It was a pleasure meeting up with COFA (the Caribbean Over Fifties Association) whose members originally come from all around the Caribbean. We went down memory lane with a look at Caribbean proverbs and their connection with various traditions such as the African, the British, the Amerindian, the East Indian and of course the Bible. Reggae music provides some strong examples of proverbs in the context of social commentary as in Bob Marley’s reference to small axe cutting down big tree and ‘every day carry bucket to de well, one day bucket bottom a drop out.’ With the influence of African syntax on the Creole use of English words, you end up with some rich parallels. So for ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ you get the Jamaican ‘One-time fool no fool but two-time fool a damn fool.’ Look forward to our next COFA meet-up.
Must mention Thursday’s reading for staff at the Regatta restaurant. Flora got the evening together with an avalanche of e-mails. Not as big a turn-out as she was hoping for. But the audience was lovely and with Mark’s splendid selection of vintage calypso and reggae and with Danny at the techno control belting out the sounds, the Regatta was transformed into a friendly shake-a-leg atmosphere. Thanks to all who helped to make it happen and we couldn’t ask for a more fitting and moving end to the occasion than a spontaneous rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ by Esther, our inimitable Guyana-born Gallery Assistant. Head of Department Sarah introduced the reading and the vibes were right to try a new poem inspired by the NMM experience. Let me tell you how I got the inspiration and many of you will recognise it. During a Black History month walk with the knowledgeable Steve Martin who shares his information generously on these walkabouts, we passed, on the way to the Observatory, a charmingly sited café called The Honest Sausage. I’m sure you all know it. So I thought to myself, you don’t see that everyday. There’s something in that!
What if that larger-than-life Black Victorian gentleman Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780) were to stop and chill out at such a café? Born on a slaveship, he was given the name Sancho by three Greenwich sisters after the sidekick of Don Quixote. He read books lent him by the Duke of Montague, and as butler to the Montague household, he would no doubt be familiar with the feasting practices of skewering cooked swans, pheasants etc into their own feathers. After such extravagant practices, an honest sausage would be a welcome relief!!! As you know, Sancho was a man of the arts and an eloquent writer of letters. In fact, the Letters of Ignatius Sancho (published in 1782) proved a bestseller and are now part of university studies. But Sancho also liked his food as much as the theatre, so let’s have him stop a while at The Honest Sausage
The Letter-Writing Ghost Of Ignatius Sancho
Here I am in royal grounds of Greenwich
at a café called The Honest Sausage.
Ah, dear boy, how lovely to munch alfresco
And simply be Ignatius Sancho.
So with words for my honest ingredients
I shall not mince my stock of sentiments.
Indeed, how can you not trust my language
when my mouth is filled with an honest sausage?
Mrs Sancho, my treasured better half, would deem
an honest sausage worthy of esteem
and approve my resting my gout-ridden feet
here where Empire’s feasting on-the-hill elite
overlooked their remote middle passage
like pheasants skewered in their own plumage.
If history’s forked tongues are living doppelgangers
Then let us give thanks for honest bangers
Yet returning to the grounds of Montague
I see the old house like the good Duke gone
And roller skates have taken the place of swans.
And the black presence shades the red, white and blue.
O browsing the Duke’s library was my dukedom
as I Sancho am pleased to see my letters thumbed
While little Brits of motley complexion stride
to futures made rich when diasporas collide.
John Agard (Poet in Residence)