Beautiful Saturday morning. I have just come downstairs to make my usual morning brew. Blue Mountain today. I saw the “Blue Mountain” words on the label during a recent visit to my local supermarket and was drawn to it. Blue Mountain coffee is Jamaican, and so am I. That is the reason. I am not sure the one I am about to have is pure, though, as the brand is one I have never heard of before. Many companies usurp the appellation due to its world-renowned quality and taste. This one did not turn out to be bad by my standard. Perhaps the real connoisseurs will feel otherwise, though.
While waiting for the Keurig to end the cycle, I open all the blinds to get the maximum sunlight. I love when the house is full of light. It makes me feel like I am bringing the outdoors in. Behind the house is a lake and, from where I am standing in the kitchen, it appears I can open the window and touch the water. This morning it is glistening, with a slight ripple dancing across it, stirred up by the gentlest of breezes.
Milo is looking outside and barking. It is a bit earlier than his usual time “to go,” so I do not think he is signaling me to let him out for that. Perhaps he has sensed something unusual out there. But I see nothing. No ducks. No iguanas. And indeed not his friend from down the road that sometimes escapes from his yard and comes visiting. I guess it must be the allure of the view outside that is exciting him then. I, too, feel the urge to go outdoors. Sit on the patio with him, sip my coffee and catch up on the latest happenings in Jamaica through the Gleaner on my Android.
Outside on the patio, the temperature is comfortable. A ray of sunlight dodges the column before me, falling on my face, and warming me just enough to make me feel great to be alive. The coffee is good. Milo goes out onto the grass. Sometimes when he does, he lies in the sun. At other times he sniffs among the plants, for what I am not sure. This time though, he quickly comes back and settles at my feet. Maybe he has decided to keep me company, for I am not often out back with him. Good dog. Indeed man’s best friend.
It is now early afternoon. I had a relaxing morning. Only one thing happened that was not part of the plan. I ended up not catching up on the Jamaican news. I got diverted to something else, which made me start to reflect on some of the traditions of my early years in Jamaica. Specifically about my school dress, or uniform, as we call it on the island. School uniform.
Before bringing up the Gleaner on my phone, an article caught my attention. It was about the British monarchy and how its members had to adhere to certain forms of behavior and entirely ignore others. Some of these forms were peculiar to the monarchy, while others reflected British society at large. As I read, it struck me how similar some of them were to our practices in Jamaica. It made sense, though, especially for folk of my generation. We are children of the independence and immediate post-independence period of Jamaica’s history, during which our societal and other norms were still shaped, in great measure, by Britain, the so-called mother country.
In the article, I discovered that little Prince George, always dressed in short pants, would have to do so until he reached ten. During winter, especially, he wears socks up to his knees to keep him warm. It made me reflect on my upbringing in Jamaica, where we used to wear short pants in the lower forms at my high school. So, the British connection may explain why. Mark you, I was ten when I started high school, and my classmates were already eleven or twelve, but it did not matter. For it was not unusual to see the adoption of British practices at home, even when they were out of synch with our Jamaican reality. Our uniforms constituted one such practice that was out of synch.
When I started attending Morant Bay High School in the eastern parish of St. Thomas, all boys were required to wear short pants for the first three years. Not only short pants, for we also had to wear thick woolen socks, pulled up to under our knees, just like British Grammar School boys. No matter how hot the weather was, we had to have those socks on. And when they had had their one wash too many and became too loose to stay up by themselves, rubber bands came to the rescue. They kept them fully extended and in place. Sometimes the bands were so tight, they would dig into our flesh and sting. On top of the itchy wool. Heat, itch, sting. What torture. No ifs or buts about not keeping them up because discipline was part of our DNA. Plus, our principal’s wife — perhaps the strictest disciplinarian I have ever known — would make sure we complied, even by the sheer mention of her name. “Maa P a come” would scare the bejeezus out of us and whip us into compliance.
But while we endured the discomfort of the woolen socks, there was something far more problematic they, plus the shorts, exacted upon us. It was fear. Not of Maa P, but of the big Town boys. Coming from the rural part of Jamaica, we referred to Kingston as Town, and the big Town boys in question were from there and attended high schools there. Every year we would have Eastern Champs and Boys’ and Girls’ Champs, all high school athletics championships, at the National Stadium in Town. As first-formers at Morant Bay High, we were all eager to travel to the stadium for the first time and cheer for our school. But, the older boys who had by then graduated to long pants told us horror stories about their time in short pants at the stadium. The Town boys ridiculed them — the Country boys — for wearing short pants in high school. Not only to school but also daring to wear them to Town! Not only ridiculed them but also slapped them on their bare knees! What trepidation we felt about the prospects of being mocked and slapped! We had to do something about it!
So, what did we do? The fear generated by the horror stories made us, first-formers, form a pact to purchase and wear long pants to the stadium. Defying the school rules. We decided if doing so ended up with punishment, we would all take it together and accept it as a mark of martyrdom. At least, it would be better than suffering the indignity short pants could bring us!
So, off we all went to Town in our long pants, and we had a great time at the stadium. Upon returning home, though, we realized that spending money on long pants and not wearing them after the stadium visit was not in our best interest. Nor in the interest of our parents’ pockets. Terrible return on investment. And so, our year in high school was the year the school started allowing long pants for boys in the lower forms. We forced the hand of the school to change the rules. I think now that we should have a plaque erected somewhere at the school in commemoration!
Our impact on school uniforms did not end with getting rid of the long woolen socks and short pants. Five years later, when we hit Sixth Form, we were at it again. Sixth Formers wore ties. Green and white forming perpendicular stripes. We wore them loose, just below the second button on our shirts. Well, our headmaster, who taught us how to play bridge as an extra-curricular lesson in Sixth Form, schooled us on how to wear a tie. It had to be drawn at the collar, with the collar button of our shirts closed. What? In the Jamaican heat? Even though our school was on a hill just overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the breeze coming up was never enough to keep us cool. He gave us a choice. Either wear the tie how it was to be worn or don’t wear it at all. You can imagine what we chose. We ditched the tie!
So, I was one of the pioneers at high school. Even just for uniforms!