October 25, 2020

The Editor speaks: Dave Martins and me

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Colin Wilson2webA friend who got a “real kick” out of it because I am mentioned in the writer’s blog sent the following to me:

Only the English

By Dave Martins

Frankly speaking, as my columnist friend Alan Fenty would say, I have mixed feelings about the English. There was definitely a time in my early years in Guyana when, to use an English expression, I did not take tea with them. The background to that was generally their behaviours in the Empire’s colonial ventures, but specifically from personal experiences with some of the ones employed on the sugar estates in West Demerara, and in certain offices in town, so that by the time I was a grown man I had a clear anti-English bias. Travelling from Toronto in the Tradewinds years, I was at the stage where I would even sometimes find myself being irritated by hearing that “holier than thou” accent emanating from a nearby passenger; resentment was in play. Over time, however, based largely on encountering several of them outside, I have come to see the other side of the English, and while I don’t yet number any of them in my close friends, I have come to recognize my early antipathy as prejudice. In addition, the people are long gone from our environment, and while I agree we should never forget the evils of the past I would contend that we also cannot continue to live there; I’ve moved on.

Dave MartinsFrom an even wider stance, while I accept that the colonial era visited us with some atrocities, taken as a whole the evidence is there that in many instances Caribbean people also drew into our culture certain aspects of the English way – jurisprudence; dedicated public service; manners; cricket and soccer – while at the same time rejecting others: their reserve, their love for lawn bowling and English music hall melodies, and their awkward dancing, e.g., Mick Jagger. We also gave thumbs down to warm beer, bangers and mash, and, thank God, English cuisine generally. Indeed, after last week’s column, “Whatever Happened?” which looked back at early Guyana, several readers, some of them in blogs, expressed the debatable view that our country was better off in its British Guyana dispensation and cited several of the aspects mentioned above to bolster their case.

My more narrow point here is that in my wider adult experiences with the English outside of Guyana (perhaps a different strata came here) I have found them to be generally a gregarious group (okay, there is the occasional snob), and what is particularly appealing is their sense of humour which is a trait that is almost a prerequisite for me in my friends. One can only be impressed by a people who can take the most delicate or controversial matter and find the humourous element in it that seems to be invisible to other societies. And I’m not referring here to the professional comedians such as John Cleese, Terry Thomas, Monty Python, et al; the ordinary English bloke is naturally adept at hitting your funny bone; it’s a specialty of theirs. Also, ironically, it is the very accent that grates on my nerves with its condescension which can then turn a benign phrase into something quite hilarious.

I have also come to know that while the label of “reserved” can be properly applied to them, the English can also be the most flamboyant people on earth going to extremes that others would avoid. In my time in Cayman, for instance, I got to know a resident Englishman there, Colin Wilson, who would perform the most outlandish theatre pieces at the drop of a hat, including cross-dressing with elaborate detail employing wig, fake eyelashes, high heel shoes and falsies. Happily married to a Caymanian, Colin would be a very proper Englishman one day, umbrella and necktie to match, and a raucous dance-hall madam the next, red lipstick and blonde hair, with no problem whatsoever. I once read in an English newspaper of a case in England involving some avid environmentalists charged with breaking into a store to release hundreds of earthworms. The store was holding the worms for sale as bait to fishermen, and this group objected to that as cruelty, so they broke in at night and set the worms free; yes, worms. Only among the English would one find (a) such a concern and (b) reputable people acting on it.

It’s also appropriate to dispel the myth that the Scottish are a nation of cheap skates; from my experience over the years, I have learned that the title actually goes to the English. They will quibble at length over a dollar. Many of them working in Cayman would avidly save money by frequenting the “happy hour” places where free nibble food would become their dinner. For many, it was not an occasional thing; it was a daily ritual, often with the wife in tow, and sometimes at the same venue. For the annual comedy show that I created when I lived in Cayman, I once wrote a song that included the line, “The English aren’t all that bad, you know, but boy they love a freeness.” I performed it one night at a high-society function, and halfway through the song I realized the island’s English Governor was in the audience. Too late to bail out, I bravely sang the line, watching the Governor’s face, and noticed it had turned beet red. Feeling sure I was in for it, I said to him later, “Sorry if you were offended.” His leaned closer to me and quietly said, face red again, but laughing, “Oh, not all. It’s actually very true, you know.”

Undoubtedly, of course, we have to be grateful for the language the English left us, as opposed to the variety spoken in North America. To hear the difference, take the time to tune in one of the soccer broadcasts on television. In a recent Chelsea/Manchester City match, following a come-from-behind Chelsea goal, the English announcer said, “That may well be a tying goal of grand consequence.” You would never hear such a pronouncement from an American commentator; his version would probably be, “The City coach should of known his defense was weak.” (“Should of” is the frequent American construction.)

In the North American soccer league an announcer will say of a certain athlete, not in action that day, that “He’s too good of a player to sit on the bench”. Compare that mangling of grammar on Fox Sports with the British Premier League where, in a similar situation, we were told “It is clearly a contradiction for someone of that demonstrable caliber to be exempted from the fray.” During two recent BPL soccer matches on Sportsmax, I heard an English commentator describe Louis Suarez’ disappointed reaction to a failed strike as “rueful”; in another match we were told that Mario Balotelli’s casual approach to a game was “desultory”. Such erudite expression, describing a rough-and-tumble soccer match, would never find a home in a CNN’s sports announcer’s vocabulary; they will appear in only one place – only in England, and only among the English.

SOURCE: https://www.facebook.com/DaveMartinsAndTheTradewinds

Dave Martins is a very gifted musician, songwriter, poet and columnist. He was resident for a large number of years in the Cayman Islands when he was married to a Caymanian. Even some of his band members, The Tradewinds, are also resident here, too. Dave was also head of the National Festival Pirates Week, following in the footsteps of Mike Lockwood after he died.
I well remember Dave writing an article about 30 years ago in Caymanian Compass where he also stated how he hated Colonialism and had no time for the English, not even ‘nice’ ones.
I immediately fired one back saying he was stereotyping the English and asking him if any of the countries the English ‘raped and pillaged’ were better off now?
I got to know Dave fairly well when I was on the Pirates Week Committee during his tenure there. There were two other Englishmen on this committee with me, the late Tony Rowlands and Peter Riley (who moved back to England).
Dave soon realised that we were the real workers and when we said we would do something we performed. He gradually respected us as we did him. He could never understand our sense of humour. Even when we tried to explain it to him. His complete bafflement and his facial expressions at his failure to understand would send all three of us into heaps of laughter that brought tears to our eyes and anguish to his.
I am now very fond of Dave Martins. I understand he is not very well and I wish him a very quick recovery.

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