“NO REGRETS” An Autobiography By Neil Giuseppi.
The following excerpts are from Chapter One of my autobiography, NO REGRETS, which was published in August 2013.
THE EARLY YEARS
“Bring back the old time days
Bring back them old time ways
I know everything must change
But I still love the old time days.”
Richard “Nappy” Mayers
My earliest memories in life were centred around our house at Green Street in Arima, 41A to be precise. I was not born there. I was actually born on Industry Lane, near to the Arima Savannah but I have absolutely no recollection of the house there.
I was the second child of Neville and Undine Giuseppi and was born on August 24th, 1948. My sister, Diana, is one year and ten months older that I am. She entered this world on October 6th, 1946.
My father worked at the Ministry of Works while my mother spent her entire career in the teaching profession.
My parents bought the house on Green Street in 1950 when I was two years old and so all of my childhood memories are concentrated in that area which is just one block away from the legendary Dial and therefore almost in the heart of the chartered borough.
They paid the princely sum of Three Thousand Dollars ($3,000.00) for the house and struggled to make the monthly payments since their combined salaries were barely sufficient to meet the mortgage payments and all of the other necessities of life.
My daughters today find it almost incomprehensible that anyone could pay that kind of money for an entire house. I also found it incredible in my youth but my subsequent experiences in life have taught me differently.
The house was located between Mr. Theo La Rose’s office on the left and the Barnes family home to the front. Mr. La Rose, I believe, was a solicitor and on a daily basis we could see his various clients entering and leaving the building. My parents were friendly with him but neither my sister, Diana nor I really ever got to know him very well.
Reynold and Pearl Barnes had three children when we were small. There was the eldest daughter, Angela, and then Robbie and Merle who were closer to my age. Many years later, a fourth child, Marlene, was born but she was so much younger than we were that she was never really part of our “friend” circle.
A fence separated our house from the Hop Wo Laundry on the right. The spot where the laundry was situated is at the corner of Green and Queen Streets and that location is currently occupied by TSTT.
The owners of the laundry had three children, whose Chinese names were Sulan, Mealan and Ulan. Sulan went on to make a name for himself in the world of entertainment as a playwright and actor. People know him now as Raymond Choo Kong.
Many well-known Arima families lived on Green Street when I was growing up. There was Ralph Vignale, who was a lawyer, the Horshams, the Jennings, Ursula Bleasdell, who was known as Aunty Babsie and who worked tirelessly with the young children of the borough. Her club “A Teens” was an institution that played a key role in the development of many of the young people of Arima. At the corner of Green Street and Cocorite Road was the home of the Lathuillerie family.
Jones P. Madeira of media fame married Melba Lathuillerie and still lives in that house today.
The Arima Court House was across the road from our home and we spent many happy years playing in the courtyard there.
On the other side of Queen Street was the Bhopa family home whose patriarch was known as Ragoo and who ran the most famous bakery in Arima in those days.
I remember the huge chimney on the bakery from which we could see smoke billowing on a daily basis. As young children that always fascinated us until the day it came tumbling down as a result of a massive earthquake that hit the country in December of one year. It may have been 1953 or 1954 but my memory has deserted me as to the specific date.
Next to the Bhopa home, on a site currently occupied by Pizza Boys, was a parlour run by an elderly Chinese immigrant, Hokai.
And here lies an interesting story.
My dear boyhood friend, Keith Subero and I are convinced that the two of us killed Hokai. Let me rephrase that since Keith has always refused to accept responsibility for any culpability in Mr. Hokai’s death but I assure you that he is just as guilty as I am and although we have escaped the long arm of the law for all these years, I know that our punishment still awaits us.
Keith lived around the corner from us on Woodford Street and he, Robbie Barnes and I used to spend many hours playing “Stick-em-up” in the court house yard. I am not sure how many young people of today would know what “stick-em-up” is but it was a very popular game of the era of a “Cowboys and Indians” nature. Following our game we would always go across to Mr. Hokai’s parlour for some type of refreshment.
Mr. Hokai had a reputation of never giving away anything free. If what you were planning to buy cost five cents and you only had four, you had better go and find the other cent or nothing would be forthcoming.
