JPSCo: Customer service or mere PR stunt?

When JPSCo put full page advertisements in the press only a few weeks ago, I was puzzled as to the reason why.  Afterall, JPS is a monopoly so it’s not as if they are grappling for market share.  There were pictures of newly appointed parish representatives, but again, I was struck that there were no names and no contact information given.  Fast forward to the recent devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy.  Staring the sixth consecutive night of darkness in the face, I tried in vain to get contact information for my parish representative.  I called the 1 888 Customer Care number and was told that they could not provide the information.  To my distress, they could not give me any updates on my immediate predicament either.  They made a great show of recording my name and number and recording the fact that I had no service.  

I fully understand that we just came through a natural disaster that no one had any control over.  What disturbs me is the lack of credible information concerning when paying customers can expect resumption of service.  JPS has ramped up its’ on-line presence, sending out frequent tweets and updating its’ Facebook page regularly.  But the opportunities for actual dialogue are extremely limited.  

It is not enough for Customers to lodge their complaints into the void that is called Customer Care.  How do we know that our issues are understood?  Who can we speak with in order  to get clarity and understanding?  We don’t even hear Winsome Callum or Ruthlyn Johnson giving updates anymore.  Mrs. Tomblin herself is becoming the face of the company.  Even so, I don’t really care. All I want is the ability to speak with someone about my issues and to have reliable service.  It seems to me that JPS is confusing Public Relations with Customer Service.  What else would you call faces without the ability to contact?  What else would you call a 1 888 number that takes your details and never calls you back? 

I’d like to remind them that the best customer service is reliable and efficient delivery of the product/service.  PR stunts only serve to anger and frustrate.

Just be nice!

I wrote to the Gleaner Editor yesterday, and they published it as Letter of the Day today.  They edited out a suggestion I made in the original submission, so I will reproduce what they printed here and then add my suggestion after.

The Editor, Sir:
It seems that we have started to devalue the small gestures and acts of kindness that separate us from the animals. I was at the cashier in a major supermarket in Kingston last week Saturday. I noticed that the cashier made an error while ringing me up. She cashed three of an item when I had only one of that item.
I calmly questioned it. She did her due diligence, discovered the error and merely corrected it with nary an apology or a simple acknowledgement of her mistake.
We see regular displays of boorish behaviour in parking lots, where drivers deliberately swoop down on just-vacated parking spaces despite seeing a fellow motorist waiting for the same space. Think about your experiences in school parking lots. Parents stop where it is convenient for them to drop off and pick up despite the pleas of school administrations to adhere to strict zoning in this regard in order to preserve order, maintain a smooth flow of traffic and to ensure the safety off all using the space.
erosion of simple courtesies
Gone are the days when we would step into a waiting room and acknowledge those already there with a greeting. Why is it so hard to say ‘thank you’ to the security guard handing you a parking pass? Why do customer-service personnel feel that a smile while serving should never be part of the deal? The erosion of these simple courtesies is akin to running a motor vehicle without oil. The noise of metal against metal and the eventual decimation of the engine are inevitable results.
I personally resolve to be polite to those I come in contact with throughout the day and encourage everyone to do the same. We can do it. How wonderful it would be if Jamaica became known as ‘that island with the really courteous people!’

Furthermore, I would like to propose a national campaign, similar to ones of yesteryear such as “Don’t harrass the tourist”, “Kingston…Clean as a Whistle” and “Two is Better than Too Many”.  This campaign could be sponsored by the private sector, complete with billboards, print and electronic media presence and of course, social media.  Picture it: “JUST BE NICE”.  We can do this.

