It might be because we are from the North and have a ‘Madchester’ sense of humour. You see we find humour in things that other people don’t. Take stressful situations, like going to the dentist. My husband had new teeth inplanted recently. Soon after, when I went for a check-up myself, the dentist, seeking compliments no doubt, asked me what I thought. I said he looked great and I mused ‘In fact he’s changed his hair style too, I wonder if he is having an affair’. ‘Oh, I don’t think so’, said the dentist, in a serious and compassionate tone of voice. I read that dentists have one of the highest suicide rates. Hope he’s stll there for our next visit.
On another visit my husband asked him if the protective glasses you have to wear made him ‘look like Buddy Holly’. ‘Not really’ he said. Similarly when I went to have my eyes tested this week. The optician told me that my eyes have improved and I need a weaker presciption. ‘What after 50 years of short-sightedness, I said… If I live til I’m 100 will my eyes be perfect?’. ‘No, that doesn’t happen’, she said and proceeded to go into a technical explanation of how the eyes can improve with age during which I lost the will to live. Maybe it’s the white coats these people wear that hide their real selves.
Along with kindness and a generous spirit I value a sense of humour above many other things. It is something I looked for in a partner (along with straight hair). It gets you through hard times. I laughed a lot when I taught in a Manchester comprehensive. The staff-room was alive with laughter and often black and cruel humour. ‘If that kid had a brain he’d be dangerous’. But it was the survival of the fittest and you had to laugh to survive. Most of the staffroom humour came from men and in the classroom from boys. We women often take ourselves too seriously, I find.
It’s often tense or sad situations that make you want to laugh. ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ and all that. Much humour is associated with illness and death. Spike Milligan, a man whose contribution to British humour is incalculable, is said to have on his headstone ‘I told you I was ill’. There’s often humour on gravestones, proving that the capacity to make people laugh doesn’t have to die with the body. ‘Toot the flute, bang the drum, here we go again’ was one graveyard epitaph that my father-in-law used to quote.
When Dad was dying and we sat around his hospital bed five of us recalled funny family stories and laughed. It didn’t seem inappropriate but rather a caring gesture for Dad who may have been able to hear us – and share our memories. It also relieved the unremitting grief of knowing you were about to lose someone who had once joined in that laughter.
The people I know with the best sense of humour include my husband, my brother-in-law and my maternal Grandmother. Again around a hospital bed, surrounded by her family, Gran aged 92, sat bolt upright and addressed us all. ‘I’d like a mirror, she said. ‘Why?’ we asked. ‘Because I want to check my hair, look my best’ she said. Gran preened herself, arranged her hair and then died. She was as mad as the rest of us.