Arima had so many beautiful young ladies and as my teenaged years advanced, I developed “crushes” on many of them.
There were Merla Celestine, Joan Dunston whose parents ran the Textile Mill, Heather Knox from Nettoville, Joan Garcia and Leslie Mitchell’s daughter, Jennifer. I doubt very much that any of them ever knew of my great love for them although I am sure that one or two may have suspected.
Dancing was a big thing and I pride myself on the fact that I was one of the best. I know that when we used to attend the many “dutch” parties that were held in those days, I was often sought out by many of these beauties for my dancing skills.
But while all of the names mentioned above were nothing but boyhood crushes, the first serious girlfriend I had was Juliana Pereira, the daughter of Shirley Pereira, the butcher.
She was a lovely young lady who lived on the Arima Old Road. Juliana and I were girlfriend and boyfriend for about 5 years. I first met her when I was about 18 years old. When my sister, Diana, got married in 1969, Juliana was a bridesmaid at the wedding.
Our relationship subsequently ended, as relationships are wont to do, but she and I remained friends for years after that.
I last saw her around 1998 and then lost track of her until she surfaced many years later as the Reverend Juliana Pena, the Spiritual Advisor of the country’s Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, and became quite infamous as the lady behind the Thirty Million Dollar Church at Guanapo.
I am not sure how that came about but I would love to meet her one day again in order to discover the direction her life had taken since we last saw each other.
But so much for that.
Arima was a totally different place in those days from what it is now both in terms of its physical being as well as its character.
When one left my home on Green Street and turned right on Queen Street heading in the direction of the Savannah, the first place you passed was the Telephone Exchange, which was run by Mrs. Crevelle who, unfortunately, was very badly chopped one day by “Sharkey,” one of the characters around Arima in those days.
Sharkey then attempted to commit suicide by drowning himself in one of the many outdoor latrine pits that were features of many of the homes of those days. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on which side of the fence you choose to sit) he survived.
Sharkey had the longest tongue you could ever imagine which he used to stick down the neck of a soft drink bottle much to the amusement of all whom he encountered.
There were many other characters in Arima in those days with some interesting nicknames.
Among them were “Alligator Teeth,” “Big John,” “Shakespeare,” “Finny,” “Crazy Kenneth,” “Ma Henny,” “Aloo Pie,” “Jetsam,” “Webster” “Zin” and “Popo” just to name a few. “Ma Henny” would turn up at every wake in the borough and lead a prayer session. If you didn’t want to see her, then you had to make sure that you didn’t die because if you did there was no escape.
Another well-known personality in Arima was Maxie Assee who came from a very prominent family. He was the brother of Mrs. Lucy Edwards, the wife of Vincent Edwards, another Arima stalwart. Maxie was very short (hardly more than a midget for that matter) and rode a very small bicycle all over Arima. I learnt many years later that he was a qualified boxing coach.
When I was a little boy, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Maxie had to be more than 400 years old. Just recently, I saw Maxie riding the same old bicycle in Arima. He has not changed. He looks the same way as he did 50 years ago so I assume he must be closing in on 500 years of age by now.
King Solomon, watch out, your record may very well be in danger.
After you passed the Telephone Exchange, you arrived at the corner of Queen and Farfan Streets where you met the Bata Store which was run by Mr. Alfred Thompson who, years later, became the Mayor of Arima. On Farfan Street itself lived Ralph Henry who grew up to be a leading academic in Trinidad and Tobago. A little further down Queen Street was the tailoring establishment of Rupert Clovis, another Arimian who went on to serve as Mayor of the Borough.
The next corner brought you to the Arima Market, across the street from which was a rumshop run by a man nicknamed “Boss.” That was quite a popular liming spot for Arimians and there was no stigma attached to being seen drinking there.
The market was situated on the north eastern corner of the Arima Savannah which, at the time, was a huge open playground where cricket and football were the order of the day as well as horse racing on what was known as the “barrel hoop” track because of its entirely circular shape.
A horse racing day in Arima was a big occasion in those days and Antoine’s Sports Pool, located at the corner of Woodford Street and the Savannah, was the place to be with its offerings of a “Ten Cents” forecast bet.
