Tuesday 17 March 2009

Laughter must always beat slaughter

Today marks the annual high point of the Guinness marketing campaign, and the 18th birthday of my first Border terrier. Though celebrations of the latter will be somewhat muted, given that he is currently sitting on my study armchair inside a small urn from the pet crematorium.

He has been there for 18 months now, which is sad, though it has to be said that he is only marginally less mobile than he was during his last decade of life. Visitors concerned for my sanity gently advise me that I should scatter him in his favourite place. But then I point out that that was my sitting room sofa, which does not take us much further forward.

I had pledged to drag that ancient settee into the garden and cremate him on it when the time came, like a Viking leader set adrift on his blazing longboat. But I could not summon the energy: the story of my life.

Ironically, last week I received a rave review from a graphologist who had been paid good money by a client to analyse my handwriting, and who bizarrely concluded that I have “enough drive to fuel ten men”. Apparently I am impatient (tick), ruthless (really?), a first class improviser (you could have fooled me) and have the unusual ability in a male to multi-task. I cannot decide which is odder: the extent to which you can fool some people by making your writing slope to the right and putting big loops below the line, or the fact that she missed the monumental laziness which has prevented me from fulfilling my alleged potential up to now.

But there may yet be hope, now that I have become such a striking advertisement for the ability of even the oldest dog to learn new tricks. Everyone tells me how much more relaxed and understanding I have become of late. I could even see it myself as I cheerfully traipsed around London with my wife and in-laws on Sunday, dragging a collection of suitcases and parcels worthy of a family of refugees. It came to this because the club where I had planned to leave our luggage was rendered inaccessible by the capital’s St Patrick’s Day parade. Once this would have led to a columnar rant about pandering to minorities and the disgraceful neglect of St George’s Day. Not any more.

We eventually regrouped in a Persian restaurant, where we devoted much time to my favourite activity: laughing. Now that we are safely married it was deemed safe to introduce me to some of my wife’s childhood foibles, including her repeated attempts at arson and the fact that no babysitter would ever agree to look after her a second time. I must remember never, under any circumstances, to let her anywhere near a chemistry set. Fingers crossed that hers are not dominant genes, then.

If anyone had told me a year ago that I was destined to marry someone of Iranian descent I would have snorted in total disbelief. It may help that “we are not very serious Muslims”, as my now father-in-law cheerily put it to the vicar while tucking into my packet of pork scratchings in the pub after our wedding rehearsal. But what chiefly binds us together is an ability to laugh at life. While what separates the fruitcakes demonstrating against returning troops in Luton, or resuming the old campaign of murder in Northern Ireland, is surely their lack of any sense: of proportion, of their own absurdity, or just full stop.

Laughter must always beat slaughter and killjoys should always be defied, whether they are acting in the name of public health or religion. So let much stout be drunk this St Patrick’s Day and may it be happy and, above all, peaceful to all for whom it matters.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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