Return to Little England by Enrico Downer

Return Little England 20190808_101450

BOOK REVIEW

Return to Little England

A Love Story…and more

Copyright 2019 By Enrico Downer 262 pgs

Published by KDP Independent Publishing

Review by Ken Puddicombe

Author of Racing With The Rain, Junta, and Down Independence Boulevard And Other Stories

In Return to Little England, Enrico Downer’s fourth book, Victor West returns to Barbados on a quest to take his mother’s ashes for burial in her native soil, in keeping with her wishes and, “he feels compelled to spend the rest of his days in the same chattel house close to his mother’s ashes.” In life, Wilhomena West clearly had an overwhelming impact on her son and in death she continues to chart a path for him to follow: “…some inexplicable magnetism seemed to be pulling him back to the spot where he had enshrined his mother’s ashes.” Will Victor also eventually end up with the woman she had earmarked for him?

Resentment thrives in the book, from all sides. In a farewell thrown by his company, an African-American tells him: “I never did like West Indian people…you people come here to my country and…you wanna take over…” Victor faces this dislike because he’s come to America and succeeded. But when he returns to Barbados the young immigration officer chides Barbadians for leaving in the first place: “Maybe they shoulda stayed home an’ put their shoulders to the wheel like the rest of us.” Success, it seems, breeds resentment, even in your homeland.

Victor stops in the Bojangles Bar prior to his return to Barbados. It is where he and Mickey “…anointed the floor with a few drops of Mount Gay (rum) Eclipse.” This seems to be a prevalent practice in the British Caribbean. On the same page, Mickey: “Man I been t’inkin’ o’ goin’ backhome f’r de last twenty-five yeas o’ my life an’ look I still here” is the cry of many of the Caribbean diaspora who long for the warmth and comfort of the land of their birth but continue to brave the cold climate of North America with all its related drawbacks, in order to attain the wealth unobtainable in their native land. For many, tied to their new country, returning home permanently is a dream they gave up a long time ago.

Victor is unapologetic for the four loves he will experience in the book. His mother, Wilhomena, who had a profound influence on his plans, his career and his integration into American society at a time when “race was raising its ugly head.” Valerie, his first love who gave herself freely to him. Zelda, who performed above and beyond the call of her nursing duties. And Barbados, unable to get out it of his blood stream, creating a longing that causes him to hear his mother’s voice “whispering over and over that it was time to go home…time to return to their little island in the sun, the island she called her Little England.”

Our hero thinks of himself as being like “Odysseus coming home after decades of battling the rigours and frictions…” At the time that he left, “Barbados was not free of this rigour and friction…caused more by a class structure and divide between dark and fair…” While abroad, “he longed for his home-grown fare of sweet potatoes…” with a nostalgia that opened up an unquenchable thirst for such fare. Victor is typical of many native sons who are blind to their country’s many appealing features, only to yearn for them when abroad and eventually re-discover them on return.

Barbados gained independence in November 1966 when British colonies around the world were negotiating theirs. Victor finds when he returns four decades later that the situation has not changed much. Valerie tells him: “We Bajans still have our hang-ups. Sometimes I am a white woman and sometimes I’m black and sometimes I’m neither.” The colour gap is alive and well in Barbados. This divide and overt bias also seems to be consistent among many Caribbean societies, at home and abroad. Colorism, described by Alice Walker in her book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Proseis “Prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. [my italics].” Valerie was “welcomed…in the banking industry in Bridgetown (the Capital) where white was almost as stellar a qualification as any other.” Caribbean and Guyanese societies, it seems, are still fascinated with and ruled by the old dominant colonial era policy of colour and creed, similar to the Divide and Rule doctrine.

Victor comes from a long line of strong, proud and independent women. His maternal grandmother traced her treeall the way back to (sugar) plantation workers and “she kept a bamboo-framed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation hanging above her bed…” His mother Wilhomena, an enterprising woman, leaves for America when she is in her 40’s, a bold and courageous step by any measure. And Victor, himself, at the age of 13 goes to America and is in his 50’s when he decides to leave all he’s worked for in the land of milk and honey and head back to a country with which he’s not kept in touch, and an environment with which he is no longer familiar. The entire West family, it seems, an enterprising lot, are not afraid to explore new horizons.

