Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hobson’s Choice (eating well)

When I was a boy… [Surely one of the benefits of becoming an old codger is that you can get away with reminiscences beginning with “When I was a boy”.] So. When I was a boy, life was simpler for children than it is now.

For one thing, the food was simpler. In the 1940s and ‘50s, shops didn’t carry pre-cooked meals, at least in Queensland. McDonald’s and KFC hadn’t come to us yet. Prepared food in general? Heck, even sandwich-shops created their goodies while we watched. Nothing was prepared ahead of time. We office-workers lined up at midday and gave our orders one by one to sweaty-handed lads living dangerously with razor-sharp knives. There was no air-conditioning, and the fans couldn’t really cope with the heat.

Hygienic gloves hadn’t come into fashion, then, but we hardly ever discovered any blood in our fillings. The sandwich-makers were skilled at their job.

We didn’t have allergies, because allergies are immune-deficiencies caused by the excessive avoidance of germs. Frankie Gardiner was the only kid with asthma that anybody ever knew, out at Hannaford; and he was from Melbourne, a thousand miles or more to the south. Maybe he had led too sheltered a life; he was a delicate boy, who tended to hang back when the rest of us were messing around in the dirt.

Kitchen-cleansers that remove 99% of all household germs are bad for young children. It’s the 99% of household germs that build up kids’ immunities. What doesn’t kill children makes them stronger – just like our Grandmas said.

When I was a boy, not only was food simpler than it is now: so were menus. Our mothers’ menus at every mealtime were quintessentially simple – namely, what was on the plate. The choice was Hobson’s choice: eat it or don’t eat it. Actually: eat it all or don’t bother turning up for the next meal.

My Mum would bend the rules a bit, in a good cause; but she never broke them. I hated pumpkin, so she kindly served me only a token amount; and in the spirit of fair play I ate all of that. It was easier at boarding school. There I could give my pumpkin away, and fill up with the stale bread that usually went begging.

In the bush, most of our food was mutton, home-raised at a marginal cost that was close to zero. In town, too, our only meat was mutton, out of residual loyalty to the sheep-farming industry. During my working years in Brisbane my landladies often served up roast beef on Sundays, but it was many years before I could eat it without feeling guilty.

I was left with a lifelong aversion to choice, with regard to foods. Even today I never feel completely comfortable in restaurants, for that reason. I love eating at friends’ houses, because they don’t give me a choice. Occasionally a hostess will say, “I hope you like this”, but she doesn’t really care. There’s never an alternative on offer. “Sorry, Wendy, I’m a vegetarian.” “Oh dear, George; let me scrape the meat off your plate and give you a few more potatoes. There you go.”

When courtesy requires, I will eat anything at all. In Tehran, I was once offered a sheep’s eye. As it happens – and fortunately – our host had lived in the West. As I steeled myself, the eye glaring at me defiantly, he took pity. (The host, not the eye. The eye was pitiless.) “I know it’s not a western thing”, he said, “and I won’t be offended if you’d rather not choke it down. But for us it’s a delicacy. Why not let me eat it?” I settled for the tender eyelid-meat that surrounded the organ. That saved me a little bit of “face”. Linda wouldn’t even eat that.

Somebody once told me of a British couple who discovered a restaurant in Madrid whose specialty was bulls’ testicles. Animals killed in the bull-fights are sold at the markets, and no part of the beast is wasted. One night the serving was meagre – tasty, but much smaller than usual – and the couple asked why. The waiter shrugged. “Senor, Senora… You know, the bull doesn't always lose. Very occasionally, he wins, and it is the matador who dies.” Shrug.

It – uhhh – it may not be a true story, but it’s worth the telling.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Standards in Public Life (in Cayman)

Having Cayman as a colony is not all fun and games for the British Government. The poor old FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) goes to all the trouble of designing a framework to contain bad behavior by our local rulers, only for the framework to be ignored or subverted.

Bad behavior is supposed to be monitored – and, ideally, curtailed – by three politically appointed Commissions, as well as by the FCO-appointed Public Auditor. A couple of other public officers are supposed to keep the Civil Service in line – an ombudsman (Complaints Commissioner) and a Freedom of Information Officer.

Nothing works the way it was intended. Each member of the Commissions was chosen because he or she was reckoned to be “a safe pair of hands”. The Anti-Corruption Commission has uncovered two or three of the most blatant of thousands of daily illegalities within the Immigration Department, but any trials will have to wait two or three years. After all, why hurry? There’s plenty of cash in the kitty to keep the suspects’ salaries and perks paid in full while they sit at home and attend to their private businesses.

The Human Rights Commission wastes its time on legal technicalities, and avoids taking official notice of the longtime exploitation of unskilled migrants, indentured (without the slightest supervision) to their employers. “Near slavery”, the Jamaicans call it, sometimes with good reason. The HRC also ignores Cayman’s treatment of our boat-people – Cuban refugees, many of whom die on the way from Cuba to Honduras via Cayman waters. The HRC doesn’t seem to regard refugees or poor migrants as human, within the terms of its responsibility.

The Standards in Public Life Commission does nothing at all, as far as we can tell.

Last week one of our Cabinet Ministers, responsible for Health, Culture, Youth and Gender Affairs, lost his rag when invited by his Chief Officer (the most senior Civil Servant in any Ministry) to provide evidence to support a dubious expense-claim before submitting it for reimbursement. The Minister – an arrogant bully at any time; he “has form”, as the English say – cursed out the unfortunate CO in the hearing of the entire staff. "How dare you!! I am a born Caymanian and you are just a piece of fucking driftwood! Get the fuck out of my office! Go on - fuck off!" Or words to that effect.

Our Premier backed his crony, the bully. The Chief Officer was transferred to another Portfolio. The Minister lost a couple of responsibilities, but retained Culture – which gives us lots of hope for the future…

Never mind the cursing. The word "driftwood" – and its tolerance by our Premier – is what will cost his Party the next election. That the Chief Officer was a highly respected immigrant of longstanding (foreign-born, but with bloodline-Caymanian children by her bloodline-Caymanian ex-husband) indicates the profound contempt for expats that flourishes in the leadership of our ruling party.

Ever since I began this blog in 2010, I have bewailed the anti-expat attitudes of many bloodline-Caymanians. Not all of them: probably not even a majority: but many. And most of the “many” voted for this present ruling party, which has always had a bit of a name for being anti-expatriate. This latest incident removes all doubt, and it is way too much for any of our expat communities to accept.

Our votes are gone, and they won’t be coming back. British and other European, North American, Latino, Jamaican, Asian, African… we’re all well represented on the voting lists these days, and we will probably vote as a bloc next time. Come back, McKeeva – all is forgiven!

Where does Cayman go from here? Into further tribal divisiveness, unfortunately. And further corruption. When Linda and I came here in 1978, Caymanian Status (citizenship, in effect) could be bought for $30,000, paid under the counter to the right person in high office. The “marl road” – our grapevine – reports that it has been available for only $20,000 recently. Ah well: it’s good to know some prices have escaped inflation.