January 7, 2009 issue

Arts & Entertainment

Abiding love for cricket in ‘Shouts From the Outfield’

Linda M. Deane and Robert Edison Sandiford, Eds., Shouts From the Outfield: the ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology, Bridgetown, Barbados, ArtsEtc Inc. 2007, pp.219 ISBN-13: 978-976—95183-0-8

A review by Frank Birbalsingh
Admission by the editors of Shouts from the Outfield: the ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology – that they are “two cricket-know nothings” – might tempt some people not to buy and/or read their book. But either option would be a mistake. For although Linda Deane and Robert Sandiford grew up outside the West Indies, in Britain and Canada respectively, they had Barbadian (Bajan) parents, through whom, somehow, they seem to have imbibed an abiding love of West Indian cricket. Ms. Deane, at any rate, confesses to being captivated by: “the historical and socio-political significance of the game and its supernaturalness.”
Shouts from the Outfield contains twenty-one essays from mainly Bajan contributors whose comments or shouts about West Indian cricket from the public outfield are organised into three sections, the first of which “Silly at Mid-On: Commentaries” consists of general essays on cricket, including light-hearted touches that create a humorous tone. Adonijah’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” for example, opens with an anecdote about a panic-stricken Bajan housewife whose urgent phone call to the Fire Service, reporting her house on fire, gets this response: “Sorry, lady, you got to call back later. Sobers batting now.”
Humour is one thing, but the Fire Service’s passion for cricket smacks of something else, which comes out more clearly in Philip Spooner’s “Laramania” in the form of a letter from C.L. R. James to Frank Worrell, after the latter was appointed captain of the West Indian team for their tour of Australia in 1960/61. At the time, the West Indies were still British colonies, and James urged Worrell to use his appointment as the first black captain of the team to show: “that we [West Indians] are capable of managing our own affairs, and if you can demonstrate that, then we will go to 10 Downing Street [residence of the British Prime Minister] to discuss independence in this region.” Cricket, in other words, was a key to the West Indian political kingdom.
Ikael Tafari’s “The Drama of Cricket,” the last essay in Section One, delves further into this political link. Relying on insights from Orlando Patterson’s essay “The Ritual of Cricket,” Tafari analyses an incident in the Third Test match at Sabina Park in February, 1968, after West Indies had replied with 143 to an English first innings total of 376, and having followed on, had reached 204 for five in their second innings. Basil Butcher was then given out, caught low down the leg side by the English wicket-keeper; and this decision by umpire Douglas Sang Hue, a Chinese-Jamaican, provoked a riot that stopped play for 75 minutes with the angry crowd hurling bottles on the field.
In Tafari’s words,”The masses of black Jamaicans” who regarded the English team as “symbols of their oppression,” and hoped they would be defeated by their local heroes, now saw their hopes frustrated by “a ‘Chineeman’ siding with ‘the enemy’ and ‘teefing out’ the Guyanese black man Butcher.” As largely urban shopkeepers, Chinese-Jamaicans were: “seen by the black majority as collaborators with the ruling classes, heartlessly exploiting poor blacks.” This is the crux of Tafari’s argument - that cricket is: “a gladiatorial drama of consciousness depicting the primordial struggle between Prospero and Caliban – between colonizer and colonized.” All this may seem old hat, nowadays, long after Independence, and after the 1980s and 90s when the West Indian team achieved international cricket supremacy under Clive Lloyd. But Independence and cricket supremacy have so far done little to change continuing West Indian dependence in political, economic and cultural affairs.
Section Two - “Border Cricket: Legends” - offers comic relief consisting of five items, including an excerpt from Austin Clarke’s Giller prize winning novel The Polished Hoe which mixes hilarity and historical reminiscence into a seductively revealing and entertaining blend. Best of all “Fete Match,” a long (eleven-page) poem by Paul Keens Douglas, is a masterpiece of joyous whimsey that captures the farcical extravaganza of a Selvonesque cricket match in which the coin tossed up before the start of the match: “never came back down. Somebody teaf it.”
Section Three – “Kensington Memories: Reminiscences” - then closes Shouts from the Outfield with reminiscences by five authors of Kensington Oval, the Test match ground in Barbados. The first, “Kensington Memories,” is by Tony Cozier the most durable cricket journalist and broadcaster to have emerged in the West Indies during the past two or three decades. As a Bajan, Cozier knows everything about his home ground, and recalls special moments such as its founding in 1922 by the Pickwick Cricket Club, its hosting of the inaugural West Indies home Test, against England, in 1930, and in 1958 Hanif Mohammad’s exploit of the longest Test innings ever played - sixteen and a half hours.
In “A Partnership to Remember” historian Professor Keith Sandiford re-creates the context of the match-saving, record-breaking seventh wicket partnership of 347 runs between the West Indian captain Denis Atkinson and the wicket-keeper Clairmonte Depeiza, in the Fourth Test against Australia at Kensington Oval in 1955. Atkinson scored 219 and became “the first cricketer to score a double century and capture five wickets in an innings in the same Test.” Depeiza, meanwhile, made 122.
Another historian Professor Hilary Beckles argues in “Tribute to Sir Gary Sobers” that Sobers’s achievement was part of an historic “cricket revolution” that began with early West Indian activists like J.J. Thomas and Paul Bogle, and continued with “radical cricketers” like Learie Constantine and George Headley, before inspiring a “wider democratic movement” through men like C.L.R.James, Frank Worrell and Garfield Sobers. If, as two cricket know-nothings, the editors of Shouts from the Outfield can serve up such a delicious dish of history, politics, reminiscence and thoughtful reflection, lavishly garnished with spicy humour, how much more delicious might their dish have been had they been cricket know-alls instead!

