Memories of April Fool's
By Gordon Robinson
This year, All Fools' Day fell on a Sunday but, as usual, I remembered April 1, 1974.
I'd been heading towards a UWI medical degree but my customary methods were proving surprisingly ineffective. As I did at high school, I spent more time at the racetrack and around the domino table than in the lecture theatre. My studying started 24 hours to exam time and ended 12 hours later.
This tried and tested routine worked perfectly at Campion College. Even when I was 'found out' by my chemistry A' Level lab exam, I wasn't made to pay for my recklessness.
The exam entailed three experiments and, on each, three questions were to be answered based on the experiment's results. I answered one question on one experiment. The other two experiments weren't even attempted.
I won't say my singular answer was wrong, but I will report that, during the post-mortem analysis with fellow students, it turned out I was alone in that answer and everybody else agreed on an alternative response. I did okay on the written paper, but my summer holidays were somewhat tense until the results from England declared that, somehow, I'd 'passed'.
To my amazement, this practice didn't work at UWI, where I was diverted from what I considered a sure-fire path to a medical degree, by being asked to repeat an exam. I took offence at the clearly malicious insult to my intelligence and technique; refused to sit the supplemental exam; dropped out of UWI and started working at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB).
If this appears strange to modern college graduates sitting at home for years before their first job interview while parents grow bald and bankrupt, let me assure you that, in those days, every high school leaver was guaranteed a job somewhere (public or private sector). Forty years later, today's depressing opportunity vacuum, regardless of educational accomplishments, makes a mockery of any Jamaica 50 'celebration'.
Anyway, I was employed in JTB's Planning, Research and Statistics Department doing its most menial task. I gleaned and collated 'house counts'. This entailed weekly phone calls to hotels islandwide; garnering total rooms as against rooms occupied; then preparing tables with the results to include percentage changes over the previous week and the corresponding week last year.
Final house counts were due on Thursdays. The drill was to make calls on Tuesday and Wednesday; complete calculations and prepare charts on Wednesday afternoon (which, for me, meant Wednesday night since I was 'occupied' most Wednesday afternoons).
A 'Lyon' and a zoo
I came in late this particular Thursday, tired from staying up into the wee hours preparing house counts. I was greeted with a message on my telephone pad from a Mr Lyon, tourism consultant, who needed up-to-date house counts as at Thursday's date for an 11:30 meeting with overseas travel agents. I was new to tourism, so I wasn't surprised that the name failed to ring any bells.
Obviously, my prepared figures using Tuesday's numbers wouldn't do, so I worked like a madman calling all the hotels again and pressuring them for TODAY'S counts. Miraculously, I finished at 11:25 and feverishly dialled (yes, we 'dialled' in those days) Mr Lyon's number.
The operator at the other end answered, "Hope Zoo." I was tired. It didn't register. "Mr Lyon, please." I pressed on. There was a moment's silence. "Is Mr Lyon there?" I persisted. Suddenly, the penny dropped. I looked up and the entire department was at my door. They burst into howls of laughter screaming, "April Fool!"
"So I'd like to know where, you got the notion.
Said I'd like to know where, you got the notion
To rock the boat (don't rock the boat, baby);
rock the boat, don't tip the boat over.
Rock the boat (don't rock the boat, baby);
Rock the boat."
It's still the best April Fool's prank I've witnessed, even if I was its victim. Back then, the JTB was a fantastic place to work and that department was a nurturing environment full of brilliant, funny, easy-going types who practised real egalitarianism at work.
So, thanks, wherever you are, to the late, great Ainsley (gone too soon); Fay (who became tourism director); Eileen (now a lawyer herself); Faith (Miss Lou II); Polly and Anna (not Pollyanna); Janice (that pen you presented carried me through every law exam); Marcia (loved George McRae's Rock Your Baby and The Hues Corporation's Rock The Boat); and the one and only Rupert Mullings. You guys were the greatest.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.