How to escape the police while carrying a coil of duct tubing.
How to escape the police while carrying a coil of duct tubing.
In 1936 English humorist A.P. Herbert found himself sitting in Parliament as an independent member for Oxford University. He drafted the following bill in verse to honor the new season — it’s a shame that it wasn’t enacted:
Whereas in every lawn and bed the plucky crocus lifts his head, and to and fro sweet song-birds go, the names of which we do not know:
Whereas the woods no more are dumb, the Boat Race and the Budget come, the Briton swells his manly chest, his mate, as eager, scrubs the nest, and Spring, with light but lavish hand, is spreading madness o’er the land:
It is expedient — but in rhyme — to legislate for such a time: Be it enacted, therefore, by our King with Lords and Commons in a fairy ring, assembled joyously at Westminister (or any other place that they prefer):
Provision for a Season Called Spring
1. (i) It shall be lawful everywhere for citizens to walk on air, to hang their hats upon the trees and wander hatless if they please: and notwithstanding any cracked provision in a previous Act, to give a constable a kiss is not felonious after this.
(ii) All citizens who choose to ride on taxi-tops and not inside: and those who do not use their votes because they’re busy painting boats: and any miscreant who hums, instead of doing dismal sums: whoever does a silly thing need only answer “‘Tis the Spring”: and this shall be a good defence in any court with any sense:
Provided that, in late July, this Act, of course, does not apply.
2. If any person feels he must get out of London now or bust, because the Spring is in his bones, but he must work for Mr. Jones, it shall be lawful for the same to give the Treasury his name, and say “Upon sufficient grounds I want about a hundred pounds”: and there shall not be any fuss concerning sums expended thus.
Repeal of Redundant Statutes
3. Subsection (i) of Section Four of any Act that seems a bore, and all the Acts concerning beer, and every Act that is not clear (always excepting Schedule A), shall be repealed and thrown away.
House of Commons — Reform of Procedure — Music etc.
4. (i) There shall be banks of maidenhair arranged about the Speaker’s chair: and roses white and roses red shall hang above the Speaker’s head: like some tremendous window-box, the Galleries be gay with phlox: and goldfish, lovely but aloof, shall swim above the glassy roof.
(ii) From now until the First of June all speeches shall be sung (in tune). The Speaker shall determine what hon. Members are in tune or not.
(iii) When in Committee of Supply the House may hum (but not too high). The Clerk-Assistant-at-the-Table shall choose the key (if he is able).
(iv) A band shall nearly always play (not on the first Allotted Day) behind the Speaker’s Chair at three and on the Terrace after tea.
Saving for Committees
5. On any day in May or June Committees shall adjourn quite soon: Provided, if the cuckoo call, Committees shall not sit at all.
Sittings of the Upper House
6. The House of Lords shall never sit on sunny days till after Whit: and they shall rise, if they have met, when it is foggy, fine or wet.
Termination of Official Report
7. (i) Except as hereinafter hinted, Hansard shall not again be printed, and save as in this Act is learned, all previous Hansards shall be burned.
(ii) It is a pity, history teaches, to make reports of people’s speeches, and afterwards to be unkind, simply because they change their mind. It is a most disgusting thing to make such comments in the Spring: so, as from when this Act is passed, that day’s Report shall be the last.
(iii) And as regards exceptions, see Subheading (a) of Schedule B.
Powers and Duties of Departments
8. (i) The secretary of State for Home Affairs shall now proceed to Rome, to Moscow, Washington, Cathay, or anywhere that’s far away, and not return to English skies until the Speaker certifies that Spring has ceased to be a fact under the Moss (Collection) Act.
(ii) Meanwhile o’er all his grim domain a lovely golden girl shall reign: and this delicious creature shall give golden parties in the Mall (paying the bills, if she is dunned, from the Consolidated Fund). The Civil Service, hand in hand, shall dance in masses down the Strand: and all the Cabinet shall wear wild dandelions in their hair.
