Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Life on the pebble

Angry African and Coffeedude would probably be appalled but I've not had a cup of coffee since Saturday, my last was at the airport while waiting for my flight. Honestly, it is the one thing that I miss here on the pebble. You can't exactly run down to the corner Rituals or whatever to pick up a cup of joe. You can get coffee at the ice cream shop but since everything on this island is geared towards the moneyed, the price for a tiny cup is more than good sense dictates you pay.

Once you're not part of the 'set', there is not much to do on this island, especially since I am without transport, other than my two feet, the dreaded bike and rides from various people. I don't mind, it means that I don't feel the need to rush around doing things or seeing things or whatever it is that 'they' say you must do on a vacation. Mostly I'm content to putter around, stroll down to the beach or ride past Tommy's house to the curve of the hill, then decide whether I want an undignified huff and puff to get past it and down the other side to the slightly less hilly stretch. I don't go far on the bike, I'm a little afraid of it with all the gears and the fact that my feet barely touch the ground when I get on.

Having all this time on my hands for a change also means lots of time to think. About the choices I've made, the things I don't do or want to do. Yesterday, contorting myself into various yoga poses on the grassy verge on Macaroni Beach, the cool sea breeze ruffling my hair, the evening soft to the touch, it's been five years since I did any serious yoga. My body groaned through the once familiar asanas. It's disheartening, I've done yoga off and on since I was fifteen, every time you stop you have to start all over, from the beginning. The older you get, the harder it gets because your body loses tone and flexibility.

I'm reminded about how much of myself I've given up and the resolution to make changes every time I snatch one of these breaks. This time it's closer to reality than ever, if I do not make some changes my body is going to pay dearly but so is my mind. You see, like not doing yoga if you don't work at relationships you stop having them. It's easy to lock yourself away under the guise of liking to be alone or not wanting the bother and hassle of dealing with people. I deal with people every day, I don't have a problem with my own company or being alone in my house. But that's not living, because you see,if all you are doing is self preservation then where is the room for all the other things? I look at my life and think that it's become rather empty. Where are all the things that I was so passionate about, the ideas, the passion, the interests that made me interesting to me and conversely, to other people.These are not material things, I'm not into that, they are the essence of what makes us real. Here I've found a semblance of that, I want to hang on to it lest it be subsumed into the grind of existing.

In the last few days I've once again reveled in being outdoors, feeling the sun on my face, burning the back of my neck, tanning my legs so dark. The relentless lap of the sea against my skin. No, I don't want watersports, I want to float on the waves in Yemanja's womb. My fellow blogger Angry African often writes about his family, the times he cooks with his girls, or other things, there are days when I envy him that. To have someone to share things with, sure there are good friends but sometimes, you need someone and that's the other thing that's missing. While it's always great to be around my brother, he has a life, one I only drop in on briefly while I'm here. We're still very close but he's busy and I hardly see him. Ah well, maybe a trek down to the beach now....


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wind in my hair...

So today started early, it was a hop, skip and jump to get to the airport at the crack of dawn. I hate having to rush through so I tend to get in early and organise my check in luggage etc and then sit and have a blessed cup of coffee.Travelling alone means that you have no one to watch your luggage but you get used to it.

I didn't realise how trapped I'd been feeling until we were nearing St. Vincent, looking out of the grotty window past the propeller at the blue sea underneath, that's when I started to unwind. The puddle hop to the pebble is just that so before you knew it, was on the ground waiting for Bopsingh to show up. Between saying quick hello's to my brother's friends and co-workers I've spent most of the afternoon passed out on the couch asleep. I truly did not understand how tired and run down I'd been feeling.

The past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride of trying to finish projects, work with consultants to bring things in line, support my boss and in the current economic state, make things work best as can. The floods, earthquake, various local disasters have all been loud cries to wake up but I think the thing that really shook me was the cops and robbers scenario that played out on Christmas Eve. Like most Trinis I've become accustomed to the overhead drone of helicopter hovering, spotlight on at all hours of the night and sometimes during the day. The wail of police sirens and the distant pop of gunfire across the quiet valley. Yes, it sounds like a war zone but it's not as bad as all that, we're not living in a true hellhole but some days you just don't know what you'll come home to find.

Christmas Eve found me at Charms house on the other side of my Valley, from her house you can see the whole of Diego Martin spread out before you, lights clustered together against the overcast sky. It was pretty, the sort of thing that the tourist board puts on postcards. We were hoping Judy and Ashton, new friends, would make it over for a small pre-Christmas lime. The drama started just after 7:00pm with the rapid retort of semi automatic gun fire. In the quiet of the evening it echoed loudly, you couldn't really tell where it was coming from and then, a short while after, the insistent wail of sirens and blue flashing lights over on the Diego Martin Main Road side. More shots, we watched it with a sense of unreality from our vantage point way up the opposite hill. For the next hour we were cowed, speculating on what could be going on and with an undertone of unease. I just wanted to go home and check on the hound and lock myself away, even though my house was much closer to the action.

The demise of our evening has become another sign that time away is vital. What made it even worse is that all of this played out on Judy and Ashton's front door, literally. They spent their night cowering in the shadows of their apartment, terrified. We found this out the next day. My heart really goes out to them, who would want to have to deal with that? That night, I know that I spent a lot of time checking my windows and doors, Zeus and I huddled in front of the TV until bedtime when we curled up in the middle of the bed, trying to feel safe. When the X-man called in the wee hours of the morning on his way home, why he felt the need to wake me up I'm not sure but it seemed, even he needed to touch something secure.

Christmas Day was spent quietly, the usual pilgrimage to the X-man's family, though we are no longer and item, they still include me. It was lovely, as was dinner at Tasha's mom later that night. And yet, it was with an ever present undertone. That feeling of unease, we all had it despite the enjoyment we felt in each other's company. Tasha's mom is an excellent cook and a wonderful hostess, at her house you're made to feel like family, it really sucked that we couldn't truly let go.

And so, I'm here on the pebble, where we all take security for granted, it's a private island, they take things like that very seriously here. It's Friday night and I can have a real shower, not out of a bucket like at home where we have no water on a Friday, or Monday or Wednesday. This afternoon I borrowed my brother's bike, I've not seriously ridden in more than ten years, like swimming, at one time if I wasn't in the water I was on a bike. This is why I hate spin class, you ride to nowhere, what's the bloody point!Riding down the pothole free roads, the sun on my face, wind blowing through my hair, legs pumping furiously up the hilly spots, breathing in deep lungfulls of air, I started to feel like me again.

As fabulous as it is to see my brother, I cannot being to express my gratitude to him for giving me the space to breathe again. My little brother who spoils me rotten when I'm here, who bought me the most beautiful present even though we agreed not to do the present thing. His generosity has underlined for me what is lacking in my own life, not the willingness, but the space to be generous in. I am lucky to have good friends who love and support me, I'd like to think that they feel the same about me. But honestly, until today when I rode awkwardly along the road while getting to know the bike, was the first time in a long while that I felt free. I know tomorrow will be even better when I hit the beach, water is like coming home and no one bothers you here.

My friend Blue on her blog a couple days ago lamented that she'd put too much on her blog so it wasn't the space she wanted it to be anymore. I wanted to say to her, I understand but it's putting all that stuff out there that made all of us come to know her, appreciate her for the great person that she is and to share a little of what makes us all so real. Myth always asks after I write these types of blogs whether I feel that I'm giving too much about myself away....but you know what, this is what writers do. We write so that you can feel, share, understand, we write to evoke emotion, plundering our own experiences. This is what makes life bearable some days, even through the hard bits and the shadows. Oh, Angry African, you don't know how much you've influenced my life and I can't wait for the day we sit down to have coffee! I still think you ROCK.

And yes J9, providing I don't get into more trouble biking,I will take pictures!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

To you all...

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Like Jumbie, I'm heading off to a smaller rock. You know it's always easy to spot the bad things, goodness knows we have plenty of stupidity around here, but you know what, so what. In this space I've commented on a lot of things, in the end, what does it matter, I still think despite the shit that goes on in my country, I'm one of the lucky ones, so to steal some lines from Sir Bob Geldof and Midge Ure:

It's Christmastime
There's no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime

But say a prayer

Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging
chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
(Oooh) Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

(Here's to you) raise a glass for everyone
(Here's to them) underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Feed the world
Feed the world

Feed the world

Let them know it's Christmastime again

Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What's the name of that song

You know how sometimes you hear a bit of music and it sticks in your head, then you walk around all day trying to shake it. Usually it's something annoying, like my colleague who starts singing Jose Feliciano, something about laughing children. it's particularly stupid but you can wipe it from your mind with enough applications of Aerosmith. There's this piece of music that is currently driving me nuts. I keep hearing snatches of it, it sounds like Brazilian Samba music or maybe African dance music. Whatever, I've heard it before, probably on one of those Putamayo collections.

Funny enough the trend started on the morning coffee trek, while waiting for my cup of joe, it came on and the girls in the store started dancing behind the counter. I couldn't blame them, I too was tapping away. It was right there on the edge of my memory if only I could grab hold of it, it was something I'm sure Angry African would have loved, the smell of coffee brewing and laughing dark eyed girls having a moment of levity in their day.

A couple of days later it was playing in the downtown Rituals as I ducked in for a pick me up. Again, dancing girls behind the counter and on the other side, the waiting patrons also doing a little shimmy. I was the stand out, in my sober suit and high heels among a bunch of women obviously out for a day's shopping. For a moment we were all sisters, bopping away, kind of like what happens at Carnival.

