Tony Deyal, Contributor
I once told a Trinidadian friend that I love old jokes. He replied without the slightest hesitation, "It looks your wife likes old jokes more than you." Then, to my quizzical expression, he added, "Well, she married one." I suppose, as Trinis would say, I "look for that".
There is a story about two famous Americans, Joseph H. Choate and Chauncey Depew, that illustrates why you need to beware of saying things to people who are as sharp or sharper than you. The two gentlemen were invited to a dinner at which Mr Choate, a diplomat, was the feature speaker, and Mr Depew, a United States senator, was the master of ceremonies.
When it was time to introduce the speaker, Mr Depew said, "Gentlemen, permit me to introduce Ambassador Choate, America's most inveterate after-dinner speaker. All you need to do to get a speech out of Mr Choate is to open his mouth, drop in a dinner and up comes your speech."
Mr Choate warmly and effusively thanked the senator for his compliment, and then said: "Mr Depew says if you open my mouth and drop in a dinner, up will come a speech, but I warn you that if you open your mouths and drop in one of Senator Depew's speeches, up will come your dinner."
Depew once tried to turn the tables on, of all people, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) and was still unable to get away with it.
Mark Twain and Chauncey M. Depew once went abroad on the same ship. When the ship was a few days out, they were both invited to a dinner. Speech-making time came. Mark Twain had the first chance. He spoke 20 minutes and made a great hit.
Then it was Mr Depew's turn. "Mr Toastmaster and ladies and gentlemen," said the famous raconteur as he arose, "before this dinner, Mark Twain and myself made an agreement to trade speeches. He has just delivered my speech, and I thank you for the pleasant manner in which you received it. I regret to say that I have lost the notes of his speech and cannot remember anything he was to say." Then he sat down. There was much laughter.
Next day, an Englishman who had been in the party came across Mark Twain in the smoking room. "Mr Clemens," he said, "I consider you were much imposed upon last night. I have always heard that Mr Depew is a clever man, but, really, that speech of his you made last night struck me as being the most infernal rot."
In addition to old jokes, I also like port, which remains my only after-dinner alcoholic indulgence, except when occasionally I am asked to make a speech. Needless to say that I like "port" jokes and after-dinner stories. When asked about why I chose this particular type of wine, I always reply, "I am like the sailor who, wherever he docked, gave his girlfriends a bottle of this same wine. He liked to have a little port in every sweetheart."
Sometimes, when I feel a little nautical, I tell a joke about port - not Port-of-Spain, because things are too tense there these days to elicit any humour, or Port Royal, because after they eat their cassava, people there get a bit bammy.
The joke goes like this. Once upon a time, there was a famous sea captain. This captain was very successful at what he did. For years, he guided merchant ships all over the world. Never did stormy seas or pirates get the best of him. He was admired by his crew and fellow captains.
However, there was one thing different about this captain. Every morning, he went through a strange ritual. He would lock himself in his captain's quarters and open a small safe. In the safe was an envelope with a piece of paper inside. He would stare at the paper for a minute, and then lock it back up. Afterwards, he went about his daily duties.
For years this went on, and his crew became very curious. Was it a treasure map? Was it a letter from a long lost love? Everyone speculated about the contents of the strange envelope. One day, the captain died at sea. After laying the captain's body to rest, the first mate led the entire crew into the captain's quarters. He opened the safe, got the envelope, opened it and ... . The first mate turned pale and showed the paper to the others. Four words were on the paper, two on two lines: Port Left, Starboard Right.
Recently, I rediscovered an old favourite of mine called 'Pass The Port'. It is a collection of after-dinner stories told by famous Englishmen. Because I like old English detective stories almost as much as I love British humour, the book has been alternating for my nocturnal affections with a Ngaio Marsh collection that I have been 'Kindling' with in my pad - my Asus Eee pad, a really touching experience.
This one came from Sir Godfrey Agnew, clerk of the Privy Council. A woman commissioned an artist to paint her portrait for a fee of £300. She immediately wrote out a cheque and handed it to him. The artist was concerned, "I thought we had agree a fee of £300, but you made out your cheque for £400."
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The woman replied, "Yes, I know; but I find it a bit embarrassing. Would you have any objection to painting me in the nude? The artist smiled, "None whatsoever, Madam, provided that I can keep my socks on, as I must have somewhere to put my brushes."
There are several priceless cricket stories in the book, and this is a sample. Harold Larwood, the famous fast bowler, was playing in a charity game and hit the batsman squarely on the pads. He appealed for lbw but the umpire turned it down.
Larwood bowled a faster ball, wide of the off stump, and the batsman snicked it into the wicketkeeper's gloves. Not out again. This time, Larwood took his longest run and bowled his fastest ball. The stumps were spreadeagled and Larwood said to the umpire, "I darned near bowled him that time."
Tony Deyal was last seen saying that even the greats love their corny jokes. Lord Fortescue of the Coldstream Guards asked, "How do elephants make love under water?" They first remove their trunks.