• Philip Bryer

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There are times you know, when it all falls into place, and times when it doesn’t. For no apparent reason, success comes with ease one day but the next you might find it hard to shed the stink of failure which hangs all around you.

The jokes, well, no-one tells jokes any more do they? The asides or comments, then, that fall on stony ground. Compounded by someone seeking an explanation and when at last the light clicks on above their head, they say, “Ah, I see, funneeee.” I accept that it may not have been particularly amusing, not every line is a winner or a zinger is it? Indeed, at this point, some readers may well be muttering in knowing and weary agreement.

We were having dinner some years back at a wedding in Melbourne. There was beef or chicken on offer, and this Aussie feller, John, didn’t fancy the chicken, so when the food arrived - heavy on the chicken - and while his wife was away powdering her nose, he employed the old switcheroo and ended up with the last beef dinner. She returned, and he spoke, palms turned innocently upward, ‘Sorry love, but all the beef’s gone, I never realised until it was too late, you can have mine if you like?’ Puppy dog eyes notwithstanding, plus the fact that he’d already started, meant that she demurred, remained none the wiser, and sat picking resignedly at her chicken.

“How’s the beef, John?” I enquired, innocently, of the man seated next to me.

“Good,” he grunted.

Now, this, to me, was just a gentle bit of kidding, a slight gag between 2 blokes made funnier by the fact that Mrs John didn’t realise her old man had bilked her out of her first choice and didn’t have a clue what we were on about. John, as I was to find out, didn’t quite see it the same way.

“You didn’t fancy the chicken then?” I continued.

He turned to me and spoke quietly.

“Shut your face you shit-stirring pommie bastard or I’ll punch yer fuckin’ lights out.”

For one brief and deluded moment I thought this was all part of the gag we were having. But as I stared back at him it became clear that he was icily serious. Now I haven’t hit anyone since I was about 6, so I did what anyone with any sense would do, and did indeed shut my face, not only that, I also spent the rest of the festivities making sure that at least 10 yards and 150 guests separated me from Mad John at all times.

To my shame, I have a final reflection on being misunderstood. I was in a pub in Manchester, and got talking to some blokes at the bar. One of whom was blind. Guide dog at his feet, white stick at his elbow. We were chatting idly, as men do, about football. The blind man said he was a Manchester City fan.

“Well,” I laughed, “Obviously you know nothing about football.”

The two men to my left made their outrage clear, “Just because he’s blind,” they said, “doesn’t mean he doesn’t know about football.”

I protested. “That’s not what I meant. The fact he’s a City fan, you see, it’s a joke…?”

“A joke about being blind?” a voice piped up in disbelief.

“I go to every home game,” said the blind man.

“It’s disgusting,” said a new voice.

Re-living this moment, I’m actually surprised that I still feel able to pass comment about anything at all.


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