Walking back down Memory Lane

I took my daughter on a little walking tour back through time, yesterday: it was essentially to let her see where I had grown up as a boy. I arrived in London from Jamaica in September 1961; it was cold and damp. My parents went to live in Shepherd’s Bush, and I went to St. Stephens’s Church of England School. I was a fan of QPR from early days, as they were 10 minutes walk from me. I played on Shepherd’s Bush Green, just 10 minutes away. I got to know most of the area in a short radius, especially the market. I was a frequent user of the library. My father and I used to go to the public baths and washhouse; our basement flat had no bath. I ate in several places, including Cooke’s pie and mash shop. All of that, and more, I showed my 10 year-old yesterday. But, I got some surprises along the way. I had arranged to have lunch with a man who, as a boy had been my best friend from age 6. He now lived outside London, but would make the trip down specially.

Much of London is made up of 19th century buildings; Shepherd’s Bush is just that way, with lots of structures dating from the late-1880s. Immigrants, like my family, were just one of the many waves of people going there to live and work. It became home for many West Indians in part because it was close to hospitals that were taking in migrants, and its having easy access to public transport. I used to live on the Tube and buses. Exiting a station was no special thing for me. But…

My first surprise was what had happened to Shepherd’s Bush Green. Of course, change happens. But, I was shocked to see all the development of shops and multistory buildings near the Central Line station, which I had visited just a few years ago. I took that in with a sigh. We walked on the green. I pointed out the disused public lavatories, with their large ornate gates.

What does that mean? One shilling; six pence; three pence.

No use had yet been found for their underground spaces. Maybe, none ever would be. We walked to see an intriguing moving play space. Where had the tennis courts gone? We crossed to where the cinema used to be. It was now an Australian restaurant. I showed my child the etched marking on the walls. I explained that they showed the prices, back from the days before decimal money, when pounds, shillings and pence ruled.

They seemed like hieroglyphics.

We went on to the public library and I walked proudly up the front steps. What! A bar and taps faced me. I blinked. I asked the young server what had happened. “It’s a theatre, now,” she told me. The new home of the Bush Theatre.

The Bush Theatre. The bar, where books used to be. Changes.

I took that in. I read that the change had happened in 2011; I was last there in 2010. We wandered around, and I showed my daughter pictures of the library that were part of the decor. A young lady was doing some research, using the wi-fi service, and she asked me a few questions. She had also gone to school nearby, and we talked about using another library a few miles away, in Hammersmith, when we were schoolchildren. She shared my amusement at the changes. Buildings grow out of their uses and create new homes. Better that, than they stay derelict. My mind went to Jamaica’s downtown, where dereliction was more the order of the day. Even the theatre had not found use in its original form. Where were the visionaries to take those buildings and make them useful again?

School and church from childhood days. Five minutes’ walk to and from home.

We walked on, and I showed my daughter a pub, that was now partly a supermarket; again, new uses. We stopped in front of my old primary school.

Down there in the basement was home. Nothing special, just very special.

I showed her the small playground, placed adjacent to the church. I told her a short story of a fight I had once. “You were a naughty boy?” Someone let us into the school, which was still running (till mid-July), and I explained my visit. I made the trip brief, but not before a young schoolgirl had let her jaw drop to the floor as I talked about being there 50 years ago. We moved on. We crossed the road, to the street where I used to live. The roads were always neat and clean, and that has not changed much; they were also wide by London standards.

I’d noticed years ago that the area was being gentrified, and that feature has just been getting more notice, as shown in a FT piece last week. Many houses go for cool million pounds, these days. I showed my daughter the basement flat where we used to live. “Why did you live in the basement?” I explained a little social history. The houses still looked solid and neat, with blinds and signs of European chic now dressing windows. I took her on a mazy walk through some nearby streets, stopping to admire a Victorian era post box, that looked as good as new. We arrived at Mecca.

The Loft, where fanatical young men stood and cheered for a team on Saturdays

I showed her Loftus Road Stadium, home of Queens Park Rangers Football Club, freshly promoted to the English Premier League. I explained what ‘The Loft’ was, and how I used to trek to stand there and look forward to a hot cup of tea at half time and maybe a hamburger.

