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‘When me was a Boy’

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‘When me was a boy’ I lived on Back Street, Sharpe Street and at Biabou. The house on Back Street, my grandfather’s, is now Gaymes’ Pharmacy. At that time, Kingstown hardly had any suburbs and Back Street was where many of the middle class lived. They walked or cycled to work and went home for lunch. The ground floor of the houses was made of stone and the first floor of wood. Kitchens and toilet were of necessity detached from the house as the fuel used was coals and wood, with each kitchen having a coal pot and a fire side.{{more}} In most yards there was a lime tree and often a breadfruit tree. There were scarcely any flush toilets and night soil was taken away in buckets and dumped in the sea from one of the wharves then in existence. Some of these wharves themselves had toilets overhanging the sea, and beneath them could be seen a lot of small fish called shitbosun. Garbage was collected daily on a mule cart and taken to the ‘cinerator’, which was where the Public Health building is. Prison garb was made from old-time flour bags and prisoners pulled carts filled with stones. Policemen were to be seen patrolling the streets and a redoubtable character like Sergeant Bramble had only to bellow ‘leave Bramble town’ to clear the city. Next to our small house was the much larger one of the Sprotts, who were leading members of the society. When they held parties everyone who was anyone came, including the Administrator (Governor). It was only on these occasions that it would be hard to find parking, since there were so few cars in the country at the time. I liked the parties since I could look at the cars and get some of the left-overs. On Sundays, morning and evening, people would pour out of the Methodist, Anglican and Catholic churches which were nearby. It was an ideal opportunity to lime a girl if you were old enough to do so. Even then all funerals processed along Back Street. As Peters, cart man and town crier tersely put it: ‘all dead ah walk ah Back Street’.

From Back Street I moved to Sharpe Street. This was definitely a lower class area. There were several rooming houses such as Nanton’ Yard. Predictably, here it was much more lively with many colourful characters. There was Manny-Pretty-Sunshine-Coo. In this context, ‘Pretty’ was the very height of irony. Manny, who was always dressed in an old jacket and an apron, sold coals and profitably so as on any morning I went there to buy coals he was frying eggs for breakfast. Then there was ‘Halleluiah Porkskin’. Schoolboys cruelly teased him. One boy would start shouting ‘Hally, Hally’, and the rest would chorus ‘Halleluiah Porkskin’. The house that I lived in is now the Hillocks building (Square Deal). Then it was really two houses. We rented the small one, while the owner, Harry Mitchell, lived in the big one. His grandson, James ‘Son’ Mitchell would come to visit him, sometimes in his cadet uniform. Next door was a pan yard for a steelband led by ‘Kibber’ Simmons and Freddie Ballantyne (not His Excellency, the red one). As the band practiced frequently, most children in the area were able to rehearse all the latest dances and become quite proficient at them. The real pastimes, however, were to be found on the beach and on Pasture. The piers, both cruiseship and deep water, and indeed the entire reclamation site, were not there at the time. On the beach one could spend one’s time in several ways; fishing at Flat Rock, helping to pull seine in return for some fish, watching shipwrights as they built boats at Carpenters’ Yard and rowing small boats out to the schooners which traded with the other islands, There was Belle Queen which took copra to Barbados and Lady Angels and Lady Joan which took ground provisions and small stock to Trinidad. Pasture, Richmond Hill playing field, was where cricket was played. Many of the non blacks who were good cricketers played there: Geoff Sardine, Garnett Niles and Ralph Hopley. There were also some good black players there like Manning Jackson, ‘Buddy-me-eye’ Lee, and Boop Gumbs. but perhaps the most illustrious of them all was ‘Poor Ben’ who lived about three doors away from me. He later metamorphosed into Sparrow Duncan. Several of the cricketers mentioned played for SVG when it was the colossus of Windward Islands cricket

From Sharp Street I moved to Biabou. A spell in the country was useful as one could acquire such skills as roasting breadfruit, riding donkey, husking and grating coconut and peeling green banana. Here the movement of night soil was not a problem as people used long drop pit latrines. Rather than go to the sea people would go to the mountain to fetch ground provision and breadfruit. This was done on foot or by donkey. The other key means of transport was the buses which were of the type now rarely seen with a truck chassis and a wooden body; the sort of vehicle that still goes to Fancy. Village society was of course much smaller than Kingstown society and the headmaster of the village school played a crucial role. He was not only Headmaster but local preacher, secretary of the Friendly Society and Choir Master. Very often the development of the village depended on the quality of the Headmaster. E.W. Ballah was one of the more outstanding of these. In those days the country roads were not asphalted and as a result many people’s feet were afflicted by chiggers and bum (stumped) toes. Biabou could not then be the football centre it is today. The game was not even played there at this time. There was no electricity and, as so often happens in these circumstances, belief in jumbies, old heg and obeah was common. Evangelical churches were popular and one even brought down a preacher from the US who said that compared to the US, SVG was just bush and, therefore, Vincentians should have no difficulty accepting Christ. I doubt if today’s Evangelicals would put anyone daft enough to say such a thing on their pulpit.

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