Lenten reflections 2020-34: Woulda, coulda, shoulda

I left Jamaica in 1961 because my parents wanted to leave—I was 6, so had no say in the decision. I returned to Jamaica in 2013 because my wife took a job there—I was 58; again, it wasn’t my decision.

On at least two occasions, I tried to go back to Jamaica to work, and both times it did not materialize. When I graduated from my master’s programme in urban planning, I tried to get a job with the Urban Development Corporation: no dice. When I was mid-career at the Bank of England, I tried to get a job at the Bank of Jamaica: again, my skills were not in demand, so I went and took the offer to work at the IMF. One of my funniest early experiences at the Fund was being in a room with the Jamaican delegation negotiating a program in the early-1990s, when one of the team said to me “You look familiar,” to which I smiled and said “You interviewed me and turned me down for a job.” Let’s say that the meeting had a rather funny ha-ha feeling.

I lived in Barbados when my wife took a job there in 2007. I had also had the opportunity to work in Barbados in around 1989, when I was offered a job at the Caribbean Development Bank to work as an economist. I flew down from London for a long weekend and interview and was back at work on Monday: “How was your weekend, Den?” 🙂

My first-born could have spent some formative years in the Caribbean from about age 2; instead, she grew up in Virginia. My second-born was born in Washington DC, and spent her early years in Guinea, west Africa, then three years in Barbados from about 4 and then in Jamaica from about age 10.

What could have been? But, it is what it is.


What high crime means to Jamaica: while it persists, get used to low growth

No amount of comparison changes the fact that Jamaica’s crime problems are Jamaica’s problems, and for it to solve, alone or with the help of outside agencies. For the most part, discussion of crime in Jamaica focuses on murders, their level and rate, but the reality is that crime is much more than that. The whole gamut of violent crime causes most ordinary people to be frightened—nothing matches personal violation—and I don’t know if the trauma of possible or actual violent assault can be seen as much different from the thoughts that someone may take your life. Rape is a real threat, especially to women. Assaults on children often raise people’s concerns. We see that criminals strike at the most vulnerable. The threat of burglaries or home invasions would fill most residents with fear. Car thefts and theft of other valuable property isn’t seen as trivial by those who suffer it, but possessions can be replaced; not so limbs and lives. However, the picture of crime in Jamaica that’s usually painted doesn’t touch things other than murder very much, though the narrative of the Jamaica Constabulary Force is changing. However, JCF’s recent attempt to reprofile the image of crime in Jamaica as ‘improving’ by looking at it over a longer time period and comparing averages showing that JCF was making ‘progress’ did not go down well.

To the extent that most serious crimes in Jamaica are inwardly-directed at residents, visitors from abroad can generally largely discount them. The tourist business in places like the Caribbean is fragile, where it is a specially-developed industry, not something that has flowed from the history and culture of a place, as is the case of much of Europe. Its major players—investors, developers, owners, etc. know their product and its image needs to be protected. One way of doing that is always to minimize the risks tourists face. Resort countries like Jamaica have worked hard in that regard and moved to develop all-inclusive hotels and resorts, where almost all of the tourists’ needs can be met in one place, without need to venture out into the general population. If they do that, unguided, so be it, but it’s often discouraged—whatever one thinks of such advice. They may be offered adventures under the umbrella organized by their hotel—coach, guide, designated stops, etc. So, visitors are shielded from many domestic issues by placing them in a well-controlled and comfortable environment, where they rarely have to think about anything beyond their stay—most expenses are already covered. For that reason, Jamaica’s tourists often have positive impressions about the island and some 40% are repeat visitors. Tourists have rarely been the targets of criminals in Jamaica, with regard to violent crime, though enough cases of rape in hotels exist to show tourists are vulnerable. They may be more susceptible to theft and, unwittingly, price gouging (while not a crime, per se, points to the exploitative tendencies of the local population and the readiness of tourists to ‘buy’ their way out of possible conflicts). Harassment may not be a crime but it can detract from a good experience, so that too is often avoided by limiting access to ill-inclusive resorts to only guests or workers or suppliers.

In general, investors’ concerns are about what crime does to any business costs, whether that’s from theft, need to pay for protection, risks to staff and customers. If these costs are unacceptable and unpredictable, they invest elsewhere. Many investors can treat crime like many forms of corruption and pay literally a price for it not be their problem. How that may be happening in Jamaica is not detailed, but it is easy to see how it could be part of a ‘bargain’ struck in places like Montego Bay, not least because it’s quite probable that the collective power of the tourism sector could overpower criminals if it came to buck. It’s illustrative, however, that the premier company in the all-inclusive tourism business, Sandals, admitted to a fraud of $1.65million in 2006 involving real estate company controlled by the then-PM of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), Michael Misick, for which they paid the TCI government US$12 million in compensation in 2012. While that was not a Jamaican transaction it proves simply that the business is not ‘clean’, and its principals may make whatever financial or other deals serve their best interests.

If the numbers can make sense, however they are arrived at, then the business venture can go ahead and acceptable revenue and profits can be generated.

This is a general point, but it’s useful to look at tourism because it’s the most visible sector in terms of its interaction between the domestic economy and foreigners and is a good guide to whether crime matters, because people are highly sensitive to personal risks.