We walked around three sides of the stadium, nestled with the houses. We went to the reception and I explained my journey, with a few reminiscences. I mentioned names from the 1960s, some of whom still visit the club. I had not expected to be able to show my daughter the inside of the stadium when no games were on. The club is also running to meet the higher standards of the premier league. We walked back the club shop and I bought her a jersey, which she can wear forever. I explained that back then, hardly anyone wore team kit to watch a match: that was for the players. Scarves, hats, and rattles were all we needed. Homage duly paid, we moved on.

Middle Eastern-feeling in west London

We walked along Uxbridge Road, part of London’s former Roman roadways. My daughter did not ask about the Romans. I noted how the ethnic flavour had changed even in the few years since I was last there.

Then, I noted how Somalis were evident. Now, many places had a Lebanese taste, and men sitting outside cafes drinking coffee were everywhere. I also heard Slavic tongues, often trying to tease a reaction from some passing young lady. I hissed “Boring” at one group and got a glare. I glared back. I traced aloud the changes: English, West Indian, African, Somalis, Lebanese…. “What about the f***ing Irish?” came a shrill question, as a half drunk man overheard me. And…the Irish, I added aloud. We came back past my school and church, and went on toward the market. I explained about Lime Grove, and where the BBC Studios used to be. My encounter with aliens, the day I played in a friend’s garden and saw Cybermen walking across the studio gangway. I must have been about 9-10 when that happened. Frightening! My daughter told me how much she loves Dr. Who. I did too. So, we reached the market. I asked her which way in she wanted to try. We opted to go via the hanging clothes. She’d already spied the fruit and vegetables stalls when we’d come by earlier.

Never pretty. Always functional and friendly.

The market has always been a bustling mess. Now, it is more bazaar than bizarre. Clothes and shoes and knick-knacks all over the place.

We heard strains of Jamaican accents, tinged with a strong London trait. We exited to the main roadway. We saw a fish seller, arguing with a man from Portland about the small kingfish tail he wanted to buy. “Is weh you cum fram?” He asked. We argued about our ethnic roots. A non-conversation. Walking on, we saw that mobile phones and their accessories were the main offering apart from clothes and fruit. Everyone seems to be giving away free SIM cards with a little credit. I wondered if people just took those and made a few calls, then repeated the process. I thought about how useful that would be for criminals. The villain in me? I got a seller to let me have a screen protector. He cut it to size and ‘fitted’ it, while a lady bought a cheap smart phone (ten pounds) and got a free SIM. The guy tried to up sell and offered me a case. No deal. Then, to the end of the market and another Mecca, though of different order. Cooke’s.

Cooke’s eatery

Pie and mash is a dish more found in East London, but I just happened to live close to two shops that happened to be in West London, and I got to love the meal from early childhood. One shop is by the market.

Refurbished and filled with modern baths?

Like a fish and chips meal, this is one of my ‘must have’ things when I visit London. My older daughter got her initiation a few years ago; her sister was due for hers. She asked about eels, the traditional dish. I explained. “I don’t like snakes!” Me, neither. The server asked what she wanted. She went conservative and took pie and mash, gravy and liquor (sauce made from the boiling of eels and parsley) on the side. She nibbled the pie; she loves mashed potatoes. She dipped the pie in liquor then tried the gravy; success. She nibbled on. We were hungry. I went smoothly through my plateful. She licked her lips. “Not bad,” she declared. We sat for a while. We were an hour ahead of my lunch buddy. We decided to take a walk then come back.

She was fascinated by where the BBC used to be. I told her it was just where people worked and that they only seemed different because we lap up television material like it’s nectar. She giggled. She saw an art college and wanted to go in. The building has been there for a hundred years and its style is clearly old, with lots of tiled steps. She adored being inside. I had visions of her at an old English college. We went back to meet my old friend.

Nearly fifty years between meetings is an incredible amount of time. We hugged and smiled at each other. We were no longer 11 year olds. We ordered food and started to recall. My daughter was going for her second meal, too. Impressive, I thought. We talked and talked, about old times. My friend’s memory was amazing. Many people from our class were still living close by. I told of times when I had crossed their paths later in life; very odd. We recalled some of the girls–all were beautiful. He told of his first kiss. My daughter smiled. We remembered how he had been assigned to ‘look after me’. How I was a fast runner; he was a great footballer. Together, we did a lot of damage on the football pitch–a cinder area, back then, not kind on the legs. Our teacher was a stolid man, who picked his team based on functional suitability: fast boys on the wings; big, strong boys in goal and defence. Oh, Mr. Cook! He also loved to use that ruler on your hands. We learned well, though, and were both good with both feet, a rare skill. We talked of races run and won; how he’d cheered. I soaked up the image of my running at White City. New boys and girls coming from the West Indies: Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana. Our friendships seemed unreal. It was so easy to get along? He remembered my parents, well. I remembered his, living just two minutes away. His uncle was the projectionist at the cinema and would let him in for free; he, in turn, would let friends sneak in through the side door. He got caught; we escaped. Naughty boys! Now, married with children. Working lives different; he’d worked for the Post Office for over 35 years (ironically, he might crossed my father’s path again). Education different, after primary school; he went to a good secondary school, but not university. Sporting lives different: he played for Chelsea FC as a boy and did well but was not kept; we’d both played football into our 40s, though.