I remember how my parents would take my sister and me to see the horses run on a Saturday. One Thursday afternoon, two days prior to a race day, as my mother was taking Diana and me for a walk around the Savannah, a jockey by the name of Sonny Singh was training one of the horses which suddenly bolted and crashed into the rails throwing Singh who broke his neck and died.
All the jockeys wore black arm bands that Saturday as a mark of respect to their departed colleague.
I can still remember the names of some of the famous jockeys of that era, people like Joseph “Mice” Lutchman and his brother Dalton, Frank Quested, Johnny Belle and Phil Latimer, a foreigner. Arima was also represented by Edmund De Freitas, the son of “Zephy” De Freitas, a well-known Arimian.
Opposite to the market was the Paddock and, as one proceeded along the eastern side of the Savannah, one would come upon the home of Mr. C.Z. “Charlie” Bain, one of the leading West Indian cricket umpires of the time, whose two sons, Brendan and Brian, both represented Trinidad and Tobago as goalkeepers. Just across from the Bains lived Eustace and Elma Draper, the parents of Gordon Draper who became a leading academic and served as a Minister in the Patrick Manning administration.
Completing a triangle of homes in that area was the residence of Mr. Cecil Gomes, father of the Gomes brothers, Lester, Sheldon, Larry, Gregory and Randy, all of whom represented Trinidad and Tobago on the cricket field at one level or another.
Larry, of course, was the most famous and was an integral part of the world-dominating Clive Lloyd team that ruled the cricketing world for more than a decade in the 1970s and 1980s.
A stadium in Arima is today named after Larry in honour of his tremendous achievements on the cricketing field.
As one continued walking down the eastern side of the Savannah, one would next encounter “Eat Rite,” a pastry establishment run by Mr. Neville Redman. Eat Rite was one of the more popular shops in the borough.
On the South-Western end of the Savannah was the office of Dr. Chapman Boyd while across the road was the Arima Tennis Club which always staged the first Carnival fête of the year and had become famous for its “ole mas” competitions. Continuing around the Savannah, one came to the Arima Hospital. The matron of the hospital in those days was Sister Lily Kirton who was my godmother. She lived not too far away in Nettoville.
On the northern side of the Savannah was one of the two cinemas in the borough, Windsor Cinema. The other was Princess Cinema on Sorzano Street.
Attending cinema was a popular pastime for young boys of that day and the 12.30 shows on a Saturday were eagerly awaited events.
Pit was the location of choice. This was where the ‘ordinary folk’ sat since this is where the cheapest seats were located. But if you were not in the mood for the smell of smoke and the constant shouts and bellows when one of the movie’s heroes came up with a famous ‘gun-talk’ line, then you would choose to purchase a ticket for House.
On a Sunday afternoon, however, if you were trying to woo a young lady, having carefully saved the allowance you received from your parents, you would take her to Balcony, which was a lot more expensive than the other areas. You would then seek out the seats at the back of the cinema and hope that over the duration of the movie double feature, you would be able to convince her to give you a little kiss.
If you succeeded (and it usually took most of the first movie before you did) then neither of you would have any idea what the second movie was about since you spent the rest of the evening with your lips locked together.
Thereafter, you became a hero among your friends who, for the next few days, would treat you with great respect for having won the lady’s heart.
It was clean, innocent fun, however, and sex was never a consideration unlike what transpires among the youth of today.
Near to Windsor Cinema was the home of the Beckles family.
Arima has always produced women of tremendous stature. Georgiana Beckles was one. There was also Anafise Charles, who served on the Arima Borough Council for many years and Louise Horne, a giant of a woman who is still alive today. A few years ago while already in her 90s, Miss Horne, a former Senator in the Parliament of the Republic, led a walkout of Arimians from a meeting at the Arima Town Hall when the wife of the then Prime Minister had dared to describe the Arima of a few years before as “bush.”
Backtracking a bit now to our home on Green Street, the back of the Arima Police Station was across the road from our house and, at the western end of the block, at the corner of Green and Woodford Streets, was the Arima Fire Station which is still located there today. Across from the fire station was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Mc Dowell, a well-respected Arima family.
