“He never grew up. He’s nothing but a big child,” is what she would say about him. It was not meant as a compliment. The thing is, I think being able to maintain a light hearted and youthful outlook should be valued; that we should rethink the use of the word ‘childish’ and start using it as an accolade rather than a reprimand. As W.B. Yeats said, “the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” Yet, even with a barrage of sorrowful news, there is so much we can lighten up around, take less seriously, starting with ourselves. Being able to maintain a sense of fun, silliness, and generally acting the lig, is a wonderful talent. Oh, the joy there is to be had in goofing around, laughing, letting loose. The chimpanzee and the bonobo monkey are the closest extant relative to humans. They never stop howling, hopping, playing, chasing, giggling. But we reach a certain age and we put a lid on it. When did you last have a water fight, slop paint on a page, go out for a walk and get muddied up to your oxters? When did you last roll down a hill, arms pulled in tightly by your side, and when you tried to stand up the world kept spinning? These are the daft, life-affirming delights that do your heart good. ‘Sally-boo dancing’, that’s what we did when we were small; a form of kid’s moshing, human bumper cars, pogo dancing powered by the long-life battery exuberance of pre-teens. “It’s all going to end in tears,” my mother would predict, often correctly, as we propelled ourselves off each other with riotous laughter.
Maybe we drop such exuberant nonsense because physically we’re not up to it anymore. But there are other less physical forms of nonsense we can still dabble in to keep our childish nature intact. How about jokes, word play, silly rhymes? There is an inlet of water at Ramore Head in Portrush, where I come from, and – because of the way the sea crashes in a churns up like off-colour cappuccino froth – it’s called ‘The Devil’s Wash Tub’. But, try as I might, I could not (and still can’t) call it anything but ‘The Devil’s Mouthwash’ much to everyone’s amusement. A. was a great one to mangle her words when we were growing up. She coined ‘ceminker’ for cement mixer and I don’t need to translate, ‘chilocate’ and ‘hopstable’. Words we still use from time to time. She was like Lewis Carroll without trying. He wrote the nonsense poem, ‘Jabberwocky’, with all sorts of wonderfully concocted words. They can mean whatever you want them to: “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: / All mimsy were the borogoves, / And the mome raths outgrabe.” (excerpt)
And just because you’re all grown up doesn’t mean you can always get a sober tongue around your words. Take the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who is said to have become so easily tongue tied that he moved letters between words to great comic effect, mangling his sentence. With him “The Lord is a loving shepherd” became, “The Lord is a shoving leopard.” Ok, it’s not the funniest, but it has spawned a wealth of ‘spoonerisms’ that are quaintly amusing. Here’s a little performance piece I recommend if called upon at short notice to do ‘a turn’ at a gathering. You should be able to commit it to memory fairly easily and it won’t bore your audience for too long.
‘Fleas’, by Ogden Nash.
Grow up, if you must, but keep your inner big child intact if you can.