But Victor finds what he sees on the island doesn’t fit with his memories—“the roads had shrunken, and distances seemed half of what they used to be. People…standing still…this air of lassitude as if the island had been taking a break…” The risk every re-migrant faces—the drastic change in pace and the difficulty in adapting. “He was still possessed with that intractable sense of urgency…the frenetic rush of big city life was still in his blood.” Can he adapt? Only time will tell. He will also find that the village of Seclusion is not the same, the older folks he knew (the cobbler, the tailor, the carpenter) have all passed on and have been replaced with two new generations in the four decades since he left. There is also a hint that the changes in the society have not all been for the good since “Windows and doors were reinforced with decorative steel bars…not how he remembered them as a boy.” Victor has to face the challenge of coping with local jealousy over the perceived new-found wealth being brought back with him; add the bitterness of a local population faced with the vicissitudes of a post-independent uncertain economy and political structure. And “they told him the streets at night were riddled with crime and fights between the young broke out with frightening regularity.” In this, Victor’s challenge is no different from any re-migrant in every Caribbean island, and Guyana. Has he replaced the hectic pace with insecurity? Is there really security if he has to keep looking over his shoulder in his environment?

Author Downer paints a picture of a rural Barbados—like so many other societies— controlled by superstition and living with customs and mores that rarely change in time. “A black sheet had been placed across the mirror of her (his mother’s) bureau to frustrate the evil spirits that visited Bajan houses at night…” In a scene later in the book, “It suddenly dawned upon him (Victor) that the woman was not real flesh and blood, that she was an evil spirt.” Even after his four decades abroad, Victor is enthralled by the spirts that haunt his old country. Will he ever overcome this propensity to believe in the occult?

Downer’s picture of rural Barbados also includes no indoor plumbing and “Every morning…his (Victor’s) first chore was to grab two galvanized buckets and head off to the standpipe three blocks down…” Even on his return he finds the same conditions, heading to the same standpipe, relieving himself in the “doorless outhouse.” It’s a brave soul who would desert the comfort of his amenities in America to return to this!

Victor soon explores his native land and finds “rolling hills of green and quilted fields in the valley that reminded the English of England.” Indeed, with over a million visitors to the island every year, half of those come from the mother country. “His homeland had awoken from her spell, but his people had not yet thrown off the cloak of Britishness they had worn from birth…One-armed Horatio Nelson was still standing on his pedestal…(in) the Square of Heroes (which) was once Trafalgar Square.” But Victor also recognizes that “the crush of visitors” have driven the “400 thousand-year-old coral floor…sea anemones…on the way to extinction.” Will this move away from industry and agriculture and growing dependence on tourism, like so many Caribbean nations, result in an eventual Paradise Lost?

Panama is a recurring theme in the story. Close to 20,000 Barbadians (10% of the population and about 40% of adult men at that time) worked on the Panama Canal in its heyday. The effect on the economy of Barbados in the 1904-14 period of canal building cannot be overstated, nor can the impact of father-less households when Bajan men didn’t make it back to the island. Fifty-six hundred workers died on the project, about 4,700 of them West Indians and Bajans must have figured prominently in that death toll—the reason Victor’s father never made it back to his homeland. In Barbados, it was the mother who had to set the tone of discipline and run the household. The bartender in the local rum shop tells Victor: “They was strict, worse than de father, if de chile had a father. Dese mothers use-ed to rule de house like a general. They never spare de rod.” Such a woman must have been Wilhomena West.

In the days following his return to his native land, Victor will find, like so many re-migrants who’ve spent a life time abroad and are like salmon fighting an upstream battle to return to their spawning grounds—that only the bravest and most resilient will make it. While he lost a mother he gained a wife; lost a lover and gained a son…left the rat race behind and settled for the peace and calm of an island he couldn’t get out of his blood. Will this lead to true happiness? The reader will discover.