about (some) doctors and health care in Jamaica

Today I read an absolutely sad story in the Sunday Observer.  Essentially, a woman of Jamaican origins, residing in the UK, was in Jamaica in April of this year with her family.  She became ill and was rushed to  a  health care facility in Linstead.  She was diagnosed with pneumonia, and some amount of respiratory distress was evident.  The doctor on duty advised the family that there was not much more that could be done for the woman due to the lack of appropriate equipment at that facility.  That in and of itself is sad and scary: do not get into respiratory distress in Linstead!  But what happened next is what angered and upset me.  The woman’s family panicked and became (understandably) emotional.  They immediately wanted to transfer the woman to UHWI in Kingston, but that became a journey through beaurocracy and regulations and a negotiation with the doctor on duty.  Read the entire sad and depressing story here if you will,
The end result is that after a protracted period of time (while the woman was fighting for oxygen!) during which the doctor on duty locked himself in his office, choosing not to engage the family and calm them down and reassure them, leaving them to wonder and to plot their next move in fear and uncertainty, the woman was eventually transferred to UHWI and several months later, several millions of dollars later, she remains in a coma here in Jamaica, with the lack of oxygen being thought to be the main contributor to her present condition.
Here’s my beef: how dare the doctor on duty lock himself away?  How dare the doctor not make himself available to the family?  I know that he couldn’t pull a respirator out of his back pocket.  I know he couldn’t magically produce a well equipped treatment room.  But what he could do, he simply did not: that is to be present to reassure and to guide the family.  Yes, yes , yes…there are two sides to every story, and we did not hear the doctor’s side, but I have had several experiences of my own, which lead me to give the benefit of the doubt to the patient and her family.
Many years ago Miss World was about four years old and she started vomiting with severe stomach cramps.  It was a long weekend…I believe Easter, and the best option we thought was to take her to the public Children’s Hospital. We three bundled into their ER and eventually saw a doctor who gave her a well known analgesic/anti-spasmodic, antibiotics and rehydration salts.  Great, we took her home hoping that all would be well.  Twenty four hours we three were back in the ER.  This time we saw and African doctor who insisted that he had the magic cure as he dramatically pronounced that the said same anti-spasmodic would fix her once and for all!  I grabbed her chart out of his hands and hissed as I waved it around: “Did you not just review her chart?  Can you not read? She TOOK your wonder drug 24 hours ago and we’re back!”  That prompted a review and revision of her prescribed therapy, and in another 24 hours she was ok.  Man alive!  Suppose I did not know what questions to ask?  Suppose I was not assertive in the face of these people who qualify as doctors and feel that they are God?  Can you imagine Jamaicans who are not so educated doing business with this bunch?
On another occasion a few years later, Miss World again had a bad attack of gastro.  This time we took her to a private hospital, having to make a deposit of JD70,000.00 because she wasn’t on our health insurance.  Even in that private set up I had to point out to a very bored looking, sullen reluctant nurse that I had a concern that her IV drip was draining just a bit to quickly in my estimation.  Without even looking, she tried to fob me off.  But I was in no mood to be put off by someone that I was in effect paying, especially when the well-being of my offspring was at stake.  Was she for real?  When she inspected the set up she had the good grace to gasp and say: “Oh no!”  I wanted to choke her.  Seriously. 
Miss World was discharged and before we reached home she was writhing in pain and I did an about turn and headed straight up to the public UHWI.  At my request, her private paediatrician met us there to help expedite the process.  Again, this was at my hysterical insistence on the phone as I drove like a mad woman up to UHWI.  By this time I was panicked, hysterical and angry.  I handled the young doctor assigned to our case like a stuffed toy quizzing him in a very hostile, angry manner, even daring to question his competence.  To his credit, he did not respond like the Linstead doctor per the Observer account today.  He remained present, answered my every question and reassured me of the diagnosis and therapy.  I sincerely hope that the years have not jaded him and changed him.  Well that incident ended with me storming out of UHWI with Miss World in my arms cussing every doctor in sight because it was unbelievable to me that in the 21stcentury, a stomach ache which did not warrant surgery could not be cured! 
Doctors must remain accessible and communicative, even in the face of obstreperous patients and their families.  Remember that the only difference between doctors and us is that they chose to study medicine.  Big deal.  How impressive.  I studied botany.  He studied engineering.  She studied law.  We all have our function.  Being a doctor does not make you God.  Get over it and remember the oath  you took.  Remember too that when you are a private practitioner, we are your customers.  We pay you.  How dare you take appointments for dozens of us at the same time and then you waltz in up to an hour and half later?  I suppose to your mind, you are important enough for us to spend half a day waiting to be seen by you for 10 minutes max.  I have had doctors write me a prescription without even telling me what is on the said prescription and how it works.  Once I had the temerity to ask the doctor how a particular drug worked.  He replied that I could not possibly understand and that I was just to use it as per his directions.  Needless to say I gave him a lecture and explained that I had a science background and that even if I did not, his job was to break it down for me to understand.  I walked out and never went back to him.  He is still a prominent dermatologist in Jamaica.
I resent doctors who do not communicate with me.  I resent doctors who keep me waiting.  I resent doctors who make assumptions about me and my health without asking questions. But most of all, I am sorry for and scared for my fellow Jamaicans who don’t know how to ask and what to ask and who fear these people that we call doctors in Jamaica.  

