Columns

On roads and demonstrations

Lance Neita

Saturday, January 18, 2014    

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ISLINGTON in St Mary appears to be the latest township demonstrating over poor road conditions. From the reports, Islington is a bit of a fortress as all exits and entrances are in poor condition, and the citizens have taken to the streets, but by foot.

Roads are sensitive areas to tread on if the public is not satisfied that it is getting proper returns on moneys paid to the tax collector. Citizens have resorted to demonstrations time and again over roads, water, electricity, alleged police misconduct, and not necessarily in that order. The media coverage given to these outbursts provide a voice for persons who are otherwise unable to attract the cameras by making a speech in the dining rooms of the Terra Nova or the Pegasus.

It's equal time, folks, and the demonstrators play it out for what it's worth. Every second on the TV counts, and if they have a point to make, why not make it with all the drama and passion and wheeling and spinning around that, for my money, is more fascinating than the boring cold fish speeches made by politicians, private sector organisations, and service club presidents at their formal affairs.

One thing is certain, the road demonstrations may not reap long-term results, but in the short term it proves to be the quickest way to get the councillor or the member of the Parliament to respond. Nowadays we notice that the councillor or 'caretaker' is usually sent out by the MP to announce that "even as we speak material is on its way, and I have it on good authority that repairs will start forthwith by tomorrow."

So even if tomorrow neve comes, the demonstrators have secured their evening spot on the news and earned a round of fine entertainment and instant stardom, at least for that one day.

The truth is that demonstrations have their cycle and the agencies responsible for the project know this, so they play for time and hope that another crisis will develop which will take up the attention of the media in some other space by the next day.

But not all demonstrations are one-stop events as some of us have discovered to our quandary. I have been on the wrong end of demonstrations during my career and have had to play eyeball games with the perpetrators for several days. A roadblock for more than a day, is a serious thing and demonstrators have found the energy and the time to keep up the pressure and on occasions win the battle.

But demonstrations also have their funny side, as the temptation to play bad man on TV is strong and has lent itself to caricature, sometimes to the loss of the aggrieved party.

There was occasion when I addressed a protest outside the gate of my company, identified the leaders, and arranged for a meeting under calmer conditions. On turning to go back to my office, satisfied that I had secured a breathing space, the ringleader, called to me "Missa Neita, Missa Neita yu cyan go way yet sah." "Why not?" "TVJ no come yet sah." Both of us were obviously scripted to play star roles on the news that night. Unfortunately for my young friend, I had to dash his hopes.

We take our roads seriously. One of the most frightening things is when a pregnant woman or a sick child cannot reach the doctor or the hospital because of bad roads. Farmers and their produce are sometimes marooned and unable to get to the market especially if heavy rains have made the roads, bad enough under normal conditions, impassable.

Tessanne's quip about our road conditions in Jamaica upset the authorities, but we all have to concede that the majority of our roads, once you leave our excellent highways, are second and third class to say the least.

Conversely, Jamaica is said to have once had the best road network system in the world, and certainly the colonial engineers formerly in charge of the PWD laid down some incredibly outstanding roadways around corners, uphill, and through rough terrain that were safe for driving and getting around until time took its toll (no pun intended).

Melrose Hill and Spur Tree Hill roads in Manchester were engineering feats, same for Long Hill in St James, and the James Hill road in Clarendon, where some of the most beautiful views take you unawares. Include the main road from Port Morant around the coast to Boston, and the famous Mount Diablo and Mount Rosser in St Catherine. The ribbon and double corners were well executed, and I remember the most frightening experiences travelling downhill on a bus around sour-sop corner on the Chapleton road. Spur Tree corner also leaves you breathless, sadly today it still accounts for tragic accidents if trucks lose their brakes and careen down the hill towards St Elizabeth.

I recall the stories of a very strange spot at the bottom of Spur Tree Hill on the border of St Elizabeth at Gutters where drivers would often pause to prove a point that vehicles could coast freewheel and uphill for a few yards, this one was never proven in my lifetime, but would have been one for the Guiness Book of Records.

Cecil Lloyd Allen

Speaking of the Spur Tree route that was the road taken by students returning to Munro College by car from the eastern end of Jamaica. C Lloyd Allen, who died on Tuesday, was my very good friend from those days. We both entered Munro the same year and were 'interred' in the same house, Pearman. From those early days C Lloyd was a colourful character who could bluster his way in and out of every situation, stamping his personality on almost every aspect of Munro life in sports, score sessions, Hampton romances, and teasing masters.

He was absolutely loyal to his friends and to his school, and up to his death maintained contact with Munronians around the world. He tried his hand at every game and sometimes made the team more out of an extraordinary confidence in himself rather than skill. I remember his warning remarks to other hopefuls who were called upon to try out for the school cricket team, "many are called but few are chosen".

No surprise that he captained the Jamaica tennis team and as president of the boxing board heaven knows what prevented him from putting on the gloves to engage in a match or two (unfortunately there was no extra lightweight division in which he could try his hand).

We had a long conversation at the Pegasus one morning recently, where he had gone for a tennis match and we rapped for over an hour about Munro days, Munro personalities, and mutual school friends around the world.

Our last conversation was on the telephone a couple months ago when he upbraided me for not writing a column about Munro in the 1950s, and in fact ordered me in his inimitable style to do so. I will miss him, as will his countless other friends, and expect to hear from him in respect to this column, "What happen Neita, you couldn't do better than that?" Walk good, C Lloyd.

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

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