Tue | May 26, 2020

Tony Deyal | Here's mud in your eye

Published:Friday | February 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

"You want to hear a dirty joke, Tony?" my friend asked. "You wake me up at five in the morning to tell me a dirty joke? Man, what get into you," I responded. "You want to hear it or not?" he demanded.

I was already awake and not as angry as I pretended to be, so I told him to go ahead.

"A boy in a white shirt fall in the mud," he said, laughing. "What get into you?" was my question after a brief pause at his audacity. "Well, I could tell you a dirtier one if you want," he said, and then proceeded without waiting for my answer. "The place was so slippery, he got back up and fall back down."

That was too much. "What get into you this morning, man? You can't sleep and decide to torment me?" He laughed, "Well, it is you who wrote about mud last week. If is mud you like, listen to this." Another pause, "You want to hear a clean joke?" Sensing my growing impatience, he continued, "Well, when the boy went home, he fill up the bathtub and take a bath with bubbles." I didn't get it. "So?" I wanted to know. "Well, that is the cleanest and yet the dirtiest joke of all," he chortled. "Bubbles is his next-door neighbour."

This did it for me, especially as I had started thinking about mud, not the wife of my friend Ban, but the way it had changed the Monday Morning Carnival, or J'ouvert that starts off the annual two-day event.

When I was young, growing up in the rural community of Carapichaima, noted for its old-time carnival, mud had not yet become a major ingredient of the 'mas', or masquerade. It was something you avoided. What we had instead was Keen's Oxford Blue, which was used liberally to make the 'Pay the devil' players threatening instead of merely scary. None of your friendly, neighbourhood Smurfs here.

Brandishing a huge, wooden fork, wire tail waggling in time to the beat of what we called 'a pitch oil (kerosene) pan', the noise and steady rhythm of 'Pay the devil' and the 'pang, pang' of the metal tin, for any five-year-old, the blue devil was the stuff of nightmares and tears, as well as frantic attempts to run and hide behind or even under Mummy's capacious skirts. No tight pants and short shorts in those days for the older female spectators.

It is not just in the sense of the frantically insistent beating of the metal drum that J'ouvert was different in those days. For those countries that have now adopted the full measure of carnival activities, including the 'mud mas' on Monday morning, this was a different scene. For the most part, you made your own music - no big trucks that you could get behind, although there were still a lot of bumpers, wiggling, wining, win some, lose some, that would sometimes accept the placement of a hand or two.

The steel pans of the competing bands were carried around the necks or, like the heavy bass drums, on small carts that initially used metal bearings as wheels and later switched to bicycle tyres.

When we moved to the town of Siparia, in the oil belt of the deep south of the country, it was a different scene altogether. One year, we decided to play dirty, or 'dutty', sailor, complete with steel band and players in costumes that were meant to represent the dress whites of the sailors ashore but quickly changed colour and odour.

What made the sailors the vagabonds they were depicting was their unlimited consumption of alcohol, rolling about in the gutters and roads, liberally sprinkling white powder on spectators, and an avowed, even fanatical, preference expressed in the chant, "What the sailor like? Big, fat woman. What de sailor want? Big, fat woman." The mud was not slapped on us as it is now. It is what we picked up on our clothing and persons as we cavorted, pranced and chanted merrily along the streets.

We almost didn't make it on the road that year. Normally, before a big fete or event, we followed a sequence of rituals that were as important to us as the countdown to a space ship launch. First and foremost, we had to 'badden' our heads. This involved the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.

Waiting for the band to assemble, we ended up in the Cozy Corner bar tossing down large measures of puncheon or overproof rum. Then Rabbi, our leader, called me. "Cool yourself. You announcing de band when we get in the Savannah," he said peremptorily. I went back and switched to Carib beer to quickly un-badden a head that was already so bad, it was trying to pick a fight with my tongue. Then we found out that Nolan, the cow thief, was the cause of the delay. Rabbi was livid.

Nolan said, "Gimme a few minutes." He walked across the Savannah towards the town and, a few minutes later, was coming down the hill on a bicycle. He passed us and rode to an area at the foot of the hill called 'the Cave'. There he took off the wheels and threw the rest of the bike into the nether regions.

He walked up the hill, put the wheels on the bass-drum cart, and off we went. It is said that the dutty sailor was based on the reality of Port-of-Spain being a naval base during the Second World War and the preferences of the sailors for rum and women. There was, in fact, a bar with the sign, "Seamen and Seawomen Welcome" but there was no mention of how corpulent the seawomen had to be.

I am not quite sure exactly when the mud became a big instead of a 'bit' player in the dance. I was away for a few years, and when I returned, I decided to play in a Port-of-Spain band with the title, based on the 1961 Gina Lollobrigida movie, "Go Naked In The World." Gina couldn't make it but was not missed. I was introduced to mud, which caked my face and body and was supposedly 'good for the sun', but not something you saved for a rainy day.

Then a few years after, when I decided to join a group of colleagues working for the national television company, I found out that not just any old mud would do. The band organiser boasted about getting a special mud from deep in the forests of the northern range. As he plastered it on, I thought this was the first time I got mud in my eye without even proposing a toast. Even now, so many years later, it reminded me of the Henny Youngman joke, "My wife went to the beauty shop and got a mud pack. For three days she looked nice. Then it wore off."

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the only thing that wore off quickly during carnival was not the alcohol, but his boots.