Grateful to be shaken not stirred: Earthquake rocks Jamaica

When I noticed yesterday afternoon, about 2.10pm, that the sense of shaking was another earthquake, I quickly got under a coffee table, covered my head, and held onto one of its legs. It is a low table and I was cramped but I was trying to follow the ‘Duck, Cover, Hold’ protocol. The shaking went on for a long time; I didn’t time it but it was at least 30 seconds. I called out to our housekeeper to do as I had but she was still walking around the kitchen.

When the shaking stopped, I started with messages to check whether my wife and some friends had felt the shake and were OK; all were. My wife had been driving in her car and felt it; in the past, she’d not felt in while in the car. Later in the day, I used the Facebook feature to mark myself safe.

The shaking hadn’t felt that strong to me, so I was surprised to read that it was a 7.7 quake on the Richter scale, but that’s thanks to how the plates had moved and the epicentre being out at sea, to an area NNW of Jamaica.

Communications are now so fast that it was no time before the flow of news and stories started to filter across my devices, and videos of shaking and damage in the Cayman Islands were startling. That was the only place I saw that had noticeable physical damage. Stories started to flow of people and their reactions in Jamaica and as far away as Mexico and Miami. Little seemed to be reported about Cuba. A tsunami warning was issued, but we were given an ‘all clear’ about an hour after the quake. Reports of aftershocks appeared, of around 4.5 intensity, but I never felt any more shaking. I did not have any dizzy feelings after, often a reaction to a quake.

Many of the local reports were of people being shocked and scared, especially those in high-rise buildings, and stories and scenes of evacuations were many. The protocol didn’t seem to be much observed. I can understand because most times the natural reaction is to escape and running outside seems to deal with the risk of debris falling inside; the risk of falling debris and other risks when outside gets missed. But, let me not dwell on that; there’s not a lot of time to react and instincts take over fast.

I went outside to check our house for any signs of clear structural damage and saw nothing. I spoke to our security guard and he was not really clued up, and had sat outside reading the paper during the tremor, but I gave him some useful advice.

Well, this is now at least the fourth quake I have experienced in Jamaica since coming back in 2013. They have been more frequent in the region, so I am less-surprised when tremours occur. None of them shook me like the one in Barbados in 2007, which was 7.4 and about 170 miles off the coast. I remember things in my office moving, including the rolling chair on which I was sitting, and seeing my Suzuki Swift car bouncing around in the car port. I went outside, then, and saw people milling in the street. Later, friends talked about what had happened in offices, with shelves falling, etc. It was also mid-afternoon.

Lots of people are going to try to join dots and it will not escape some that Jamaica has been hit by two major quakes over 7, devastating Kingston in 1907 and sinking Port Royal in 1692. Of course, it was just last week that Port Royal had its first cruise ship of visitors land, and several visited the major remains of that past quake, the so-called ‘Giddy House’.

Superstitious people will say quickly “It’s a leap year…”

It put Jamaica into the world news flow for a few hours. Some people are often keen to say #JamaicaTrending; I noticed yesterday that wasn’t something I saw much.

Anyway, all are well here, as a new dawn breaks. But, I know that the level of nervousness will be there, strongly, today.


No place I’d rather be? A brief look at Jamaica: The 1960s REDUX

During the 1960s, in England (and Britain, I presume), ‘Jamaica’ started to mean or be seen by many as the ‘West Indies’. Understandably, the host population wasn’t able early on to distinguish between the different Caribbean people who were becoming larger parts of the population: they were ‘darkies’. Amongst the Caribbean peoples, themselves, differences from the region were still carried clearly, especially the Jamaican tendency to see most others as ‘inferior’ in various ways, hence terms like ‘Small islanders’ for people from the Eastern Caribbean. But, this sea of mostly dark-skinned people also started to confirm lack of difference by they way they banded together as one when it came to long-standing cricket rivalry with England and the blossoming Notting Hill Carnival. I have vivid memories of watching baying West Indians at the Oval, in South London–an ideal venue close to an area, including Brixton, that was becoming home to some of the highest concentrations of West Indians.

As immigrants tried to find their footing on foreign soil, strength in numbers was more easily achieved by being seen as ‘one’. I remember going to social events–weddings, christenings and birthday parties, mainly, where I met for the first time lots of Dominicans, Grenadians, Barbadians, Trinidadians. I could distinguish their accents; I couldn’t discern much else about them that was different except some food I had never had before, like souse and curried chick peas.

