IF EVERYONE LEADS, WHO FOLLOWS?

Foundation readers know that, around the domino table, Dessie was always the leader.

For starters, he was easily the best of the domino players. One day, as usual, it was Gene Autry and I against Dessie and the Dunce.  The Dunce swung the game two fours.  I played four-six.  Without hesitation Dessie used four-five to cut off the other four-end.  I made a mental note; Dessie had no sixes.  Eventually, I had to make the crucial play. Dessie and Autry each held one card, the Dunce still had two. All three fours and six-blank were still out.

The Dunce had passed to sixes so it was obvious that Gene Autry held the six-blank and Dessie one of the fours.  My two cards were the two hard-ends and I could send hard six or hard deuce (deuce-four; double four; four-blank out).  It briefly puzzled me why the Dunce would swing the game fours holding only three including the double but, well, the Dunce was the Dunce.  Anything was possible.

With lots of fanfare and a smug smirk, I played the six for Autry to win but, with his patented mischievous smile, Dessie turned over the six-blank. 

If a macca, mek it jook yu……” chanted the Dunce merrily.

“But, but…” I stammered “you run from six and cut yu partner’s four!”

Dessie’s smile widened “No” he replied “If my pardy tu’n de game two four with double-four inna fe him hand, him better know how him a go play it.  Is my duty to mek him know that is not me have it.” While Dessie was delivering the domino lecture, Autry was ruefully turning over double four.  “See dat!” Dessie exclaimed “Dat card can’t play inna my ludo game!”

Immediately, my domino technique improved.  I learned that, swinging the game two of a card wasn’t solely (or even necessarily) to pass right hand opponent.  It had a secondary (sometimes primary) objective namely to locate the double.  If, perchance, left hand opponent held that double, partner’s duty was to make sure it never entered the game effectively eliminating one-half of the opposition.

                             “Top Cat, the most effectual Top Cat,                                                          whose intellectual close friends get to call him T.C.
Providing it’s with dignity….

I learnt much more than dominoes from Dessie.  I learned about life “on the ground”.  It was he who first introduced me to English racing.  One day, I found him in the company of the Dunce on a mission.  “Come with us” he proposed “we a go buy some English race.”  That was definitely a foreign concept to me but, it was summer holidays; I was a teenager with nothing to do; so I followed them (on foot) all the way from Mona to Barbican Road.  They carried me behind Lane Plaza, over a little bridge where a small Track Price Plus betting shop was located.  It was owned and operated by Dessie’s friend “Mr Morgan” (name changed to protect the guilty).

Mr Morgan welcomed us to his little betting shop; kept our company (we were his only customers); and skilfully made us feel special as he efficiently separated us from our week’s pocket money.  But I found the adventure fascinating.  The feel of the English racing programme was different.  The jockeys’ and trainers’ names sounded exotic.  The disjointed commentary on the walkie-talkie type radio, spiced with static, was mysteriously hypnotic.

                   “Once upon a time there was a tavern
where we used to raise a glass or two.
Remember how we laughed away the hours
and dreamed of all the great things we would do…

                 Those were the days my friend.
We thought they’d never end.
We’d sing and dance forever and a day.
We’d live the life we choose.
We’d fight and never lose
for we were young and sure to have our way.”

I was hooked.  I knew nothing about English racing but started researching assiduously from sources like Timeform, whose “Black Book” (the Bible of English racing) would arrive 3 weeks stale but remained useful for weeks; and Raceform (an entire newspaper devoted to horse racing!).  Soon, I was an English racing junkie.

Leaders lead.  They aren’t just “hail-fellow-well-met” types. Dessie knew more than the rest of us about growing up which, at the time, was our only purpose.  The Dunce was happy-go-lucky.  Autry wanted to be a champion sportsman.  The Beast was a natural follower.  Me, I was the observer.  I stood to one side; watched; and analysed.  From then, I was destined to be a writer. Should we have substituted The Dunce for Dessie because Dessie might’ve occasionally threatened his partner to “cut you wid a domino”?

