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Fred, Sat, Down, Andrew Windsor, Up
FUNNY OLD THING, this life. One moment, you’re sitting, sipping a cold beer and watching the sunset and, the next, you’re the centre of attraction at an event you know nothing about, dead on Accra Beach!
But most people won’t keel over, dead in a microsecond due to brain aneurism/massive cardiac arrest – though it’s a pretty firetrucking good way to go, if you have to go – as, apparently, we all do, even me, who has railed against it almost non-stop since birth. (Still doesn’t seem fair!) The best firetrucking way, though, would be to go out close to the way you first came in, in the same way one former Chief Justice of Trinidad & Tobago famously went – which is the best firetrucking way, literally, even if it does leave the last person you were with shocked half-to-death herself, and naked as the day she was born.
Nowadays, however, most of us will go the way two of Trinidad’s best themselves went recently: in a gleaming modern hospital, as the dullest old cog in a sequence of life-preserving machines. Sat Maharaj, who made a lifetime career out of carving a space for Hindus in Trinidad, and Fred Chin Lee, who carved a space for the arts Under the Trees of his hotel, the Normandie, are both gone; and Trinidad has lost much more than a couple of 80-something-year-old mofos.
Newsday will reprint an interview I did with Sat and I hope you laugh as much as I did, rereading it. (You’ll also find it on my Facebook business page and/or website, www.BCPires.com after it’s appeared in the paper.) Sadly, I never pinned Fred down for the chat we’d always talked about having and I now feel as much hurt as regret at not having done a Trini to the Bone (my Monday Newsday personality-based feature) that began: My name is Fred Chin Lee and I started Under the Trees.
Sat Maharaj will be talked about for a very long time, because he did a very great deal for what was, not so long ago, an ignored and downtrodden group that was critical to forming the identity of the place we now all claim to love. (How, you wonder, could half the population of a place have been marginalized? That is marginalization of the firetrucking mainstream!)
Fred Chin Lee will, probably, receive far less public attention, but his determination to use his material success to advance the things he truly valued most – the life of the mind and the celebration of the human spirit – really ought to have earned him a statue in a public place, somewhere in Trinidad. My first public reading to a ticket-buying audience was with Wayne Brown (the father of the modern West Indian newspaper column) and Keith Smith (its best exponent, when he was himself at his best). Our reading Under the Trees at the Normandie remains one of the favourite nights of my life; I had to pinch myself to make sure I was on a stage before a large crowd of people who paid to hear their own writers read. Fred Chin Lee did more, by himself, to civilize Trinidad than the Ministry of Culture.
It’s a good thing, it seems to me, in a fleeting, fleeing moment on Accra Beach, sipping my Round Rock, Ragged Point or Pelican Island IPA – three of the best ales I’ve ever drank, by Barbados’ DreadHop Brewing – to remember Sat and Fred – and Keith and Wayne – and Anthony Milne and Deborah John – and Raoul Pantin and Gail Massy – and Keith “Sheppy” Shepherd and Simon “Si-Oh” Parkinson – and George John and Terry Joseph – and David Brewster and David Chase – and Sandra Chouti and Marcia Henville – and I could go on and on, two-by-two, until after one time is two time.
Remembering these people, who may have had their personal problems and certainly had their personal baggage, but who still did the most idealistic job we have – wrote stuff in newspapers that vanished day-by-day, hoping to make a permanent difference in the lives of others – makes the steups that leaves my lips even louder when I think of Andrew Windsor, arguably one of the most important men in Great Britain, if you limit your arguments to the type that resulted in Brexit.
The world watched in outrage as Queen Elizabeth’s reportedly favourite child sought to rehabilitate himself on the BBC from a man who was the close personal friend of a convicted paedophile to a man who was the close personal friend of the girlfriend of a convicted paedophile; the world watched in horror and outrage – but I just watched in contempt.
Just as I did when, aged 17, I read two items on the list of clothes required by my English public (boarding) school – 12 handkerchiefs, three underpants, ie, a dozen hankies and three firetrucking drawers – this week, I looked at the Andrew Windsor interview and thought: these firetruckers had an empire? On which the sun never firetrucking set?
And I thought of Sat Maharaj, whom a lot of people hated (for the same race-based impulse that made him actually valuable to the people who loved him) and of Fred Chin Lee, the most unassuming rich man I’ve ever met – he may have been in a company of one in Trinidad – and I thought, it’s a firetrucking upside-down world, where Fred and Sat are down and Andrew Windsor is rampant.
BC Pires was catching his own royal until he heard that Andrew lost his royal work and, hopefully, will lose His Royal Highness