Monday, 9 July 2007

Pitch lake, Trinidad

One time we were up at the pitch lake with some visitors and these Americans drove up in a big car and parked. We tried to tell them, well my dad did that if they parked there they would not be able to drive away as the car would sink in the pitch.

Well they were very rude and patronising, and they knew better. They did not want to listen and much to everyone satisfaction a couple of hours later there were shrieks and wails to be heard by the same Americans who could no longer drive home proudly in their Chevrolet. It was well stuck in the Trinidad pitch lake.

I still recall this with schadenfreude all these years later, must be well over forty, with much pleasure. I remember we drove away abit later and looking out of our rear window with delight at the stuck car. Oh well they had been very rude and patronising to us all.

My uncle Edgar was wonderful; he was the funniest man alive full of stories, always told with dry expression and lots of eye rolling. He had this dance, which he called neck and shoulder dancing which he did for us it involved him contorting himself like a pelican trying to clean itself in polite company.

His neck and shoulders would jiggle from one side to the other with the head being wagged about and pointing the face first up one way an then another in quite a formal manner and this was accompanied by lots of strange facial expressions. He would always try and involve others and get them to join in much to the amusement of the onlookers.

When he died auntie Gussie was so grief stricken, she had been kept totally ignorant that he was seriously ill and was not prepared for him dying. The day of the funeral we were all at the cemetery and auntie was crying steadily as she had been doing for two days then the moment happened where the family throw earth on to the coffin and she did but then she threw herself onto the coffin screaming” oh Edgar…my heart my life is over oh take me too oh take me too”

Everyone was appalled at her letting herself go quite like that, ok to being emotional we all are it’s a trini thing but this type of emotion well was this not a trifle too raw too real? I was the only one being young who did not condemn her and she clung to me. Poor auntie Gussie.

It had come as a big shock to me even though I had been aware that uncle had been very sick, the last time I saw him he was obviously really bad and he was trying to show how he could eat food and was being fed jello by the nurse to show auntie how well he was doing.

Dad told me this story of buying a Royal Enfield motorcycle to impress a young woman called Clarinda. As soon as he could the very next weekend he got on his motorbike and rode out to visit his beauty in Central Trinidad.

On the way he had a series of small misfortunes on the bike getting lost and ending up with it running out of petrol not far from her house. He felt like turning round and going back but no he carried on walking, getting hot and sticky and extremely thirsty.

Horror when he arrived there was a fine sports car parked in the drive someone else had got there first and even worse a chap he knew was already sharing the couch. The other fellow, Lance seemed to sneer as they said their hello’s, it was clear that he thought he was the winner.

And of course he was as was only too evident in the way he was greeted. Clarinda seemed delighted to see Pelham but the young woman while friendly only had eyes for Lance who promised her a ride in his car.

After tea and sandwiches and a polite interval later dad said his goodbyes. On the way past the abandoned motorbike he kicked it into the ditch could not bear to ever see it again.

Happy Trinidad stories must contain your everyday stories of commonplace brutality, like the stories I was told of school days at the big very expensive and exclusive boys school run by brothers.

The brothers had a reign of terror, which they enforced by extreme brutality. Pupils were hit as a matter of course, every time the teacher walked past their chair in class they were hit over the back of the head.

Someone told me he got beaten so bad one time they broke his leg, luckily his family got him out and he was treated in hospital. They did this to control them to break the boys spirits so they could be moulded into good cowed Christian boys and model citizens. Also these boys were going to be captain’s of industry and they would need to know how to brutalise in their turn.

Other happy go lucky stories involve running over animals who wander onto the road, and as not all drivers will make sure they can either help or if they have fatally wounded an animal will check and if there is nothing else they can do make sure the animal is put out of its misery by running over it again in the car.

Trinidadians are taught to be tough about that sort of stuff. We can be friends with an animal one minute and curry it the next. The same mentality that says ‘ach Erika let the child eat some dirt its good for she” and or ” a little bit of dirt never did anyone any harm” That same cheery mentality will happily call people niggers but insist that they do not mean it in a bad way!

Why the hell did we leave Trinidad?
Still can’t understand why we left. What were the real reasons? All I ever knew was that” we left so I could get a good English education”. Auntie Jo says they left because they were damn fools who would not take advice and who once it did not work out in England, were too proud to accept help to go home.

