I wrote in an earlier reflection how people said my voice would be great for radio and TV, but nothing really ever came of such assessments. However, it’s been funny in recent years to find myself either in front of a TV camera or a radio mike; funnier, really, because my voice has stood out as not really fitting—most of this exposure has been in the Caribbean, though some was earlier on French-speaking media. So, my voice became as much a lightning rod as a source of sought-after wisdom: “Why dat man sound like he eatin’ marbles?” a caller once asked when I was on Brass Tacks, in Barbados. I’ve also written how many Caribbean people rush to judge a person by how they speak rather than the content of what they say. In that sense, my writing has better unfiltered traction, though some always want to have a beef with anyone who used to work for the IMF. But, I was brought up on London streets and am never shying away from a dust-up.
That said, my little forays into the world of mass audio-visual media have been personally enjoyable. I’ve looked back at the footage from time to time and I don’t come over as a total jackass. I think my delivery is generally clear, and I have a tendency to laugh (which can sometimes seem irreverent, but I honestly find lots of things funny). That is clear to me when I now venture to do my own ‘mass’ media with Facebook Live commentaries.
It’s daunting being there in front of an anticipated audience of who knows how many. More so, that most of my appearances have been live, single takes, and no editing: WYSIWIG TV and all its wrinkles. It’s been calming, though, to work with great hosts, who were well-prepared and ready to share the space, though some can’t help themselves from dragging you through their particular topical dung heaps. I’ve only ever felt badly trapped once, on Jamaican radio, but I think I found my feet fast enough to not get too badly snared.
I was a bit ignorant of what it took to put together a radio or TV programme, beyond being well-informed about the topic. I’ve been stiffed a few times with topics that then veered into a realm (often political) for which I was not prepared and it would not sound good to just utter “No comment,” otherwise, why would I be there as a commentator?
Voice and lighting checks are one thing, but I had no idea what it took to make me look good on TV, and I was never one for make-up 🙂
I appeared enough to get used to the formats and handling the need for ad breaks. That’s often the best time, when the panel and/or host alone can be more relaxed and some of the best discussions are in those brief breaks, which can then invigorate the rest of the programme.
Looking the part and being the part are not the same. I had the hardest time ‘looking the part’ because for years now, working from home, how I looked was trivial. I did a little public speaking along the way in my life–the first being absolutely impromptu at a dinner with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Mayor of London. My banking industry peers nominated me to give the speech of thanks. Well, a good dinner, with fine wine, ample offerings of port and cigars (not for me) were great preparation, and I numbly went on keeping them all entertained for a good 15 minutes. I remember not a word of it to this day, and ended up at home in the back of taxi with no idea how I’d gotten there. So, I was a veteran at this stuff! But, media requires a bit of discipline and crisp short answers are better for the audience, though points often need elaboration. You get the hang of finding the kernel from a few years having to write briefing papers, especially when told by the Governor of the Bank of England to keep the main points to a page. 🙂
Feedback is good, and I usually tried to make friends and family aware of appearances. My aunt who lives in the country, in St. Mary, would also be excited to hear or see “her nephew pon di television” and would call me soon after and say “You looked good, man; yu mudda wudda proud.” But, I’m not just about back-stroking and can take the heavy beating from people who know me and have a brain of their own. So, when a Jamaican friend who does a lot of media work and hosts a show asked why I didn’t go to a certain point I knew he sensed something hadn’t been right in the studio. I hoped that only he or a few had sensed it. Tension can rise and I’ve few real personal beefs.
Really, the best though, is seeing the many other sides of people outside their normal areas of activities, and when those people are friends and they act as you know they truly are, it’s such a joy.
So, given how much I enjoy it, why don’t I get more calls? Kidding. I like it that I’m not the go-to talking head on economic matters, and found it great to be sought out for my views on dress codes, domestic violence (BBC World Service called one morning having read one of my tweets and had me talking for 15 minutes on the topic), or issues affecting the older citizens and retired people.
Truth is, I’ve found my own avenues and enjoy being uncoupled from any one else’s views, so my blog is my joy and my forays into Facebook Live are really enjoyable, especially when I’m grabbed by spontaneity. The latter’s best feature is that the audience and I can interact (at least in written form) in real-time, and I’ve been truly surprised how traction gets built up after I’ve done a session and posted it.
So, thanks to you all for being a wonderful audience. I love you all! 🙂
I am genuinely confused by what I see some people arguing about crime in Jamaica. Some say Jamaicans don’t care about the ~1500 murders a year and the rate of say ~50 murders/100,000. So, I ask what should people worry about? For decades, Jamaicans have had the country’s high crime explained to them. That explanation has come from several studies and is repeated often by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). It’s that gang violence accounts for MOST of the homicides and is the main engine of the homicide rate. That JCF narrative has been supported by several academic studies into crime origins and victims.The most recent (2016) authoritative study was for the IDB Caribbean Office by Prof. Anthony Harriot https://publications.iadb.org/publications/english/document/Crime-and-Violence-in-Jamaica-IDB-Series-on-Crime-and-Violence-in-the-Caribbean.pdf …. So, my question is simple. Who are Jamaicans supposed to be showing sympathy or empathy to, with regard to the murder rampage? Are Jamaicans supposed to be concerned about internecine rivalries that see many criminals killing each other?
