The dangers of the joke

Years ago one of my daughters gave her father a trick spoon, a spoon that sits in a puddle of what looks like spilt milk and cereal, but which is in fact plastic.


The trick spoon works well. Whenever an unsuspecting person sees it on a bench or desk top, they go to wipe it away.

‘Grab a dishcloth. ‘You’ve had a spill. ’ The person who put it out laughs at the joke. And with any luck, the person fooled laughs too and picks up the spoon and twirls it round for authenticity

I showed it to my now five year old grandson the other day and it took him a moment to figure it out.

I didn’t trick him with it but showed it to him and explained.

He was most impressed and like many five years olds wanted me to repeat the joke for the rest of the day.

We left it on the bench top and from time to time he’d say to me as we walked past, ‘Look, someone’s made a mess.’ And I’d give an exaggerated yelp and race for the dish cloth then try my best to wipe it up.

My husband is a man of tricks. It’s nothing to find the hem of my dressing gown tied to the bedstead in the morning when I get up. I go to put it on and it won’t yield.

It’s nothing to find a tissue shoved deep inside my shoe, or some unusual object, a wine bottle cork or a jam lid in my handbag. Whenever I find such objects I sigh and remove them, knowing my husband has been up to his tricks again.

My husband’s tricks are benign. The stuff of boyhood, I reckon. They seem to work better on his colleagues than they do on me.

In my husband’s office some folks take off their shoes, not out of custom but out of habit and for comfort. He tells me how he hides the shoes of certain colleagues in their filing cabinets or locker when they go off to the tea room barefooted.

My husband has been known to tie laces together, though not while the shoes are actually on someone’s feet. That would be dangerous.

I have a suspicion my husband is prone to tricks like this, not only for the amusement they offer, but also because they give him an odd sense of power.

Perhaps it feels uplifting to be able to render someone else temporarily helpless and then restore order once the joke is out.

Over the years, my husband’s jokes have worn thin, at least their effect on me has worn thin.

My grandson, on the other hand, is as delighted as a new day. His eyes light up at the thought of turning innocent people into worried souls, desperate to wipe up the mess only to discover the trick and laugh at themselves for their misperception.

But there’s a line between one person’s joke and another person’s horror. We hear about it often today, the young man who grabbed at the writer, Mary Karr’s crotch, as she unsuspecting walked down the street opposite him, might have considered it a joke.

Mary Karr did not. She describes the horror she felt at the time of this violation and the process whereby she found the courage, despite being temporarily winded, to report it to the police, who took it seriously and found the culprit.

Karr needed the help of a homeless person who sat nearby, stretched out on a sheet of cardboard, a man who recognised her distress and told her to do something about it.

His urging empowered her and turned the joke around.

Some jokes are benign and others cruel, but all jokes are tricky. They can wreak havoc on someone’s equanimity as much as they can make another person’s day.

The moral of the tale: All you jokesters out there, tread warily.