Leaving my home and heading towards the Dial, one met Special Café, run by Mr. Paul Faustin, across the road from which was Chung’s rumshop.
On the north-western corner overlooking the Dial was the home of the Dos Ramos family. On the other corner was the Marlay Store next to which was the Ideal Supply Store, run by the Law family. That store remains there to this day although it is no longer as large as it once was. Obliquely opposite the Ideal Store was the drugstore run by Mr. Nelson whose daughter, Annette, married Henry Pereira, another very prominent Arimian who was the Town Clerk for many years.
Travelling north from the Dial you would come upon the homes of several of the well-known Arima families. There was the Mathura family at the corner of Queen and Sorzano Streets, across from which was Mr. Rudolpho’s parlour. Then there was the De Matas home next to which was the residence of Leslie Mitchell.
The corner of Queen and Sanchez Streets was where Mr. Lezama, the barber, lived while two houses away, on Sanchez Street itself, lived Arnold Thomasos and his wife, Inez, while across the road was Teacher Lucy’s school where many Arimians got their first schooling.
And when you reached Prince Street, you came upon the home of Rupert Charles.
A few streets west of Prince Street was the Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Church, named after the patron Saint of the Borough, and the Arima Boys’ R.C. School, where many legendary Arimians taught, among them Cecil “Tiger” Walker, who later served as Director of Sports in the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Gerald David and Alexis “Benny” Wellington.
This academic institution, as well as the Arima Girls’ R.C. School, overlooked the “Park” around which lived Vincent Edwards and Johnny Brooks as well as the Lee King and Look Loy families.
That was the Arima in which I grew up.
That Arima has changed considerably today. Regrettably, not all the changes have been for the better.
Arima in my youth was a family town. The true Arimians or “Gens D’Arime” looked after each other. Everyone was your Aunt and Uncle and, as a child, you had better address them as such or you would receive the soundest cut tail of your life either from them on the spot or from your parents when they invariably found out about your lack of courtesy to an elder.
And, unlike today where discipline is almost an obscene word, you learnt as a child that in your parents’ eyes, an adult was always right regardless of whether you knew that they were wrong or not.
Those were days that helped to mould my character into what I have become today. For that I thank my parents and all those who contributed in one way or another to my upbringing.
One of the things for which I shall be eternally grateful to my parents is the early introduction both my sister and I had to the world of books. From the time we were very small, we were reading the works of the great writers.
I grew up on a diet of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, whose famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, was one of my boyhood heroes. I also admired the works of Wilkie Collins, the master of the plot, among whose writings are the novels “The Moonstone” and “The Woman in White,” two all-time classics.
I had read “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas several times by the time I was 12 years old. There was also the required reading of the “Famous Five” series by Enid Blyton, one of the great writers of children’s books.
What these books and these authors did was to give me an appreciation of the proper use of the English Language and style of writing, things that served me well throughout my professional career.
But my mother and father were writers in their own right and their own writings and publications were always a great source of learning and inspiration to me.
My mother was also a stickler for proper speech and although she maintained that there was nothing wrong with dialect, she insisted that there was a time and place for dialect and that it was certainly not in the media or in the classroom.
The training I received from my parents was particularly helpful when I was a member of the Perseverance Youth Group in Arima. We used to meet on Cocorite Road at the residence of Kenrick Reid, whose father, Percival Reid, served on the Arima Borough Council for many years.
Clinton Narine, Gordon Draper and Hollis Bailey were all members of our Youth Group and we held many debates on topics of interest. We learnt to speak properly, to think independently and to express our points of view in a clear and succinct manner.
What a pity that today’s youth, in large measure, have lost the art of public speaking!
One of my father’s closest friends since boyhood was Clytus Arnold Thomasos, arguably Arima’s most distinguished son, who went on to become the longest-serving Speaker in any Parliament in the Commonwealth having served as Speaker in the Trinidad and Tobago House of Representatives from 1961 to 1981 when ill health forced him to retire.
In 1956, when party politics was introduced to Trinidad and Tobago for the first time and the P.N.M., the People’s National Movement, emerged under the leadership of Dr. Eric Williams, Arnold Thomasos was the P.N.M. candidate for Arima. In that election, he defeated Mr. Johnny Brooks, another very prominent Arimian who ran for the P.O.P.P.G., the Party of Political Progress Groups.
