Becky says things about … laughing

Since the news broke last Monday about the smackingly sudden exit of our short, furry and funny friend Mr Williams, the Internet has been transformed into a veritable psychology journal, brimming with probing analyses of depression, suicide, alcoholism, hope, lack of hope, life and death. Darling Listener, I don’t want to add to the already lengthy index of opinions on the meaning of life; and besides, who am I to comment on the bleak, crushing force of depression when the saddest moment of my day was realising I left my lunch at home?

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So, most splendid listeners, let us focus on the bright side of life; let us look at what Mr Williams made us do when he put on a rubber mask and shouted ‘HELP IS ON THE WAY, DEAR!’ or when he told Rufio he was a paramecium brain:

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O Listener, I just love laughing. I love every kind of laugh: the painful, uncontrolled giggle that invariably results in an undignified piggish snort; the silent, head-shaking nose-laugh when someone tells you a joke that is wrong on every inconceivable level and you know you are going straight to hell for finding mirth in it; the unexpected, explosive laugh that may well result in an unexpected, explosive emission from your lower regions that you definitely didn’t intend and which you hurriedly try to cover up by making your laughter acutely disproportionate to the thing that made you laugh in the first place.

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Just today I have experienced that joyful, convulsed state that is brought on by perhaps one of the most delicious laughs of all: the ‘finding-something-vaguely-amusing-at-work-and-trying-not-to-laugh-because-the-office-is-quiet-and-people-are-working-which-makes-it-a-thousand-times-funnier-and-eventually-you-are-choking-on-your-own-fist-and-tears-and-sliding-wetly-around-in-your-chair-like-a-floppy-otter’ laugh. Can I remember what made me laugh? Can I bobbins. The laugh made me laugh. The same naughty and forbidden laugh we all experienced a dozen times a day at school when we passed a note that said ‘Mrs Lamos has a hairy back’ during silent reading time.

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Laughter is in everything: that well-timed belch in the middle of a meeting; the little trip up a kerb that you have to turn into a run; the accidental sign-off ‘Love Becky xxx’ in an email to an extremely important and solemn chief-executive; the tail-end of a conversation overheard in the street.

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But we all know that there is no greater joy, no laugh more acute, than the laugh expelled at the misfortune of others. O, Listener, how many ribs have I bruised guffawing at the suffering of my friends! When my chum slipped over on the wet deck of the Statan Island Ferry, going from a perfectly stationary position next to me –

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– to this position –

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– in less than a second and for apparently no reason, I laughed so much that a concerned German had to walk the entire length of the ferry to help her up.

The story of another buddy, a normally dignified yet cumbersome sort of fellow who, whilst stomping home with a bag of fish and chips, fell over his front gate and was deposited in a flower bed, will cause me to erupt in a splatter of glee every time I think about it. My father running into the patio doors, my best friend tripping down her stairs and landing in a heap at the bottom; my sister – crouching and mid-wee – falling backwards down a grass verge into nettles after panicking when I told her there was someone coming (there wasn’t); my boss pretending to use his office chair as a wheelchair and promptly wheeling himself out of it; my pal drunkenly stumbling through a park at night and failing to notice the large pond in the middle of it – all these things make me ecstatically happy.

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Sadistic, you say? Nay, Listener – tis not sadism. Tis merely a keen appreciation of slapstick comedy. We all laugh when Oliver Hardy is bashed in the face with a solid wooden plank, or when Stan Laurel is run over by a trolley bus – why shouldn’t we laugh at our friends and family members doing stupid things?

Life throws up many surprises. Some, like a leaky roof or syphilis, aren’t particularly pleasing – but others, like discovering the wit of our fellow humans, are magical. The world is full of funny people. You, my most dear Listeners, are hysterical. There is barely a liquid I haven’t dribbled painfully through my nose whilst reading some of your blogs or your comments to my posts. And, whilst some of those liquids were especially painful, I loved every second.

