Coupling Harry Clarke’s blackout and Esther Phillips’ “interludes” (part 1 - Wake up!)

Intelek Int'lStarred Page By Intelek Int'l, 9th Sep 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sexuality & Gender

Continuing my use of bin lorry "Bin Ladin" Harry Clarke's blackouts as an interpretive tool, this is a more elaborate study of Esther Phillips, the object of my on-going cathartic effort to come to terms with the 'loss' of a woman I consider a personal hero.

Adolescent awakening

As I recall, “Teacher”, the third poem in my first published collection “Standing”, was partly written as a tribute to my fifth form, Graydon Sealy Secondary School English teacher, Esther Phillips.

One of the shorter, more concise pieces in the collection, “Teacher” (see footnote) is a paradoxically fraught work through which I not only sought to convey my relationship with my conscience but also something of the complex mix of feelings that I had toward one of the most simultaneously intelligent, attractive, serene and sophisticated women I had met up to then.

I could be wrong, but when I graduated at the age of 17 from the Garrison Secondary School, as the Paddock Road, St Michael institution was called in those days, Ms Phillips would have been in her late 20s or early 30s.

And with her low-cut hair and delightfully curvaceous figure it would have been impossible for a heterosexual adolescent male not to at least notice her sex appeal.

In fact, Ms Phillips had once overheard one of her Garrison sixth form pupils, Michael Batson, make a rather reckless comment to a classmate about her exquisitely shaped derriere.

I was that classmate.

I remember Ms Phillips turning abruptly to confront us.

“I beg your pardon!” she may have exclaimed.

Or she may have been speechless - a look of stunned disbelief etched across her face.

The memory is opaque, possibly a consequence of the fear I felt at that moment.

I didn’t have my friend Michael’s courage, lack of tact or whatever it was that made him relatively indifferent, albeit embarrassed (as I recall) at that moment.

I, by contrast, was absolutely mortified at being caught ogling such a highly respected elder like that.

I was sensitive.

Notwithstanding my then raging capacity for a distinctly carnal, lustful interest in the opposite sex, I knew myself to be a deeply contemplative lad: a romantic.

Perhaps even a bit neurotic.

Reflecting now, it seems to me that this acute sensitivity and amorous sensuality go together naturally.

Actually, at the time, the intensity of such feelings toward females, leading to frequent, almost compulsive masturbation, was somewhat disconcerting - especially after my conversion to Christianity on June 28, 1982.

From that point and for some time since, my conscience evolved along the essentially self-righteous path of the purist – rather like that of the evangelical fundamentalist socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s, I suspect.

But even then, between post-masturbation feelings of intense guilt, thanks to good teaching on puberty and related developmental issues at the Garrison, I had a sense that even if my own libido was somewhat excessive, the awakening of my sex drive was the natural course of things. It was simply the adolescent blossoming of my heterosexual instincts.

I had a conscience-relieving sense that properly managed and expressed, rather than blurted or broadcasted as in Batson’s bid, such feelings, even for a woman you respect deeply, have their place.

"All I owe and am feeling"

I therefore maintained some physical attraction for Ms Phillips, along with more platonic, filial and noble sentiments across a variety of settings, over a number of years, without any internal apprehension or disapproval of those feelings.

I had the pleasure of not only interacting with her at secondary school, but also at the Barbados Community College, where she turned out to be one of my A’ Level English Literature tutors, guiding me through Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Othello plays.
Phillips and I also had occasion to interact at the Peoples Cathedral, a Pentecostal church we both attended for a number of years.

It was out of that church-based interaction that she once had occasion to comment on the sensitivity of David Williams, son of Reverend Holmes Williams who founded Peoples and led it with a subtle, deftly dictatorial, white-glove-covered “iron fist”.

I remember Phillips reflecting thoughtfully on the sensitivity and perceptiveness shown by David, the youngest of Rosie and Holmes’ three boys, as she engaged with him during his BCC stint.

