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.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

If I stay there will be trouble...

The last post really took it out of me, thought I'd give the old keyboard and me a rest for a couple of days while I got it together. There's a lot going on in this neck of the woods and break was welcome. Now that I've partially returned to being a pen for hire, in addition to the regular gig, those things like editorial deadlines and word count have started to feature again; I remember why there was an almost two year lapse, too much work, too tired.

Friday evening driving home I almost had an accident. And it really pissed me off. Accidents happen, that's why they call them accidents, you don't plan them. Usually caused by stupidity, poor judgment or sometimes, freak chance. This was a poor judgment number, I've been quietly stewing about it for two days, in the back of my mind, toying with the idea of writing yet another letter to the newspaper but wondering, why bother? The last three didn't make too much of a difference. That means you get stuck with me ranting again. Sorry but this is the way it is.

The Walkover at West Mall has been a personal bugbear since it was installed; at a cost somewhere in the region of four million TT dollars; taxpayer dollars that is. It didn't bother me going up, I actually thought it was a good idea, we were all tired of people trying to dodge traffic to get across the busy HIGHWAY. This was a great solution; folks could get from one side to the other without the risk of being mowed down by oncoming traffic. Do you know how hard it is to see someone crossing the road in the twilight? The figures are blurred in the gloaming, by the time you really see them you're on top of them. Of course you know what's coming, I've talked about it before. There's the walkover, people cross the ROAD four or five feet away from it, because you see, Trinidadians are impervious to a ton of steel and machinery hitting them at thirty, forty, fifty but more likely sixty, seventy, or eighty kilometres an hour.

Oh, I've heard all the complaints, the walkover takes too long, too many stairs, the truth is, WE ARE LAZY. We won't use the walkover because it's simpler to dash across the road at whatever point you happen to be at, in the path of oncoming traffic. I didn't even attempt physics but having had a passing acquaintance with O level maths I remember working out things like velocity etc. Do you know how much space a car needs to slow down before it can stop? Or an SUV? No, you don't care because we must stop right. Well here's what, I don't care about your safety anymore. Just that of mine and my passengers. So if you're "ducking across the road" and I mow your sorry ass down in order to avoid being rear-ended the guy behind me and so on, or having to swerve to avoid you thereby causing an accident, it will not bother me in the slightest. Eternity is a long time bucko, how long would it have taken you to use the walkover, five to eight minutes? Think about it as you lay in your box or urn forever.

And that's what brought on today's rant. The fact that we as Trinidadians complain about everything, how our lives suck, the price of everything, how dangerous whatever is, and yet, we will not take the slightest responsibility for anything, even ourselves. Let's blame the Government, but do we hold them to account, or do we just grumble over our beer/scotch/rum/vodka in expensive bars and then it's business as usual. Let's not use the walkover provided but run across the street and pity the poor motorist who has to react.

Several nights ago over drinks with an acquaintance in one of those tony overpriced places in Movietowne, the service extremely poor, the drinks watered down, my companion apologised to me before taking the server to task. I wasn't in the least bit bothered; what got me was the server's comment that if we'd complained to the barman inside we would have received "better". I was incensed because the bill was the same as if we had received "better". Needless to say we left quickly, probably never to darken the door again. I cannot tell you how sick I am of all these twee places and how much I resent parting with the hard earned cash. We took the time to tell the server that the service was not acceptable; not that it's going to do any good because we're in a minority, the rest of you will continue to pay for the crap and accept it.

Now you know why I say, if I stay there will be trouble. Sure there are problems everywhere but at least there are places where people still observe some modicum of rules.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

London Calling

Coffeedude, this one is for you. Originally when I wrote this I filed it away, not knowing whether I was brave enough to put it up, but you made me think.

London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared-and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look at us
All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

These lyrics seared my consciousness around Christmas of 1979; the compelling thrum, thrum of the guitar, Strummer/Jones didactic delivery, almost monotonous, was a battle cry to a wondering soul, stifled by the boundaries of a middle class family. Up until then, punk rock was something distant, Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, groups that you couldn’t listen to, and music that was hard to find. Then the older son of the family next door came home for Christmas, triumphantly bearing the album, London Calling by the Clash and a new day was born.

If you were a teenager, or in my case a tweenager in the late seventies and early 80’s you had an almost slavish devotion to the Billboard Top 40 as played by Casey Kasem on a Saturday afternoon. Household transistor radios would be commandeered for the hours to follow along with whatever other teenagers were listening to around the world. Though American pop music seemed to be the order of the day, it was the English punk rock and then subsequent New Wave revolution that was more attractive.

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
London is drowning-and I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, an' go it alone
London calling upon the zombies of death
Quit holding out-and draw another breath
London calling-and I don't wanna shout
But when we were talking-I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain't got no highs
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes

These were not pretty lyrics, they were burning with angst, teenage rebellion, most of all, they were about a place far away. As a child, the victim of constant teasing, to the point of abuse both at home and at school, the only escape was reading and listening to the radio, those songs about far away places and experiences.

A different child, that was how I was described, alternately introverted and then talkative, when I got tired of the relentless family pressure. How my mother, an immensely well-known, former bazaar beauty queen, the toast of her family managed to produce me was beyond the understanding of most people. A tomboy who preferred climbing trees to frilly dresses, I was neither pretty, or sociable, worst, there was a tendency to athleticism, something girls from my background certainly weren’t.


Now get this
London calling, yeah, I was there, too
An' you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won't you give me a smile?

I never felt so much a' like

From early on, we were taught to have “shame”, not bring the family name into disrepute, to always behave in a certain way. Sadly, I never fit in, anywhere. At school, too different from the other children, at home, same thing, the worlds were far apart. I wanted so much to be like the girls at primary school, who went to dance class, swam competitively or rode their bikes and had play dates with the other girls. Needless to say, the reality was a houseful of people, who didn’t understand why I couldn’t relate to them at all and as a result, punished the heck out of you because you spoke “properly”, looked different, and was shy.

