Daly Bread: Another letter for Thelma and another 2021 loss

For some, it is belatedly and painfully sinking in that there will be no Carnival 2021. But what art forms have we lost?

In answering this question I can look through a long lens, having been six years old when my mother first ‘disguised’ me. I have no specific memory of playing a little sailor but I do have a photograph. Another time I will explain why playing mas was referred to as ‘disguising’.

Photo: A masquerader at the Notting Hill Carnival.
(Copyright Independent.co.uk)

Memories of Carnival, which I have retained from my childhood, go back to 1955—the only year in which a foreign tune, The Happy Wanderer, was the road march.  That was an old German song which was revived and reportedly became a hit in the UK in 1954. It was popularly known as Valdarie, Valdera from words contained in its chorus.

My specific childhood memories are seasoned with things from prior years that were in the recall of the adults around me then. For all of us, now in the electronic information age, we have the wonderful benefit of being able to supplement memory by research on the internet. 

So, I turned to the internet to refresh my memories of two calypso items: Post, Post Another Letter for Thelma and Telco Poops. 

What prompted me to do this? Like many other citizens, I am fed up with the inefficiency of our postal service. Despite the facility of doing business online, we are still dependent on the post office to receive certain documents and plastic cards in exchange for payments we have made online.

I had to make two wholly unnecessary rounds—adding to traffic congestion and to carbon monoxide pollution—to collect a document and a discount card. The alternative was to risk waiting four weeks or more for postal delivery.

Photo: The TTPost courier service.
(via ETeck.co.tt)

Thelma then popped into my head because I recalled the reality underlying that old calypso was the regular delivery of mail. The businesses with which we deal are not on our side. They nonchalantly put statements in the mail. If we receive a statement late, we have to pay the interest or late payment charges.

Futile attempts are currently being made to fool us into believing that we are painlessly transitioning to online in business and in education, where over 46,000 students know otherwise.

There are citizens whose economic dignity are now dependent on receipt of correspondence from government ministries—some of whom have to pay for transport each time they make frustrating visits to the the post office, only to come away empty handed.

We’re not lucky like Thelma. Through no fault of the postal assistants who deliver the mail, the mail service can be utterly unreliable. Like the old Telco used to do and of which Penguin so wittily sang in 1978, TT Post ‘poops away’.

The Mighty Spitfire sang Post, Post, Another Letter for Thelma and won the road march in 1952. I have been unable to rediscover the full lyrics. My All Stars compere and historian has confirmed that the lyrics of road marches in that era, like Thelma and Whoopsin’, Whoopsin’, often did not have a shelf life beyond the chorus.  

Photo: Iconic calypsonian Slinger ‘The Mighty Sparrow’ Francisco.

Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah broke out of that restraint combining the story of the withdrawal of personnel from US military bases with its lusty chorus.

One of the art forms we have lost for the 2021 season is the long tradition of calypso’s delivery of social and political commentary. This Carnival product struggles for broadcast space but is available during the season in the tents.

It makes its way forward when the Calypso Monarch semi-finals and finals are held. The top songs subsequently gain airplay and electronic storage. They are an important check and balance. They deride big pappy power, as well as contribute to the formation of public opinion.

Of course, Carnival music has branched out, but I strongly disagree that the quality is poorer. We need to appreciate the abundance and variety of songs as well as dance, costuming and theatre produced, year in year out, from a ceaseless well of creativity and wit.  

I ask again: when will we properly harness these resources and thereby diversify the economy?

Photo: Heather Mac Intosh placed third with ‘Games’ at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Courtesy Wired868)
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