â€œDonâ€™t it always seem to go that you donâ€™t know what youâ€™ve got â€˜till itâ€™s goneâ€Â (Joni Mitchell, from the album BLUE)
Parked down the road from Cudjoehead toward the Pharmacy just after Festival I wasÂ caught in one of those familiar and daft car-horn recognition exchanges. I responded to aÂ beep from a car that had just passed even though I had no idea who it was. My beepÂ triggered a series of replies from people who may have been signalling to me but moreÂ likely wondering who had beeped them, blindly returning a greeting.
As I turned my head to spot the initiator, a car pulled up alongside and the smiling face ofÂ Cepeke shouted through the passenger window. â€œHey Pete, whereâ€™s the beat?â€ This was aÂ regular introduction to our conversations, hardly poetry but a solid rhyme. â€œHave you calledÂ Jimmy Buffet yet?â€ â€“ another regular jibe designed to remind me of my insecure boast that I
knew the Buffets. Cepeke was winding me up about discouraging his ambition to get JB toÂ come to Montserrat but we continued our short chat â€“ with no signs of impatience from theÂ cars behind â€“ me congratulating him on his efforts over the Festival and remarking that heÂ looked very tired. Without commenting on my observation he suggested we should get
together for a chat and a play soon – I agreed and we shared â€˜See you soonsâ€™ and â€˜take caresâ€™Â before he continued down toward the banks in Brades.
That was a few days after the end of Festival and the next day I heard that he had beenÂ taken very ill â€“ a stroke, someone suggested â€“ he was paralysed and in hospital and about toÂ be flown to Antigua for intensive diagnostic tests. The same afternoon, another friend toldÂ me his version of the rumours â€“ it was some syndrome that might have been set-off by the
ZIKA bug or some such. Whatever it was, he was in a very bad way and his daughter wasÂ summoning the family from their homes across the world to be at his bedside.
I suspect that the virulent rumour mill on Montserrat only ever gets part of the story andÂ even though we may all think we know better now, it would be inappropriate to intrude orÂ speculate on this calamitous tragedy and the indescribable shock his family is enduring asÂ well as what we hope is a premature feeling of loss for all those of who know a little of thisÂ extraordinarily kind and talented man. I know all who pray are praying hard for a completeÂ and speedy recovery but the signs seem to point toward a long and difficult haul duringÂ which our friend will need our persistent and consistent support.
Cepekeâ€™s fellow musicians and friends are doing what they can. A concert to raiseÂ emergency funds will show their love and give a little help with covering his own domesticÂ bills and his families travel and accommodation costs. And there will be discussion aboutÂ what the authorities do â€“ can they pay or, at least, contribute toward current medicalÂ expenses? Can they provide for a regime of recuperative care once he is passed the worst.
There might be schemes that provide support for public sector workers. There might beÂ special closeted funds that can respond to one-off humanitarian emergencies but, in truth,Â the prospects for all Montserratians who come to need top-flight medical care, long termÂ recuperation or post-treatment convalescence are bleaker than ever.
Cepekeâ€™s predicament is not unique but coming as it does almost within days of a set ofÂ shamefully negative and demeaning consultantâ€™s recommendations that condemn theÂ future of Montserratâ€™s medical provision, we are all reeling from a dark realisation thatÂ living here is becoming too risky. How can Montserratâ€™s loyal and open British people beÂ expected to accept on the one hand, a policy that seeks to encourage returnees to bolster aÂ promised land of economic independence whilst on the other being denied the life-blood ofÂ basic social care and attention.
And yes, here we go again, whining on about how badly we are served by the motherÂ country and how little faith we have in our local representatives â€“ all moans that seem toÂ fall on irritated and increasingly deaf ears. Surely, there is some humanity somewhere inÂ those whose cautious responsibility (and duty) it is to deliver a path to future growth butÂ who seem to do it so begrudgingly as to create an impression completely void of genuineÂ caring.
Suddenly, a wake-up call. An event that illuminates a direct threat to our own future safety.
Not to our comfort, luxuriating as we do in what we describe for the sake of our tiny touristÂ audience as paradise, but a threat that presents a very real dichotomy. Do we, or those ofÂ us with choice to return home for our retirement years, risk the possible consequences of aÂ road or domestic accident, an unexpected stroke or heart-attack without any expectation of
life-saving treatment within the â€˜golden hourâ€™? Or should those with a recurrence of aÂ chronic ailment or even of a jittery fall that fractures something inside live in the knowledgeÂ that there is no sufficient medical provision nor an airport that can affect a medivac afterÂ 6.00pm? Do we, if we time our medical need carefully, suck up the acceptance of minimalÂ medical provision on island to be flown to another countryâ€™s hospital to run-up theÂ unrepayable and unrecoupable bills that accrue? Or should we just reconcile ourselves to aÂ slow and sunny palliative death in paradise?