(iii) It shall be deemed that every one has come into the world for fun. This shall be printed on the wall of every office in Whitehall.
Penalties for Certain Expressions
9. (i) No kind of crisis shall excuse a man exploring avenues: no lesser doom does he deserve when he is straining every nerve: and special punishment is earned by those who leave no stone unturned.
(ii) The penalty for each offence shall be elastic but immense.
(iii) A pension shall reward the man who modestly does all he can.
10. (i) The greatest care has been employed to make this measure null and void: not one expression in this Act means anything it means in fact.
(ii) Examples we decline to give: the lawyers, after all, must live.
11. This Act applies and shall be good where anybody thinks it should:
Provided that, if strong objection should be expressed to any Section, that Section shall not have effect except for those who don’t object.
SCHEDULE B (a)
Any speech, motion, question, amendment or interruption by
Recreations listed in Who’s Who by eccentric Scottish MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn:
1977: Bunking and debunking
1979: Upholding what’s right and demolishing what’s left
1980: Giving and forgiving
1981: The cure and eradication of British tick fever
1983: Being blunt and sharp at the same time
1984: Philanthropy and philogyny
1987: Serving queens, restoring castles, debunking bishops, entertaining knights, befriending pawns
1988: Snookering the reds and all other proctalgias
1989: Draining brains and scanning bodies
1990: Growling, prowling, scowling and owling
1991: Loving beauty and beautifying love
1993: Drawing ships, making quips, confounding Whigs and scuttling drips
1995: Languishing and sandwiching
In 1973 he listed his recreations as “Making love, ends meet and people laugh.” He said, “I think most people, if they were honest, will admit that those were their main recreations — apart, perhaps, from Ted Heath, who would probably miss out on the first and third.”
(from Neil Hamilton, Great Political Eccentrics, 1999.)
One day a young man was walking down a road when a frog called to him: “Boy, if you kiss me, I will turn into a beautiful princess.”
The young man picked up the frog, smiled at it and put it in his pocket.
A short while later, the frog said, “Boy, if you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I’ll be yours.”
The young man took the frog from his pocket, smiled at it and put it back.
Now the frog was upset. “Boy, what is the matter?” the frog cried. “I have told you that I am a beautiful princess, and if you kiss me, I’ll be yours!”
The young man took the from from his pocket, looked at it and said: “Look, I’m an engineer. I have no time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog is cool!”
(Anonymous, quoted in C.C. Gaither, Practically Speaking: A Dictionary of Quotations on Engineering, Technology and Architecture, 1999.)
Leo Rosten once received this note from Groucho Marx:
Dear Junior: Please excuse me for not answering your letter sooner. But I have been so busy not answering letters lately that I have not been able to get around to not answering yours in time. Love, Groucho.
Like any language, sign language partakes in jokes, puns, and wordplay. Dorothy Miles’ poem “Unsound Views” observes that hearing people seem to be slaves to their telephones. In English, there’s no obvious pun in the next-to-last line, “They live to serve their telephone God.” But in British Sign Language it runs
THEY LIVE RESPECT THAT TELEPHONE
THIN-AERIAL-ON-HANDSET AERIAL-MOVES-UP GOD
“Here, the aerial on the telephone handset is signed with the ‘G’ handshape that refers to long, thin objects,” explains Rachel Sutton-Spence in Analysing Sign Language Poetry. “The BSL sign GOD is also made using a ‘G’ handshape, albeit in a different location, but when the aerial is moved up to the location where GOD is normally articulated, the pun elevates the telephone to the status of a god.”
One more: In Miles’ poem “Exaltation,” a stand of trees seems to part the sky “And let the peace of heaven shine softly through.” In the American Sign Language version, this can be glossed as ALLOW PEACE OF HEAVEN LIGHT-SHINES LIGHT/HAND-TOUCHES-HEAD. The form of the sign LIGHT is made with a fully open ‘5’ handshape, but in this context the handshape can be seen simply as a hand. “If LIGHT-TOUCHES-HEAD is interpreted as HAND-TOUCHES-HEAD, the obvious question is ‘Whose hand?’ and the obvious answer is ‘God’s.’ In many cultures, placing hands gently upon a person’s head is taken as a blessing.”