So, ‘Jamaica’ was also the many black people whom I saw more in my daily life, as nurses (such as my mother and my aunt who’d arrived in the 1950s), bus drivers and conductors for London Transport (like some uncles), postmen (like my father and uncle), factory workers (like my uncles), building workers, including skilled trades (like my uncle who was a carpenter). The island was also present in food we could get more easily, as our trips to Shepherds Bush Market didn’t disappoint in the search for fresh food and other ingredients to prepare the way we had always done, back home.

Modern Shepherd’s Bush Market is a different place, but still an amazing sight of a melting pot of ethnicities

I’ve commented before how the inner London place where I spent most of my childhood in London has remained a home of new immigrants, now mainly Somali and Bosnian refugees, Lebanese and Poles, with West Indians and Irish residents seeming fewer (some moved out and up to the suburbs). It’s also become ‘chic’, as young, white residents ‘come back’ and make evident changes in what the area offers in a wave of gentrification. The housing in many parts of London was also good and the Victorian structures of many towns has an appeal that transcends social classes. Its proximity to central London has become better as the transport network expanded and became better integrated, and long commutes became less-desired. Still, it’s funny to go back there and see chintzy cafes as well as Hooka bars; stores selling saris and polish food; pubs turned into food stores; library turned into a theatre; public baths tuned into a block of flats; once-rundown terraced housing now brightly renovated with window boxes and high-end cars parked outside. What marks the passage of time better than White City Stadium, home of greyhound racing, speedway, and major sports, including a temporary home for QPR and a World Cup football match in 1966 (and scene of some of my best 100 meter races 😉 ), be closed and redeveloped as an extension of the BBC empire?

White City Stadium, 1962, during a QPR match


No place I’d rather be? A brief look at Jamaica through the years: The 1960s and Jamaica recedes in my life

After I left Jamaica in 1961, what I knew first hand of the country stopped abruptly; such is the life of the emigrant. But, as family and friends decided to also migrate to England, they brought with them news and views of the country I had left behind. Honestly, it wasn’t stuff that I really latched on to at the time, but the strong impression left in my mind was that, though Jamaica now Independent from mid-1962, many of its people of working age sought to find a life outside. However, only few of my parents’ family took the passage, and it was always interesting to me that, whether they were doing well in school or work or not, most decided that Jamaica was where their futures lay.

My other source of information came from news reports, both from Jamaican newspapers that found their way into our homes, or stories that began to ‘feature’ in Jamaican music that was finding its way to England. For that, I owe much to Island Records and later Trojan Records for bringing the sounds of Ska and later Reggae to my ears. What a range! How different was Millie Small and My Boy Lollipop, all sweetness and sugar, and Desmond Dekker and Israelites, with its driving beat and gravelly voice and filled with desperation? What I knew from the latter was that the life that many Jamaicans often said was tough was real:

Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir
So that every mouth can be fed
Poor me Israelite
My wife and my kids, they packed up and leave me
Darling, she said, I was yours to be seen
Poor me Israelites
Shirt them a-tear up, trousers is gone
I don’t want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde
Poor me Israelites

But, I was not facing that daily. I was learning to love fish and chips, rain and cold weather almost half of the year–I arrived in England in late-September–and fog. I was learning a different way of speaking and that my way of speaking was ‘different’. I was learning of the ignorance of people in the ‘Motherland’: “Do you live in trees in Jamaica?” I was learning of the easy racism that came from ignorance and dismissiveness: ‘Pal meat for dogs, Kit-E-Kat for wogs!’ (Why is it that so many people think that foreigners live of food made for animals?). I was living life in a basement, without constant hot water and electricity, because we had to ‘feed’ the meter with coins to keep the supply going. I was living in a basement flat, without a bath at home,

Basements or top floors were often the only rooms that new immigrants could find to rent in 1960s Britain, and signs saying ‘No Blacks or Irish’ were common. Funnily, this area is now part of a wave of gentrification that built on the accessibility to central London by good public transport

and taking weekly trips with my father to the public baths in Lime Grove, Shepherd’s Bush (now converted to a set of apartments, ideally located opposite the BBC Studios that have been there for decades). I was discovering the public library.

Passmore Public Library, Shepherd’s Bush (now a theatre)

I was discovering going to football matches, as I lived 5 minutes walk from Loftus Road and started to become that lifelong fan of Queens Park Rangers. What can beat standing on the terraces and chanting for your team, getting a hot cup of tea at half-time and having a bag of chips after the match?

