Archives For children

Hee-haw – Who’s the Ass?

December 19, 2018 — 7 Comments

I was meant to be wrapping presents, washing windows, winnowing waste and generally preparing for an influx of much-loved visitors over the festive season. But I decided my time would be far better spent going to the races. Not to the dogs, of course.

Music blaring across the grassy expanse guided me to the entrance where I handed over $5 and was welcomed by a gentleman in white tails and top hat. This rather natty attire was somewhat marred by the white shorts but I gave full points for his well-turned calves – wasn’t that how men were judged back in the days of doublets and hose?

It was my first time at donkey races though I consider myself a keen supporter of mutton busting – that popular event at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo wherein small children straddle a sheep and cling to the surprisingly greasy wool in the hopes of staying aboard until the finish line. But I digress, and I am not in Houston.

I am on St Croix, the delightful, beautiful and verdant ‘big’ sister of the US Virgin Islands. 

Donkey racing I have learned was introduced in the 1960s, perhaps to pay homage to the simple ass who was once a common mode of transport. Like most stories from this wonderful island it is rather a convoluted one – we thrive on story telling here so, to copy a rather hideous phrase much in use at the moment, please bear with me a moment while I explain.

Donkey racing was started by a group of gentlemen whose habit it was to mass at a local shop to discuss matters of low, or high, importance of any given day. Politics and politicians are always good fodder for a gossip because we all know we could do better if only they would listen to the people they are meant to represent. Here I go again, off on a tangent – Crucian eloquence must be rubbing off on me. In any event, and I’m not sure of the date, one of aforementioned gentleman, a chap named Minard Jones, decided to open a bar at which his pals could lubricate their vocal chords. This group of snappy dressers marched in a parade – we do love parades here – sometime in the 1950s in top hats and tails, and forever after have been known as Gentlemen of Jones, no doubt in honour of their pal Minard. Over the years these gentlemen have become active in various community events on St Croix, which brings us rather neatly back to the donkey races.

We run at our own special pace on this island – Crucian Time and anyway it was Sunday afternoon, and no one hurries on a Sunday, least of all donkeys. They, the donkeys, were corralled in pens at the base of a gentle slope – surprisingly not a bray amongst them. Clustered around were various people carrying bridles though saddles were not to be seen. My interest perked up. This would be entertaining, and no doubt authentic to their beginnings as a means of getting around back in the day.

First up were the children, six of them in a range of heights with one youngster’s legs dangling almost to the ground. A donkey, unimpressed, reared up sending his rider ignominiously to the turf before the red flag had even dropped but the boy ruled the day and mounted once again. The children were led around the track by volunteer runners, or haulers, depending on the donkeys’ willingness to budge. Some of those astride grabbed the reins, others grabbed the mane, with one tiny tike in a sundress and boots who, once lifted aboard, inched her way over the withers and clung to the bridle itself. Smart move, and as they pelted past, her curls streaming behind her, I could see she was a regular on the donkey circuit. Others were not as graceful on their steeds, slipping around bare bellies until the fortunately soft grass became an inevitable and inelegant end.

Watching lightweights on the backs of animals known for their recalcitrant nature was amusing, if a little nerve-wracking for the mothers I’m sure. Next up though were the men. Six stalwarts prepared to make an ass of themselves. Men ranging in size from slim to not-so-slim provoked a different sentiment. Pity for the donkeys and a sincere hope they found the energy to buck, or at least shake their riders off. The men, being manly, were meant to race holding their own reins but some, after a number of false starts, or no starts at all, were also assisted by the hard-working volunteers. 

It is difficult, I’m sure, to stay atop a donkey uninterested in its rider’s well-being but there is nothing quite like anothers self-imposed discomfort to bring out the best in spectators. So we laughed. It was gratifying when the men slid and slithered to the ground despite iron grips and gritty determination and the crowd had no compunction in cheering the asses on, although I wasn’t entirely sure which set.

I did not stay for the remaining races – the time between each event stretching even my willingness to avoid housework – but a loud hee-haw to the Gentlemen of Jones for donkey races well run!