As I recall, she may have represented that aspect of the young Williams’ personality as a hereditary trait, in an attempt to attribute some redeeming character trait to his father.

Eventually, as relative equals, of sorts, Phillips and I also performed together as members of Poet’s Circle, a group started by her, possibly as an exclusive, selective socialist alternative to the more ostensibly inclusive Voices: Barbados Writers Collective.

When a dispute between fellow Voices founder Nailah Imojah (a.k.a. Charmaine Gill) and I reached a critical stage, as Imojah was appointed Literary Officer of Barbados’ National Cultural Foundation, I turned to Phillips, in a bid to have the dispute settled amicably.

My choice of Phillips for the meeting with Imojah was not taken lightly.

I did not choose her on the basis of her sex appeal.

By then Imojah and I had been disputing for two years or more, over what I saw as her virtual hijacking of “Poetic Jazztice”, a poetry-Jazz production I had conceptualized.

After asking my permission to execute the project - which I had shelved after initially exploring a number of venues, tentatively recruiting saxophonist Arturro Tappin, guitarist Phillip Aimey and vocalist Cameron Lewis and otherwise planning the event - Imojah had renamed the project “Interludes” and decided that I did not deserve any credit for it.

(Notably, two venues I had approached, the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and the Waterfront Cafe would both be used, as the event was serialized. And the musicians named above, with the exception of Lewis, would also participate.)

The situation would be complicated by my ex-girlfriend Margaret Gill’s role in providing some kind of fundamentalist feminist, selective socialist rationale for Imojah’s unethical “trafficking” of my idea.

Apparently, with ties to then Barbados Minister of Culture, Mia Motley, the powerful Nation newspaper and former Nation group of companies (now Starcom Network), prominent entertainer Winston “Adonijah” Alleyne, a Nation reporter with whom Imojah was having an affair, she and Gill apparently felt entitled to capitalize on the project at my expense.

They seemed to think that because of their powerful connections they would never be held to account for their treachery.

I had only an inkling of what I was up against.

I did not anticipate the Barbados government, then under Prime Minister Owen Arthur, seeking to make political capital out of a virtual cultural renaissance that I, Imojah, Gill, Mark Mckwatt, James Carmichael, Umbali Imojah and other founding members of Voices were catalysing.

I did not anticipate Donville Inniss, then an Opposition, Democratic Labour Party activist, along with Gill, seeking to undermine me by linking my business name “Intelek” to his pornography business.

Indeed, I only joined the Inniss-undermining-Intelek dots in 2013!

And it would be another year or so before I linked Inniss to Phillips, when it occurred to me that “Inniss” was her maiden name. (As I recall her brother Henry Inniss, a top Barbadian insurance executive may have visited and spoke to our class at the Garrison about his career, as did her then husband, a pilot.)

My Iago?

And the links between Revd Williams and the DLP founder Errol Barrow – and through Barrow to the British Labour and Conservative Parties, on one hand, and the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States, on the other - were not even on my radar in 1999, when I sought Ms Phillips mediation.

It was clear that Imojah had been undermining me in Barbados’ artistic community and political circles, by claiming that my grievance against her was motivated by envy over her success.

But I don’t think even she recognized how consequential that slander would be; far less Phillips.

I on the other hand was already beginning to see the effects of her slander among artists, academics, journalists, politicians and other public servants.

Informed by Gill, I was also aware that the international media had taken an interest in Barbados’ incipient cultural renaissance, but that my contribution was either being completely overlooked or dismissed.

It became apparent that as Elombe Motley (Mia’s uncle), Kamau Brathwaite and other architects of an earlier cultural renaissance, linked to the 1970s “Black Power” movement, Michael Manley’s, Fidel Castro’s and other socialist movements were asserting their contemporary relevance, my efforts, rooted in a rethinking of my evangelical fundamentalist Christian faith, was being deemed irrelevant to Barbados’ cultural and political progress.

Voices, of which I was a key, catalytic founding member was being recognized internationally even as my voice was being silenced.

