Listen to your Grammy: on image and self-confidence and things

My young daughter asked me yesterday “What would you think if I put purple highlights at the end of my hair?” I looked at her for a few seconds and said “You have purple highlights at the end of your hair.” She looked at me in that ‘Oh grief’ way that budding teenagers do, a little while before that you’ve ruined their lives rather than nurtured them toward adulthood. “I mean, would you like it?” I gave her that ‘Oh, I wish I could raise just one eyebrow’ look. “Would you like it?” She gave up. I went on to tell her, again, that what’s more important to me is that she feel comfortable about how she looks to herself; trying to please other people with looks is a road to somewhere that you can never reach.

I’m not sure if she got the point.

I don’t watch award shows like the Grammy’s, much as I don’t watch pageants. But, because our lives are so interconnected, I got to see many things that so-called celebrities wore to the latest and greatest music award shows.



57th GRAMMY Awards - Arrivals

The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Red CarpetWhether it was Joy Villa looking like a bag of onions, or Madonna trying to look like a matador (or whatever the female equivalent term is), or the pair of ladies with dazzling white hair, or Rihanna looking like a rose upside down (or was it a pinata?), I could understand that my daughter thinks that image in the eyes of others matters.

Well, I’m of the school that says if you are at peace with yourself as you are, go forth.

But, there’s a little trap when one doesn’t endorse enthusiastically what someone wears or how they look or do their hair: you surely don’t care. Well, I do, but, look, it’s your body and your choices, not mine. If I wish to copy or complement or event compliment, in some sense, then that’s my choice. I don’t play that game well where you stand accused because you refuse to say something gushy about what someone wears. I’ve also been in the boat that was sunk by “Why are you commenting about how I look?” I only need that broadside once.

Some, maybe many, Jamaicans can’t leave it alone though. I’m sure that if I raised the topic at random with 10 people today, I’d hear about what the person was like who wore ‘those clothes’. We know that she’s [fill the gap], or that that one is [fill another gap]. We want to read much into any and everything. Maybe, they are right, but do they need to, or should they care?

I’m trying to draft a book, and yesterday, after trying to figure out if I needed another programme to keep chapters in better order, I started writing a section about ‘being black in a world that is mainly white’. I have the images in my head of how I think I looked when I left Jamaica (not really conscious about my colour) to how I think I looked when I went to England as a small boy (still not really conscious of my colour) to how I think I looked when I got a job in an institution that had one black professional–me–on staff. I have to admit that I never really saw myself sticking out. I blame that on being told that what you can do is what is important, not how you look. I don’t know where my parents got this notion, but thank them for it. I think I can blame that basis for what is a good dose of contempt for those who love to label people (often wrongly) quickly.

Anyway, all of this fell on the day when I learned about a project that is opening soon in London, about the black experience in Britain during the 1950s and 1990sp. It’s part of the ‘Staying Power’ project. This latest aspect is about photographs that capture reactions to the black inflow to Britain.

IMG_0755 This photograph is of a pretty common sight in London in the 1970s, by when a new generation of black children was well into its teen years. The fact that these schoolgirls could stand and look like friends should never be confused with the fact that they might not have been very close outside school or that parents and relatives might not have had much time for each other, across the colour line. It also doesn’t touch on the fact that then, and now, people will cast you because of how you look. Dress how you want, it wont take away the taint that is cast on you by those who don’t like ‘coloured’ people.

I don’t think my daughter’s interest in purple highlights is because she feels out of place because of her colour, but she’s struggling to establish an identity. I also have a place holder for a chapter on that, but I think it’s going to be complicated to write.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing if and how she does the little tint job. I hope she gets rave reviews. One of her cousins, who’s now in the US training as a swimmer sent home a picture of himself with bleached hair.