Cricket 'certainly better' than sex: Harold Pinter
Nobel laureate Harold Pinter

British playwright and Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, who died this week, said in his last interview he thought cricket was better than sex.
“I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing that god created on earth - certainly greater than sex, although sex isn't too bad either,” he said in the interview, published by the Guardian newspaper Saturday.
Cricket was the subject of the interview, given to the Guardian in October amid failing health. Pinter, one of the greatest post-War playwrights, died Thursday at the age of 78.
What attracted the famous playwright to cricket was the game's inherent drama - the game within the game.
“Drama happens in big cricket matches. But also in small cricket matches.
“When we play, my club, each thing that happens is dramatic: the gasps that follow a miss at slip, the anger of an lbw decision that is turned down. It is the same thing wherever you play, really.”
Pinter was captain of a wandering cricket club from London called the Gaieties and had played the game from childhood. His house was full of cricket memorabilia, including a framed copy of W.G. Grace's autograph.
Pinter, a lifelong admirer of great England batsman Len Hutton, said: “cricket, the whole thing, playing, watching, being part of the Gaieties, has been a central feature of my life.”

I'll wait to return to Bengal, my home:
Writer Taslima Nasreen
By Dipankar De Sarkar
Noted Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen has defended her reported decision to move to Paris, saying repeated denials of shelter by New Delhi and Dhaka mean she has to find some other place to live in.
"I have to settle somewhere if I am repeatedly denied by the Bangladesh government as well as Indian government to live in Bangladesh or India where I belong," Nasreen said in written comments to IANS.
But wherever she lives, Bengal will remain her home, said the writer who had to leave Bangladesh and then India because of protests by Islamic fundamentalists over her feminist writings.
"I am grateful to those countries who have offered shelter when I am homeless everywhere. But wherever I live, I will always wait to return home. Bengal is my home," said the writer, who has seen successive governments in Dhaka, Kolkata and New Delhi buckle under pressure from Islamic fundamentalists to move against her. She left India in March last year.
Nasreen, who has always found a warm welcome in Paris, temporarily moved to Sweden. The Paris mayor's office Saturday said it has decided to provide her with a rent free apartment in the French capital. A spokesman said the writer asked the city for help after being made an honorary citizen, adding she will move into a former convent-turned-artists' residence in February.
The writer said recently that she felt safe in Paris because she could walk in the streets without having to be escorted by bodyguards.
Nasreen still faces death threats from Islamic fundamentalist groups which were incensed by the depiction in her novel "Lajja" (Shame) of the persecution of a Hindu family in Bangladesh.
Fundamentalists - mostly South Asian men - are also angered by her feminist writings, underpinned by her strong opposition to Sharia law.
But Nasreen said recently her idea was not to criticise Islam per se, but to defend women's rights and freedom.
"My aim is to raise consciousness, to struggle for justice for women, so I have no alternative but to criticise Islam because Islam oppresses women."
“I know millions of women have been suffering because of religion, tradition, culture and customs, and I feel a responsibility to do something," she was quoted as saying.
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë has described her as a freedom fighter, saying: "You have been chased out of your home because you raised your voice against the inhumanity of fanaticism. You are at home here, in this city where men are born and live free and equal."
Family that freezes together, sticks together!