Tonight, while flaked out in front of the TV watching Cold Case, a passing car, volume cranked up high in the quiet, sound blaring, and there is was again and I really wish I knew what it is was. I'm going to have to ask our office music specialist to figure it out for me. It's such a happy piece of music.

At our version of the office party, while the parang group played, as usual the denizens were surprised to see me dance. Yes Virginia, the Wallah does dance (apologies to Earl Lovelace). Though I am usually loath to make an exhibition of myself, given the opportunities to do just that in my profession, I do love to dance and like Angry African, I'll do it with the least bit of provocation. My excuse is that I'm a Trini and that's what we do, it's about the only time I subscribe to Trinism. I guess it really does not go with the black suit and four inch stilts but say what, live with it.

Maybe tomorrow morning I'll ask the nice girls in Rituals if they know what it is as we exchange our usual chat. Don't ask me to sing it, now that's one thing I cannot do at all, carry a tune to save my life. God save me, my boss has decided as one of those office bonding things, we're going to attempt karoke, over my limp twitching body. Sure, I sing in the car, when nobody else is in there and the windows are up; in my office behind closed doors; around my house while my dog looks on incredulously, probably wincing in shame, but never, ever in public, not even when drunk. I'll do the back up singers dance, but I'm lip synching like Milli Vanilli, no sound is coming out from between my lips. The only thing I ever publicly sing is the national anthem, usually in the wrong key. So now you know.

Anyway, she, the boss and the assistant boss both think it's "fun' and I'm a killjoy because i don't feel the need to submit to the "spirit". You know what ladies, carry on, I'll just lurk in the corner and watch you all make asses of yourselves thanks. Heck I used to be in theatre, notice, not any more, ditto TV. Behind the scenes is just fine for me, not because I couldn't act, because that I can, not everybody wants to stand under the spotlights.

Good night.

PS I finally figured it out with some help from Wuzdescene's blog, it's Sergio Mendes Magalenha which is enjoying a second life, both from Mr. Mendes who has a 2008 version, the one I remember is on a VINYL album belonging to the X-man's mother and on a Putamayo CD, and the remixed version by some or other DJ.

I feel the earth move, under my feet....

Whoa, did you all feel the earth move this morning? For a moment, it felt as though we were trapped in a movie, the hound, behaving like all good movie dogs, woofing to alert dumb master that something was about to happen; master blithely tucking into toast ignoring warning. And then, the plate jolted, vibrations whizzing up the metal chair legs, coffee cup tapping on the glass topped table, doors and windows rattling and the newly arrived poinsettia shaking like a a pair of maracas in a parang band. It was really something that jolt, makes you wonder if the universe is trying to tell us something, floods, earthquake, what next, a plague of grasshoppers?

Ah well, if you were in the neighbourhood last night, the smell of cookies baking would have wafted out, warm and homey against the rainy night. This has become part of my tradition, home baked cookies for my office and a few friends. I learnt to bake from watching my mother and grandmother, we all lived in the same house up until I was eight. Granny and mum would be in the downstairs kitchen with the tiled floors, we had a white Westinghouse stove, one this a top grill. They don't make them like that anymore. The mixer would be going, cakes to be baked, maybe a batch of cookies. Those golden sponges, heavy with butter and orange zest, dark rum soaked fruit cakes(before my grandparents got really serious about religion), sweet bread, maybe a cassava pone (my Grandad's favourite), cupcakes and bread. The smells to drive you nuts, sneaking in licks of the bowl when they weren't looking. My great granddad lying on his bed knowing that his afternoon tea would have a sweet treat attached, how he loved his sponge cake! Sometimes while we waited I'd lie next to to him looking up at the canopy stretched above the brass bed, or reading one of my books. He used to love to hear me read to him because he couldn't read in English. In the next room my great Grandma would be stitching up one of her endless patchwork quilts, made from scraps of fabric that she would recycle from everything. It was from her that I first learnt to sew endless dolls dresses.

I don't bake Christmas cakes anymore, even as wonderful as the smell wafting through the house is, the work has become something more than I can handle. Which is why the cake made by Auntie Enid is so special. Enid is eighty-four and losing her sight. Her Christmas present from the doctor this year was that she would never see again, the previous eye doctor having botched her eye surgery. It was a hard blow coming on the heels of her growing inability to straighten up and walk. I admire that she still has the gumption to keep going. As per usual, she made me a fruit cake, dark and rich with the fruits that she soaked in rum earlier this year. It smells divine, made and given with a whole lot of love, Christmas has finally arrived at Casa Wallah. One of my office colleagues made the cake that will go to my brother, it too smells wonderful. I know it's going to taste good too because like me, she shares her baked goods with the office.

Yesterday, as Charms and I made the last minute rounds, we marveled at the people cramming into the malls as we headed home. It was a good day to be inside. I tided up the house for my housesitter who'll be moving in as I go off to visit my brother for New Year's, in a peaceful moment I painted my toenails my favourite nail colour of all time, "I'm not really a waitress". It was my late uncle's wife, known to all as "Shanti" or "Doy" though her real name is Rookmin, who taught me the joys of nail polish. My mother rarely wore the stuff and generally stuck to Revlon Red lipstick. Doy was younger than my mum and every week she gave herself a mani/pedi and changed her nail polish colour. She was adventurous in her choice of colours and though I was tomboy of note, when hit with the teenage years I admit to trying to be a girl sometimes. Bless her heart she let me play in her make-up and borrow her clothes from time to time. She was also the repository of my boy woes and she was the one who told me about birth control, not my mother who avoided the subject at all cost. Sadly, she and my uncle grew apart and were on the verge of divorce when he died a year after my mother. I haven't seen or spoken to her in over fourteen years but I think of her sometimes when the bottle of nail polish comes out.

So many bad things happening in the world, so many people suffering some loss or sad circumstance this Christmas. And yet we fail to appreciate what we do have. Since I've been writing this blog I've connected with some really interesting people, you make me realise that what I do is important, if only for the questions that I ask. So though you may wonder at what nail polish or cookies baking has to do with anything, take it as a reminder of the things that are good in your life. That earthquake this morning could have been a lot worse, but it wasn't, as could the floods that happened last week. This Sunday morning, the sun is trying to push its way out, my dog is happily dropping his ball at my feet for the endless game of fetch that he will play until my arm falls off, as I admire my newly painted toes, I thank the universe that I can do this and for you.

Oh, and to Sean, my long suffering, hard working graphics guy who took his own time to make me the card that you see below, thanks bud, you're the best!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Twas the week before Christmas

And all through the town, streets were sometimes flooded and nary a shopper around. With all due apologies to Clement Clarke Moore for appropriating his Christmas classic, this is not a tale of reindeers prancing or stockings by the fireplace.If you're looking for a tale of Christmas wonder and happiness, skip this part and scroll down to the lighter side. It can safely be said, that I now share more in common with the Christmas grinch than I do otherwise. And this is why....

On the dark side....

People who do not say thank you. Even as we were entreated to tighten our belts my workplace decided to distribute polo shirts this year to all staff. You can guess who was part of that debacle. To man, all the originating department has gotten is mostly complaints, hardly a word of thanks to the hard working staff who took the time to make sure that everyone was accounted for, that shirts were individually labelled according to people's requests and delivered. This is not their job but they did it anyway. The sad thing is, we did not expect anyone to thank us because it never happens as is routinely proven every time, all we ever get is a litany of how awful/stupid/useless we are, never mind this is something you had no expectation of receiving and you got it without having to contribute. Fortunately, there are a few whose parents obviously taught them some manners, we can count them on our fingers, they were the few that did say thanks and it was hugely appreciated.

I constantly hear people talking about their "Christian" beliefs or nature. It never ceases to amaze me that a lot of these so-called Christian folk are the same ones who bitch the loudest when asked to contribute to a can drive or anything. The same people who will come around and ask you again and again for their children's raffle or whatever, when asked, their response usually is, I gave to something two months ago. I must remember that one for future use. Grinch behaviour coming alive here.

Two vagrants have taken up residence on the pavement outside the bakery that I sometimes buy my bread from, lately they've been joined by a bitch, heavily pregnant with pup who spends time laying on her side watching the world go by. Anyone who reads this space can tell you, there is a dog shaped hole in my life occupied by my furry sidekick. If you're involved with me, you must love dogs because if it came down to you or the dog, you'd get the boot if you couldn't live with him. Back to the two homeless men, one of whom spends an enormous amount of time scraping at the skin on his leg and watching it bleed.

I pity the poor girl in the bakery shop trying to stay afloat, they tend to put customers off even with the heavy application of raw disinfectant that she douses the place with every morning. The two hit up customers to, "put up ah dolla so we culd buy a lil someting". Here's the thing, I pass them as I walk to and from my workplace, where I go to earn money. I am not opposed to feeding the hungry or giving charity, but on average, every day if I go out, I'm accosted by between five to a dozen denizens for money. I'm not kidding. Anyway, it hit me, I'd rather go in and buy the DOG something than give those two any of my money. They're both stronger than me, get up and go do something. Hell, I have problems too. Of course, if we had functioning Social services in this country, maybe we wouldn't have so many people domiciled on the streets. So my Christmas wish, is that someone, please, look after the homeless.

On the light side....

twas the week before Christmas, and the pointsettias were abloom, their spiky red leaves cheerily brightening the usually sombre space. Though the skies were rainy, inside we were snug, with our ponche de creme to warm us, some christmas music to sing along with, someone brought the butter cookies and another some chocolate bombs and all was good.

We ate together, we told stories, for a brief moment we forgot all the running and complaints, tomorrow was another day. In the end, it's all good.