IMG_0756I thought it rocked. His aunts were less enthusiastic. But, what do I know? I have a shaved head and like it. 😳

Violation: a crime and an exercise in the power of social media

Earlier this week, friends had their home burgled and items stolen. They are modern people and had their home wired up with video cameras a few weeks ago. I was there the day that installation was happening, and remember one of the teenagers being upset that her activities would now be viewed by other people. At the time, i tried to explain to her that the benefits of having the cameras would be large compared to the occasional discomfort that would be felt about being filmed. As it turned out, her room was entered by the thief during his raid on the home. Good for her, she had decided to sleep somewhere else.

The day of the robbery, I went to visit the friends on my way from school drop off and a meeting. I had tried to call the husband of the couple, but got a message that his phone was turned off. That was odd, so late in the morning. I was stunned to find the house full of people, and more confused when I noted it was close family. That suggested a tragedy. I heard about the robbery. One family member told me to go upstairs and find my friend. He was watching the video of the burglary with his close relatives. It was bizarre that this had happened a few hours ago. It was bizarre that the thief had been so comfortable in his crime, and spent about three hours in their home. Everyone was peering at the screen, watching the action and movements and trying to recognize the face.

The police had already visited and would be coming again. I tried to be hopeful, even though JCF do not have a good record in clearing up crimes.

My friends have decided to make use of social media in their effort to find the criminal. They have posted the video on Facebook and Twitter, and I and other friends and acquaintances have shared that video. It’s a kind of crowdsourcing in the name of fighting crime. I hope it works out and helps find the culprit quickly.

IMG_0747This is a screenshot from the video.

Social media is a powerful new tool that we have. Many people don’t like it. I overheard someone saying a few days ago “I don’t like Facebook!” The person to whom they were speaking asked why? The first person went on to describe what she had heard about people doing ‘bad things’ on Facebook, meaning posting pictures and videos of themselves or others doing things that most of us would not wish to share with others. Her counterpart added that there’s no obligation to share anything on Facebook, and also that what was shared and with whom was a matter of personal choice. The doubtful person seemed to be a little more at ease.

I’ve become a regular user of social media. One thing I discovered early when I started using Twitter was the old maxim that ‘two heads are better than one’. The community of ideas and opinions often leads to a much better understanding of a topic. It’s also the case that the universe of knowledge and opinions is so large that the chance that someone else can offer an insight into any person’s views is very high. Now, not everyone engages with a sense of collaboration, and some people are not comfortable being challenged, especially in a public space. The defence mechanism kicks in and sometimes the exchanges become tense.

Lots of problems exist because written words alone don’t have the benefit of tone and nuance. Some of us try to insert that by using visual markers that suggest something less than a harsh tone, such as a smiling face or a face with a wink.

I learned also from early days on Twitter than the ‘trolls’–those who seek to be offensive and abusive–are an evil lurking in the wings. They tend to come forth anytime that someone seems to be making positive remarks, which is often. They’re like any annoying biting insect. But, I also learned that some people are clear in their purpose and can move past the negatives with seeming ease.

I remember taking a long break from interacting on Facebook and Twitter during a period when I was tired of seeing trolls at work, even though I was not their target. It just left a sour taste in my mouth. I did read and look at what people posed, but sought not to offer anything. It allowed me to figure out what it was I enjoyed about social media. The sharing is about caring, in my book. Those who don’t like sharing are really in the wrong space, and some come to that realization through a harsh experience. It’s not for everyone, and if you are thin-skinned, it really is worth thinking twice about engaging.

What is also fascinating about social media is the way it brings out the ‘six degrees of separation’. It’s always nice to find some person with common interests who’s connected to a person you know, but did not know that you had mutual friends. I keep smiling when a chance acquaintance in Barbados became a friend and after a series of connections on Facebook revealed that she was a cousin of one of my longest-standing friends.

Real connections like that are always refreshening. It keeps alive that very human aspect of wanting to be bonded.

Already, several people who’ve seen the video have come back with video images of their own showing a person who seems to be the same criminal. That suggests that the net may close quickly. But, it also points out that the villain had not been apprehended for previous crimes.

