Friday, April 09, 2010

One for JES

My most excellent blog-friend JES shares my weakness for extravagant puns.

I therefore dedicate this post to him.

I'm not sure why this story came back to me recently, after many, many years of being locked away unregarded in the lumber room of the memory. It was a tale that originated, I think, from a college 'rag mag' (a pamphlet of - mostly obscene - jokes that was a common means of earning money for a student association's annual charity fund-raising week; the phenomenon seems to be much less common now [or am I simply unaware of it?], but back in the 1970s this was how most young boys learned about sex and profanity), and enjoyed a brief vogue at my school. One of my best friends made it his own, working it up into quite a 'shaggy dog story'; his elaborate rendition was greatly enhanced by his aptitude for mimicking accents (a knack that has always rather eluded me) - the story involves a man from Birmingham making a visit to Liverpool, Brummie and Scouse being the two thickest and most inherently risible of the British regional varieties of speech. [No sex or profanity in this story, I hasten to add.]

So, the story (imagine the accents, if you will).....

A young man from Birmingham is visiting Merseyside for the first time, undertaking a pilgrimage to the site of the famous Cavern Club, scene of the Beatles' early gigs, and checking out the Beatles Museum and some of the other famous attractions of the city of Liverpool like the Anfield football ground and the Liver Building. After a busy few hours of sightseeing, he drops into a small café for some refreshment.

He is intrigued by a handwritten sign in the window that says 'Try our special Local Tea', and decides to give it a go.

However, when the huge, steaming mug is set in front of him, it doesn't seem too appealing. He notices that there are several small nuggets of what appears to be gristly meat floating in it.

He calls the waitress back over to query this. "What are these lumps in my tea?"

"Oh, that," she says. "That's what makes this tea special. It's koala bear."

"What?!" exclaims the young Brummie, horrified. "Why on earth are there lumps of koala bear meat in a cup of tea??"

"Well, surely you've heard," answers the girl, "the Koala Tea of Mersey is not strained!"


JES said...

This has all the earmarks of a perfect pun: the silent inner groan, a bit of an inside-joke feel to it, and an absolute certainty that if only I myself hadn't rushed through life, I could have come up with it first. (Which of course only adds another level of masochistic satisfaction: "...but I didn't.")

One of the commenters on a recent RAMH post recounted the outline of a story by (she thought, but wasn't sure) Isaac Asimov:

[S]ome scientists decide they're going to find out why humans love jokes, yet they hate puns. To make a long story short, they eventually discover that jokes are part of an alien experiment on the human race, while puns are homegrown. The aliens get pissed at being found out and leave, and suddenly nobody can think of anything funny to say -- except puns.

I thought that was a great story (haven't had time to look it up, though).

Froog said...

Yes, I saw that summary of the half-remembered sci-fi story last week - it does sound intriguing. Though I was at a loss as to why it should be the alien form of humour that was so prized, and the native one despised.

Also, I don't think people do hate puns; puns are enormously popular everywhere, in every language of the world, I'm sure. However, we do tend to be a little embarrassed by them, perhaps undervalue them - a 'guilty pleasure'? I wonder why that is.

The 'groan factor' seems to be a large part of the appeal - realising that you could have, should have seen it coming, but didn't quite... or only just barely, just at the margins of consciousness, or only at the very last second.

With these more elaborate ones - as with many of O'Brien's Keats & Chapman stories - there's also a little bit of the 'smug' factor, of being reassured of your erudition; they play upon the fact that the core reference may be moderately obscure, and that the reader feels a small sense of elitist achievement both in knowing it and recognising it promptly.

Froog said...

I think when I first heard this, it took quite a long while for the penny to drop - probably had to go rummaging around in the Shakespeare section of the ODQ to find out where the reference came from.