Laughing the blues away with a trip down the lane

In William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Caesar tells his bosom friend, Brutus, that Cassius, at whose hands he later dies, gives him the creeps

In William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Caesar tells his bosom friend, Brutus, that Cassius, at whose hands he later dies, gives him the creeps

David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
In William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Caesar tells his bosom friend, Brutus, that Cassius gives him the creeps. With uncharacteristic humour and candour Julius Caesar says of Cassius:

Let me have men about me that are fat,

Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights.

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.

He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

Although Caesar’s sixth sense was telling him the truth and he was to die painfully at the hands of Cassius and his fellow conspirators, it is difficult to ignore the light side of his utterance. The picture of fat men that Caesar paints demands that we laugh.

Imagine a huge barrel of a man with a monstrous appetite. Imagine too that man devouring rather than eat his food. He eats noisily and does not close his mouth when chewing. And as he gorges himself like a mad hyena, bits of food keep falling out of his mouth onto the floor via his soiled shirt.

The passion for food in his eyes is unmistakable and unmatched. His retina burns like a pool of molten sludge in an active volcano. He does not take too long to clean his plate, leaving it empty and shiny like a brand new silver coin. He smacks and licks his lips as his mournful eyes look around for a culinary bonus from some benevolent person.

The portrait I have painted is that of a man who lives to eat and thinks of little else. Such is the man that Caesar says he would feel safe with. There can be no conspiracies in the head of such a man.

All that matters to him is his food; if you quench his ravenous appetite you can get him to do anything that you want him to do, for he has no ideology or fancy beyond his food. And when he gulps down the water or condiment that goes with his food you would think there was a dog nearby.

At the end of it all, the man gives a mighty belch and is done. All that such men do is eat sleep and drink, then eat sleep and drink some more.

There must be one such man in your neighbourhood, someone bursting at the seams, a man very much the man-mountain there. But humour is not restricted to people who are obese. Even the lean hungry ones can be the subject of a few jokes from time to time.

My dear departed father (May His Soul Rest in Peace) had a poetic turn of phrase and could be very graphic and analytical in a wry kind of way. I once heard him express his pity for the poor, persecuted, long-suffering wife of a relative of ours in a rather unique way.

My father said the woman was so famished and underfed that when she laughed you could see her heart dancing inside her emaciated rib cage. He called it kuseka nemwoyo.

One of his oft-told stories was the one about his two maternal uncles, who always fought over a plate of sadza like two dogs keen to impose their authority on a territory.

The one uncle would look at the other uncle (his own brother), and lament the waywardness of the sadza. His thinking was that the sadza ought to have had a sense of propriety and liberated itself from the clutches of the drooling glutton that his brother was.

Then there was the story of a younger brother of my paternal grandfather and his antics with the baby and the knife. Whenever he found himself at a loose end and there was no alcohol brewed anywhere in the locality he amused himself by frightening his wife.

What he did was take a favourite dagger of his and start whetting the blade until it was sharp as a new razor blade. And as he did so he would be casting a demented eye at his youngest child, a baby on all fours and loudly expressing what his desire was.

“If only I could have that little one with glowing fat cheeks. That would be a real meal, tender like good veal! I am going to roast him on an open fire and see him sizzle before I add the salt. This is what I was created for. To enjoy myself to the maximum.”

His wife, that poor loving woman, would scream her lungs out, screaming to the whole village to come and rescue her son from his father who had become a cannibal. Getting no satisfaction from that she usually scooped up her baby and ran off to my grandfather to tell him that his younger brother wanted to eat her son.

The whole episode would invariably end with her husband laughing himself silly and rolling on the ground in mirth. Then the laughter stopped as abruptly as it had begun and he would turn all sweet and loving and very protective. Yet she always fell for that same prank, time after time.

One of my favourite pop groups is the Cranberries. I like them when they do the rather apocalyptic song “No Need to Argue”. The depth of this song like that of “Fever” done by Elvis Presley lies in its simplicity.

In “Fever” Elvis Presley uses two instruments only, drums and a double bass and the effect is electrifying. In “No Need to Argue” you have this mournful dirge from a pealing organ and a husky voice.

So where is the humour in that you will ask? Well, here it is. Let me give it to you straight: For years I used to think that the Cranberries were singing, “There’s no need to hug you anymore.” When I finally got to see the lyrics on YouTube I couldn’t believe it. Dear Reader, have you had similar experiences?

Try this one from our social media. A woman calls a radio station and asks the DJ to play a song that she is keen to listen to. When asked for the title of the song, the woman says the song is called “Ajasco”. The DJ is mystified until she sings him a snippet of the song. It turns out that her request is for the Stevie Wonder classic, “I Just Called”. The next one is also hilarious!

It was in those far away days when rock and roll was the in-thing and Elvis of the sideburns and the gyrating hips was doing songs like “King Creole” and “Mean Woman Blues”.

It was a fun time when all the street urchins would wail, “Number One was Elvis Press, Number Two was Rick Nelson; Number three was Tommy Steele, let’s rock!” Our own ingenious version of “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley.

Now there was also a heartthrob called Pat Boone, a crooner with hits like “Peace in the Valley” and “Remember you’re Mine”. A very popular song of his at the time was “Oh Bernadine” whose lyrics went something like this:

Oh, Bernadine

Oh, oh, oh, Bernadine

I can tell by the dimple on your chin

You’re in beautiful shape for the shape you’re in

An’ I’m in shape for Bernadine

One day I heard a man singing loudly as he walked up our road, “Oh bhanditi, oh, oh, oh, bhanditi!” I wondered what he would have sung had he been asked to sing the whole song. No doubt he would have done lots of improvisation. But sometimes we did funny but elevating things with people’s songs.

There are many who will remember our little soccer genius from way back then. I am talking about George Shaya, five-time soccer star of the year so good on the field and such a wizard on the ball that football commentators like Jonathan Mutsinze nicknamed him “the Mastermind”. George Shaya was that good!

Now at about the time that he was really shining and after he had been to play in Greece, a pop group called Shocking Blue had a hit song called “Venus”. One of the lines in this song lent itself very well to our improvisation. Some of the lyrics to Venus are as follows:

A goddess on a mountain top

Was burning like a silver flame

The summit of beauty and love

And Venus was her name

She’s got it

Yeah baby, she’s got it

Well, I’m your Venus

I’m your fire

At your desire

When it came to the chorus where Shocking Blue sang, “Well, I’m your Venus/ I’m your fire/At your desire . . .” we sang “I’m your fire/Joji Shaya!” I have always wondered if the little number 7 knew he was so honoured.

Dear Reader, I hope I have kindled a few memories for you. If you are a born-free I hope I have given you some idea of how we entertained ourselves and kept ourselves occupied, some of the time.

  • David Mungoshi is a writer, social commentator, retired teacher and editor.
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