Georgetown, Guyana – a lost city?

A letter published in the Stabroek News on November 3rd, 2013, headed:

Forty years on, most of the splendour of the Garden City has gone

                                                                                                                             31st October, 2013
Dear Editor,

I have just been on my first visit to Guyana in 40 years. From 1968 to 1969, I was a VSO working for Broadcasts to Schools in Georgetown, and I came back in January 1970 to marry Wordsworth McAndrew and teach at St Joseph’s High School.  Our daughter Shiri was born in 1972; I completed my Diploma in Education at UG the following summer, and only returned to England after our divorce in September 1973.

Since then, all through my exile, I have held fond memories of the beautiful Garden City that was Georgetown. I loved the elegant white wooden houses with their jalousies and delicate fretwork, in gardens overflowing with bougainvillea, hibiscus and oleander.  I loved the wide avenues lined with sweeping flamboyant trees and canals sparkling in the sun.  I loved the bridges over trenches to little wooden cottages on stilts, in yards brimming with palm trees and callaloo.  Continue reading

Wordsworth McAndrew – August 2008

– written for the memorial services held for him in New York and London

I first met Mac at the BBC, in London, where he was just finishing a TV course with some guys from Guyana Broadcasting Service.  I was doing an extra week’s training in radio there before I went out to Guyana, to do Voluntary Service Overseas at Broadcasts to Schools with Celeste Dolphin.

As it happened, my group shared a lounge with the Guyanese crew, so I was introduced to them all. I was immediately drawn to Mac, and as I had to find someone to interview for a radio project, I rashly asked him if I could interview him about Guyanese folklore and culture.  Of course, I could hardly have chosen a subject closer to his heart!  He told me all about Queh queh and Cumfa;  I found him fascinating, and as we saw a lot of each other for the rest of that week, I invited him down to stay with my family before he went back home.  When I arrived in Guyana, some weeks later, I didn’t have to be part of the usual VSO crowd, as I had an open door into his world. Continue reading

Geoff Beaghen and Hastings Arts – August 2011

I first met Geoff in 1987.  He was then in the throes of gathering together a group of people to form Hastings Arts – his vision of an umbrella organisation to include Music, Poetry, Film and Drama in addition to the Visual Arts.  Mutual friends had suggested that I should be the Theatre representative, and that’s how I came to know him.

His long-term dream was to establish an Arts Centre in Hastings that would not only act as an inspiration for local people and provide a venue for exhibitions and performances for local artists, but also help to regenerate the town itself.  Continue reading

My father, Harold Dexter, 1893-1989

My brother John asked me to write something about our father’s life,
and read it at his funeral.
Some of the incidents described are based on the memoirs I asked him to write,
and some are memories of my own.

My father was born in 1893, the second of six children; his older brother was Arthur, and after him came Charlie, Ernie, Ethel and Elsie.  At first they lived in Kennington, but later moved to Mitcham, where most of his early memories were centred.  I used to love hearing over and over again the stories he told about his childhood: like the time he was sent to buy an egg for a penny farthing, and having carried it carefully home and rested it gently on the sloping window sill while he knocked at the door, was bewildered to find that it had rolled off and smashed…  Or the time he was sent to purchase “a pennorth of pot ‘erbs”, not having the remotest idea what they were…  Or the time his mother sent him to buy a quill, and he decided the ostrich feathers were much prettier, so he bought the nicest one there, and then had to take it back to the shop, waiting outside for half an hour until the shop was empty, to pluck up the courage to go in…  Or the time his father sent him out, at the age of seven, to buy a mattressContinue reading

The Man in the Van…

This was one of the first of my vituperative onslaughts, after my first encounter with tradesmen’s fees in my first basement flat.  
      The faded tissue-paper carbon copies of the correspondence were at the back of a very old file. 
           … And the hourly rate has its own tale to tell…

Dear Mr Xxxxxx,
      I have received your account dated October 31st, 1979, relating to work carried out at the above premises on October 16th, 1979, and feel sure that there must be some simple explanation for the extraordinarily high figure it contains.
      The work took less than two hours to do, and even allowing for labour costs as high as £5.00 per hour, it would be hard to imagine how a basic figure as excessive as £20.00 could be arrived at.  Perhaps there was a typing error and the figure was intended to be £10.00 – still considerable, but rather more reasonable as a price.
      I look forward to having clarification from you about this, and thank you in anticipation.
Yours faithfully,  …………
Continue reading

Racist remark on Radio 4?

March 20th, 1982

To the Director General of the BBC

I am writing to protest at the racist content of a remark made by one of the presenters of the Today programme on Wednesday March 17th.

The remark in question followed an item on the medicinal use of leeches

The presenter claimed to have been told that anyone who had seen the film “The African Queen” – which he had not done, as he had not been to the cinema for the last 35 years – “would have seen a number of large, black, slug-like objects;  you might also have seen some leeches…” pause for laughter from his colleague.

I am aware that degrading innuendo of this kind is considered fair currency among the ignorant and the insensitive;  I am aware that in objecting to it I am opening myself to charges of obsessiveness;  but until that moment I had shared a naïve belief in the underlying Good Nature of the BBC as an institution, and was physically and emotionally shaken to hear such a sinister slur being given its sanction.  Continue reading

In a Free State, by V S Naipaul

Soon after my return from 5 years in Guyana in the early 1970s, I submitted this piece as part of my bid to review for the TLS or the TES.   In response I was invited to define the areas I would like to specialise in, and foolishly uncertain which to suggest, delayed replying too long, and let the opportunity slip…

In a Free State, by V S Naipaul.  
This novel takes the form of variations on a theme.  It is written in five sections: a prologue, three separate narratives, and an epilogue – and while these sections are unconnected in terms of plot or character, they are all consistent with the theme of the isolation and insularity of expatriates. Continue reading

The Poetry of Alain Grandbois

I wrote this appreciation back in 1967,  in my final year at University, where as part of my degree in French and Drama I studied French Canadian Literature.  Some of Grandbois’ poetry can be found in the collection “Classiques Canadiens”, as chosen and  presented by Jacques Brault.

In much of his poetry, Alain Grandbois appears condemned to a restless journey through night, rain, endless streets marked by the impotent illumination of street lamps, exclusion from the existence of fellow men, and the gradual disintegration of contact with a loved woman – to a “périple”  of perpetual solitude. In this nightmare, place succeeding place in a filmic progression, as he makes a desperate, misunderstood, unanswered cry for contact – with another, or with an ideal that will justify the chaos:
“Une colonne d’allégresse”
– he is obsessed with the evanescence of life, and the ugly manifestations of death among the living, and of decay among the dead:
“…ces trop beaux visages détruits”. Continue reading

The Woman Upstairs

Immediately above us lived a young couple called Sandra and Nige.  When they first moved in, still unmarried, I wondered how they could possibly be contemplating cementing a relationship which, judging from the frequency and volume of their arguments  (confined mainly to the small hours of the morning and the exercise of a certain adjective beginning with F) was far from idyllic.   But marry they did, and their arguments continued, thus sanctified, though admittedly with a temporary lessening of ferocity. Continue reading

Hidden Figures – 10; La La Land – Nil

Apart from a Hollywood mutual congratulation exercise, can anyone explain to me why That Film got so many Oscar nominations – and awards?  OK, it was glitzy and colourful, but what was all the fuss about?

Story?  Uh uh;  Characters?  Uh uh;  Acting?  Uh uh.  Memorable songs? Uh uh

Whereas Hidden Figures was thought-provoking, shocking, gripping, moving, uplifting and life-enhancing – a story that needed to be told, and that was told brilliantly.

I rest my case!