That is not over dramatic. There is an arrangement for six lucky patients a year who can flyÂ sitting up to be transferred to the UK for motherland treatment – but not post-treatmentÂ care. These â€˜get out of jail cardsâ€™ are restricted to six per year so spare a thought forÂ unlucky number seven who so narrowly misses this cruelly limited allocation. â€œSorry, youâ€™llÂ have to wait until next year for your chance to avail yourself of the NHS cancer treatmentÂ that could possibly put you into remission â€“ just the luck of the draw and your own fault forÂ not being diagnosed earlier in the yearâ€. â€œStill, you can look forward to your final years ofÂ ever increasing pain-killers in the sun-drenched old peopleâ€™s home without air-conditioningÂ and actually, we canâ€™t even be sure about the pain-killers.â€
And itâ€™s not only the retiree generation who have cause for concern. Can we really expectÂ the vibrant and eager overseas-trained and educated generation of youthful buddingÂ Montserratian entrepreneurs to bring their young families to a place with such uncertainÂ medical protection, never mind the vagaries of economic resurgence. And will the clusterÂ of ex-patriot sun-seekers with an eye for potential investment be so enthralled with our idyllÂ as to ignore the ever-present gamble of medical uncertainty?
For me, there is great irony in the fact that our friend Cecile â€˜Cepekeâ€™ Lake, MBE hasÂ provided that wake-up call. Even more ironical is the role that he has played in the muchÂ vaunted key to our â€˜touristic offerâ€™. For the past 20 years, Cepeke has been the pivotÂ around which the annual Christmas Festival (our carnival) has revolved. The very survival ofÂ the Festival culture has relied to an enormous extent upon his energy and exhaustion. HeÂ received an MBE for it. Iâ€™m not sure it was sensible or kind to allow that extraordinary loadÂ to rest on one manâ€™s shoulders for so long and whilst there is no blame for how it came toÂ be, perhaps we all share some responsibility for the institutional mind-set that failed toÂ recognise his pressures and relieve his burden. In a way Montserrat has endured a kind ofÂ collective post-traumatic stress disorder since the eruption of the volcano threatened herÂ very existence. The preoccupation with maintaining â€œFestival the way it always wasâ€ is one
symptom of a fear of change that Cepeke was working within.
The sheer volume of song and lyric writing, co-writing and arranging, rehearsal of his greatÂ band, Black Rhythms as well as rehearsing the brass players who always appear for the finalÂ of the calypso competition, along with the administrative organising that he coped with inÂ the background is unbelievable. Around 60 home-grown new songs each festival season
and he composed about 30 of them himself, co-writing many others and arranging them all.Â Of course, the other musicians in the band had to learn them all and play their part as well,Â but he directed the process. He also directed and routined the musicians for the otherÂ shows that required a band each year â€“ the regional female calypso shows, most of the SocaÂ Â Monarch performances rely upon his talent and commitment. Despite opportunities forÂ other bands to take up the cudgels, none felt confident enough to challenge hisÂ acknowledged expertise.
Another irony. The Montserratian Chief Medical Officer was on the radio recently explainingÂ his job in the context of the contentious medical resources review. The furore over theÂ medical review has been partly generated by the suspicion that there might be back-storyÂ more concerned with price than value especially since the suggested direction of travelÂ seems to favour fewer facilities and fewer staff providing a more cost-effective service, aÂ ludicrous notion that no-one believes is serious. With the deft caution of a formerÂ politician, the CMO explained â€œMy job is to find younger people to replace meâ€. MaybeÂ that should have been Cepekeâ€™s modus operandi.
Anyway, I have decided not to mention quality and the range of Cepekeâ€™s work nor the listÂ of memorable and often poignantly observant songs that have captured the essence of soÂ many historical moments. That sort of eulogistic analysis usually comes when someone isÂ getting their flowers (as they say) â€“ which is far from the case now and hopefully will remain
a long distant reality. However, I was asked to suggest a favourite or two to provide aÂ backing for a radio promo we are creating for the ABC (A Benefit of Cepeke) Show on 27thÂ January (Montserrat Cultural Centre, 7.00pm). The inevitable â€˜Pay-Offâ€™ resonates in soÂ many of our national scandals and will get plenty air time in coming weeks. But for me, theÂ simplicity of â€œRefugee in me own Countryâ€ from the inspiring Muscovada days with RandiÂ Greenaway and Elizabeth Piper-Wade is a prime example of the â€˜hardly poetry but a solidÂ rhymeâ€™ cornerstone of Cepekeâ€™s no-nonsense lyrical style which brings a tear of memory toÂ most eyes evoking such remote and challenging times. Maybe the intoxicating chorus inÂ â€œRound and Round they Goâ€ will be my second gem.
Letâ€™s hope someone or something can take the stress and worry of cost from Cepeke, hisÂ family and all those others feeling similar pressure at a time when they are at their mostÂ vulnerable. In my view, maybe we do need a breakwater, and a proper port and even aÂ bigger airport but nowhere near as much as we need a workable medical facility that canÂ bring back the fundamental assurance of safety, health and well-being . . . or maybe I shouldÂ start looking for Jimmy Buffetâ€™s address.
Â© Peter Filleul 2018 â€“ All Rights Reserved