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No pension plan!

by William Smokey Burke

I may be wrong, and I usually am, but definitely not this time!

I have written on this topic at least twice before but it usually related to artistes who were not necessarily top of the line, at least not to the public’s mind. This one pertains to an artiste who was probably blessed with one of the most beautiful voices on God’s earth!

No longer top-of the-line, this party’s credentials strongly suggest that they belong to the upper echelon of local entertainment and always will. However, when hard times visited upon them, there was nothing or no partner to help where it was needed most. At this age/stage and with no resources, financial or otherwise, the coldness of life cannot be usurped by the natural warmth of clime.

Barbadian entertainers, again I counsel you, old age surreptitiously creeps up on us when we least expect it and boom, no more bright lights, no more cash flow and oft times, simply no more! Old age is the great equalizer.

There are myriad stories of artistes who have turned heavily to some form of substance, liquid and otherwise, in a vain attempt to bolster their self-confidence when those bright lights start to dim! This entity falls under this sad circumstance and probably more so than most!

I have seen first-hand (several instances come to mind) the arrogance and belligerence of this person; the bragging, the boasting and the mightier-than-thou attitude. To my mind all hallmarks of insecurity. Others are not so kind. Am I being kind because I am an unabashed fan? I do not think so; I have learnt to love others despite what we may refer to as their faults and often bring myself to bear re the fact that I too am full of the same, but be reminded that this comes with growth.

So here is one whom I idolized and envied for beauty of voice, one who was a neighbour in my childhood; one whom I grew up to realize was painfully insecure (a trait not unique amongst artistes); and one whose exploits away from the stage were not necessarily of the highest examples of virtue; one who is now institutionalised at our oft berated, seldom celebrated QEH. Golden voice but no golden years!

Even before hospitalization and after hard times had made its presence felt, I had heard several persons say that this individual was now reaping what they sowed, getting their just desserts; but who are we to judge? How do we know what our crop will be? Judge not lest ye be judged! A peer who is in need of emotional support lies mostly alone as we cast aspersions and our own reasons as to the cause of their predicament.

I have visited a few times; a few times because it hurts to see this once proud (arrogant?) person lying unable to properly function from the waist down; to watch a fellow fan and artiste with tears filling his eyes. It was difficult to observe amid the odour of urine and feces; unable to walk and at times unattended by overworked staff, this was the end result. I said I would never visit again but my heart says I am wrong to make this vow and so I must return. Who knows what tomorrow brings for me?

Once again I implore Bajan artistes to prepare for this cruel aspect of life I call “forced retirement”. There is no pension plan for us! All that’s guaranteed is the ridicule of the Bajan public not excluding fellow artistes! Invest in an insurance premium that can at least pay for a decent burial. I have been present at two pauper’s burials of fellow artistes and believe me, unless you are a cold unfeeling person, it is heartbreaking! Pay up your self-employment stipends of the National Insurance Scheme for it will work wonders later on if you want to ensure a measure of security.

I believe that if this person was privy to personal care of the highest order, then they could be restored whether or not their talent remained impaired. Can they afford this? Can or will any relative afford it? Time will tell as most see it as the end result of a life of abuse of others and self. Here is a painful example of human and systemic failure.

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