Anthony Gambrill | What is the chicken in for? (Pt 2)
If it is true that humour has been my life force, the first laugh upon arriving in Jamaica was going to be on me. Looking out of the aeroplane window as we were landing in Montego Bay, I saw a lot of sea water alongside the aircraft. As it slowed to a halt, I thought my initial impression of the island would be that it had "a runway that deposited you into the sea".
Within 24 hours, I was travelling on the diesel bound for Kingston. Much to my delight, I was soon drinking a cold Red Stripe and munching peanuts in the company of a chatty lady companion. As the result of another happy coincidence, I met up with an American acquaintance who was managing a singer at the now-defunct Glass Bucket nightclub. Standing in the pool at the equally defunct Flamingo Hotel, again with a cold Red Stripe, on a sunny November morning, I decided that Jamaica was destined to be my home - except that I needed a job. Fortune smiled on me when Edgar Stewart hired me at Art and Publicity, the leading advertising agency in the island.
It was here that my acquaintance with Jamaica and its remarkable people truly began. As it happened, Eddie Thomas, soon-to-be-co-founder of the National Dance Theatre, was employed at the same time as me.
Getting to know Charles Hyatt, and later, 'Maas Ran'and 'Miss Lou', and the LTM Pantomime revealed to me the Jamaican way with humour. I will never forget Charlie's interpretation of a how Jamaican underground train conductor in the UK pronounced the names of the London stations. Today, other immigrants have replaced West Indians on London Transport with their own contribution to British humour.
A distraught Pakistani bus conductor is trying to convince a bowler-hatted English gentleman that the bus is full.
"But I have to board the bus," protests the Englishman.
"I'm terribly sorry, sir, but this bus is full."
"No, that's not good enough. I must get on this bus."
"Sir, you can't. I am ram jam-packed."
To this the would-be passenger responds:
"I don't care what your bloody name is, I have to get on the bus."
OPPORTUNITIES FOR HUMOUR
I found that humour was used to defuse acrimonious situations like traffic accidents and domestic rows when neither party insists he is at fault. Or when you try to get away with something. Winston Stona swears that he was getting on an Air Jamaica flight in Miami when a stout lady tried boarding with a small refrigerator as hand luggage. I also recall the painter Karl Parboosingh saying that on one occasion, having to jump out of a married lady's bedroom window when her husband returned home unexpectedly, he shouted, "You can't shoot me. I'm an artist."
Politics, thank heavens, provides unlimited opportunities for humour to relieve tension. If you were around in the 1970s, you would remember graffiti proclaiming, "Michael is a fruitcake" and "CIAga". When the song Michael Row the Boat Ashore caught on, so did the rumour that the then prime minister could actually walk on water.
In the '60s, I joined forces with Dr Jimmy Barton to write a satirical revue to be titled 8 o'clock Jamaica Time, starting promptly at 8:30. The script and songs poked fun at the foibles of well-known and not-so-well known Jamaican personalities. Naturally, politicians came in for their share of satire. In the case of Eddie Seaga, who frequently wore dark glasses, we had him say, "I don't care if you are white, brown, black, or yellow ... to me you are all green." Then there was the PNP politician, dentist D.K. Duncan, who only fixed teeth on the left-hand side of your mouth.
As well as another 12 editions of the revue, I wrote a musical about a club/brothel in Rae Town. The incomparable Lois Kelly-Barrow was cast as the owner. All the action took place in the outside bar and dance floor, but Lois regretted that I didn't have a bedroom scene as she proposed hanging a homily over the girls' bed: "Now I lay me down to work."
Another distracting hobby of mine was owning racehorses with my good friend Richard Jones. I remember coming home from a Caymanas Park sale and the wives asking, "I hope you didn't buy a horse?" "No, we didn't," we replied. "We bought two." Neither horse won the Derby, suffice to say. But racing did bring entertaining characters into my life like Dr Paul Wright, who regaled me with the name of a horse that somehow received the approval of the racing authorities. It was a very large horse and was mischievously called Mocking Funster. I leave it to you to work out!
From time to time I would return to the UK. On one occasion, a member of the Country Alliance (a pro-fox-hunting lobby) wearing a mink coat was marching through Parliament Square. A bystander shouted, "Do you know how many animals died so you could get that coat?" To which she replied, "Do you know how many animals I had to sleep with to get it?"
Anyway, I plan to just keep seeing the funny side of life. My advice to you is if you keep laughing, you will stay young.
"So, what was the chicken in for?" Read on.
A man buys a parrot, but despite his warnings, the bird constantly gives off a string of swear words. Tired of this, the owner slams the parrot into the freezer side of his refrigerator. A little later, feeling remorseful, he takes it out of the fridge. Shivering from the cold, his parrot promises never to curse again, but added, "But what was the chicken in the freezer for?"
- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.