What is a tropical bird like me doing attending a Polar Bear Club Dip on New Year’s Day in Port Dover? My wife and I, together with hundreds of onlookers, went to cheer on the scores of brave souls who jumped into Lake Erie to raise money for charity at this annual event, inaugurated in 1982.
Around 1:00 p.m., a group of scantily clad bathers emerged from a nearby building and walked by, slip sliding on large chunks of ice on the lakeshore, shouting boisterously as they headed down to the frigid water.
Polar Bear Dip in Port Dover, New Year's Day 2009
There a large hole had been made for them to jump into! The outdoor temperature was about -8C, water temperature definitely sub zero.
Although warmly clothed from head to toe, I shivered as I watched them go by. Some were in bikinis, some in shorts, colourful costumes, all looking festive and summer like, shouting encouragement to each other. My father would have said that “these people need their heads examined”.
This annual New Year’s Day ritual apparently also takes place along the shores of Lake Ontario, in Boston, U.S.A., and in other places, to raise money for various charities. It is also supposed to bring good luck to the bathers for the rest of the year.
Having negotiated the blocks of ice myself in order to get a view, I saw an ambulance parked up nearby – not a bad idea. Families and individuals were there, some with their dogs – Santa was in evidence, probably not wishing to miss this event before he headed back to the North Pole, testing the waters, and even ‘Elvis’ trying to go unnoticed, so cold, he looked all shook up!
Young and old were there. They jumped in and out quickly, shouting and gasping. Some claimed it was invigorating, others complained that they had no feeling in their toes, feet and other extremities! Some individuals have been doing this for years. Some jumped in as a family – the family that freezes together, sticks together! Some use the dip to sober up quickly from their New Year’s Eve hangover. Some use it to test their mental conditioning, having done exercises to increase their adrenalin flow beforehand. I could only watch and wonder.
After the Polar Bear Dip, there was a Polar Bear Levee – an old time fiddler party at the Port Dover Harbour Museum. All around there was a carnival type atmosphere in the middle of winter with children, adults and pets having a grand time.
It amazes me that folks don’t end up with pneumonia or worse but as one bystander commented “We are Canucks – tough and hardy people”. This was not for me, a tropical bird. I can hardly find enough clothes to bundle up with in the winter. Perhaps it proves that it’s all mind over matter, but I for one am not prepared to try this Polar Bear Dip. The only Polar Bear that Guyanese fancied was Polar Bear rum.
What are your plans for the New Year? Are you prepared to try something new? Any New Year’s resolutions? How about letting some leather hit the floor by trying ballroom dancing? It’s never too late. Ah gone to do my dip in the bathtub. If the creeks don’t rise and the sun still shines, I’ll be talking to you.
Bringing the Caribbean experience into frigid Canada
Quatro maestro Lindy Burgess, right and a member of La Petite Musicale going riff-to-riff during the Parang Lime at Christmas time
By William Doyle-Marshall
Christmas festivities have always been a big and extravagant happening for Caribbean people irrespective of their origin. And when they migrated to the northern climes like Canada and the United States of America or even London and elsewhere in Europe, they naturally took their practices with them.
In the early migratory days they most anxiously awaited the arrival from back home goodies like fruitcakes, ginger beer, sorrel pastelle and those were accompanied by musical recordings of Caribbean style melodies. As you sit with Canadians of Caribbean descent who have been residing in the Greater Toronto Area for a couple of decades you hear stories about items arriving from family and friends back at a time when sea was the mode of transport. In some instances the fruitcake arrived too late, well after the celebrations. But the fortunate ones whose products came on time lavishly enjoyed and shared with new-found friends.