When Arnold Thomasos resigned from the teaching profession in 1956 to enter the realm of politics, I transferred to the Arima Boys’ Government School (A.B.G.) and there I encountered another man who was to have a tremendous influence on my life.
His name was Eugene John Laurent and he was the Headmaster, a formidable figure who set standards of excellence that the teachers of today would do well to emulate.
He was a strict disciplinarian but a man who demonstrated love and caring for all of those who passed under his wings.
A.B.G. was one of the leading academic institutions in the country in those days and it was a proud boast of all students who emerged from the school that, at the age of 10 or 11, when you sat what was then known as the College Exhibition examination, the extent of your knowledge in English Language, Arithmetic, Geography, West Indian History and Civics, which subsequently was called Social Studies, was such that you could have passed the G.C.E. ‘O’ Level examinations without the need for any additional tutoring.
Mr. Laurent was not the only teacher of significance at the school. Names like Mr. David Toney, Mr. Fred Lalla, Mr. Salan Denalli, Mr. Isaac Jute, Miss Clothilda “Baby” James, Mr. Mark Marin, Mr. Lloyd Goodridge and Mr. Cecil O’Garro come readily to mind. They were all giants in their own right.
These teachers set standards that have served us well throughout our lives.
Many brilliant students graced the walls of Arima Boys’ Government. Torrance Jutagir went on to win the Jerningham Gold Medal in secondary school, Carole Gajraj was an Island Scholarship winner as was Ramsay Saunders. Among my own College Exhibition classmates were Gordon Draper, L. Anthony Watkins and Haydn Toney, all of whom, as adults, distinguished themselves in their chosen professions. Haydn Toney’s brother, Michael, who was a year ahead of us, is today one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading Accountants, along with his partner in business, Ainsley Mark, another A.B.G. product.
But A.B.G. was not only about academia.
Agriculture was part of the curriculum and the school was proud of its garden which won many trophies in its time. We annually entered the National Arts Festival with outstanding success. Chorale-speaking and debating were integral parts of our education.
Sport too was key and A.B.G. produced many athletes who went on to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the regional and international levels. Lennox Yearwood who, along with Wendell Mottley, Edwin Roberts and Edwin Skinner, comprised the national 4 x 440 yards team that broke the world record at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1966, was an A.B.G. boy as were Olympians, Irving Joseph, Cliff Bertrand, Ainsley Armstrong and Charlie Joseph.
Every morning before the start of classes, all the students would line up in the school yard for prayer and inspection which was to ensure that your nails were well-groomed and that your shoes were clean. Were they not, you would feel the lash of a teacher’s ruler on your finger tips or on your feet. It taught us that proper grooming was essential, a lesson that has remained with me throughout my adult life.
Eugene Laurent cared about all his students and went out of his way to ensure that no student was left behind even though some of them might not have been as good academically as others were.
As the College Exhibition Examination loomed near, he would conduct extra lessons on a daily basis (free of charge to his students) to guarantee that they all understood the work they were learning.
I well remember “The Students’ Companion,” a great book by Wilfred Best that was a key component of the learning process in those days. I believe the Government would do well to re-introduce that book on the school curriculum.
On a daily basis, as homework, Mr. Laurent would give us thirty or forty words from that book to learn to spell and Heaven help you if you failed to learn them.
Mr. Laurent had such a tremendous impact on my life.
I remember feeling tremendously honoured when, on his death on November 6th, 1988, I was approached by his daughter, Valerie, to deliver the eulogy at his funeral. It was an honour that I gratefully accepted.
Valerie jokes to this day that she will always be saddled with me since Mr. Laurent left me to her in his will. Incidentally, several years before my time at A.B.G., Valerie was one of the few girls to attend that boys’ institution.
The others of whom I am aware were Brenda and Eudora Woo, Carol and Gloria Mark, Jennifer Marchack who was in my class, and Betty Toney.
Valerie and I remain dear friends to this day.
The system for entering secondary school in my time was completely different from what exists today.