I hope my friends get the help needed to catch their intruder, who violated their home and stole their treasured privacy.

Road safety: the problems that cry out for solutions

Former UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was famous for amongst other things lauding one of her ministers for not bringing her problems, but bringing her solutions. I’m in a bet of a funk about one of Jamaica’s problems that seems to be presented as problems with really not much that looks like solutions, to me.

Road safety is one of our major social problems. You don’t really need to have a survey to see what are some of its major aspects.

The average Jamaican road user is a mixture of ignorance and naivety. Why?

Look into the cars that pass by on any day and what do you see? You see drivers not wearing seat belts and passengers not wearing seat belts. You see drivers wearing seat belts, and often, children not wearing seat belts–sometimes ‘cutely’ peering to the front as they sit in the space between the front seats. All the data on the risks that are reduced by wearing seat belts have not seeped into the Jamaican way of doing things.

Watch the motorcyclists that speed along the roads. Many, maybe most, do not wear helmets. Or rider has helmet, but pillion passenger does not wear one. The most bizarre thing I have seen was a rider with helmet on and a pillion passenger carrying the helmet in his hand on the rear seat.

IMG_0716This picture of man and child is almost iconic. It speaks to the good and bad of what we do: the good is the man wanting to take a child to school; but it’s being done in a very dangerous way. I’ve seen often the same image, but with the man being a cyclist, and the child standing on the crossbar. It’s, on the one hand, a cute image of traditional Jamaica, but it speaks to our inability to move with the times.

Yes, I’d be quick to say that I rode a bike without a helmet all my life as a child. But, I’m also convinced that I was lucky to not be killed in an accident and I do not put my own child at such risks.

In Jamaica, many could claim that the extra cost of safety measures is too much for their meagre incomes. That’s hard to challenge. That argument does not fly with most cars and seat belts, which are fitted as standard nowadays, meaning only very old cars are not equipped this way. We’re not asking that cars have working airbags. We have the means but lack the motive.

We have a set of statistics on road accidents that hover around 300 deaths a year. Our road safety agency ‘urges’ many things, but is it really doing enough that is concrete to tackle the problems, which–if ignorance and naivety are at the core–means lots of education, and re-education?

Let me take the stance that I do not see much going on.

We have a problem on top of the problem. It’s the role of our police force to enforce many of the measures. However, I’m sorry to say that that job seems to be have been outsourced. To whom? The applicant has not yet been identified. Just in one area that is heavily trafficked every day, but is also replete with police I see the kind of indifference that can mean only that bad road practices are either ignore or accommodate or encouraged.

I drive along Mandela Highway early many mornings. I can list some of the bad behaviour that is now common.

Drivers decide that the single line traffic going west is too slow and move into the designated bus lane for vehicles heading east into Kingston. It’s a simple ruse and most do it to get past a few vehicles that are moving slower than the road allows, but they are well in line with the speed limit. The transgressors have not yet met a bus head on. But, they do pass either police or staff monitoring the road–with no reaction. Quite rationally, risks are less than rewards, so the practice wont stop naturally.

Pedestrians try to dash across the multilane highway to cross to Hydel School. Whoever decided that the school be located where it is is certifiable, if no change in road patterns were put in place. Jamaica is one of the rare countries where highways are commonly crossed by pedestrians without the aid of bridges or underpass, or even with designated crossings. It’s run and hope. See what happens occasionally with Highway 2000, was people and animals cross that fast-moving road.

At a junction on Mandela, where buses move from the regular two-lanes going east to the designated lane, a police officer, or more, is there, principally to stop non-authorized vehicles using the special lane. Just after the crossover, a makeshift bus stop now exists. If one bus stops there, other buses behind cannot go ahead. Aiee! Who didn’t think that one through?