The year after we had left the job my dad had wanted for a long time finally was available. In 1997 I hear that all the family had said” Pelham wait another couple years the job is yours but no he did not want to hear, he and your mother were set on their plans and that was that”

Auntie Jo, herself a teacher, also told me in 1997 that my teachers at my primary school had been idiots, that they knew nothing, she had seen that I was a bright child but they had not picked up on the same signs, they saw me as being disruptive, not as someone who was bored because she was quick and had read everything already. But someone who caused trouble in class.

What I needed was education not repetitive exercises with no purpose. My reading was really good before I went to school, as I was reading already and books for older readers. Not really surprising with my favorite auntie being a teacher. Also I went to a pre-school school and was very much encouraged to read there.

My best friends mum ran the preschool and very much encouraged me to read and express myself. The English primary School cold not cope and had to take me back down to their perceived reading levels for a kid of 6. Nothing like the books I was reading which already included some Jane Austin. Books I still read and of course understand more thoroughly than the first reading when I was 6.

Apparently the head mistress told my dad that there would be no point them waiting for me to do the 11 plus as I stood little chance of passing the exam. Auntie Jo said this was rubbish, that I was a very bright intelligent child. Which made me happy on the one hand and also sad, so all those ago years I had not been stupid just not educated.

Gradually there emerges a story of catholic guilt fuelled by the catholic establishment and all the nobs in Trinidad. Because my dad had been married and then got divorced and then remarried in a registry office, he was not allowed to marry in church, I am seen by the church as a child born from an unsanctioned marriage- a bastard. Apparently one day at mass the Bishop of Trinidad remarked to my father that he was surprised to see he was still in Trinidad considering that he was such an embarrassment.

Why the hell did we go to England?
From living in Trinidad surrounded by family and knowing lots of people to living in Reading and knowing no one was a hell of a change. It was weird being referred to as the German woman’s daughter. The nuns at the convent school in Hendon, had shouted at me until my trini accent was gone

My poor de-accented voice was now described as posh by stupid fools at the local school; kept as fools too by (some violent) teachers who did not come to work to teach but to keep us scum controlled until we started that factory job or time in prison. Surely this was not what we left Trinidad for?

The nuns predecessors in Trinidad, the teachers at the English school had tied my left hand behind my back when they found out I was left-handed. Imagine yourself doing that to a child tying their left hand behind their back and make them relearn writing instantly with their right hand and write as good if not better than the others. And why, well because it was supposed to be a sign of the devil. …. And we went to England?

My mum still cooked and baked like we knew lots of people and had family who were likely to pop by. Christmas it was very noticeable as mum baked a mountain of biscuits and cakes and we had to eat a huge turkey with all the trimmings, and then endlessly sandwiches and salads for days and days after Christmas and of course the ham on the bone my dad got from his work.

All the surplus food reminded us of all the people far away in Trinidad and those others closer in Germany. We had too much, it had to be eaten otherwise it was wasted. So we were always particularly fat and miserable around and after Christmas.


Rhapsody said...

Blessings Herrard....

Love the pitch lake story, do you know i grew up in Trinidad and never been? Can you believe it. Delightful story.

Herrad said...

Hi Rhapsody,

Thanks for cominig by and reading this.

Good to get your comment.

Have a good weekend.


Gerry said...

You left a comment on my blog so I came to this one and was quite intrigued by your stories of Trinidad and moving to England. I, too, was a precocious child like you when it came to reading, and I suppose the world over people don't know what to do with such a child. My aunt seemed to regard my excessive reading as somewhat of a mental illness and begged me to atleast become a pep girl so I would be better accepted at school! Ironic that in England your intelligence would not be more valued.

Herrad said...

Hi Gerry,
Thanks for coming by here too.
Good to see your comment.
You are right that it was strange that my intelligence was not valued.
Am amazed your aunt thought your reading was a sign of mental illness.

Bekkie In Wonderland said...

Loved this blog! I had a laff at the Americans having their car sunk into the muck, so funny! I laffed at the fact that you all have to gain weight at the holidays so you don't waste food. I have never heard your voice, but you made me curious about how you do sound. Lol! Thanks for the good reads and big hugs! ♥