Free secondary education for all had not yet been introduced and only the top 400 students in the country would “place” in the examination and thus qualify for free education. I placed 141st in the island and thus was one of the privileged ones earning my place at the school of my choice, St. Mary’s College.
Haydn Toney and Gordon Draper both placed higher than I did in the examination. I don’t remember their exact placings but I believe that Haydn was somewhere like 8th. Tony Watkins may also have been above me but I trust that Tony and any of the others who may also have done so will excuse my memory since we are talking about more than 50 years ago.
Nine students from Mr. Laurent’s class made the cut.
Apart from Gordon, Haydn and me, the others were Selwyn Sukhu, the son of the Presbyterian Minister in Arima at the time, Keith Assam, brother of politician and diplomat, Mervyn Assam, Cassian Lopez, Earl Agard, Anthony Watkins and Jennifer Marchack.
A photograph of the ABG Exhibition winners of 1959, standing alongside Mr. Laurent, now hangs proudly in my living room at Christina Gardens in Arima.
Sadly, Keith Assam, Earl Agard and Cassian Lopez have now passed to the great beyond and I trust that their souls will forever rest in peace.
Coming back to the subject of the friendships I developed in St. Mary’s, three of my closest friends at the time were Clinton Narine, Irving Hazzard and Fitzgerald ‘Lutch’ Baboolal. All of us were from Arima and we became part of the taxi-travelling group to and from school.
In those days, as schoolboys, we were fascinated by speed and always sought out the fastest of the taxi drivers who would attempt to set various speed records to and from Arima. We saw that as pure excitement.
The roads were not as crowded as they are today and there was also an unwritten code among the drivers and ‘bad driving’ one another was almost non-existent.
Many of the drivers became legends among us.
The greatest of them all was Smith, popularly known as ‘Har,’ who drove HF 3662, a white Zephyr. Then there was Sack (HF 1904,) Cecil (HF 9297) and Donkey Man (HF 142.) Among the others were names like Edmundo Ross, who used to attend cinema every day of his life, Senhouse, York from Tunapuna and Jap from Valencia who was looked upon almost as a cult figure because he had once split a car in two and walked away from the accident unscathed.
The taxis which they drove were licenced to carry five passengers but overloading was the order of the day and, on many occasions seven or even eight of us would pack into the cars and it was up the Churchill Roosevelt Highway with each driver trying to see how quickly they could make it to Arima.
I can still remember the bumber-to-bumper races up the highway at 80 and 90 miles per hour.
In retrospect, we were risking our lives on a daily basis but we were young and foolish and never really considered those things.
Classes at St. Mary’s used to end at 3.15 daily and the top drivers would line up on Frederick Street to pick us up on afternoons. It was always a rush when school was over to get to the taxis because everyone wanted to get into Smith’s car. Once that was full, you fitted in wherever else was available.
It cost 35 cents from Port of Spain to Arima in those days and the chant among the schoolboys was “it is 35 cents by plane and not by boat.”
But the speed on the roads was not confined to the taxi drivers.
I remember one of our boyhood friends who was probably the most reckless driver of a motor car who ever lived. All Arimians will remember Raymond Govia, the son of another prominent Arima family that lived at the corner of St. Joseph and Sorzano Streets.
Raymond was unbelievably crazy when behind the wheel of a motor car and incurred the wrath of all senior citizens in the borough although the youngsters, like myself, saw him in a different light.
Every time Raymond came around a corner, you could hear the tyres of his vehicle screeching and it is something of a miracle that he did not meet a horrendous death in an accident.
He and a friend of his, Steve Romeo, who was not from Arima, bought an old car, a Mayflower, which they called “Shindogs.” I don’t know where they got that name from or what it meant but it was painted across the back of the vehicle. The elderly dreaded seeing that vehicle on the roads since it was always travelling at top speed even in the most populated parts of the borough.
For us as youngsters, it was an honour and a privilege to even ride in “Shindogs”and those of us, myself included, who got a chance to drive it, were looked upon as almost cult heroes.
How stupid we were when we were young!
One day we learnt, however, that Raymond and Steve had decided that it was time to get rid of “Shindogs” and we were told that they headed for Maracas Beach and pushed the car over the cliff at some point along the road. We were never able to find out whether that was true or not but that is how the story goes.