The officer often does little to manage traffic. Just last week, I was heading onto the highway from the road coming from Caymanas golf course. I wanted to turn right to head west. The junction was blocked as the officer let vehicles move even though they had no clear way forward. The light changed in my favour, but I could not move. I waved to a driver to pull back and another to edge forward. I got my space. As I entered the junction, I paused and asked the officer why he’d let the drivers block the junction. His response? “Have a nice day, sir.” Well, that is not an untypical conflict-avoidance response, but it never addressed the problem and of course many officials in Jamaica are uncomfortable when they are put in the harsh light of having to take blame for not doing their job.

But that cameo speaks volumes. We’ve a police force that does not do its job. I mentioned to someone in the road safety business that I often see police doing little more than check their cell phones. Maybe, JCF has a new text messaging set-up to keep officers abreast of problems occurring. Wouldn’t that be something? Let me suggest that it’s private business being conducted. Anyone with knowledge otherwise, please correct me.

We’re very good at the wailing and gnashing of teeth when another horrific accident happens. I’ve passed a few in recent months, the worst being when a minibus left the road near Swansea, Clarendon, early one Sunday morning in December. The reason? Speed, for sure. I’ve not heard other news to suggest that alcohol or drugs were also in the mix. No other vehicle was involved. More lives lost. Police and fire brigade officers were deployed and dealt with the carnage. A crowd was there, peering for a view. Many of us have seen it, before.

Last week, we heard about another accident that speaks to the nature of the policy problems. A disabled man was run over by a JUTC bus, after the bus had stopped to let him pass. Bizarre. But, it pointed to a combination of inadequate actions. Roads without sidewalks. Sidewalks blocked by light poles (and garbage) that force people to walk in the road and hence be more at risk. This is commonplace in Jamaica. We’ve public agencies that are good and not doing a good job. They were quick to point fingers at each other for the blame for the proximate problem of the light poles. JPS? NWA? Not me, Miss! Pathetic!


The need for clear sidewalk access is clear, but we have the perpetuation of situations that go directly against what we know we need. That is so typically Jamaica, nowadays. That this accident happened in front of the university hospital is too ironic for words.

We love and need vendors, but when they block our sidewalks, the benefits they offer are not worth the inconvenience they cause.

We’ve set up systems that accept, by default, that many lives will be lost. We throw up our hands and say “Problems, problems…”

I am all for democratic processes, but I’m also less tolerant of public agencies sitting on their hands and telling me that they have or see problems. Dead people whose lives are lost needlessly are also problems.

Dealing with some of the poor practices means doing things that may seem harsh, but one’s trying to move public behaviour that is obviously not adapting.

We’re told that one of the major problems underlying road use is the lack of legal coverage, with no insurance and no drivers licences. My attitude is that something is terribly wrong if THAT IS KNOWN. That suggests that someone has turned a blind eye to transgressions. I do not see motorbikes on the road without registration plates. Therefore, why can’t it be that the registration of a bike can only occur if insurance is in place and if the designated rider has a licence? Of course, there are ways around that, but that takes effort. What is worth the effort? If it’s a problem, then set it up so that renewals have to be more frequent so that the chance to slide by the rules are reduced. That ups the risk of being caught. No more registering a vehicle and then having that valid for say two years. Make it a three-month registration, or similar. That raises bureaucracy but for the benefit of weeding out those who want to break rules.

There are lots of way to make things like that work and it’s much easier if technology comes into play. It’s hard to see that you can have an online data base and not use it to monitor quickly the status of road users. We can bleat and say that the organizations don’t have the hardware, but if we can flood schools with tablets we’d better find ways to get agencies like JCF and road traffic managers up to the mark.

Our police are well-known for doing road stops of motorists. Can’t they target motorcyclists? Some say the riders are too elusive. Really? So elusive that their registration plates cant be noted? If it’s that we cannot tag that back to a rider and get to the person, then we know what needs fixing.

I’ve asked the National Road Safety Council several times about a particular problem that we have but seem unwilling to tackle.