QPR vs Workington, 1966; Rodney Marsh featuring as usual

In short, Jamaican life was distant and life in England was my focus. The ‘Swinging 60s’ was evolving around me. I passed the ’11 plus’ exams and went from primary school in west London to grammar school in Westminster, which meant no longer just walking 10 minutes to school but having to take the Underground daily and trains and buses at the weekends to play football for my school, whose home ground was in MItcham, Surrey (south of the River Thames–shock, horror). I started to frequent the West End and the vice-ridden streets of Soho. I had become a track star at primary school and that continued into grammar school. I moved from a world with lots of immigrants and dark faces and foreign accents, into a world of mainly white, middle-class people; most of my friends from primary school did not go on to grammar school but to the local Comprehensives or Technical schools; we started to lose touch. University entrance started to loom on my horizon as I approached my mid-teens.

Sharing some of nature’s beauty: week 4

Sunrise seen from Caymanas Golf and Country Club, this Saturday morning
Kudzu, hanging from a host tree; Caymanas GCC

Pineapple growing from the former top of a fruit; it takes about 2 years for the flower to show. Now, the wait for that to mature into a full pineapple.

Jamaica doesn’t have a good climate for growing olives, but can still use imported oil in cooking

Humans love to transform nature, and fire and heat are some of the favorite means of doing that: snapper, seasoned for grilling
Whole chicken being grilled
Transforming fresh fruit and vegetables is one of many challenges for Jamaicans; fresh Otaheite apples and their juice

No place I’d rather be? A brief look at Jamaica through the years: starting points.

It’s 2020. I was born in 1955. I left Jamaica to go to England in 1961. I have always loved Jamaica, even with all of the things I see and hear and sometimes experience that I dislike intensely. I also love England, in a similar way, but because I’ve not lived there for nearly 30 years, my sense of the place is dulled and I read about changes that make me feel that I would like it much less on a day-to-day basis now than when I was growing up and living there. But, I’m always happy to visit and my cousins who live there don’t seem inclined to move to Jamaica, so I guess that on balance they prefer to be there.

I spend an enormous amount of time trying to figure out where Jamaica is and where it’s going. To do that with any real sense I have to look back and ask myself ‘What has changed for Jamaica?’ Last week, I decided to try to list in my mind things that I could state categorically had changed, and try to assess whether those changes were for the better or worse. It’s a personal set of recollections and, though I would like to be really analytical and tabulate them and give them weights and say that overall they show clearly a move in one direction or another, I know I cannot. But, it’s a way of moving past things like macro- statistics that I know are incomplete because so many important things are not and cannot be captured.

As a starting point, I recall my feeling when I came back to Jamaica in the 1980s how startling it was to see the kind of housing and lifestyles of people living in ‘uptown’ Kingston. Then, I was a young man just a few years into a nice-looking career in finance. I could not imagine attaining some of the things I saw seemingly similar Jamaicans having. Admitted, they were mostly further along in their careers, but were on what I saw as a similar track. Housing was the thing that struck me most, being much larger and better appointed than anything any of my acquaintances could manage. When I look around Kingston now, that feeling is still there. But, let me cast my eyes further. I’m not good at remembering things in a biographical way, so I wont date them instead of listing them. Note that I grew up in downtown east Kingston until I was 6, around what is now Rae Town, and much of my earliest memories are of downtown Kingston and bits of St. Andrew to what was then called Racecourse (now Heroes Circle), and never extended beyond Hope Gardens to the north, Palisadoes and Harbour View and Kingston Harbour to the east, south St. Elizabeth to the west and south; I had no recollections to the north. One of our common trips was to go on my father’s motorbike to Harbour View for the ‘drive-in’ movie theatre, and to the airport (to watch planes land and take off), when there was no highway but the main route was via Windward Road.

Boyhood memories:

Corner shops (mainly the image of Chinese traders, who sold everything and where I was trusted to walk to get small items like sugar, flour, matches, and who had things like pigtails in barrels and sweeties–very important for a child 🙂 ).

Markets downtown, of which I don’t really have vivid memories, but knew that most of our fruit and vegetables came from them.

Ward Theatre and Parade and King Street, always bustling.

My school (called a ‘prep’ school, run by a man called ‘Mr. Stone’), where I learned to read, write and do arithmetic, using a slate and slate pencil, with a large alphabet chart (A is apple, B is for bat…Z is for zebra) and a globe. It was a single room (in a house).

My home, a little house where we rented rooms, with a vernada around it, on which I recall sleeping outside some nights, and it had no grill bars.

The prison and Bellevue Hospital (where my father worked) and Jubilee Hospital (where my mother worked).

Country buses, gaily coloured and always packed with people.