So, from me to you, happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy birthday to you

WTF! I can't believe I didn't post this, I really meant to last thing last night but fell asleep watching the rain fall.

To my brother:

Another year gone by, we're both getting a little longer in the tooth.
You, aging not at all, me starting to look more and more like the family.
I remember when you were born, going to visit mum in the nursing home up in St. Ann's. You were this bright eyed, pale not so little bundle. Sometimes a squalling mass but mostly of sunny disposition, something you still are today. As much as I threatened to trade you in for the dog that was lost, you were and still are, one of the most important things in my life.

Every time I look at you I see the best of what our family is, and I'm so very glad to be your big sister, even though you still drive me nuts. It constantly amazes me that you still think I can fix anything, one of these days you're going to figure out I'm a big fraud but until then, I will try to fix everything for you.

So bro, as you walk through life on your own journey, you, who let nothing stop you from going places, know that you are loved and your big sister is still here looking out for you.

Happy Birthday little bro, may you always walk in sunshine and the path before you be relatively pot hole free.

Love always,


Of Hollywood starlets and good sense

She looked so beautiful under the lights last night, the patina of grime washed away by the driving rain. The lights twinkled in that way that they do under low clouds and precipitation. Despite all our faults, my country was a good place to be last night. It was cool, the blankie came in handy to huddle under, sleepy hound curled around feet and wishing for a hot cocoa preferably with marshmallows melting in it, I settled in to watch some late night TV. As an escape from reality and to leave behind the "idiotsyncrasies" of the day.

The English actress Kate Winslet is someone I've admired, largely for her refusal to kowtow to the general industry standard of anemic women. In a world where young and even older women are beleaguered and badgered into thinking that the standard of beauty is scrawny women, sans lines and other signs of age, Ms Winslet has always bucked the norm. Good for her, it can't that easy to get parts in LaLa Land. I generally like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he does not irritate me and he can be funny, KW was on last night. All was going well until Jay asked about her Christmas plans, this is why I probably won't be going to see her movie anytime soon. Because as a "black" Trinidadian, I might have trouble understanding the dialogue.

What am I on about? In describing her last Christmas experience she mentioned cooking lunch for in-laws. She then attempted to do an imitation of father-in-law's accent. Did we mention he is a Trinidad Mendes. His brother Stephen is a prominent architect who lives here with his children and other family members. Apparently Papa Mendes took exception that the Christmas lunch turkey was not in the oven at 9:30 am. Whatever. Holidays can be a stressful time so we'll make allowances for her irritation. Nope, it was her stressing that Sam is a WHITE trinidadian and then mocking the accents of Papa Mendes and the other family members who "invite her to Blanchessieuse", her take a sort of pseudo- Jamaican meets Ali G Indian. Pathetic really. Even that I didn't mind until she emphasised,"imagine, WHITE PEOPLE sounding like that". Huh, oh so the rest of us black folks are SUPPOSED to sound like that? Dumb. Guess she didn't realise we have cable here too. Poor thing, maybe she was really nervous or whatever. All I can guess is that Christmas around the House of Mendes might be a trifle terse this year.

Normally the antics of the Hollywood lot don't interest me. However, by accident I found myself watching E News or whatever it's called. One of the doctors of the Dr. 90210 series was asked to pick Hollywood's best body parts. Trite I know, but the man got real props from me for picking Beyonce's legs over Heidi Klum's. We all know B has thick legs and the goodly doctor pointed out that she looked strong, powerful and beautiful! Yes, it's about time.

By now you might have guessed this is my anti-blog. I figured that if I concentrated on some fluff this morning I could ignore all the negative crap going on. I'll let you know how successful this was at the end of today. Meanwhile, "you better watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry I'm telling you why, SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.....

Sunday, December 14, 2008


And I'm not referring to that sappy Billy Joel song even though it might well be applicable. You might have guessed from this month's previous blogs that I'm somewhat annoyed. Forget that, unequivocally, I damn vex. Now those who are near and dear might say this is a default setting but not true, most of the time it's just impatience with the lackadaisical attitudes we have in Trinidad and Tobago. The 'God is a Trini" attitude is really getting on my nerves; most of the time I tune out and get on with business but really, the clamour is getting louder. I had to stop reading the weekend newspapers because all the murder/crime/government incompetence stories used to sour my day and since there is nothing I can personally do about it, I refuse to react any more.

Christmas is supposed to be a time for love, forgiveness, family, all that warm fuzzy stuff. Admittedly I've not been a practicing Christian type for a long time, my outlook is decidedly more "new age" whatever that means but Christmas is one of those times, that I at least try to make nice. The Christmas parties are on, I'm not generally a social butterfly, had enough of that and prefer the company of a few friends, my dog and book. There are a few people who take the trouble to invite me to their homes or out for a bite and with whom I like spending time, those are the events I attend. This is why I'm channeling my blog "pardner" Angry African; it seems we are all vexed, we're all unsettled and we are all looking for some missing element. At a barbecue last night the constant subject was how the government could cut spending on health care and then have the PM LEAVE THE COUNTRY FOR MEDICAL CARE. You know, I was angry with myself because you see, I self censored my last blog on this subject and that left quite a bitter taste.

We've all grown used to hearing, practice economy, "band your belly", austerity, yadda, yadda, yadda but it seems that only applies to us folks. And at a time of year when we should be finding peace, loving our neighbour and enjoying our fellowship, we're all, as they say, "bite up". Now I wouldn't wish the PM's condition on my worst enemy, I wish him well and a speedy recovery. Cancer is an evil, opportunistic disease that not only takes a toll on the victim but also on the whole family. First hand experience, my mother DIED from a lack of health care and medics putzing around with lab results, lack of chemotherapy on time, all kinds of things. And in the sixteen years since she died, nothing has bloody changed! I've been going through boxes last few weeks trying to clear out my spare room, finding all kinds of things from various people who are no longer around. I can't believe how many old colleagues, friends and acquaintances have died of cancer, most of them had to leave here to get medical treatment by which time it was too late. At that barbecue last night, the story of the young boy whose parents took him to a medical facility with a high fever, the fever went on for a week and despite "treatment" wouldn't come down. The diagnosis was dengue. The father, growing tired of his child's suffering, stormed into the room and removed his child, put him on a plane and took him to Florida. The diagnosis, acute leukemia. Dengue my ass! This is not unusual.

Guess this is why the PM went to Cuba, because he knows. The sad thing is that though our health care gets a bad rap there are actually professionals who are caring, competent and committed but they are consistently hamstrung by inefficiency, indifference and incompetence by administrators and officials. It's hugely frustrating. And this is not limited to the health care system. Sure we have things happening, roads being paved, water taxis, ICT's giving us on-line applications but for a country with our resources we're ten years behind. I'm not anti-government, despite what you might believe, there are hard working people who are trying to make a difference. We keep comparing ourselves to little backwater Singapore who is way ahead with no natural resources but we are our worst enemies with that God is a Trini attitude and it's somebody else's problem . We resist change because what would we have to complain about and how could we feel superior to our fellow man who might not know someone to make something happen.

Really, Im asking everyone to forgive me today. These are the irritations:

Bad driving on the roads and lack of law enforcement- CARS don't have accidents, PEOPLE do.
Government officials leaving the country for medical care, an option the general public does not have.
Water some of the time, not all
PET bottles et al in the river and the flooding when it rains
Waste- money, resources, time
General stupidity

Look, everything can't be wonderful all the time, you have to take the good with the bad, it's called balance. But we all have a responsibility, to ourselves, our fellow man and our environment, step up and stop complaining. Today I wrote this blog to release the anger inside of me over these things. I'm not putting them out there to gain power, but in the hope that they make someone think about their own actions the way I'm thinking about mine. In the meantime, do something good for yourself.

PS...i f this one is too much for you, I left you something positive on www.coffeewallah.wordpress.com

Friday, December 12, 2008

Humming with my fingers in my ears

I will not discuss the forbidden subject lest I piss someone off.
I will not discuss the forbidden subject lest I piss someone off.
I will not discuss the forbidden subject lest I piss someone off.
Change that to,
I will not have an opinion
I will not have an opinion
I will not have an opinion

It's not working. At all. Jimmy Sommerville's high falsetto shrieking,

"You leave in the morning
With everything you own
In a little black case
Alone on a platform
The wind and the rain
On a sad and lonely face"

Cannot distract from the growing irritation, neither can pounding along on the elliptical walker. I've just come from visiting my friend in the nursing home. I'm hugely thankful that she's going to be okay, she paid for a private hospital, not trusting herself to the vicissitudes of the public health care system. Fortunately her work insurance will cover her and her employer is concerned enough about her well being to ensure that she is receiving good health care. No speculation on what might have happened if she did not have this facility.

"Mother will never understand
Why you had to leave
But the answers you seek
Will never be found at home
The love that you need
Will never be found at home

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away.
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away."

This is flooding the headphones as I try to drown out the noise in my head. The last blog was about growing up and taking responsibility for my own health care, because despite having a "health surcharge" deducted monthly from my pay cheque, I know that if anything happens, I too, having had the evidence of my family's experiences of public health care, will resort to the private service. Clearly, I am not the only one.

Since I have to revert to my default setting, not entitled to an opinion - if you want to know who else is not confident of the local health care system go to: www.guardian.co.tt. But there will be no pointing fingers here, just concern over my aging body. As we age, we're more prone to suffering from some kind of health issue. It really does not matter how well you eat or how much you exercise, your body parts do have a shelf life and there is always the possibility, due to heredity or outside forces, that we will experience some kind of health issue as our bodies age. Good health care is not an option, it is a requirement of being able to calling yourself a "developed nation". I guess that would mean how you define good health care. But I'm not going to, you know why so be kind to me.