However, it’s hard to assess the overall profitability of the tourism sector. We know that Sandals business is sufficiently successful to warrant significant interests in buying it for a possible US$4.5 billion.

Most of the political focus on the sector is on its gross revenues and arrivals. It’s sometimes hard to get composite data for things like how much tourists spend gross. So, we know that, for example, Jamaica earned US$2 billion in tourism revenue for January to June 2019. Jamaica has welcomed approximately two million visitors for the first half of 2019, earning US$2 billion in revenues. In 2018, the country had record arrivals of over 4 million visitors with gross earnings of over US$3 billion. The real importance of tourism to Jamaica is how much of that revenue stays in the country, now about 40%, and how well the sector offers domestic linkages in areas such as agriculture. In that latter regard, the savvy criminals would be seeing where in that chain they could exert their influences and take their share of revenue and control. Transport or the provision of other local services would offer similar opportunities.

The profile of foreign financial inflows to Jamaica and domestic investment reflects those who can tolerate the high crime (murder rate, especially) and those tend to be entities that offer lower rather than higher pay, in part as a discount on crime risks, or businesses so large that local criminals have a hard time exerting significant impact on their core operations (eg mining). Activities that offer higher added value and with that pay will not be implanted when the risk of that being appropriated by criminal elements. In that regard, the cost of crime to investors is similar to the risk of nationalization that sometimes looms over foreign direct investment in infrastructure. It may not be as severe as the total loss of the investment, but it could happen without recourse to compensation.

If crime falls in Jamaica the country benefits first—citizens are and feel safer, and are prepared to do more without fear of personal loss, financial or material, or personal endangerment. Over time, if Jamaica is seen as having lower risks, this should attract higher-paying and added-value activities and entities: risks taken should get better rewards. That’s where the country should be headed, in general.

The average criminal, however, isn’t concerned with wider economic gains except that they offers better chances for income flows and asset control. (The recent constraints placed on the country by the COVID19 pandemic highlights that criminals need a thriving economy to raise their chances of doing well. However, as the restrictions stay in planche longer, criminals many be so strained that they will resort to other more coercive means of getting what they want. Something to watch for.) Individual/gang gains are paramount and fighting over territory to claim those gains is the major thing. We see how that plays out in other countries, especially with organized crime activities. So, the gangs (whom we are told are the main ‘violence producers’) are all about maximizing their own profits, through whatever chain of misdeeds are necessary.

Despite what I have said about crime Jamaica’s own problem, many make the mistake of seeing Jamaica in isolation and ignore that its high murder rate is consistent with a region that is the most violent in the world, which is know to have deep and involved links in drugs and arms trafficking.

Some make comparison between Jamaica’s high murder rate and that in other parts of the world, say Western Europe. While, lower numbers may look like an objective to pursue, it also ignores that Europe did not get where it is overnight or that crime is rampant in many European countries. Jamaica’s rate matters not to the assessment that the UK is the crime capital of Europe; that affects the UK directly, even though it still seems a prosperous place relative to Jamaica, mostly because that assessment affects where most UK interests operate, ie in the unified EU space. It’s also important that the UK’s gang structure is known to be well-developed and has infiltrated many part of life, and is not just involved in violent crimes, but in drugs and human trafficking. It’s a world apart from Jamaica.

Europeans don’t care much about the high crime rates in Jamaica, as demonstrated by the rates at which they visit the country, as noted above. Jamaica is the most popular Caribbean destination for UK travelers. If comparisons matter, they will likely be only if/when people consider relocating. Where ‘Jamaican’ criminals matter more in the UK mind is the fact that they have deep roots in Britain through gangs there (some of which link to the Caribbean) and that areas with large concentrations of Caribbean migrants are often crime hotspots.

UK crime rates are staggering when considered in totality, so its rate of 75 stabbings per 100,000 sits as scarily in the minds of most people as Jamaica’s 48 murders/100,000. UK street crime is more random than the relatively selective geographic spread of Jamaican crime. The wave of knife crimes also creates a frightening environment for most because such crimes often involve robberies and are committed by close personal confrontation.

Living in an area like London, that has almost 170 knife incidents per 100,000 people is about as scary a prospect as living in a war zone, much as people want us to see Jamaica’s 48 homicides/100,000.

While Jamaica’s violent crime remains high it’s almost impossible to envisage a fast growing economy: the GDP losses of crime have been assessed many times. Jamaicans’ low productivity can never compensate for the output loss from crime; it worsens it. Donors have long noticed low political commitments have been to address violent crime, including disengaging from its well-known links. Private investors too won’t sink many real assets here until that’s addressed. Rising stock markets currently give some foreigners options to invest in financial assets. But, generally, most smart money goes elsewhere. Why not? What Jamaicans don’t see is how much money that could have come here and brought jobs and goods and services, end up elsewhere—the opportunity cost of crime.

Whatever concerns the average Jamaican has about violent crime (murder), it’s easier to be sanguine when it’s known to be/portrayed as ‘mainly gang related’ and concentrated in certain geographical areas (say Montego Bay and Spanish Town). Its incidence is not the fear of most people and certainly not that of say uptown Kingston, which barely registered one homicide a year. That many crimes in Jamaica can be shown to involve parties known to each other is more comforting to many, who know they do not circulate in the relevant groups–putting aside those who are in violent communities and can easily get caught up accidentally in disputes. If that incidence changes, then watch the popular recoil. Contrast that to London, say, where the risk of violence shrouds everyday activities.

