IN A DISPATCH from London published on Tuesday, Jamaica Observer staffer Ingrid Brown reports under the headline: "London crawls back to normality". It was a "morning after the night before" account of the high of recent weeks being replaced by the lows of everyday life, the fading of the glitz and the excitement, a return to the same-old, same-old reality. We know what it means.
Symbolic of our national excitement was seeing Half-Way-Tree "ketch a fire" watching "Jamma's" finest tearing up the tracks, catapulting us into the record books. Today, Half-Way-Tree is back to the transportation rush, the vending chacka-chacka and all the push and shove of everyday existence.
Just as I was getting set to voice my view that Half-Way-Tree Square be designated a special place associated with Olympic triumph, a letter writer to this paper beat me to the tape. On Tuesday, Garth Rattray of a Kingston 10 address recommended that Half-Way-Tree be renamed Olympic Square, in commemoration of the fellowship and displays of patriotism by people of all classes, colours and creeds who came together to watch the races and to celebrate the results in a spirit of oneness. From another source, I was told that among the amazing moments was the sight of people who do not usually honour the National Anthem, linking arms with people they did not even know and lustily singing: "Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love".
When I gave Garth's letter a second reading, it turned out that the suggestion did not originate with him but with a friend named Ellen. Respect, my girl. Now that the idea is out there, it needs to be looked at seriously. There is the real possibility of Jamaica attracting visitors lured here by the celebrity status which our athletes have brought us. For such a time like this, we could do well with more places of interest, especially in the capital city. Half-Way-Tree has been the scene before this where people have gathered for celebrating previous sporting high moments. It has also been the venue for the launch of election campaigns, patriotic rallies and demonstrations. It has enough of a history to consider it a landmark.
London's Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park need not fear being dethroned, but Half-Way-Tree can boast of being host to important speakers too. For one, the park is named in honour of Nelson Mandela, a name respected across the world. Poets have chanted their lyrics and musicians shared their talents there. The big screens which are now fixtures for mega events could be used, not for propaganda but valuable messages benefiting citizens in learning and public education.
If we were to agree to an Olympic Square, there are some challenges, however. We will need a serious clean-up and re-possession of the area. It has been done before, but despite the best efforts each time, Half-Way-Tree slips back into its own mode of indiscipline. The street-vending, once so vigorously monitored, has engulfed the area, especially to the east of the clock tower, heading up Hope Road. The chaos is as bad, if not worse than the worst of downtown. For some reason, the authorities have turned a blind eye and are engaged in a hands-off policy this time.
The park where flowers bloomed and poets came to read has been hijacked once again. The taxis have multiplied and so has the unruliness, while the authorities seem too overwhelmed to try to control it one more time. Store owners seem to have given up in the struggle to keep sidewalk vendors from camping at their doors. Is Half-Way-Tree worth saving? Since we have such pride in what we did in London, could we create order and beauty out of the present chaos? Or could talk of an Olympic Square be another futile dream? However we cut it, this might be the last chance to recover the pride which was felt in those magic moments when the spirit of Half-Way-Tree reflected the best of the best in us. It could come back again, if we want...
APART FROM an Olympic Square dream, what other considerations are in the offing to commemorate our triumphs in London? Up to press time I was not aware of the government's plans. Our athletes have not been returning home en bloc. Some have gone elsewhere to fulfil other obligations. Had they returned all together, it would be easier to have one big triumphant procession into the city for a welcome ceremony. You may recall that after Beijing, arrangements had to be made for athletes to assemble in Miami and be flown home together for the parades. How it will be handled this time when we have no national airline to help subsidise fares is another matter.
Some voices are being raised against a public holiday. The rationale - we've lost enough productive time already. These are not the days of the Reggae Boyz when we surprised ourselves and the world by excelling in an unexpected manner. We deserved a day off, but who remembers that instead of uniting us, the gesture created a furore among some people who took the opportunity to flagellate Prime Minister PJ Patterson, taunting him for wasting time. On this occasion, when our Olympians have brought us international attention far more than even the Boyz earned for us, the warning flag is going up against any time-off extravagance. How then to honour the recent powerful achievements without creating more acrimony?
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO has no such problem. When their sole gold medallist, Keshorn Walcott, the amazing javelin thrower, went home earlier this week, it was to a full hero's welcome with fellow citizens on a day off, free to fete in his honour. T&T can afford it, not only time off but lavish gifts as well. The bounty is impressive. He takes home TT$1 million to invest as he will... one house worth TT$2.5 million in a historic Port of Spain neighbourhood... the establishment of a housing development to benefit the citizens of Toco, the rural village from which he came... the naming of a Caribbean Airlines aircraft in his honour... and the re-naming of a landmark lighthouse also.
There's more... a scholarship to the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), and it's not finished yet - his coach will be put in charge of an "elite throwers programme to nurture future talents in field events". The young man struck gold all the way. One can only imagine what rewards await the other Trinis for bringing home the bronze from the 4 x 400m relay, having moved into the winners' circle when disqualification overtook Canada. "What drop from head drop pon shoulder" (Jamaican ancestral knowledge).
So what will WE be doing to express our gratitude for the four gold, four silver,
four bronze which our team bagged? We don't have a generous bank account, so how can a grateful nation say thanks? Here's my take... Give GC Foster College a full makeover in the name of our grand victory. Put the institution into the tip-top shape it so badly needs. Invest in the best of everything and make it accessible to the primary and secondary schools which cannot afford celebrity coaches and designer-training facilities. In the name of today's achievers, let us create a real landmark for the future.