Born in London and being the only child raised by my grandparents was rather lonely but I found comfort in books. I remember reading everything I could get my hands on. Particular favorites were “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, “The Secret Garden”, “What Katy Did” and a host of other popular children’s books. Looking back I lament the fact that as British children born to Caribbean parents, we didn’t know very much about our literary heritage. I now know there were several prominent Caribbean writers, but we weren’t introduced to them then.
It wasn’t until I migrated to Jamaica with my grandparents in the 60’s that I discovered the rich vein of Caribbean and African authors like Buchi Emcheta, Chinua Achebe, George Lamming (a bit highbrow), Lorna Goodison and many many others. Gosh – how could I forget the great icon, Ms. Louise Bennett-Coverley.
The first year in Jamaica , she saved my life. Coming from England with my cockney British accent, the Jamaican kids teased me mercilessly. It wasn’t until I discovered Louise Bennett’s “Labrish” and was able to tune my ear and learn to speak Patois that the onslaughts ceased. Enduring memories of my school days in Jamaica involve me sitting under some shady tree at the edge of the playing field with my head deep in the comic books my mother used to send from England , “Bunty”, “Sparky” and “The Beano”. Eating my patty and cocoa bread with a chocolate milk to quench my thirst – ah heaven, those were the days.
I remember attending Morant Bay High School and being sent home in shame by the Headmaster – Mr. Brown, simply for wearing white socks instead of brown! Discipline in schools was not an issue then, even the “rudest rudie” feared and respected their teachers. Teaching was (and I hope still is) a noble profession and teachers took such pride in training the young minds in their care. One particular English teacher whose name still escapes me after all these years, nurtured my love of English. After winning an English prize of a Caribbean writer’s anthology that diminutive Chinese woman used to make me sit in the open-aired classroom and write poems while my classmates romped in the dusty yard.
My grandparents moved to Kingston shortly after and although I received a scholarship to enter Excelsior, for some reason I ended up attending Camperdown. Donald Quarrie was a revered senior and perhaps it was he who sparked my interest in athletics. I religiously make the trek to Penn Relays every year and proudly display my British and Jamaican flags.
I believe I am a much better person because of my British heritage and Jamaican culture. Being rooted and grounded in both, interchanging dialects as only Jamaicans can is something that fascinated my British work colleagues – little did they know my lapses into patois were simply to stop them eavesdropping on my conversations! I’m adding a third dimension since I now live in New York, but longing for the day when I’ll be able to return to the land of my parent’s birth.