If Jamaicans aren’t pressing to address THEIR problems why should foreigners? How JAMAICA addresses crime may vary but until it does it more effectively get accustomed to a sluggish economy with largely unchanged inequalities. Sadly, that’s a prescription for crime to continue. It’s a Gordian knot of Jamaica’s making so it’s its to unravel.

Lenten reflections 2020–33: The long arc of technology

I started writing this lying on a couch with a mobile phone in my hand. The idea I’d pondered for today wasn’t gelling. Then the obvious hit me: 40 years ago I couldn’t have done what I’m doing now. So, here’s the resulting new idea.

I started writing on slate at school in Jamaica, then paper and pencil and pen through my school years in England, towards some sort of electronic devices–not portable–into the late-1970s.

My first portable computer was an Compaq portable (aka ‘luggable’); the specs indicate it was almost 35 pounds, and I can attest to that, having to lug it from the Bank to my home many nights, and being totally exhausted as I climbed up the not-so-steep hill from the station. Current information indicates it cost about US$3000 in the mid-1980s, which would be about US$7000 now. By contrast, my mobile weighs a few ounces and cost about US$1000. I was working on the 1980s Latin American debt crisis and having to do lots of number-crunching and writing of reports on the state of individual countries.

What is modern technology came into my life at university when I had to make use of the mainframe computer to run regressions, and spent hours coding punch cards and submitting my ‘jobs’ to be run overnight.

Somewhere in a box, my thesis punch cards must be building up dust 🙂

It was always touch and go whether the job ran and if there were no errors in the punch cards.

The speed with which computer technology from the late-1970s into the 1980s was phenomenal.

But, in my Bank career, I got to be at what was then the forefront. We moved from documents prepared on electric typewriters to the first versions of word-processing. WordPerfect was the dominant software in the mid-1980s. I remember an visiting economist from the New York Federal Reserve bringing with him WordStar, which had ‘WYSIWIG’ (what you see is what you get), with editing that resembled how the document would be printed. It was a time of major adjustment as secretarial staff had to move from typing handwritten or dictated material into a machine, for review and finalization, to the next step of being largely redundant as analytical staff could create electronic documents themselves.

With the advent of e-mail, we quickly moved away from documents being moved around in paper form and seeing them on a screen. That, and the advent of the Internet in the work place all seemed to happen in a flash, certainly in terms of document production and sharing.

The next steps, of the Internet as repository of knowledge and go-to place for research didn’t hit me till into the 1990s. But, it’s good to look back to days when research meant hours pouring over text in a library, making notes, index cards, etc. Most things involved bulk.

Now, we’re a few key strokes away from any answer, even though we may less sure about the viability of our sources.

That we can use the same device to write, take photos, record sound, send and receive messages, store data, was unimaginable 40 years ago.

I’m no forecaster so wont try to guess where we’ll be in 40 years, let alone 10.

While, I’m writing this, I’m reading things on another device and watching video content on yet another. 🙂

These are amazing times, if we only think about them.

Lenten reflections 2020-32: Driven to drink, but my love of a pint was in moderation…mostly

Let me not pretend that I have lived the life of a saint. I was never a heavy drinker in the sense that I regularly drank many pints of beer and rolled home stinking drunk. I have rolled home stinking drunk as when a taxi deposited me at my parents’ home in Southall after a banquet with the Lord Mayor of London and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson. I have also been so drunk that I did not roll home, most famously on a night bus back to Tottenham when I woke up at the terminus and had to stay on the bus to get back to my stop :).

My first wife would have it that when she went into labour with our first-born that I had come home with a ‘skinful’ as they say in England. Whatever my state, I was able to help her through the initial labour, and then drive her to the hospital after she had complications and ended up having a Caesarian section, For sure, I was sober by the time the baby was delivered and I got to hold her first, while my wife recovered from surgery.

Britain had and still has a reputation for binge drinking. In the past, that was blamed on licensing laws that strictly limited opening hours, so people tended to consume too much in too short a time. Since laws were relaxed, one sees less of that and pubs have also become more sociable places, for families and offering good food.

When I was much younger, my parents used to take a drive to some places outside London to find a nice pub and have a leisurely drink. In those days, children weren’t allowed in pubs, so I was left in the car with a bottle of soft drink and a bag of crisps or peanuts. It was safe to do so. Now, kids can go into pubs but not sit at the bar or order drinks. Or, we’d find a pub with a nice garden, where we could sit together.

My heaviest drinking was occasionally while at college—what else do students do? It was also in my prime as a footballer, when the teams would head to the pub or bar after matches. In Wales, I could stumble home on foot, filled with Marston’s Pedigree. While at the Bank, our clubhouse served Young’s and its Special is a tasty brew. 👍🏾👏🏾When, we played away, beer was usually good. Most times during my Bank career meals were served to the teams after matches so we had well-lined stomachs. A friend and I shared driving most weeks, so we could each drink a bit, but GM he always would need to be able to drive home from my house whoever drove to the game. Outside of football, drinks would be around meals—beer and curry bashes and at-home dinner parties as our careers took off and we could splash out on plonk.

