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HomeEducation / CultureMayday, PAN-PAN and S.O.S

Mayday, PAN-PAN and S.O.S

By Tony Deyal

Come what may, two days from now will be May Day, the first day of the month of May. While calypsonian, the Mighty Sparrow, sang about making love one day with a girl they calling “May May”, the month is not just for may-hem or whatever part of her dress or undress that is of immediate interest. It is a name that seems to have been made for children.

Many years ago, my two little and very mischievous ones ganged up on me and asked gleefully, “Daddy, what month can’t make a decision?” After going quickly through the months of the year in my mind, and realising that July might be untruthful but doesn’t fit, I then admitted, “Ok. You win. I give up.” The laughter was loud, “boysterous” and “girlsterous”. “Daddy, the month that can’t make a decision is MAYbe.”  All I could do was reply, “I thought that is what they call a bee that is born in May” and got as an immediate response, “Daddy, does February march?” and before I could reply, they shouted loudly, “Ha! Ha! Ha! April may!” and ran off to find their mother and try it on her.

Monday is May Day which, in medieval and even modern Europe, is still celebrated. Most people in most of those countries still observe the return of spring. We in the Caribbean might have a spring in our steps, and May May might spring into our minds and other places, but we never followed the ancient agricultural rituals that were celebrated in ancient Greece and Rome. As far as we youngsters were concerned, roam was something we did but it was not built in a day. It took most of our spare time.

Grease was something we put on our bikes and our hair. Worse, where I grew up we did not have a spring, we had a ravine which we used for seeing whose piece of stick would win the race to the coconut branch that was reducing the current and flow of water. In fact, all this spring and winter stuff cut no ice with us. Actually, we never bothered with the Caribbean version of the wet and dry seasons. We had instead a cricket and a football season which always put our year into full appropriate gear.

The Catholics, members of one of the religions that was part of my growing up, see May as the month of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. The British also make a huge and major event of the month, especially the first of May or “May Day”. Traditions often include gathering wildflowers and green branches, weaving garlands and crowning a May Queen (sometimes with a male companion), and setting up a Maypole, a May Tree or May Bush to dance around. Coming out of the winter and the cold, feeling the heat and all that follows, and also warmed but not warned by it, that time is best described by the poet Robert Herrick in the first stanza of “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying.

Interestingly, May 1st is National Loyalty Day in the US. It is when Americans reaffirm their loyalty to the United States and the recognition of the heritage of American freedom. While George Bush in 2008 urged Americans to “aid our family, friends, and fellow citizens all across this broad and welcoming land”, and Barack Obama in 2016 called for a “more just and more equal” America, guess what Trump went for?

He preached the gospel of fighting and winning a war against big government that was a bloated monstrosity teeming with waste, fraud and abuse all over the place. He boasted to his supporters that he would cut so much that “your head will spin”. But then he vowed, in essentially the same breath, to “take care of people”. As his critics rightly said, Trump’s split-screen attitude was evidence that he was running a con.

As we in the Caribbean head into May Day on Monday, and after hearing all the talk about dealing with crime in the region, all I can think about is what I call “prose and cons”, Trump and follow-suit. Not so much a case in point, but a case in disappointment. Come what may, and despite the number of people in the region who are killed or have their businesses and lives shot up or shot down by criminals, our governments and police continue to believe and demand that the way to deal with crime is to mess with the statistics by shutting up the media and the people who are suffering.

What we are experiencing now, as we enter into May Day 2023, is real mayhem. Mayday is an internationally recognised word to signal distress. What we all require throughout the Caribbean, especially in Trinidad and Jamaica, is an emergency procedure to help us all survive the criminals and murderers.

I still remember the early days of May when I got my cousin to help me make a paper kite with glue and a couple of copy-book pages, steel a reel of thread from my mother’s sewing machine, and join my friends out in the Savannah having a ball or what, in retrospect, because the kite was a “zing”, remembering a time when life was “ah May-zing”.

Now, if it is not a Mayday, it could be a PAN-PAN and we are heading into PAN-PAN time. The radio-telephone message PAN-PAN is the international standard urgency signal that someone on the sea needs help and that the situation is urgent. In the old days, we used to “beat” pan, now pan-pan beating us into a frenzy of fear and, for some, flight. However, in thinking about it, I know it is Mayday and PAN-PAN time for the entire region.

I figure what we have to do is send out an S.O.S. to God Almighty. If, after all, the chief of police in Trinidad and Tobago says that prayer is the answer, and is supported in this by the politician leading Tobago, and since this is the month of Mary, the S.O.S. is worth trying. After all, it is better to have a Morse code than a remorse code.

*Tony Deyal was last seen telling his children about the English ship that was going down in German waters and its Captain sent out the alarm, “Mayday, mayday, we are sinking”. The response that came was, “Zis is za German coast guard. Vat are you sinking about?”

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