Well, hey nonny nonny, and gramble my frusset pouch.
You know what day it is, don’t ya? It’s the Day of Total Numpties, that morning of social inappropriateness the world calls April Fools’ Day.
May I begin by saying I have problems with the day as a concept.
First up is the practical joke. No, I don’t find buckets of water balancing on the top of doors funny, or plastic dog poo on a teacher’s desk or spring loaded paper snakes in a peanut can or ink on telescope eyepieces. Call me a boring old baggage – and you’d be perfectly within your rights to do so, it’s fine, really – but if you haven’t grown out of taking someone’s chair away as they sit down by the time you’re growing armpit hair, you probably need a jolly good talking to.
Also here in the UK at least, if you prank someone after noon on April 1st, the joke’s on you, so we should really call it April Fools’ Morning or April Cram-your-daftness-into-a-few-hours-then-be-sensible-by-lunchtime Day.
I do, though, find the concept of ‘the fool’ an interesting one.
according to the Online Etymology Dictionary is 13th century, from the Old French fol, meaning ‘madman, insane person’, but also ‘jester’ and the link between laughter and mental disability – although distasteful to us today – seems to have remained a strong one for many years.
There’s some speculation that Will Somers, Henry VIII’s favourite ‘fool’, had a mental disability and needed a carer who was paid for by the state. Historian Suzannah Lipscomb describes Somers as a ‘natural fool’, meaning in law he was seen as not responsible for his actions.
Being recognised as such came with special privileges. Apart from being housed in royal palaces, being dressed luxuriously and well fed, in a society where you could face a good beating and banishment for marrying without the monarch’s permission or vanish from the court for seven years because you broke wind in the ruler’s presence, Somers openly mocked courtiers and even made scathing remarks about their honesty, calling them
Thieves, in other words.
There’s also another story about him humiliating the court juggler by throwing a bowl of milk over him – the man never returned to court, so maybe Somers didn’t like competition when it came to having the King’s attention.
Despite his familiarity with the king, even Somers could push his luck too far – after calling Anne Boleyn a ‘ribald’ (a whore) and the Princess Elizabeth a bastard, Henry threatened to kill him with his own hands and had Will banished for a time.
‘Natural fools’ were seen as close to God – simple people blessed with a naive wisdom others couldn’t possess, so perhaps that’s why Somers and others such as Patch and Jane the Fool were so well cared for and even had their portraits painted with the king.
In a society not well known for its care of the disabled, Somers was more privileged than other.