I never played drunk, but I’ve been in matches with teammates who were plastered. I played for a Sunday pub team in Wales and once had a teammate roll out of the pub at 930am with a pint in his hand. He actually was better drunk as his normal fiery mood was then mellowed.

I’ve also played where our opponents really wanted us to drink ourselves stupid, most famously in Belgium on tour and drinking tall Kwak glasses of Belgian lager.

Everyone needs to try drinking a yard of ale:

Years of English life mean that I developed a taste for real ale—cask-conditioned and hand-pumped. I never really loved lager, though some of the beers in Belgium and Germany are mighty fine. Jamaica’s Red Stripe is good. But, I also developed a taste for wine, mainly red, mainly French. Trips to France and Germany for tasting and shipping back many bottles were part of many summer holidays. I once had a well-stocked cellar in London and kept abreast of vintages through Hugh Johnson. Then, I decided to just drink what I liked. Moving to the USA and then tropical places, where conditions for keeping wines are less favourable, and wine snobbery seemed more apparent, I drank wine less. My wife made up some of the slack 🙄🤸🏾‍♂️and bought a wine chiller and even hosted wine-tasting evenings :). We enjoyed some wine tours in Australia and Argentina and she mentioned buying a vineyard in Mendoza. But, I’m casual about wine, nowadays; I hardly drink a glass a week. In Jamaica, I’ve grown to like rum, naturally. Time was when I had a good collection of single malt whisky.

Now, I have one grown child who has grown to like her tipple and can take me to bars and buy me drinks. Her younger sister has had a sample or two of champagne and wine and beer and turned her nose up at them.

During these trying times with COVID19, drink may become a handy crutch for some, so while those of us who can drink in moderation and handle situations well without a stiff drink may be relaxed about the bottles on the shelves, be mindful of any friends who seem ready to hit the bottle early and maybe hard.

Lenten reflections 2020-31: What’s love got to do with it?

I will not be discussing details of my love life; somethings need to stay private. However, emotional entanglements are another topic.

I was talking to my teenager yesterday about a girl on whom I had a crush in my early teens. I’d met her at a folk club during my days of agitprop–who wasn’t a Marxist in their youth in the 1960s? She was a fan of the Incredible String Band

and Fairport Convention–it was the great age of UK folk music, when electrification was coming fast to the genre. She was stunningly pretty and had long black hair, wore a long black overcoat, and a shoulder bag; she was white.

We were into the psycadelic era of the late-1960s/early-1970s. Some were into bright fashion, others were in more dour-looking wear; long hair was growing (literally) more popular.

Anyway, the story I told was how all my chatting up of this girl (who was a few years older) during many Underground rides to and sometimes from school ended with her going out with my best friend at school, who was also there each morning but got on and off with her one stop away from where I joined or left and walked her home🤔 I felt betrayed and took a long while to be on good terms with that boy. I reconciled myself to the girl because I had only talked, and when I saw her some time later with an older guy it was clear how the thing was.

When you go to an all-boys secondary school the options for meeting and getting to know girls are fewer. Our sister school. Greycoat had some nice-looking girls and the few I knew were really nice people, too. But, we were not supposed to fraternize.

My sport offered some opportunities as many girls were at my athletics club and youth runners like me. We often shared journeys together for meets and those were good for socializing. But, you were not going to get into a relationship with a teammate. The best was to meet girls who ran for other clubs and were friends of boys you knew on those teams. Sometimes, you knew each other as friends who just performed for different clubs, and you’d socialize as a group. That’s how I ended up having an interesting relationship with a girl from a Jehovah’s Witness family. As Witnesses are not usually allowed to have friends outside the faith, it was strange that I was invited to her home and we could sit and talk away from her parents. But, we did. She was not an athlete; far from it, but we liked each other, and the company of another girl athlete who’d introduced us. Both of their parents were West Indian (I’d like to say Jamaican, though the non-Witness had a white mother), and the Witness family we’re always welcoming. Strange, but true.

When I went to university, life got back to normal in that it was a co-ed setting, and as I was approaching adulthood, time was for relationships to step up a few gears. Suffice to say that I married one girl I met at university and remain good friends with two whom I met in the first week and we became part of a solid gang of eight, who passed a lot of university years together and ended up being godparents to at least one set of the others’ children.

One of my strangest encounters was one Saturday in Ealing Broadway while I was browsing a record store. A young woman came up to me and asked if she could hear what I was listening to; it was American Blues (Leadbelly, or that era). I was taken aback, but taken in by her looks, and we shared the headphones. She bought the album and asked if I’d like to go back to her house to listen to it. Sure. When we arrived, her young sister was there to greet us…I knew her sister, as a girl from Greycoat. OK! We laughed a lot and got on with listening to the music and some tea–this was England, after all. So, began several years of friendships. The older sister was at university in Liverpool, and would come back home occasionally; I’d notice her sister often as we had the same Underground ride to and from school. We partied and spent long hours arguing over all sorts, usually fueled by some mead and laced with some herb, which I did not inhale or try (my status as an athlete saved me on many occasions).

