Hill-an’-Gully : Jamaican Book Review

About the Book :

When Patrick O’Connor passes his A-Level exams with distinctions in English and European History, he faces an uncertain future. The son of a banana plantation overseer, he has no money for college, and he blew his chance of a Rhodes Scholarship by falling asleep during a Latin exam. But Benjamin, the Headman on the banana plantation, comes to his rescue, suggesting he enter politics. As it turns out, Benjamin has surprising connections “at the highest political level,” and under his guidance Patrick pursues an improbable career that leads him over the hills and through the gullies of island life and into the arms of his true love, Catherine. Patrick’s boyish charm and gift for cricket – and Benjamin’s inventive genius – keep them one step ahead of the forces of Evil. Under the watchful eye of Uncle Sam, who is “just a hop, skip and jump” away, Benjamin leads Patrick through a Byzantine series of stratagems to develop their island – and further his interests. “Hill-an’-Gully Rider ” takes a humorous but thought-provoking look at politics, romance and intrigue in an exotic land of palm-fringed beaches, luxury cars and yachts, fetid slums, and reggae singing, weed-smoking Rastafarians.

Book Review:

“Hill-an’-Gully” politics by Jean Lowrie-Chin – Published in her Observer column Monday July 30th, 2007

Meet the naïve ‘brown man’ Patrick O’Connor and the brilliant, black Benjamin Miller — they are politicians on an island that bears a striking similarity to Jamaica. It was fun reading George Graham’s book, ‘Hill-an’-Gully Rider’ in this election season, as it is peppered with stories about political maneuverings and downright ‘ginnalship’. In fact, I would consider it a must-read for any newcomer to Jamaican politics.

George Graham was my meticulous, temperamental boss on the Features Desk at the Jamaica Daily News, until he wrote a farewell column under the pseudonym of ‘Pan’, frustrated at the game-playing of politicians and others, and declaring that Jamaica would remain ‘a barefoot country’. It is only after reading this book, several decades later that I clearly see George’s vision, his unfulfilled dreams for Jamaica, though I had always appreciated his wry sense of humour.

Patrick O’Connor, like George, is the son of a ‘Busha’ (George spells it ‘busher’) at a banana plantation in the fifties, a recent high school graduate with good passes and no career plan. The savvy Benjamin Miller, a headman on the same plantation, decides that he will make both a businessman and a politician out of Patrick.

And so the ‘Rock of Ages Construction Company’ is born, winning lucrative road building contracts. The title of the book comes from Benjamin’s insistence that Patrick ‘must not walk’, and gives him a mule to ride among his constituents – I guess the modern equivalent would be the fully-loaded SUV.

George explores the wonders of advertising and PR. Benjamin names a new housing scheme after Patrick: “it’s called branding, and it will do wonders for him in politics.” Patrick’s newly furnished home gets written up in an international design magazine and he is off and running.

Patrick’s opponent, a man called Peterson, decides to declare ‘Black man time come” on the political platform and he is forced to listen by a group of ‘concerned citizens’. He is actually kidnapped and when he threatens to call the Police, a man in the group says, “I am the police.” But interestingly, this is what they want to tell Peterson: “You are never to bring up skin colour again. We get along with each other here, black, white, Indian and Chinese, Jew, Arab and everything in between.” He gets the message.

George describes several political tricks: “In addition to being available for raids and poll blockades, the city gang leaders ran a rent-a-protest service used unhesitatingly by both parties.”

As opponent Peterson’s popularity grew annoyingly, they search for a chink in his left-leaning armour: “What about a Cuban invasion?” This was effectively staged and Peterson became history. Hmmm… sounds a lot like, “What about Russian ships?”

The Prime Minister, Sir Charles DeLeon, with his engaging personality, mane of white hair and a secretary called “Miss Waybridge” is an endearing portrait of National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante.

The women in this book are for the most part, strong and intelligent. A troublesome government minister was notorious for sexually harassing the women in his office, until “he picked the wrong young woman” and George has us cheering along as he is brought to book.

Patrick’s lady love, Catherine, is actually brighter than the politician, and ghost-writes his brilliant proposals, coaches him in oratory (shades of Beverley Manley?) and livens up his weekly television show.

Stein, a Jewish PR man out of New York turns their wedding into an international showpiece, scheduling it to coincide with the visit to the island of Emperor Haile Selassie. Stein is well connected and when the ‘Cuban invasion’ story backfires on Patrick, it is because of a lodge brotherhood that Stein is able to approach the US Ambassador about the removal of a US warship brooding over the Kingston shoreline.

As being black became more important to being politically viable, the astute Benjamin, a voracious reader, traces Patrick’s bloodline to an Ethiopian named Desta, thus convincing the influential Ras Patrone that he was descended from the Queen of Sheba. The light-skinned Patrick is dressed in red, green and gold and a Chinese ‘sampata’ to promote the new Dung Hill Label (read Dungle) throughout the US.

“Then Benjamin unveiled his secret weapon,” wrote George,”…Haile Selassie was designated as the Lion of Judah and Patrick was proclaimed as the Young Lion.” He describes the use of broadcast media over print, to successfully reach the masses.

