I realise that some followers of my blog may not be on other forms of social media, or follow me there, for that matter. So, to close the communications circle, I’ll post here a Facebook live video that I made earlier today, that covered some of my thoughts on the UK General Election held on June 8. You can view it here:
In summary, the Conservative Party gave up an overall majority to ‘secure’ the largest number of seats, but no overall majority: the opposite outcome than intended when calling a snap election. The final seat count is shown in the two images from Associated Press:
Put differently, PM Theresa May’s Party won the election, but lost clear control of Parliament.
No wonder she looked shocked and dis-May-ed when accepting her own win in Maidenhead, Kent.
By contrast, Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn was elated. His party had lost, but its claim on public support soared, to around 40%, from some 24%. He has the mojo.
I think the outcome will go down as one of those unnecessary electoral disasters that sometimes befalls politicians who get taken up with the power that polls suggest may be there for the taking but who not had a real sounding of what is going through the minds of potential voters. It’s a simple disconnection that means polls will differ greatly from actual voting outcomes.
It also points out a simple weakness of polls: they are pictures of intentions, frozen at a moment in time, and do not have the power to catch the dynamism of people’s feelings. Polls also do not have the power of judging how voters will react when you actually put in front of them the option to express their sentiments in a voting booth.
The cloying pull of power is (of course) powerful. It’s greed personified, and those who seek it often miss obvious signs that they are well set already and need go searching for more.
Jamaica is essentially a poor, rural country, with a few dense urban areas, especially its capital, Kingston. Most Jamaicans get around in public vehicles–buses and taxis–and walk a lot between the start and end of their journeys. That’s not so rare around the world. In fact, much of my life in England involved my using public transport and walking a lot to complete my journeys. That contrasts with the USA, where it’s very difficult to get good public transpor, as that society has given much greater preference to cars and access by motor vehicles.
In the UK, USA, and Barbados, most of the time if you are walking in urban areas, you are putting your feet on relatively stable and even ground. The sidewalks are also usually free of obstructions. That’s more important in times when many users of sidewalks are disabled and/or using wheel methods to negotiate their journeys.
In Jamaica, one can almost say that the situation is the exact opposite. I have unfortunately had to learn that fact from having to walk around Kingston in recent times. I was struck how poor the walking surfaces were, when I dropped off a car a few weeks ago and decided to walk home. You can refresh your memory by noting the state of the sidewalk in the video (taken on Constant Spring Road), and the sidewalks in the pictures, below.
Just the other day, I was going to pick up a car, and got a ride into New Kingston and walked the relatively short distance from Trafalgar Road, through Worthington Avenue/Belmont Road to Oxford Road, to locate the journey. The map shows the 5 minute strolling route; not a bad walk at about 7.30am.
As I made that journey, I was again appalled at the state of the sidewalk, given that it’s in the commercial heart of the city, where a lot of people have to walk around as the simplest and quickest way of getting between the many businesses and organizations there. I was more appalled when I recalled that the offices of the now-ruling Jamaican Labour Party are located on Belmont Road.
I was so struck that I didn’t do what I would normally–take a picture–because the footing was so precarious, I was frightened I would really injure myself. So, let me just describe the worst of what is along the left side of that road, heading toward Oxford Road.
A huge hole, about 2-3 feet across, where it seems the sidewalk was damaged by something heavy. Jagged edges. NO WARNING around the hole.
Light/telephone pole set in the sidewalk, reducing the walking area to about one foot width.
A drainage channel that is in place of the sidewalk, forcing the walker to negotiate an area about 6 inches-one foot for about 10 metres. NO WARNING. (The drainage channel could be covered, so that the walking area would be maintained.)
The walking surface was so uneven that, even in simple flat shoes, the risk of turning an ankle or stumbling was high. It looked like concrete had been poured and not levelled.
In typical Jamaican fashion, we could get into a discussion about which agencies are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of areas such as this. Let’s save the energy and say that government, local or national, are failing to do something basic to maintain the safety and health of citizens.
As is often the way in Jamaica, also, one has to wonder whether:
No one has noticed this set of awful situations
Someone has noticed, but cannot be concerned enough to fix the problem
Someone has noticed, but is in dispute with some other body about who will do the repair or correction
As may also be the Jamaican way, perhaps we need the current PM to take a walk from JAMPRO to his party headquarters and see if he thinks this situation is either acceptable or out of the ordinary.
Jamaicans know that many public agencies struggle to do the simple, daily things that make life tolerable because you know that care and attention to detail feature high in everyone’s consciousness.
I pity anyone who has to negotiate areas like this who is not able-bodied, with good sight, and not using a wheelchair.