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Governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, apparently rushed to the scene of a Kentucky high school shooting yesterday. In a prepared statement he said, “It is unbelievable that this would happen in a small, close-knit community like Marshall County.”

What’s unbelievable about that? I can tell you what is believable. It is believable that yet again the United States of America is complicit in the death of her school children. It is believable this tragedy has yet again destroyed the sanctity of education. It is believable a rural community is riven by the machinations of an out-of-control person with a gun.

What is unbelievable is that the United States of America seems wholly incapable of standing up to the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association and the band of idiots who continue to bleat and wail at any attempt to deal with the proliferation of gun ownership and the ease of gun purchase.

There has never been any attempt to deny the second amendment, ratified 227 years ago, along with the other nine first amendments, on December 15, 1791: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It is not what is being touted now.

But 227 years ago the population of this wonderful country was just a tad smaller. 227 years ago the citizens of this great country had need of arms to protect themselves and their property. 227 years ago kids were not killing kids.

“Fatal school shooting” ran the headline. “2 dead, 17 injured at Kentucky high school: suspect held” read the subtext. Not surprisingly Marshall County is reeling from the atrocity. Any child’s death is horrendous – against the natural order of life. Children’s deaths at the hand of another child adds an even greater level of horror.

The AP report was chilling in its expectation there would be other fatal school shootings. “The attack marked the year’s first fatal school shooting, 23 days into 2018, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive…”

And here is the truly terrifying statistic from the Everytown for Gun Safety. There have been at least, at least, 283 shootings at schools since 2013. One of those occurred on Monday. Thankfully not a fatality. But the life of a 15 year-old girl has been marred, perhaps irrevocably, after being shot by a 16 year-old classmate. How does a child trust again?

What the fuck is wrong with this country that the vociferous minority appear to think that number, 283, is okay? We see images on our screens of children wandering, shell-shocked, missing limbs, many of them orphans – they are children of war-torn countries. This is not a war-torn country.

Those images should not be replicated in the country purported to be the leader of the free world. Stories and photos of panicked children running to flee a madman, or mad child, with a gun in their high school atrium, cafeteria, classroom should not be the norm in the USA.

The 2 kids killed yesterday in Kentucky were 15 years old. The 17 other victims were also children. Governor Bevin said, “This is a wound that is going to take a long time to heal.” Really?

I did think to list all the gun incidents since the Sandy Hook slaughter in 2012, when 20 children and 6 adults were murdered at their school, but there are so many my eyes glazed over with tears. Let me though just list the number of gun related events in schools in 2018 – bearing in mind today is the 24th January, 2018: Jan 3rd – St Johns, Michigan; Jan 4th – Seattle, Washington; Jan 10th – San Bernardino, California; Jan 10th – Denison, Texas; Jan 10th – Sierra Vista, Arizona; Jan 15th – Marshall, Texas; Jan 20th – Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Then yesterday, January 23rd – Marshall County, Kentucky – the first deaths. Two young lives, gone.

Statistics are always rattled around but a couple are mind-shattering. For example, there is, roughly, 1 gun for every person in the United States or, using a statistic from the Small Arms Survey published in The Guardian – civilian gun ownership in the US is at 42%. Or here’s another from the Human Development Index – there are 29.7 homicides in the USA by firearm per 1 million people. 7.7 in Switzerland and 1.4 in Australia. Numbers that should frighten us.

But what is truly unbelievable is that when in 2013, 65% of US voters supported the background check bill, it failed to pass in the Senate. Remind me, aren’t senators there to promote the will of the people? A quick look at my copy of the Constitution confirmed they are. That particular amendment, the Seventeenth, was ratified on April 8, 1913 when senators became elected by the people, for the people, rather than chosen by the state legislatures.

January 2018 should be the month when We the People stand up to them – the NRA, the lobbyists and politicians – and say “we believe gun control is necessary. Believable.”

The Day That Was!

