IT IS AGREED... if you missed it, you missed something. We're talking of the Military Tattoo which brought drama and excitement to Up Park Camp last weekend. The historians recall that it was in 1933 that the first of these military spectacles was held at Up Park Camp. In the spirit of the times, the reports say, "the burning of Moscow" was created. There was war on the global stage and the British Empire, of which we were a part, was deeply involved.
In 1953, the second Tattoo was staged to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second (the same one still going strong even now). The third in the Tattoo series took place in 1968. Came 1983 and the ritual was repeated to mark the 21st anniversary of the Jamaica Defence Force's inauguration in 1962 (Independence year). And so, here we are in 2012, celebrating Jamaica 50, which brought the crowds flocking to Up Park Camp for a spectacle the likes of which most of today's Jamaicans had never seen before.
The hype for this event promised "four colourful nights of pomp, pageantry and military precision that will delight and amaze spectators". That it did. When I got there on Saturday night: sell-off. The ground "cork", as the people say. Some sources say it exceeded the 8,000 who attended on Friday night. Up Park Camp was the ideal venue. Nowhere else on the island could have facilitated the complex requirements for performance space, spectator-seating, parking, sanitation facilities, food court, etc. It was all there, well managed.
Behaviour was impeccable, no shoving, no bumping, no boring. You don't mess with the military. Who would want to upset soldiers, especially on their home ground? "Duppy know who fi frighten." On the field, which was the equivalent of a stage, one breathtaking spectacle after another followed in rapid succession. The JDF, the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Island Special Constabulary Force, Drum Corps, Jamaica Fire Brigade, Combined Cadet Corps and Combined Display Team, the Army Corps of Engineers, plus the combined regimental bands of the local forces and the bands from abroad.
They came from Canada, USA, England, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago, playing from bagpipes to steel pans along with standard band instruments. The Guyana Defence Force stopped our breath with the risky parachute jumps simulating Harpy eagles, a giant species of bird familiar to South America, soaring in the cold night sky, then floating gracefully to earth. This was one of my favourite acts, especially how the parachusists made a risky task seem easy. Sadly, the leader of the group was injured in a practice jump on his first day here, but his three colleagues kept on going.
Everybody found something to applaud. An elderly gentleman confessed with delight that his favourite was the manoeuvres of the women's division of our military. The twinkle returned to Pop's eyes as he relived not only their precision but "di riddim in di waist" as they kept time to reggae and the latest dancehall rhythms. There's a rumour that our JDF queens could represent us at Trinidad and Tobago's 50th celebrations. I have no evidence to that effect, but why not?
WITH A CAST OF OVER 800 the show moved briskly for two and a half hours with laughter, spectacle and pathos, none so moving as the simulation of a fallen soldier, fatally shot in battle, reminding us of the ultimate sacrifice which members of our security forces can pay in protecting us. Soloist Warrant Officer Class 1 Moulton (that's how they say it in military lingo) provided an emotional rendition of R Kelly's A Soldier's Heart, while other uniformed people gathered round. You'd have to be iron-tough not to be moved.
Like everything theatrical, there were areas of the total production which could have been tightened to make it even more effective. Some items could have been edited and trimmed for better effect. Some would have benefited from more focused spotlighting, but overall, the audience loved not just the technical effects but the fitness of the participants who were in peak form.
The programme began and ended with evening prayer said by a chaplain of the JDF (Revd Major Denston Smalling) and the playing of our National Anthem for which most people stood. Others still need to learn the meaning of respect. Sponsors can make or break an event. The forest of feather banners - the hottest fashion in promotions, was testimony to the generous support given to the Tattoo. Here's hoping that same spirit of generosity will be repeated when Jamaica 50 takes the stage in a few weeks time.
KUDOS: Much kudos is due for the overall production. Salute to Warrant Officer Class 1 Bandmaster Hird (Shaun, to me), who conducted the mass band of over 300 musicians from the Defence Force, Jamaica Constabulary and Island Special Constabulary. Hats off to Lt Col Jaimie Ogilvie, second-generation JDF, son of the legendary Nestor Ogilvie, who headed the 21-member production team, which was a blend of civilian and military experience. See what we can do when we work together?
Compliments were paid to the designers who created the backdrop depicting Newcastle. The Buckingham Palace one didn't really work for me. "Too squinch-up". The focus on Newcastle raised the question of when action will be taken to save the facility from extinction. Lack of resources has been said to be the reason for the neglect, but that alone cannot be the answer. The Army Corps of Engineers is highly adept at construction. Why their expertise is not being put to use to save Newcastle is a mystery.
SO FAR AS JAMAICA 50 goes, now that bi-partisanship (or is it something else?) has won the day, let's move on with getting Jamaica 50 into high gear. As to the fires which were being stoked, hear ye, the words of the president of the Jamaica Council of Churches, Archbishop Donald Reece, who has called for an end to the kass-kass over the alleged Jamaica 50 songs. Some disciples of war are still taking jabs, but it seems that many others are prepared to move on. If only it were so easy to get past the nasty, bhutto behaviour in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
GORDON HOUSE WAR: We've had some ugly outbursts in Gordon House in the past, but Tuesday's could well be the worst in recent times. What in hell's name got into adults, who are assumed to know better, but opted instead for a real, dutty tracing match? That it occurred in what is meant to be a place of honour, even moreso in the year when national pride should be in the forefront, adds to the disgust being expressed everywhere. Each side will hold on to right and some are indeed "more wrong" than the other, but it takes two to quarrel. There are no winners here. The popular view on the street is that "the whole lotta dem should be suspended from the House until they go dip inna healing stream till they can prove that they are clean. Everyone of them owes this nation an apology". What is truly awful is that some of the ringleaders were not novices to parliamentary order.
WHAT NEXT? Will this episode just fade into the shadows like everything else? Good sense and sensibility would demand that both sides of the aisle sit down together, come to an agreement and pledge to set a better example, if not for themselves but the people they claim to lead. If peace is to prevail, there must be settlement of the colour clash about whose green and whose orange rules. You'd think it would be settled by now. We can't continue to fight foolishness.