Meanwhile, excuse me as I continue to pound away on my walker, have to watch my health, when I'm done off to find a low-calorie, healthy, balanced, vitamin rich etc meal which I will chew many times to aid digestion. Yeah, right.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Here today...

My insurance agent found his way to my desk this week; for weeks we'd been trying to orchestrate the handover of my health policy and other sundry details. As surprising as it may seem to some, my job does not come with health insurance and even though I've had insurance at various times, for the most part I fly without. That means I pay, every time something happens and live in hope that nothing serious hits me again.

I'd spent a lot of time grumbling over this new expense but in the end, bowed under the pressure of seeing friends get ill and got myself some. My brother will probably be very happy, he won't have to take care of me in case of emergency. Mine can be a stress filled life but I'm gradually coming to terms with it and managing better than I did, perhaps it is old age. Whatever the cause I'm grateful. it's all small stuff right.

Anyway, this Sunday I was moved to do some cleaning. No, not that dreaded "Christmas cleaning" that we do, it was more along the lines of, " I can't take this anymore and if I don't do something I will go nuts". Having had to work on Saturday, everything was piled into the one day off left. It started from early. The hound was pretty surprised when after his constitutional we didn't climb back into the warmth of the bed and snuggle under the covers, that would be me snuggling, him sulking at the foot of the bed, the X-man grumbling at being disturbed.

The kitchen was tackled first, cupboards cleaned, old stuff thrown out, countertops scrubbed, appliances too, every surface spick and span. I was whirling dervish of action. It actually looks pretty good and now I know what's there and what's not. Gradually, as the day wore on, despite the urge to flee the scene, I kept going. It looks presentable now, I still have another weekend's worth of going, hey I live in a biggish space with a large dog and drop in man.

Cleaning, my mind ranged free on many subjects. The things I wanted to do, the things I was going to do, going to see my brother, all kinds of stuff. I was not so concerned with how the flat looked as that I wanted to re-claim my space. This was my way of giving myself security. Even though I hate housework, it was kind of nice, that feeling of accomplishment that I could take control of something.

And then today, in the midst of a crazy week filled with meetings, functions and all those things that we MUST WIND UP BEFORE CHRISTMAS, while checking my email there was a message from one friend about another close friend. Turns out that friend Number#2 was in the hospital recovering from major surgery the night before. What! She had a stomach bug was my immediate response, how could she need surgery!!! A flurry of phone calls later the news was relayed by a third friend. It was staggering, one of those things that could have gone so wrong that fortunately did not. The relief was palpable. Though I have yet to visit my friend in the hospital, I'll be doing that later, it made me stop. My ill friend and I had gone through many hard times together. We'd both struggled with issues and she was really good to me at a time when things were really bad. Recently, her life had taken a turn, she'd changed everything. Her son was living abroad, happily married getting on with his own life. She'd gotten a good job that allowed her to do things, life was looking good.

And then this, random. Fortunately she's in good shape and has the resources to take care of the problem. With any luck she'll recover quickly, I certainly hope so.

Of course, now that insurance policy does not seem so far fetched. I am once again hugely grateful that I have good friends. It reminds me of what Charms always says, you have no control over anything but the universe will always give you the tools once you open yourself to the possibilities.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dumb and dumber

What's with the dumbing down of the English language by people who should know better? I make no apology for being a snob when it comes to the use of language, after many years of Undine Guiseppi I'm too petrified that her ghost would haunt me if I was otherwise. That's why I had so much trouble with the Red Cross launching a campaign using U instead of You as in this morning's paper. The people on that committee know better, I know a lot of them, believe me, none of them speak that way in "real life".

I find it rather condescending when those in authority or who know better attempt to be "ghetto" under the excuse of "getting the message out", fit in or some other stupidity. It's easy to make grammatical mistakes or the occasional poor construction, but the adoption of texting terms or bad grammar is just plain obnoxious. Colloquialisms have their place, no one is saying never use them but there should be a limit. It drives me crazy when people send me messages that read "can you pls tlk to ppl abt whatever". That's lazy, include the vowels, they're there for a reason. I

I think poor language is really a way to keep people oppressed. You can look down on them or treat them differently because they "don't know any better". It's a form of control. Think about it, who are the really successful people and I'm not talking about rappers who have more money than they know what with to do. Barack Obama is of mixed race heritage, he is extremely articulate with an extensive vocabulary and has not felt the need to resort to "down home" language. For that matter you don't hear Warren Buffet, Colin Powell, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Anil Ambani, Gordon Brown or any world leader using poor language. What do all of these men have in common? They're at the top of their game.

The dumbing down of the english language has been one of the greater crimes of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. As we continue to bastardise our language we create divisions within our society, not to mention cheapen ourselves. My friend 'Scene exclusively uses colloquial language in her blog; yes, I enjoy reading her. She's commenting on life Trinidadian, and using "local language" to underline her point, it's a clever use of satire.

Think of Sidney Poitier's character Mr. Thackeray in the 1967 movie 'To Sir with Love".

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lady sings the blues

Recession. Remember that word? You used to hear it a lot back in the eighties. You'd have to be living in the deepest depths of ignorance not to have seen or heard something about the state of the world economy. We are now hearing that the US economy has been in recession since at least December 2007. Our local papers are now touting the latest figures showing a slump in economic growth in China. That's out there, here we're seeing the signs slowly but surely. Stores are saying that sales are slow, contractors and others are laying off staff even while the huge buildings keep going up around us. Strangely enough, the Governor of the Central Bank of TnT is silent, he who has been so vocal about the subject for the past two years. For a while, Mr. Williams was the lone voice crying out in the wilderness of spend, counseling prudence, savings etc. His bold stance has at least been vindicated.

The distinctive voice of Steve Perry filled the car and for a brief moment I was teenager again, back in that time machine prompted by memory. I well remember the eighties and the recession where people dropped their house keys off at banks and fled the country to escape loans. As Journey belted out "Don't Stop Believin", that arena rock feel good standard, I thought fondly of the vinyl version of the album that I once owned. It took me working a month of Saturday's to buy it but I about wore out the grooves on our old record player. Makes you think. Two days ago I had a conversation about some recently returned graduates who were grousing about working in the OJT programme because they thought it was "beneath" their standing as university graduates, the figured they were entitled to bigger salaries and interesting jobs. It was laughable, because in recession, any job is better than no job, especially without job experience. Sadly, they too will learn the hard way what recession means.

Last week the X-Man was in the States on family business, while there he hit the shops and came back with stories of the Black Friday excess that obtains in the US. It was horrifying to hear some of them. I hadn't planned on writing about the Walmart tragedy, or even the Kmart shooting. All I can say is that I don't want anything that bad. I don't care how large the savings are, is that big screen TV or some more cheap clothes worth someone's life. I think not. Makes me wonder about people's values, life is getting harder and you still want all the trappings of conspicuous consumption. What's that all about? It's hard to understand that on one hand we're all be exhorted to save etc and banks are still offering "suckeye" or "leeeway" loans. You NEED those new curtains why? Thanks, mine will be staying up until they fall apart. I need new furniture why? So that Zeus can lie around on it all day while I slave away to pay for it for the next two years. He's happy with the daybed we have now, okay, maybe a new throw cover but that's easy enough to stitch up.

Recession. Here we are again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pleasant morning to you too

Many a morning, a pleasant security guard greets me as I teeter into the building, coffee cup balanced in one hand and load in the other. She is a short, chubby, dark woman, with a huge smile that lights up her whole face. She always calls me Miss Wallah, even though she knows my first name and asks after my health. She's not always on duty because they rotate the guards here, but she's one of my favourites because she lights up my morning with her cheeriness. It's hard to maintain the facade of a grinch with someone grinning back at you and telling you to have a lovely day. If she's around when I'm leaving she always enquires about how my day was, and commiserates over the long hours, even though we are both still here and chances are her morning started long before mine. Her lot cannot be easy, the work is tedious and the hours long but she maintains that cheerfulness throughout and I have the greatest admiration for her.

The rain came down this morning, bucket a drop, the pounding on the roof made me want to turn over and curl with a warm arm draped over my side and feet cocooned by dog. Ah well, if wishes were horses I'd have a herd and though the temptation to linger between the sheets with the hound draped across my feet was strong, work was waiting and reluctantly, I did the morning routine. There was a slight deviation from the norm, but the rain was coming down so hard when I left home, you could barely see the cars in front of you. It was miserable, but if we stayed home every time it rained, we'd be home six months out of the year! But at least I could huddle inside before making the dash to the car, getting slightly soaked down one arm while struggling to close the umbrella through the gap in the open car door.

This morning the pack of stray doggies that congregate under the building eaves were gone, probably driven off by the cleaning staff. They were most present yesterday when I was leaving, five mutts of indeterminate breed, varying in size with the common pointed nose, curled tail and bristly fur typical of the Caribbean hound. When I see them I'm always a little troubled and my thoughts go to my own pampered hound, waiting patiently at home, safe, comfortable and secure until my return. The resignation in their eyes always makes me sad, any sign of attention from a passing human causing them to wag their tails and look hopefully at you. Almost too much to bear, at least they have each other, abandoned by their humans to populate the roads, breeding randomly, bereft of home and love.

