Friday, May 29, 2009

Jackass seh de worl no level

Jackass is not widely known for his mental acumen, in fact somewhere along the line his name became synonymous with 'idiot' as in the famous quotes below.

“Every woman should have four pets in her life. A mink in her closet, a jaguar in her garage, a tiger in her bed, and a jackass who pays for everything.” Paris Hylton

"Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one” Sam Rayburn

But as Mark Twain suggests, poor Jackass has been maligned; “Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: some observers hold that there isn't any. But this wrongs the jackass.”

Now take this astute observation by Jackass; "de worl no level". Jackass is simplifying the Orwellian remark that "all men are created, equal but some are more equal than others". As far as Jackass can see, disadvantage and privilege are both as much part of life as hill and gully are part of the natural terrain here in Jamaica.

We use this expression when we come across unfairness, depending on the context we might also say "Puss and dog nuh have the same luck".

Monday, May 25, 2009

Encyclopaedia Brown

I can't imagine how I forgot to mention Leroy "Encyclopaedia" Brown in this list of series that I read as a child. So now he gets a post all to himself. Encyclopaedia is this boy genius who solves his detective father's cases right there at the dinner table. Well, actually he carries out a process of deductive reasoning and leaves you the reader to figure the rest out. After you have racked your brain somewhat you can go to the back of the book to see what answer Mr. Sobol, the series creator, has supplied.

Encyclopaedia often comes into wranglings with Bugs Meany the school bully, but as you might expect, brain generally triumphs over brawn, and by the end of the story, Bugs walks away looking like the total dimwit he is and Encyclopaedia again has earned his name.

As far as I recall, the series generally came in thin paper backs with bold print, maybe six or so stories to a copy and very nice pencil illustration on every two or so pages. I still am looking at some of those drawing right now in my mind's eye. Well now that I am an old (-er) and a meaner critic, the books seem formulaic, but I must admit they were very easy and very fun to read, and they taught virtues that are worth living by. If you have children, or if there is any of the child left in you, you might want to check this little fellow out.

Friday, May 22, 2009

When time hard mango bear nuff


Julie, East Indian, Bombay, number 11, sweetie com brush me, Milly, Tommy Atkins, reddie, robin, blackie (known in some parts of the island as greenidge or fine skin), and of course the goodly stringy (a.k.a common mango or hairy) weigh down mango trees all over Jamaica right now. This year all our industries except agriculture have seen a decline, the government has imposed new tax measures, and Jamaica is all around feeling the effects of the global economic downturn and we so happen to be having a bumber crop of mangoes this year. Or is there something to the implied folk belief in Providence? When time hard mango bear nuff, so dem sey in Jamaica.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Traitor's Purse

The fact that I read probably all in the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys series, then went on to read several of the adventures of Hercule Poirot plus all those of Sherlock Holmes, should tell you that I have nothing against the genre. It's just not my favourite. But I've recently widened my repertoire, having discovered Albert Campen. Campen doesn't quite fit into the list above as he is a real detective; all the others are amatuers who are always able to solve the mystery where the clueless police cannot.

Albert Campen was created by Margert Allingham, a British novelist who is credited with bringing the detective fiction to maturity. The BBC produced adaptations of eight of her novels during the 1980s.

This one novel of hers that I've read has piqued my interest. In Traitior's Purse Campen completely loses his memory and must at the same time prevent a... er, what you might call an act of terror; it's bigger in scale than a regular crime as it would affect the whole nation. Considering that the novel is set sometime between the two world wars, what do you think that might be?

If the storyline seems unlikely to you, you're probably right, but Allingham's witty, if archaic style, is engaging. For instance she has Amanda remark about Campen's 'magnificent reticence' which is funny because Campen is keeping his mouth shut so as not to appear stupid. The phrase stuck in my mind because I know someone with a magnificent reticence.

The hint that Campen has grown-up in this novel makes me want to meet the the pre-Purse version of him. The amnesiac Campen wonders about himself, what kind of man is he, if his enemy could so confidently expect to bribe him? He is also less inclined to believe he's the hinge upon which all things rest.

I also liked the reading about the interwar years from someone who lived through the time. It's believed that the arts puts a human dynamic to what all we get from the historians, archeologists and such.

You will find some racist remarks in the novel. Like there is a man 'with the bright little eyes and thin rodent's face of his race', which should evoke an unbecoming "what the..." from anyone living on this side of time.

You will also find a few sexist remarks in Traitors Purse - like Allingham says that Amanda handled a situation manfully- but you'll forgive her for she was still way ahead of her time. For one, our hero's sidekick is a woman. That's a big deal. And she is intelligent, tough and fearless. That's another big contrast to the shrinking violets that grace some of these older novels.

There is no apparent relationship between the novel and the title. Well it might have eluded me.

Barring these (and a very uninviting illustration in the penguin publication I read) Traitor's Purse makes an intriguing diversion.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Piss in the pot or get up

Pot here refers to what you might know as pottie, chamber pot, chimmy, jordan, john, poe. I grew up with a plain white enamel chimmy with the pretty red flowers on the side. The older folks used a larger variety or sometimes a pail. These were essential amenities, especially at night, as the latrine was a good several feet to the back of the house. Modern life has pretty much done away with all that but in rural areas you will still find a plastic pot underneath many a bed.

The old time saying piss in the pot or get up is a lil old lady's way of saying you should make up your mind, be decisive, take action, do not vacillate.
Click here for photo source.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Great Gatsby

Okay, I have to admit that before I read The Great Gatsby this weekend, I had always wondered what a Gatsby was. It sounded to me like a period of time, like the Great Depression, or the Great Awakening, or a major event of history (perhaps in a fictitious world, like the Coming of the Great Pumkin, as anticipated by Charlie Brown and the little red haired girl). So now, I've been duly enlightened. Gatsby is the name of a man.

Once I discovered that Gatsby is not a momentous event, I now had to grapple with this very complicated word, 'great'. In my experience, great means of epic proportions. So Beauwolf is one kind of great. So is Superman for that matter. Joan of Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte are another kind of great. Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are another. And The Beatles and Bob Marley are another; Susan Bolye might have fallen into that category, but alas, Fate didn't have it that way.

'Great' in the context of The Great Gatsby is not so clearcut. In fact, at first I thought F. Scott Fitzgerald is using the word satirically. For how can someone whose tools of trade are subterfuge and bribery be considered great? How can someone who takes out all his fine shirts to show his ex-girlfriend be considered anything but vain and hollow? But gradually I found that he is not laughing at Gatsby's crazed motivation to be rich, he is not mocking Gatsby's fantastic wealth which has failed to buy him a good life. Fitgerald is genuinely writing in praise of Gatsby's optimism, determination and, yes, goodness at heart. In the end, for all his flaws, Gatsby is really 'better than the whole bunch of them'.

Fitzgerald is a proper comic, I smiled in my mind often and laughed out loud one time. I never cried, I was never revolted by any gory details, and there were no inordinately boring pages for me to skip. I hope you read this classic, if you haven't already. If you never do, at least you are perfectly clear on what a Gatsby is, and what it is not.