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Wearing the hard times poorly

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I want to talk today about potholes. But first a little background, because there is a way of wearing the hard times to which we have apparently not paid sufficient attention.

I went to primary school in Caroni in the 1960s, so don’t feel you can preach to me about “rural” neglect. There were children who went to school without shoes and walked the hot asphalt in the afternoon to get home—in orderly “Indian (single) file”, as my late head-master/grandfather instructed.

My mother who taught us it does not matter what you have or do not have, but to always wear it with dignity and pride. It was a part of the ethic of the time that not because things were hard you needed to wear it on your sleeve.

There was also an old, arguably homeless, woman who roamed the Eastern Main Road in St Augustine where I lived. She had conversations with herself that often led to the kind of chuckle you hear at polite dinners, and you could have imagined be-gloved hands against her lips as her body shook out of humour.

We once caught her having a bath in the laundry sink at the back of our house. On the clothes line, hung neatly, was the dress she wore for all the years we kept seeing her, up and down the main road, cracking jokes.

All of this came to mind when my left front wheel sledge-hammered down into a pothole along Abercromby Street in St Joseph not too long ago. By the time the rumshop regulars poked their heads out, the right rear wheel had also already negotiated a seemingly bottomless pit and I immediately recalled the figure the mechanic quoted to replace a pair.

When my nerves settled, I also remembered the lessons of my childhood and wondered whether people still felt the same way about not having much, but still being able to get by with grace and dignity. You were not allowed to leave the house with even “buss up” underwear, even if you had just two.

I wrote not too long ago about the fact that potholes don’t seem to have a political complexion for at least four years and eleven months—one month being the benchmark to represent civic memory and, therefore responsibility.

But today, in 2017, I am not accepting that a failure to address the poor and deteriorating state of our public roads results, in linear fashion, purely from a shortage of money. It is true that there is less in the kitty and it is also true that a large, natural storehouse of asphalt does not magically convert to paved roads.

But, we are clearly not wearing the hard times very well. We are leaving the development home with “buss up” pants and skirts.

Where is the ingenuity and creativity we boast so much about? There is a programme, for example, of institutionalised self-help. However oxymoronic the phrase, there is something that can be said in favour of collective state/community action to address the issue of bad roads—the minor potholes at least.

There is also a role for well-equipped utility companies and heavy vehicle road users that certainly have the resources to destroy roads, and who must also have the capacity to help repair them.

Do people feel comfortable with what we have? We might be down to the last set of underwear, but we must insist on wearing it well.


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