Christmas past: 1971 and 1980
By William Walker

Posted December 30th. 2001 Stabroek News

By Christmas of 1971 polyester pants with generous flares were all the rage. One provocative advertisement for that wonder textile, terylene, had a woman looking admiringly up at a man's zipper: "Terylene your kind of hot pant... " read the breathless copy, "the kind that sets you apart as a cool operator! No matter how hot the action Terylene keeps you cool... Wet it and Forget it! Live it up and Rough it up!"


Prime Minister Burnham was firmly in charge of the terylened masses and the country was on the great drive to feed, clothe and house itself by 1976. In his Christmas message Burnham confessed that his favourite song was the Little Boy Santa Forgot. "Let us all co-operate to banish unemployment and remaining inequality by 1976." To this end the government had just proposed a 6 per cent increase in the corporation tax retroactive to January. Meanwhile Finance Minister Desmond Hoyte had more immediate problems to deal with including a 7 per cent devaluation of the Guyana dollar bringing it to the equivalent of 2 to 1 against the US. It is hard to imagine now, how traumatic such a move must have been.

The Chamber of Commerce was quoted as predicting the cost of living would rise by 15 per cent, something derided by Hoyte in Parliament who said, "the increase would be minimal if at all." Earlier in the week he had caused a ruckus when he challenged Maccie Hamid of the PPP to a fight. Hamid had supposedly called him a puppet during a speech in the assembly and Hoyte had retorted how he was "stupid and a fool." Hamid replied that the Minister should "wash his mouth out with caustic soda."


"Hoyte leapt from his seat: 'Come outside and say that and let me kick you!' and he stormed out of the Chamber as Mr Hamid angrily replied, 'I am coming' rising from his seat only to be restrained by his colleagues.
"Meanwhile Mr Hoyte was seen outside with a wooden ashtray held upside down in his hand." The Graphic had a field day with the incident highlighting the weapon on its front page, the story written by Rickey Singh.


The Graphic was the opposition paper and as such would only have a few more years to run. It also took on the government over the proposed retroactive 6 per cent increase in the corporation tax, something downplayed in the Chronicle which chose to highlight reductions in personal taxes. The Graphic was outraged:
"What next in the holy name of Guyanese economic development only God knows!"


But the cheerleading Chronicle editorials would fit in nicely even now: "In Guyana today the situation is gradually changing for the better. The long task of healing and organizing a dispirited people is being successfully accomplished." Another on public sector wage increases went: "It is this one sided affair that has propagated the notion that higher wages happen automatically instead of having to be earned by increased productivity and output."


The police were trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of $26,665 intended for farmers and teachers in the Pomeroon which was stolen from a locked safe at the Charity Post Office. A report noted that there were no fragments to show the safe had been broken into and the postmaster had allegedly spent the whole weekend in the Pomeroon river and did not return until Monday.


The Graphic's editorial while supporting the self sufficiency drive was disturbed by the numbers of layoffs including 300 sea defence workers from the British company Balfour. Attorney General S Ramphal disclosed that printing of the Laws of Guyana "is expected to begin shortly and for the first time in history it would be done locally." Enough said.

Apparently even back then journalists were finding flimsy excuses to write about Christmases past. Frederick Watson waxed nostalgic: "When I was a lad I used to get imported grapes, iced apples and many other delicacies. Today our Christmas tables are filled with many of the local substitutes in our quest to preserve our national heritage... Today the focus is on soul dance, groovy they call it, and the ever popular reggae of Jamaica which is but a reflection of the foxtrot and hopwaltz."


Another writer was more interested in defining the emerging species 'Co-operative Guyana Man.' "He loves loans and freeness, borrowing without repayment. He loves big spending, big talk, big cars pomp ceremonial parades, uniforms. He loves speechification, argumentation and litigation."
Further afield Yoko Ono had been unable to see her daughter from a former marriage when visiting Texas with her new hubbie John Lennon. Bob Hope was off to entertain the troops in South Vietnam... again leaving his wife for another Christmas alone. The recently launched Boeing 747 was considered by many to be a financial flop.


For those making purchases, a table model Flavel burner B600 with floor stand would set you back a whopping $169. Auto Supplies was selling potatoes at $12.50 per bag. The hot present for boys that Christmas was the now hideous looking Rudge Chopper with its small front wheel and loaf bread seat. Limacol was still trying to convince people that it would make a perfect Christmas present especially when combined with its powder. The classifieds were dotted with advertisements offering study courses in the United States.

At the cinema the world's most recognizable spy James Bond was bedding every girl west of Moscow in Diamonds are Forever. Carry on Camping and Doctor in Trouble at the Plaza promised "you'll go limp from laughter." Haathi mere Saath (Elephant is my companion) was playing at the Starlite Drive-in starring Rajesh and Tanuja.
In the cartoons James Bond was in "Manaus a rubber port on the Rio Negro up the Amazon river from Belem where Bond contacts the bush pilot suggested by Souza." Other strips were Dr Kildare and Mandrake.

