Thursday, April 18, 2024

SATURDAY’S CHILD: Saddlehead and the tap


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I FELT THE BLOW and immediately my ears started ringing, my head started hurting and my vision blurred all at the same time. I had been “tapped”, hit with an open palm at the back of the head at the point where it joins the neck. It is onomatopoeic, a phenomenon in the English language when the word is the sound – like meow, honk, sizzle and cuckoo. 
This was the tap of all taps and was inflicted by my ham-handed friend “Saddlehead” who had a physique like Popeye and who did not know his own strength or the fragility of my skull. Perhaps misled by the frequent references made by our teacher, Miss Rouse, to my stubbornness and her use of the term “hard-headed” to describe me, Saddlehead felt that I could take a tap that could fell an ox or two.
Perhaps he and Miss Rouse were right since I survived the tap despite being driven a little bit cuckoo. Reflecting on it later I thought that onomatopoeically (if such a word exists) the proper terminology in this particular case should have been that I received a “splat” since I could hear my brains hit against the inside of my skull and then rearrange themselves into a different configuration.
The problem was that I could do nothing about it. If Saddlehead were so minded to mark his victims like old Western gunslingers by putting notches on his weapon, his entire right hand would have been totally mutilated with scar tissue on scar tissue. But facing up to him was not the problem. I was wrong, he was right and I was in pain.
Context is everything so let me give you what the media now call the “backstory”. In the Trinidad in which I grew up there were two days of Carnival.  During the lead-up to Carnival, the radio (there was no television then) ran all the popular calypsos with the exception of what was called “smut” which we heard only at the calypso tents and from the lips of our peers. The radio stations, under a state of moral suasion from the religious authorities, notoriously the Catholic Church, stopped playing calypsos from midnight of the Carnival Tuesday night. In fact, the revellers had to be off the street at that time and could be arrested for going beyond midnight.
We made it even worse by “betting” Lent. What this meant was to bet with one or more of your friends that if you were caught singing a calypso, you could be tapped. So there I was singing Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah, the lyrics of which were deemed extremely daring and even risqué for those times, and clearly a breach of the Catholic Code of Calypso. In earlier times, I would have been clapped in chains, tortured by the Inquisition and burned at the stake. This time was even worse since I received a tap from Saddlehead. When the parliament in Trinidad was under siege Prime Minister ANR Robinson had said: “Attack with full force.” I am not sure where he was in those earlier days but somebody told Saddlehead, “A tap with full force” – and he did.
This was the beginning of my career as a gambler and the results remained fairly consistent over the years. Gambling is a major headache. I hear people talk about being able to afford to gamble but the essence of gambling is that you always commit yourself to a little more than you can afford; otherwise it is not really gambling in the strictest sense of the word. 
A few years ago, while at the West Indies Cricket Board I learnt how much gambling had infiltrated the world of cricket. The laws against bookmaking in India and the development of “spot” have taken cricket betting into a different universe. Now the big bets are on events like whether a bowler would bowl a no-ball or a batsman hit a four or get bowled on the fourth ball. There is big money involved. This is why insider information is so important and the International Cricket Council (ICC) has put so many barriers on communication between players and other people.
So when I heard that two men attending the final England vs West Indies One Day International in Antigua were caught supposedly engaging in fraudulent betting activities I was not surprised. Cricket is now a multibillion-dollar business and the underground cricket economy might be more lucrative and larger than the legitimate one.
The 67-second delay in transmission from the Caribbean to India makes it easier to bet on a sure thing if you place the bet by cellphone. The police ejected them from the ground but, personally, I would have first sentenced them to a tap from Saddlehead and then jailed them – not in any ordinary place but in a Digicel. 
Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the ICC was investigating strange betting behaviour in the last Ashes series in Australia. Someone had bet a dollar on England to win at least one test match.


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