One thing was sure, however, and that is that we never saw the car again.
It was shortly after the demise of that infamous vehicle that Parris Chookolingo arrived in Arima.
Parris was the son of the legendary newspaperman, Patrick Chookolingo, who founded the “Bomb” newspaper.
Parris was just as wild, or maybe in some respects ever wilder than Raymond and Steve. As the old saying goes, he didn’t care if “Ash Wednesday fell on Good Friday.”
Parris had recently bought a motor cycle, a 125 cc Honda and, after making the first two payments, he decided he was not going to make any more. To avoid having it repossessed, he moved out of his home in Maraval and came to Arima to stay at the home of one of his friends.
He then decided that since it would eventually be repossessed, he would ensure that everyone of us would learn to ride, which we all did. The mudguard over the back wheel was used to record the names of those who fell off the bike during the learning process. Parris used to engrave the names with white paint.
By the time the bike was seized, there were about 15 names, mine included, painted on that mudguard.
Among those who learnt to ride in those days were my school friend, Fitzgerald “Lutch” Baboolal and his brother William. The three of us had become very friendly.
Our fathers had worked together at the Ministry of Works in Arima and the two families were quite close.
On September 14th, 1978, William tragically died in a road accident near the Oropuna La Resource Road in D’Abadie, leaving behind his wife, Deborah, and two children, Sean (5) and Ryanne (2.)
Lutch and I became inseparable. It was through Lutch that I learnt to play cards and we became experts at Gin Rummy.
At the corner of Anglican Street and Industry Lane lived Selby Ifill. He loved to play rummy and it was an accepted fact that you could go to his home at any time of the day or night if you were looking for a little gamble. Many a night Lutch and I would be returning home from a fete at 2.00 or 3.00 in the morning and would decide to pass by Selby to see if he was available.
He always was.
All you had to do was to call his name once and you would hear, “I’ll be there in a moment.” You then heard him calling out to his cousin, Lance Ifill who lived next door and, in a short while, a game of rummy at $5.00 per game would begin.
Lutch was a very dear friend and remains so to this day.
When I returned from university in Jamaica and was looking for a job, it was he who spoke to Father Edward Foley, the then Principal of Holy Cross College, and convinced him that I would be a worthy teacher.
Every year, when Christmas came, our group of friends, about eight or nine strong, would go paranging all over Arima.
Lutch was the only one who could play any type of musical instrument and the three chords that he knew on a cuatro were sufficient to keep us going.
We could never compete with the Lara Brothers or the San Jose Serenaders but, with sufficient grog inside our systems, we thought we were pretty good even if no one else did.
Our theme song was “A little more oil in my lamp keeps it burning” and we all sang it with gusto.
In the 1960s when I was growing up, young people of my generation involved themselves in activities that were all clean fun.
There were those, of course, who got themselves involved in shady activities and there were several “Bad Johns” who were always involved in fights.
To be a “Bad John” in those days, you had to be really brave because fighting was always a matter of close combat. The use of guns was almost unheard of and those warriors were always in the minority.
The rest of us tended to be great toymakers, tops and kites being two examples. I wonder how many young people today know how to make a kite using flour and water as glue. And do they know what is a “zwill”?
We made wooden tops and became quite expert at spinning them. We ran horses in the canals.
But the major pre-occupation in those days was music.
On almost every street corner throughout Trinidad and Tobago, young people formed combos, musical bands whose major instruments were mainly guitars and keyboards.And what great musicians this country produced!
There were Monty Williams and the ‘Casanovas’ Combo, Robert Bailey and the ‘Group Solo,’ Ancil Wyatt, his Guitar and Combo, Johnny Lee and the Hurricanes, the ‘Rockerfellas’ and the ‘Esquires Now’ among others.
One of the first combos ever in Trinidad came from Arima. It was called ‘Chimes’ and was headed by the borough’s leading photographer, Bertie Fermin. If my memory serves me correctly, however, the group that started the combo craze was called ‘The Jarvo Brothers’ whose hit song ‘Teo’ is still played on several of our radio stations today.
Arima also produced the ‘Deltones’ Combo.