I read a lot as a youngster - consumed and devoured books by the day - and loved to torment a couple of my teachers with a saying I had picked up somewhere in the library: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." I got away with it, except for one of them who responded, "And those who are incapable of either, talk."
My last two years in secondary school were all fun, games and preoccupation with girls, one in particular who saw me as progressing from a bosom buddy to a travel companion on the road to matrimony. Fortunately, a landslide of emotions caused by another young woman prevented too far an advance along that path and the journey got sidetracked until I started catching my asphalt.
I passed my A' levels, a big thing in those days, and after a lot of refusals, got a job to teach in the nearby co-educational Presbyterian high school, separated from my home by an area called 'Peyton Place' (formerly 'Cassava Alley'). There were no roads there, only tracks in the sand that may still be the only outstanding feature of the southern Trinidad town in which I lived and grew up - a place called 'Siparia', known as 'Sand City', with a playground that was supposedly the 'Savannah', but which we called the 'Sand-vannah'.
I make the comment about Siparia with love, and regret that I am no longer there. The many years I have been on the road have taught me to live from a suitcase, but if I had roots, they would extend to that little town in the oil belt where I learnt most of life's lessons, including that nostalgia is no longer what it used to be.
I had gone there after a stint in a school 'behind the bridge' in Port-of-Spain where, after two days of torment, I had learnt to hold my own in the survival stakes. My father had cut my hair so low that it tempted all the boys and some of the bigger girls to 'tap' me resoundingly at that point where the head and neck meet.
My story is that, perhaps punch drunk from all the blows, I learnt to fight back. The story from one of my colleagues is that they stopped because my head was so hard that their hands started to hurt. We lived in the rural village of Carapichaima then, all sugar cane, coconut and alcohol. In fact, it was the ambition of every male villager to have his own rum shop and so houses built with loans from a housing fund for sugar workers were erected on stilts, leaving room at ground level for the eventual addition of a 'business place'. We had one, but it, too, went along with all my father's jobs and dreams, victims of the alcohol that fuelled and finally finished them.
Siparia was different. In Port-of-Spain, at 'Picadilly E.C. School', which sounds fashionable (like Mayfair or Chelsea) but was definitely not, the boys on the football team asked me to tell the headmaster, the formidable and fearsome Mr Forde, that I was going with them.
"I cyah play football," I admitted. In those days, little boys of East Indian descent played cricket, but football was 'too rough'. "Tell him you going to run a line," one of the boys advised. This scared me because the only lines I knew were the train lines and the thought of running one of those was frightening. One of the boys in the village had lost a leg trying to pull cane from a carriage and was pulled under the train. I ran a road instead, straight to my aunt's home on Duke Street.
In Siparia, though, I learnt football, cricket, drinking, partying, cursing, gambling, hunting and sundry other pursuits that may not have a statute of limitations to protect me from myself. All these attributes and achievements by themselves did not equip me for teaching, but in those days, my A' Level certificates were enough.
I put on a long-sleeved shirt and a tie on the second Monday of September 1964 and started a career based on a combination of effort and effrontery. The principal, the Reverend Cyril Beharry, and I started on the same day. He had worked a parish or two before he ended up at the school. He had a wonderful sense of humour, which he kept hidden from most people except me, since not all his jokes were as clean as he was.
He and I got along fabulously and I ended up, at one point, teaching English, history and geography at O' and A' Levels and in charge of all sports, including netball and athletics, drama, debating, preparing the team for the national College Quiz, and even teaching the girls who had written their final examinations to dance the graduation waltz (after the Rev Beharry taught me).
I directed my first play then as an entry in the initial Secondary Schools Drama Festival. It was a high-spirited time for me, and some of the older boys, as a former chief magistrate recounted recently, learnt to drink wine and sundry other spirits from me. We played rummy in the staffroom and in a memorable 'teachers versus students' cricket match, I gave one of my colleagues (who was pestering me to bowl) the ball to bowl from both ends of the pitch. He was pleased and may still be boasting about the feat, unique in the annals of the game.
Reverend Beharry was aware of all my inadequacies as a teacher, but knew my capabilities and my worth to him and the school. I helped to organise the graduation dance but, unfortunately, did not myself honour or observe the stricture against alcohol. The goodly principal knew this.
Graduation day came and his guest was a Guyanese academic, Dr Andrew Camacho, a mathematician of note with several books on the subject to his name and, at the time, chief education officer in Trinidad. Dr Camacho had come to the ceremony but had been persuaded to stay for the dance.
He sat at the principal's table and it was evident from his demeanour that this time the great mathematician had figured it out wrong. His cup did not 'runneth' over. The wine, women and song that he expected to highlight the event were only two-thirds present, lacking the party of the first part. Sagacious as ever, Reverend Beharry brought the great mathematician over to my table and Dr Camacho enjoyed himself so hugely that, by the time he had to be driven back to Port-of-Spain, he could not tell Pythagoras from Pascal or even pronounce 'hypotenuse'.
- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the name of the school is 'IERE'. Bob Marley would have been as proud of it as Kamla Persad-Bissessar who went there, and Tony who was her netball coach.