Our public bus company is involved in an extraordinary number of accidents. Traditionally, public bus drivers have superior training and drive with a high degree of care. We had recently reports of JUTC buses being tampered with to allow them to exceed speed limits. That tells me that road safety is not highly regarded by the staff working for the company. I’ve asked how our rate of JUTC accidents compares with other countries. My suspicion is that we are far worse.

Add to that the many ways that private minibuses and taxis disregard road rules. Stopping anywhere to pickup and let off passengers. Cutting in and out of traffic. Boring into lines of traffic to make headway. Driving on parts of roadways not meant for vehicles. Blocking areas to which they have have no right. We’ve had reports of how ‘robot’ and real taxis have ‘captured’ areas in front of some gas stations. It’s a part of an anarchic system that should be stopped.

We have lots of inadequacies that are used as excuses for tolerating things that we do not like or want. Poor roads. Poor sidewalks. Inadequate staffing. Inadequate concerns about following rules and putting public good above private greed. Racing taxis and minibuses using the ‘need to make a living’ as the reason for driving at breakneck speed and putting all of us at grave risk. Blocking roads as if they are the private domain of taxis and minibuses, with passengers so desperate to make journeys that they do not see the dangers that are posed as real reasons to stop using the offered forms of transport. Some may even love the thrill of a potential spill.

I’m personally past putting up with “It’s a problem” and seeing that being so much part of the DNA of a country that sets itself up to fail, again, and again.


It’s all laid O pun us…

In the UK, I was used to a certain style of journalism that, so far, I have not found in Jamaica. No doubt, Jamaican journalists have a streak of bravery and freedom of expression that is not common throughout the world. They lack a certain willingness to go too deep into stories, and part of that may come from the many links that exist in small communities, where offence can easily rebound when one finds that a relative, no matter how distant, is involved. That strikes me as a weak reason, but it does exist. We also have the real conflicts of interest that come from people’s partisanship. In Jamaica, where we gladly talk about ‘tribalism’ in the context of politics, it’s not a trivial point that a journalist may not feel he or she can go full bore on a topic when his or her party of choice is deep in the mire.

But, those high standard points of journalism are not really what bother me. What we seem to lack is the willingness to poke some serious fun (an oxymoron?) and to put it pun them.

The UK newspapers love word play. They were so exhausted with it that recently one paper, The Sun (famous for its tits, if not its titters), outsourced it and left it to readers on Twitter to come up with the pun-ishing headlines. We’re not short of topics of likely victims.

We’ve a finance minister named Peter Phillips. What’s so hard to work with those names? He’s trying to boost the economy, and it shows the weakest signs of life. Can’t we write “Peter gives another fillip to the economy”? It’s weak, but it works. Or, “Economy falters as growth peters out”?

Our prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, is a strong-willed woman, but known to be easily ruffled with any charges against the propriety of her character, judging by some of her exchanges in Parliament. Couldn’t our journalists work in a few “Miller grinds out another debate…”?

But, it may simply be that the UK has a different sense of its sense of humour. It’s press is known to press on with April Fool jokes when other English-speaking media seem to have gone into some deep, dark, corner.

Recently, one of Jamaica’s noted religious figures, Fr. Ho-Lung, tried to poke out the eyes of our minister of youth and culture, Lisa Hanna, over her ‘disappointing’ decision to publish a photo of her, taken by her son, walking on a beach in a bikini. I know that the rest of the world has already gone to sleep over the non-newsworthiness of the incident, but in Jamaica, we love being afraid of shadows. Why couldn’t The Gleaner, who made the dubious decision to publish the article written by the priest, give us a headline like “Ho Lung must must our morals be laid bare”, or something like it? Or “Robed minister shows his naked dislike for unclothed minister” It’s not a strain, or is it?

Could it be that the newspaper editors don’t like a good joke or belly laugh? I don’t know any of them well enough to say. But, Jamaicans love a joke and a laugh. Ask AJ Nicholson, who tried to run one in the Senate, but got run out of the house. Ask Easton Douglas, who oversees an organization that should house the poor, but seems intent on getting into the theme park business. The Outameni fiasco-in-the-making got a little mileage with ‘out of money’ or ‘out of many’ remarks, but mostly in the grey world of online commentary.