It’s not my fault that I spent many formative years growing up in London. So, it’s not my fault that I have a soft spot for the place. Whenever, I hear or see news of events in England, my mind wanders to London. When I hear the events are in London, my mind wanders to the many places I know well. I know London Bridge and Borough Market well: I was there on my last trip to England, and spent a great lunch time with a Bajan friend who works as an Editor for the Financial Times, which is located adjacent to London Bridge. We went for a pub lunch at a spot called ‘The Market Porter‘; it’s menu includes great ales (duh!), and I had a ‘Blue Moon’.
It does great pub grub: I love Cumberland sausage (though I don’t need the poncy marmalade 🙂 ), but the choice had to be the lamb rump. 🙂
I was raised in the west of London, and spent most of my time in London living north (‘norf’) of the river. Borough is on the south (‘sowuf’). My connection with it was through a close friend at school, who grew up in Borough (‘Burra’). I never went there as a boy, but got to know the place later, and it’s now gotten posh. A lot of places that were once the mainstay of ordinary working people, especially the markets and market traders, have had some serious gentrification laid on them (Covent Garden, Smithfield) and become yuppified. But, my urban planning background says that when you put life back into an old area that’s a real plus.
Before meeting my friend, Hal, I had a good wander around Borough Market, looking at the pies, meats and cheese on sale. I have my favourite London spots for getting those things, so was really only having an orgy of deep lust for the things to satisfy my eyes.
Something that many people with stereotyped notions of Britain may not understand is that it’s a place where a lot leisure time is spent outdoors. What? With that s****y weather? Yes! It’s one of life’s great pleasures to lean outside a pub with a pint in your hand and chat the time away. It’s a real pleasure to do that on a day when the sun is out and it’s not raining. Time was pubs were smoky places, so the outside was an escape. Then, with time, landlords made a virtue of that and started to make the outside nicer, and if the pub had a courtyard or garden, better still. Find me somewhere like that for a Sunday roast while I talk rubbish about the football on Saturday. “My round?”
If I’ve appreciated nothing else about my life, it’s embracing the pieces of it that have made me whole–who I am.
When people hear me speak they’re more likely to nickname me ‘Englishman’ than ‘Yardie’. I don’t have a problem with that, in the same way that I would not deny that I speak with a posher accent because I went to school in Westminster. I like tea, and scones, and fish and chips, and beer at room temperature. I’ve made sure my Caribbean wife and my children from all parts also appreciate these things, as much as the access to fine art culture that oozes all over a place like London. We’ve learned to enjoy afternoon tea off Oxford Street; to shop in Bond Street; to gawp at Buckingham Palace; to love The Tube; to jump on a red bus; to marvel at The Thames.
London is in my soul, so when it and its people are attacked, I feel that to my core. I hurt deeply to think of the carnage on London Bridge and Borough Market. I know I will be there again soon to let my soul heal.
I spend a lot my time trying to figure out what is the story behind what I see; I call it connecting the dots.
I took Knutsford Express buses from Kingston to Ocho Rios on Friday morning and from Montego Bay to Kingston on Saturday afternoon. Along the way, I took the opportunity to look around at the Jamaican landscape, something I always enjoy. But, I also tried to see and understand some of the stories behind what I saw.
I’ll share my sights, randomly, mainly by words, but sometimes with pictures. I did not have in mind any graphic retelling of what I saw, it just came back to me that way during the night. So, bear with me. I will start at the end, because it was also a part of the beginning.
Dr. Damien King shared a graph from The Economist, on Twitter, the morning I set off from Kingston; it showed how Jamaica was poorly (sic) placed as a country with a high propotion of slum dwellings.
Here's the evidence that Ja has a housing problem & th NHT approach, despite usurping half th market, is not solving it. [Graph: Economist] pic.twitter.com/NGR2GlBIDe
Dr. King expanded on the chart by pointing out how the National Housing Trust had failed to provide low income housing as an alternative to slum dwellings.
On my way back into Kingston, I saw for the umpteenth time the shanty dwellings just by the bridge at Washington Boulevard. Everytime I see them from the elevated position of the bus I want to take a picture, but the moment goes by quickly. This time, I was ready.
I don’t know if the ‘community’ has a name; if it does, I’m sorry that I haven’t named it. [A friend tells me it’s called ‘New Haven’.]
I see people who live or have reason to be there coming and going, and often using what seems like a makeshift road crossing to get across the busy highway.
I often see people milling around the ‘entrance’ to the community, between two sections of corrugated iron (‘zinc fence’, as we call it in Jamaica). This time, I saw a lady and two men sitting on a large disused gas cylinder, in conversation.
All of that is that say what? Many things:
Poverty is alive and ‘well’ in Jamaica.