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We are all used to comedians showing off their best jokes and their most sparkling wit – but it is the ordinary Colin on the street that makes me laugh the most. Overhearing a grumpy exchange between two old blokes in a pub can brighten my day tenfold.

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What’s better than trudging through your daily commute with a thousand other sorry souls, every single one of you despising the human race and everything it stands for, and then having your train driver come over the speaker and say ‘Good morning everyone – as you can see, we’re going nowhere fast. I wish I could tell you why we’re stuck here, but I can’t, so instead I’m going to tell you that today happens to the be the 30th anniversay of the release of Wham’s astounding hit single ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’… and if someone could please wake me up before we go go, that’d be very much appreciated.’

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I made myself laugh yesterday when I went to get in my mother’s car, which I begged her to let me use while she’s on holiday, and to which she eventually agreed against all her better judgement – and I discovered its battery was flat. Dead as a squashed badger. I left the lights on. Is this a royal pain in the arse, and one that will potentially cause me stress and grief and a ‘Rebecca, you can’t be trusted with anything’ comment? Undoubtedly. But I have to laugh. Particularly because I have no intention of telling my mother, and she will only find out by reading this blog post from her hotel in Greece.

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Listener, there is sadness and sorrow and despair in the world. We know this. Anyone more than five years older than us delights in telling us this every single day. But there is also laughter. And Mr Williams may or may not have contributed to some of the laughs in your lives, but he has been the cause of a billion smiles over the world, and I’ve certainly enjoyed mine. Wherever he is, I hope he’s trying on his old Mrs Doubtfire costume, parading in front of a mirror, and chuckling.

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Charlie Chaplin said ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted’. And, whilst it is undoubtedly easier to laugh on some days than others, this isn’t a bad mantra to live by.

 

Becky says things about … the little embarrassments of daily life

Faithful Listener, I embarrassed myself today.

Someone waved at me. I didn’t know them, but I waved back. It’s polite to return a cheery salutation. Then I realised they were waving at the person behind me, who did know them. I was embarrassed. I immediately pretended I was receiving an important phonecall, and proceeded to put my silent phone to my ear and talk into it. There was no one on the other end of the phone, Listener. No one. Just my own crippling indignity.

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And the whole sorry incident led me to contemplate the little embarrassments with which we must contend in daily life. No one escapes them. Least of all me. I am constantly embarrassed.

My above example is an excellent one.  Pretending to be on the phone. We’ve all done it. It gets us out of various disagreeable situations, in particular:

  • A boring conversation. Someone’s talking at you. They’re boring you. You need an ingenious escape. You reach for your bag or pocket. You say ‘I’m so sorry, I just have to get this’. You walk away and have a conversation to no one for three minutes, hoping that by the time you get back to the boring person they’ve forgotten what they were telling you and will talk about something more interesting.

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  • Avoiding someone you don’t want to talk to. You see someone approaching whom you just know is either going to demand that money you’ve owed them for three years, or will ask you again to go out with their acne-riddled and rather maladroit brother. So it’s phone out, head down, and there ensues an extremely intense conversation to NO ONE along the lines of ‘Yes, I know they said they’d get it done by Tuesday, but Tuesday  isn’t soon enough, I need it by Monday or the whole deal will fall through, and you know what that means’. Crisis averted.

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However, these sudden-important-phonecall strategies will not pass without embarrassment. Your phone will ring as you have it desperately pressed to your ear whilst absorbed in fervid conversation. Why is your phone ringing as if someone is calling you whilst you’re having a conversation into it? Is it because there’s no one there and you’re actually just pretending to have an important conversation to avoid talking to someone? Yes. Yes it is. You socially awkward buffoon.

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But Listener, these daily trifles can always be made more embarrassing. Observe.

Not long ago, I was walking. I saw my friend walking towards me. A friend whom I regularly call ‘Cockface’. As it was definitely my friend who was walking towards me, I waited until he was close enough to definitely hear me, and I called out, nice and loudly, ‘All right, Cockface’.

It wasn’t my friend. Not even a little bit.