The contrast between these two experiences, the dogs and my guard made me pause again this morning. Something to think about, even if only for a moment.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Something a little strange happened over the last two days. Payday falls within this week, earlier for normal folks, yesterday for public servants. So you'd expect, Christmas coming the whole of Trinidad would be jam packed right. Except, the traffic into work yesterday wasn't there. Sure you had some stop and go but not the usual, this morning, it took me twenty minutes, something that only happens on a weekend. HiLo WestMall was empty last night, there weren't that many cars in the carpark which is usually crammed, the lines weren't as long, relatively speaking of course. Now I'm not complaining, heck this could be really good, but why this phenomenon?

You had to wonder, what was going on and why did no one share the secret with me? You see the only conclusion I could come to was that a lot of Trinidadians went to the States for Thanksgiving. Mainly for the sales not the turkey, it reminds me of the seventies when Trinis used to go to Miami for the weekend as though they were going to Mayaro Beach (on the east coast of Trinidad for you foreigners). Considering all the recent cries for austerity and belt tightening it's kind of weird but what do I know. Have to admit, it does underline the ridiculousness of the Minister of Legal Affairs crusade against doubles vendors. Okay, so they've raised their prices, a lot, in the last year. Sure the price of flour and oil went down, but the price of gas and electricity went up, they still have to cover their costs. Look, if people have a beef with the price, then just don't buy the bloody thing okay.

As much as we're all in denial, I wonder how many people truly realise that things aren't so rosy here anymore. One friend called to talk about how awful his day was, he'd had to let some of his staff go. It's never easy to fire someone under any circumstances but it's even harder when it's economic. He talked about people in the construction industry who've been sending workers home since last month. There by the grace go we.

Last night Tans sent me a text message about the happenings in India. This time last year she was there, staying at the Oberoi, it was sobering and she was feeling creeped out. You just never know what might happen and the situation you might find yourself in. For a long time I wanted to go to India, just to see for myself but the possibility of going is getting smaller. The randomness of the events make you realise how little control you have over life. You owe it to yourself to live in the now.

This morning standing the early morning grey, the air was cool, a light breeze blowing making me want to crawl back into bed and sleep some more. Waiting for the hound to have his constitutional I noticed a flock of birds alighting on the next door mango tree, foreign birds, not locals. They're here for the winter months. Another year gone and you're still here, say thanks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On the next day of Christmas

While we're on the subject; in today's newspaper there was an article about what it was going to cost Trinis to "enjoy" their traditional Christmas feasts. It was instructive to say the least. When we were growing up, Christmas lunch was a special meal, something different from what we had every day. That was it. When we took to sharing Christmas lunch with the neighbours, it was a little more lavish, they actually used to do a turkey AND a ham, but there were quite a few people to feed and the leftovers were shared. However, there was nothing that we HAD TO HAVE.

And that's the thing. Why do we have to have anything? One of the best Christmas meals I ever had was a bake and shark on Maracas Beach, shared with Zeus. It was one of those days that could have gone all wrong, but somehow, it worked out all right. I'd woken up at the crack of dawn, to cut a long story short, I ended up on my own and decided that I wanted to be near water. The dog was thrown into the car and we headed off to the beach.

It was a crisp day, the sun barely warming up the air after a chilly night. The sky was clear, so blue that it seemed to go on forever. Parking the car in the almost deserted lot, hauling out dog and baggage while inhaling lungfuls of salt air. Heavenly. We plunked down on the un-raked sand. Zeus digging his usual hole to China, settling in on the edge of my blanket, sand everywhere, stuck to his fur, my hair, under my toes. The beach was mostly an empty expanse, a few corbeaus strutting around, ownership guaranteed. Zeus taking exception. The few other people, yes even at 7:30 am on Christmas morning there were a few diehards on the beach, scattered randomly, a nod, a smile and the odd Merry Christmas. The only real sound, the splish splash of waves on the shore. As I lay there soaking up the sun, sparing a moment to call my brother and best friend to wish them a happy day, it was truly peaceful. Sometime later an Indian family showed up for what seemed to be their carefully planned Christmas lime. They weren't loud but they were happy, sharing food and drink while the rest of us stood in line at the shark and bake people. The sharp smell of frying fish, the hot of the stove bake wrapped in greasy paper, slathered in garlic and shandon beni sauce. Sitting on the mat, propped up on dog, he with his own comestible, after all, it was Christmas, I felt very lucky.

It's easy to get bogged down in what you don't have but truthfully, we have so much. I'm not going to lecture anyone here. You get to choose what is important to you, but ask yourself if it's worth being miserable over. Is not having a bunch of things going to make your life worse or are you going to chose to be happy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On the first day of Christmas

Well not quite. This morning, in one of those weird feel good moods the Christmas tree went up. Previously denial had been the order of the day. Since there are no young'uns anxiously awaiting the arrival of St. Nick, other than sentimentality or tradition, a Christmas tree and decorations serve little purpose, other than to give the dog further distractions. It is more trouble than it is worth, like making Christmas cakes or pastelles. Why bother?

J9 reminded me that it was almost the start of Advent, so if there was any "Christmassing" to be done, this was the time to get it together. So over the first freshly brewed cup, the hound and I explored the nether regions of the spare room cupboards and dug out the tree in it's Carib case, decorations from shoeboxes and washed Ma Wallah's crystal punch bowl. The side board upon which the tree resides was given the requisite application of lemon polish. This is as close as it ever gets to the manic Trini custom "nicening" up the house for the season. For you foreigners, Trinis go through an orgy of window washing, rug beating, carpet shampooing, floor polishing, painting etc BEFORE putting up Christmas decorations, lights, new curtains and changing out cushion covers. This is our version of spring cleaning and believe me, it is something all Trini children dread because they know, for the weeks starting in mid-November to almost Christmas Eve, the insanity will prevail.

That said, I admit that it's something that I've never really subscribed to; when I had husband and household, we didn't put up curtains, nor did we ever do anything around the house than maybe some artsy fartsy Christmas decorations. One year we had a nine foot live Christmas tree that we hewed down from the forest, illegally, stuffed into the back of our sub-compact and drove home with tree on the gear shift, all the seats and just about filling the whole car. For months after we kept finding pine needles and a permeating resinous smell. The neighbours would peer through our glass sliding doors, sans curtains, to view the monster and it became somewhat of a neighbourhood tourist attraction. You never knew who you were going to come face to face with pressed up against the glass when you came down the stairs.

Another year, the artist, the real one not me, made a wooden tree with electric twinkle lights stapled on so that after dark you saw the outline of a tree. Then there was the year of the papier mache, banana Christmas tree, that one was mine, which stayed up until Carnival because it took so long to make that we didn't have the heart to take it down. The year of the "stained glass" doors,when we painted a large poinsettia and candles on the sliding doors was a particular favourite, the neighbours couldn't see in for a change. Our only other real Christmas tradition, other than the artist not remembering to buy his wife a present, was the pre-Christmas ham, baked in our toaster oven because we didn't acquire a stove until nearly four years after we moved in. The ham was usually bought in Tru Valu Valpark around the last week in November and baked by the first. One year we had to saw it in half to get it to fit and then cook it in stages. Hilarious, we stayed up late, the all pervading smell of baking ham making our mouths water, puttering around until it was done and then breaking out the rolls. Of course by the second week we were loath to see a ham far less to have anymore. Is it any surprise that last, acrimonious, relative filled Christmas I balked and produced a large beef roast.

My first experience of real trini garlic pork came from my first post divorce landlord. Of Portugese descent, he, and his Columbian wife introduced me to new things, but the garlic pork was out of this world that first Christmas morning when my fellow tenants and I joined the family for breakfast. Fried crisp with lashings of scrambled eggs, smoked ham on the side, Consuelo's arepas, queso blanco and freshly brewed sorrel, it was my new start. And though there was no tree in the living room that year, life was good.

Christmas is a time for family, for coming together, for forgiving, so many things to so many people. It is also one of those times with the highest suicide rate and known for provoking depressive bouts. One year, in the midst of event managing what felt like hundreds of Christmas parties, here was little inclination to do anything for my own house. Having fluffed three hundred and fifty bows there was no way I was going to do anymore. The boys on my crew gifted me with a bag containing a couple dozen beautifully made bows for my house and Rans, my boss, gave me a Christmas present that I can never thank him enough for. It makes you realise that what's important, it's not the price of the gift, the amount of food or how big the show, you know what's important to you.

This year, my little three foot Christmas tree, bought in a pit of pique three years ago when I decided rather arbitrarily one day that a tree was going to go up, looks like Helen Bhagwansingh's Christmas shop exploded on it. It is gaudy, obnoxious and would probably give Martha Stewart hives, at least there are only two colours, red and gold to go with the green. But it is a happy little thing, out of reach of Zeus who would roll the decorations around with great relish, a beacon of cheer in a rather sombre space. But it's there, despite my Christmas grinch spirit, because really, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The dozen pastelles and fruit cake have been ordered, they'll be packed into my suitcase and taken to my brother, this is as close as he gets to celebrating Christmas too. And for a change I'm not so worried about the world, to borrow from one of my favourites, "throw your arms around the world at Christmas time".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Corset diaries

Some of you know me in my other incarnation, the one that I don't talk about here, much. So you can understand why I've been forbearing to talk about the economic situation in the country/world etc. Too much like work really. Let me tell you, it's been hard keeping my big mouth shut, but really, as a good ****** ****** I follow instructions well, most of the time. As a result I've been belt tightening for months, trying to be prudent, only buy what was necessary, though admittedly, I can justify that $40 pint of Ben and Jerry's any day. FYI, it's cheaper than a month's worth of depression meds and tastes a whole lot better; the fat content guarantees that you immediately feel better; depression meds take a whole month to kick in.