Maybe, that’s it. Old, print media may have lost its vim and vigour and needs to be scrubbed out of the picture. New, online media, with its faster and more inclusive voice may be from where this will have to originate.

Our papers couldn’t pretend to be a little irked with The Donald, and write “Trump plays his cards and our Kaci’s closed out”?

I call them lame. If I could issue the pun equivalent of the ice bucket challenge, then it would be done now.

Country, country

I was on the Jamaican roads today, for my now almost weekly trips to Mandeville. If you like Jamaica, then a drive to ‘country’ is always a joy. My trips have taken on a new twist, because I have been using the old road between Kingston and May Pen, one which my parents and I drove many times in the years well before Highway 2000.

Of course, lots of things have changed, but the great pleasure is to see what Jamaica is life rather than the sterile views one gets from the highway. The drive is a little longer, but that’s no bother when you get held up by traffic as people go to work and children go to school. Lots of colour and activity catch the eye, including the various school uniforms.

I also get to see the many modes of transport which dads, in particular, use to take children to school. One father whom I’ve seen the past few weeks takes his son on a bike, with the boy standing on the front handlebars, holding on to his parent. Another father carries his daughter in his arms and holds the handlebars at the same time. This is so far from text book transport as to be in the realm of Jamaican inventiveness.

Through a chance encounter with a fruit vendor, I took his daugher to school in Porus on a recent trip. He’s injured his leg in a motor bike accident, and we noticed that his stall was closed up last week. It was a little later than usual, and it seemed that his daughter had already headed to school. Today, his daughter and another girl were standing by the stall. They waved down the car. The daughter jumped in and so did the other girl, who was her older sister. I asked about their father. He was still at home and had no one to sell for him. I didn’t ask what that meant for the family’s income, but it couldn’t be good. I dropped the older girl off by the school back gate, while her sister stayed on till the front gate.

We got to Mandeville just after 8.30am, and by about 9 some breakfast was in front of us. I had a yearning for a good Jamaican breakfast, though was ready for some tea and crackers. Instead, I got fried dumplings and callaloo and salt fish. Really! Blessed day.

We each said grace over each of our four plates. My dad had had cornmeal porridge and eaten well, after a bout of pneumonia and a week in hospital to treat that.

My day in Mandeville was typical, with a mix of trips to the pharmacy and supermarket. The first visit was fun as we were recognized from last week and the staff interacted with us like old friends. But, we needed some items they did not stock so had to visit another pharmacy. We waited while a doctor was called for some advice, and waited, and waited. I suggested that we get the groceries, as I had a deadline for return to Kingston. We headed to Mega Mart, or ‘leggo mart’, as I termed it. My dad’s helper went off to fill a cart to overflowing, while I picked up some items I needed for friends abroad.

When it came time to pay, a lady was at the counter in discussion about discounts: she was not eligible as she was not a club member. I suggested that her purchases go on our account, and she agreed. It turned out, though, that the benefit she sought, a J$1000 coupon, she couldn’t use because it was only valid for members. But, another kind gesture was made.

We’d spent about 3 hours running around 2pm approached–my drop dead time. We raced to my dad’s house, and unloaded the car. That done, we were soon on the road again.

Just before heading out, I noticed a mango tree in blossom and a few fruit set. It was planted for my first daughter some 25 years ago. Mango trees struggle in Manchester, but this one shows promise this year.

A quick stop at Melrose Hill Yam Park, to pick up roast sweet potato and salt fish for my passenger. He wheedled out of the vendor an extra piece of potato, which I tasted and had a little saltfish added to it. Brawta!

Actually, it was a day of good fortune. Another vendor had given us 6 extra limes to add to the two dozen we bought. My friend’s soon-to-be-ex-wife gave us some potato pudding that she had baked, and we got it from the son. Their son had eaten the first batch, which we should have gotten in the morning.