What do you do, wise Listener, when you have yelled ‘All right Cockface’ in the face of an innocent bystander? Do you chuckle, apologise profusely, say ‘I’m so sorry, I was convinced you were my friend’, both have a bit of a laugh and continue on your journeys amused by this light-hearted yet harmless bungle? Or do you do what I did and whip your hand to your face, make that shape with you little finger and thumb that is the well-recognised international symbol for ‘phone’, and start talking into it?

No. No of course you don’t. Because then not only would you have called a stranger ‘Cockface’, but you would have made yourself appear mentally dangerous by having an intense conversation with your own hand.

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But what about the other little embarrassments that plague our daily life? Anyone run for a bus, missed the bus by a millisecond, and turned your desperate sprint for transport into a casual afternoon jog? Of course you have. You probably do it every day. And what about that little accidental trip up a kerb? Turned that into a playful jog as well, did you? Thought you’d style it out and run a few steps like you were suddenly filled with the joys of life and just had to expend some energy? Of course you did.

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And don’t forget the friendly toot from a car horn. You’re crossing the road. The car at the crossing toots at you. You cannot ignore that toot. It is the toot that says ‘The person who is driving this car recognises you as a chum and would like to register their greeting by utilising their automobile’s method of acknowledgement; furthermore, they demand a response’.

You give the windscreen a cursory glance. Your worst fears are immediately realised: all you can see in the windscreen is a reflection of the sky. 

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You have two choices:

1) You ignore the toot and walk on. When you are later faced with a chum who says ‘Hey, I beeped at you earlier and you completely ignored me’, you say ‘Oh, did I? God, I’m so sorry, I must have been in a world of my own’. Situation resolved. You win. Have a biscuit.

2) You throw caution to the wind and peer at the windscreen, squinting like there’s no tomorrow, knowing full well that the person in the car is thinking ‘Christ, she looks like a ruddy idiot squinting like that – she’s known me 20 years, can’t she see me? Why is she making that stupid face? Bloody hell, she looks like an absolute dick, I wish I’d never tooted in the first place. Jesus, this is embarrassing, maybe I should just run her over and make this whole situation less awkward for both of us. I could say I was overcome by a sneezing fit and accidentally put my foot down. Oh, this is horrible.’

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It is a terrible, terrible situation. The only real way to escape it is simply to run away. Just leg it. Then deny you were ever on the scene. They can never prove it was you.

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And I haven’t even mentioned bodies, Listener. Bodies. The very structures that comprise our existence are mortifying. 

You nip to the toilets at work. You smile at Sandra from Accounts plucking her chin hairs in the mirror. You enter a cubicle. You sit down. A fart like a foghorn bellows forth into the aural receptors of everyone within a 60 foot radius, not least Sandra from Accounts whose hairy chin suddenly doesn’t seem quite so embarrassing. You can do nothing but curl up into a toilety ball.

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The list goes on. The violent sneeze that releases a small but entirely audible parp from your lower regions, the unexpected burp that erupts in the middle of a supermarket aisle and offends a nearby elderly gentlemen, the thoroughly unannounced throat gurgle that growls like an angry tortoise in an otherwise silent office. Your body is your enemy on these occasions. It is a vile, shameless noise machine with the sole intention of causing you social angst and self-disgust.

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Listener, these are the moments that make us the people we are today. Let us laugh at ourselves and the social gaffes that bedevil our existence. And if you find yourself faced with a moment of particularly acute mortification from which you believe you cannot recover, just do as Basil Fawlty does in such moments, and freak out.

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Becky says things about … falling over

Some people have their daily routines – buying a morning coffee, reading a paper in the park, cutting their egg sandwich into eighths, killing kittens – and I have mine. I fall over. Daily. It has become so normal that I swear sometimes I don’t even notice.

