The Old Parham Road, arguably, is among the busiest vehicular and pedestrian thoroughfares in this country. The Old Parham Road, inarguably, is the shabbiest. From the lot south of the Rubis service station – ostensibly empty, but perennially full of detritus ranging from cement mixers nobody wants to rent to overgrown weeds, wind-strewn plastic, and stuff tossed from vehicles – to the environs of the Antigua Recreation Grounds, where, of late, a nearby establishment has taken to plonking its kitchen refuse next to the garbage bin at the corner marking Coronation Road, Old Parham Road is a dirty, dilapidated, and depressing contradiction.
This roadway, especially at the lower stretch, was once home to families from whose houses stepped a number of well-known and celebrated sons and daughters of the soil. Further up, it bound together the neighbourhoods of Skerritts Pasture, St Johnston’s Village, Sutherlands, and Clare Hall, which, with the conversion of Cassada Gardens from cane fields to housing developments, grew into a community called Mahico of steelband and cricket fame.
From the collective streets, gaps, and paths, children merged on this highway to education, some turning in at the gate of the proud all-girls’ Christ the King High or either of the prestigious all-boys’ schools, the Antigua Grammar or St. Joseph’s Academy; or, if they were still in the process of primary education, at the famous St. John’s Boys School. The others would continue the trek into town, up and down several times a day, including footing it home for lunch and back to school in a hour’s time; taking the same stretch in the afternoon on the way to games, Confirmation class, after-school lessons, Brownies, Guides, or the Red Cross. And, of course, there was always a string of courting lovers seated on “Gwen Tonge Wall,” waiting for the netball crowd after a game at Victory Grounds.
Time would see the nuns at CKHS remove their wimples (headgear); the AGS become co-educational, though not for long; and the Boys School be renamed T.N. Kirnon Primary. Other changes would include what was once known as Top Field, an extension of the AGS campus where football stars were made and unmade, being converted to YASCO; and the fear of that stretch known as Lady Nugent dissipating as jumbies were chased away, probably by the intellectual stimulation that was served up nightly and on Saturdays at the famous Ave’ n Dave café.
But time has also seen all that was gracious, orderly, meaningful – and clean – removed from Old Parham Road, as well. For, these days, from top to bottom, shabbiness is the order of the day, as bottles, Styrofoam containers, plastic bags, and every other form of nasty share space with upscale and downscale businesses, some properly housed and maintained, while other lean-to shacks define the meaning of the phrase “Third World.” In a dry season that, a month past June, is yet to see rain, grass flourishes feet high on this main road which, in places, resembles a pasture – including, too often, the JSC and Yasco complexes – where, again, debris collects in unsightly clumps like confetti after a long-past parade. For, though fewer students walk these days, there is more litter daily than used to be picked up in a week, since it would appear that nowhere in the curriculum is civic pride taught.
And, without exaggeration, there are hundreds of persons in their 40s and 50s who will testify that some of the gaps in the pavement – like huge missing teeth – have been there since they walked Old Parham Road as children. The only difference now is that, being too mature to jump over the holes, they now peer through their spectacles to make sure they walk carefully around them, since old bones don’t mend. It is nothing short of a miracle that no small child has, as yet, fallen in, never to be seen again, and that, over the decades of jail-breaks, no prisoner on the run has dropped into one in his flight to freedom. And as yet another Carnival looms, thousands will gingerly pick their way along the darkened Old Parham Road, with girls and women calling out to each other to “Watch it! A big one here!”
Most of this shabby, disgusting road runs through the constituency of the former prime minister and current leader of the Opposition and the sitting minister of justice and national security. Surely, the condition of this major roadway cannot have escaped them. The Ministry of Health was once rumoured to be taking up occupancy in a building located on these two miles of eyesore. Surely, the hazards its gutters and garbage pose to the neighbourhoods and to the eateries that line the stretch cannot have escaped those charged with keeping the nation healthy. And the businesses that pay (or evade) taxes; the home-owners who remember how it used to be; the schools whose pupils are growing up to equate nasty with normal, where are they in all this?
…Carnival is around the corner and the road to the Sir Vivian Richards Grounds is yet to be cleaned after the Benna vs Reggae Boyz match. As we have asked before, does everybody convicted for having/smoking/selling a little weed have to go to 1735? Is there nothing else but jail time to be done with all the petty thieves and small-time felons, those charged with disturbing the peace, the drunk and disorderly, the traffic offenders? Why can’t we have these persons pay their debts to society by making the society a better place in which to live? Where is it written that only the environs of Government House need to be spruced up? Surely the Governor-General, after leaving her pristine premises would love to take a drive up a clean, neat, manicured Old Parham Road – and all over this island, as a matter of fact.
We would. Wouldn’t you?