Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Carolyn Cooper | Accidental generosity at Christmas

Published:Sunday | December 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM

'Tis the season of goodwill to all persons. And many of us expect goodwill to come as gifts, especially of the material kind. But a lot of the gifts that are exchanged at Christmas are often quite accidental, rather than customised. Do most men really want ties, socks, aftershave lotion and all the other 'masculine' gifts retailers try to persuade us to buy?

And do women actually want household appliances? Are we supposed to shiver in delight at the sight of a brand-new fridge or stove? The toy-sized appliances that girls are given at Christmas often follow us into adulthood. We can get stuck in the kitchen, if we're not careful, fulfilling male fantasies about the ideal domesticated female.

Instead of giving material things, we should consider sharing experiences: going to see plays, dance performances, concerts and comedy acts and supporting our local artists. Or giving lessons for singing, jewellery making, or swimming, for example! We live on an island and yet many of us can't swim a few strokes to save our lives.




A few years ago, I almost drowned in St Vincent. I walked into the sea, in very shallow water, and, within a few feet, the bottom dropped out. The third time I came up, I had the presence of mind to shout for help and a man ran into the water and dragged me out. My whole life hadn't flashed in front of me. There was no time for that. All I could think was, "Mi just a go dead so?"

Now it's not that I hadn't tried to learn how to swim. As a student at St Hugh's, I took swimming lessons. It was in the 1960s and we didn't have a pool at school then. Our enterprising headmistress made arrangements for us to use the pool at Up Park Camp. I didn't do so well. One week, I almost drowned, and that was it.

A younger generation of St Hugh's students was able to take swimming lessons at the pool at St Andrew High, thanks to the generosity of the principal, Faye Saunders, who had previously taught at St Hugh's.

I was dismayed to hear at her funeral earlier this year that a past student of St Andrew said she could not possibly attend the service. She simply could not forgive Mrs Saunders for allowing St Hugh's girls to use their swimming pool.

Mi just kiss mi teeth. Talk bout 'badwill'! To think that anyone could 'carry feelings' for so many decades! And not be able to pay her last respects to an educator of such distinction. It's not as if we St Hugh's students were low class to that. St Andrew was our sister school in the Anglican tradition. But we were clearly 'outside pikni'.

I'm still learning to swim. I started again this year and I was doing very well with the breaststroke. Only the arms! I just haven't managed to get the kick right and coordinate the moves. But I'm not giving up. I know I'm going to make it this time. That's my Christmas present to myself.




Then I recently gave a porter at the Norman Manley Airport what I thought was a $500 tip. It soon occurred to me that I might have accidentally given him $5,000. A rather hefty tip! I'm sure he wouldn't have minded. But I did. I checked with the porter and he looked in his wallet and confirmed that I'd given him only $500.

I'm afraid of the $5,000 bank note. It looks too much like the $500 bill, especially at night. If I get any from the ATM, I immediately head to the nearest supermarket to change them. I just don't understand why the colour of the two notes is so similar. Same problem with the $100 and the $1,000 notes! And I don't want anyone to tell me that all of the US bank notes are the same colour. That is fi dem business. We don't have to follow that fashion.

I called the Bank of Jamaica last week to find out who was responsible for the design of the $5,000 note. I got a generic response. The bank is, ultimately, responsible. And I was told that the bank was aware of the problem of mistaken identity and would be dealing with it soon. But that $5,000 note was issued in May 2009. Why has it taken so long to correct what is clearly an error in design?

Why does government bureaucracy move so slowly in some instances? When politicians want to rush and pass legislation, like the national ID law, they manage to do so rather quickly. Because it suits them! But in many matters that concern the rights of citizens, they simply drag their feet.

I was relieved to be told by the Bank of Jamaica that all bank notes are going to be redesigned within a year or two. And each is going to be quite distinctive. That will certainly solve the problem of accidental generosity, all year round.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to and