In a joke issue of the Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft in 1886, F.W. Findig offered an article on the constitution of benzene in which he finds that “zoology is capable of rendering the greatest service in clearing up the behavior of the carbon atom”:
Just as the carbon atom has 4 affinities, so the members of the family of four-handed animals possess four hands, with which they seize other objects and cling to them. If we now think of a group of six members of this family, e.g. Macacus cynocephalus, forming a ring by offering each other alternately one and two hands, we reach a complete analogy with Kekulé’s benzene-hexagon (Fig. 1).
Now, however, the aforesaid Macacus cynocephalus, besides its own four hands, possesses also a fifth gripping organ in the shape of a caudal appendix. By taking this into account, it becomes possible to link the 6 individuals of the ring together in another manner. In this way, one arrives at the following representation: (Fig. 2).
“It appears to me highly probable that a complete analogy exists between Macacus cynocephalus and the carbon atom,” Findig wrote. “In this case, each C-atom also possesses a caudal appendix, which, however, cannot be included among the normal affinities, although it takes part in the linking. Immediately this appendix, which I call the ‘caudal residual affinity’, comes into play, a second form of Kekulé’s hexagon is produced; this, being obviously different from the first, must behave differently.”
(From John Read, Humour and Humanism in Chemistry, 1947.)
“If you think that you can think about a thing, inextricably attached to something else, without thinking of the thing it is attached to, then you have a legal mind.” — Thomas Reed Powell
A lawyer advertised for a clerk. The next morning his office was crowded with applicants — all bright, many suitable. He bade them wait until all should arrive, and then ranged them in a row and said he would tell them a story, note their comments, and judge from that whom he would choose.
‘A certain farmer,’ began the lawyer, ‘was troubled with a red squirrel that got in through a hole in his barn and stole his seed corn. He resolved to kill the squirrel at the first opportunity. Seeing him go in at the hole one noon, he took his shot gun and fired away; the first shot set the barn on fire.’
‘Did the barn burn?’ said one of the boys.
The lawyer without answer continued: ‘And seeing the barn on fire, the farmer seized a pail of water and ran to put it out.’
‘Did he put it out?’ said another.
‘As he passed inside, the door shut to and the barn was soon in flames. When the hired girl rushed out with more water’ —
‘Did they all burn up?’ said another boy.
The lawyer went on without answer:–
‘Then the old lady came out, and all was noise and confusion, and everybody was trying to put out the fire.’
‘Did any one burn up?’ said another.
The lawyer said: ‘There that will do; you have all shown great interest in the story.’ But observing one little bright-eyed fellow in deep silence, he said: ‘Now, my little man, what have you to say?’
The little fellow blushed, grew uneasy, and stammered out:–
‘I want to know what became of that squirrel; that’s what I want to know.’
‘You’ll do,’ said the lawyer; ‘you are my man; you have not been switched off by a confusion and a barn burning, and the hired girls and water pails. You have kept your eye on the squirrel.’
— Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, February 1892
A foolish young man said to John Wilkes (1725-1797), “Isn’t it strange that I was born on the first of January?”
“Not strange at all,” said Wilkes. “You could only have been conceived on the first of April.”
Howard Shapiro chose an unusual way to present his paper “Fluorescent Dyes for Differential Counts by Flow Cytometry” at the 1977 meeting of the Histochemical Society — he sang it:
Blood cells are classified by cell and nuclear shape and size
And texture, and affinity for different types of dyes,
And almost all of these parameters can quickly be
Precisely measured by techniques of flow cytometry.
It’s hard to fix a cell suspension rapidly and stain
With several fluorochromes, and this procedure, while it plain-
Ly furnishes the data which one needs to classify,
May fade away, and newer, simpler, methods never dye. …
The full paper, 76 verses with figures and sheet music, is here.