‘Chi-chi’ buses (the former Jamaica Omnibus Service buses) with their hydraulic doors which made a ‘chi-chi’ sound, that looked so sleek and graceful.

Lambretta scooter vans (like Tuk-Tuks now seen in Asia) that used to fly around downtown, often taking things to/from record studios, but the most common form of motorized transport for those who could not afford cars.

Taxi cabs, yellow and checkered; Morris Oxford and Austin Cambridge cars.

Walking around and climbing trees and falling out of them.

Ice block trucks and the man on a bicycle coming around on Sundays yelling “Fudge and ice cream!”

Talk of crime was rare, though we knew criminals existed and were ‘bad men’: I was terrified of walking past the prison. My father’s work with mental patients made me terrified of ‘mad men’ and ‘mad women’ (and they came violently into our lives for real later).

Policemen (I recall no women), often standing tall and stately and sometimes directing traffic with elaborate hand movements.

No telephones or TV, only a radio and newspapers.

No mention of travel abroad for the family, though both parents had siblings who had gone to England in the late-1950s.


That’s where I’ll leave things, for now, not as a teaser but to let the images filter from me to you to give an idea of where my mind is heading. For context, I’ll say that I came back to Jamaica to live having visited many times since I first left and my situation as a ‘returning resident’ was somewhat similar to my parents’ in that I was retired, as were they, but I came to live in Kingston, while they chose the balmy location of Mandeville. I’ll let my mind pass through the decades and share some more in a while.

For clarity, I do not think of Jamaica as just being ‘the good old days’; far from it. But, I want to pass to where we are now, so that I can set a better (at least, personal) context for things like being able to do internet banking, make international phone calls without need for an ICAS code, and hear of my wife’s visits to the supermarket that have never had the words “The shelves were empty” attached to them. I think I understand well a lot about the economic turmoil that Jamaica has endured. I also understand something about the social turmoil through which the country continues to pass. I dislike how politicians want to carve Jamaica into two places not one and spend more time claiming ‘victories’ and trying foist blame on the other party for many things that have some negative aspects to them. I see a country that hasn’t had consensus for decades and know well (from the UK) where that can take you.

So, I’ll let more thoughts gel.

Port Royal: no cruise needed 👍🏾🤔🇯🇲👏🏾🙏🏾

When the story of how Jamaica really became #NewJamaica is told, I’m sure there’ll be a page dealing with the ‘revival’ of Port Royal. I won’t add to my will that some of the royalties (no pun) flowing from the sales of that story need to flow to my estate. However…

I am sure that today more than a few sighs of relief have gone up because the anticipated arrival of a first cruise ship in Port Royal occurred yesterday, and seemingly with few if any major mishaps. I wish all those associated with the project nothing but success and join those who hope that local residents of Port Royal see and play a major part in any success for the town. My other wish is for this to be a sort of ‘wake-up’ call for the many ideas that have languished in the box of unfulfilled blueprints that are strewn over Jamaica. As I noted in a thread this morning on Twitter, Port Royal is emblamatic:

But, the significance of Port Royal and what is happening there is many-layered. Like much that starts off well in Jamaica, the proof will always be in how well will this go on and for how long. That is not to wish failure on any venture; it’s just that we have a poor record of implementation and ‘stickwithitness’. So, let’s hope that day 2 sees progress on day 1. Please, those whose aim in life is to spoil, exploit, harass, destroy, steal or otherwise disrupt positive developments in people’s lives, take a break. What such people never understand is that by ‘killing the golden goose’, they’ve eaten one meal instead of seeing the benefit of letting it get fat, lay some eggs and provide meals for themselves and others for a much longer period; a simple example of ‘beggar my neighbour’ or ‘zero-sum’ thinking that’s so prevalent on this island.

But, I stray, as I’m not really off on a deep dive into the history of Jamaican failure. More simply, I want to put down a marker for all those Jamaicans and visitors who have, despite the lack of real incentive to visit places or do things in places that should have been seen as of major importance, persevered and made their ‘pilgrimage’ and have a memory that was not framed for them in some brochure. So, to all of the friends whom I’ve driven along the Palisadoes Road and stopped at the lighthouse, and walked along the dark grey sand, and peered at the cemetery, and rambled around Fort Charles when the guide said it was closed, and walked in the narrow streets by Gloria’s and looked at the fishing boats and pelicans, and taken a glance inside the Anglican Church, and waited patiently to get their fish meals (never a bad wait, in my experience), and who’ve seen Port Royal in the dark of night, and eaten on the sidewalk, and driven home looking across the harbour at the lights of the city and those of the uptown communities, this is for you. 🙂 You were pioneers, though you did not realize it. If and when you come back, I hope the ambiance is still the same, even if the setting may look much more spruced up.

