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Red, red wining

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Halfway through the fete I notice everybody is wining. Oh…dear god…no! It’s the moment I’ve been dreading since I arrived. The moment I’ll be unmasked, exposed, humiliated.


“Call yourself a Jamaican,” they’ll say! Everybody will turn to look, to point, to mock. They’ll fall about laughing like that nightmare when you arrive at school but you’ve forgotten to get dressed and the whole school is laughing at you because you’re naked and you try to run but your legs won’t move. “Look, mummy, look! He can’t wine! He can’t even wine!!” Why didn’t I come clean before? I’ve confided privately to close friends. They’ve been supportive but there is a deep internal shame I cannot shake.


I better confess here, once and for all: I cannot wine! I’m not sure I even want to wine... At the fete are two friends from England and Canada, professors of anthropology and ethnomusicology.


They’re wining. They’re twice my age, but they’re wining by jingo! They turn to me, smiling. I break out in a sweat. All around me people are wining like mad, smiling at me encouragingly. Don’t encourage me! Just let me be! “Why is he not wining?” I imagine them saying. “Is there something wrong with him?” Yes, I want to scream, there is something wrong with me! I’m English!!


Onstage, Machel Montano gets to the chorus, “I’m the happiest man alive,” he bellows. Well, that’s great Machel, but I’m the ‘Englishest’ man alive and right now I’m not happy. It was all going so well. I was drinking rum, laughing with friends, sexy girls were winking at me…then the wining started. It’s a wine festival.


George Bovell is at the front wining. Television news anchors are beside me wining. At one point the anchors go bumper to bumper. You wouldn’t see Sir Trevor McDonald doing that. Not on my watch.


My female friend backs into my crotch, bottom first. Crikey. I stumble backwards. I say old bean, this is a tad aggressive! Machel’s dancing girls gyrate onstage. I just want to watch and soak it up, like a sociologist or columnist. “Stop thinking,” my friend shouts. “I’m not thinking, I’m…observing,” I say. “Stop observing! Loosen your heel! Free up yourself!” Machel goes into his power soca bit and people jump up. Bovell jumps up. The anthropologists jump up. I jump up, half-heartedly. Man, I am so English. I realise, ruefully, the concept of moving at concerts in England is finished. People just watch and sing. Only the really wasted dance.


But what is it about wining I can’t handle? Is it an aesthetic barrier? Physical? Cultural? Moral? “I don’t know how I feel about wining,” I say to a friend. “It’s part of our culture,” she replies. “Bending over is part of your culture?” I say, well aware that comments like that will ensure I’m alienated from the wining community indefinitely. And when I say the “wining community,” I mean the whole of Trinidad. And Tobago. And Jamaica.


And the whole Caribbean. And its diaspora. “I’m not sure I approve of it,” I tell my 84-yearold landlord the next morning, during our wining lesson. “Never say that in public!” He chides me, then continues teaching me how to wine. I haven’t asked for this lesson, but I’m getting it anyway.


“As well as going east to west with your hips you’ve got to go north to south. All four cardinal points.” We’re on his verandah. His shirt is hitched up revealing his, well, groin area. I’m still in my dressing gown. His wife stifles mirths. Our neighbour is not only laughing, she’s filming it on her iPhone. If this ever goes up on YouTube it’ll go viral within seconds. “Let the woman do the work, you’re not the driver, you’re the passenger. She’s the vehicle, just ride the vehicle.”


It’s too early in the morning for this. I haven’t been to sleep yet. I got back from the fete at 7 am. My phone is broken. Again. I ponder whether wining comes from an ancient African tradition symbolising the fecundity of woman and the virility of man.


I think about the politics of wining. Prince Buster’s advice, “Ram her hard and you can’t go wrong.” If a man rammed a woman uninvited in England he’d have gone very wrong indeed. He’d be arrested. But here women are the aggressors.


“I’d prefer not to be wined on unless I give prior consent...” I tell a friend, who laughs. “You don’t get to choose who wines on you. If a woman wines on you, just take it and be thankful.” Carnival is round the corner. Wining lessons won’t be enough. I need a boot camp. 


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