Not Saussure

October 4, 2006

A nip in the air tonight

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 11:34 am

The Telegraph reports,

A vicar who made a joke against the Japanese has been forced to apologise after he was accused of being a racist.

The Rev Michael Wishart, priest of St Mary’s in Bishops Lydeard, Somerset, faced a call to resign after writing about the autumnal “nip in the air” in his column, The Rector Rites, in the parish newsletter.

He also said multi-culturalism was “undermining” the British way of life.

He wrote: “The mornings have a decidedly autumnal feel to them, there’s a little nip in the air.

”Which is what they said when they hanged the Japanese criminal!”

Unsurprisingly, since it’s what he gets paid for and I can’t imagine he gets much business in Somerset,

‘David Onamade, the director of Somerset Racial Equality Council, said: “What he said is racist and his views about other equality areas are patronising.

”Why did he feel the need to pick out the Japanese? Maybe he doesn’t realise the term nip is derogatory. I think he should consider his position.”

I don’t know what Rev Wishart’s Japanese parishioners (or the non-Japanese ones, come to that) make of it, but I think he owes the estate of the late Spike Milligan an apology. The article shook me, too, though I won’t insist on an apology since Rev Wishart wasn’t to know, by bringing back some distressing memories of my teenage years.

Let me explain. I know he owes Spike Milligan an apology for it was he who originated the line. This I know because I recall using telling it, years ago, in what must have been, from the dates, The World of Beachcomber (so possible the apology should go to J B Morton), as a throwaway line ‘As the man said when he threw the guide of the top of Mount Fujiama’).

I recall all this so vividly because of the alarming effect it had on my late father, with whom I was watching the programme, both at the time and in his later years. Dad was a man not best known for public displays of any sort of emotion; while he had a fine, very dry, deadpan sense of humour and a great sense of the absurd, he was much more likely to express his amusement with a half-smile or, at most, a chuckle than a belly-laugh.

Not so on this occasion. Something about the line really tickled him and he went into helpless paroxysms, slapping his thigh and repeating the punch-line over and over. I don’t know what it was; he’d got nothing personally against the Japanese. Well, any more than had any other Brit of his generation; but it wasn’t as if he’d fought them himself or had any friends who’d been in a Japanese camp. He wouldn’t buy a Japanese car, for example, because of the way the Japs had treated British POWs, but that wasn’t at all unusual at the time. In fact, I doubt he’d ever met anyone from Japan in his life.

But for some reason this joke really tickled him — almost literally, since his helpless, convulsive laughter, so untypical of his normal reaction to a joke, no matter how funny he found it, was like that of someone being tickled.

Now, I doubt it would have stuck in my memory if he’d left it at that. However, this joke so impressed my father that he took it as his own. And he turned Milligan’s one-liner into a an anecdote that got longer every time he told it.

And, God, did it get longer; the problem was, I think, that Dad realised others didn’t find the joke quite as hilarious as did he when Milligan used it, and concluded that the problem was the way he was telling it, so if only he told it differently — which to him clearly meant with a longer build-up to the punch-line — others would fall about in hysterics.

It started off simply about a man who got fed up with his Japanese tour guide on a visit to Tokyo. Then it developed its minutiae like barnacles growing on a ship’s hull, bit by bit, with an ever more detailed back-story with each repetition, about why the man disliked the guide because of his experiences during the war and how he came to be visiting Tokyo despite this and what else they’d seen in Tokyo and an imitation of what the guide sounded like… and always with the same hysterical, thigh-slapping laughter when Dad reached the end.

I realise that you get to different perspective on your family members’ favourite jokes to that of people who aren’t quite so familiar with the anecdote, and who haven’t heard before. And, of course, everyone’s parents are a constant source of mortification during your teenage years. But Dad and ‘the joke’ were really something else; my mother, in particular, came to dread his telling it, since she knew what was coming at the end of it — Dad in hysterics and everyone else wondering what on earth was going on and why he was in such paroxysms.

Then, of course, as time went on he’d find himself more and more frequently telling it in company where an increasing number of people had heard Dad tell his flaming joke before but someone hadn’t. By this time, Dad and I had a typical father and teenage son relationship, so we were hardly talking most of the time, so I could usually avoid social occasions with him other than family gatherings (where we were usually safe, because, to be fair, Dad wouldn’t tell his joke if everyone had heard it before).

But my poor mother had to put up with it time after time, along with having to look apologetically at people who’d heard it before, and thus knew what was coming with the inevitability of a train-wreck, and endure their looks of pity for the poor woman whose husband is telling that joke again.

It got so she’d plead with him before they went out, as another woman might have to plead with her drunkard husband not to take strong drink at a party (Dad was pretty abstemious) not to tell that bloody joke about the Japs. ‘Any joke but that; why not tell them the one about … ?’ (and he did have some very good jokes, too). And always he try to remember, and try not to, but almost inevitably, as the evening wore on, she’d hear the words she’d come to dread…

‘Did I ever tell you the one about about the chap who visited Tokyo? No? Aha, you’ll enjoy this one. It seems…’

I do miss him, even after all these years.

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