A shiver runs down my spine whenever a customer says these eight little words. What makes one person laugh can leave another confused, irritated even. My fondest memory is of my younger brother laughing out loud while reading Just William by Richmal Crompton, his dimpled cheeks quivering with delight at a little boy (not unlike himself) who gets up to all kinds of mischief usually accompanied by his scruffy mongrel, Jumble. While my mother would giggle discreetly to herself whenever she dipped into P.G. Wodehouse’s tales of the inimitable Jeeves and the indomitable Bertie Wooster. As for Gerald Durrell, well he could write about the smallest of insects (usually kept in his pockets) or the oddest creatures he’d taken home to nurse back to health, all of which would have me in stitches and ever so glad I’m not his mother.
A good laugh is sunshine in the house.
—William M. Thackeray
David Sedaris once wrote a story on the birth of his niece that made me laugh so much I fell out of bed. Sedaris has this gift of looking at everyday situations and seeing the humour therein that less observant individuals might miss. His family provide great material and don’t seem to mind being the subject of his hilarious tales, probably because there’s no malice in anything he writes. His partner Hugh isn’t off limits either, though there’s quite a difference between David’s family (all mad as hatters) and Hugh’s, who always find something positive to say no matter what:
“A stranger could hit me across the face with a sawed-off table leg, then kick me until my spinal column snapped, and still Joan [Hugh’s mum] would say, ‘Well, I’m sure he meant well.’ My family, on the other hand, is always happy to hear about how horrible someone is. You could wake any of my sisters from a sound sleep, say, ‘You won’t believe what this asshole said to me once in 1979,’ and have her full attention.”
As soon as his latest collection, Calypso, arrived in the shop I snapped it up to savour for a rainy day treat, a pick-me-up. A reminder that you can look at life and see nothing but the grim reality of trying to make a buck to survive, or you can turn it around to see the humorous side in everything. My own brother once made a casual remark about which of us five siblings would be first to go, a dark thought that sent a shiver down my spine. Far better to read David Sedaris’s dark humour as he muses on his beloved siblings:
“…we are all in our fifties now. Healthwise, we’ve been fortunate, but it’s just a matter of time before our luck runs out and one of us gets cancer. Then we’ll be picked off like figures at a shooting gallery, easy targets given the lives we’ve led.”