“Roxanne, you don’t have to put on that red dress tonight, those days are over, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.”

Now I talk about those days, in a somewhat rose-tinted way, but truthfully, books, TV documentaries, music, those were my escape from a life that was filled with people always finding fault, name-calling, who you felt, just could not accept you for who you were. It is ironic that my father, a compulsive gambler and inveterate charmer was the one diagnosed as manic-depressive. He was, but his life did not revolve around ours and my mother was often left to pick up the pieces of his excessiveness. It was painful, and for a long time, I think she resented that he still maintained a modicum of relationship with me, not her, when she’d given up so much for him.

They’d had to get married, they were expecting me; my father in the late sixties had briefly slipped the constraints of his own narrow up-bringing and reinvented himself as this happening, forward thinking dude. Until he married my mother the belle of her family, then there was the resentment. The war raged on until her death, both parties refusing to admit the writing on the wall and call it quits, either too coward or too much in denial, I don’t know. He with his outside love child that he would never admit to in life; she, herself depressive but too proud to admit it, the fights and the constant refereeing taking a huge toll on the oldest, me. I hated going home.

Home was an oppressive place, lots of rules, all those things you couldn’t do and little encouragement to be anything more, and me, never able to toe the line. Teenage years filled with English bands, me struggling to understand that it was okay to be creative, to not be like the rest of my family. And boy was I rebel, I saw myself with my wild coloured hair, becoming a gypsy, roaming with no fixed abode, going where the wind blows and having experiences. Not for me the cloistered world of the good, sort of, Indian girl. I could never win my family’s approval, too wild, too outspoken, what kind of girl went to protest marches for God’s sake! It was a stifling place to be, my Grandmother in those days an oppressive weight who constantly complained to my mother about my behaviour; because I wore shorts and mini-skirts, because I had six or was it seven earrings, because I went to parties or the cinema with my girl friends, because I avoided the huge extended family functions and had opinions which I was not shy in sharing.

This was not who we were and I was the shame bringer. I wrote letters to my pen pals and plotted on how to get out of here. To find out what was out there. London was calling. It took an incident between my parents and an aunt in Canada to make me understand that I was never going to escape.

So I rebelled some more and started becoming more and more me, the Coffeewallah of today. It took my parents dying, my own divorce and a host of diverse professions for me to understand that London Calling was that restlessness within me to be me. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Christmas ’79, a lot of lessons learned, a lot of acceptance and coming to terms.

The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want has largely become my anthem, I don’t live by it but it nicely sums up that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. Another day in the saga of a Coffeewallah.

I saw her today at a reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she would meet her connection
At her feet was her footloose man

No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she was gonna meet her connection
At her feet was her footloose man

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Oh yeah, hey hey hey, oh...

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a 50-amp fuse"
Sing it to me now...

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need
Oh baby, yeah, yeah!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

March of times

Recently I was re-reading the Rachel Manley book, Slipstream, A Daughter Remembers. I often re-read books, my ex-husband used to say that I got real value for money when it came to my books. Some are like old familiar friends, others, read once and then passed on to friends or donated to various causes for sale. The Manley book ended up on my read list quite by accident; while digging through the several hundred on my shelves for a book for a friend, I came across it and decided to read it again.

It was the second in a trilogy; at the time I thought it was a good piece of work, since I bought it I've read it a few times but this time was different. It was a painful read, because really, sometimes you can't go back. While it is a well written book, you sort of have to wonder why, at sixty, Ms Manley is still trying to work out her relationship with her late father who died more than then years ago. And it made me realise again, just how much we are influenced by our past and our sometimes inability to move on. Issues left unresolved fester, leaving scars that you carry, like a medal unless you come to terms with yourself. In trying to constantly define her relationship with her father, Ms Manley has never come to terms with herself. Fine if you're twenty-five or even thirty, but a little harder to swallow from a sixty plus year old. Frankly, there were times I wanted to tell her, writing is fine, but maybe therapy might be order of the day.

So many times we cling to things, whether old emotions or possessions, we carry around unnecessary baggage. In this blog I write about a lot of subjects, it has become my way to relieve the pressure of day to day living. It's also become a way of putting aside things or sharing them in the hope that my experiences can make a difference to someone else. Recently Adele and I were talking about the book that I have been writing for years. Some of the work from that appears here from time to time. Having read Ms Manley I finally understood why I keep putting off turning some of the material into a book. It's not because I am afraid to confront the past, or that it is all too painful or all too wonderful. It is that it has ceased to interest me. So while there are shared remembrances here, they have become a part of the distant landscape, occasionally nostalgically trotted out to emphasise a point or as a story, but they no longer have much power over me.

Years ago, as much as I love to write, I had to face the reality that my name was never going to be on the front of great works of fiction, not enough discipline on my part. Life is a more interesting subject. So that's what I write about, the day-to-day stuff, the things I read or listen to, this is my little corner. Having been forced to take a "rest" for a couple of days in an attempt to get past the chest infection, I've been weeding through the bookshelves, pruning with an eye to making space for new things to come into my life. Whether it is clearing out the closet, purging the things that are no longer useful, not hanging on to old experiences at the expense of new ones, it is all part of the process, of moving on, finding a space, this is life. Go live it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

It's day twelve, I'm still coughing like a bitch. It is nasty, it is loud, it is messy, this loud barking cough, that shakes me awake in the wee hours, that rattles my soul as I clutch my chest, the cold of the office seeping through my pores. Yes, sadly, or should I say, pathetically, I am still at my desk. This thing, which started out embedded in the sinus, that has gone beyond the "flu", that has taken up residence; which will not be soothed by heavy applications of honey based cough syrup or lempsip or megadoses of vitamin c. The evidence is glaring and I will reluctantly submit to the higher call of the dude in the white jacket and his prescription pad. Antibiotics will be applied, and at least in this, there may be some satisfaction.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


People, use care when applying adjectives, words are powerful. We throw them around far too arbitrarily. For example, the ad that played for weeks and weeks, touting REO Speedwagon as "one the greatest bands in the world", or Rick Springfield being described as an "international superstar". Ri-ight. You see and hear it all the time, superlatives added to make things seem like the greatest, most wonderful, super duper...okay, I'm running out of them because I tend not to use them often.