A dilapidated building, typical of what Port Royal has become, long after buccaneers made it home and filled it with pirated riches

Eating fish at Gloria’s is a must
Raw simplicity is an emblem of Port Royal, but it’s also a sign of a depressed economic location

One my visitors, on an early morning tour of the beach and historic sights

Sharing some of nature’s beauty: week 3

If you didn’t know before, then you should now, that I love sunlight, at both ends of its time with us. I’m especially lucky to have a good sight of it most days, early and late.

Dawn, looking towards Kingston Harbour from Caymanas golf course.

The coast meets the golf course, and man’s bad influence is sadly there as trash

When nature comes to you on a plate: fruit breakfast of star fruit, sour sop, pineapple and tangerine
When the angles change, the view isn’t the same, looking at a green from behind, at Caymanas GC (#17hole)

View of bunkers, green and coast, from beside #7 hole, Cinnamon Hill GC

Is YouTube the answer?

So, if having a YouTube channel is free, and is visual as well as sound, why would I opt for a sound-only presence that costs me to be maintained? So, while I think that through for myself, I will share someone else’s thinking on that matter, Podcasts vs YouTube. Happy viewing!

Podcasting: the next frontier?

I’ve just finished watching a good drama series entitled Truth be told, which is based around a woman podcaster whose reports were behind sending a young man to prison, only for her to find that some 20 years later she has doubts about his guilt. The story is good and I’d recommend it, if you have access to Apple TV. However, what gripped me was the notion of podcasting.

Honestly, I’ve not gotten into listening to podcasts as much as I should have, but have been thinking about how it may offer an avenue to tackle something that I’ve been pondering for some time. I’ve been writing blogs regularly now for the better part of 12 years, and I like them as my thinking space. Much though people have pressed me to ‘write a book’, I’ve not gotten the urge to do that as my way of telling what could be an interesting personal story. One reason for that is, having started several times, I’ve floundered as I’ve hit some emotional barriers. But, oddly, that’s where podcasts may come in to help.

In the TV drama, the podcaster ends up having a deep introspection into her desire to find truth only for that to cause her to dig deep into several hidden truths about herself. The process of oral story telling can be as trying as writing, but it also offers something the written word can do only with a certain difficulty–give real meaning to the notion of ‘voice’. Find the right words to express some sentiments can be truly hard, and subtle emotions can get lost in written words, but are clear in spoken form. I like the idea that hearing the stories can carry much more weight. A part of people also feels that, for posterity sake, it’s time for that spoken voice to get a better hearing, literally.

Many of us regret that we never got our now-dead relatives to share stories, and much of that regret centres on not hearing them tell the stories, because their own words and expressions were deeply important to us. So, I’m thinking about the podcast venture to deal with that, for my own personal sake.

The other aspect is to be free to tell the stories as they flow, rather than as a book tends to dictate, in a certain chronological fashion. I find that memories come flooding back and the same notion can easily span decades and seem quite logical when told orally but can be hard to track when written.

Anyway, I have the notion rolling my head, so have to now decide to lay out some wonga to buy some essential podcasting gear–microphone, and sound editing hardware, etc. So, keep watching this space, as I update on the steps.

Sharing some of nature’s beauty: week 2, 2020

Things growing in my garden include some blue tomatoes (though some are putting on a super show of redness), plus pigeon peas (called ‘gungo (or Congo) peas’ in Jamaica), which also show the power of a single seed, as the crop from one bush gave about 800 grams/1.75 pounds of green peas that have served one nice meal of rice and peas (the bowl of green peas below shows a few dried brown peas, which could offer more for later planting).

The blossoms on the Otaheite (rose) apple tree are now forming into fruit, which have the firmness of pears in temperate zones, and are so far a sweet-tasting crop that has graced my breakfast plate and been offered to a few friends. You can see the large crop that is growing and the inside of one of the first apples I ate this week, its white interior making a sharp contrast to its red skin.

Orchids placed on isolated spots are also thriving and showing off some splendid blooms.

Some orchids are trying to re-establish themselves and showing sign of new life.

Nature is more than things that grow and seeing the passage of time in the movement of the sun is one of the constant pleasures of tropical life, where our winter months have shorter days but the sun still rises relatively early. The coming of dawn as natural and artificial lights challenge each other is always interesting.

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