THINGS THAT MATTER
Many years ago – 1949 to be exact – the English author, playwright and broadcaster J.B. Priestley produced a splendid little book of short essays called “Delight” about the simple things in life that gave him great pleasure. It’s an entertaining book, a delight to read, and a reminder of how blessed we are to live in a part of the world that’s not an area of constant conflict, war, genocide or famine. And with the continuing and seemingly ever-growing problems around us here at home – economic crisis, potholes, sewage, garbage, bush, dereliction, crime, political tribalism and confusion – we need to stop and take stock of those many, many blessings we take for granted. It will help us to get through these tough times when we realise how blessed and fortunate in fact we are, and how many daily delights we have if we think about it and take time to appreciate them, and how fortunate we are to live in a safe and relatively civilised part of the world.
I’m privileged to have a garden in which I take great delight. I can sit on a bench or a swing in the evening at sunset or as dusk falls and look up at my majestic mahogany trees, enjoy the continuous song of the birds – from the quiet chirps to the rather more ebullient calls of the ramier pigeons and the occasional cluster of parrots – and if I stay outside long enough we see the glow of the fireflies and the twinkling of the stars. What can be a more delightful way to end the day, except for relaxing at the beach, rum punch in hand, watching the sunset and wondering if you’ll see the elusive green flash? And what about strolling along the beach (which many of us rarely visit) with the waves lapping at your feet and your toes squelching in the soft sand?
Another delight is going out of the house in the morning to collect the papers at the gate, and being greeted by your warm and friendly dogs – they’re so pleased to see you after their night’s tough security work; and to look around in the beautiful, crisp, clear morning, and perhaps to spot a freshly opened rose or anthurium to surprise your wife with at the breakfast table.
However, it’s my magnificent trees that I love the most. I have all three of the world’s spiritual trees – the ficus (Ficus benjamina and Ficus citrifolia, our famous bearded fig tree), the African baobab (just maturing and blossoming for the first time last year at some 35 years of age) and the silk cotton (Ciba) – also blossoming for the first time last year at the age of ten – it replaced my three-or-four-hundred-year-old silk cotton tree that had to go because it rotted in the core, as silk cottons tend to do. On the same day I received official town planning approval to crucify it I discovered a seedling just 18 inches tall … it’s now seventy feet tall! The silk cotton’s sequence of yellowing of leaves at Christmas, their fall, the blossoms – creamy, scented, attracting every sparrow for miles – then the seed pods, then the cotton balls, and finally the new leaves, provides a botanical extravaganza – a magnificent play in seven acts.
And speaking of trees, it’s a delight every time I drive up or down the ABC highway … especially the Adams segment, where the beautiful avenues of palm trees are ever more splendid and the manicured verges are also a delight. These are the result of the vision and execution by Andrew Clarke and his team
and sponsors of the Adopt-A-KM Community Highway Programme – congratulations, folks!
What are the simple indoor pleasures? Let’s start with food: top of my list are my wife’s freshly baked coconut bread, cassava pone and conkies. Next comes Greek yoghurt with honey – sheer ambrosia! And there’s no rum punch like the Bajan recipe, with pure, fresh lime juice and Falernum instead of sugar syrup – topped up with Angostura and grated nutmeg – all in moderation of course!
And books. Books and more books. There are thousands in our house. I can’t live without books, and usually have several going at one time … a couple upstairs and a couple downstairs that are on the go, while bookshelves line every room. While nature restores the mind and the soul, books give you the world, books give you ideas and vision, and books make you free. And I’m like the Duke in Shakespeare’s “As you like it”, who said: “This our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it.”
That beautiful thought always reminds me of the beautiful poem The Desiderata written by Max Ehrmann in 1927 and widely quoted and popularised. Its provenance has often been incorrectly stated, but it’s worth quoting, because even in the toughest and most demoralising of times it’s always relevant, always inspiring ….
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labours and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
So be cheerful, and strive to be happy as, in the words of Rotary, we take every opportunity to serve society.
Things that don’t delight me include the continuing, aggressive behaviour of ZR vans. On Monday as I moved off from the traffic lights at the Collymore Rock / Culloden Road junction, going straight, a ZR van roared past me from the right hand “Right turn only” lane, swerving in front of me in a zero- to-100 miles an hour in-five-seconds move, barely missing my right headlamp, and accelerating away, followed a few feet behind by another ZR van. Within a few seconds they were both out of sight around the Ena Walters Roundabout.
One recalls Henry the Second’s distress with Archbishop Thomas Beckett and those famous words to his knights: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Will no authorities control the crazy behaviour of these drivers?
Professor Fraser is Past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology. Website: profhenryfraser.com