Thursday 29 Sep 2016

Unsung Humourists
David Simmonds

I have to hand it to them. Without a doubt, the world’s greatest humourists are teenaged children. Under the pressure of an exam, they sometimes manage to answer adroitly the very question asked, but, courtesy of the nuances of the English language, not the question the examiner had in mind. Sometimes, they veer slightly off the right answer but approximate the concept in a woolly-headed way.

Persuaded after buying a book entitled “F in Exams,” a compendium of real life examination answers given by students, I yielded. The slim book seemed a little pricey at $9.95, but based on the tears and sore stomach I got from laughing at the answers, it was a bargain. Now a sequel, “F for Effort,” has come out, and the price is up to $11.95. Even at that increased price for a relatively slim volume, the effect has been the same, exactly. In fact, my wife and I were going to give the book to a friend, recovering from surgery, but decided to refrain for a while because we were afraid laughing too hard might hurt too much. The books are available at or through Books and Company, in Picton.

Of course, now I have built the new book up, I have to deliver some examples. Let’s take the first group: way off target, but technically correct

Question: Name four methods of locomotion in animals.
Answer: Forwards, Backwards, Sideways, Up and down.

Question: What is the chief cause of divorce.
Answer: Marriage.

Question: What direction does the Amazon flow.
Answer: Downhill. Rivers never flow uphill.

Question: What is meant by the legal term “double jeopardy.”
Answer. Answers to all the questions are worth twice as much as in jeopardy.

Then the second group is close in concept, but well wide of the target.

Question: What are fossils?
Answer. Fossils are extinct animals. The older it is, the more extinct it is.

Question: Define monsoon.
Answer: A French gentleman.

Question: In what regions is Buddhism primarily practised?
Answer. Buda, but somewhat less across the Danube River in Pest.

Question: Name two types of ants.
Answer: Insects and lady uncles.

I also wonder whatever became of the earnest teacher who got the following answer when soliciting feedback from students. Did he or she quit teaching and become a car salesperson?

Question: In the space below, please write any overall comments about this course or instructor not covered above.

Answer: If I had one hour to live, I’d spend it in this class, because it feels like an eternity.

Whether you like your humour pie in the face, bizarre, out of left field or in the nuance, you have to hand it to these school kids. You couldn’t make up the answers yourself if you tried, and that’s exactly what makes them funny. I sure hope the teachers who marked these exams gave the students the marks they deserved for ingenuity, rather than the “Fs” the title of the books indicate.

I might observe here that as a reader of the Wellington “Times,” I am especially spoiled. I hope you can pick up some humour here, but you can also look to Theresa Durning, Steve Campbell and the bawdy exchanges between Jake Hooker and Elsie Pivot.

I would add the editorial page to this list, except for the wisdom of the late Charlie Chaplin, who observed, “life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” Unfortunately, things are a little too close to being a tragedy now.

Think of the comedic potential as the camera recedes and time passes. Marvel at the antics of Dalton McGuinty and his energy policy gang! Watch as they announce a policy from the Premier’s office that will secure Ontario’s future with jobs created by an exclusive contract with a Korean company!

Applaud at the way property values and tax revenues decline! Gaze in awe as we ignored local cheap and plentiful existing renewable sources! See important bird areas disappear before your eyes! Observe, as subsidies drive energy costs through the roof!

Picture the Premier smiling, as he is confirmed right when energy use declines as employers flee the province in search of cheaper sources! See the Premier ignore the physics of intermittency! Watch in amazement as he cancels two gas plants during an election and then relocates them after the election to rural ridings at a cost of only $250 million or so! See him do all this with a straight face as the provincial deficit grows and he implements a public sector wage freeze!

I guess the high school students whose answers I’m making sport, now will be getting the laughs from those pratfalls. They will, won’t they?

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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