This was one in a long line of platonic relationships I had as a teenager–and I have had and still have many.

A friend reminded me, when we met again a dozen years ago, of girls I used to ‘like’ at primary school; two came straight to mind, and I remember regretting how leaving primary school stopped the opportunities to see them almost daily. One was really pretty, the other was really smart, but funny. Where are they now? I also remembered yesterday a girl with buck teeth who pursued me mercilessly at primary school: she was Indo-Guyanese, if my memory is right.

Somewhere, along the line, there were teenage girls met at parties, and the one who gave my my first hickey 🙂 But, again, I was saved from more and more of that, by the fact that my pals and I were runners, I was their designated driver, and it was time go, fellas 🙂

Life got back to normal when I went to university and a co-ed education. Suffice to say, I married a girl I met in my first week, another economics student; became great friends with two other girls whom we met in our first week, and eventually became godparents to each others’ children along the way. We were a group of about 6-8 who shared an apartment in our second year, went on holidays, but never swapped partners. I saw a couple of them when I was in London several weeks ago.

Good friend are better than pocket money.

Lenten reflections 2020-30: Go west, young man!

People who’ve not lived in London, or another place that has some clear territorial differences, may find it difficult to understand how or why a place can be one and at the same time divided.

By chance, I moved to west London when I left Jamaica, and for all of my school years, I was a child of that broad area, though drifting south in it. Now, for Londoners, west London proper means ‘north of the river’ (Thames), and its post codes begin with W, and it does not include those areas either to the south (SW post codes) or north (NW codes). So, our line comes from the ‘West End’ (W1) part of central London.

People don’t get cute and talk much about boroughs, but could be very wedded to their ‘manor’ (local areas), eg Hammersmith, Shepherd’s Bush, Chelsea etc., especially if one of the many London football clubs is in the conversation.

Londoners know that its main divider, literally, is the river Thames. Time was when black taxi drivers would say “I don’t go south of the river, mate.” Each side looks across the river with suspicion. Admittedly, many born and bred Londoners have abandoned their roots and moved all over the place, but not often will the straddle the ‘great divide’. I used to venture south to see my uncles with my parents and watched how areas like Peckham and Camberwell became blacker but that was not my interest, of course; south London was different. Part of the difference was more noticeable as one went south and east and the docks and its culture made an impression. I didn’t know then the same was noticable on the north side, as I didn’t go to the East End much, except when my parents went to places like Whitechapel and Aldgate East to Petticoat Lane Market–an huge open bazaar where many goods could be bought at cheap prices. It was the land of the salesman and you did not ask from where the goods came. “Off the back of a Larry, darling?” It was a must-go place for many immigrants for clothing and household wares: “I’ll give you one for a sixpence, or three for a shilling.”

Petticoat Lane Market in the 1970s

The East End was notorious for many immigrants because of its historical associations with racism, mainly directed at Jewish people, but there was also often a clear ‘for whites’ feel about many of the attitudes in the traditional east end of London, and the dockers’ tight bonds and that of many other trades that had been worked in for decades, even centuries, made that firmer.

But, the north-south divide in London was real, as it is between the two parts nationally. When my parents decided to move away from inner London, they went west and the suburbs that side were already well-known to us and parts further out into the nearer rural counties of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire were more familiar to me through my athletics associations. One of my favourite places was Chalfont St Peter/Chalfont St Giles, in the Chilterns; real English village life and not what your average Caribbean migrant would call ‘home’. 🙂

Chalfont St Peter

Naturally, my views of London are shaped by all of that. My aunt, with whom we lived for many years in London, also moved west before us and ended up in Southall, to where we followed. However, when she and her little Austin A40 decided to move to Clapham in south-west London, in the 1970s, that was a move too far. It was not yet on the map solidly for the gentrifiers but it would soon be earning its moniker of ‘Cla-am’ 🙂 But, it would be interesting to see that area and places like Tooting, which had been part of the rural fringe for merchants and the wealthy, transformed by the railways into the archetypical late-19th century London commuter suburb (‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’), transformed again by the improvements and extensions of the London Underground, and viola, its proximity to central London, its large houses and nice open spaces were sought after amenities.

One of the funny things about London, that I’m often reminded of is how public/council housing cemented certain people in place, and so it was for a lot of immigrants who were less-able to move as council tenants and had to see things change around them with feet stuck.

When I went to university, I did what would have seemed unthinkable in my youth; I went to live in east London, albeit in halls of residence in a leafy suburb of South Woodford, in what was really Essex. (I understand that the halls were demolished in the early-2000s.) For me, it was funny, because that end of the Underground had been known to me due a crush I had on a girl who lived in the amazingly-named Theydon Bois (pronounced ‘boy-es’, not ‘bwah’, as in French), and I had become acquainted with Epping Forest for long walks 🙂

Typically intriguing Epping Forest

When I was in London a few last month, one of my old friends was explaining Brexit to me in terms of whom he called ‘blow ins’, ie people who’d migrated within the UK, many to the south-east, and areas like Wales (to exploit lower property prices) and had little affinity to their new location, but were also not attracted by EU ‘benefits’. While he gave me his assessment, I couldn’t help think of what had happened to London over the past 30+ years, with new migrants and movers within to the eastern part of the city but also into areas such as parts of west London that had been sniffed at in the 1960s-through-1980s; the gentrifiers. Now, as a student of urban planning, I understand well the socioeconomics of gentrification and personally welcome it as a way of pulling up broadening areas that were tending down on an economic and social spiral of some sort. I understand the tensions and resentments, but I also know that memories are short and grasp of history weak, so many ‘displaced’ residents don’t see how their arrival displaced many, often wealthier residents, or how areas that had become ‘squalid’ were originally built to house middle- and upper-middle class people with their servants but changed with economic times that made such living too onerous. So, family mansions became bed-sits/flats, etc.