AMAZON LINK FOR Return to Little England

https://www.amazon.com/Return-Little-England-Love-Story-ebook/dp/B07QHJGJG6/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=return+to+little+england&qid=1564245944&s=gateway&sr=8-1

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Raymond Holmes: Writing

Ray Holmes

Raymond Holmes in Brampton, Ontario.  He writes plays, novellas and short stories. His stories have been published in Unleashed Ink, an anthology created by the Barrie Writers Club, The Northern Appeal, a Simcoe County literary magazine and Commuterlit, a Toronto based ezine. His plays Boris and Hermanand The Lonely Vigil Of Emily Baxterhave been performed at the South Simcoe Theatre in Cookstown, Ontario. The latter play was awarded third prize in the 2014 Ottawa Little Theatre Playwriting Contest. His play The Pooman, will be read at the South Simcoe Theatre in June, 2018. Raymond also enjoys making furniture and playing the violin, although he admits to performing the latter activity rather poorly.

 

AN ENEMY IN OUR KITCHEN 

That incident in 1953 when I was nine years old has festered in me ever since; a malignant thing pressing on a nerve. The curtain of carefree, innocent childhood opened to reveal the occasionally hateful, intolerant world of adults.

At public school that year, Rick Sakamoto sat in the desk behind me. Some kids in our class called him names like “slitty-eyed chink.” His race didn’t matter to me. I liked Rick and wanted him for a friend.

A quiet, polite boy, he possessed a remarkable, natural talent for drawing. Anything I drew appeared stick-like and silly, but Rick and his HB pencil made it look effortless. He could sketch military aircraft and war machines that appeared realistic and I admired him for that ability. World War II had been over for eight years by then, but movies and the army surplus stores along Toronto’s Queen Street kept it alive in our imaginations. It was all heroism and excitement to us.

On several occasions I invited Rick to see my collection of model fighter aircraft, but he always declined, offering some excuse. After my birthday, I asked him again.

“We can have chocolate cake and you can see my collection of lead soldiers,” I said.

He accepted. I felt light and excited.

I thought that mild, October day in the classroom would never end. The hands of the wall clock crept like a puddle freezing over. At last the 3:15 p.m. school bell rang and we ran out through the large double doors of the building to my home three blocks away.

Upon entering through the back porch so as not to disturb Dad in his store-front barber shop, my Mother smiled and greeted us as we walked into the kitchen infused with the fragrant aroma of her cooking.

She cut two slabs of dark, three-layer chocolate cake covered with thick icing left over from my birthday the previous Saturday and poured two tall glasses of milk.

We were enjoying this after-school treat when the kitchen door opened and Dad entered. He started to say something to Mom then looked over at us. His mouth curved down; the face twisted and flushed.

“What’s hedoing here?” he said, jerking his head toward Rick.

Mother’s face warped. “Jimmy—please—don’t—” she pleaded, before being cut off by Dad’s yelling.

“You—get out!” he said to Rick. “We don’t want your kind in this house.”

My mind raced and stomach fluttered. What had we done?

Rick’s yellowish complexion whitened. His eyes widened and stared like a cornered animal; right hand suspending a fork in mid-air; unmoving mouth filled with cake.

After a tense, silent interval, my father jabbed a finger at him and spewed a staccato command like a volley of bullets.

“Get – out—of—here—now.”

I watched horrified as Rick laid down his fork, wiped the milky moustache from his mouth with a shirt sleeve, then got up and left. My body stiffened; the skin on my neck and face crawled.

As the screen door on the back porch clicked shut, Dad screamed through the half-opened window, “Don’t ever come back here again,” before returning to his shop, slamming the kitchen door behind him.

The colour slipped from Mother’s ruddy face. She looked down at the floor; white-knuckled hands scrunching her apron into a white rope.

Things had moved so quickly. The world seemed upside down. I wanted to hide.

“What did we do?  What’s wrong?” I burbled, through tears.

Mom’s chin trembled. “You boys didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Then why did Dad yell at Rick and tell him to leave?”

“Because Rick is a Japanese boy,” she said.

Why did that matter? I thought Rick was Chinese like the people who owned the corner restaurant.

“Why did that make Dad so mad?”

“During the war, the Japanese attacked the Americans at Pearl Harbour in 1941,” she explained. “Canada believed they were our enemies, too. Some people, including your father, still hate all Japanese people even though the war is over now.”

“But Rick didn’t do anything bad. That was before he was born.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Then why did Dad blame him?”

“Sometimes grown-ups do, and say things that are wrong and unfair.”