We all fall over – that’s a fact. But the laws of Maths and Science and gravity determine that most people don’t fall over more often than they fall over. For example, if Bob fell over on Monday 1st January, then he’d probably have a month to two months of safe movement before he fell over again. Whereas if I fell over on Monday 1st January, then I’d also probably fall over on Tuesday 2nd January, and Wednesday 3rd January, and so on and so on. It is quite exhausting.

I have fallen over in every way possible. The Casually Walking Along Fall, the Down Some Stairs Fall, the Up Some Stairs Fall, the Out Running Fall, the In Private Fall, the In Public Fall, the How the Hell Did You Fall Over That Fall. It’s downright tedious. When I am old and grey, I shall look back on my life and realise, with a pained sigh, that I spent most of my life scraping myself off various surfaces.

So, in case you can’t believe that a reasonably able-bodied person can be an oaf of phenomenal proportions, here are my top four falls of all time.

4th Place: The 71 Bus     –     Age: 27

After a heavy rainshower one summer’s day, the sun came out and I decided to go for a walk. So I put on my flip flops, and flip flopped on my way. I crossed the road round the corner from home, stepped gingerly onto the very, very slightly-inclined bit of pavement, slipped on the wet  concrete, and fell on my face, right in front of the packed 71 bus that was at that moment driving past. I can only hope that my shame and pain caused them mirth.

 

3rd Place: The Staircase    –    Age: 25

Falling up the stairs is particularly pointless. It is embarrassing, often painful, always a shock, and it makes you wary of these essential everyday house mountains. Most people have a bit of a trip – the unlucky ones might bash their chin, or bite clean through their tongue and have to spend the rest of their life with an artificial tongue made of rubber – then carry on their way. When I fell up our stairs, on my way to perform a perfunctory housekeeping task in the bathroom, I slid down a couple of steps. I picked myself up, and carried on up. I slid down a couple of steps again. I picked myself up, and carried on up. I slid down a couple of steps again. This happened a total of four times. It took me approximately four and a half hours to reach the top, by which time I was in no mood for cleaning the toilet.

2nd Place: The School Stairs   –   Age: 14

One of the corridors in my secondary school had a staircase that had a deep-set windowsill at the top. Many an adventurous young maiden would leap off the top step, swing off the windowsill, and land deftly on her feet a few stairs down, then continue on her way. I had done this many times without incident or scrape. I was intrepid. I watched Gladiators. I knew what I was doing.

One afternoon my best friend and I were late for class and were casually strolling through the empty corridor. We turned the corner. There were the stairs. There was the windowsill. You’re mine, I thought. I’ve had you before and I’ll have you again. I swung my bag over my shoulder, took a leap with the agility of a springbok, reached, reached for that windowsill, and missed. Nowhere near. Nope. Nothing. Flew through the air, crashed to the stairs, and rolled all the way down to the bottom where I lay for a good few seconds, not quite believing that I was inhabiting a body that was quite so stupid.

1st Place The Pub    –    Age: 19

Forget everything you thought you knew about falling over. This is the fall that changed the landscape of falling over forever.

It was summer. Euro 2004 was on. My friends and I were in The Kingston Mill pub. England were playing. It was packed.

Here is an illustrative map to demonstrate the layout:

 

It was two minutes before the end of the second half. I needed the toilet. I assessed the situation from our table: there were people sitting in front of the big screen: I would have to niftily step over them in order to reach the stairs on the other side. That’s fine, I could do that.

One minute to go. I prepared. I thought Go, now, before half time begins and all the girls rush to the toilets.

I got up. Stepped over to the screen. The huge screen at which about 200 people were staring. I stepped right in front of the screen with an apologetic smile to the 200 people whose view I was currently blocking. There was a pair of legs in front of me. It’s okay: I had prepared for this.

So in front of the screen, in front of the football, in front of 200 people who were, at that moment, looking right at me, I took a little leap, like a sprightly rabbit, perfectly cleared the legs, landed in a puddle of beer, my feet whipped from under me, and I fell right on my bum. In a puddle of beer, in front of a pub full of people.