Sorry, I know there are those who might disagree, but when I think of applying greatest to a band, REO Speedwagon does not spring to mind. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Nirvana, U2, Black Sabbath (with Ozzie), Led Zepplin, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Smiths, The Clash, The Cure, The Police, yup, I think they've achieved "greatness", but I know the definition of great is subjective and I am willing to concede that some of these choices might be mine alone. Thing is, REO Speedwagon may have had some good ballads back in the eighties, and I don't begrudge them taking any opportunity to make some more money, not by a long shot would I call them one of the Greatest bands alive. No apologies there. Great to me implies that you have a seminal body of work that survives the test of time and not only as elevator music. All the above mentioned have been and continue to be huge influences and this is not confined only on music.

The injudicious use of adjectives and superlatives drives me crazy, yes, literally. I hate having to wade through all the gushing to get to the point. It's one of the reasons I gave up reading Salman Rushdie, while I loved his prose, the clever use of metaphor, double entrendre, poetry like constructions, after a while it became too much. Advertising has partly contributed to the curse of the adjective. For years the promises have been getting bigger and bigger, everything is more than. We have no real barometer of what greatness or even good is. As a result, we have ended up with a truly disposable society. Because EVERYTHING is judged to be so wonderful, nothing has any real value anymore. Whether it is a description of the powerful action of a cleaning detergent, power under the hood of a car, insurance rates etc, great has come to be one of those meaningless words that is used to make you part with your hard earned cash. Keep in mind today's super wonderful iPod is tomorrow's back of the drawer junk.

To wit, I remember years ago seeing a Carnival costume that caused my jaw to drop in absolute wonder. It made me want to know what it was to "play MAS". It was a Peter Minshall design from Carnival of the Sea. Round, with fluttering sparkly blue THINGS. It's been thirty years and I still remember it vividly and I am not the only one. Ask me what any of the costumes today look like and I'll shrug. It's a bikini with something stuck on to it; actually, the X-man and I have a game we play during Dancing With the Stars, it's called who's band did that costume come from. It would seem that the wardrobe department raids mas camps for clothes for the girl dancers. The point is that every single write up you read describes the "greatness" of these infinitely forgettable costumes.

This attitude to "greatness" is all so pervading. I cannot tell you how many times I've tossed books in disgust having bought them on the basis of a glowing review, if not the jacket description; only to find while plumbing the pages that they are puerile, florid, overblown or just plain BORING.

As Coffeedude might be wondering, what is the point of today's diatribe? There in none really, this is simply me putting in my two cents. Meanwhile, purging my ears of the muzak by playing the Stones at loud as I can without pissing off the other people in my office. So there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rubbing Buddha's belly

A dragon sits on my desk, a powerful Chinese dragon, silently watching all day, as I work. Next to him, Buddha also serenely looks on, enigmatic, offering no answers, just a reassuring presence in a sea of often frenetic activity. These two figures replaced a jade Laughing Buddha who had been my companion for many years. His twinkling eyes and huge belly sat atop my computer for a long time, every so often I'd reach out and touch his happy belly with my finger, stroking the cool jade for connection, for reassurance or for so. My friend TL used to come up and hang out with him from time to time, we both were swimming against the flotsam and jetsam and Buddha was a shared comfort. His happy energy always kept us going, pulled us through every sticky situation.

When TL decided to move on, I was hugely happy for her, it was a good move, but I knew I was going to miss her terribly. Who would I have to call and profess, a Skittles run....peanut M&M's or a quick cup of tea for her and coffee for me. These were the things that made life under the gun bearable. As part of a parting gift, I gave her Buddha, so that she would have a little bit of me in her new place, and so that she wouldn't be alone. But that meant Buddha was gone, and for a while, there was nothing.

The dragon came later and the Buddha head later still. And now they are the watchmen of my space. But it turns out that they are not the only ones. In the last few weeks, several other Guardians have appeared. Out of the woodwork, almost. One morning, while updating the blog, I came across a comment from Gabriela in Lima. Each day, another upbeat positive comment. It could not have come at a better time. "Louise" aka my riding pardner Charms was still off on her mission, and I was feeling particularly alone, besieged by the vicissitudes, my gypsy soul stifled and not enough coffee in the world to make it feel better.

Gabriela reaching out across the miles reminded me of the days when I had pen pals. Girls and boys whom I only knew only from the pictures enclosed in the letters that I avidly read. Letters that gave me insight to lives hundreds of miles away. Some, outpourings of thoughts, or activities. These letters a result of the Big Blue Marble and other organisations devoted to fostering global friendships via the magic of mail. Today, I communicate with hundreds of people across the Globe for one reason or other, the immediacy with which you can connect is astonishing given that it used to be a month to six weeks before the pen pals were in contact. I read those letters over and over again, and years later, meeting one of the girls that I used to write to, she confessed the same. I honed my writing and story telling skills in those letters and made some friends; Doris and I wrote to each other through primary and high school and even through university and a couple of years beyond that. We only eventually lost touch after my mother died. Now I have comments on my blog.