Absolutely not.  After over 35 years apart, out of the blue, I ran into Dessie on Marcus Garvey’s Birthday.  We were both attending a birthday party for one as diametrically opposite to Garvey as Chris Rock is to Dolly Parton.  Dessie had been living in New York and, although we’d corresponded once or twice by e-mail, it was the first time we were seeing each other for decades.  He has settled down with two children and a beautiful wife (another former Mona Heights inmate) who keeps him in line just as The Old Ball and Chain does for me.  Now, we each have domestic leaders to whom we must report.

                   “Then the busy years went rushing by us.
We lost our starry notions on the way.
If by chance I’d see you in the tavern,
we’d smile at one another and we’d say

                  those were the days, my friend.
We thought they’d never end.
We’d sing and dance forever and a day.
We’d live the life we choose.
We’d fight and never lose.
Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days…”

But, for teenaged competition; for group versus group (can’t use the word “gang” whose original meaning has been completely usurped by today’s horrid versions) friendly one-upmanship; for street campaigning to get girls; for horse racing tips; Dessie was the leader of the pack.    You don’t change leaders simply because you can.  Dessie was our leader. He was Top Cat

                   “Top Cat!
The indisputable leader of the gang.
He’s the boss; he’s the pip;
he’s the championship.
He’s the most tip top
Top Cat!

The JLP is once again proving it just can’t stand success by its very public and unnecessary leadership quarrel.  Why?  Clearly, it’s enjoying the role of permanent Opposition. It’s time for the JLP to stop acting like children.  Even teenagers, as we were at the time, know better.

The time for a challenge to Young Andrew’s leadership was immediately after the 2011 election.  As sitting Prime Minister (albeit for an unfairly brief time) he’d led the party to a defeat at general elections the timing of which was his choice.  No challenge came then.  Since that time, he (predictably) lost a quickly called Local Government election.  Still, the JLP seemed happy for him to continue. Now that his calm, steady leadership has made the JLP much more palatable to the average voter; now that the PNP has been thoroughly exposed as unlikely to lead us to prosperity; now that the JLP has actually made some electoral gains however small; now is when persons want to challenge Young Andrew for JLP Leadership?

Why do some people insist on revealing themselves as political opportunists rather than responsible leaders?  When the JLP needed responsible leadership; when Bruce Golding had reduced it to electoral rubble; where were these people?  Did they step up to the plate and take on the unpopular and personally destructive job of leader?  Of course not.  They gladly fell back, bided their time and accepted Young Andrew as the electorate’s official whipping boy.  It was ok for Young Andrew to take the blows for the party at its most unpopular but he’s not good enough to lead it when its popularity is growing?  Who’s responsible for the renewed popularity of the JLP?  Water Boy?  The Mad Hatter?  How does the conduct of these proposed Kings and Kingmakers since election suddenly propel them irresistibly to party leadership?  What have they done to revive the JLP’s fortunes?

Come on, JLP.  Grow up.  If you want to remain stable and with the little momentum you’ve acquired since 2011, get off the “teim” you appear to be on and jump back on the “team” with the most likely leader to achieve the JLP’s purpose.  Real teams have no “I” in their spelling.  Furthermore, Jamaicans like me need a strong JLP not a weak unit led by any repeated reject.  Why? Because, since we support neither party, we want both to be at their strongest in order that both are kept on their toes always in danger of defeat.  Jamaica doesn’t need another 18 years of one party rule.  Not now.  Not ever! Never!! 

Legendary cartoon creators Joseph Barbera and William Hanna’s Top Cat, with its alley cat gang’s escapades to the affable but dim-witted Officer Dibble’s exasperation, had us in stitches on Saturday mornings.  Every teenaged group, regardless of the common thread that kept it together, identified with Top Cat’s gang.  Did you know Hanna and Barbera patterned their Top Cat characters after the Phil Silvers Show’s motor pool gang led by the irrepressible Sergeant Bilko?

Songwriter Gene Raskin produced the seminal lyrics to Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days (number 1 on the UK Top Ten; Number 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100) which sold over 1.5 million copies in the U.S.A.  Born in Wales (a la Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey), she began singing welsh folk songs until she was discovered by the Beatles and recorded the song at their Apple Studios.  Unfortunately, despite her second single Goodbye (number 2); her third Temma Harbour (number 6) and fourth Knock, Knock Who’s There (number 2) all making it to the UK Top Ten, on the world stage she was never more than a one-hit wonder.

Peace and Love

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