Columns

How I spent my summer holidays

LANCE NEITA

Sunday, July 20, 2014    

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WITH World Cup finally out of the way, everything is back to normal in Jamaica. 'Normal' meaning that we now have more time to pay to, or for, the high cost of living, the Commissioner Ellington issue, water woes, the heat, Professor Bain and the UWI, a noticeable spike in crime reports since the television went back to ordinary news, and the JLP wranglings in court over the Arthur Williams case.

We are more at home with this day-to-day sorting out of our lives, although for those three glorious weeks we enjoyed fantasy land where football dominated our conversations and remained the prized topics of each day.

Just for a moment there we thought that the visit of IMF chief Madame Christine Lagarde would have been a distraction, but fortunately she spent only two days and we got her out of the way before the real football thing heated up on TV.

Madame Lagarde had very favourable ratings for the Government on its fiscal policies, but it seemed to me that as charming as she was, her utterances and pronouncements were delivered with a tinge of haughtiness and know-what's-good-for-you air that didn't go down well with everyone.

In the true European grand manner she didn't have much time for the Opposition and treated their well publicised letter as if it were a side dish she hadn't ordered.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips is now the poster boy for the IMF and deserves our full congratulations for regaining the confidence of the international financial community. I get the nagging feeling, however, that the IMF needs Jamaica as much as we need it. Madame Lagarde herself admitted that the IMF has a negative image earned from the strict policies and regulations which have made it a hard taskmaster, especially for poor countries.

Jamaica's cosiness with the IMF is therefore a public relations coup for that organisation, a signal to the world that it has a heart, walks with kings, but has the common touch.

So now the lady is gone, and it's back to reality. There are good reports of improvements to the primary surplus, fiscal deficit, net international reserves, and balance of payments. But in the meantime the average Jamaican is also doing his own balancing act to try to cope with the strut and sweat of stretching credit at the shop and at the bank.

What is worse is that the mango season is ending. On a trip through St Mary recently I saw only black mangoes and a new one for me, the 'flat' mango. Everywhere you go the crop is ending, unless you are driving through Bog Walk where they seem to have an inexhaustible supply of East Indian mangoes for sale in the gorge.

For those who don't know, mango season is an important part of the budget balancing act, as mangoes mean that you can put down your pot and substitute preparing lunch and dinner with a hefty mango feed.

During my school days mangoes were also a very important part of our summer holidays.

We spent the days roaming the fields to pick all types of mangoes -- Common, Hairy, Blackie, Julie, East Indian, Bombay, Aden, Turpentine, Number 11, Stringy, Fine Skin, Green Gauge, and the riskily named Titi mango.

With the Denbigh Agricultural Show just around the corner I remember that Denbigh was also a popular must-do for our summer holidays. The showground was only four miles from our village, and each August we walked the distance religiously to and from without giving a thought to sun, rain, or shine.

Denbigh was the show, the fair, the big tent come to town. It was a day for crowds, family reunions, three-card professionals, music, ringside, pop corn, chewing gum and mint stick.

And oh yes, the agriculture, the livestock, and the cattle judging. As a 4-H clubbite I took part one year in the poultry competitions, exhibiting my Rhoade Island chickens to win a prize which was promptly confiscated by my mother to buy school books.

But for young boys the livestock and the agricultural produce took second place to the excitement generated by the exhibitions, colourful pavilions, the concerts, and running into long-lost cousins and uncles whom you could bait for a threepence or a sixpence spending money.

We always headed first to the Milo booth for free cups of the ice-cold delicious beverage. Then we toured the parish pavilions, paused at the fishing pond, watched the parades, stepped carefully through the animal holding area to avoid any ground spill, and kept out of the way of the dignitaries as they strode imperiously around the grounds.

A point of interest was the train halt where we watched passengers alighting from the coaches specially laid on by the Jamaica Government Railway for patrons travelling from Kingston, Frankfield and Montego Bay. It was also at that point years later, 1966, that I strained through the crowds to get a look at His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, who was on a State Visit to Jamaica and was touring the island by train, escorted by the acting prime minister the Honourable Donald Sangster.

Denbigh always provided close-ups of faces seen only in the newspapers. In our time we urchins managed to peep over the barricades to get a glimpse of Norman Manley, Rudolph Burke, Percy Broderick Snr, Rose Leon, Tom Girvan, Sir Hugh Foot, President Munoz Marin from Puerto Rico, and the many other dignitaries who made Denbigh a compulsory stop on their official visit to Jamaica.

I remember a black limousine threading its way cautiously through long lines of spectators in 1955. We waved to a pale, thin and scared-looking face in the back seat, none other than Her Royal Highness, the young Princess Margaret.

It was at Denbigh that I was treated to my first insight into Sir Alexander Bustamante's sense of humour. He had just returned from the 1962 Commonwealth Conference where he had made an impression when he warned that the establishment of the European Common Market posed a threat to the continued existence of the Commonwealth.

"They (his political detractors) said I couldn't make a speech, but I told the prime ministers that the Common Market was like a knife cutting through the heart of the Commonwealth, and it got the headlines," he said as he addressed the Denbigh opening ceremony. Then he chuckled. "Is a sharp knife. It sharper than Dr Eldemire knife."

Dr Herbert Eldemire, his minister of health, enjoyed a hearty laugh sitting in the stands beside his chief.

There was one place we children couldn't visit. It was a tree in the centre of the grounds, and like the instructions to Adam and Eve, we were warned to keep our distance.

It was, of course, the famous Logwood Tree Bar, a Mecca for farmers from Hanover to St Thomas who made a tradition of setting up appointments "to meet me under the tree" each year.

Denbigh is now a three-day show coinciding with the August 1 Emancipation Day. The following week we celebrate Independence Day, two public holidays barely a few days apart.

The granting of two holidays within five days of each other still continues to confound me. It surely represents an enormous amount of time and money, and for business and industry, a stop and start.

This double holiday was introduced in 1997 so that we could bring back the August 1 Emancipation Day into full focus. As far as I am concerned we could have rolled the two holidays into one without losing any significance or meaning, and celebrate both events on the first Monday of August, thus guaranteeing a long weekend as had been the case since 1962. I think political considerations had their way, as the Government of the day earned extra plaudits for bringing back Emancipation Day.

Don't get me wrong. I fully recognise and appreciate the importance of August 1, and have always celebrated this epoch-making day with several communities and districts that never gave up on their celebrations, as the first Monday was firmly engraved in hearts and minds since Emancipation Day 1834.

One village in St Ann, Dumbarton, will again be marching in time-honoured tradition with drums and singing from home base to Puerto Seco Beach (three miles) and back home again for run-down and banana on August morning. The Seville Emancipation celebration night is also a landmark and a tradition.

It's going to be a long hot summer. But we should have plenty to do and to think about. And at the end of it, remember you will have to turn in your composition to teacher on 'How I spent my summer holidays'.

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. Comments to the Observer or to lanceneita@hotmanil.com

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