A chance call from 'Blue to check up on me and an e-mail from 'Scene about something or other that I'd written in the last few weeks, these contacts all making me smile. As much as I like reading other people's blogs, my boss would probably be horrified at the thought that I spend at least an hour a day, stretched out over the day mind you, reading blogs; it fills some of the space left by Buddha. Because, you see, reading all of you, has become kind of like rubbing Buddha's belly. You're my little touchstone against the craziness of my own day. So whether it is busting my sides with Angry African, believe me buddy, I'm still not sending you my braai pictures; or shaking my head at the idiocies that Scene highlights'; translating Gabriela's spanish or following Blue's pets, you are all so very real. In the last week the Coffeedude has made me understand that I MUST get my coffee shop going. Just so he and I can sit around and trade books and be literary and coffee snobs together. Annie, remember to bring the Blue Mountain when you're coming, can't give you any old thing right.

As you can see, still busily rubbing away.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The best made plans of mice and men

As a child growing up in the pre-video game/home computer era, I read, voraciously. There was not much else to do really. Sure we encouraged to get out into the sun and "play", meaning do something or other with our siblings and maybe the neighbourhood kids without driving our parents nuts. There was one tv station in the seventies, it signed on at 8 in the morning and signed off after lunch, then signed on again at 3 with Sesame Street. It was like shop opening hours and the sign on/off times didn't change until the mid-eighties. It was only until 1990 that we got two more and now we're up to the grand total of six local stations and a whole lot of foreign cable channels. Meanwhile, for alternative entertainment we read and occasionally, went to the pictures.

My little brother recently reminded me that he wanted to be an archeologist, fueled I think, by all those books that he read, National Geographic magazine and those earnest documentaries that we used to get on the one tv station. It was Stephen Speilberg who made that profession glamorous with his Indiana Jones series. I think after my mother took him to see it, my brother had visions of cracking his whip, dusting off his leather bomber jacket in between digging up ancient ruins. We used to have these elaborate fantasy worlds, with goblins, fairies, pixies and other magical creatures, from our first Enid Blytons, where teddy bears had picnics and dolls danced and had balls in the night when you put then away, to JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and a host of other authors. I can't tell you how many nights. fighting off sleep, I lay with one eye slightly open trying to catch my dolls at play.

That early exposure to books, my mother claims I was reading by three but I was a rather introspective, somewhat lonely child until N. came along so that wouldn't be surprising, I then became an inveterate reader of whatever I could lay my hands on. Books, magazines, manuals, you name it; some beyond my understanding except by the time I was ten, I'd achieved the reading level of a thirteen year old. Even now, as I write this I am surrounded by many of those familiar friends, lining the walls around me, waiting for me to visit again.

It was all those books that made me understand, I was never going to be like everyone else I knew, instead, I was going to be that adventurous girl who set off with a pack to conquer the Amazon. Yes, I wanted to be an adventurer, whatever that was, travel to far flung places and you'd know where I was from the exotic postcards with funny shaped stamps that arrived long after I'd left for my next destination. A shrink would have a field day with this but really, it was simply a curiosity about the wider world, and I wanted to see and experience it all. At one time I think my dream was to be a writer for National Geographic.

I had all these elaborate plans, as soon as I was old enough to be able to swing it, I was getting on a boat, plane, whatever, with, like a snail, whatever could be carried on my back. Not for me the picket fence, bunch of kids, station wagon and job requiring suit and high heels; many of my contemporaries at the time were playing professor Barbie complete with house and car. My parents at the time of course pooh-pooh these ideas, their vision was very different, I was going to go to university, get a job, most probably teaching and settle down to something including putting my brother through school. Traveling was something you did on vacation, two weeks at someone's house in the States or Barbados.

Over the years, especially as a teenager, the urge to not settle was burning and by the time I was in sixth form I had plans to go tour Europe, by bicycle, train; working in cafes to fund the next step of the journey. I planned on not coming back for a long time, just to see the world and find out who I really was. I suspected, a gypsy, with swinging skirt and flashing eyes but you know, time would tell.

So you see, it's come as somewhat a shock when the other day, looking at my sober black suit and four inch heels in the mirror; I came to a halt and thought, this wasn't supposed to be who I am. My brother didn't become and archeologist but he's closer to world traveler than I have ever been. He goes off whenever he can to the places he wants to visit, I have never done that. Circumstance intruded into my life, the reality of a dollar so far devalued and not having the means or knowledge on how to get out of here. HIndsight tells me there were things I could have done, if only I'd had a little support, but my mother didn't want me to escape, but that was then and this is now.

I know I'm never going to be that free spirit that I wanted to be, too much water has flowed under the bridge but it made me think about dreams and what we need to do to make them real, well maybe not the ones about Toyland and picnics on clouds that you access by climbing large trees. Last night another slouching towards middle aged friend and I were sitting under the stars talking about what we'd be doing when we aren't doing THIS. I related my coffee shop plans, she could see it from the way I described it. And I didn't want this to be another empty dream, I wanted this to be a reality. You know what, I don't so much want to be an adventurous travel writer, the dream of my childhood and youth. These days, all I want to do is find that little old house, with a huge wrap around porch; plant colourful flowers on the pathway leading to the front door. To make an environment where you can sit and be comfortable, in your squashy armchair, hear the sound of falling water, eat something that tastes so good in your mouth, smell the coffee, always fresh, your own brew, handed to you in a real cup, one that you can wrap your hands around, inhale deeply, the dark, rich brew. This is what I want to do and one day, I'll see you all there. Just look for the kind of gypsy lady with red-brown hair and dark flashing eyes!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday thinking...

In honour of Angry African, Love is in the Air is playing on the laptop as I write this. I'm playing it make me feel better, to make me forget for a moment the thing that made me angry this morning. Maybe if we had some more love, we would not feel so bad all the time.