I was therefore keen to reach some kind of accommodation with Imojah, and felt that even if Ms Phillips disagreed with my open criticism of fundamentalist Christianity or thought my idea of an “adult relationship” with her laughable (I believe I had broached the subject with her and ascertained as much by then), I could count on her to be an impartial judge – unlike my ex-girlfriend Gill, for example.

This assessment was based on my sense of Phillips’ integrity, more than anything else.

I not only felt that here is a woman who has known me for many years and knows what I stand for, but also that her ethical rectitude and fairness would be known to Imojah and others in Barbados’ literary and wider cultural community.

However, I was deeply disappointed.

At our meeting at BCC, Phillips, for reasons known best to herself, sided with Imojah and Dr Elizabeth Best, a second “mediator” an whose attendance Imojah had insisted.
Notably, Dr Best, or Elisheba, as she styles herself, had performed with the England-born Imojah on the night of the first Poeticjazztice/Interludes event.

I could have perhaps been better prepared for the meeting’s outcome if I viewed that move by Imojah as an omen.

And I probably erred by informing Gill about the meeting before it happened.

I have since thought that Gill probably contacted Phillips and bad-talked me to her, possibly representing me as a fantasist with whom she had never had an intimate relationship.

Alternately, I have considered the possibility that someone at Peoples Cathedral got to her, before or after the meeting.

Some time after, on a visit to her home during which I had made my disappointment with her mishandling of that mediation opportunity clear to her, Ms Phillips noted that she lived alone.

My memory of what she and I actually said to each other is vague but I got the sense that she was pointing out how vulnerable she would be, if those undermining me came after her also or instead.

Did she really believe that standing up for her former Garrison pupil would expose her to hostility or peril?

I have written elsewhere about Revd Williams’ links to powerful US religious and political interests.

I have previously noted how one of my fellow Peoples Cathedral associates who was caught importing illegal drugs into Barbados appears to have had that blotch on his record removed by Revd Williams’ intervention.

So far as I can tell, thanks to Williams access to the CIA and other international law enforcement interests, the case against my friend vanished and he never did time in jail.

Might Ms Phillips have been beholden to the now deceased Revd Williams or someone else at Peoples for a comparable “cleansing”?

Or might it be the Inniss-DLP connection behind the extended, interlude-like, Harry- Clarke-recalling apparent blacking-out of Ms Phillips conscience – as seen from my perspective?

Has the integrity and virtue I have long attributed to Ms Phillips just been an illusion?

Another Garrisonian, Emerson Jordan once told me that Ms Phillips had claimed authorship of a poem he had shared with her, essentially labelling her a plagiarist.

I dismissed that allegation out-of-hand at the time.

It was easier to think that Jordan was being mischievous or was sincere but mistaken about what had happened.

Curiously, notwithstanding Ms Phillips’ unilateral, ethically questionable termination of our friendship, about a month ago, it is still easier for me to believe her over Jordan.

Such is the depth of my faith in her integrity.

It is only by reference to the human fallibility we all share and which makes us subject to moral equivalents of Clarke’s physical “epilepsy” that I can make any sense of her conduct.

I remember Ms Phillips telling fellow BCC students and I about the irrationality of the hatred Shakespeare’s character Iago portrays toward the hero Othello, in the play by that name.

But I never thought I would be tempted to cast Phillips, one of my all time favourite teachers, a fellow Christian and kindred soul, in that villainous role.


Here's a copy of my poem "Teacher"

What a feeble word;/how impotent of meaning,/When compared to all /I owe, /and am feeling:/my friend.
My life,/my beginning;/my soul’s growth/destiny finding;/my heart’s eyes,/now dim /now seeing;/my faith/in me.


Esther Phillips, Graydon Sealy Secondary School, Holmes Williams, Shakespeare

Meet the author

author avatar Intelek Int'l
"I think therefore I jam"
I'm a holistic communication and education specialist, trading as Intelek International (
I write about spirituality, science, philosophy, politics, love.

Share this page

moderator Steve Kinsman moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


Add a comment
Can't login?