Usain St. Leo Bolt, SUPERSTAR!

Here’s an open letter to Mr. Bolt:

Dear Usain:
I just wanted to go on record at this time with my real feelings about you.  I am puzzled at your own reticence in styling yourself a living legend…and as for Mr.  Rogge’s insistence that you are a mere icon and not a legend…Ha!  He is simply in awe of your natural talent and is fearful that you could smother it with youthful vanity (remember his issues with your chest thumping in Beijing?) and he needs you to continue your legendary performances which are the main attraction at this year’s Games.  He really needs you to fill stadia in the next Games.
Listen, Usain: you became a legend in my eyes when you smashed the WR in both the 100 and the 200m.  And it is not just the fact that you did it, but it is how you do what you do!  I am ashamed to admit that I had to ask who came third in the recent 1,2,3 Men’s 200m sweep in London 2012.  You see, my eyes were on you and you alone from the beginning of the race to the end.  That’s how it always is, Sir.  I think I literally stop breathing every single time I see you run a corner.  It starts with you slowly uncurling your totally unsuitable sprinting frame (yeah right!) in such an ungainly manner from the blocks, so infuriatingly slowly and then…you become like this massive anti-gravity Transformer who just defies the laws of inertia on the turn and then you simply expand into an even more massive unbeatable machine for the last 40 or so meters of your race.  Such power, such long strides and such speed! 
Yes, Asafa Powell started this whole sub 10 attack on the 100m.  But I don’t watch the races because of Asafa.  I don’t dream about what he will do next.  You see, for me, I have to insist that it is not just about the speed.  Again, it is how you do it that sets you far apart from men who you beat by mere seconds.  Your antics before and after your race speak to a facet of your own personality that I find absolutely charming.  You are a fun-loving person!  And since one of my own personal mantras is: “I eschew unhappiness and unhappy people”, I am totally charmed by your joie de vivre.   It’s natural, it’s infectious and it reminds us that it is possible to achieve fantastic outcomes without looking like or behaving like the destiny of the universe rests on what I am about to do here and now.  
Don’t think I don’t see you acknowledging the young people who are tasked with carting your basket of gear off the track before the race starts.  Nobody taught you to do that!  Don’t think I’ve forgotten how you prodded Asafa to certain victory in that 4 x100m relay.  Don’t think we don’t realize how you’ve deliberately and genuinely motivated young Blake and Weir.  You whispered something to Weir at the start of the now historic Mens 200m in London 2012, didn’t you, when you saw this awesome young man buckling at bit before the start of the race.  He ended up with a bronze medal from an awesome field of runners…  It is not lost on me, Usain how you have the press eating out of hands.  You actually stop and talk to them and you recently took away a camera and literally turned the tables on them.  Did somebody suggest to you that this would be a charming gesture, sure to endear you more to the press and your adoring public?  Methinks NOT.  You see, Usain St. Leo Bolt…you are a Natural.  My children are sick of me saying: “Bolt is such a Superstar.”  It’s how you do what you do.  You win races in outstanding fashion, you frustrate top athletes who run out their heart strings to beat you only to be relegated to 3rd and 5th and 6thwith tears in the eyes and a mixture of despondency and awe in their hearts.  You charm children and princes.  You quietly help people…I recall your donations to the earthquake stricken people of China and your quiet donation to Sam Albert  to help her finance her own Olympic journey.  
And I think it is because your success has not been handed to you on platter, that I am in even more awe of you.  I love Glen Mills for taking you and working with you when you just did not know how to deal with your twisted spine and resultant repeated hamstring injuries.  Without that early intervention, there would be no Usain Bolt, Superstar.  You accepted the guidance and the rest, as they say, is history. 
I love it that you train right here on the rock.
I love it that you make no secret of the fact that winning is what you do.  You are competitive in a manner not seen in many athletes. 
I love it that you live your own life.
I love it that you have made and will make so much money. 
Yes, when Blake beat you at the National trials some weeks ago, I was worried.  I really was.  I wanted to see more of your utterly disrespectful victories!  It wasn’t until I saw you in the 100m semis in London that I truly relaxed and hugged my family and shouted: “HE’S BACK!  HE’S GOT THIS!!!!!!”
I’m going to share my personal fantasy where you are concerned: (hushed tones) I get goose bumps when I think about you running the 400m flats. Usain!  You and the 400m…picture it…feel it….see it!  My other country man, Kirani James (I’m Grenadian too you know) is a formidable athlete too, but there’s enough room for both of you.  Yes, yes, yes…I know training for what I consider to be the Ultimate Sprint is horribly hard and I know you would rather party.  But here’s the thing: I am hoping that you will soon, naturally, temper your partying and just decide to mash down the 400m.  Note I did not say “stop your partying”.  
Juliet Cuthbert recently made the point that many athletes go the college route and we college grads all know what it means to put the P in Party.  You opted not to go the college route, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t get to place the P, now does it!  All I ask is that you remember MODERATION.   Take care of yourself.  Protect your body, Usain.  Asafa seems to be a better motor car driver than you.  Let him do the driving.  Hahahaha!  Hold your family close.  Our families have the knack of keeping us grounded.  Guard your mind and heart and keep moving forward.
Good luck to you and the team in the relay finals later today.  I feel that something great is afoot. I’ll be going with my daughter to Half Way Tree to watch the race with the thousands of others that will bring traffic to a standstill this afternoon. 
Oh!  We will both celebrate birthdays on August 21 week after next.  Happy Birthday when it comes!  I expect to be living it up with my family and Mickey Mouse.
With a full and grateful heart , I remain one of your millions of fans across the globe.
Rock on,