Several nights ago while in bumper to bumper traffic to get home I was heartened by the sight of some police officers, working late. It was dark already, we were all trying to get home, you know. Resigned, tired, just want to be home, in shorts, making dinner, talking to our families. The traffic was flowing, slowly, but moving. As usual the idiots who were more important than everyone else, weaving in and out, cutting in, driving down the shoulder or on the layby. Aggravating but you know how Trini is. And then, just past the Mucurapo Road traffic lights, a Police Inspector in uniform! And some more officers. Flagging down the miscreants, making them wait, taking their keys so they couldn't just drive off. Everybody perked up. What, the police working! In a country where were we are justly cynical about the Police, there they were, working. One officer on foot actually chasing down a maxi-taxi trying to flee. You could see motorists perking up hopefully.

On Wednesday morning we woke up to no water. The water main that runs under the main road had burst and the water had been turned off. Stoically we bathed out of buckets and jugs of water. Hoping that it would be fixed by the time we got home. That evening, traffic on the road, guess the broken water main might still be a problem. That day we'd had floods in Port of Spain, including my office so why would the water people have come out to fix out problem? But there they were, replacement main, bulldozers and manpower. Crawling up the steps I hoped that it would be sooner than later. The WASA workmen were out, not only did they fix the leak, they cleaned up the mess. The road was cleaner than when they came. The repairs were done by 10:30 pm, of course being Wednesday we had no water until the next day. But at least we knew that it was fixed and we'd have water.

All of this represents progress. Once upon a time they'd just turn the water off and it would stay off until someone got around to fixing it. Those of you living out in civilisation might be amazed at all of this, but we in Trinidad acknowledge the small stuff. And then, yesterday the awful, horrible story of two people who had been killed in Tobago. It made me sick. These two retirees, who had a house in Tobago and had lived there on and off since 1980. Brutally murdered. They hadn't done anything to anybody, minding their business. I was angry again. We all try to find the good things and then this, to show how base we really are.

Now the warning advisories again. The truth is that I want to say, no, this is not my land, this is not my people. We aren't like this. But if reading the paper is anything to go by, maybe we are. You Trinis know what I'm talking about, we see it all around, we do it to each other and then read about it in the paper the next day. That sense of hopelessness and despair that lurks in the back drop, because really, we have not yet learnt to say no. No to the excesses of those who lead us, no to those who exploit us, no to things that are unfair and retrograde. Every day I see people drying to dress up unacceptable things, and we are told to swallow them.

I still believe we live in a great place, we just have a pest problem. We are generally good heartedl people, but there are a few bad apples that if left untended will spoil the whole barrel. As I write this against the backdrop of my "love" track, the music that saves my sanity on many days, I wish for many things. I wish that tomorrow night I could cast caution to the winds and go mindlessly sing along to the songs of my youth without worrying about getting home. I wish that we could be happy and peaceful. As I congratulate Clinton on the birth of his daughter, I hope that we, his extended village, will be strong enough to help raise her and Z. the other child in our circle.

Most of all, I wish....that we could take the words of the Caribbean prophet, the late Bob Marley to heart...

One Love, One Heart
Let's get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One Love)
Hear the children crying (One Heart)
Sayin' give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Sayin' let's get together and feel all right

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The time machine....again

You know you are a middle aged Trini when:
You remember when you could get doubles for 50 cents and a soft drink for ten.
Ping Pong, Cheers and Chocos were your idea of chocolate treats.
Flavourite and Cannings were the best ice cream you could have other than the home churned that you made on weekends.
Solo soft drinks came in a fat glass bottle with a picture of an astronaut on it.
Apples, grapes and pears came in wooden boxes only at Christmas time and you had to go to “town” to buy them
And then you couldn’t have a whole apple; your mother would cut into shares for you and your siblings.
KFC was considered a special occasion treat but Royal Castle made the best chicken!
Going to the movies meant a double feature at Palladium, Globe, Presidente or Strand and popcorn came in greasy brown paper bags.
You knew what butter tasted like! And your mother probably put “red butter” in pelau or oil down to give it that “real Creole flavour”
You have played the original Donkey Kong in an arcade and then got into trouble in school the next day because you were in uniform.
Anybody remember Warp Crew and those guys, they used to break dance outside Voyager Mall.
You would have KILLED to go to a concert, any concert of a “foreign” star, even the not so good ones.
You remember the Police Public Service Announcements with Natty and co because they were really mini soap operas.
Ralph Maraj in Bim before he was a Government Minister.
Maurice Brash when he was skinny and wearing, gasp, BRIEFS alone on TTT, with Joanne Kilgour now Dr. Dowdy eminent scholar in local soap. I’ll give a prize to anyone who remembers the name.
The precursors to Westwood Park; Calabash Alley, Turn of the Tide and every Play of the Month ever made!
You could get a bag of pholourie for a dollar and that was lunch.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because I get tired of people whining about how bad things are now, when really, all it would take is for us to understand that we’re not entitled to have things. That we have choices in life, you don’t have to buy twelve pairs of shoes, Haagen Daz ice cream, foreign fruit and yogurt or huge boxes of food at lunch and dinner to make you happy.
At the risk of sounding like my Grandparents with their “ I walked barefoot twenty miles to school every day, uphill both ways”, you know the speech, we all get it, I would like to point out the following. I didn’t have a whole apple until I was in my teens, nor a bottle of soda or a packet of biscuits or corn curls. I had to share; these were treats or luxuries as were trips to KFC, saved for “special” occasions. I could not beg my parents for the latest video game, not because they didn’t exist, rather because they were not considered vital to my development. You had books, you read them, we played outside, in the dirt, we rode our bikes, and we knew our neighbours. Yes, you have heard me go on about this before, but you know what, suck it up.

Because it’s like this, we don’t need to have stuff, we want stuff. We want our lives to be convenient and easy, with everything at our fingertips all the time. But I am reminded that my great-grandparents got up at 4:00 am; in the dark because there was no electricity, water had to be fetched from the river for morning ablutions. They walked, in the dark, to the estate to begin their day’s work at 5:00 am, endlessly tending sugar cane. When that was done they tended their kitchen garden, did the washing, cleaned house, my great grandmother sewed clothes and tended her children. All on the princely sum of 25 shillings a month or some such thing.

