Sun | Sep 27, 2020

Tony Deyal | It's about time

Published:Friday | August 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Even though heavy metal was big in the late 1960s, I got into it really early. I don't mean all the weights that I lifted in my garage in my teens, but the Timex watch I bought in my days as a 19-year-old teacher in a co-educational secondary school.

I had gone to a boys' school and, having done well at my HSC, or Cambridge University's Higher School Certificate, the main school-leaving qualification in the entire region at that time (and still used in Mauritius), I ended up at a neighbourhood school with more girls than boys, a lot of whom were my age or younger.

That Timex was heavier than Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple put together. It cost $10 and weighed a ton - approximately 200 pounds per dollar. I was proud of it but could only wear it on sunny days because it so lacked waterproofing that, as I joked with my friends, "if I pass near a standpipe it stop working because of the moisture inside".

My friend Franklin was even harder on my watch than I was. "Boy, when the rain just set up in the sky and the clouds even dark, your watch have water inside it."

The Timex, however, was more than a status symbol and a way to make the girls come close to me and, leaning on my arm, admire my watch and Old Spice cologne. I suppose that not only did time hang heavily on my hands, but it was also of the essence. It was also the first neighbourhood watch in Trinidad since my friends, including Franklin, borrowed it when they wanted to make an impression on some girl they were taking to the Sunday 'matinee' in the Plaza Cinema.


Present paranoia


I didn't realise then how my present paranoia about being late, even by a second, came about. First, from the time I was 11 years old, I had to wake up at about 4:30 a.m. to go to school in the city, and while initially I travelled to Port-of-Spain in a dark-green Wolsey belonging to my Uncle Percy, when we moved to the south of the island, I had to bus it.

Our town of Siparia was third in a long bus route that started at the village of Erin, then to Palo Seco, and almost as an afterthought to where we waited impatiently on the High Street, shivering in the dawn. The buses were licensed for just about 50 passengers and, of course, like all Caribbean forms of vehicular transport, invariably crammed with many, many more.

My mother woke my father and me, forced me to shower in icy-cold water, and handed each of us our food. I gulped a cup of milky, heavily sweetened coffee if I was on time, but that rarely happened. I grabbed my sandwich or roti and fried plantain, sometimes with an egg, or my 'shilling', and headed out, the book bag on my shoulder heavier than time itself.

The savannah that lay between us and the city was not the convenient shortcut it became later in the day. The dew made it a swamp, and your school socks and shoes, not to mention your feet, did not fare well in the cold, skin-shrivelling dampness. In the near-dark, I walked up the hill to the main road and down the High Street to the bus stop where all of us, boys and girls, gathered, preparing to fight to enter the bus for the privilege of hanging on by a worn strap if we were lucky. If we were not, even if the bus originated in our town, we had to wait for another due about an hour later at 5:30 or 6:30 or whenever, as is the nature of Trinidad buses.

School started in San Fernando at exactly 8 in the morning, and arriving late, whether the circumstances were within or beyond control, carried penalties, starting with detention and ending with being caned by the principal.

Those adventures with time travel were heavily influenced by James Bond. My Uncle Percy's home was a place of books, and I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. My cousin Horace was a James Bond fan, and so I read Moonraker when I was 10, a big step up from the Batman and Superman comics that were my standard fare (apart from what I paid the buses).


Jack in the box


Before going to sleep, Bond was able to visualise the time he wanted to wake up, imprint it on his memory, and was up, fully conscious, exactly on time. I was able to do that eventually, but it still entails jumping awake several times before my preferred time, taking a quick look at the clock, falling asleep briefly and fitfully, then continually springing up like a jack in the box but not a James.

I tell people that I first became truly aware of the importance of time when I started television production in Canada in the 1970s. This was another case of heavy metal, as the cameras weighed tons and coaxial cable was as thick as my wrist. Tripping on one in the studio could lead to serious injury.

We initially used film, which operated at 24 separate frames per second, and then moved to video, which ran at 30 frames per second. This meant that I was able to manipulate up to 30 different images for one second of video. It was also when subliminal advertisements buried in film and video footage became an issue, and so time was even more important to us as, aided by communications guru and prophet, Marshall McLuhan, we explored the power of the new media which, as he said, was not just the messenger but the message itself.

Why I took up so much of your time on time is that I was 73 last Friday and, almost unconsciously (or is that subliminally?), I looked back at both the good times and the bad and tried looking forward. My education caught up with me. I remember when my literature teacher, Brother Lawrence, continued to besiege me with the quote from Richard Second, looking at me meaningfully as he recited, "I wasted time and now time doth waste me."

There was Macbeth and his wife who had run out of time: "She should have died hereafter. There would have been time for such a word." And for us old men for whom there is T.S. Eliot's Alfred J. Prufrock, "Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea."

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that 2:30 is an important time for him, since this is when (it is said) the Chinese go to the dentist.