said to have written to a critic, “I have your newspaper before me and pretty soon it will be behind me.”  
One such remnant from the past is the “crocus” bag. Any time I see the term “crocus bag” in a newspaper I know that the story came directly from a police source since these are the only people who still use the term. Essentially, what is called a “burlap” or even “jute” bag was known as a “crocus” bag.
In Trinidad the white flour bags were used to make shirts, pillowcases, bed sheets and underwear for men and even women. The former Prime Minister of Trinidad, Patrick Manning, recalled that his parents used to buy 50-pound bags of flour that were made from a fabric that was washed and used to make his school shirts. The rice and sugar bags were made from jute, a strong vegetable fibre, or a type of hemp that was also the key ingredient in “matting” wickets. In Trinidad the bags were used by people of East Indian descent as mats.
Somewhere along the line they became “crocus” or in Jamaica “cruckuss” bags although the materials used did not come from the “crocus sativus” (saffron). Also called “burlap”, crocus bags were associated with slavery and indentureship. 
Plantation workers recycled the sacking materials into uncomfortable though serviceable garments which helped to protect them from the insects, heat and dust in the fields. The national costume of St Kitts and Nevis uses a similar material and in this sense pays homage to the humble crocus bag.
So what do the police and the media who quote them mean by “crocus bags”? Let’s look at the context. The Jamaica Gleaner reported: “The Trinidadian coastguard later seized two crocus bags of ganja on a vessel transporting clinker from Jamaica to Trinidad.” The Gleaner also reported that a body was placed in a crocus bag cemented in the wall. In other words, the person croaked.
The Trinidad Guardian reported, “Authorities said upon searching the vessel, they found 11 crocus bags containing a total of 472 lbs of marijuana.”  The Trinidad Express said, “Police are in search of the man who dropped a crocus bag bulging with firearms and more than 2 000 rounds of ammunition in Cap-de-Ville” and the Trinidad Newsday tells us about “crocus bags of ganja” being found. 
What I find interesting is that although few people use the term and many of the present generation do not use it, the media continue to talk about “crocus bags” because the police use the term.
What the police and the media should know is that “crocus bags” are big in the fashion business and are not just containers for marijuana or corpses. I just saw that the L. K. Bennet Crocus Bag line (at US$300) each was sold out. This leads me to another police and media term. The “pig-tail” bucket as in (Newsday, Trinidad) “Roger Ramsingh, 32, who only two weeks ago appeared before a Princes Town magistrate for trafficking in marijuana and cocaine, returned to court yesterday following his arrest on Saturday for possession of a pigtail bucket of compressed marijuana and cocaine”. 
Is the pig-tail bucket any plastic bucket or is it one of those police expressions that no longer hold water?
• Tony Deyal was last seen saying that terms like a “pig-tail bucket” give him food for thought.

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