Simiain’s queasy fantasies about making pillows stuffed with his own hair got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be a wheeze to put the pillows in the guest bedroom, and then, after your visitors have spent the night sleeping on them, casually mention their true hairy nature over breakfast?
This is similar to a jape conceived by my father and me as we hiked across Dartmoor a long, long while ago. Spotting some mushrooms growing disgustingly in what certain waggish schoolteachers used to call ‘bovine residue’, we thought we’d take a photo of the cowpat fungi and keep it in a drawer. Then, when we had people round for dinner, we’d serve up fried mushrooms. At the end of the meal we’d ask, all nonchalant-like, “Did you eat your mushrooms?”
“Oh yes thank you,” they’d say.
“And did you like your mushrooms?” we’d ask.
“Very tasty, thank you, yes.”
At this we’d whip out the photo of the shiteshrooms and cry: “Well just look where we got them!”
A splendid practical joke, I’m sure you’d agree. We never did it, of course, but the idea made us laugh immoderately as we slogged over the cold, boggy moors.
Not that practical jokes are really my thing. Self-appointed ‘pranksters’ in sports teams or workplaces are on the whole intolerable. I’m not big on schadenfreude and tend to empathise with, rather than laugh at, humiliation. The idea of the mushroom joke was funny not so much because it would appal the victim, but rather because the idea of going to such elaborate effort for so trivial a pay-off was funny.
Pain isn’t really funny. The world is not, I believe, going to hell in a handcart, but it would certainly look that way if you watched too much Dirty Sanchez – a wilfully cheap and nasty TV show in which a bunch of Welsh idiots cause each other intense pain and then laugh hysterically. It makes Jackass – its direct ancestor – look classy by comparison. The idiots call themselves ‘stuntmen’. Well sorry but my idea of a stuntman is someone who flies a motorcycle through a fiery hoop, or jumps off a building dressed as Indiana Jones, not someone who simply stands there and gets kicked in the testicles. Anyone could do that. Dirty Sanchez is practical joking at its most base and animal level. Actually it is humanity at its most base and animal level. And the worst thing about it is the way they all howl with glee at each burn, wallop or crush suffered by a co-idiot. It is dead-eyed, witless desperate laughter, the cruel cackling of jackals. Presumably they leave so much of this laughter in the final edit of the show because it is meant to be infectious. Well, as with other supposedly infectious things such as the film Mamma Mia or the audience applause in Question Time, I’m immune. On the other hand, that these idiots (a) exist and (b) have managed to wangle themselves a television show, is itself pretty funny. It’s just the practical jokes that aren’t.
Possibly my distaste for these most primitive forms of humour goes back to an incident at school (amazing how these things stay with you, isn’t it?). One of my least gifted but most frightening contemporaries – a huge, prodigiously muscle-bound psychopath who I will call, for the sake of argument, Lloyd – hit upon the idea (brilliant in its simplicity, I now admit) of locking one of a pair of swinging doors in a busy corridor. This door was never locked, so a continuous stream of hapless marks walked confidently and swiftly at it, only to bump back with a yelp or gormless look of astonishment. At each bump the loitering Lloyd uttered a loud, dumb bark of laughter.
Hanging around in my little gang at the other end of the corridor, I wearied of the performance of this prank at around about the 800 mark, and at the 801st I unwisely bellowed out my own loud, dumb bark of laughter in unison with Lloyd but with the obvious intention of ‘taking the piss’. I don’t need to describe how the whole corridor fell into a stunned silence – you’ve seen the type of situation in countless movies, when somebody insults the uninsultable. As Lloyd, who never had any trouble summoning an instant rage, advanced down the corridor demanding to know who effing done that, my only hope was to hide in the anonymity of the crowd. This hope was swiftly dashed as a ghastly little pipsqueak who inexplicably hung around at the edge of our gang and who I will call, because it is his name, David Perry, squealed on me. Before I could make a getaway, I was literally picked up by the throat and pinned against the lockers as Lloyd let loose from point blank range whatever incivilities and threats he could dredge up from his limited vocabulary.
Of course, as soon as this ordeal was over and Lloyd had stalked off (at least I put an end to the door prank), I did exactly the same thing to David Perry, except that my vocabulary was considerably wider and fruitier. Presumably Perry then went off to take it out on someone even more pipsqueaky than himself. And that, I'm afraid, is how male society functions.
I could here go on to describe a far more elaborate and disturbing prank that was played on me, but that’s quite enough trauma for one post.