THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

Billy Joel (please say you remember him) once cooed that,
Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you
.
Well Billy boy, if its honesty you crave then you should have left New York ever since and taken up residence on this small rock. They don’t come more honest than your average Bajan. We call it like we see it: a spade is a spade. Of course there are exceptions in every community but I am talking about your average Marlon and Mavis catching the Black Rock bus pon a morning.

This search for truth is most evident when it comes to naming persons, places, animals and things. Where else will you find a producer forthcoming enough to brand his product C-thru White Rum. It does exactly what it says on the tin so proceed with caution.

And giving your child a conventional name like Melanie or Peter will not prevent them acquiring one closer to their true nature – as seen through Bajan eyes. Sheila, with her bee-sung lips, is known as Lipton while Desmond, with his larger than average head, is Bus Stop. As if this were not difficult enough to live with, how about being hailed on Broad Street as Gun Prick, Old Girl (for a man) or Biff (big igrant foolish f**ker). Oh and by the way my spell checker is working. Someone who is not very smart but thinks they are is ‘ignorant’ to a Trini and ‘igrant’ in Bim.

But the honesty Bajans display goes beyond naming. It may be hidden deep beneath layers of social obligations and reservations. This will never be an obstacle. Nor will a Bajan let the truth be obscured by silly legal niceties. The Nation newspaper column - Puddin’ an’ Souse - titled after the unofficial national dish, has as its raison d'être the uncovering of illegal and immoral goings on in a voice that neatly side steps potential libel suits. A typical, recent Puddin an' Souse outing of the truth was this:
Who is the legal mind who is involved with a woman half his age?
And why does he think that the child she has is really his?
This woman and her relatives get themselves into all kinds of mischief because they know the man would protect them.
People in the know want this man to shift these bad-behaved folks because he is already losing respect
.
In a population of 350,000 you can be sure a goodly portion of the chattering classes know the identity of the unfortunate gentleman and are already sending telegrams to those who don’t.

This all makes me think that perhaps there is a place for a little dishonesty. Maybe not outright lies, but occasionally I find myself nostalgic for a soupçon of reserve. A long lost European friend or relative would never greet you:
‘Oh luss gul, you was real nice when yuh did young. Now yuh gine get fat and ugly.’
But in Bajan terms it is as if they had said,
‘Hi there! Haven’t seen you in ages. Gosh you’ve changed.’
From the translation it is manifestly clear the greeting is without malice – merely observation of your position on the wrong end of the body fat index. To compound matters such an observation is often swiftly followed by the generous offer of a home cooked feast. To decline would be very rude so stuff your chubby face with macaroni pie and stew chicken and let the diet begin tomorrow.

I guess it all depends on how you prefer to face the slings and arrows of this outrageous life. There is no avoiding the arrows ripping into your flesh so you can either take them in the chest or back. Consider the experience of a recent visitor from foreign parts to our small rock. He had lost one eye. Within days total strangers were affectionately greeting him as ‘Cyclops’. But he knew he a fully paid up member of the parish when he was christened ‘S - Blank’ – a reference to the domino piece with one dot and a blank space. Bajans love a game of dominos and indeed the world champion, Ronald ‘Suki’ King, is a Bajan to the bone. S-Blank is crucial to the game.

Back in London people who encountered S-Blank pointedly refused to comment on his missing eye. At least they never made a comment directly to him. That would have been considered poor form – a bit too honest. Yet on this small rock the failure to acknowledge and incorporate his distinctive look would have been the dishonest act. So if you are planning to rock up to Bim anytime soon remember to thicken your skin and get ready for nuff sincerity and honesty to last a lifetime.

EDUCATING MUMMY

September signals the end of the silly season of summer frivolity but my kids are not going down without a fight. They are convinced that only a truly heartless bitch would insist they return to full time education while it is so hot, humid, rainy or while a replacement for Second Born’s exploded fountain pen has not been procured. Well flying fish, it’s been a long, fraught, nine weeks and they can either go safely back to school or risk commencement of adoption proceedings.

And I will lead by example. Yup. Even though First Born considers me one step away from a Zimmer frame, I’m going back to school. I’ve been hanging out at one educational establishment or another since the age of three and the fact that I now live on this small rock is no reason to radically change the habit of a lifetime. And there is something about September that says it is time to take stock and maybe make amends. Whatever resolutions were made in January have long since evaporated into the ether. But September is a time of second chances. New battle cries can be heard on the buses to take classes, join gyms, or finally knit that teacosy you always dreamed of, your whole life.

But going back to school when the glow of youth has dimmed is not easy. So you want to learn, but what? Is this the right time in life to finally get beyond ‘hola’ en español? Or maybe since I live in the ‘bread basket’ of Barbados I should read for a Diploma in Inspection in Meat and Other foods. Having already engineered one career switch, good sense dictates I stay focused on my current subject matter. This of course is when the constraints of small island life slap you round the face. The particular research degree I want to pursue is not offered in paradise. Sigh. I need the sunshine but I also need the space to think through the making of art. You never know what you’ll find. Monteverdi in the seventeenth century founded a style of music (stile concitato) after reading medical treatises. How cool is that. Mummy will just have to be educated through some juggling act involving airline food, thermal underwear and missing Jack (the unbiddible Jack Russell).

While we negotiate the pursuit of knowledge I have found another way of sneaking back into a place of learning. Teaching. The Community College is the only game in town offering a degree in fine art so I begged them to have me.
‘You know we only pay the absolute minimum we can get away with and not be called slave traders?’ said The Boss looking down at me.
‘Yes!’ I enthused. ‘I won’t dream of asking for a cent above the cost of giving the children a little salt bread pon ah morning.’
‘Excellent. You’re hired.’ said She Who Must Be Worshiped.
‘Thank you so much.’ I gushed. ‘I won’t disappoint you, I promise.’
‘Yeah. Whatever. Close the door on your way out.’
'Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’ I said, all the while bowing as I walked backwards out of The Giver of Contracts office.

Anyway, I’m thinking that now they have officially hired me they’ll want me to stick around – thus saving themselves the hassle of finding another deranged artist willing to be institutionalized for minimum wage. So I might as well create havoc. Today was the first day and it was more fun than I have had in ages. The second year students on the bachelor of fine arts programme are now my very part-time responsibility.

We met and I was utterly smitten. They are naïve, self-assured and full of life. I had so much fun trampling over the safe, little paths they had projected for the term ahead. They looked less happy. Okay, so I may have accused one of confusing art with therapy and told another she was in a space of ideas not dogma. But I did encourage them to consider their relationship to the other and to question the gaze through which they filtered the world. Artists should have to struggle to find what their practice means and its relationship to the quotidian – and if not, they should be forced to. I can hardly wait for the next class.