“Happy Anniversary!”

Happy Anniversary!
Today the land of my birth marks 50 years of independence from Great Britain.  Fifty years ago we sang our own national anthem and raised our own flag.   I went to primary, secondary and tertiary school right here.  I got married to a Jamaican in Jamaica.  My two children were born here and they go to school here.  I work for a Jamaican company here in Jamaica. However, I had to think long and hard before I started this blog post.  I am probably one of a handful of persons who has not bought a Jamaica flag to put on my car and I don’t own a Jamaica t-shirt.  Here’s the thing: anniversaries of any nature present an opportunity for introspection. “Looks like we’ve made it, look how far we’ve come…” And herein lies the rub.
There are two Jamaicas: one where the schools are clean and quiet and teachers speak respectfully to students.  And there is one where children crowd into noisy, hot classrooms and are expected to learn.  There’s one Jamaica where you get “justice” if you have the money to pay for it.  There’s another Jamaica where you are tossed roughly from side to side inside the bowels of the justice system and hope for the best.  You often don’t get it…  There’s a Jamaica that’s filled with boat rides to Lime Cay and outings to the movies and another Jamaica where you hang out on the corner to grab a little cool air.  There’s  one Jamaica that moves about in high off-the-ground air conditioned vehicles and another Jamaica that moves around in tightly packed public buses,  fighting to keep your soul sane on your way to work and school and where you long to get home in the evening just to do it all over again in the morning.  There’s the Jamaica where you dare not get ill on a Saturday evening or public holiday….  There’s one Jamaica where we lock up tightly in gated communities or behind high walls, where security codes are a way of life and King Alarm is on speed dial.  There’s the other Jamaica where  4 year olds instinctively roll under the bed at the sound of a gun-shot ( and they know the difference between gun shot and clappers!) and their mother prays that Babylon don’t kick in the door tonight and search up her teenage son and cart his ass off to only God knows where.
Even in the midst of enjoying the things that make this island uniquely Jamaican: hot beef patties from Tastee, ice cold red-stripe beer after work, sipping rum on the 7 mile beach in Negril, jamming to rockers at a party, cheering like crazy woman at Boys and Girls Champs at the National Stadium, watching on in amusement in a line somewhere as someone “kick-off” and start cuss how dem a tek too damn long fi do whe dem haffi do, I cannot ignore the two Jamaicas.
So many of our people have migrated in search of better…even now you see them on Facebook and Twitter seeking to get their “warm and fuzzy” on as they live vicariously through the feats of Jamaican athletes, seeking re-connection in Caribbean festivals in the White Man’s Land where they’ve opted to make life and living for the next reggae concert in their area.  They haunt local Farmers Markets for mango and pear and ackee in an effort to re-create Yard a yard. Who can really blame them though?   Talk shows and Gleaner articles are dedicated to instructing us though the immigration maze to a Brighter and Better Future.  The desperation in the voices that call in and the hope and anticipation coming out in the letters speak volumes about where we think our futures and those of our children lie.
And yet… and yet… I am absolutely a product of this island Jamaica.  My heart swells with pride when I travel and everyone knows Bob Marley.  I sense the envy of other nations when they remark: “Oh!  You’re Jamaican!”  I am well aware of the mystique associated with this Brand Jamaica: cool, tough, fearless, hip, creators of awesome food and music, the land of the fastest athletes on earth…This little impoverished, corrupt, beautiful, diverse, creative, colourful, famous, infamous dot of a place in the Caribbean.  And I am Jamaican.  Let me try to explain what this 50th anniversary feels like to me…
You get married full of love and hope.  The years go by.  There are ups and downs.  Times of prosperity and lean times.  Children come.  Challenges come.  You wonder if this is worth it…you say to yourself “I didn’t sign up for this!” You wonder if this is as good as it gets.  Unmet expectations and unsaid yearnings fill up your insides.  And then up rolls another anniversary.  You and your partner look at each other and without saying a word some memory of what brought you together prompts a smile.  You look at your happy well adjusted children, and forget the school fees  looming.  You squeeze each others’ hand and remember the hope that you started this journey with and you whisper: “ Happy Anniversary.  We’re still standing.”  You mark the anniversary, not because all is well, but because in spite of all that is not well, you remember why you are together and you hold on to the hope that things can and will get better.
Happy Anniversary, Jamaica…Land of My Birth.  There is still so much I love about you, and things can get better.