I told him he had to visit Jamaica. We walked back to the Underground station. He had to head north. His wife suffers from MS. He gave my daughter a little gift and told her to spend it wisely. She gave a lovely thank you and they hugged. We hugged again. We didn’t cry, just parted simply.

The day didn’t end there, because we went on to Covent Garden, and enjoyed its usual offering of entertainment and people watching. But, a special stroll along Memory Lane had come to an end. Fifty years from now, what?

Brazil 2014: What a week taught us and decades wont change

Social media is full of information. I don’t track everything that interests me, but I tend to share that when I see it. Football fans have been in heaven during the past seven days, since the World Cup matches started. Bags of goals and many of them stunning. Fast, furious action. Of course, controversies within the matches.

But, beyond the goals, and fouls, and cautions, and ejections, and massive crowds, what has been of interest on the soccer field and in the stadiums? (I have not quite understood the Chilean fans’ invasion of the media centre at the Maracana Stadium.)

The Japanese see sport differently. Japan is astonishingly clean. So, Japanese fans want to show that off to the world. That’s why they stayed behind after a match to clean up the stadium. Though their team lost 2-1 to Cote d’Ivoire at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Japanese spectators armed with bin liners patrolled their side of the stadium and gathered up discarded litter. That is class. Social media filled up with praise for this.

Japanese fans clean up in Recife
Japanese fans clean up in Recife

FIFA is run by madmen. I came to that conclusion when I watched England lose to Uruguay last night. Raheem Sterling’s knee caught Alvaro Pereira in the head, and knocked him out cold. (Watch the incident here.) He looked dead at first. Once he was revived, officials tried to escort him from the field. He protested. Next thing, he’s running around and getting hit and heading the ball again.

Pereira, pole axed. Moments later, running around like a kid. Madness!
Pereira, pole axed. Moments later, running around like a kid. Madness!

FIFA has a concussion protocol (see here). By contrast, the NFL begin assessing head injuries long before training camps, and players seen or suspected of having head injuries MUST leave the field for medical assessment. Not in football. A bunch of macho know-it-alls look on idly. The NFL also monitors conditions after a match. FIFA? Hello? Anyone there?

Trying to watch television coverage of matches is like trying to win a lottery. I’m quite savvy about possible alternatives to broadcast or satellite or cable transmission of live sporting events. However, when TV rights have been sold for billions of dollars, what can one expect? FIFA are due to make US$ 6 billion in revenue and US$ 2 billion profit from this World Cup, almost all of that from selling TV broadcast rights. Remember, the rights are sold to individual countries or groups of countries. The buyers are not always national broadcasters, but may often be subscription services, so watching freely may not be an option. At home, in Jamaica, SportsMax have the rights and it’s subscription cable. On vacation in France, the rights are shared between public broadcasters and private cable companies. I have to see which is showing a match: my hosts do not subscribe to the cable channel. Frustrated, sometimes, I scour known sources to find a free online streaming provider. Those I know are good and have feeds in English, but I would take any for the visual coverage; I do not need the prattle. They have drawbacks, whether annoying pop-up ads or links to services I do not want, but overall offer great options.

The mute button is my friend. I really need little when I watch sport other than the event. I like helpful background information about the contestants, but not too much. I do not need a screen filled with statistics, especially ones that do little more than count things that may not really matter.

TV football stats make it like a video game
TV football stats make it like a video game

But, I understand the trend and I think that football needs to use what technology now offers to make it fuller in many ways. But, I wish I could choose my pundits. I get mostly inane commentary thrown at me: in Jamaica, it comes from people wearing very brightly coloured shirts–that’s how it’s done. Branding matters. In France, I was pleased to hear and see Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, as usual, in a suit and tie, talking little but making much sense; with his wonderful perspective as a successful manager. Often, all I get is what I can see for myself, or ranting and with little value. I so wish that I could choose which pundit to hear. Time to develop an app.

