Commentary: The Eighty Plus Club and the Legendary Ken Corsbie – by Francis Quamina Farrier

 – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Ken Corsbie. AA.

This Feature Article is dedicated to veteran theatre icon, ‘Sir’ Ken Corsbie, AA, who celebrated his 90th. birthday a few weeks ago. Ken Corsbie, is among the all time theatre greats of Guyana and the Caribbean. Although he migrated to the USA some years ago, he is still fairly well-known in Guyana and around the Caribbean.

The International Day of Older Persons was observed on Thursday October 1. In this year, 2020, please join me in saluting Ken Corsbie, as well as elders such as Barrister-at-Law and former Minister of government Hon. Ashton Chase and Hon. Eusi Kwayana, also a former minister of government, both in their 90s, who have been giving sterling service to Guyana for over 65 years, and continue to give, even as they approach their century.   

For over 15 yars, during the 1980s and 1990s, I produced the Radio Programme Series entitled, “The Eighty Plus Club” in which I featured elders 80 years and older, talking about life and living as they knew and experienced it when younger.  Their stories were always riveting. Here is an example. It is about a man who was separated from his mixed-race wife. “She was a ‘hot sweetie’ and was very much in demand.” That is how he described her. Should she encounter her ex-husband, she would “wine she bodyline” he told me. That annoyed the man very much. So, like some men in that situation, he decided to “Out she light” (murder her) he said. She worked with the wife of the Manager of the Sugar Estate as a cook, and left work at a specific time every night to go home. The man told me that he sharpened a number 22 cutlass for days until it was as sharp as a Wilkinson sword. The gruesome act was to be swift and precise.

On the evening of the planned murder, he told me, “I took a few good shots of rum to strengthen my nerves.” It so happened that he fell asleep and woke up hours after the woman to be murdered had long left work and reached home safely. Still depressed because, “That woman started to wear tighter skirts and would wine she tail whenever she saw me. Provocation, Mr. Farrier! So I decided to take my own life.” His plan he said, was to go to the train line and as the express train sped by, “Put my neck on the line and let the train sever my hurting head and take me out of my misery.” On the appointed day he waited by the train line for the express train to speed by and do its guillotine job. He waited and waited and waited. “You know what, Mr Farrier? That Express train never turned up. It had developed engine trouble!”

Among the more than 550 elders who I have interviewed over the years, about 15 were East Indian Immigrants. One who lived on the Essequibo Coast, told me of the way East Indian Immigrants were treated by the European sugar estate managers. As a young boy, he was brought to British Guiana by his mother, who had left her husband back in India. “Dem white man put me mooma wid wan man in de loggie room fo’ live with abee, an’ suh me gat fo’ call am “Bap” like me dadee back ah India.” He also spoke about the cordial relationship between the East Indian Immigrants and the Barbadian immigrants on the Essequibo Coast. The two immigrant groups worked together in the cane fields without incident.

From time to time, I would get a letter from one of those who I have interviewed. Here is a portion of a letter which I received from John Tjon-A-Yong; “I was thrilled, exhilarated in the full sense of the word. My gratitude to you is beyond words. How inscrutable the ways of the Lord! At age of 3, 4, 5, years, I had a grandmother who used to sing me a lullaby in Chinese. Today at age of 82 plus, I have found a person (and that person is YOU) to play me a Chinese song.”

Surprisingly, the programme was extremely popular with younger listeners. Here is one example. One of my male Club Members who was a postman in his younger years, told the story of being engaged to his lady love for five years. During that period, he built a house bit by bit. It was to be the matrimonial home. “Man can’t catch bird and not have cage to put it in.” he told me. So after five years the house was completed and the wedding took place. The proud Postman took his “bird” (wife) into the cage (home) he had built over the five year period.

The day after the broadcast, I got a phone call from a teenage student. She had a question about the five years of engagement. My immediate thought was that she wanted to know what level of intimacy and pregnancy there might have been during those five long years of engagement by the couple. I was wrong. The young female student discussed economics. “I want to know how a postman could build a house in just five years if he did not get a loan or a mortage?” was her question. She was trying to figure out the strength of the British Guiana dollar, in comparison to the strength of the Guyana dollar. She was also interested in the discipline of young men of the colonial era with those of the present.

Actually, The Eighty Plus Club was not the only programme on Guyana Radio to highlight the Elderly in our Beautiful Country. Previously, there was “Salute to Senior Citizens” which was hosted first by Pat Cameron and later by Margaret Lawrence. At present, that queen of Radio in Guyana, Margaret Lawrence, is teaming up with Desiree Edghill with the production of “The Big People Show” on which I was once a guest. To my dear friend Ken Corsbie, AA, who loves to say that he has the blood of all the races in Guyana running through his veins, I say, keep going strong in these your Golden Years.

Margaret Lawrence and Desiree Edghill doing their BIG PEOPLE SHOW. (Photo by Francis Q. Farrier)

Ken Corsbie and Francis Quamina Farrier in May 2017. (Photo by Beth Corsbie)

Farrier with Mathilda Lewis of Georgetown, Guyana when she was 108 years old. She lived for another five years and passed at age 113.

The Hon. Ashton Chase, former Minister of Government and veteran Barrister-at-Law, is in his 90s. (photo by Francis Quamina Farrier)

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