10 more Olympic questions…

1.  Why do so many Asian athletes change their hair colour?  Methinks brown and shades thereof sell hard over there.
2.  Does anybody else get confused over the many countries that have Chinese or China in their names?
3.  Has anybody else lost count of how many countries were formed from what we used to call Russia?
4.  Does anybody else fret for the Russian and Chinese athletes when they don’t win gold?  They look so unhappy and frightened!  Dem must know why…
5.  The women tennis players make quite a bit of noise when playing.  Does anyone else find this quite entertaining?
6.  How do you decide to when to say Team UK or Team GB?
7.  All these countries that end in “stan”…does anyone else shudder with a bit of trepidation when they hear those names?
8.  Have you ever seen anybody black in the rowing events?
9.  Let’s name ‘em: what Olympic sports will you never see a black person in?
10. Let’s settle this once and for all: are we all agreed that Semanya is a woman?

about the London 2012 Olympics thus far…some (not so reverent) thoughts

It’s July 31, and all of Jamaica is waiting on track and field to start, me included!  I can’t help but feel though, that Beijing was as good as it’s gonna get for us.  Look at the USA male gymnasts and swimmers…not living up to expectations are they! The thing is, there are so many extremely hungry competitors just straining at the bit to compete and win. All of this notwithstanding, I remain respectful and in awe of the talent of our athletes.  I sincerely hope that Usain Bolt not only defends his titles, but that he sets some new world records too.  Greedy?  I think so…but hey…Usain is a SUPERSTAR, in terms of his amazing talent (have you ever really looked at him over the last 40m of his race?) and also in terms of his natural ability to interact with people…so darned comfortable in his own skin.

And I absolutely love VCB and Shelly-Ann and ma girl Melaine.  Man…I wish them well.  And as for Asafa…I’m going to say it here: if anyone is to beat Bolt, I would like it to be Asafa.  I would be happy.  I am so nervous though.  In the sprints there is absolutely zero room for error, and the rounds are taxing, and the whole false start thingy….we just have to wait and send love and positive vibrations to our Team over there.  GOOD LUCK, GUYS!

Let me say, I enjoyed the opening ceremony.  It was entertaining and not too long, and reflected what Britain is quite well.  I still say that LA 1984 will remain my favourite opening ceremony.  Who can forget the 84 grand pianos playing in unison?  I will admit that the fact that I was watching the opening ceremonies with my family while enjoying pizza and drinking rum could have contributed to my overall enjoyment of the proceedings!  And then came Team Jamaica on to the filed, resplendent in their edgy and colourful uniforms. Awesome!  I suspect that at the next staging of the games, Olympic uniforms will undergo a paradigm shift from the traditional boring and stodgy to something more in the vein of our uniforms, and the parade of the athletes will take on a vibe not unlike a haute couture fashion show!  No problem as far as I am concerned.