 

There was a split second of total silence as the stunned pub digested the fact that possibly the best thing that could ever happen had happened, and then there was the roar and the chants of ‘SHE FELL OVER!’, and there was literally nothing I could do, but stand up, smile, give a cheerful wave to my adoring fans, and continue my way to the toilet, where I stood in front of the mirror and shook my head at myself for about ten minutes.

So there you are. A comprehensive illustration of how one reasonably intelligent person can make a monumental knob of herself on a regular basis.

Be safe out there – you just don’t know when your time will come…

Becky Says Things about … running mishaps

Running is dangerous. Fact.

Running hurts. Fact.

I go running. Fact.

Running endangers and hurts me. Fact.

I have been running for about seven years (when I say running, I don’t mean personal bests and marathons or anything, just ordinary half-hours or so of lumping my bum round the streets). In that seven years I have had so many mishaps I wonder why I don’t just pack in the whole damn thing and take up a less perilous form of exercise, like mountaineering.

I have done the usual tripping up and down kerbs, the stumble on the twisted ankle, the wrong turn down an insalubrious alleyway (they are pretty much everyday occurrences whether I’m running or not).

But then there is the next level of calamity. The ‘I Wish I’d Stayed In And Watched Cowboy Builders’ calamity.

Things like running straight into a Give Way sign. Or falling up a grass verge and landing face down in the mud. Or trying to discreetly remove a wedgie, tugging too hard and exposing half my bum to a mother and three small children. Or misjudging the height of a kerb, running off it and collapsing into a twisted cross-legged position like some frantic sweating Buddha. Or zoning out and not realising I was running straight through the middle of a gypsy camp until an old lady waved a saucepan at me, and I noticed I was in a field full of caravans.

Or doing the longest comedy fall in the world in front of a load of summer evening drinkers: running along Kingston riverside I clocked a woman with a Yorkshire terrier on the end of a long lead just ahead of me. Please please please don’t fall over the dog I said to myself. I made a perfectly judged leap as sprightly as an antelope over the dog lead, clearing it by miles. Landed awkwardly on my right foot, my knee buckled, and I did a running comedy fall, getting lower and lower to the ground, not quite able to straighten up again, for the length of three benches and a cafe window until I realised I’d be running like this for the rest of my life unless I stopped, stood up straight, and started again.

Then there is the highest level of doom. The ‘I’d Rather Saw Off My Legs Than Ever Run Again’ incidents.

Like when I was chased by a fox.

Whilst running innocently along the pavement, something caught my eye: a fox in the road. Staring. I ran past it. It broke into a trot. It ran parallel to me. I sped up. It sped up. I sped up some more and it left the road and the bloody thing started chasing me along the pavement. I literally ran for my life. I sprinted faster than I’ve ever sprinted, all the time expecting a fox to suddenly attach itself to the back of my head and claw my brains out. It didn’t. When I finally looked back, at the end of the road and on the verge of a heart attack, the bastard had disappeared.

But the mother of all running mishaps is clear.

When the squirrel exploded.

A dark evening, running merrily under streetlamps. Around three minutes into the run, I looked down, mid-air. There was a dead squirrel lying on its back just under my foot.  I was a millisecond too late to do anything about it. I landed smack-down on the bloated stomach of this deceased squirrel and the fucking thing exploded up my fucking leg.

I will never forget the sound it made: it was a POP and a FFLUUKKMPHH all at once. Squirrel guts up my leg. I screamed. I jumped up and down on my un-squirrelled leg, shaking my gutty leg in the air, screaming. For ages. What else do you do? On all those helpful running blogs I read, there was never a post that told you what to do if a squirrel explodes up your leg.

Eventually, I managed to kick off my squirrel-gutty-mucusy-bloody trainer and limped home crying. I destroyed my trousers. I spent about six hours in the shower. I went to bed with a pint of brandy.

So running is dangerous. Don’t do it. It’s ridiculous.

Just buy a treadmill, put it in your lounge in front of the TV and NEVER EVER LEAVE THE HOUSE.