People who suggest the average Jamaican is indifferent to the murder rate are implicitly asking why Jamaicans aren’t pouring out their hearts in grief that some 2/3 of the victims are stated to be ‘gang-related’ or that some 50 percent of homicides are linked to lotto scamming. Is our sense so warped that we believe that’s where public sentiment should go?
What I often see reported are outpourings of sympathy for seemingly innocent victims (such as 2 children caught in cross-fire this week or for Roger Chang, who appears to have been ambushed and killed during a day outing). That seems a completely appropriate reaction. I see reports of sympathy for killed gang members expressed by many in their communities, for whom they would have been friends and family. This is also appropriate in any community, and there should be no supposition that all are criminals or closely-associated with criminals. But would it be reasonable to see otherwise?
I also read of reprisals for such gang-related killings, ie the vicious internecine violence continues to feed on itself.
What is the average Jamaican supposed to be doing to stop so-called ‘violence producers’ doing that amongst themselves?
What I have seen is that many people fear such violence spilling over into their usually peaceful and relatively low crime communities, but we have no clear signs of that yet. We see anecdotal reports of street crime and maybe some car thefts and hijackings and maybe some attempted or successful break-ins. But, unless I am badly mistaken, we are not seeing cases of random or even targeted homicides of people who are not known to be criminals in many areas. (Some cases throw up surprising links to criminality for people who were assumed to be acting in squeaky clean manner, admittedly.)
To protect against that possibility, however, more people are taking precautions, if they can, by using private security firms, living in protected (mainly gated) communities, and using various degrees of neighbourhood vigilance, that includes increasingly things like ‘alert’ groups on WhatsApp, neighbourhood watch schemes, and more recently technology like alarms and CCTV. People have long used dogs and some keep themselves armed at home or business. These are all quite sensible reactions to the possible risks, and show a level of serious concern that is hard to fault. But, like insurance policies that never get claims set against them, people will do this as long as it makes sense. Now, we also know that for some who live in areas with known gang violence it’s much harder to escape it literally being on the doorstep.
That behaviour is also absolutely consistent with what we know about the geography of crime (especially murders). The high national aggregate is heavily influenced by the ‘top heavy’ rates and levels in western Jamaica. The data by parish for 2017 are a bit dated, but the overall picture has remained the same. We see that western parishes (St. James and Hanover, centred around Montego Bay), Kingston (proper), and Clarendon (centred on May Pen) have insanely high rates and we know the levels are also high. We also know that the ‘wild’ west is the home of lotto scamming. We know that drugs and arms trafficking drive a lot of the gang activities.
While I would never argue that the rest of Jamaica is a sea of tranquility, I find it near ridiculous to think that the national level of concern would be high when it’s clear to everyone where the principal crime problems are, if we are to focus on murders. While views are mixed, recent measures (see below) have been broadly welcomed by those in the most-affected areas, ie people in St. James and Hanover are breathing sighs of relief. That is not to decry that people in upper St. Andrew may shrug shoulders (though I know that’s not the case). It’s why people in parts of Clarendon and St. Catherine wondered why they were not getting the ‘better’ treatment of being designated worthy of ‘enhanced security measures’.
I’ve written before how a key part of Jamaica’s economy has tried to limit the impact of this geographical problem on its survival–ie how tourism has become an ‘enclave’ activity. If you drive around Jamaica it’s easy to see how people’s concerns have been demonstrated: get away from the killers and keep them far away. People who are really concerned about the high rates of murder have done several things:
They’ve left Jamaica (even abandoned properties)
They’ve moved away from high crime areas (look at migration and housing development patterns in the Kingston corporate area)
They reluctantly stay near high crime rate areas (but are often seen as taking unacceptable risks).
They warn others about the crime problems
They employ security services
They arm themselves or find close protection (eg dogs)
They circulate less in areas when and where they think crime may be high
They locate their activities in ‘safer’ areas, which is why certain international organizations developed around New Kingston not downtown, and why many many or investments stayed away from the ‘high risk’ areas. (They also kept close to the source of their revenues, eg ‘uptown’ Kingston). It’s no surprise to see what areas are flourishing as go-to evening spots.