I am pissed at the fact that I can’t watch the games on NBC.  It’s great that we can watch the events live.  But I don’t think our local station would lose viewers if we had the option of watching the games on cable that we have already paid for!  I guarantee you that in any event with a Jamaican, Jamaica would turn to CVM.  Simple.  But I want the option to take in NBC’s perspective too, and to relax and enjoy the delayed coverage that they are offering.

On now to the Jamaican athletes who have done well so far.  Samantha Albert (equestrian) remains a puzzle in my mind.  I wonder why she didn’t represent Canada or the UK…methinks she should have been able to do either…anyhows, good effort on her part.  Yes, my enthusiasm is muted, but is so it go.

Alia Atkinson copped a great 4th place in the 100m breaststroke swimming.  She competed like a champion and I wish her all the best in her two remaining events.  She’s strong, and fit and fast with the heart and demeanor of a champion.

In closing, allow me to ask some questions that have come to mind:

1.  If there’s table tennis in the Olympics, why isn’t there netball.  Just saying…
2.  Why can’t the genders compete together in events that don’t require speed or strength?  Take for instance shooting…that requires a steady hand and a good eye.  Methinks the sexes can compete fairly here.
3.  Where are the breasts of the female swimmers?  Is it the swimsuit that has crushed them flat?
4.  I wonder if the condoms that they have distributed in the Olympic village are being used up? I am somewhat intrigued by reports of sexual activity in the village.  As one person in the article I read said: “everyone in the village has a great body!”
5.  What the hell is the Jamaica50 secretariat going to do if Jamaica doesn’t get a gold in the male 100m on Aug 5?  They are planning celebrations around the race…talk about pressure!  It’s never really a good idea to plan around an unknown.  And we still don’t have any guarantee that JA will get a gold in the event.  The damn race lasts for 10 seconds (count them!) and every one of the 8 that will be in the race is a competent athlete to say the least.
6.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers have ponytails?
7.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers NOT get a wedgy?
8.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers look so darned good in a bikini? (can you tell I’m a tad obsessed with the the female beach volley ballers?
9.  Why hasn’t Yohan Blake uttered a word since he’s been in London?

Let the Games continue!

Workbooks? Not a great idea!

As a parent and someone with great interest in education of our Nation’s children, I wish to air my issues with the use of workbooks in the elementary school system.  There are 3 main reasons why I think that this is not the best approach to educating our youngsters.
The first negative in my mind associated with using workbooks is that parents and guardians are unable to pass down books to younger children as was the practice some years ago.  The pages are all marked up, and in order for the upcoming child to benefit from the lessons contained in the text, he has to get a brand new book.  Who benefits from this arrangement? Certainly not the parents, who are put out of pocket every twelve months being forced to buy brand new books instead of having the option to purchase a second hand book or pass down a used book.  Where parents are put under this pressure, it makes it less likely that they can purchase 100% of the book list requirement, thus compromising the overall delivery of information to our young ones.  The ones who stand to lose if the use of workbooks was obliterated are the book publishers and sellers.  But in an environment of scarce resources and an imperative to equip our citizens from the elementary stages in support of giving us a competitive edge, I think that the Ministry of Education should side with parents and children in doing what is best for them rather than the publishers and sellers of books.
The act of writing aids in committing information to memory.  Where children are asked to merely fill in blanks, I believe the learning process is being short-circuited, to their ultimate disadvantage. 
And lastly, penmanship, sentence construction and the working of math problems by laying out steps in enough space to accommodate it (versus being constrained by the miniscule space that the workbook designers think is sufficient) are all compromised by forcing these young learners to fit their answers into a prescribed slot with as few words as possible.
I’d like to throw out a challenge to our schools:  if the Ministry of Education will not reduce the numbers of  workbooks as part  of the recommended book lists for our schools, then schools can mandate that all working out and answers be done by children in exercise books, with no writing whatsoever to be done in the workbooks.  This will allow second hand books to be sold and passed on easing the burden on caregivers and allowing the children to optimize their learning process.  Furthermore, in the event that the publishers try to outsmart schools and parents  by issuing revisions every year if such an arrangement was indeed instituted by our schools, the Ministry could institute a policy of limiting revised editions to once every three years.
Let me be clear, I am not attempting to pit parents and schools against our book industry.  But in difficult times, difficult decisions have to be made.  I believe that giving the upper hand to parents and children will benefit the Nation more than giving the upper hand to book publishers and sellers.
The challenge is now yours, Schools and Ministry of Education.