I glanced at the kitchen door leading to the shop and stiffened. Would my father return and punish me?

~~

The next morning I dreaded going to school. Mom yanked the covers off me and said to get up. How could I face Rick sitting behind me in class? I felt ashamed of what had happened.

I pushed breakfast away. Mom sat down beside me and curled her arm around my shoulder.

“Listen. What the military people in Japan did was bad, but Japanese people living here in Canada can’t be blamed for that,” she said. ”What your Dad did was wrong, but the War caused a lot of pain and suffering. War is just a game to you boys, but many people were killed and maimed for life. Some Canadians, including your father, want to blame all Japanese people for what happened no matter where they were born.”

“But that’s not right,” I said.

“I know, but some people can’t forgive what happened in the past.”

“But the bible says we have to forgive others. I don’t understand why Dad can’t forgive.”

“Sometimes when a person feels wronged by a group of people they seek revenge. Innocent people can be hurt.”

“Will you ask Dad to forgive Japanese people and let Rick come here,” I said.

Mother shook her head with eyes sadder than I’d ever seen before.

“I’m afraid my asking him won’t do any good, son, but you must not act the way your father did. Always treat others the way you want to be treated and speak out when bad things are done to them. Wrongs added to wrongs will never make a right. They’ll just make things worse. Hate hurts the hater too.”

“I’m afraid to tell Dad he was wrong. He’ll get mad at me.”

“I understand,” she said. “Perhaps with time your father will realize that what he did was hurtful. Good people like your Dad still have faults.”

She stood up, bent down close to my face, and put her hands on my shoulders. “I want you to do something very important.”

“What?”

“Apologize to Rick. If you do that, I will be very proud of you.”

What could I say that would make the previous day’s hate and abuse go away?

~~

On the slow walk to class my shoes scuffed along the sidewalk. I saw Rick standing alone against the schoolyard fence watching a group of boys kicking a ball around.

What would he do when I approached? Would he strike out at me? I didn’t have the heart to fight back. I kicked at the black cinders covering the yard, avoiding eye contact.

“I’m sorry about yesterday,” I mumbled. “My father was wrong to say those things and make you leave our house.”

Rick’s shoulders curled in and he bit his lower lip. He wasn’t angry which surprised me.

“He can’t forgive what Japan did in the war and hates all Japanese people for it,” I said.

Rick raised his head. “It wasn’t your fault. We’re used to it now,” he said.

I knew he was bullied, but did you ever get used to it?

“It happens a lot,” he continued. “My parents moved here to get away from it, but last week a man spit at my father and called him a dirty name.”

“Where did your mom and dad come from?” I asked.

“British Columbia. My father was a fisherman. So was my grandfather and great-grandfather. My Dad had a big boat. We have a picture of it.”

“That province is far away in Western Canada. It’s on the map in our classroom,” I said.

“Mom, Dad and my uncle lived near the ocean. My parents said it was nice. There were mountains and lots of trees.”

“Why did they leave?”

“They had to.”

“Why?”

“The government made them go. They said all Japanese people were Canada’s enemies because of the war.”

“My mother told me about that. She said it wasn’t true.”

Ricks lower lip quivered. “They told my parents they couldn’t live near the ocean any more. The government people came at night and took away their house and everything else. A strange man said Dad’s boat was his now. All they could take with them was a suitcase. Mom cried when she left her house.”

A cold dread penetrated me. How could someone take away everything you own?

“Where did they make them go?”

“To a camp far away from the coast. They gave them a small cabin to live in. I was born there.”

“Gee, that’s awful,” I stuttered.

Rick’s head dropped. Sniffling, he went on. “They worked hard all day growing stuff and stayed there a long time. My uncle hated it, hurt himself, and died. After the war, government people said my parents had to go to Japan or move east. They didn’t know anyone in Japan so they came here. My dad works in a factory now, but he’s sick a lot. Mom has bad dreams and pains in her head.”

“Can’t they go back?” I said. “Wouldn’t things be better there now?”

Rick’s face hardened and his voice elevated. “Dad says there’s nothing to go back to.”

 “I’m sorry,” I said.

A defeated look crossed Rick’s face. He wiped his eyes. “Gotta go now—bye,” he said, before turning and walking away to our classroom.

