Jul 23, 2013

Dave Martins' Schooldays

There is a Guyanese organisation in Toronto called the St. Stanislaus College Alumni Association which has done stellar work over the years raising funds to help maintain the school. Knowing I went to Saints, Chris Fernandes, Chairman of the Board of Governors here for a long spell, asked me to write a few words for a magazine celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Saints group. The magazine came out two weeks ago in Toronto, but since the circulation is limited, I’m reproducing the few words below.
My father, Joseph Francis Martins, was a struggling Pomeroon farmer (in the space of 10 years, he was wiped out twice by the river’s flooding) and couldn’t afford the fees to send his son to Saints. However, as the Portuguese student with the highest graduating marks in my year at Sacred Heart School in Main Street, I should have received the Portuguese Association’s St Stanislaus Scholarship. For some reason – perhaps because my family did not belong to the Association – that didn’t happen. We were shocked to learn that the scholarship had gone instead to a prominent Portuguese son in Georgetown. Like most farmers, my father was a very outspoken chap, and he fired off a blistering letter to the school. The nun in charge was not amused  (“There was no need for your father to write this epistle,” she told me with a definite Ursuline edge), but the problem was resolved by my being awarded a St Stanislaus scholarship.
In my four years there, apart from the five ferulas I received once from Fr Scannell, my essential memory at Saints, as a West Demerara country boy, is of the extravagant behaviour of several of the “town boys” I encountered there. Jimmy Kranenburg, with the shortest short pants above the longest long legs in the school, was one, towering over most teachers and raising an amazing variety of hell.  Bambi was his nickname, and ripples often followed in his wake. Some of the things these city boys did left me gaping. I remember the shock one day of the total silence in our class being shattered by the thunderous bang of a mamee seed fired hard at the blackboard.  With the teacher backing us, it had come from the back of the class, rising like a Michael Holding missile, and landing on the board about 2 feet from the teacher’s writing hand.  It sounded like a gunshot.  I cannot recall the teacher’s name, but, astonishingly, the man did not flinch.  He paused, bent down, calmly retrieved the seed, placed it delicately on his desk, and simply turned back without a word to his writing. I never found out who launched the mamee seed and why, although I suspected a certain dougla chap with a conniving smile.  One thing I knew: it had not come from a country boy.
Another episode in our second-floor classroom involved some renegade (probably Bambi) who distracted a student named Rego while the other boys stole his bookbag (a small compressed-cardboard thing), distributed the books around the various desks, and slid the empty container through the window onto the adjacent zinc-sheet shed.  Unfortunately, shortly after the deposit was made, a fierce rain shower came down, so by the time the class ended, and Rego went to retrieve his bag it contained about two gallons of rainwater and had become completely soggy; when Rego tried to pick it up by the handle it came apart like a Shanta’s roti.
In Fifth Form, big boys now, I stood one day near the eastern goalposts where we sometimes played three-man volleyball using an old tennis ball.  Jerry Goveia, the Banks one, was good at the game, and this day Gov got into a fierce argument with one of the players, Smallie, who was delaying matters by holding onto the ball. Before you could say Jiggs (our Maths teacher’s nickname) they had squared off, circling one another like Ali and Frazier.  I can see, like yesterday, Jerry’s left jab coming out like a piston and landing flush on Smallie’s forehead, twice, knocking him out cold.  Back in the class when somebody asked what the commotion outside was about, a student next to me, in classic Georgetown fashion, summed it up in five precise words, “Gov nack out a bye.”
Saints was boys-only in those years, and there was an insane game called “lab ass” which involved a bunch of guys running behind a ball (any soft ball would do) to kick it, and the game was that in the moment of kicking you could be fairly kicked in the behind by anyone close enough to do it. Obviously, to play this game you had to be very quick on your feet, as well as your backside.  One memorable Chinese guy, Terry(?) Ping, who was on the pudgy side, was a particular target in lab ass; the other guys would track him like a shark trailing a fish, patiently waiting to deliver a foot into that ample derrière.  To me, young Ping, who lived on Water Street, was just a lunatic Chinese from town. (From that experience, years later I would come up with the name “Wong Ping” for a song about a Chinese product widely used by Caribbean men.)
While I fell in love with languages there, Saints was actually more an education for me in socialization than it was in subjects.  Oddly enough, too, I recall going to one musical event there and being completely bored.  Little did I know.
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