My Granddad was apprenticed to a tailor by the time he was twelve, that did not mean he wasn’t expected to work in the garden. At sixteen he went to work for Shell, sixteen hour shifts re-fuelling aircraft; he studied on his off time, doing tailoring to make extra money. At twenty he took a wife, my granny, herself a hard working lady.They had eight kids, my mother; the eldest was encouraged to go to school, very progressive for the time considering she was a GIRL. She became an accounts clerk having studied book keeping. She worked in an office, but still had to help out around the house with my granny. She too learnt to sew and she made all the baked treats.

So there we are, paragons of virtue, NOT. We’re all too human with warts, faults and all but it sure seems to me that I have life a lot easier than my folks did. Even though the electricity gets turned off a lot, I still have it, and the fridge, microwave and other stuff that makes life easy. Sure the water gets turned off several times a week but at least I don’t have to lug it from the river every day. Yes there are major traffic jams and it’s exasperating but I can still jump into my car, and go pretty much anywhere without thinking too hard. These are the things we take for granted and so we should, they represent life as it is now. But I’ll tell you this, as much as we complain, I still think we have it damn good!

Monday, October 6, 2008

How to exist on ten cups a day

Okay, Coffeewallah. So all the curious know, that's my made up name for the coffee shop that I plan to open sometime. As a teenager, on those days up in the cocoa, one of the books that shaped my conscious, and there were quite a few of them, was Plain Tales from the Raj. This was a collection of stories from survivors of the British Raj in India after independence. The book was an adjunct to a radio series by the BBC and made real the stories of Kipling. One of the things that caught my notice, tea sellers on trains were called Chai Wallahs, Wallah being a vendor. I liked it and that's the genesis of the Coffeewallah. For a long time my dreams and plans for this shop was the thing that kept my imagination alive and kept me from going nuts on a series of half hearted jobs.

Early in my twenties I had a moment of idiocy and got married to someone I'd known for most of my life. It was just one of those things, in the past, done. We were married for eight years and it was a bitter-sweet time. We were doomed pretty much before we got started, by his family and in a way, by mine. We used to think we were kindred souls fighting the status quo, but really, it was more about him having someone to control; me. I'm not terribly controllable at the best of times but I suffered it to be so until I could no more and then I fled. But the coffee thing, how does that fit? While we were married I used to work from home for stretches at a time. We had an expresso maker and being an inveterate drinker of coffee, a left over from the television days when you drank coffee to stay awake, to edit, to stay warm in the cold editing suites and for any reason you could think of; coffee on tap was the order of the day. It was my thing.

And so it has remained. I LOVE coffee. It is not an addiction in the true sense of the word, more a guilty pleasure that I have very little guilt about. In the days post the break up of my marriage, I moved back to my grandparents house, my folks were long gone and my brothers both lived outside of Trinidad, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was, for them and me. We got to find that middle ground that had been so lacking in our relations for a long time. My Granddad especially, I'd become his protector after his first heart attack a year earlier, from his doctors, the family and for him, as keeper of my grandmother. The two of us would sit over the breakfast table, me with the steaming cup of coffee from the brew my uncle made in a pot, him pushing toast and vitamins at me to try to get me to eat, talking about plans. About the coffee shop, he started to share my dream and we'd talk about how it would look, the water feature tinkling in the back, the smell of freshly ground coffee always, the arab music. He would talk about the places he'd visited on his travels around the world. It was magical and one day, after I'd come home from an exceptionally long day at work, he pulled out my "sign". He'd gone up the road to his friend who wrote Arabic better than he did and got a stylised version of Coffeewallah in Arabic script. That's when I really knew it was going to be real.

My granddad died not too long after that, there were no more mornings over the coffee, my grannie would sit with me while I drank mine and talk about her life with him. I still have the bristol board 'sign', it's moved house with me almost a dozen times, one of these days it's going over the door of my shop. Coffeewallah is also my nickname, she is my alter ego, the exciting girl that I was and will be again when I give up my current lark and return to flip flops and jeans.

See, nothing to worry about.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Beginning of a Coffeewallah

Did I ever mention that my grandparents used to own a coffee/cocoa estate in the Lopinot Hills? I’m sure I must have at some point in these ramblings; really, it’s hardly a surprise that I am addicted to the brew.

My granddad who’d spent most of his early married life traveling on behalf of Shell, he decided to “settle” down to life in Trinidad as an executive at NP and also got into several other forays. Being the son of agriculturalists, read former estate workers, he bought land. At one time he had a tonca bean estate, some miscellaneous planting grounds up near where Trincity Mall is now and a few cattle and goats thrown in for good measure. It was a trifle bizarre for us kids who’d grown up on the Main Road even though we’d spent all our free time climbing the trees in the backyard, my grandparents owned a half acre lot with tons of fruit trees and of course, the shop.

But we weren’t at one with the land, my mother’s generation had been educated to office jobs and mine, even more so, were expected to become “something”, whatever that meant. The estates were manned by three uncles, a cadre of workers and my granddad’s brother and nephews at various intervals. As a teenager, wanting only to hang with my friends, talk on the phone or bury myself in my book, the thought of spending time on the estate was a little horrific. My grandparents sold the house/shop on the Main Road and retired to country living on the estate. The tonca bean estate had long been converted to family housing including a weekend home for when the gp’s came down to do their shopping, banking etc. The planting grounds had been re-acquired by the Government for something or other so it was only the Lopinot estate that remained.
It was a beautiful place, forty three acres of hillside to get lost in, cold rivers to splash in and annoy the large snakes residing in the deep pools. Hundreds of mango, orange, pommerac, kymet and other fruit trees, we ate that stuff until we were sick; and of course, the cocoa and coffee trees, the estate’s mainstay. We proudly acknowledged that Rowntree Macintosh and other chocolate makers bought our cocoa; Trinidad cocoa is used in the finest chocolates in the world for its distinctive flavour. The bright red berries off the coffee trees became bottles of home ground coffee that appeared in our kitchen replacing the ubiquitous Nescafe. We boiled that up and left it in a pot on the stove to be heated up at will.