June 14, 2017 — 1 Comment

The monsoon season has made itself felt on and off all day and the frog song and cricket chorale are in full voice. They are the sounds of my childhood and transport me back to Africa and Asia. Tonight though I am in Trinidad. I am revelling in the symphony that surrounds me, interspersed with the occasional car being driven as if it is the circuit at Le Mans and not a narrow road meandering through Cascade, Port of Spain,

It has been a long day. It started at 5:30 with a warm little body snuggling up to me. My granddaughter likes her morning snuggles. We have reached an accord. I will cuddle but will not budge from bed until 6, when her little tummy sounds the alarm for breakfast. Who needs reveille? My other granddaughter meanwhile was glued to the iPad watching Jessie, a fairly innocuous program about a Texan nanny, a butler, and various children of different ethnicities all living in a penthouse in New York. I have yet to figure out where the parents are.

Which brings me to my granddaughter’s mother. My daughter, Kate. She is in London finessing the art of pole fitness in preparation for teaching it, along with classical ballet and Pilates – once her residency status is confirmed. Hopefully a rubber stamp as she is married to a Trinidadian. I am therefore helping out with the children so my son-in-law can earn a daily crust.

But I was telling you about my long day.

Not only am I responsible for two little beings. Getting them to school and nursery, along with packed lunches, water bottles, homework for one and any other seemingly extraneous necessity by 8 each morning, I am also playing Gigi to two dogs, a cat and a goldfish. I managed to kill the other goldfish, though in my defense little Johnny did not look well when I arrived.

Now I love animals and am a firm believer in children growing up with them. Responsibility and respect is taught, not to mention the sheer joy of pets. I was prepared for two grandchildren, one dog, one cat and two goldfish. The puppy was an unintended addition. Kate is a soft touch for waifs and strays – and days before my arrival they found an orphan pot hound on a trash heap at Cedros, in the south of the island. He was injured, riddled with worms and starving. She would not be my daughter had she left him to die.

The puppy, of indeterminate parenthood, is sweet natured. Their elderly Staffordshire is a dear and loving dog with humans and, strangely, the family cat, but any other dog, or gecko, or balloon, or kite is an anathema to his doggy psyche. This being the case, two days of a newly energetic and irritating puppy was enough to make him snap. Fortunately Buddy did not go for the jugular but rather a firm bite to the belly, puncturing the puppy’s little abdomen.

A tearful daughter on the phone before I left Houston, and she left Port of Spain, and I  found myself calming her down with the words, “I’ll take him. He can come and live in Houston with Bonnie.” I should add here that Bonnie is a deaf kitten I rescued from certain drowning off the Boardwalk in St Croix.

In order to keep the peace, and the vet’s bills to a minimum, we – my long-suffering son-in-law, the children and I – have had to come up with a system of separation. One dog in, one dog out. One dog in the loo, one in the kitchen. Meal times are tricky. Both dogs love cat food and loiter with intent if they have managed to avoid capture and / or expulsion, whenever the cat, Jax, tries to eat his kibble. Meanwhile Lilly swims in solitary circles waiting for fish fodder.

By 7 am this morning, I had brokered a peace treaty between feuding granddaughters, cleaned up the cat’s vomit and the puppy’s poo from the welcome mat. I did mention it is the monsoon season and this puppy from the rubbish dump, in a matter of weeks, has rejected rough living and will not perform his ablutions in the rain.

The school run was accomplished with little fuss, both girls loving their respective places of learning and, as I waited for the gate securing me from the perils of Port of Spain to click shut, I decided I had earned a cup of coffee on the verandah.

It is my favourite spot in my daughter’s house – it’s where I’m sitting now – and as I sank into a chair with my steaming café au lait and the last of the brownies, I patted myself on the proverbial shoulder at a morning managed.

I phoned a friend. Our conversation was though abruptly cut off and the reason for the vomitting cat became clear. The other half of the ingested fledgling was clenched, vise-like, between the puppy’s needle-sharp teeth. Refusing to play ‘pull ‘with poor mangled creature, I tossed a squeaky toy and distracted Clyde long enough to retrieve the remains.