Jamaican TV broadcasters are branded
Jamaican TV broadcasters are branded

National values are not international values. The four yearly caravan of football, like the Olympics, offer good opportunities to sample other cultures. Many things are common; many are not. TV exposes much but explains little. Brazil’s racial history is not the USA’s and should not be made to fit into the  American narrative. African countries are not all the same. Latin American teams are not all capable of playing like Brazil in 1970. Social pressures and preferences are not suddenly forgotten when players enter the field. Fans have voices that are not the social barometers of their countries. We will see and hear things we deem racist. We will see and hear behaviour that treats women badly, as seen from our viewpoint. If our stereotypical view of Italians is right, then they will be pleading their innocence even as the blood drips off the boot that kicked the man in the eye. English players are very skillful and can pass as well as most others. Not every nation thinks that faking injuries is right: more players earning their keep in a few countries has had mixed benefits in showing new tricks to old dogs, but also showing those dogs that old tricks don’t go down well everywhere. Diving is an Olympic sport and should be kept there. 🙂


Everyone loves to hate referees. The honeymoon lasted only minutes and after that, no love was lost on the men in black sometimes. FIFA has moved with the times a little bit, and brought the profile of referees up during this World Cup, so now you get little thin bios. But, players and fans may know all of that already. They only care, though, if the men do not stink up the place with their ‘bad’, ‘biased’, ‘racist’, ‘home-team-favouring’, ‘scared’, ‘idiotic’, ‘blind’ decisions.

It began well for Brazil, but Croatian coach Niko Kovac accused Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura of being partial to his side  after it lost the opener at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo last Thursday: “I had a feeling that the referee had one set of rules for us and the other for Brazil. I don’t want to talk about referees but everybody saw how he did his job. He didn’t have respect for Croatia. He’s not good enough to be a referee in such an important game,” read one quote from Kovac in an interview to Croatian Television after the match.

Let's be friends?
Let’s be friends?

Football is full of controversy as far as decisions are concerned. The game has too few officials and decisions are mostly interpretation. The FIFA hierarchy like it that football is full of errors. Referees are human: they make mistakes, and that’s part of the fun; Sepp Blatter thinks. Who would get upset about a goal scored and seen by everyone except the match officials? Where’s your sense of fun? Ask Steven Gerrard. Who would get upset about a clear foul that is given, but no caution given because the referee realises that it would mean the expulsion of a key player? C’mon, man! It would only change the balance of the game, totally. Let’s give the man the chance to throw another elbow or kick the living daylights out of an opponent a little later.

De Jong checks if his boot fits Alonso's chest. It does. Referee Webb agrees.
De Jong checks if his boot fits Alonso’s chest. It does. Referee Webb agrees.

I guess we should ask Howard Webb, who seemed perfectly placed to see De Jong plant his boot into another player’s chest. Play on! Man down!

Need I mention 1986 and England-Argentina? Well, what’s a little handball into the net between friends, or enemies?

See what? Maradona became a hero for his country. His team went on to win the World Cup. At the post-game press conference, Maradona facetiously commented that the goal was scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (“a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God“). What of the real villain, Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser? He gained 6th position in the top 10 worst refereeing decisions of all time (see here). Bravo, my boy!

FIFA, not yet a swear word, loves to keep referees out of the limelight. Referees, sometimes, hog the show. How about making them more accountable to the viewing and playing public? No. That would undermine their authority. Dissent. Yellow card. It would also show them as being human and fallible; that wouldn’t do. Have to love them as we hate them. (disclaimer: I am a qualified referee, and my decisions are final.)

My name is… Je m’appele… : Jamaica and its place in the world

I have no grand designs for my youngest daughter, but I’ve told her she wont fail in life because of me. We are now in France, spending a week with a family we met some 8 years ago, when we lived in Guinea (French-speaking west Africa). The overall idea is for her to be immersed in another language and culture for a short while, to help her with her French. She spent three years of her life living in such an environment, but as a baby through age 3. Our hosts used to visit us almost every Sunday to play tennis in the morning, then have brunch; their eldest daughter used to babysit during the tennis. My daughter remembers none of this. So, she’s supposed to speak French as much as possible for the next seven days. Our hosts love it that they all get the chance to practice their English with us. We are being very flexible and tolerant of mistakes; it’s a learning opportunity for everyone.

