Monday, April 22, 2024

Those were the days, my friend

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was . . . actually one hell of a great time to be alive for, unlike now, you had a feeling of being in charge of your destiny. And that destiny looked good.
Suddenly, it seems, those of us who grew up in Barbados from the 1940s onwards are publishing their memories of that era. This is great. Personal experience is way better than the often slanted versions of historians.
We must accept, however, that individuals may recall different versions of a particular event.
Or may see it in an entirely different light.
Harold Russell’s Diary Of A Randy Old Coot gives detailed insight into life in the city suburbs of that era. (As a spin-off, I’ve been making some boss harslit ever since.) Two weeks ago we got farmer Anthony Nicholls’ life story in Jack Dear’s excellent film. This evening Sabir Nakhuda launches Bengal To Barbados, the Muslim Indian experience of coming here.
Last Friday night, however, belonged to Elombe Mottley, and we repaired to the Frank Collymore Hall to witness his journey of 20th century discovery.
Familiar faces here and there. My boyhood friend Captain Watson of the Landship. The celebrated Arturo Tappin. David Comissiong, whom I wanted to congratulate on his recent successes.
But everyone seemed in a hurry to find a seat. “Mek haste, Lowdown, boy”, a fellow urged, “if Rosemary Alleyne gets in front of you with that half acre of headtie, no one in the next six rows is going to see Elombe or the stage.”  
Elombe has the same problem as my brother Joe. They both know many, many stories, all interesting, about many, many people and can’t resist telling all. So they tend to “stick a pin” here and there but never manage to get back.
The big advantage of this, from Elombe’s point of view, it that we now have little choice but to buy the books to bring closure to some of the anecdotes.
Two of the stories illustrate the determination of his political powerhouse father E. D. Mottley to confront with maximum retaliation any hint of his sons being racially disadvantaged. In the first, a white English teacher at Harrison College, a Mr Fowles, apparently kicked his brother in the bottom because he couldn’t bend over and touch his toes.
E.D. arrived with a stick-licker and other workman types with a view, one assumes, to exacting physical vengeance unless there was a public apology.
(Jeff Broomes’ alleged assailant can comfort himself that he has notable antecedents.)
In the second instance, Elombe and brother sat up front at St Mary’s or the Cathedral in the seat usually reserved for the Governor of Barbados. When asked to move by the sexton, E.D. was again sent for and, after a healthy ’busing of the priest, the bishop and probably the pope, the brothers were reinstated and the Gov had to sit further along.
Again we’re dealing with attitude and context here. There is no way I could support my children showing similar disrespect to our black Governor-General.
Elombe and I are much more on the same page with respect to preserving the traditional Bajan way of life. I am longing to hear the strolling guitarist Lindy, who was Shilling’s rival. I pray the Landship, village choirs and rum-shop harmonisers will return to their glory days. And I agree we should never let Bajan stick-licking be superceded by inferior Japanese martial arts.
Elombe suggests we should get Rihanna to drive tourists from the Port in our unique Bajan donkey cart. As probably the last qualified donkey-cart driver around (I doubt any of the others have
a university degree), I would volunteer to teach her how to sit on the shaft. And the relevant terminology – “Chee up”, “Whoa, donkey”, “Whuh-Hai”, “Back-Chee-Off” and “Brack, donkey”.S
She would also learn how, should a male donkey expose its remarkable person, flicking the whip at it will only serve to stiffen its resistance. Or rather, its pièce de resistance.
In question time, Trevor Marshall demonstrated conclusively that Bajans had calypso long before Trinidad and that they stole one of our most famous melodies. And afterwards a young, spritely, drinks-in-the-fridge Mia greeted me warmly and promised to come visit.
Lord a’ mercy!
• Richard Hoad is a farmer and social commentator. Email porkhoad@gmail.com.

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