Twelve hours after this last incident, I am enjoying a large bourbon and water, listening to the timbre of the tropics and thinking how lucky I am. Between bodily functions and dead birds, we have painted plant pots, played pairs, flipped omelettes for supper and read The Little Mermaid.

It has been a long day, but messy details aside, a truly lovely day!

Tears for Thailand

October 14, 2016 — 3 Comments

Years ago and far away, in what now seems like another life time, we lived in Bangkok. Those fortunate enough to spend time, not just a vacation, but time enough to absorb some of a country’s culture, will forever have an element of that country in their souls.

As Thailand mourns the death of King Rama IX, my heart is heavy for what the country has lost and what the country now faces. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is the ordained successor to King Bhumibol – the only son and a man considered by many to be a serial philanderer. He has been married three times, has numerous children, some of whom he has denounced and is not held in the same high regard as his father. Or his sister.

I had the honour of being presented to Princess Sirindhorn when Cheshire Homes opened a new centre for the physically disabled on the outskirts of Bangkok. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn or as many Thais call her, Phra Thep – Princess Angel – is another matter. Admired by all for her steadfast devotion to the Thai people, she was elevated, with a tweak to the constitution in 1974, to Princess Royal which, in theory, would allow her a claim to the throne should something happen to the Crown Prince.

Soi Attawimon, where we lived our first time in Bangkok was a narrow street over a klong littered with daily detritus and which, in the monsoon season, regularly flooded our garden and occasionally our house. There were bonuses though to living on our little lane. Late afternoons were often punctuated by delighted squeals from our daughter, Kate, when she would feed sugar cane to the elephant ambling back to his home. We also had an early warning system of any coup. Tanks and trucks filled with soldiers would rumble along from military barracks at the far end of the soi. Being essentially a dead street did have its drawbacks though. We were regularly delayed as it was closed and city traffic idled to an even slower pace than usual, in order to allow the Crown Prince clear passage.

The Glorious Twelfth is not only the start of the grouse shooting season, it is also the now Dowager Queen Sirikit’s birthday, and so a public holiday. Kate, whose birthday is also on August 12th, grew up believing the whole world stopped for her one day every year.

There were many happy occasions in Thailand. From the serene to the surreal.

Loi Krathong, which falls on the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai calendar – usually the end of November – is a charming ritual. Baskets woven from banana leaves into ornate shapes are filled with flowers, trinkets, incense, candles and coins, sometimes even nail clippings or hair so character flaws are released, and are then floated down the waterways taking away misdeeds and paying obeisance to the water spirits. The Chao Phraya, the river flowing through Bangkok, is the main repository for the floating mass of twinkling baskets but, in my mind’s eye, it is our little fish pond where the spirit of loi krathong is wedged.

Inordinate skill is required to weave banana leaves into a floating receptacle. A skill I did not have despite expert guidance from Es, our maid. She fashioned a basket in the shape of a lotus blossom for Kate which was duly filled with flowers, a candle and a small doll, “For to be lucky”. The house was dark and our garden became a magical wonderland as lights from the soi sent shadows dancing. Kate, as she had been taught by Es, put her hands together in a deep wai and slid her loi krathong into the pond. Water splashed up and, as we watched her basket eddy amongst the reeds and curious gold fish, my two-year old turned to me laughing at her wet nightie and said, “Mai pen lai, Mummy!” And she was right. It didn’t matter. The world was in harmony in that darkened garden – if only for a moment.

Surreal came from the machinations of monkeys in Wang Kaew stealing our breakfast of papaya and pineapple when, as I shouted and flailed my arms at the intruders, Kate reminded me that being kind to kleptomaniac monkeys was considered good luck in Thailand. Es taught her well.

And Edward was born in Bangkok. Not on an auspicious date in the Thai calendar but a day to be forever celebrated in our family. Our children were playfully pinched and pampered by Thais wherever we went – scooped away the moment we sat at restaurant table – to be heard chortling as they devoured sticky rice and mango with their new friends.

And so, as Thailand mourns King Bhumibol, my heart is with them and my deepest hope for that gracious country is that the transition to a new monarch is peaceful. That, in the not too distant future, Thailand again becomes the Land of Smiles.