London’s attraction for many is it cosmopolitan feel and sense that you can be amongst ‘your kind’ almost anywhere. But, for Londoners, it’s not that but knowing your kind are just next door or at the bar in the pub, not a bunch of ‘foreigners’ from another postal code. 🙂

#COVID19 age restrictions in place in Jamaica: Some issues and possible solutions

An Order was gazetted on March 24 (THE DISASTER RISK MANAGEMENT ACT; THE DISASTER RISK MANAGEMENT (ENFORCEMENT MEASURES) (NO. 2) ORDER, 2020), with restrictions placed on people based on their age. It reads as follows:

6.—(1) For the period from the 25th day of March, 2020, to the 7th day of April, 2020—

(a) no person employed to the Government who has attained the age of 65 years or more, other than persons—

(i) employed in any undertaking or entity referred to in any of paragraphs 5(2)(a), (b), (c), (d), (g), (h), (i), (k) (l) or (o); or

(ii) authorised under paragraph 5(2)(p),

shall be required to attend at the person’s place of employment and shall, to the extent possible, work from home; and

(b) all other persons who can work from home should do so.

(2) During the period referred to in sub-paragraph (1), an employer shall have a duty, if satisfied that an employee is able to discharge the duties of that employee from the employee’s place of residence, to grant the employee permission to do so without imposing any adverse consequences to the employee in respect thereof.

(3) An employee whose assigned tasks can only be discharged at the place of employment is required to attend for work at that place during the period referred to in sub-paragraph (1) unless otherwise permitted by the employer as part of the employer’s measures to combat the risk of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus COVID-19) at the place of employment.

(4) The grant of permission to an employee under sub-paragraph (2) or (3) shall not count against the leave entitlements of that employee, unless otherwise agreed between the employer and employee.

7.—(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 6, a person who has attained the age of 75 years or more shall remain within that person’s abode or place of residence, except that the person may once per day leave that abode or place of residence for food, medicine or other necessities of life.

(2) Sub-paragraph (1) shall not apply to any person employed in any undertaking or entity referred to in paragraph 5(2)(g) or (h), or in any service or activity authorised under paragraph 5(2)(p).

Simply put: over 65, work from home; over 75, stay home, but allowed one daily excursion for essentials.

It’s worth noting an important group affected, who are key to the running of the country.

Someone kindly posted this on Twitter yesterday:



JLP(12) VS PNP(7)

**Mike Henry 84
$$Pearnel Charles Snr 84
*Karl Samuda 78
Robert Pickersgill 77
JC Hutchinson 76
Ronald Thwaites 75
*Olivia Grange 73
Derrick Kellier 72
Peter Phillips 70
*Delroy Chuck 69

*Edmund Barlett 69
Fenton Ferguson 68
Everald Warmington 68
*Horace Chang 67
*Desmond McKenzie 67
Denise Daley 67
Evon Redman 67
*Audley Shaw 67
Marissa Dalrymple-Philibert age unknown

Those with * are cabinet ministers; Mike Henry (**) is a minister without portfolio; Pearnel Charles Snr is Speaker of the House.

The PM alluded to the fact that the Constitution requires certain duties of elected and nominated officials, so those listed above may get exemptions. That begs several questions, including whether the risks the group faces and could inflict on others outweigh the benefits the country gains from their being present in Parliament. It also begs questions about how and where the business of government can and should be performed. As with many things that are now to be part of ‘standard’ work practices, facilitating working from home for MPs and Senators needs to be be given some priority, with various security considerations clearly in play.

The PM has stated that he will be working from home, and I take that standard to apply to all of the above. If not, we ought to get a full and convincing explanation.

I appeared (as a director of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) briefly on Beyond The Headlines last night, with Prof. Eldemire-Shearer, to talk about the restrictions in general and its effects on the targeted group. A major concern was how people would come with those essentials that cannot be dealt with at home, eg hospital visits, and who and what could offer support. CCRP will try to mobilize churches to find volunteers to help in that regard.


Lenten reflections 2020-29: School daze

To say my parents were proud that I passed the 11-plus is an understatement: “Our child is going to grammar school,” would be said quietly with a distinct sense of glee. Many Jamaican parents are not like the archetypal Nigerian parents portrayed by Gina Yeshere, who have four careers for their children: doctor, lawyer, engineer, disgrace—but they are not far away.

Uniformity rules:

What a palaver it was to get the uniform for school. Back then, the sole schools outfitter for my school and many others was Kinch and Lack, located on Artillery Row, Victoria, about a mile from school. They were set out like many a bespoke tailors. The uniform was black blazer with badge, white/grey shirt, grey long trousers; for sports, we needed the house shirt (my was yellow, and heavy cotton). Other things like black shoes and white tee shirt and shorts for PE, we could get from other stores.