I never really took much notice then, too busy being cool with my friends and getting into other sorts of trouble that shall go unrecorded here. For a long time the estate meant only seeing my grandparents on the weekend if I was around or when we went up there for family do’s. Then it all became too much for even them. Praedial larceny became harder and harder to support, eventually they decided to move back down to the flat, life on the estate too rigorous for their aging bodies to support. And with the sale of the estate went our supply of homegrown coffee and holidays reading by myself under the trees, but that introduction, to the aromatic brew, left me with a life long addiction to the stuff. Even now, walking by the Hong Wing factory in town and the smell of fresh ground coffee takes me back to those heady days, with crocus bags filled with dried berries waiting to be sent off to the factory. There is nothing like sitting in the middle of the cocoa with a fresh plucked pod in your hands split open, as you suck the pith from the seeds, savouring the gelatinous pulp and the faint cocoa taste on your tongue. The long cocoa houses were a mysterious place with the smell of fermenting cocoa beans, their sliding roofs a wonder to us.

This is where it all started, really in spite of me. But this is not the whole story….

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The peanut gallery talks

Fellow blogger Wudzdescene was talking about the thing that her blogging, it was interesting because my blog was started for a similar reason. A bunch of friends decided I should so I did. At least that's the Reader's Digest version. I've said it before, blogging is a somewhat narcissistic pastime, you sit and ramble on about you, what you think, blah, blah,blah. It's really, all about you. To some degree anyway, but you've heard all that before so I'm not going to belabour the point. What I like about this is the conversations that I start, the go on somewhere else, without me.

Several weeks ago I wrote about the distress caused by the church on the corner putting up an electric fence. To me it has become a symbol of the negativity we face each day, feelings that I am less and less willing to accept as the status quo. Another writer, a columnist in a daily newspaper who is well known for her pro-Catholic stance astonished me by taking on the issue of the fence. 'Scene shared it with me and we both agreed that it was nice to know that we were not alone in our dismay. You can find it here: http://www.newsday.co.tt/commentary/0,87158.html if you're interested.

So it is with regret, this year I will not be attending "Family Day" over at the church as I have done for all the time I have lived here. Usually I bump into people I know, have a great time raiding the second hand book stall, admiring the plants which will not be coming home with me and pick up lunch at one of the stalls. Nope. This year there will be none of that. And since the stalls take up the entire car park, the masses will be parked all over the street, including in front of my house. But really, I would prefer if they didn't and I'm going to tell them that.

I had intended to make photocopies of that article and stick them under windshield wipers though I am sure it will make not an iota of difference. What is distressing to me, family day is supposed to raise funds for "charity", people who are not from "here", except the people who attend this church are by and large not from within the immediate community. I'd like some leeway to quote from Mrs. O'Callaghan:

" The gated communities have been carved out of what was once mangrove or modest buildings. Beginning in the late 1940's with a middle class development: Glencoe, the gated communities became wealthier, spreading from Westmoorings to Yachties in Chaguaramas. Some areas remain poor. Big Yard in Carenage, the area around the Carenage Health Office, up some of the hills, along the Main Road. Here, in this North West Peninsula and increasingly in Cascade, St Ann's, Maraval, the geography of settlement is the affair of the developer. The old pattern of Parish Church, Centre and Parish School, with a mix of the wealthy – and they were far fewer than today – the middle class and the poor in the same church, their children going to the same parish primary school, is gradually disappearing. It was in this shared community of church, school, fairs and playgrounds that Trini tolerance and a shared identity were formed. That community is now replaced by the Gated Community. This is as much status as it is security. The Parish School is increasingly the school of the poor. Well-heeled parents send their children to one of the fee-paying primary schools. There may not be mixing at secondary school: parents in Westmoorings or Goodwood Gardens increasingly send their children not to St Mary's, Fatima, Holy Name or St Joseph's Convent, but to the International School there in Westmoorings, or to Maple Leaf, its Canadian equivalent. There is some concern that these may not be Catholic schools. I have heard little concern over a lack of class-mixing. "

Our national anthem proudly states, " here every creed and race find an equal place" but this is becoming less and less so. We, the so-called middle class are becoming more and more marginalised with each successive Government budget. And yet we are excluded from the benefits received by both poor and rich, apparently, even in that space, the church, where one should rightly expect to be the same. We are ever increasingly losing that sense of generosity that made Trinis so special, retreating into our enclaves, becoming surly and less willing to offer a modicum of courtesy.

Every day, on the receiving end of rudeness from service people, discourtesy on the roads, abuse on the phone from the irate public, I find that I am becoming resentful of my life, which so far has been dedicated to some form or other of public service. As Angry African would say, we care too much to not do what we can. But I don't know anymore why I should care.

Tomorrow, instead of strolling down the street to say hello to people I have not seen outside in a while, I'll be at home with the dog, pretending not to care. I don't wish to be so negative but that fence in my face all the time is too close a reminder so I will go and do other things that will, I hope, have a much more positive effect.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Slouching towards middle age

This morning while waiting for my coffee, I was accosted by a large poster advertising, of all things, REO Speedwagon & Rick Springfield in concert. Though I was having a flashback to the "good old" eighties there. It really took me back for a moment.

I used to lurve Rick Springfield. So much so that one young admirer, and I had quite a few back then, thought the way to my affections was to buy me a copy of Working Class Dog. Which he shoved into my hands outside Aquarius Records in Tunapuna. Right there on the Eastern Main Road in full view of his friends no less. He then took off at a rate with me looking suitably puzzled. Now in my defense I did have better taste in music, but he was soooo cute, what with the long hair, brown eyes and guitar. Rick Springfield that is, not the young man whose name if memory serves, was Harry.

