A Way In the World

On my seventeenth birthday I became an acting second-class clerk in the Registrar-General’s Department. It was a filling-in job, between leaving school and going away to England, to the university; and it was one of the most hopeful times in my life. The Registrar-General’s Department was in the Red House, in St. Vincent Street. This was one of the first streets I had got to know in Port of Spain.

I was a country boy, and still am in my heart of hearts. Only a country boy could have loved the town as I did when I came to it. This was in 1938 or 1939. I loved everything about the town that was not like the country. I liked the paved cambered streets and even the open curbside gutters: every morning, after they had done their sweeping and gathering, the street-cleaners opened the water hydrants and flooded the gutters with fresh, clear water. I liked the pavements. Many of the houses had decorative fences of a particular style, with a big carriage or cart-gate at the side, usually of corrugated iron, and an elegant small gate in the middle, leading to the front door. These front gates were of stiff patterned wire within a tubular frame and with a metal arabesque at the top. Sometimes they had a bell. I liked the way the pavements dipped outside the big side gates (to let in the carts or cars to the yards, though very few people had cars). I liked the street lamps; the squares with their trees and paved paths and benches; the routine of the town day, from the street-cleaners’ brooms in the early morning, to the newspaper being thrown on to the front steps, to the horse-drawn ice-cart in the middle of the morning. Port of Spain was small, really, with less than a hundred thousand people. But to me it was a big town, and quite complete.

My father was my guide to the city in the very early days. One Sunday afternoon he took me to the city center and walked me down two or three of the principal streets. Sunday was such a quiet day that you could—for the sake of doing something unusual—get off the pavement and walk in the street itself. Frederick Street was the street of the big stores. More interesting to me was St. Vincent Street. At the lower end, near the harbor, it was the street of the newspapers, the Trinidad Guardian and the Port of Spain Gazette, facing one another. My father worked for the Guardian. It was the more important and more modern paper. From the pavement you could see the new machines, the big rollers, the big unwinding ribbons of newsprint, and you could get the warm smell of machines and paper and printing ink. So, almost as soon as I had come to the city, this new excitement, of paper and ink and urgent printing, was given to me.

Later I …

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