One of the major casualties of our current, ridiculously politically-correct, world is a sense of humour. Politically, no-one in their right mind can even attempt to make a joke in the public arena these days: It amounts to instant suicide. I firmly believe that, without a sense of humour, a healthy sense of the irreverent and the ability not to take ourselves, or anyone else for that manner, too seriously, will be the downfall of mankind.
In this blog, I will give you two examples of the rapidly disappearing art of public humour and irreverence. I should add that I am starting a personal campaign to preserve, and “make flourish” humour in the public forum, and across all social interactions in general. It’s long overdue.
EXAMPLE #1: For the past two decades, a billboard for Llandegley International has been a landmark near the Powys village, in the middle of Wales. It looks like an ordinary road sign, but is actually a signpost to an airport that only exists in people’s imaginations.
Since 2002, if you travel eastwards along the A44 between Rhayader and Kington, you will see a sign directing drivers to Terminals 1 and 3 of Llandegley International Airport. But drive the two-and-a-half miles, as instructed, and you will end up not at an airport – not even an airfield – but just a field, on the outskirts of the village of Llandegley, Powys.
The man behind this joke, Nicholas Whitehead, is a journalist who used to edit the Radnor edition of the Brecon and Radnor Express, and once wrote with Monty Python’s Terry Jones. He said: “It started off as a wild conversation with friends one evening in Llandegley. We thought of renting a sign for something that wasn’t really there, possibly a project that didn’t exist, and we settled on the airport.”
Local farmer Neil Richards says the fictitious airport draws tourists to the area: “In 20 years, I haven’t had a single complaint about Llandegley International,” he said. “Loads of people love it, some people might not get it. But as far as I know, nobody is upset or angry about it. That’s a first for me. The sign is not exactly a national monument – but it is a national treasure.” A beacon of public humour!
EXAMPLE #2: There is a small village in central Somerset which has a pub called Dunnington Docks. It was named during a convivial (translation: drunken) meeting one mid-winter’s evening when the rain was so heavy outside that you needed a rowing boat to reach your car. I should add that the pub is about as far from the sea as you can get in south-west England. That session in the pub, and many subsequent ones, fomented another idea.
When you sit in the bar of Dunnington Docks, as an innocent first-timer, you immediately notice a series of old pictures of a train running through a village. A quick question to the barman confirms that the village is indeed Dunnington, and that the train – the barman looks at his watch – will arrive shortly. A little later you may hear a loud whistle, and the sound of the train passing through. If you rush outside to see the train, you will be disappointed – the locals will explain that the train only blows its whistle as it leaves the village so it has already passed through. It takes a few minutes of reflection, or more depending on how many pints you have consumed, to realise that this is all fabricated nonsense. There is no train, and never has been. It is all a very convincing village joke. The sounds are recorded and broadcast through some hidden speakers in the pub.
Public humour is not dead, at least in small English villages. It just needs resurrecting on a wider scale.
At one point, word leaked out about this small train line in the middle of Somerset, and BBC TV sent a team down to document it. When the film crew realised what was going on, they fell in with the joke and a short documentary subsequently appeared on BBC TV showing the fictitious train trundling through the village. (Can you imagine the press reaction if that happened today? Some idiot in parliament would propose disbanding the BBC for spreading lies!). Visitors to the pub have increased as a result of this hoax, but the locals never let on as to the truth. I should add that I can personally verify all this because I was once an innocent first-timer there myself.
These are but two examples of what, I am sure, are many more “pub-inspired ideas” that celebrate public humour. Please let me know of any other examples you may know of. (I think my previous blogs on “A Trinidadian taking a bath in a road pothole might qualify as well – the only difference is that the person, the pothole, and taking a bath, are all real, in that case).
Please join me in my campaign to bring more humour back into our daily lives. It will teach us more humility, make our lives more interesting, and help eliminate the ridiculous levels of pomposity and media-inspired fear of humour in our public figures. I would add that teaching the press that humour is a valid public emotion that should be encouraged, and not immediately demonized and sensationalized, would also be a valid goal for my “Movement for More Humour in our Lives (MMHL)”. Sorry, that’s not a very sexy acronym – suggestions please.