Poor Harry didn't understand that he didn't fit my demographic at all. Sure he went to a "prestige school", but I, happening young thing, used to have a number of worthies hanging on to my every word. Which considering that I was totally oblivious as is pointed out to me by my friends from that time, is hugely remarkable. I was girl with opinions, yes, even then. One of those terribly ernest types who had causes, knew about the world, much older than in chronological age. But I wasn't aware of myself as attractive, which apparently, I was. I thought boys wanted you to be stupid and in fact, the really good looking, hot ones, did. You couldn't be smarter than them, better looking yes, but not smart. That was a huge no-no.

Now despite all that social conscious stuff and world view and well read etc, I was still shallow enough to want a trophy boy. You know the type, tall, good looking, cool, preferably someone that would cause envy in other girls. And really, from time to time I would manage to snag one, and then wonder why I found them boring but you know, arm candy was still nice. Poor worthy Harry was short, okay looking, and gack, NICE. Who wanted NICE! See how stupid women can be.

It was a phase, that flirtation with Rick Springfield and his ilk. Cringe worthy but I was fifteen, some stupidity is allowed. Fortunately it didn't last that long. While it seems like yesterday, much to my dismay I still know ALL the words to Jesse's Girl, it's been a long time. These guys were already older when I was a teenager, they must be ancient by now. And that made me realise yet again. I can wear the cute little capris, with kitten heels and a little t-shirt. Or stalk around in my stiletto's and dark nail polish, it does not change that I'm not 16, or even close. Nor would I want to behave like that or even be there. I see a lot of women clinging to a vestige of their former selves, or competing with their teenager to wear the current fashions, suitable only really for the very young or club hopping frenetically. I want to say, have some dignity, there's nothing wrong with being older.

There is in fact something a lot more comfortable to being past twenty, and even thirty. Many of the callow young fellows of my youth have grown into some nice men, all a little rounder, some greying and balding, but okay guys. Some you still avoid like the plague, but nice is now not such a bad word. Even the X man, who used to be the epitome of a bad boy, has mellowed into a chunky, bifocal wearing dude, still with attitude but older. And while I might still wear the towering heels and work out feverishly; I'll never again have a twenty two inch waistline, my knees ache when I stand too long and I have to visit the hairdresser a little more often, but it's all worth it, because it's okay to be older. Rick Springfield may remind me of the cool chick that I used to be, but you know, this middle aged gig isn't so bad.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Public Holy-Day

For all of you who aren't fortunate enough to live in Trinidad and Tobago and might not know, today is a public holiday. What again you say! Yes, again, in the middle of the week. That's what you get from living in a multi-ethic, multi religious society. Admittedly to some, it looks pretty ridiculous; we have thirteen official public holidays and two unofficial ones that are really official because everybody, including the Government, take the days off. Of the thirteen, six are religious, three are ethnic, one is for the labour movement, and two are nationalistic. The unofficial official days off are for Carnival Monday and Tuesday, important stuff dontcha know!

These are just the holidays we know about in advance, then there are all the miscellaneous days off for flooding caused by rain, let's shut the country down to go stand in Woodford Square or whatever the PM feels like dispensing to mark whatever occasion. Life is good here in the third world. Being neither religious or even particularly ethnic conscious, all these days off to me, are welcome in that they are a break from the unrelenting grind of my daily life. Even though I often have to work for some of them, there are enough that it's never for all. With all these public holidays is it any wonder that we are fun loving people, who take life so casually. Ah happiness.

Given that I am of mixed heritage, today actually constitutes a religious holiday for my mother's family, so I get to go "home" and make nice with the relatives. Easier said than done. Do you know what it is to have ten people talk to you at the same time, all in loud voice, the entire time? I'm a pretty solitary soul when I'm not at work. Many days when I get home, the most that comes out of my mouth is, " Zeus, shut up" to the hound, the occasional quick hello to the downstairs neighbours who might be outside, or a " it's in the fridge where it's always kept" to the X-man. I talk for a living, I don't want to talk when I'm off for the day. It's selfish, I know. Meanwhile, my granny is probably slaving away over a hot stove while I write; this prior to heading off to the mosque where she'll meet up with her fellow survivors, she's 84, her friends are dying off, before heading back home for another round of quick kitchen activity. I can barely prise my eyelids open enough to write this.

Since my mother is dead and she has no more daughters, a few ex-daughters in law who no longer darken her door, I'm it. Her company while she cooks, reluctant sous chef, because I cannot do it the way she wants, my cooking style is very different. I'm not resentful, just too tired. My female cousins are notably absent, and this is hard for her to take, she who is used to large families and lots of people, whose family gatherings have now shrunk to the unmarried sons, shrinking eldest granddaughter, whichever grandsons happen to be in the country and miscellaneous drop-ins.

Today, she will miss my mother intensely, and will talk about her with longing. I'm a poor substitute because I am not her, only me. She will miss my grandad, his energy; he would be the one chivving everyone else to get ready to go and then realise that he needed to bath and shave so they'd all have to sit back down and wait. We, those of us left, will briefly congregate in the kitchen, to eat together before jumping up to go where ever else. I feel sad for her, this is not what she envisaged. Where are the eight children that she raised, where are the grandchildren and where are her great grandchildren? No childish voices raised, nobody running underfoot, no hive of activity, instead we have scattered all over, been visited by death and divorce. Today she will have a heading to middle aged, unmarried childless granddaughter, itching to get back home to catch a few z's before work tomorrow; phone calls from my uncle,brothers and cousin living abroad, her friends who didn't make it out and her surviving sisters. And she will be happy, even for this.

So for her, may I wish all of you, Eid Murabak, take the time out to enjoy your life, enjoy your family, be happy.