Fun times with the kids on a budget

This week, a friend asked me how I do all the stuff that I do with the kids.   “You must have a huge budget, Kelly!” he remarked.  The answer is no.  I do not have a huge budget.  But when you have kids and you work too, it is critical to do stuff together where everyone (and that includes you!) can relax.  You get to de-stress and you build memories too.  It is possible here in Jam Down with a little planning.  So this post is dedicated to EY.  May you have fun times with your girls and build memories for a life-time.


1.  Working vehicle
2.  Tank full of gas
3.  Igloo

You see, with all of the above in place, there are so many options open to you.  Here are some of my favourites:


Ocho Rios Public Beach, Frenchman’s Cove (Portland), Doctors Cave (Montego Bay), Negril, Ft. Clarence.  Any of the above can be done in a single day. For Negril and Mobay, leave home early (think 6am).  Buy patties en route for breakfast or make sandwiches from the night before.  Pack your own snacks and fruit that you bought in the grocery, and pack water and juices, soda and rum for Mummy.  Admission to these beaches ranges from 150.00 per person to 400.00.  Now many of these beaches don’t allow you to bring your own food.  Some of the food options on the beaches are really overpriced in my opinion.  So for those beaches with the expensive options, I still carry my snacks and frozen bottles in my beach bag, and promise the kids to stop somewhere more affordable for food on the way back. This adds another dimension to the road trip.  Kids are usually more than satisfied with the low budget options available like BK and KFC, and I also use the opportunity to expose them to various jerk spots and “decentish” cook shops where you can get get good Jamaican food for under 500.00 (there are great places with parking along the Northcoast highway like that spot opposite Green Grotto Caves, Lyming, jerk in Blueberry Hill, St. Mary, Spur Tree curry goat.  On every road trip I look out for potential stop-offs and plan for them on my next trip.


I think it is now 500.00 for adults and 200.00 for kids.  This is a central oasis that doesn’t require big planning.  Stop at KFC or your favourite take out place, get your food, carry a blanket (or not!) and head off to the zoo.  The zoo has recently been transformed and the grounds which were lovely before with huge expanses of lawn, are even lovelier now with the addition of many many palm trees and the creation of new picnic areas. You can picnic in peace and quiet under the mango trees and enjoy the quietude and breeze.  The children will enjoy running up and down  looking at the animals and you can walk with them or not.  It never gets tired.  There are new animals with the promise of more to come.  There are interactive exhibits where for a little more money (think 200.00 per person) you can feed the birds or pet specific animals.  Check it out!  It’s a fun, hassle-free way to take a few hours off and just relax.


An hour and a half in the gallery on a quiet Saturday morning down town Kingston is a wonderful way to expose your children (and you too!) to another side of our culture.  Sometimes there are exhibits and activities there geared towards children. Admission is free I believe.  Parking is secure.  And when you are finished., just take a walk with your children along Harbour Street.  Take them into Burger King for a little treat.  Easy, fun and memorable.


I could almost copy and paste the verbiage for the National Gallery here.


The park is lovely in the evening, just before the sun sets.  It’s still light, but it’s cooler.  There’s an icecream shop opposite the entrance to the park.  Get a single scoop of your favourite flavour and saunter slowly into the park.  Chat, walk, people watch and grab a seat on a bench or on the grass.  From time to time there are shows there that you can enjoy for free.  But even without a show, the park remains a great choice to just exhale and clear your mind.  Really young children love it. The huge expanses inspire them to just run, and by the time you get home and bathe them they’re ready to crash!  Hint: keep those toddlers awake in the car on the way home so they sleep when you get home, and you can relax with a glass of wine in from of the TV.  Heaven!