There are also stories about music arriving (the old long playing records) in no shape to be used. These vinyl products either were delivered bent, warped or scratched. So they were sadly laid to rest in special filing spaces marked with the letter “G”.
With the passage of time and increased migration ethnic/variety stores and groceries popped up around the GTA. These helped to reduce the dependence on goodies from “back home”. Now places like Asian Caribbean Foods – East and West Indian Grocery; Timehri Restaurant; Hairoun Bakery & Grocery; Caribbean Oriental Specialty Foods Inc.; and Bonnevue Enterprises, which encompasses Island Chef and Island Taste, have filled the void for culinary preparations. Jerk ribs, jerk turkey, smoked turkey and smoked ham, curry powder, dried coconuts, pigeon peas, sauces and fruit cakes are among the growing list of delights that help put merriment into the Christmas celebrations of Caribbean-Canadian homes as these nationals bring and share joy among members of the communities.
For Ram Persad who operates Asian Caribbean Foods – East and West Indian Grocery on the edge of Markham, the products he offers to customers has tremendous health benefits. He sings the praises of Fish yams, sweet potatoes, green bananas, plantains and other items categorized as ethnic foods. Following a doctor’s diagnoses that he had diabetes a couple years ago, he began paying closer attention to the produces he had been selling. “I guess a lot of people aren’t educated enough to understand the value of our West Indian foods. When you become diabetic you start to read and when you start to read you go to lessons,” Persad noted.
La Petite Musicale of Toronto headed by Lindy Burgess award-winning Trinidadian musician and music teacher of York University and the Toronto District School Board produced its 39th annual Christmas concert last year. Plans are already afoot for the 40th anniversary celebration towards the end of this year. Even Burgess talks about his good fortune in being able to tap into the availability of some highly skilled musicians, who now call Toronto home.
For more than two decades Ken Bahadoor formerly of Guyana has been a featured performer with the group. Composers like Dennis Renwick who started his musical career in Trinidad is a La Petite Musicale mainstay along with Kathy Ruiz, a long-time vocalist who has added percussion to her skills.
Now there are younger generation participants like Garrett Burgess and Mark Mosca whose parents have been in the forefront providing musical vehicles to soothe the nostalgia of their peers over the past four decades.
With a repertoire that spans the entire Caribbean region, the legendary La Petite Musicale folk group is now able to entertain audiences and lively up many private home parties. In fact when they hosted their own “thank you” Parang lime just before Christmas, it was an opportunity to enjoy some freshly made Black or fruitcake, tasty sorrel drink and ginger beer and well marinated stewed chicken with delightful rice. For the pork lovers that delicacy was also among items on the menu.
Despite the growing number of folk groups that are featured at pre-Christmas Parang sessions, there is still a dependence on island-style original performers like Crazy, Kenny J, The Baron and others who come to Toronto each year to please their fans. The Baron was the headline artiste on an Old Year’s Night card that played a big role in welcoming in 2009. However one solid Canadian award-winning artist who held his own also on Old Year’s Night was Eddie Bullen, the maestro of the cool jazz format. Sharing the stage with him at Ella’s Banquet Hall, were the invincible Liberty Silver and his son Quincy.
With culinary experts outdoing themselves and cultural practitioners making a point to be remembered by their committed fans and at the same time win over some new ones, the Caribbean Canadian community seemed ready to face the challenges of the coming economic turbulence that is waiting outside the doorsteps of the world.
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