What do the British find funny?
New Forest Mark and Hugh unearth some anecdotes many with a military twist, to give us a chuckle at a time we badly need it!
Ed note: This week Hugh and Mark take a look at our island character but with a slight khaki slant. Hope you enjoy.
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In the past clever people have tried and failed to capture the unique trait of our island character; I’m sure our attempt will fail just as gloriously but here’s the thing, your cartoonist and scribbler will be giggling as they tumble. It’s what we British seem to do rather well, laugh in the face of adversity and, more importantly, laugh at ourselves. It has been said that the reason we won wars was because of our sense of humour. In the darkest times when things are about as bad as they can get, we British can find a giggle seemingly anywhere.
But what do you British find funny about…..
I was watching a television interview which was on the topic of humour. One of the experts was from the Netherlands, a country famous for its acceptance of all orientations. They are a pragmatic and forthright race. There was a line delivered by the Dutchman which had me folded up with laughter and when I recounted the story to my sister Sheryl, she too was helpless. The line, which was delivered with the furrowed brow of someone genuinely baffled was:
‘But what do you British find funny about farting?’.
Here’s the thing. I’m as baffled as he was. Why DO we laugh at a perfectly natural bodily function? Dear reader, I accept that I am infantile, immature and easily amused by toilet humour. However, my sister is a proper grown up, so why does she get the giggles? Are we British all beyond help? Are we the most immature of nations? I certainly hope so.
German for beginners
I read a newspaper article regarding the trial of a German sailor who found himself in a court in Glasgow. The sailor could speak no English (or should I say Scottish; Ms Sturgeon, we await your stern and solemn guidance) and a call was sent out for a German speaker.
A voice piped up from the back of the court.
“Ah can speak the lingo, ah learrrned it during the warrr.”
The ‘translator’ was called forward and instructed to ask the poor German his name. The chap walked up to him and said.
“Vot iss your name?”
He was found to be in contempt of court and fined £200 for his trouble. How many tots he was given as a reward for his entertainment wasn’t recorded.
Be careful how you dress
A long time ago, far far away, your scribbler was assigned to what is known as a Cadre Course. This is an Army ritual where an expert and seasoned tradesman is ordered to join colleagues of similar experience in order to learn how to dress up like a bush and put stripes across his face as if he were an American footballer; in addition he had to revisit something called a ‘rifle’. It’s goodbye to socket sets, micrometers and vernier calipers, to technical ability and problem solving. Hello to the shovel, route marches with heavy packs, the leopard crawl and a renewed hatred of sleeping outdoors. Yes, this is what is referred to as advancement in the modern Army. In order to progress as tradesmen we had to regress to our pre-apprenticeship days. Me neither.
One evening we were put on something called Show Parade. This is essentially a deliberate annoyance for which there happens to be an unprintable Army term; if you really want to know, drop me a line. I will need proof of age. Politely it is detention for grown-ups. Instead of being given the freedom to partake of excellent beverages served by the most comely of maidens in our local we had to dress in our smartest uniform and shiniest boots to parade at 2100 hours.
At 2050 we were assembled and waiting in the lobby in a horseshoe arrangement, all stood at ease, hands clasped behind our backs, awaiting the arrival of the inspecting officer. Slowly the idiocy of the situation began to get the better of us. We were mature men, most with families, all with a great deal of life experience and here we were being treated like raw recruits. First there was a barely audible titter which was quickly followed by a hissed ‘shut up!’.
Then there was another. In the next two or so minutes we struggled to control this contagious hysteria. The more we looked at one another, the more our faces creased and the worse it became. The atmosphere became electric. We were in real danger of a serious telling off, our future beer consumption was on a knife edge.
Suddenly, from high in the stairwell, came the unmistakable echoing sounds of approaching senior shoes. As the treads descended the six flights of stairs the tension became almost unbearable; we desperately tried to avoid one another’s gaze. Inevitably he arrived and we were called to attention. Agonisingly slowly he moved from one victim to the other, his eyes straining to find the slightest error; but we were old hands and the well was dry. Then he stopped in front of a chap who was fat. Horribly fat. He was excused the more physical parts of the course because of his gluttony. We hated him. The officer looked him up and down and seeing the way that his bulk was split into two rather large doughnuts he declared.
“Don’t do your belt up so tight Smith, it does nothing for your figure.”
That was it. The group (apart from Smith) fell about laughing, we were utterly helpless. The officer, to his credit, realised that there was little he could do and slowly and with as much dignity as he could muster, ascended the stairs.
We were late but the barmaid still welcomed us.
One of our favourite Britons, Michael Palin, discussed the use of humour in debunking the authority of those in power. He posited that laughter could be a potent weapon. In the film ‘Life of Brian’ he played the part of a Roman senator, someone who commanded awesome power and, conveniently, suffered from a speech impediment. As he addressed the rabble from a balcony he was mocked mercilessly. His power was nought in the face of helpless laughter. The brilliant comedian and Anglophile Reginald D. Hunter who hails from the deep south of the USA commented that it was three weeks after a conversation with a Brit that he realised he had been insulted. Mockery is something that we Brits do rather well.
Seniority is no guarantee of protection
Spike Milligan wrote in his war memoirs about a time in North Africa when he and his comrades were paraded in a huge square in order to be inspected by some important officer. Arriving in a large open topped car, standing in the rear footwell and travelling at a crawl the officer proceeded to tour the troops. Milligan confessed that he was struggling not to burst out laughing.
The threatening dark skies delivered a deluge on time and on target; in order to escape the officer hastily ordered the driver to set off at speed whilst trying frantically to erect the roof. The huge crowd of (drowned) Desert Rats broke into spontaneous laughter and cat-calling. Certain gestures were made from waist level towards this cosseted fool as he high tailed it back to his comfy headquarters. Somehow I couldn’t ever see this happening at Nuremberg.
One jab or two Sir?
Yesterday I had my second jab. Apparently I am ‘a bleeder’. Funny really because that’s what Hugh calls me. With a tiny bandage stuck to my arm and bearing my precious sticker I stepped out blinking into the bright sunlight. I pondered why we Brits had taken up the vaccine with such enthusiasm when our neighbours on the continent have been rather cautious. Is it that we are more trusting of medical science? Is it that we recognise the fact that the risks posed by the vaccine are infinitesimal? Perhaps we have a more pragmatic view of life; that there are risks in everything we do and that in taking the vaccine and the tiny risk associated with it we are acting for the common good? I think we can be proud of our response.
Whatever the reason we should be grateful that we have such a good system in place. I’ve spoken to a pen friend in Thailand and the situation there and in many other countries is desperate. We are fortunate and we ought to be grateful.
Finally, thanks again
Here’s another thank you to the Doctors, Nurses, Surgeons, Cleaners and Volunteers, all of whom have put their heads above the parapet in order to both carry on as normal and also deliver the vaccine. Well done to all. There really is light at the end of the syringe.
Recruit Passing Out Parade. Commanding Officer to permanent staff Corporal: "Very nice Corporal Smith, I love the dog - but the platoon's teddy mascot is overdoing it a bit."
Hugh adds: A smile for all local Royal Marines and Armoured Corps.
More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh
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