~~

From then on things weren’t the same between us. I felt guilty about what happened in our house and sorry for his family’s ordeal. My father’s words must have cut his heart like a knife. A barrier arose between us; a wall of hurt that saying “sorry” a thousand times couldn’t break down. He still sat behind me, but we rarely spoke, and he stopped showing me his drawings.

Some boys kept calling him names. I wanted to beat them up for that, but they were bigger and tougher than I was.

After Christmas, Rick moved away. I never saw him again and always wondered what his life had been like. I hope it was good.

~~

Decades later the Canadian government issued an apology to Japanese-Canadians for what was done to them and offered compensation. I read that announcement with adult eyes, and memories of that long-ago day returned like the taste of sour milk.

Many of the Japanese people directly affected by those actions were in their graves by then. They were Canadians; born here, who happened to be of Japanese ethnic origin. The idea that Canada could do that to its rightful citizens was chilling. Could it happen again?

Yes, there was an enemy in our kitchen that day, but it wasn’t little Rick Sakamoto.

Portals To The World

Doors come in all shapes, sizes, colours, construction and styles. They can be single or double doors; French or Dutch doors; louvered or flush doors. There are barn doors and saloon doors; wicker doors and sliding doors; hinged doors and swing doors. There are even False doors that lead nowhere and don’t even open!

But the one aspect that they all have in common: they are meant to keep something or someone in or out.

The earliest known records of doors are those represented in the paintings of the Egyptian tombs and they were either single or double doors, each constructed with a single piece of wood. Over the centuries, apart from the security needs, the door has been recognized as the first aspect of your building that a visitor will encounter and it will thereby contribute to that vital first impression. They are essentially Portals to the occupant’s life and lifestyle.

These are some of the world’s doors that I’ve passed through…

 

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Siem Reap. Cambodia. An open door policy.

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Siem Reap. Cambodia. So many doors that lead to nowhere.

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Hue. Viet Nam. More than just a portal. It’s an artist’s canvas.

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Tunis. Tunisia. When one door is closed, another opens.

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Mumbai. India. The gateway the British Raj passed through.

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St. Thomas. USVirgin Islands. People from all over the world pass through.

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Dominican Republic. The way to the Lord.

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Cop Denmark
Tivoli Gardens. A busy thoroughfare

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Delhi. India. Who knows what lurks behind a closed door?

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Rostock Germany
People with glass doors shouldn’t throw bricks

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Estonia. A door within a portal going who knows where?

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St. Petersberg. Russia. It only takes a small key to open a big door?

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Stockholm Sweden
Carve its name with pride

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Varanasi India
The gateway to the holy city should look good.

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Bangkok. Thailand. Heed the writing on the door?

The Hustlers

According to the International Labour Organization, in 2009 there were some 1.53 billion people in vulnerable employment either working for themselves or in badly paid family jobs. This represents about half the global workforce. This figure is expected to be significantly higher for 2011 and later years.

These are the people who struggle on the edge of survival and carry on regardless…

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Udaipur. India. Back breaking work.

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Mumbai. India. Dhobi Ghats. Not too much starch on the collar, please!

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Buenos Aires. Argentina. Where’s there smoke, there’s fire.

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Nassau. Bahamas. Someday I’ll be a tourist, too.

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Nassau. Bahamas. Counting the day’s take.

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Delhi. India. You have to put your back into it.

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Tallin. Estonia. A woman who finds pleasure in her work.

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Katmandu. Nepal. One man’s burden

WELLNESS

The current life expectancy [in Canada] is 82.2 years. By 2030 it’s estimated to rise another four years to 86.2. A recent news item suggested that future generations, with new medical technology and drugs combined, including lifestyle changes, would avoid a lot of the chronic conditions that currently carry us off, raising their life expectancy to 150!

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From my observations at the Wellness Centre, Millenials, are trying their best to extend their own life span. Most of us are retirees trying to push ourselves beyond our limitations. The approach of the average member: It’s never too late.

There are always new faces in the membership, people coming on board to join the multitude already working out. Then, there are the regulars, people who are dedicated and consistent. You can tell who they are. They’re always on schedule regardless of inclement weather, rain or sleet or a snow storm.