The country’s romance with cricket is acknowledged as Patrick’s best talent is at bat, and his claim to fame a century at Lord’s.

But it is a wistful George Graham who turns back time for our leaders to nix bauxite mining and petroleum refineries, opting instead for environmental development and solar power. His arguments for the legalization of ganja and prostitution are so persuasive, that the reader becomes as convinced as the Liberal Anglican bishop in the novel. Reggae music transforms “Dung Hill” into a fashionable district, drawing artsy folk from all over the world.

These are George Graham’s “recollections in tranquility” as well as his recommendations for national stability. He draws us a colourful picture of the Jamaica of the forties and the fifties, where a rainbow of people see their Jamaican-ness as their distinguishing denominator and progress purposefully from the class-conscious plantation, towards self-determination.

About the Author

George Graham was born in Black River, Jamaica, and has worked for half a century as a reporter and editor in the Caribbean, Canada and America. The son of an agricultural instructor, he grew up in Portland and St. Elizabeth. As a 16-year-old student at Munro College, he won a World Youth Forum essay competition and spent several months attending English grammar schools,staying with English families and taking part in various “brains trusts.”

George’s first career venture was as a management trainee at a resort hotel, but he quickly gave that up to try his hand at journalism in Port au Prince, Haiti. After three years in Haiti, he immigrated to Canada and landed a reporting job in Timmins, Ontario, nearly 500 miles north of Toronto. He moved up to the Toronto Star and the Toronto Telegram, and went on to become editor of Toronto Life magazine and senior editor of The Canadian, a weekend supplement carried by newspapers across Canada.

George twice returned to work in Jamaica, first for the Industrial Development Corporation, and then for the Jamaica Daily News, where he was one of the founding editors.

In 1979, he moved to Florida, where he joined The Tampa Tribune as a roving columnist. He later became the editor of the daily Clearwater Sun.

George lives in Lakeland, Florida, with his wife, Sandra,three cats, two dogs, and countless squirrels and birds. Sandra is a former magazine and newspaper writer. George has three grown children, Ross, Grace and Christine, and two grandsons, Jonathan and Adam.

An Excerpt from the Book

CHAPTER 1: A Date with Destiny

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say the young man’s prospects were slim. His father managed a 1,600-acre property that produced mostly bananas, and I don’t have to tell you bananas are about the cheapest thing you can buy. The last time I bought bananas, they were 50 cents a pound at Sedano’s. You want grapes? You will likely have to pay $1.69 a pound. Peaches? $2-plus. A small watermelon will set you back four bucks. Four bucks! Why are bananas so cheap? I guess it’s because they’re grown by black people in poor countries, while grapes, peaches and watermelons are grown by white people in rich countries. That’s the way the world seems to work. To me, anyhow. But what do I know? I’m just an ex-civil servant who spent his life following orders from various politicians on an island you probably never heard of. My wife (rest her soul) used to say I’m jaded. But you will have to judge for yourself.

Anyway, enough. I promised not to bore you and here I am rambling on about watermelon prices and former civil servants. I’ll let you meet the young man. He was white, or mostly white. The line between black and white tends to get blurred in our island. As for his appearance… Dark, wavy hair that he pampered. Wide-set, hazel eyes with dark lashes. Nearly six feet – which was tall for the island. (Small islands tend to produce small people.) Deeply tanned and on the skinny side (but with broad shoulders). His mother would say he was sinewy; she said that kind of thing about people. Perhaps his most endearing feature was a mouth that smiled easily. He didn’t know enough to be sour-faced. As the island people say, “Rock-stone at river bottom don’t know sun hot.”

The young man had just passed his A-level exams with distinctions in English and European History. So he could now go to college. He wouldn’t even have to take the first2 year exams at Oxford or Cambridge. Of course, the chance of his going to Oxford or Cambridge was about as good as being invited to tea with the Queen, which his mother still hoped in her heart of hearts would happen some day. When he was about four months old, she found out he was lefthanded, and set out to change him over.

“What if the Queen invited him to tea and he picked up his teacup with his left hand? Think how embarrassing that would be,” she explained to the boy’s bewildered father.

She had never met the Queen, or anyone associated with Her Majesty, but she loved the idea of Royalty, and was transported to a magical world by old-fashioned English novels. Anyway, that was the last thing on anyone’s mind at this moment.

“You can always get a job as a Bookkeeper on one of the properties,” his father suggested, looking up briefly from his crossword puzzle and brushing a lock of red-brown hair, streaked with gray, out of his eyes.

The young man wilted. The prospect of spending sunny afternoons locked in a room with musty accounting journals filled him with melancholy.

“Maybe I could emigrate,” he suggested in desperation.

“Work my way through college. Some people do that.”

“Maybe you could,” his father agreed, but without conviction.

“You could go to America,” his mother said. “My parents went to America when I was a girl. I lived with my aunt for years.” She caught her reflection in the kitchen window and straightened her shoulders. She was a patrician-looking woman with startlingly white skin and raven hair. As she pointed out from time to time, she still had her girlish figure.

“When I was a girl, I had the smallest waist of any of my friends,” she would say. “It was less than 20 inches.”

Where to Get the Book:
“Hill-an’-Gully Rider,” is available at http://stores.lulu.com/georgeg.