I did my drop off at Caymanas, and raced across town to do school pickup near Mona.

The drive is not overly taxing but the fatigue builds up from dealing with all sorts of behaviour on the road. I wont go into those now, but I’m grateful to be home in one piece.

I name this child…No you don’t!

Much as I love France and somethings French, I’ve never liked the ‘nanny’ State mentality of the republic. I’m not surprised that a French court would rule against parents wishing to name their child ‘Nutella’, and deeming that she be named ‘Ella’ instead. Another court ruled that ‘Fraise’ (strawberry) was unacceptable.

We, in the English-speaking world don’t seem to have this concern much. If you can’t name your child strawberry, then all those lovely girls I know named Rosemary or Rose had better be happy being called Mary, or something equally nondescript.

If you are an individual, what better mark of that than your name?

One of my girls has a Welsh name that means beautiful maiden, which she is. She was born during a hurricane in 2003, named Isabelle. She may change her name, one day, to Isabelle; that would not deny who she is.

She’s just been in a football tournament. One of her teammates is named Sage. Well, dear, don’t take that to France and marry someone, then try to name your baby Thyme.

Celebrities in France can’t be like those in Britain or the USA. Kanye (a singer) West has a child named North. What’s his point? David Beckham’s eldest son is named Brooklyn; that’s a bridge too far for France, I’m sure.

We know too well that the black population in many English-speaking places have gone for ‘ethnic-sounding’ names. So, while white America loves ‘Molly’ and ‘Amy’ best, black America loves ‘Imani’ and ‘Ebony’, for girls. For boys, white Americans love ‘Jake’ and ‘Connor’, but black Americans love ‘DeShawn’ and ‘DeAndre’ and ‘Marquis’? Ironically, those black names sound French, but wouldn’t get much of a smile in Paris.

Let the French have their way. It’s not ours.

One of the joys of Jamaica is our love of nicknames, names that fit. That’s why no one in my family calls me by my given name. It caused me a problem when I first went to school in England, and my teacher was taking the register. “Dennis,…Jones, you new boy!” No one called me Dennis in Jamaica; they still don’t, except to appease people who got to know me later. I’m “…” 😊 My father is named Egbert Athwell, good old English names, meaning bright edge’ and ‘at the well’. Well, there you go. Only for formality does that first name get trotted out. Everyone knows him as ‘Chappie’ or ‘Cock’. He was a man with a certain style about him, some he was ‘The Chap’ or the cock of the yard. Uncle Chappie rules. 😀

We’ve our Elephant and Ninja Men, Bounty Killer and Gully Bop. But, our Rodericks and Trevors often get called ‘Lippy’ and ‘Horsehead’ by friends and acquaintances. Would we object to them being named so, officially, at birth?

I had a great exchange online with friends in Ghana, last night, on this whole business. I threw in the West African tradition of naming children for the day on which they were born, so I know a few Friday’s and Sundays, whether that’s in English or an African language. How would France have dealt with the parents of Goodluck Jonathan?

Part of the whole nanny-state state is denying liberty that is enshrined in the French constitution; no constitution for that, mes amis. Equality, also there, constitutionally, is also ditched, as you’re only equal if you fit into the ‘let us tell you how to name your children’ condition.

I’m not sure if France also has a thing against nicknames or stage names. When other countries go for the ban, you can sense their dislike of the ridiculous or the overly complicated, such as ‘4Real’ being banned by the New Zealand government. But, pity the Norwegian mother jailed for naming her 14th child ‘Gesher’, bridge in Hebrew; she didn’t pay the fine for using the unapproved name. What about ‘Albin’, written ‘brfxxccxxmnpccclllmnnprxvclmnckssqlbb111’, chosen to protest naming laws in Sweden? Okay! Point made and taken?

I don’t want to know how France views anyone wanting to name their boy Jésus. Dear Jesus, save them from themselves.

