Thu | Jun 29, 2017

Tony Deyal | May-May and May Day

Published:Saturday | May 20, 2017 | 5:00 AM

The British excitement about polls, canvassing and campaigning did not immediately register with me, although it may certainly have done so with the Electoral Registration Office. But 'may' certainly registered with me when I thought I heard a BBC radio announcer say, "May may win the election."

First of all, I thought she had come a long way from Claxton Bay where Sparrow and she parted company over an overbite or two, and then I said the word 'election' had to be a mispronunciation given that it was 'May-May' we were talking about, and though she was inclined, she may not have been politically so. Chairman Mao is supposed to have made the same error when he said in answer to a question about when he had his last election, "Rast night."

The context, however, left me in no doubt that the first 'may' was Theresa May, the present British prime minister, and the second 'may' might well have been expressing a possibility as distinct from 'might', which is not always right since it is used to express hypothetical, counterfactual, or remotely possible occurrences.

From Labour's viewpoint, despite the fact that the polls show May as the likely winner, her victory might not happen. Following the launch of Labour's manifesto, several polls have shown that the lead held initially by May's Conservative Party is dwindling and Labour is catching up so fast that it might be, as in the case of May-May's adventure in Claxton Bay, neck-and-neck. As Shakespeare forecast in his Sonnet 18, "Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May."

The first time I heard the word 'bud', it had absolutely nothing to do with flowers but stemmed from the passion my relatives, neighbours and friends had for songbirds which they pronounced 'buds' and they 'mined' and entered in competitions. Maya Angelou, who like the month of May is thought to have been named after Maia, the Greek goddess of fertility, knew why the caged bird sings, but the caged 'bud' is another story.

Pampered, and in their own way petted, they warbled, rolled and trilled to the delight of their owners who kept them in well-made cages complete with water receptacles and things like cuttlefish bones. Later in life, I saw the irony in descendants of slaves and indentured immigrants keeping birds and other creatures in cages and enjoying their singing in captivity, but at the time I kept begging for my own bird, which I eventually got, but she was not May or May-May.

I could have tried the bird sanctuary on Scotland's Isle of May, but at my age, my interest in birds has diminished, even though they constantly knock on the bedroom window to get my wife Indranie to feed them, but my interest in May has awakened.

 

UNLUCKY MONTH

 

I really think that if May wins the British election in June, it is not so much like Good Friday falling on a Monday, or a young/old May-December romance, but more like a late spring, early summer, progression, and given the unpredictability of the effects of climate change, rough winds are still to be expected in early June. In fact, May has always been considered an unlucky month to get married and might be even worse for courting public opinion.

But May is what started me off on this mental journey, not the politician, but the month. It is the shortest in terms of spelling - only three letters - but has a full 31 days. The first day of May is May Day, in many places of the Northern Hemisphere, a public holiday that marks an ancient spring festival. Then it got a second spring.

In the late 19th Century, May Day was chosen as the date for International Workers Day by the socialists and communists. In the Caribbean, the trade unions made it their day as well, and like the caged 'buds', the irony is that although it was 'labour' day celebrating the victories of the labour movement, nobody worked. In Trinidad, in commemoration of the 1937 Butler Riots, Labour Day is now celebrated annually on June 19. This is even more ironic.

Perhaps the double dose of irony may have caused 'MAYDAY' to become the distress cry and signal of people on ships and planes. According to the TODAY I FOUND OUT website, in 1923, a senior radio officer, Frederick Stanley Mockford, in Croydon Airport in London, England, was asked to think of one word that would be easy to understand for all pilots and ground staff in the event of an emergency.

The problem had arisen as voice radio communication slowly became more common, so an equivalent to the Morse code SOS distress signal was needed. He came up with 'Mayday', which, four years later, in 1927, the International Radiotelegraph Convention of Washington made the official voice distress call used only for the most serious level of distress, such as with life-threatening emergencies. When using Mayday in a distress call, it is traditional to repeat it three times in a row, 'Mayday, Mayday, Mayday'. It is also what I advise when you see trade unions on the March whether in May or any other month.

Maya Angelou was born in April, but died in May (2014) and the Roman poet Ovid (died 17 AD) thought that the month May was named for the 'maiores' or 'elders' like me and June, which immediately follows, is for the 'ioneres', or Juniors. In the UK, May is National Asparagus Month, National Share-a-Story Month, and National Burger Month. According to old superstitions, it is unlucky to marry, buy a broom or wash a blanket in May. In 2004, a study of 40,000 people showed that people born in May think themselves luckier than those born in any other month. For the record, Theresa May was born in October and her husband Philip May in September. They are looking forward to June, come what may.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying if you hear 'pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan', it is not an announcement of a steel band event, but a distress call for help that is not urgent.