Yesterday, we arrived by high-speed train from Paris, a simple thing normally but a relief when the rail workers are on strike. We were greeted with typical French hugs and kisses when we got off the train. (Jamaicans will be curling up in fetal positions qt the thought of two men kissing on the cheek, but it’s a common greeting worldwide, especially amongst French-speaking people even in west Africa, where the norm is two kisses each cheek.) Within minutes of our arrival, my daughter was headed to a swimming pool.

It’s heated, which is great because summer is still on its way here: 65-70 degrees fahrenheit is on the cards, a far cry from the 90+ we left in Kingston. A short while later, the two young women of the house (now 19 and 23) came home and greeted my daughter with more hugs and kisses. It was mid-afternoon.

We talked for a while, then the young ladies took my daughter out to look at the town centre, while the father and I headed off to a golf course. He’s retired early, too, and recently started to play. He has plans for my week that sound ideal 😉 The mother was left to relax for a while. When we all got back, it was time for the young ladies to have their own time. My daughter and I then talked with the parents, while getting ready to watch the first World Cup match of the day. France is seven hours ahead of Jamaica and I am not yet adjusted to watching games later in the day.

The parents and I talked freely in French, my daughter listened mostly. I suggested that she try to just pick up words and see how she went. We then decided it would be good to have everyone speak English so that my daughter could see and hear that the difficulties were shared. It was funny. We went through a period when I tried to make clear the differences between English words with the same sounds, but some had the same spelling but different meanings (sew, for instance), while some were spelt differently (so, for instance). It got interesting when I tried to pronounce clearly some words beginning with w (double v sound in French): word, world, weird, wash wish, whirl, etc. We played with some English chestnuts, like they’re, their, and there. Our hosts were getting a headache and it was dinner time.

Food is usually good to get people more relaxed. We continued our word play.

I’d brought some hot pepper sauce as a token gift. Everyone tried it, but only the father didn’t need an extinguisher. Our hosts told us what was in the meal (vegetable lasagna), and they learned that English people say pepper for both the vegetable (or fruit, green red, or yellow) and the spice. French has two words. Aubergine was the same in both languages. Onion (oignon) sounded similar. Garlic (ail, pronounced aye, in French) was not at all alike. So, we went on all evening. My daughter was getting bolder and began to name things in French, mostly cognates such as chocolate, or words she knew well like glace (ice cream). Everything we touched, we named in both languages.

The match between Brazil and Mexico started and we put language lessons aside in place of easily understood yells and groans. The French TV ads were interesting, not least because they focused on things different to the publicity in Jamaica. No LIME browse and talk or Grace products.

I was about 12 when I first went to France; my daughter is 10. I went on a school trip with a class and teachers, and we spent our time with French counterparts. We slept in our own lodgings, though had French catering, such as hot chocolate, bread and jam for breakfast. We toured with the French children and spent free time with them. We had a good command of French from our first year at secondary school.  Most of the French children spoke English well. We learned how they lived: going to bars was allowed, but no alcohol; riding two-stroke motorcycles (mobilettes) was the norm; uniforms were never worn by most French children. Being in a small family may seem intimidating to a child when everyone is older and not familiar. My daughter was very at ease with the family dog, even if she really didn’t understand English commands. The little one will progress, little by little.

My hosts had cancelled their visit to Jamaica planned for early this year; they wanted to have that and looked forward to improving their English. I warned them that Jamaican English may be easier for them to understand and speak, but was not like most other English. I gave a few examples, such as ‘wata’. They laughed as that was close to how many French people pronounced the word water.

I’m no linguist, but have a hard time not being able to communicate verbally when I travel, so I relish trying to learn a new language. Most people are not like me, and quail up if they have to try to speak. I told my daughter to free her voice box. Let the mistakes flow and fill in with whatever you know. Make sentences with gestures. Draw pictures. Whatever it takes, do it. I often talked to myself in a mirror, on the advice of a Russian teacher. Need often helps speed learning. My daughter wants to find some boutiques (a good French word) and look for arts and crafts (artisanat) items. She has some money and will find ways to spend it 🙂

Most Jamaicans have lived under the shelter of English and not embraced their foreign language neighbours, either French or Spanish. Jamaicans travel to non-English speaking countries to support our athletes, but not with much linguistic backing. I’m a firm believer that our lack of progress since Independence was made harder to break because of our reluctance to understand that we had some language gifts, being notionally bilingual. In my world, I would have had more young people going to non-English speaking countries to study, and made use of their language skills, like my Jamaican friend who studied medicine in Russia and is fluent in Russian. Small countries like ours need leverage in our people’s skills. Just doing what others do wont get us far. We need an edge. Language skills is one such. Look at small European countries and how they use their surrounding foreigner neighbours to make learning their languages seem so sensible. When you flip over several borders in a day it’s useful.