People have regularized irregular housing in Jamaica, where it is more the norm than the exception. (Dr. King’s point about NHT is well-taken, too, as it has not been a solver of housing needs for the poor.)
What does it say that ‘seating’ outdoor is made up of things like disused gas cylinders? (I thought back to pictures of times in London during the 1940s when children played on the sites of places that had been bombed, recently.)
Planning is not a word to use when describing our urban space. (That can have catastrophic results, as we’ve seen in recent flooding.)
Elected government is noticeable in its absence as an agent of control over what happens in many parts of Jamaica. (I stress ‘elected’ because I suspect the area is ‘governed’.)
There’s much more to say, but you can fill out some of the story with your own observations.
As I headed north on Friday, I looked over at a community near Claremont, St. Ann. I’m often struck by what seems to be a neatly laid out area, with houses that are not made just of seemingly haphazard breeze blocks and sectioned off by zinc fencing. I know nothing of the community other than what I see from the highway, as I drive at speed. (Maybe, next time I will have Google Maps open to see what is shown and if it has a name.)
Again, this time I had my phone camera ready to take a picture I have often wanted to capture. Again, I think of stories.
As it preceded in terms of my interest the scene on the Boulevard I was not thinking about the many and varied comparisons I could make:
Rural life looks better than urban life, at least in terms of available space and sense of amenity.
Housing quality looks good. (None of the new structures are yet painted, in contrast to other dwellings that can be seen in the background. So, it will be interesting to see the transformation.)
Had the housing been located there because of proximity to the highway, much as the ‘shanty’ dwellings had sought closeness to the road into Kingston?
Is this set of ‘quality’ housing planned and properly authorized? (Not everything in Jamaica happens just because people decide it’s their right to do what and where they please?)
Does the better-looking housing signal the flowing through of ‘prosperity’ and, if so, from where? Who are the financiers and what are their sources? (We know the long history of cash coming from drug dealing and now from scamming. One cannot assume that the sources are illegal; they could be from many places, including remittances.)
I could see no people, so could draw no conclusions about their ‘state’ of life.
When I was being driven through Montego Bay on my way to catch the bus back to town, a window washer approached the car; my friend and I waved him away. He continued to wash the window, then just walked away. ‘That’s a first!’ I said. Back in Kingston yesterday, in Liguanea, a window washer approached my car; I waved him away. He put up a thumb and gestured to me to do the same and touch it, which I did and we bumped fists. “Blessed!” he said, and walked on to another car. I do not for one minute think that window washers have had some national meeting to agree to change their behaviour, but I was struck by the similarly ‘decent’ behaviour, which we know from anecdotes is not often present.
The stories have no beginnings or ends that I truly know; I merely see a snapshot. Perhaps, today, I will read of an ‘event’ in one of the places I have seen and know a little more.
I was enjoying my usual morning walk when something struck me, almost literally: the intoxicating smell of ripening mangoes. For many weeks, we’ve seen the fruit swelling on the trees. Like all fruit, they need rain at the right times to mature well. We’ve had many good rainy periods, somewhat more than usual in some places. The deluge we got a couple of weeks ago might have wreaked havoc in many communities, but I suspect was joy to many a mango tree. The peak is usually between April-June, so we are heading into the bumper period.
The sweet smell of ripe mangoes defies description: you can’t capture it on video, though you can see the changing colours, as fruit start to show varying degrees of yellowing to show ripening in underway. You cannot capture it well with sound: the thud of mangoes falling is quite noticeable, if you’re near a tree. But, like a tree falling in a forest, you don’t have to be there for a mango to fall. In recent days, as I’ve also gone about doing some gardening, a mango or two has fallen, and I get to see it roll under the broad leaves of pumpkin plants, where they could otherwise lay hidden for a few days. I find the best descriptor of a ripe mango is its taste: it tastes a nice as it smells 🙂
When the season is well underway, as now, it’s a good idea to walk with a bag or two. As I take my practice golf balls in a canvas sling bag, it doubles well as a mango carrier. This morning, I got a good haul of Julies, blackies, a few Bombays and what we in Jamaica call ‘a number’ (I dont know if it’s 11 or 7).
I love mangoes. So, I’m happy to eat them as they come, and they are refreshing on a hot day while playing golf–good caddies know to grab a few and make sure the supply is there ready. I will also take any that’s not wormy to put into my blender/juicer. Now, that we are living with two trees in the yard, the harvesting may get serious. I don’t want to see any wasted. Visitors can have if they are there when mangoes are ripe. Otherwise, I’m going to start cutting up and storing in the freezer–for juice or smoothie or jam, if the volume that goes uneaten in really large.