I doh have no media tabanca. Some Wired868 readers think I do but I don’t; I swear.
I abandoned the conventional media—well, more accurately, the conventional media amputated me—after I had spent four years at the Guardian followed immediately by six at the Express.
I have no regrets. There hasn’t been a moment, I can truthfully say, when I found myself hankering after my old job as a sports editor; in fact, the opposite is true. I have often wondered how I managed to survive for ten long years as a round peg in a square hole.
I was but a boy in short pants in the First Form at QRC when I discovered that the Latin word for ‘school,’ ludus, is the exact word for ‘game.’ There is no difference, not a shifted stress, not an accent, none. It’s true; for the Romans, who invented schools as we know them, school was a game.
That discovery is what spawned my desire to be a teacher. However, I was not yet a teacher when I one day found myself in a cricket game and in more than a little difficulty against a left-arm wrist spinner. As an opening batsman, I was used to dealing with pace and swing, not googlies and chinamen; I was quite unable to “pick” the direction of the turn.
Just before the wicketkeeper eventually snaffled a catch off the edge of my bat to put me out of my misery, I had played down the wrong line two or three times in one over,
“Doh worry!” the opposing coach had shouted from the pavilion. “He cyar last long. Yuh have him in school.”
During the long, long walk back to the pavilion, I worried about his comment and not about my dismissal. And it strengthened my resolve to become a teacher.
Had ANR Robinson not been driven by the economic conjuncture to take away COLA and cut teachers’ salaries by ten percent, I am likely to have remained on the staff at QRC until retirement. I was blissfully happy there, teaching, as my Wired868 bio says, “cricket and football and French and Spanish in that order.”
But two chance encounters changed that. Visiting my old student, cricket captain and friend Valentino “Tino” Singh at his Guardian office one day, I chanced upon a column being prepared for publication. I have never been squeamish but it was bad enough to bring me to the verge of retching; I kid you not.
Ascertaining that the writer was indeed paid for that trash, I sat right there at Tino’s desk and, off the top of my head, penned a full column. It was some very academic piece on the origins of the Olympics Games but it was, I say modestly, at least ten times better than the article that had provoked it.
And so I, regular writer with Tapia for almost two decades, became a Guardian columnist. Until that fateful day when, visiting the office to collect my coveted cheque, I encountered the then managing director in the corridor. We made some light, desultory conversation about conditions in the country in the course of which I had the effrontery to tell him that he was wrong.
I remember very vividly how he almost got whiplash, so violently did he swivel round to look at me.
Certain that I was on solid ground, I explained that the problem with low productivity was not so much a problem of culture as a problem of language.
“People in Trinidad genuinely believe,” I told him, my eyes fixed on the 327 furrows that suddenly adorned his brow, “that ‘work’ in the phrase ‘I am going to work’ is a noun. Not for one second does it occur to them that it might be a verb.”
His eyes were as large as saucers, his lips stretched out to meet his ears, his face lit up, his brow unfurrowed.
“Why don’t you come and see me on…,” He opened a mental diary, flipped a couple of pages. “…Thursday.”
I did. And walked out of his office with an offer to become “the de facto sports editor although we wouldn’t be able to give you that title.”
It didn’t take long for me to understand how acute the crisis was. I was told early ‘o’clock, for instance, that “We don’t write columns, boy! Daiz fuh people from outside” and “We don’t edit (Tony) Cozier.”
I don’t remember if I said it but I certainly thought it. Heresy! A sacred cow? And a voiceless editor to boot? In the media, which boast of being the voice of the voiceless? He-re-sy!
We need some context here. This was the early 1990’s; Brian Lara hadn’t yet climbed Everest but he’d hired a sherpa. The Strike Squad had already fallen at the last hurdle and Jack Warner had already climbed on their backs to launch himself upwards through the FIFA ranks.
He was already largely successfully thumbing his nose at the Seemungal Commission of Enquiry set up to probe November 19. As the Voice of One—he was officially the ‘Special Adviser to the TTFA’—he was doubtless already hatching in the labyrinthine recesses of his fetidly fertile brain the myriad schemes for self-aggrandisement that would so endear him to the UNC.
“Jack and Jill went up the hill,” I wrote in the “Spought” column I launched in the sports pages of the Guardian, “to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown…and TTFA got the bill after!” Perhaps not exactly those words but you get the message. Irreverence galore!
Years later in the Express, it would earn me a thinly disguised admonition. Which is a story worth telling.
The Guardian declared TT$7m in profit the year I turned my back on the Old Lady of St Vincent Street…along with the entire Sports Desk, except for the Sports Editor and the Trojan horse we left them as a Parthian gift. I had been in the other place no more than a week when I was summoned upstairs for a meeting.
“Mr [Jack] Warner brings a lot of money into this company,” I was told, once the preliminary pleasantries were out of the way, “a lot of money.”
“Of course,” hastily came the unsurprising disclaimer, “I’m not telling you how to do your job but I just thought you needed to know that.”
Sins of omission do not sully integrity; commission is what counts. Plausible deniability. If, as messenger, you don’t say it in words, you can always subsequently disclaim all responsibility for the meaning that the messagee makes at his/her end. Who is to gainsay you? The Prime Minister? The Opposition Leader? Some discredited judge, male or female?
So I know what makes the media tick, the press at any rate. And I assure you once more that I do not have a media tabanca.
My obsession with the media, I repeat, is not due to any burning desire for or any nostalgic hankering after a restored role therein. The media should be both the Fourth Estate and the Third Educator.
So the dagger constantly turning in my side is a determination to attempt to ensure that T&T understands that the journalists in the conventional media have surrendered—or sold!—their birthright to bankers.