The children in most of Europe (and worldwide) learn English as the language of business. We have it already but cannot compete with it alone. In that sense, being Anglophone is a curse. Listen to many top athletes and how they function in English, if it’s not their mother tongue. Listen, too, to how they can often function in a third language. How do our stars stack up, for instance? How is Tuffy Anderson doing in El Salvador? I hope his Spanish is functional now. If Real Madrid want him next will he fall over his tongue?

We make light of our deficiencies, but the world doesn’t. We don’t see many of the lights that shine straight into our eyes.

Thinking out of the blocks. Is this what USAID wants?

Several days ago, I read a report about a call by the Mission Director for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Jamaica, Denise Herbol. She wanted more research into local traditional and new industries, to help spur Jamaica’s development. She was also reported as saying “Jamaica must develop new models … develop new partnerships either internally or at the international level to maximise impact.”

Not for the first time, ‘Champs’ (Boys and Girls High School Championships) shows what we have already as a Jamaican brand that may need to be developed to fuller international potential.

Yesterday, we saw the latest in the line of ‘products’ that are rolling off the ‘assembly line’ of Jamaica’s ‘sprint factory’. The product was not Jamaican-made, but is being ‘finished’ in Jamaica–we’re ‘adding value’. Zharnel Hughes, an Anguillan, who’s a student at Kingston College, won the Class 1 boys 100 meters in a new record time of 10.12 seconds.

Jamaica has one of the IAAF’s eight Regional High Performance Training Centres (HPTC), based at UTech. Hughes received a scholarship to the HPTC, and trains with Racers Track Club, the home of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir.

Previously, we were amazed by the sprinting of Delano Williams, who is from the Turks and Caicos Islands and studied at Munro College, St. Elizabeth, and won the 100 and 200 metres at the 2012 Jamaican National High School Track and Field Championships, becoming the first non-national to do so; he successfully defended his titles in 2013. Last year, he completed the IAAF transfer allegiance and is now eligible to compete for the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team in international competition; the Turks and Caicos Islands are not affiliated to the IOC.

Delano Williams, running for Munro College
Delano Williams, from Turks and Caicos, running for Munro College; now he runs for Great Britain and Northern Island.

From what I understand, Jamaica has not embarked on making the production of world-class sprinters an industry. Its help given to other Caribbean athletes is not new, but it’s notable, not just at school level. Admittedly, top-level athletes are likely to thrive in many situations, but Jamaican should exploit and promote its clear superiority in this field. The IAAF centres help. But, should it be only through that route?

The world has been fascinated by Jamaica’s sprint factory for years, and more so since the stunning successes of Usain Bolt, and a cohort of true world beaters. So, how can we monetize that comparative advantage that we have? How can we build a lasting legacy that helps Jamaica and world track and field? My simple mind says it cannot be hard to market the idea to countries wishing to challenge on the world’s track and field stages, rather than ‘importing’ and ‘buying’ athletes as do Qatar and Bahrain, with say Kenyan runners.

I’m not going to be the one to spell out all the steps. But, I can see or sense some of the problems. Apart from any sense of national superiority in their own systems, Americans may balk because living in Jamaica would be a challenge that many think they would not want to handle just for the chance to be a world beater. For them, the ‘executive’ program may need to be developed, eg, sprint summer camps. Over time, resistance may dwindle.

Runners from other developing countries may be the easiest natural targets, especially those on the cusp of producing world-class athletes already, eg, Nigeria. Like teams needing that extra something to get over the edge, maybe being finished in Jamaica will work wonders. National pride may get in the way, there, too, however. But, as all good athletes know, challenges are there to be overcome.

A smattering of international athletes come to Jamaica to train, but it needs to be a flood. Will it hurt us? I think not. We can improve them, but if they don’t have some basic ingredients that we do, not many of them will beat us. But, what if they do? We move up the value chain and keep coaching them.