Other actions have been taken but these seem quite significant to me. What has also happened, and it sadly reinforces the problems, is that large entities which could demonstrate that remaining engaged in high crime areas have had a hard time getting others to give their actions traction. So, the waterfront development of downtown Kingston was long an island of economic hope, in a sense, and the installation of the Stock Exchange, HQs of some major banks and corporations, etc was not enough to push back crime in the downtown and east and west Kingston areas that were notorious hotbeds. Nor was the fact that several major government agencies were also in and around downtown (Finance, Labour and Social Services at Heroes Circle; Registrar General located in the heart of downtown). While these entities brought people and activity to that downtown area, most people did not want to stay there besides for work. Their fears were often vindicated by a constant flurry of what seemed like gang-related crime (eg as reported in Coronation Market, as evidenced by extortion practices in downtown, as evidenced by frequent confrontations between criminals and the JCF).
We have seen the states of emergency (#SOEs) and zones of special operations (#ZOSOs) introduced and these have attempted to corral criminals and we saw some early abatement in murders in those areas. But, in recent months we have seen an upsurge in murders within some such areas and it’s apparent that the abatement is not sustainable. This is no real surprise as the areas are porous and it’s impossible to be in all places all the time dealing with many and splintered gangs. It’s also the case that criminals have staying power and have been patient to wait out the corralling and get back to ‘business as usual’.
So, violence producers now know that they can continue their activities in such areas, largely unabated.
If the origins of most murders in Jamaica are not as described then we need to be re-educated. (We know that many killings also come out of domestic disputes, which could be addressed by better anger management/conflict resolution but would take time. But, again, the general population cannot do much to address what sparks such disputes into homicides.)
We also know that many Jamaicans were not opposed to extra-judicial killings, which though morally frowned upon seemed to keep ‘violence producers’ in check. Despite the legitimate concerns of human rights groups like Amnesty International and others, it would be to deny the truth that many Jamaicans saw these as ‘solving the problem’ the judicial system and ordinary policy simply cannot. I do not know anyone who feels that justice is seen to be done when lawyers do a great job and murder cases are dismissed on technicalities. We also know that the low level of crime solving in terms of arrests and cases successfully taken to trial helps make criminals feel safer–good risk:rewards in play. We also know that those who may wish to come forward with evidence to help cases be successful often have to deal with the ‘informer should die’ mentality of many communities–not just Jamaica. Being a ‘grass’ never has been seen as a positive in many places and that seemingly misplaced Ho our code prevails in many walks of life and socioeconomic groups. So, please don’t come claiming that this is what ‘poor people’ or the ‘ignorant’ do. Conspiracies of silence run all through society.
Jamaicans as citizens can only do so much to thwart gangs; it’s unreasonable to expect them to succeed, though. That task must fall to the State (unless citizens decide that they will become vigilantes). So, I ask again, what is this sensitivity towards murder levels and rates that ordinary people are expected to show?
Finally, I find some of the attempts at comparing Jamaica’s situation to other countries verging on the ludicrous. As I wrote a few days ago, most people don’t go around with a sense of schadenfreudeor its reverse comparing murder totals and rates; they live their realities. Or, they make location and activity choices to avoid what appear to be huge problems.
If you live in a place that has registered no murders for years, then one murder sends your concerns sky high: it’s an incalculable change in your personal sense of safety (see case of Iceland). Someone tried to claim he could walk safely in London but couldn’t do the same in Jamaica, because of the low rate of murders/100,000 people in the former versus the latter. The fact that my pensioner (potential target) father, a known returnee (potential target) lived in the same town since the late-1980s till 2018, and walked daily across the lightly-trafficked golf course (potential), on a regular schedule (potential target) without ever once being attacked ought to have shown that assertion to verge on the bogus. The fact that the U.K. has a rate of knife crimes as high as 40 instances a day (~300 a week) did not register as making fear of assault and maiming a real, everyday, every moment concern. Knifecrimes in the U.K are about 170/100,000, much like the highest homicide rates in some of Jamaica’s parishes, which means that if we drilled down, we’d find much higher rates in what are the U.K. hotspots for violent crimes. What explains the killing of a nurse in the U.K. week as being different from the killing of a doctor in Jamaica last year? It’s certainly not the aggregate figures. Why are British police investigating a potential four-person murder-suicide over the weekend during coronavirus lockdown?
If you think British people are sanguine about the very personal nature of a random knife attack then I really have to wonder. That’s how safe it is to walk around in England!
If we are to make comparisons, we need to see our crime in its clearly-established regional context (highest rate of violent crime, and known linkages for gangs with drugs and guns in the mix).
If this discussion is to be meaningful, then at least have arguments that make sense in terms of what people can reasonably be expected to do, not some pious-sounding lament about people being unconcerned about things that people would normally not have concerns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
≈ Comments Off on 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.
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.”
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’. 🙂
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 🙂
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. 🙂
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.
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.
≈ Comments Off on 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.
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.
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 LadyAnne Dacre, who died in 1595 and whose executors establishedEmanuel 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: CommemoratingSir 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 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 🙂