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Down Independence Boulevard –What Readers Say About it

February 19, 2017

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase 
“Down Independence Boulevard” is another masterpiece by Kenneth Puddicombe following on the heels of “Junta” and “Racing with the Rain” both of which also fall into the category of excellent historical fiction.His latest work is packed with sixteen wonderfully written stories from which the reader can pick and choose the ones that are most appealing, as I have. Anyone who has read Ken’s previous books will have been already accustomed to his skill in holding the reader’s imagination with page after page of exciting detail. Whether he is writing about the political struggles between different factions in the former British Guiana or more intimate stories of a personal nature within a Guyanese family, his possession of a broad vocabulary and a masterful use of the English language should impress any reader. I haven’t yet read the entire sixteen stories which is another benefit of selecting the stories that one wants to read in any sequence. So far I am enjoying “Down Independence Boulevard”.You will too.

Rosaliene Bacchus

February 27, 2017

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase
An excellent read. Ken Puddicombe’s short stories are riveting and, in many cases, heartbreaking. His stories give us a close-up view of the effects of political unrest in disrupting the lives of families and individuals, forcing them to seek refuge in foreign lands. But Puddicombe doesn’t end there. He takes us to Canada and the United States where the immigrants, legal and illegal, attempt to rebuild their lives. Each story is a gem.

Ken Puddicombe sparks curiosity, melancholy, anger, and laughter as he shares the lives of the various characters in “Down Independence Boulevard”. These stories lend a glimpse into Guyana’s history and culture, while unraveling unique storylines. The reader is torn between being able to relate to the characters in one story, then feeling outraged by their actions in the next story! The stories build slowly, and you find yourself pondering and questioning, and then the answers are slowly revealed. As a first generation Canadian, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Guyana through the lives of Puddicombe’s diverse characters, his choice of settings, and the lifestyles of the characters. “Down Independence Boulevard” left me missing the characters and wondering what is to come for them…perhaps a sequel!


Having read the previous books by Ken Puddicombe,I must say that Down Independence Boulevard was masterfully presented by him and once again showed his skilful depiction to detail, which appeal to the five senses and imagination. Ken’s way of delving into our imagination with his many sensuous details help the reader realize that persons,places and things are within the phenomenon he describes.
The start of every page not only brought humour but the longing to get to the next page to experience the characters with the imagination you could be that person.
Reading the assorted stories was a pleasant change from having to read through a book with the same characters from beginning to end.
Well done; highly recommended and look forward to the next writings of Ken Puddicombe.
Bazp


Elaine Gardiner

March 7, 2018 at 3:47 pm

“Down Independence Boulevard” is an amazing first collection of short stories and Ken Puddicombe’s remarkable story telling. “Black Friday” left me with sadness; “The Family Photograph” brought a smile to my face, but “The Last Straw” has to be my favourite, as I am left imagining about the outcome of the moustache (!) and hoping that Zorina was able to have a successful and happier life, but then I am continuing in my mind what was only a story, but such a good one!



Jean Tiwari

Down Independence Boulevard and other stories

A great book of well written and descriptive short stories.

I do have quite a few favourites, some of which relates to my years growing up in Guyana.

My favourite of all would be “The Last Straw” a story a woman being exploited by her in-laws and her very vain husband. Her revenge was quite amusing, and I smiled to
myself a long time after, whenever I thought of the ending. Was even smiling while writing this and recalling the story. Would love a follow up on this. -Jean Tiwari


A Cineaste Remembers…

[Cineaste: noun. Cinema enthusiast or devotee.]


 

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The cinema played an important part in my youth, for so many reasons.

For someone growing up in the Fifties in Georgetown, in what was then British Guiana, it was the main form, perhaps the only form  of entertainment. It’s importance and impact on our culture and development cannot be overstated.

Here are some recollections of what it was like.

[Comments and similar recollections invited from readers for moderation. Subject to editing].

My memory goes back far enough that I recall the price of a ticket back in the Fifties. We were still on the Sterling currency in those days and a ticket to see a movie cost Half-a-bit, which would be four cents. A Bit was eight cents. A Bit-and-a-half was twelve cents. A shilling was the next denomination. These were all silver coins, minted obviously in the mother country—England. —Ken Puddicombe.

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