Telling the truth about life

People think I’m very funny because I’ve got used to telling the truth about life. “Oh, how drole, how very amusing!” they chortle, trying not to choke on their tea, their coffee or their biscuit crumbs.

It’s easy, really. More often than not, I say what other people are thinking. I blurt out the “one stupid question” that no-one wants to ask for fear of looking idiotic. All things considered, I have little to lose, so I think of truth-telling as my partypiece: my secret weapon.

It was my father who first started me thinking about the value of this. During a visit abroad, as he was happily relating tales of his adventures, he confessed that it could be very tricky using humour to brighten the mood at a dinner party. Humour, it turns out, is a remarkably local affair – I may understand irony, family humour, but the neighbours will probably consider the same joke unduly forward and rather rude: what might be amusing to the French ambassador sitting on dad’s right, might deeply embarrass the Lithuanian consul seated on his left… Difficulties with language and the communication of small subtleties can proliferate alarmingly.

“So, what do you do?” I asked wonderingly. (Sometimes my naivete astounds me.)

“Well,” he turned to me with a twinkle in his eye, “I just tell a story against myself. It could be anything. I might have told the cook I wanted salad for supper, not salami, or I might have dropped my glass of wine. Whatever it is, I just make it amusing and everyone laughs. We are all very entertained and the joke is on me, so my problem is solved. No more international misunderstandings. Very important, you see….”

While I marvelled at my father’s dedication to his job, even to the extent of putting himself forward so that everyone might laugh at his antics, gentle humour is indeed a wonderful way to disarm unkindness. If we make ourselves look a bit daft, our friends will probably feel more comfortable telling us about their mistakes too.

It was my father whom I thought of, when I had the wonderful idea to take twenty years of hard knocks and turn them into stories that might entertain. For the most part, I can and often do gleam something worthwhile from what I used to think of as my wasted years, by telling the truth and laughing about it.

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