There are tears drying on my face.
Before you leap in with your kind expressions of concern, allow me to reassure you: they are tears of laughter (the next best thing to tears of joy).
I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up it was a common pastime of an evening to lounge about in – well, the lounge, each reading our own books. Doesn’t sound very congenial to the outside view, perhaps, but the important element was that each reader would share the interesting or funny bits of their own book. (Readers of stark existentialist dread need not apply.)
Having grown in years and moved on from the home of my ancestors, I have maintained the tradition of reading out the funny bits to my husband.
Now, there are some people in this world who can read something screamingly hilarious with a straight face and not so much as a quiver of the voice. I salute them (except when they’re beating me at the dictionary game) but I will never be one of them.
Indeed, it is not unknown in my family of origin for the reader to have a few stabs at getting through the funny passage, repeatedly dissolve in laughter as they approach the really good bit, and eventually have the book prised from their quivering grasp because the rest of the family is now desperate to know how the sentence ends. I can even recall one occasion where nearly everyone in the family had had a go at the book before someone could be found capable of reading the whole passage in a passably intelligible voice.
Somehow a passage that will merely make you snort or chuckle when read to yourself is magnified in hilarity when sharing it with others. Truly, it is more blessed to give than to receive…
What had me weeping with laughter (not to mention gurgling my words in a most unladylike manner) was an excerpt from Full Moon by my hero P.G. Wodehouse, which the cunning-as-serpents publishers inserted in the back of Carry On, Jeeves with no consideration as to whether readers of the second title would necessarily have access to the first, now tantalisingly dangled before them.
The scene is Blandings Castle. Clarence, Earl of Emsworth, is having a peaceful listen to his prize pig’s breathing before bed when his brother-in-law Egbert pops up.
‘Ah, Egbert,’ he said, courteously uncoiling himself.
Going for a stroll to stretch his legs after his long journey, Colonel Wedge had supposed himself to be alone with Nature. The shock of discovering that what he had taken for a pile of old clothes was alive and a relation by marriage caused him to speak a little sharply.
And this is how the Colonel reports it to his wife:
“Where do you think I found him just now? Down at the pigsty. I noticed something hanging over the rail, and thought the pig man must have left his overalls there, and then it suddenly reared itself up like a cobra and said “Ah, Egbert.” Gave me a nasty shock. I nearly swallowed my cigar. Questioned as to what the deuce he thought he was playing at, he said he was listening to his pig.”
“Listening to his pig?”
“I assure you. And what, you will ask, was the pig doing? Singing? Reciting ‘Dangerous Dan McGrew’? Nothing of the kind. Just breathing.”
When was the last time you laughed until the tears ran down your cheeks? If not Wodehouse, then who? All recommendations hailed with cries of delight!