The best of everything: Guyana 1945-1985
Food and drink and eating houses
By Godfrey Chin
February 4, 2007
The secret with a barbeque, of course, was to place the pits upwind, so that the smoked aroma helped oversight and excuses for the paltry side dishes, whether potato salad or plantain chips. The Lions' dedicated volunteer wives offered home-made standards of barbeque for fundraisers at their functions.
As a loyal, true barbeque enthusiast, my nightmare stories of Bar-B-Q fiascos would make Edgar Allan Poe's stories unfit for the local TV tripe. In 1962, Old Year's night, the rain fell non-stop from around 8 pm until 5 next morning. I remember this distinctly as my neighbour rode to the Chinese laundry on Broad St to pick up his suit and returned home at 5 am. He still insisted that his wife, dress and they go out, so he could impress his neighbours with what a great time he had on the town.
Our party drove to Pilot Hick's revels in Kitty - more rain than Noah's deluge; the Bar-B-Q served was floating like dumpling in soup, so you flipped your plate to get rid of the water while eating.
On another occasion at the sea wall, the dam damp coals wouldn't light for hell. Can you imagine 500 partying Guyanese leaving the fête with a raw piece of chicken quarter hanging from the drum stick? (There was no foil or paper available.) A partner of mine spent the rest of his life explaining to his stay-home wife about the two quarters of raw chicken she found under the car seat three weeks later. First occasion in recorded history the chicken spilled the beans!
Watering hole: Guyanese stop-off on Friday's payday afternoon for a toock or tupps, and to reduce the wife's weekly house money. Demico was a favourite, offering pool tables, while Russian Bear, Houston's and Old Demerara White on Light St was always filled to capacity.
JP Santos's blend of a rum called 'Tarzan' was guaranteed to have everyone in an Irish fighting, brawling mood after two drinks, and you awakened next day feeling you were Tomahawk-scalped. The fun in drinking was the unlimited excuse to be cantankerous and 'beat up' the innocent at home!
Pac-pac was the generic name for fruit wines from Sue-A-Quan, Robb St, and Correia's, Durban St, and this name usually included fire-water - local bush rum.
After sixty years, Palm Court is still the best oasis to meet everyone socially in Georgetown, while after twelve midnight, you may 'maco' and identify their cars parked from the Groyne to Carib Point, to Half Way Inn, E B. (The best parking spot - 'public bedroom' will be a future 'R' rated Nostalgia.)
Ice cream and ices
Ice cream would be a toss-up between Demico and Sterling in the seventies, and this was only because Brown Betty's, after 40-odd years had become too frothy. Brown Betty introduced the popsicle, fudgicle and creamsicle in the late forties, and before the 1945 Booker's Black Friday, was on Hincks St, the local Mel's Diner with a great milk shake and egg sandwich (18 cents). After Nifty's Soda Fountain in the late fifties, Freezer Fresh on Camp St in the old Shu-All premises was another ice palace delight. Cyril's Garage on Thomas St made all the cone cups then.
Fairs and bazaars
Like barbecues, fairs have always been the main source of revenue for schools and charities. The biggest and best was the Annual League of Coloured People's Fair, in the Promenade Gardens, which promoted and encouraged local products before the 'buy local' awareness after Independence. The Agricultural/Livestock Exhibition to honour Princess Margaret's visit in 1958 at Mon Repos was our best showcase of local husbandry and agriculture.
YMCA's annual May Day Fair, Thomas Lands, with the plaiting of the Maypole was a must, as well as St Joseph's S S Misericordia colourful tribute to the countries of the world. The International Bar at Colgrain House was a sophisticated high-class rum shop offering the best duty free liquor with international cuisine to support the local Red Cross and other deserving charities.
It was a pleasure witnessing the various consulates competing to offer the best of their homeland entertainment in an atmosphere of non-professional friendly rivalry. No cold wars, but ice-cold vodkas, French wines, saké and German beer.
Ethnically, the Chinese had their Chinatown fair, while the East Indians held lavish Diwali fairs and sari contests with tassa drums. Dorcas Club and YWCA (Brickdam), plus the Ursuline Convent and St Rose's also had grand fairs.
Dancing and disco
Prior to 1945, the Assembly Rooms was the Mecca for social dancing, and in the fifties, you graduated and achieved the rites of dance when you frolicked at the Carib with its magnificent starry roof décor.
Seasonally, the traditional places to dance for the Xmas holidays were at the Portuguese Club, Xmas Night; Chinese SC with Tom Charles and his Syncopators on Old Year's night; and East Indians, Camp St for Mandalee - Twelfth Night.
Of course, the enjoyment of the December pre-Xmas partying depended on how many staff parties you attended. Between the financial banks/insurance companies/several sections of Banks DIH, culminating with Bookers Universal staff party after Xmas stocktaking on the Universal roof or Mariner's Club, you needed a party rest before Valentine, and later, Mash, Feb 23. Guyanese always knew how to fête like Vikings.
After midnight, hungry Georgetown night owls would accept any cook-up as the best, and it was a question of your location while prowling. Only 'fowls' went to bed before 8 pm, and like the nocturnal Dracula, only sunrise forced us home.
Hunte and Pemya's cook-up were consistently gourmet, and their sites at Bourda Market, Regent and King Sts, and the law courts always had a standing patronage.
I am convinced that the sanitary quick wash of the eating utensils in two buckets of water - swish-swish and a shake dry - contributed immensely to our immunity against disease, and strengthened our endurance systems.
Naturally the best and least expensive was to walk, and yesteryear, the middle-class Cadillac was a Raleigh, Humber or Rudge Bicycle ($95). Towing maxed with five, before the frame bent or tire burst.
Baker shop/grocery deliveries were by carrier bikes, accommodating huge pannier baskets in front. Draycarts were the lifeblood of our commerce and local market trade.