We had to get embroidered name labels to sew into or printed ones to iron onto clothing to avoid loss, those could be ordered from Selfridge’s, the major department store in Oxford Street. “We need labels for my son; he’s going to grammar school.” 🙂 The name tapes came in a roll of about 100. Of course, my mother lovingly did the necessary to get me all set with my labelled clothing.

House colours:

Many schools divide themselves up into houses for sport or other internal competitions, whatever the origin of the house names. Some schools now simply have colours and names houses after them. My school had houses whose names were of significance in its history:

  • Dacre’s (blue): Commemorating the foundation of Lady Anne Dacre, who died in 1595 and whose executors established Emanuel Hospital, incorporated by Queen Elizabeth I in 1601.
  • Hill (green): Retaining the name of the school established in 1647 by Mr Emery Hill, a churchwarden in the parish of St Margaret’s, Westminster.
  • Kings (red): In 1633, Charles I granted a Charter of Incorporation for the education of poor boys and girls in Westminster which was aided annually by King Charles II.
  • Palmer’s (yellow; my house): Continuing the tradition of the school provided in 1645 by Revd James Palmer of the parish of St Margaret’s Westminster.
  • +++++++ The houses were reduced to four in 1934, losing:
    • St Margaret’s: Arising from the St Margaret’s Hospital, established by the churchwardens of St Margaret’s in 1624.
    • Waterlow: Commemorating Sir Sydney Waterlow, the Lord Mayor of London, who was elected the first chairman of governors in 1873 and filled his post with enthusiasm and distinction for over a quarter of a century.
  • House success and allegiances were strong and friends were not so when we got into football matches or other sports. I’m glad to say that the spread of football talent was not concentrated into one house.
  • Lower and upper:
  • I’m not going to recount all of my school days that I can remember. First, it was an all-boys school of about 600 pupils; it’s now mixed at sixth form and about 850 pupils. A sister school was adjacent, Grey Coat School, whose grey uniform may seem on the sexy side now but then, no way.
  • The underlying class set-up (now) in the UK is as follows, and you move to secondary school in year 6 of schooling. The naming convention for many traditional schools with ‘lower’ etc. was used at my school:
  • Kindergarten = Year 1
    Transition = Year 2
    Preparatory = Year 3
    1st Form = Year 4
    2nd Form = Year 5
    Lower Third = Year 6
    Upper Third = Year 7
    Lower Fourth = Year 8
    Upper Fourth = Year 9
    Lower Fifth = Year 10
    Upper Fifth = Year 11
    Lower Sixth = Year 12
    Upper Sixth = Year 13
  • Important things were that first year pupils were called ‘Freshers’ (freshmen) or a ‘turd‘, and were pupils were split into two/three classes/form for each year group. Class designations included the first letter of the form teachers, eg L3R (lower third R(ayner) ), but some schools used a simple A, B, etc each year.
  • School discipline was shared between teachers and ‘trusted’ older pupils–prefects, with the head prefect/head boy at the top of that pupil chain. In my school, the sixth form was housed in an annex, with more leisurely furniture. Prefects had their own room. At my school, different ties also designated whether you were in sixth form.
  • Yes, I became a prefect and it was an important status symbol, not least when trying to keep order in the playground with football games going on in several directions and collisions, physical and emotional, quite common.
  • Back then, the school had tight rules about where pupils could go during the day, especially at break-time and certain areas outside school were ‘out of bounds’ (mainly near certain shopping streets, to avoid possible temptations and misunderstandings). But, I don’t remember that being a great constraint and enjoyed skipping off for a coffee and sandwich nearby or to sample what was then a new delight of an American-style doughnut store, when Dunkin’ Donuts opened right next to school in the early-1970s!
  • I say, old boy:

    After leaving school, what else but to be part of the old boys’ association? Its main function was to field sports teams for football, cricket and hockey, and to give the clubhouse bar revenue at the weekends. It wasn’t so much of a thing for me as I was into my club and university football, in the early 1970s, though the teams in my early years after school were very strong; the school had produced some stellar players in the early-1960s, who were now coming into their prime as adult players. As I wrote before, I went to Wales and played top-level football there and then played for the Bank of England when I came back to London.

    Old Westminster Citizens Football Club, circa late-1970s

    Old boys’ sport is steeped in important history and several clubs were part of the formation of what is now the professional game of football (and rugby). It was an obvious way of staying in touch with classmates and occasionally throw up old associations that were outside one’s old school. I remember encountering in the clubhouse bar a bunch of primary school friends who were playing old boys’ rugby for their secondary school while I was playing football at the Bank, and being stunned by the sound of voices I had not heard for about 20 years!

    But, I wasn’t much into the reunion dinners, etc; I think I went to a couple in my university years because a good friend was a committee member and pressed me. But the Old Westminster Citizens Association importantly reaches both former students and teachers and is a good place to try to reconnect with either or both. Of course, it’s sad now to read more about those I knew who have passed away.

    Many schools have closed or consolidated in recent years and educational policies changed; some have also moved from prime locations in London to more expansive sties in the suburbs.