It’s just a 45 minute drive from Papine.  Pack a picnic, wear your sneakers, carry your sweaters and lots of drinking water and fruit.  A regular car can make that drive.  Once there, I think you pay a nominal entry fee (something like 200.00 or 300.00 per adult and way less per child).  Park and take one of 2 main hiking trails. Young children can do these walks. Each trail is 45 min long with great views along the way and lots of interesting things to see.  Check in at the Ranger cabin so someone knows you are out there.  Ensure that you have your cell phone and get to walking.  Aim to get there by 10:00 am. and do your hiking then.  The afternoons get overcast, misty and rainy…great picnic weather huddled under one of the many gazebos on property.


So I love to drive!  Grab your favourite music, make a big deal of it, and load up the car.  Head out to the lighthouse near the airport.  Watch the planes come in, look at the sea.  Talk.  Collect rocks along the shore.

Drive through the more affluent neighbourhoods like Beverly Hills, Norbrook, Cherry Gardens and do some harmless House Hunting.  It’s fun.  You can chat along the drive.

Do the Port Royal Tour.  I don’t think it’s more than 500.00 for adults. It’s fun and it’s informative.

I highly recommend the Bob Marley Museum tour.  Can’t remember the fee, but it is way less than a movie for sure.  Even children will find it interesting.

Go for ice cream at Devon House.  Saturday afternoons are good.  It’s not too crowded, and it feels like such a treat to break your day and just sit under a tree or gazebo eating great ice-cream.

Mayfair Hotel in Kingston is a great spot for the kids to swim and Mom and Dad to have a drink.  For 350.00 you can swim and relax under a huge mango tree out back.  There’s a bar and grill.  It’s central, quiet and safe.


Palace Amusement rocks.  I loooove the movies: the dark and cool and nachos and my sneaked in flask of tonic to take me through animate features (I hate cartoons in any form).  Nowadays, I consider movies a big budget item!  So I carefully choose what we’ll go to see and make an event of it.  And to be perfectly honest, I go by myself after work from time to time. Ain’t nothing nicer than sinking into that cushy seat by yourself, in the dark with your snack of choice, enjoying not having to talk for 2 hours and being entertained. Try it…

Take the kids to an age appropriate local play.  My kids enjoyed Breadfruit Kingdom

They enjoyed the Pantomime last year too.

Save some $$$ and look out for all-inclusive hotel specials and do this once per year.

Create your own rituals.  In my house, Sundays are special.  I throw down on a Sunday and we lounge around at the dinner table for 3 hours eating and talking.

Always be on the look out for festivals, free shows, exhibitions, etc that you and your children could be interested in.  Naturally, this list is not exhaustive.  There are numerous big ticket items like the Water Park in Negril, paint-balling in St. Thomas, Mystic Mountain and swimming with the Dolphins.  You can plan for these.  I haven’t spoken about Castleton, heritage stops in various parishes, and the many other beaches around Jamaica Land we Love.

My next road trip will be a drive to Black River to do the Black River safari (1600.00 per person).  I may stop at the Grace agro-processing facility in St. Elizabeth on the way back and get a tour of the facilities.  We’ll see…

It’s always more about building the memories and creating an environment and context where your children feel safe and loved.  Have Fun!!!!!

Cafe Blue: The Response

My earlier blog entry Poor Customer Service at Cafe Blue got the attention of Management there, and I got the following response today.  I think the response is commendable, and I appreciate it.  I replied with thanks and also asked that they consider my simple and practical proposals.  I hope they do.  Since posting, I have received feedback from more than one person that their experience there has been less than satisfactory.  I think their product rocks, and I  hate to see entrepreneurs fail because of factors that are entirely in their control.  Entrepreneurs are that intrepid bunch of brave souls who risk capital and dream big…long may they live!

Good Afternoon Ms. McIntosh,

We sincerely apologized for your last experience at Cafe Blue.  I was forwarded your blogged regarding your experience at Cafe Blue and we are all very sorry that the issue was not handled with more urgency and care. We strive to provide you with the best possible strive, and when you feel that it fails to meet your expectation, its important for us to know, so as to address the issue. Please know that we take this very seriously. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize. We have already address and will be reviewing our procedures to avoid any reoccurrence of such event in the future.

Though this is no consolation to you for our lack of service, we would love to be given the oppotunity to regain your trust. On behalf of the Cafe Blue Team, we are offering you a Cafe Blue Gift Certificate which is valid until December 2012 as a token of our appreciate of having you as a Cafe Blue customer.

We sincerely apologize for your past experience and hope that your next visit will exceed the last.

Please let me know where and when you would be able to pick up the Gift Certificate.