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Sunday, 21 September 2014

What about the rhymes, Willie?

Lincoln delivers the Getty's bird a dress
I think I've mentioned before that people like Gregor Steele and my sister have a talent I can only admire from a distance, much though I'd love to be like them. 

They can write poetry.

I can't because "No, I'm staying home to write an ode to aesthetic rapture" was the wrong answer, as a lad in a coalmining community, to the question, "Do you fancy a game of football?"

But I think there's more to it than that. Despite Malcolm Gladwell's claim that you can master anything in 10,000 hours - and I wish he'd mentioned it before, because it means I'll be getting a telegram from the queen before I've begun to master this drum-kit in my living-room - I don't think I could be a poet, no matter how hard I tried.

It's the same with puns, another literary talent of Gregor's that I don't have and often don't get. Subtle humour is one of the many ways the world puts me in the slow readers' group. So I don't like subtle humour, as I've said before

Puns aren't always subtle. The best hit you with a fresh feeling that life is fun, like this one I saw yesterday:  

"Strange beer to the left of me, cheap biscuits to the right. Here I am, stuck in the Lidl with you."

Or this old one that I still like: "Woman walks into a pub and asks the barman for a double entendre. So he gives her one."

Then there's Samuel Johnson's wonderful word-play, on being challenged with "The King", when boasting to his buddies that he could make a pun instantly on any subject.

"The King, sir, is not a subject."  

But even when they're not subtle, plenty of puns get right past me, reinforcing this feeling I've had since primary school that I'm a lumbering lorry in the crawler lane of life. 

I did once write a short piece for the Guardian about the winner of the most lavish public toilets in the world. It was bursting with puns. But that was a flash in the pan.

I haven't made a pun, or indeed understood one until I'm beaten about the head with it, since I wrote that piece in 2004. Let me show you what I mean. The following exchange between two friends, both of them writers, took place on Facebook not long ago. 

Have a read and when you see what they're doing put your hand up at the back and shout "Gotcha!"

I'd made a throwaway comment about how hard it is to keep all your readers happy "when half of them are intellectuals and the other half just want knob jokes". 

Friend A: "I have the same problem with my column."

Friend B: "Douglas says he likes your column."

Friend A: "Until recently I hadn't had a real column since 1992. When it came back everyone was surprised by how short it was."

Got it right away, didn't you? Well I made it to the third last word before the penny dropped. Then I had to go back and read it all again to realise what the naughty little commenters had been up to. 

I once got accused of being a smart guy pretending to be dumb for humorous effect. If only that were true. 

What I actually am is an idiot making out he's a smart guy pretending to be dumb for humorous effect. That's a lot harder, I can tell you.

Get more of Gregor Steele's thoughts and writing here.

Irritated reader: What has the title of this facetious fluff got to do with its drivelling contents?

Me: That's a bit strong, son. But not much, I'm afraid. Sometimes I don't know where I'm going till I get there. It's a line from a great piece on poetry by my favourite humorous writer PG Wodehouse.

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