My close friend, Gideon Harris, as well as Franklyn Ollivierra and Eddie Yearwood were ordinary men of their generation but yet extraordinary. Gideon I knew for nearly 30 years. He was a life-long Trinidad All Stars man, but my first connection with him was not pan. My connection with Franklyn and Eddie was of much more recent vintage and the first connection was pan.
I became acquainted with Eddie Yearwood when he telephoned me and invited me to be a guest on one of his radio programmes. We had a delightful interview and met many times subsequently on pan occasions and explored matters of mutual interest, not only pan.
In a similar fashion, I had an interesting conversation with Franklyn Ollivierra only six weeks ago on, May 9. I can be precise about the date because on that day I attended Steelfest and was part of a panel discussion on the future of steelpan. I had been introduced to Franklyn through an All Stars friend a few years before when they were giving each other picong about All Stars versus Phase II.
In the course of my remarks at Gideon's funeral, I referred to him as an intellectual in the best sense of the word. Over the many years that I knew him, I was part of a very small group that met periodically at Gideon's home to discuss any and every thing under the sun.
We lost these three men within the space of a month and a reflection on some of the common threads of their lives may be useful.
One of the things that these three men had in common was that they were good conversationalists.
There was a time prior to the onset of the electronic age when good conversation was widely considered an art. The practice of this art was not a stuffy one. It certainly did not require the use of $40 words. Wit and lightness in delivery are essential features of the art of conversation.
A sound knowledge of history, particularly social history, is another feature of the art of conversation.
These men did not know history only because they read books about monarchs and generals. They knew our social history because, in part, they lived it through the medium of their varied activities.
Their lives also reflected one of the many matters that Prof Riggio understands about us, namely "the complex pattern of ethnic intermixing that underlies the history of the entire Caribbean region".
In my last conversation with Franklyn, he regaled me with stories of his forebears, one of whom he said was "a blue-eyed Portuguese man like you" and from whom he derived his title Ollivierra.
I, of course, have neither blue eyes nor Portuguese ancestry. The expression "like you" was used out of courtesy because in some strata of this complex society the term "white man" is not always considered complimentary.
The means by which these men learnt their social history through their activities is an important generational feature of their lives. The recreational activities of our generation and a few more after us routinely included music, sport and other pursuits, such as breeding dogs or pigeons and catching and minding aquarium fish.
Musical activity was by no means confined to pan. Piano and guitar lessons, for example, were not the exclusive preserve of what is now sneeringly referred to as the bourgeois; nor was dancing in troupes for teenage and younger girls.
When one is adept at recreational activities the British refer to the person as having "accomplishments".
The appalling lack of efficient public transport has for decades affected the ability of youngsters to develop accomplishments. Students spend unproductive hours in "traveling". So too the teachers, who might be available to promote and supervise healthy extra-curricular activities.
In addition, in the last decade and a half, surfing the net, exchanging personal information on Facebook, texting, tweeting and bbing occupy much of the time that would have previously been spent on the recreational activities that characterised the life of previous generations.
These electronic activities are prejudicial to the art of conversation and face-to-face social interaction. They also increase the pressure on the preservation of national and regional cultures.
This is not a lament for things past but any examination of why social behaviour has changed must take proper account of the changing influences under which our citizens now develop.
I am not aware whether any of the literary and debating clubs still exist and there are fewer clubs of the variety of Maple, Malvern, Colts, Spitfire, Juniors, Lantern Giants and the Oilfield clubs. Violent crime stalks outdoor activities.
The CVs of today less and less reflect the Ollivierra CV. That is one source of our present troubles. That is why the current struggle to keep music, dance and sport, things for which we have a natural talent, in the forefront of development is crucial.