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Sunday 22 October 2017
Commentary

The future is a past waiting to happen

Life has a way of casting us aside when it’s had what it wanted from us, and if there is one lesson the young should learn, it’s that it can happen to them.

That’s why it was such a pleasure recently to see some live Facebook broadcasts by a journalist friend of mine in Tobago that featured a political voice from the past, former Chief Secretary and staunch Tobago autonomist Hochoy Charles.

In case you’re wondering, a “live Facebook broadcast” involves turning the camera phone on yourself and transmitting a video selfie that anyone can watch. It is announced to your friends and followers on the site: “Chris Morvan is live on Facebook.” I doubt if you will ever see that particular name attached to it, because it’s a bit too new-age for this print-loving technophobe, but Mr Charles was beamed to an unsuspecting world by a young Tobagonian woman.

Interesting character though he is, it was not so much Mr Charles’s identity or achievements that struck me, but the sheer fact that he is a figure of yesteryear. With few exceptions, the public figures of one era soon become forgotten as a new generation of observers takes the reins of the media, with their own idea of what and who is and isn’t relevant.

Thus you will find a modern reference to “Mohammed” Ali, probably the greatest boxer of all time and certainly one of the most influential figures in black history, misspelled because the young person given the task of mentioning him may have vaguely heard of the former Cassius Clay but doesn’t consider him important enough to notice that he spelled his name Muhammad.

That is just lazy, of course; with the internet at our disposal it is ludicrously easy to look things up, even if it is advisable to check two or three references to make sure they’re all spelling it the same way.

Age brings with it a certain respect for our predecessors, because we know how hard it is getting things done if we want to do them properly. But there will be people who started reading this and have already abandoned it because it refers to two people they are expected to have heard of, but they didn’t know either of them.

It is easy to feel alienated by a simple reference to someone whose day was before our time, and equally by someone who is currently a fashionable name, when we are not interested in that particular sphere of human activity. My backup email account, for instance, is with a little-known company whose home page contains news of people I have never come across and don’t wish to know about. It is quite irritating to be informed that some character who is completely new to me is “the new face” of a “brand of eyewear” (that’s glasses to you and me) of whose name I have also never heard. The fact that the past becomes irrelevant is not, in fact, a fact at all. We can – and must – learn from history, the wise and the historians tell us, because then we can avoid repeating the mistakes of previous generations.

I have to admit that at school, in my youthful ignorance and frivolousness, history seemed a complete waste of my time. Take English monarchs: Henry I and Henry II might as well have been the same bloke for all the effect they had on me. Christopher Columbus discovered all these lovely hot places?

Well somebody had to, I thought, and you can’t give too much credit to a sea captain who didn’t really know where he was for stumbling across Trinidad and giving it a Spanish name.

Even in sporting circles, where current performers are constantly judged against the record books, it is hard to give sufficient credit to people who don’t have a video devoted to them and who are only ever seen in black and white. Thus it would be too easy for a young sport-lover to dismiss the great Trinidadian cricketing all-rounder, lawyer, politician and writer, Learie Constantine (1901-1971)–Lord Constantine of Maraval and Nelson–as less interesting than Shai Hope, who this summer has given the West Indies back a bit of self-respect through his batting performances in England.

Sure, it did the heart good to see Hope and one or two others giving the hosts a run for their money in the end, and he deserves all the accolades that have come his way, but let’s see if he sustains it, scores a mountain of international runs and contributes something to the world off the pitch. And ends up as Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner in London.

But even if he does, 50 years after his heyday there will be people who refer to him as Kyle, because that’s his brother’s name and he’s a cricketer too.

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