Christmas 1980...
co-operative paranoia

By 1980, (there are no December Chronicles for 1981 in the National Archives) the country seemed to be slipping into a socialist quagmire. Indicative was a headline in the only newspaper left - the Guyana Chronicle for December 24 announcing an IDB grant for US$1.2M to "strengthen Guyana's national and regional planning structure and project execution system." It seemed like money well spent. No matter, congratulatory messages from world leaders were pouring in (don't they always!) for President Burnham on his recent landslide victory at the polls. There was no hint of any controversy. The newspaper was short on news and long on revealing opinion. Percy Hawkes inspired by an ants nest he had exterminated wrote on the Glaring Neglect of the PPP: "Surely with our adoption of the concept of co-operative socialism just 10 years ago it would be unrealistic to expect the transformation to be reflected so quickly; rather the idea motivating us is to build a society in which there is equal opportunity for all." Evidently, true equality would be "unrealistic." Disturbing paranoia was also creeping in. One columnist wrote, "we have to be committed to watchfulness since there is no knowledge at what point the Trojan Horse and saboteurs will appear." The popular snack was Rabbi's plantain chips... and the clean cut of synthetic bell bottoms had morphed into baggy denim pants available at Carewso's.


Sintrella soap on a rope, "was fresh in fragrance as nature itself."
This watchfulness obviously referred to persons dealing in contraband. The newspaper reported that on December 12 "two persons who pleaded guilty to a charge of being in possession of prohibited and uncustomed goods were fined $1250." Apparently the duo had been travelling in a car at the No 62 Toll Booth when they were found to be in possession of that most dangerous vegetable - the potato. Anita Marks of Georgetown was also charged for being in possession of 25 pounds of the dreaded potatoes "and 12 tins of sardines."

It brings to mind the story of a forgetful West Berbice family who hid their sardines in the oven only to have them explode when they started baking a cake!


Meanwhile the Suriname navy was still harassing Guyanese fishermen in the Corentyne river detaining three trawlers and arresting fifteen. A Chronicle editorial noted that the Surinamese authorities "should exercise more flexibility and less arbitrariness in their attitude towards the fishermen."
Minister for West Berbice Oscar Clarke warned fishermen to steer clear. A younger Ian McDonald was lamenting the imminent loss to the heritage of the West Indies of the Codrington papers in a Sotheby's auction. "This is an absolute disgrace," he wrote - not for the last time.


President Carter would have a sore holiday having fallen in a skiing accident in the hills of Virginia and lovers in Hong Kong were rushing to get married before the unlucky Year of the Rat. The West Indies rejected a proposal by the Pakistan team to play on Christmas Day to make up for time lost from bad weather in the third test in Karachi.


At the cinemas Jackie Chan was already an 'Angry Eagle Deadly Snake'; Roger Moore (not THAT Roger Moore) was now the most recognizable spy in the world in the Spy Who Loved Me. The newspaper advertisement showed Jaws about to sink his metal teeth into 007's neck. The big Indian movie seemed to be Burning Train ("Exciting! Explosive! Electrifying!") starring Dharmendra and Hema Malini. Ingeniously the insurance company GCIS had used the occasion of the movie to suggest that bad things can happen any time and citizens should take out a policy immediately. Knock- kneed Jerry Lewis twenty years later was starring in Sailor Beware. "So I misplaced a destroyer you gotta make a federal case over it!" There was an article about how overseas Guyanese were coming back for the holidays. They were suffering pilferage from their suitcases at Timerhi and the Georgetown Public Hospital was having trouble finding suitable blood donors; everyone's alcohol content was too high and the only blood type available was R.U.M.



Perhaps the most timeless complaints came from Lionel Luckhoo who in his New Year's wishes hoped "GEC would have a year of electrifying progress. They hit such a low one in 1980 whatever they do in 1981 will be deemed progress." 2. "The Garbage city... One only has to look in the yards and the alleyways to conceive the absence of cleaners. Every city does it. Ours does not." 3. "The people who sell on the paves have a right to sell but let them be provided with such amenities that they may vend their wares without congesting the sidewalk." Luckoo wished that "the discovery of oil will be an established fact. Uranium will be fully identified and that our hydropower move on progressively towards the goals set by our President."

But the exclamation mark should come after an article which stated with the utmost confidence that "Guyana will soon stop importing machinery that features imperial measures and weights in keeping with the national decision to go metric in 13 months." twenty-two years later a pound of potatoes is still a pound of potatoes but only now they are legal.