A joyous, healthy, safe Christmas

By Raoul Pantin

 I consider it a rare privilege to have the opportunity on this special day of the year  to wish my family, especially my daughters, Pilar and Mandisa, my long-time friends, like Gordon Dalla Costa, my colleagues in the media and you, dear reader, a joyous, healthy and especially safe Christmas 2013 and an equally joyous, healthy and safe New Year 2014.

My emphasis on safe is not whimsical. 

I urge you to be especially careful on the roads bearing in mind the heavy alcohol consumption at this time of the year. If, as a driver, you feel a bit groggy at any time, I strongly recommend you take a little time out to clear your head rather than go rushing headlong into eternal rest.

Bear in mind, as well, that nearly 400 persons have been murdered in this country in 2013 and it’s doubtful that  the police have detected half a dozen of those crimes. 

Which means there are near 400 murderers walking around this country free as a breeze and likely, at any moment, to do it again with an increasing sense of complete impunity.

Gunning down victims in “broad daylight” has also now become a norm. How many times this year have you read of people being shot six or eight times in “broad daylight” and therefore in plain sight of others while the killer calmly walks away. No big thing.

As I had to tell a younger former colleague of mine a few weeks ago, when he raised a question about how many of the people I knew in my youth were still alive, the difference between my generation and his  is while a number of the people I knew when I was young had passed on from natural causes, most of his contemporaries would have been victims of shootings, stabbings or other forms of violence, including fatal car accidents.

What that says in effect is that from one generation to the next, in this country violence has not only erupted — it has virtually become the norm, and there is every indication that, notwithstanding all the political old talk, not only will this continue but it will get worse, barring some miraculous intervention.

And then there’s that other question raised by another younger former colleague of mine. I refer to Renee Cummings’ recent anguished cry: “Where did 2013 go?” 

Where, indeed!?

I certainly can distinctly remember a dear American friend of mine exchanging comments with me on the gradual close of the winter of 2012, the first signs of the spring of 2013, with the promise of summer soon to follow.

But all of these “seasons” seemed to have come and gone with amazing speed. I’ve now come to the ineluctable conclusion that “age” is the key factor in this assessment of the passage of time.

When you’re young, and I’m talking about anything between age five and 15, time seems to drag slowly by. A year is agonisingly long. Will it never end? 

And then as you enter and cross your 20s, 30s, 40s and early 50s time seems to speed up. And soon the uneasy thought begins to nag at you: I’m getting old!

Believe me, as someone who has achieved the Biblical “three score and ten”, I know exactly what I’m talking about. 

My sense of time has taken on locomotive speed. If I listen closely I can distinctly hear mortality knocking on my door.

But I’m not seriously perturbed by this. Like anyone else, I’ve had my lowest of low  moments. But I believe I’ve  lived a full and rich life. Not materially rich. But rich in the sense of the wide variety of people and experiences that I’ve encountered and the many opportunities I’ve had to record our passage through time.

That includes being an eyewitness to two of the most dramatic events in our post-Independence history: the Black Power upheaval that shook this country in 1970 and the bloody attempted coup of 1990, both of which events I have reported and extrapolated on in two published books, titled Black Power Day and Days of Wrath.

My many years as a working journalist and as a former Editor of the Express resulted in my publishing a history of that newspaper, titled The Trinidad Express Story.

Sadly, it has also meant bearing witness to the demise this year of one of this century’s most extraordinary individuals, Nelson Mandela, the man who emerged from 27 years in prison under the racist apartheid regime to win the Nobel Peace Prize and go on to become South Africa’s first black president.

As for my creative work: Bim, the screenplay I wrote in the early 1970s, which was made into a full-length feature film by the late American director Hugh Robertson, with the theme music composed and partly played by the late Andre Tanker, continues to attract attention and comment as “a powerful film” and “one of the best films ever made in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Of the six stage plays I wrote and produced, I am now working on re-staging the comedy, Radio Republic 555, which, among other things, talks of an island-wide traffic jam in Trinidad (an uncannily accurate prophecy).

A slim volume of poetry, titled Journey, which I published in the early 1970s, has turned up on the Literature in English course at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine.

Self-praise, I know, is no praise at all. So I’ll turn to quoting the late Roman Catholic Archbishop, Anthony Pantin (no relation), who in a personal letter to me as far back as April 1985 referred to my then regular articles in the Express and said: “I must admit that from an overall point of view your articles are excellent and I wish to thank you for helping to raise the standard of journalism” in this country.

Flattered as I may be by the Archbishop’s comment, I am also genuinely grateful for the opportunity I have had to make such a contribution to the profession I have served for 51 years.

And while I am now contemplating publishing a second volume of poetry, I have only just completed a memoir, or autobiography, which I am hoping to have published sometime in the near future.

All of this is the subject of a biographical documentary film on my life being put together by my talented film-maker daughter, Mandisa. 

I also consider it a real personal accomplishment that after about 50 years of being a heavy smoker, today — December 25 — makes it 110 consecutive days that I have not smoked a single cigarette since deciding to quit that poisonous and deadly bad habit a few months ago.

I am not reporting on all this with a sense of finality.  On the contrary, I can assure you that both physically and intellectually I have a lot of zest for a whole range of other things I want to accomplish. Mark my word! 

But let me again take advantage of this rare opportunity to wish you and yours a joyous Christmas and New Year. Enjoy! And above all, be safe!

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