VAT you saying, Bahamas? Nothing shabby

My daughter had to go to Nassau for a school football fest. Well, that was shabby. With her maternal relatives just minutes away, it would be home from home. She was housed with a host family. I took the chance to go and watch and be a support cast of one. Her mother had other fish to fry.

I nestled down with one of my daughter’s aunts, close to where the matches would be played, on the west end on New Providence.

The football was exciting and fun for most people over two days. Thanks to some flight rescheduling by Caribbean Airlines, we couldn’t return on Sunday. The school group had a free day and decided to add to local GDP with a day at Atlantis. Again, that was not shabby. Sunday. Water park. Children. Sounds like a good trifecta.

It was Super Bowl Sunday. I had no plans but had been told “something was happening”. My focus was on using the extra day productively: I wanted to play one of the very nice golf courses.

Lyford Cay golf course, 1st tee

Through some divine intervention, an English lady sponsored me for a guest pass at the exclusive Lyford Cay Club. Well, that is definitely not shabby at all. (She had her generosity repaid immediately because the club discover while verifying her status that they’d been overcharging her, so a nice refund would appear on her bill.)

After being issued my pass, I was given the dress code rules. They did not allow shabby and they did not include phones. No loud or soft conversations. I learned that I could play whenever I was ready and decided to treat part of my host family, my sister-in-law’s husband. We decided to head out soon after the Australian Open men’s tennis final was over, just around 8am.

Lyford Cay Clubhouse

The course was still quiet then and we were set to play leisurely; my partner hasn’t played much but he has a good idea what to do. We ran up charges on my account and went for our cart. We were met by a charming Bahamian, who explained the opening holes and reminded us about the rules. So, I had to remove my phone from my belt clip.:) No need to upset members.

A members/guest tournament was due to start on Monday, so I expected players would be coming to practice. (NOTE TO SELF: Find a member by next year, to get an invitation 😆) We were soon being pressed gently by a following group and I waved them through. We did need pressure and I wanted my partner to practice a little. I noticed, though, that one of the passing threesome was checking messages at a tee box. I looked around for a marshal to report the ‘naughty boy’.

Anyway, we played without any more pressure and enjoyed a sunny and breezy round of golf. I scored decently, considering it was my first outing, breaking 100, with a nice birdie on a long par 3, with a 12 foot putt. I’ll take that. Water features on the course and a few balls thought they were fish. But, they were shabby anyway. A few trees tried to mess things up, but we got the measure of them. We didn’t curse, like some of the members 😠

Just as we finished, my partner got a call from one of the cousins, who’d been in the golf plans. We’d gone out early and not been able to let him know or that I couldn’t get him access. The starter pointed to the phone and wagged his finger. “I’ll call you back.”

I went to the main clubhouse to settle my bill. It was not a shabby amount, but for fun there’s no price.

I noticed the VAT line on the bill and made a comment. The receptionist asked if VAT existed where I lived. I explained that Jamaica has its consumption tax and it’s double the rate in The Bahamas.

People are still getting used to the VAT thing. Trips abroad now take on a wry smile as duty free items get VAT slapped on them, or VAT is assessed on the value after duty has been added. Yes, people, your spending is getting squeezed. Most can’t understand notions like ‘landed value’. It seems that officials are not helping by not knowing the rules.

All good policies depend on public confidence in them. New taxes need this more than most legislation. It’s too early to know how measures such as VAT refunds are working. Registered companies have until end-February to file their monthly report for January. Refunds are due within one month of claim submission. Local papers have noted refund problems in Barbados, mentioning waits up to and over a year. That’s shabby.

Suspicions and distrust over the tax don’t need to be fed; they’re already sizeable.

Still, we made our little foreigner contribution to the budget, and that’s one good aspect of the change that many haven’t realised. When tourists spend more of it can flow to the treasury. It won’t make VAT busom buddy, but it won’t stay a shabby friend.