I don’t know how much R&D is needed, but we’d better soon get on the wagon we are pulling. Who knows, the Chinese (to whom we’ve given some scholarships to attend our coaching college, G.C. Foster) may quickly learn to copy what we do and run with it, literally.



To the manner born

Kingston, Ash Wednesday, looking like a Sunday

Jamaica is not somewhere to stop pondering how life can be made better. Lent begins today, and it is a season of reflection in the Christian calendar. It began as a quiet day–a holiday here–and I want to keep it that way.

However, my mind remains active. So, I think I will put down some place holders for topics to pursue during coming days.

Many observers and commentators about Jamaica’s social problems have focused on the breakdown of certain types of social behaviour: The country has “gone to the dogs”. No one has any respect, anymore; it’s all about the individual not about the group, etc. Let’s simplify that by saying that people believe manners are worse now that at some time in the recent past (living memory being the line drawn, and that can be extended with the help of memories of grandparents or pictorial artefacts. However, it’s not easy to extract from how the world has changed and how Jamaican attitudes and behaviours have changed within that context. I’ve heard similar comments wherever I’ve lived.

Windrush passengers
1950s-60s men’s wear had a more formal look

Without undertaking a deep sociological study, I’ll take as a break point for Jamaica, 1962, the year of Independence, when the country could be said to be ‘on its own road’. Many older people in any society talk about the ‘good old days’, and for many Jamaicans that means when the British were in charge. (I sometimes wonder if in the 1860s people harked back to the days before the abolition of slavery, but let me not go down that slippery path.) For Jamaicans, it was during the preceding years that a mass exodus had begun to the ‘mother land’, seeking better fortunes.

During the 1950s/early 1960s, dress styles were more formal when people were ‘going out’ or ‘on show’: for men, jackets, pleated serge trousers, fancy shoes, hats, ties; for women, dresses that went below the knee, high-heeled shoes, hats, gloves. Nowadays, it is hard to distinguish between formal and informal wear: jeans and tee-shirts/polo shirts, with sneakers/sports shoes may be de rigeur for men, but trappings of formality (like bow ties and waistcoats) get merged casually; for women, hemlines have risen a lot, tight short pants can be the wear of choice, with low-cut blouses or other ‘revealing’ styles.

Modern mens wear is more casual for almost all occasions
Modern men’s wear is more casual for almost all occasions

I cite these as indicative of what people may see as suggestive that attitudes have changed.

However, a friend reminded me, that in the 1960s the view held by some then too was that things were not formal enough.

But, Jamaica has moved like most places of the world. Modern behaviour has left behind much formality. New forms of communication also mean that ideas spread almost instantaneously, and copying or borrowing from other cultures is now almost impossible to stop.

Likewise, we have issues when it comes to how young people function in society. If we simplify and say that in the 1950s/60s, the principle was that children should be seen and not heard. Nowadays, many believe that children have too much say in the lives of households, maybe ‘ruling’ their parents in some sense. My parents always encouraged me to speak up for myself and not to be afraid to challenge someone just because they were older or bigger. Maybe, my parents were abnormal. However, we know that society has many variations around the average.

The truth is that society is always out of kilter with itself, often seeing the past as some kind of Halcyon days. My friend, who just came to pick up her daughter after an impromptu sleepover, also reminded me of the wisdom shared by one of the world’s foremost philosophers, Socrates (circa 5th century BC): “Children nowadays are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannise their teachers.”

The world turns and turns and yet may not change that much. Nearly 3000 years and we’ve moved so far.

We never saw the ‘Ochi’ in Sochi

Social media trumps other current forms of media because of its ability to present information immediately. The structure of established media houses does not allow them to be everywhere, all of the time. Social media can be, or more correctly, people who use social media can be. So, we need not send out reporters because potential reporters are everywhere. Now, we accept that not everyone can present a concise and accurate report, free from bias, but some of what makes social media unique is that all views can be presented. We may need to use our own or develop filters to really appreciate what’s going on. With the addition of sound and pictures and video images, social media is the 24/7/365 news ‘channel’. That’s by way of context. My focus today, though, is how we in Jamaica seem to be crawling along this real ‘information superhighway’.

Some blogging associates and I were lamenting over the past few days the lack of apparent interest shown by Jamaican media for the Jamaican bobsled team in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. As they have done in the past, the Jamaican team energized the crowds and citizens of the winter games. We know the reasons: it’s a feel-good story. Guys from a tropical isle come to take on Titans of winter sports and MAY win. How great would that be? All the imagery of tropical life may be behind the interest. Coolness, relaxed, happiness. Social and economic interest may be there: rags to riches, postcolonial issues, economic stress, etc. Whatever you want, our bobsledders could have provided it, yet we heard nary a peep from the local press or television, except a lot of copy borrowed from foreign reporters.