    While state grammar school associations are not as deep-rooted as for many private (called ‘public’ in England) schools, it’s always intriguing to encounter someone from those days, maybe several times in our careers, especially when each time we were more elevated in our position or post than before. Yes, I know a few peers and knights and some of my old mates were often seen on TV or heard on the radio or read in the major newspapers 🙂 One of my school alumni, Gary Alexander, scored “one of the greatest goals you will ever see at Wembley”:

    I also blame my old friend, Andy Hamilton, for providing the UK with some of the best satire in the past 50 years 🙂

    Lenten reflections 2020-28: I love your accent!

    I’d be richer for every time I’ve heard someone say that to me; add more cash for those who said “We must give you a voice test, you’d be great on the [radio, TV].” Yet, I have never had a voice test. When I listen to my voice while doing something like a Facebook live commentary, I know it sounds defiantly British, not typically Jamaican.

    I’ve written before how people get really confused about what accents and speech tell them about a person, and I’ve enjoyed yanking the odd chain. I also know that some people have no clue about accents. I remember an early encounter in Virginia, USA, when someone asked me if I was Australian. I knew all I needed about the lack of worldliness in the USA from that question. I admit, I really went to town and replied. “No, I’m French.” and inhaled deeply when I got back “I knew it was foreign.”

    I tell the story about going to England and having to adjust to English life. One major adjustment, but subtle, was how I spoke. I was getting bombarded with (white) English kids saying things like “Miss, we carn unnastan wha ‘e’s seyin!” I cannot replicate by six-year old Jamaican voice (reminder about building that time machine during the COVID19 isolation), but I can imagine it. So, I slowly become English. I don’t recall my parents saying things like “Why yu a taak lik day, bway?” I noticed that their speech was changing, more vocabulary than accents, though, and no surprise as they were mixing deeply with lots of English natives.

    One of my endearing memories of my father was his not understanding the English word ‘sod’, which has several meanings, depending on tone and context, from ‘person’ through ‘irritant’. So, I listened to my Dad jabbering to his work colleagues about ‘those suds’; he’d obviously gone to the nearest word he could relate to (cognate), which was to do with washing. I had to take him aside (and without explaining how I knew all the meanings) and set him straight. But, I could imagine how he could have been ridiculed as another ‘ignorant darkie’. But, malapropisms are sometimes good for keeping you out of trouble and I did not correct his regular use of ‘you fekker’ 🙂

    Jamaicans are not great with accents or languages, as I discover to my amusement almost daily. Many tend to judge people socially by the way they speak, especially if they detect some swaying towards overseas, or a ‘twang’ as we say. So, if you have a north American lilt it’s often assumed to be fake and a means of separating yourself from ordinary Jamaicans, and so negative. The fact that you could have been forced to code-switch or just automatically adjust how you speak through exposure (living, studying, relationships etc) is irrelevant. I don’t have that problem! I’m just a Jam-Brit or Brit-Jam: my accent is also ‘plummy’ ie a little more sophisticated-sounding than ordinary English accents and that’s my grammar school’s fault, plus rubbing shoulders with those Oxbridge and City types when I was working in London.

    A tradition in many older English schools was to distinguish between siblings by calling the older ‘major’ and the younger ‘minor’, and these terms only sound right when said a certain way. Much like the tendency to use surnames (‘Jones’) as the normal form of address instead of given names (eg Dennis). Most formal settings run along the lines of addressing people with titles, eg Mister, Madam, to show some respect for position and seniority, and that subtly also affects how you speak (a little moderation in tone and clarity come about) to avoid reactions like “What did you say, boy?” from an angry adult.

    While I am no male equivalent of Eliza Doolittle, I know how accents can be social separators, so it’s significant that the BBC has moved away from broadcasters having to use Received Pronunciation (aka ‘Queen’s English’, and regional accents are now hailed as ‘awreet‘. Jamaicans still get hung up on how people speak, with the added prejudice against speaking ‘Jamaican’ or Patois in what are deemed ‘proper’ settings (eg on TV, in Parliament, etc), even though it’s how about 90 percent of the population routinely speaks amongst themselves.

    Anyway, I’ve long gone past the way I speak being a burden, and code-switch with abandon in English, and mix it up with some French or Spanish thrown in. You should listen to my teenager and me talking sometimes, when conversations begin with her say “Hola, hola, padre! Wha gwaan dis mawnin? Le petit dej. est pret?” (That’s Spanish, through Patois, to French, seamlessly.)

    I’ve moved past the need to correct people over how they speak (my daughter is now corrupted by American pronunciations and I need to sit her down and give her what’s what over that) or grammar (which is so much about how you were taught and absorbed). So, I’m not bothering with telling people to use possessives before gerunds:

    I will, however, correct any Jamaican caddy who tells me I need to hit a professional, when he means a provisional (insurance shot).

    ‘Sharing nature’s beauty’ series moving to Instagram

    I’m thoroughly enjoying sharing pictures of nature in its many forms, and having increased that to daily, at least temporarily, I’ve hit a problem: the pictures are eating up storage space on my blog. So, with effect from today, the posts will move to my Instagram account (@dennisgjones), and I’ll share the post via Twitter and Facebook. Check there later today. Happy looking.

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