Anyway, of late that belt has begun to feel like more a victorian whalebone corset, cutting off circulation, making it difficult to breath, harder to move freely, constricting. You know what I mean, you're doing the same. Sure in the last few days the price of a few food items went down. Rice and wheat, things that I buy only a couple of times a year, when you have only yourself and a large dog to feed on a regular basis you tend to buy things that don't require a lot of fuss, that will teach me eh. I'm not in a traditional arrangement where I come home to make dinner for the family etc, the X-man eats whatever is on hand when he's around. Like most folk, I succumb to the temptations of a muffin, doubles or eating out, though not as often as one might think. Keep in mind, most days I eat on the fly a lot averaging two meals but it usually works out to one and a half along with the requisite gallon of coffee that it takes for me to function.

Right. Like most women I live by budget, it's carefully constructed in an excel spreadsheet, after all, technology is there to be used. At a glance I can see what bills are outstanding, how much leverage I have in between the sum that hits my bank account and what goes right back out. Lately that number is getting smaller and smaller until a couple of months ago I noticed something quite alarming. There wasn't any difference. You heard me. Now you might wonder, has my lifestyle become more extravagant, have I taken to throwing the old dollar around? The sad reality is that it's quite the reverse. Whereas I used to be able to go out for the odd meal or drinks with friends, maybe a pedicure, that's been cut back to the point of non-existence.

I tend to do my laundry on a Saturday morning while attempting to whip Casa Coffeewallah back into shape, it's usually a few loads through the washer and dryer. That is until the bloody electricity bill arrived! It was bad enough when the dry cleaning bill cost more than the utilities but now I can't win either way. Hanging it out on the line is not a viable option all the time. You can't leave the washing hanging out in my neighbourhood and expect to come back and find it every time. And then there's the rain so the old dryer gets a work out even though I follow all the green rules and optimise loads, clear out the lint collector etc. Sure I make more home cooked meals, but the raw materials don't just fall from heaven and then there is a lack of a twenty pound cannister of gas, they're in short supply around here. If anyone knows where one can be had in the Diego Martin and environs I'd be hugely appreciative of the hook up.

The other day, driven the point of total exasperation by the day, traffic, people etc, heading home my car turned into Movietowne, it's like Stephen King's Christine, it sometimes has a mind of its own. Screw it, I treated myself to Quantum of Solace and something to eat. Close to a hundred dollars in one shot for a movie, hot dog and some fries. That will teach me. I'd like to do the right thing and not buy pirated movies but you know, fifiteen bucks for the movie and another four for popcorn is a lot more palatable than forty-five and thirteen. I'll absorb the electricity cost thanks. I don't begrudge business owners you know, they have to make a living too but I suspect things are going to be a little hairy for them too.

The fact is, like most people I know, Father Christmas is going to be whizzing past my house this year. Sorry friends, those home baked treats that have been known to come out of my kitchen as presents, enjoy the memory, some day they will make a return. Ditto for the Christmas calls, cards and visits. Don't worry, I have no expectations either, we're all tightening up those belts. Of course I also believe in leading by example, so it's my hope that all those people advocating the tightened belt, are doing the same. We'll all be watching.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Message from the ark

Yes, I'm still here. So, I've been thinking, a lot, about a lot things. Mostly though, I'm looking at the world, and trying to find some space in it for me. Thanks to a couple of really good friends, Siggy Crom and Charms, I was re-introduced to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle about two years ago. At the time, I'd been questioning my life and a reluctance to resort to meds to get me through the depression that comes on from time to time. My cognitive therapist had taught me a number of coping mechanisms and also how to more easily recognise the signs and mitigate in the situation. I felt that I was doing better but something was still missing.

Tolle filled that void. For the past two years I've been trying, with varying degrees of success to embrace the teachings and maybe, to live in the now. A week ago something happened that rocked my world and caused me to question, albeit briefly. Then, three days ago, in all the rain and the accompanying chaos, I discovered something. The truth, it's all a learning curve and you have to understand that you will not always be in a good place, but that's where you are, deal with it.

Watching the rain fall, it didn't seem like the weather was so different from any other day. Rain in Port of Spain, then the news started coming in from all over the country. Sequestered at the dockside Hyatt it all seemed remote; bridge washed out, collapsed trees, roads awash, traffic gridlocked, people stuck trying to get transport home, chaos. But rain in one place may mean floods somewhere else or worse, a life metaphor. One seemingly insignificant situation can bring about life changes and something that appears disastrous may become a blessing in disguise. So to borrow, instead of "I am ruined", face facts, "I have twenty dollars in my bank account until payday". How do I deal with this. When you cease to allow your thoughts to rule you, it all goes away.

One of the symptoms of depression are racing thoughts in your head and an inability to wind down making you irritable, leading to insomnia or the other extreme, not wanting to get up. Watching the not moving traffic the other night I wondered how many people felt that that was their life. Stuck in a lane not moving.

So to face facts, I don't know who I am anymore, but it's not important. What's important is to just be. Instead of railing about all the things that we cannot change, change one thing possible. Instead of beating myself up and trying always to walk the balance beam, live with honesty, no matter how painful. Do the best you can under the circumstances. Most of all, as exasperating as it is to sit in endless traffic jams and to watch the same mistakes being made over and over, understand that those situations may be part of someone else's learning curve.

And lastly, there is ALWAYS COFFEE

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mourning has broken

No, I didn't have a spelling boo-boo, it's deliberate. This morning, as I walked up Coronation Street in St. James to the usual coffee pit stop, I had the distasteful experience of having to step over a human being lying like so much detritus on the pavement. It was distasteful on so many levels; that a man could be reduced to less than my dog, that as a nation stumbling towards what we call development, we still have not found a way to treat with our dispossessed. That this man, lying on the pavement, being studiously avoided by pedestrians disgusted by his scent or by his disheveled self; had lost his humanity. I thought he was dead, he didn't seem to be breathing, other people were parking their cars, averting their eyes and hurrying into the coffee shop. I stopped to check if he was breathing, hoping that I would not have to make the call to someone to say there was a dead man on the pavement. After what seemed like an age, his ribcage moved and so did I though I wanted to turn back and head for my car.

Walking up Coronation Street is like navigating a minefield many mornings, the outcroppings of human waste lying wait for the unwary pedestrian. If, like me you have permanent nasal drip and a resulting impaired sense of smell, the sharp odourous ammonia and shit smell clears it up like nothing else. I walk with my head down, looking at where my feet go, not where I am going. Hanging my head in shame that this is what we must resort to maybe.

Do I feel guilty paying for my almost twenty dollar cup of coffee and sometimes a bagel while my fellow man lives on the pavement? It is not guilt, more an abiding sense of weariness, that for all the talk, we as a country still do not get it right. The guilt is not because I buy expensive coffee, I have few other real vices and work hard for my money, I don't have to justify to anyone how I spend it; it is that I feel powerless when confronted with the reality of the dispossessed and wonder what more I can do. What I do to assist the dispossessed is no one else's business, it matters not how much of MY time or money is directed there, I do what I can.

When someone takes Government office, they enter into a social contract with the people, to look after the country's resources on their behalf and to provide services to them. It is not a paternal relationship but one based on an ideal of social responsibility. The definition of a developed nation is one that has regular supplies of water, electricity, adequate roads, schools and hospitals, social services to those in need, care of the aged and those incapable of caring for themselves. This is why we pay taxes, this is what Government revenue is supposed to do. And yet....

The proliferation of vagrants in St. James is not unusual, there are several who are "regular's known to businessmen and householders in the area. That they have been allowed to persist for so long is in itself mind boggling. Downtown Port of Spain has it's own problems, it hurts to see the homeless sitting on the pavement outside Greyfriars Church of Scotland, the sheen from their unwashed bodies staining the grey wall black. You avert your eyes though you cannot escape the smell. It is bad that when I walk from the carpark every morning, I must brave the uneven, broken sidewalks or that I am fearful when I return in the evening, the desolation and creepiness of the poorly lit floors, non-working elevators, fleeing up to the seventh floor to my car, afraid that I will be mugged by the young punk who's stared me in the face, calculating how easy a mark I might be. Dodging the piles of garbage waiting to be picked up and avoiding the homeless has become an added layer.

You find that in order to survive and not be constantly wracked by blind despair, despite yourself, you become inured and find yourself learning to turn a blind eye, but despising yourself for it because this is not who you want to become. Someone who does not care. And that is when you know.....

Monday, November 10, 2008

Notes from the edge of memory

Yesterday was the first Sunday in a while that I didn't take in the quiet of the morning to write a blog. Generally, I write most Sundays because there is time to think but there are days when there are so many things buzzing my head that I have trouble picking one. And then I don't write, mostly I read. Several people had emailed me after the last blog, Slacker had found the link to my old career guidance officer and everybody wanted to know if I was going to get in touch with her.

To go back to the early part of this year; I'd found two of the three girls that made up my high school Limers Quartet. It was lovely talking to those girls again and for a brief moment we reconnected and then the contact petered out due to the pressures of our respective lives. I still think about them and know that they will always be a part of the landscape of my life and the experiences that make me, well,me. The moment has passed; these people had been a huge part of my life for a season and reason, I found them again at a time when I was questioning myself. It was as though they had come back to remind me of things that I needed to be reminded of and then moved on again.

And that's the point really, sometimes the memory is all you need. To acknowledge the place people had and the role the played. So AA, to answer your question, I like returning to the experience of Claire and Hillary from time to time, but I won't be reaching out across the miles. Some things are better left to memory.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Can anybody find me.....