Maybe I’m naive, but we had the means to get the stories ourselves.

If our media houses wanted to, they could have sent representatives-maybe they did, but judging by the different coverage this winter and in past summer games, I’d say they were ‘missing in action’.

Jamaica has an Embassy in Moscow; they could have been asked to offer some insights, from the great vantage point of already being in Russia and getting to understand the people and culture. Maybe, they were asked and declined; it may not be within their remit. But, I think that we could find creative solutions.

We could have gotten the sledders themselves to give us a ‘journal’.

Bobsledders going back to their roots
Bobsledders going back to their roots

They were already doing that for themselves on Twitter, and it would have been nice to just say have 500 words each day and some pictures of ‘Cool Runnings II in Sochi’ or ‘From Ochi to Sochi–view from the inside’, or whatever. People clamoured to be seen with the Jamaican bobsled team. You could have had an “I hugged a Russian today’ or ‘Look who I met in the Olympic village’ series of photos. You get the idea. We could also have just fed questions, or even better gotten the Jamaican public to feed questions and requested the sledders to respond. The papers have done this recently on ‘hot button issues’ such as crime, and getting views from Police COmmissioner Ellington. We would not need to filter, except for the nasty or overly personal questions. “What do you eat in Sochi? Can you get ackee and saltfish?” “Do other athletes find you hard to understand?” “Are you doing some undercover promotions for vacations in Jamaica?” Endless. Something like this would have been wonderful as a means of getting us to feel we were with the athletes, especially in an environment unknown to many Jamaicans or Caribbean people. We could have done more to understand the origins of the ‘boblsled anthem‘. Plenty to work with.

I’ve travelled a lot to Russia, and in the winter, and it’s full of things to which we can relate and much that we cannot. Vodka for breakfast, to ward off the icy cold? What’s it like walking on bumpy icy sidewalks every day? How do you cope with the Cyrillic alphabet. but, whoever was in charge of covering the games did not seem to have a clue about using what we were being handed. Instead, we got to see how the rest of the world revelled and marvelled at what the ‘Bob(Marley)sledders” were doing. We got a video clip of one sledding ‘dancing’ with American sprinter-turned-sledder Lolo Jones. We related to that. Wuking up and wining. Yeah!

Our media could have taken and shared better lessons in fundraising. I hear representatives of sports in Jamaica–even those which we think are well supported, like football–crying out “We need more private sector support”. The sledders showed how it could be done. Maybe, their story was more compelling that the team in ‘Dustytown’ somewhere in Jamaica. Bu, you have to present your case. I wont go down the road of ‘dependency culture’ here. Again, with social media, getting the information and message together is much simpler. Even, if we wanted to, we could ahve had contact with those who run crowdfunding sites, looked at other examples, tried to contact those who helped with funding…anything.

Instead, my impression–and I apologise unreservedly if The Gleaner and The Observer or TVJ or SPortsmax were trying to do any of this and it just passed me by. I will go down on my knees at a public place of their bidding and prostrate myself. Put me in stocks and let passers-by belt me with bananas, if I am wrong. (By the way, if the stocks idea comes into play, I would suggest that Jamaica Producers get involved and we charge people to throw bananas, with the proceeds going to the bobsledders for their next campaign.)

So, here is where I plant my flag. We are in serious need of getting out of our comfort zone and dragging ourselves to where many in the world are racing. We have great sprinters in our midst–did you watch this weekend’s Gibson Relays–but we are also snails-paced in seeing ideas and making them real for ourselves. Money is not why we are struggling in many areas; it’s an inability to act quickly and see how that furthers our interests.

I look again at the potential that we have and what we do not value. I think of projects that have been run where children were given cheap cameras and asked to take and share their views of the world. One such venture involved autistic children. Another, similar idea was a photographic ‘conversation’ a father had with his autistic child.Screenshot 2014-02-24 05.42.12 I cite those because they helped us see a world that is visible that we don’t see. So, too, with Sochi. The Games were not just the races and events we saw on television. We really lost the chance for our Jamaican view of that to come to us live and direct and in real-time. An opportunity lost, but one that should be grasped firmly whenever we can.