In High School, I had a guidance counselor called Claire though we addressed her as Ms Sham Choy. She was a wonderful young woman, fresh out from an American university, one of a new breed in the high school system. Incredibly glamorous, she wore these beautiful natural blend fabric clothes made by a designer called Claudia Pegus who, at the time, was just beginning to make a name for herself and dizzying high heels. She was an exotic bird in a cage full of mostly chickens. Claire gave our french teacher, herself exquisite looking, with her tight pencil skirts and four inch stilettos, a petite woman with long red-brown hair,a run for her money.

These two women were different from our usual teachers who were usually anything but glamorous or even interesting. Looking back now, some of those women would have been in their mid to late twenties or early thirties but that seemed so old because they seemed so lacking in personal style. In comparison to the two bright birds who brought a vivacity to classes, most of our other female teachers seemed to lack in imagination or was it just that they weren't our ideal of what was hot.

Claire was the one who found out for me how to become a UN Volunteer, join the Peace Corps and a number of other interesting alternatives while I was in sixth form. She worked in the school for a couple of years before she was transferred elsewhere but I always remember her, an elegant, slim half chinese, with tight curly hair and a rosebud mouth, who told us we could be anything. I spent many hours talking to her, slightly envious that she'd been able to leave Trinidad to go to university, that she could dress like that, she seemed so independent. She also made me feel less bad about myself.

Recently a friend sent me one of those forwards, you know the type, some schmaltzy, sentimental thing about people coming in to your life for a reason etc. I'm not so sure why now, because I'd shut away so many memories, how I managed to think of Claire and the French Teacher though they'd had such a profound influence on my life and I'm sure I was not alone. Those women taught me more than they were paid to do though I confess, I might have given Hillary, aka the French Teacher, some bad moments.

A lot of times we don't understand the significance of someone in our lives until after they have left the stage or we don't recognise the part we play in other people's lives. It's like my friend Charms, talking to her first thing in the morning is better than wheaties, she always has such a positive outlook that you cannot help but feel better. Many times we choose to surround ourselves with people who add nothing to our lives other than to stroke our egos that we know so many people, or we're being "seen" with the "right" people or places. I have fewer "friends" now than I did maybe ten years ago but the people who surround me add to my life and are here by choice, mine and theirs.

Makes you wonder doesn't it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two words

Barack Obama

For the last two years the world has heard the words; when the United States of America sneezes, the world catches a cold. So last night the world was watching, with bated breath to see what would happen. At one minute past eleven, all the major networks were predicting a landslide victory for Barack Obama. The Beeb showed pictures from Kenya, his father's country, people huddled around a radio, people dancing the joy evident in the movement of their bodies. What a night.

I cast a thought to Alan, my consultant who'd gone home to Florida on Friday so that he could be part of the waning hours of the campaign, to assist in getting people out to vote. I know he was having a drink somewhere, as were the many Americans living in Trinidad, basking in the satisfaction, really history. Mr. Obama's election night speech is going to be one of those moments; most of us will remember what we were doing, where we were doing it and who we were with.

The world changed last night, an infinitesimal shift, those tiny ripples are going to get bigger as the weeks go by, because despite the political game, there is now someone whose office holds so much world significance, whose thinking seems to be radically different from business as usual.

Good luck to you Mr. President.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dancing with myself...again

It was bound to happen. Actually, it's been happening for several years but I figured if I didn't play, it would go away. What is it?

Unequivocally, I dislike plagiarism, it's at best laziness and worse, sheer thievery. Ladies and gentlemen, plagiarism as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary- the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. In my line of work it is not unusual for this to happen; consultants do it to us, colleagues etc, it's a cutthroat world. I've always looked at it and figured, I have lots of ideas, you stealing one of mine isn't going to kill me, it just shows how limited you are. Until it happens, then you get mad. Depending on what the situation is, it can really burn.

So now you know. But this is really just a segue, what's happening is that I've started to "borrow" from myself. All writers do it to some degree, we store up ideas or pieces of work that we've created, sometimes they re-appear in different formats. It happens. From the mid-nineties up until about three years ago, I wrote extensively for publications, websites and corporate clients. It was sort of like being back in television when I'd churn out five to seven live spots a night in addition to producing business features, documentaries and occasionally, promos. A little bit of a lot of genres.

Mostly though, I wrote Tourism type articles for glossy magazines and the Tourism website. One carnival, I wrote 250 pieces for TIDCO, it was wild, it was mad and it was hard to keep up but I loved every minute of it despite my bitching otherwise. Of course at the time I was also running a Mas Camp and doing some event management on the side so a little madness was in order. Over the years I've become somewhat of a homegrown go-to person for all things Carnival and many things Trinidad. I'm proud of my body of work, it's taken me places and taught me a lot, about my country and about life.

What pissed me off? Several years ago while surfing the net looking for information on some or other thing, I came across another website, the information looked suspiciously familiar. I read it once and then again and a particular phrase struck a chord. I dug through my file of articles and sure enough, there it was. Not only had the owner of site used my work wholesale, down to the last comma, they'd not bothered to credit the information. I sent them an e-mail, the short version of the story, they took down the piece, eventually. But I started noticing work that I'd done being used all over the place, sometimes credited to me and sometimes not. This is plagiarism and it sucks.

Of course there are times when it gets funny too. A magazine that I write for once called me to ask who they should talk to about re-printing an article they'd found on the internet. They liked the style and thought, because I wrote for a lot of sites, I might know how to get in touch with the publisher. I fell over laughing, it had been written by me, I was the person they'd have had to ask anyway since I generally license my work. This is also not unusual, a piece written as a magazine article was used by the subject as their official biography in an art catalogue. Eventually, it found it's way back to me from another magazine who asked the artist if they could use an updated version, they volunteered to send a writer and gave him my name. He burst out laughing and said, "she doesn't have to come and see me, she wrote the original and I'm sure she can do the update from the information she knows". Nice to know.

It's been fun on some levels to do this work. At one stage my e-mail address was included on the tourism work and I used to get e-mail queries from all over the world, people looking for information, people curious about something I'd said or people who wanted to nit-pick or disagree. At the same time however, it is work that I did, like my colleagues in the business, we'd like to remind you, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but we'd really prefer if you credited us when you "borrow" our work.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Today in History

Every time I hear about history in the making or this is a historical event I laugh. Every day is history, or should I say, every yesterday becomes history. Some events have more significance than others which make certain dates stand out, most people can remember what they were doing or where they were on 9/11; there are people who still remember the day Kennedy was shot or man landed on the moon. Every day is history in the making.

For the American people, tomorrow will be one of those "red-letter" days. So far, other than the few posts written about racism in politics I've avoided talking about the American election. I figure it's consuming enough energy world-wide. But I couldn't resist a little time travel: this day in 1953, 1st live colour telecast coast to coast in NYC. The USSR launched Sputnik 2 with Laika the dog on board; Carol Mosely Braun, first black woman to be elected to the Senate in the US, BIll Clinton defeats George Bush to become the President of the USA.

Whatever happens in tomorrow's US election, there will a first, either first Black American President or first Woman Vice President. Around the world people are crossing their fingers in the hope that history will repeat itself and you have the first Black and a Democrat in the body of Barack Obama win the US election. This race has held the interest of the world for any number of reasons. I wonder at the American people who constantly cannot understand why the rest of the world "does not like us", we've seen up close and personal what you really think. Those of us that are a different colour have no illusions at all, as we say in the Caribbean, "your business in the road". I hope that Barack Obama wins, decisively. What a message that's going to send America.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Downtown, where everything is waiting for you!

I love Woodford Square, you meet such characters in there. To think, we almost didn't have the Square to escape to in the middle of Port of Spain, thank you Governor Woodford for having the presence of mind to include this in the re-building of Port of Spain. If it had happened today, the Square would have been sacrificed in favour of some large concrete buildings. This week, my office moved from one end of town to the other. Alas, we're no longer a stone's throw from the Savannah, now we're back in the midst of the mayhem, coping with traffic, downtown vagrants and general chaos. In the almost three years that we occupied the "temporary" office we'd forgotten what it's like to be downtown.

When you're alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go - downtown
When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know - downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?......

If you remember this old chestnut, incidentally released before I was born, you're part of the generation that grew up on Sesame Street with Cookie Monster who loved COOKIE, Big Bird, Ernie and Bert, Susan, Gordon, Bob, Mr. Hooper, Maria and Luis; this is vintage TV. Your parents probably took you to "town" to "shop" and at Christmas time the streets bustling, stores were all filled with imported goodies, new curtains and toys, wonderous decorations and strains of Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

So I've had to face facts, I'm officially middled aged. The first sign of trouble came when sentences started with, " when I wasa child..", don't pretend you don't know what I mean, you do. The next thing was the advent of bi-focals, let's not talk about that. They're black, they're funky and they don't LOOK like split frames, right. Going back downtown has provided a new horror. The dreaded, "comfortable shoe"! God, I wasn't ready for this one, I'm the erk, woman, who stalks around in four to five inch heels every day. Okay I've had bad knees for years but you suck it up and make sacrifices in the name of fashion. being there also means that I spend more time on my feet running up and down between floors and around the building. The first sign of real trouble is now I have to get up and walk around during the day to make sure my joints don't "seize". WTF! Can anyone say WD-40 required!

Look I was traumatised enough when my friends with little kids were critical of Sesame Street, c'mon, you guys grew up on this stuff too, we didn't turn out so bad. Cookie Monster is supposed to eat Cookies, not vegetables, this is taking political correctness too damn far. People get over yourselves, fyi, I smugly reiterate that my generation has better manners than the current one and surely a lot more respect, clearly all this PC stuff is not bloody working. Realising that you're getting older isn't so bad, it's the thought that I have to wear "comfortable shoes" to make the walk to and from the car park, I know it's shallow but it really sucks.

Walking through Woodford Square the other day I had a moment in the aforementioned four inch heels, unbidden, the sound of Petula Clark filled my head, I smiled to myself and admit with shame, I was humming "Downtown", that feel good, camp number. Must have made me walk taller because an older gentleman enjoying the morning air with two ladies, average age about 65, looked over at me and commented to his companions, "what a beautiful specimen, they don't make them like that anymore, perfect", before calling out to me, 'you're such a nice looking lady, don't change anything." Wow, a compliment, the morning grew brighter, the sun peeping through the leaves of the trees, a light breeze blowing. You meet all kinds of characters in the Square, in itself a character. From the people expounding on everything under the sun over at the "University of Woodford Square", the bandstand that comes alive with music at Christmas and Carnival, the Jehovah Witnesses handing out tracts, the Square is a little microcosm of the City. Makes you want to throw back your head and belt out...

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown - no finer place, for sure
Downtown - everything's waiting for you

Don't hang around and let your problems surround you
There are movie shows - downtown
Maybe you know some little places to go to
Where they never close - downtown
Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova
You'll be dancing with him too before the night is over
Happy again

Video Killed the radio star

You gotta love YouTube; a person could spend a lot of time trawling through thousands of videos of anything under the sun. Whether or not this is a good thing will be left up to history, for all we know it could be one of those things, like the hole in the ozone layer, which causes mankind to re-evaluate itself or not as the case might be. In the not so many years since You Tube has become a mainstay of the internet, fighting a close battle for popularity with Google, Wikepedia and social networks, it has introduced to anyone with access to a computer, miles of performances that would otherwise have been left moldering in an archive somewhere.

“Video killed the radio star”, these words were to prove prophetic as this first video screened by MTV when the station went on the air in August 1981. The launch of MTV, then only broadcast to about a thousand televisions in New Jersey, was to revolutionise the music industry, just as radio had several generations before. Now you didn’t only need a good voice or song to have mass appeal, you had to have a whole marketing department who would create the appropriate image that would appeal visually. There are many singers and bands around today that would never have made it if their success were to be based on people just hearing them as opposed to seeing them complete with dance routine or hot video.

Over the years MTV and its sister station VH1 have become diluted with talk, reality shows, pretty much everything but music videos and You Tube in a way has filled the void, the difference is, anyone with a video camera, or these days with a mobile phone can post things on-line through the magic of the internet. Sometimes things that have no place being out in the public domain but apparently for all our progress we’ve also lost our social controls and our ability to understand boundaries. Privacy and decency it seems have become those words you have to look up in a dictionary but not all of it is bad and some gems that might otherwise never be seen again, have made their way into cyberspace.

In the last few weeks I’ve found myself, rediscovering a lot of the music and music videos and finding new things via You Tube. That’s what really fuelled all those retrospective blogs that I’ve been writing. Well, not only that, I’ve been going to a lot of funerals of late and wondering when I became a spectator not so much an active participant of life. Finding the videos of those huge events of my youth brought back a bunch of memories. If you’ve ever experienced real depression, as opposed to the kind where applications of chocolate and sitting around in front of the TV work, you’ll understand how much you want to slap someone when they tell you to “snap out of it”. And so it is with memories that you lock away deep, so that they don’t have any power over you anymore, that’s what this has been all about. If my experiences can help someone else over the hump then so much the better.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Live Aid

Like many other people worldwide, I’ve held a long fascination for the talented Faroukh Bulsara. Faroukh is still considered one of the most compelling showmen to grace a stage, unashamedly strutting his stuff, his four-octave range voice ringing out across stadiums and indeed, across miles. He and his music were a liberating influence, not only my life, but that of friends and people all over the globe.

Developments in the twentieth century moved at a hectic pace when you look at history. There are few ages with as many multiple global altering situations as the last century. Look it up via Google or use wikkipedia. In terms of life changing things, man walking on the moon is right up there with Columbus setting sail for the “new world”. The advent of satellite enhanced communication; radio, film, television and the Internet ensure that our global village became tinier. These days we think nothing of picking up the phone and calling long distance, but I can remember when you had to place a call to an operator who would call back and put you through. With instant messaging you can talk in real time to your friend in Bali from the North Pole. Amazing how quickly we have come to take these things for granted.

This was our version of turbulent times, not for us the racism of the American South, nor the right to vote, ours was a global minefield, of rampant environmentalism, wars in far off places carried in real time on CNN, starving children, the ravages of AIDS. Mine is the generation that grew up with an understanding that we were poisoning the earth, we, a generation after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, who saw first hand through the magic of live television; the repression of apartheid, communism and that coups in third world caused immense suffering for women and children. Against this backdrop were a bunch of kids, like every other generation, trying to figure out there place in the world. Nothing like Live Aid to awaken the burgeoning knowledge that our parents and their parents were the ruination of our world. Every generation likes to think they’ve invented having a social conscience and mine was no different, we honed it to a fine art.

My memories of Live Aid are played out against a backdrop of recrimination, loud fights, of self-loathing learnt early from the slurs and anger of my parents. I spent an enormous amount of time trying to walk that line, protect my brother from the worst of my parents’ excesses and yet resenting that I did. Mine was a double existence, a devil may care attitude in public, I had it in spades, at home, the withdrawn teenager wanting only to be left alone. At school hating the hell out of teachers who didn’t understand the limitations while continuing to flee the repression of home, all those fights to referee; the wreckage of my parents life making me into someone suspicious of people, relationships, other than the handful of close friends who were in on the secret.
If you’ve never had to cope with people who are bent on destroying each other it is difficult to understand the collateral damage. Constantly having to keep up a front so no one would know, or so my mother preached, this despite the evidence presented daily in our faces. Powerless to do anything or defend yourself from the rages, your only answer to rage back or rebel, it’s safe to say that I was by any means an easy teenager. It didn’t help that I knew we got a bum rap, being the excuse of why they didn’t separate; you want to know what it’s like?

My father the compulsive gambler would gamble the money as fast as he made it, never bothering to take care of his household responsibilities. We would have to put up with a never ending litany of “what we’d done for us and how grateful we should be” though for what, we never quite knew, having the evidence presented first hand as he went through the groceries she struggled to pay for, cooking himself huge meals, eating and then discarding what he hadn’t, leaving the pots on the stove, open to the flies, the contents hardening to a crust that would have to be scrubbed with scouring powder to get them clean. The constant accusations, martyred mother, oh woe poor is me, my kids need a father, never mind I complain about him to them all the time. Never mind he insults me in front of them, throws dishes, mental abuse. Oh no, we must keep up appearances. Never mind the humiliation or never having enough money to do anything, always wondering how to make ends meet, depending on the kindness of relatives. She had to work and we did the best we could, I got my first job cleaning houses when I was twelve. What we do to our children.

My best friend V., at the time was struggling with his own sexuality. I suspect the reason his mother tolerated me was the hope that her son was in fact with a girl. We spent hours locked up in his bedroom, lying on his bed talking about everything under the sun, playing tons of records, English New Wave, Madonna and George Michael, his older brothers Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Who. Starved for affection or even a modicum of acceptance, my few real friends were my solace. Annie, Lisa and Shirley had been my buffer all during my high school years. We all avoided the circumstances of our less than stellar lives by re-inventing ourselves.

V. filled the void when us girls were separated but he had his own battles to fight, with me by his side. It was V. who first played Do They Know it’s Christmas for me, on his turntable, we listened to it together, over and over again. It was also V who made me appreciate that someone could love you, platonically, just for you. For years we wrote each other long letters, bought funny cards, sent poems, music and held each other’s hands through the best and worst of times. Pictures of us from then reveal an extremely skinny girl with flashing eyes and a mischievous smile and shy bearded guy hanging on to girl for dear life. We were soul mates in our fight against oppression, we’d both learnt guilt at an early age, we felt responsible for everything and everyone.

It wasn’t easy everyone probably thought we were locked away fucking our brains out. I cannot claim to have been the chaste type; I didn’t care, after years of trying so hard to do something right, to have someone proud of me I’d about given up. If you wanted to think I was a fuck up well fine, that’s what I was going to be. But V was the one person who didn’t want anything from me and who accepted me for me. My friends always said that I was too old for my years, and I was. Having to sort out everybody else does that you but we were survivors.

Faroukh Bulsara, or as he is more commonly known, Freddie Mercury became a symbol, an obviously gay, camp man, not funny like Elton John. Queen’s set at Live Aid showed Freddie strutting, working the crowd, proud to be him. We looked at this Asian man who had reinvented himself and though, we can do this too. V and I planned to move to New York and live in Greenwich Village, I would write and he would design. Or something like that. I wanted to work for Greenpeace or become a UN Volunteer, my career guidance counselor, a really nice woman called Claire tried hard to steer me in the right direction. She’d figured out early that I wasn’t going to be “normal”. She’s also the first person who understood my self-doubt, I’ve always thought I was dumb as a cluck but she didn’t.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to wish, or plot, you also had to find ways to do. Stuck here while V. escaped to New York, to live our collective dream for a while; I found a different calling, environmental protests, making television, finding friends who didn’t accept the status quo, who let me out of my box. Learning not to blame myself for the wreckage of my family anymore. Not apologizing for this, always standing on my own two feet pushing slowly forward.