A ‘fool’ who was no idiot

Joker

Image: Pixabay

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.

FOOL

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

so many fraud-iters, so many conveyers, and so many deceivers to get up your money 

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.

Painting from the Royal Collection at Hampton Court. Jane the Fool is shown on the far left, Will Somers (with monkey) on the far right.

Wednesday word Tangle

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I often think of resurrecting things.

I’m not talking in the Doctor Frankenstein sense. I haven’t crowbarred a laboratory into my attic space, all impressive rubbery cables, glass tubes filled with bubbling coloured liquids and fizzing electrical contacts squeezed in between the cold water tank and the papery miracle of construction that is a deserted wasps’ nest (When I say ‘deserted’ I mean ‘intentionally evicted’ because they were committing acts of atrocity on the buttocks of the men who were trying to fix the roof- apologies my stripy, winged friends).

And when I say resurrect, I’m not talking fashion. I DO NOT wish to bring back paisley flares, glittery platform heels or the kind of cheese-cloth blouse my mum used to make for me when I was a kid in the seventies.

On a side note… What a tragedy it is I can’t share with you all the yellowed photo of my brother and me on our way to a friend’s birthday party around 1974… Sir is sporting a dazzling baby pink, wing-collared shirt, brown flared slacks and a brown and pink floral tie. While Little Miss is wearing a matching pink satin ‘A’ line dress, which with her ‘Rubenesque’ figure, makes her look like Humpty Dumpty let loose in the dressing up box . To complete the ensemble, these two doyens of the fashion scene have identical flowing locks which curl up at the ends so sharply, one could use them as  ski-jumps…

Having experienced these atrocities first-hand, I cannot see them as ‘kitsch’, ‘retro’ or any other groovy descriptive. They can only bring horrific flashbacks, although nothing as bad as the ra-ra skirt, the pirate shirt or pedal-pushers all of which spelt the death of my dreams of being coolly on-trend and gorgeous.

But I digress.

What I want to resurrect are words. You know, those weird, wonderful, awkward words that are slipping out of use, kicked into touch by such newbies as respawn, permadeath and mahoosive.

So, in honour of that weirdest of all national days, that celebration of daftness, the wonder of silliness that is April Fool’s Day, I wish to nominate for resurrection…

LIGHTMINDED

Now, if you look it up today, a dictionary will tell you it means someone who doesn’t take life too seriously. But whilst researching for the Elizabethan section of my YA fantasy novel, I discovered the Tudors used it to describe someone who ‘wasn’t all there’, a bit feeble mentally. In short- and to be very un-PC- an idiot.

I imagine someone happily skipping down the street, trailing a string and bobbing along on that string, bouncing high above one shoulder, is their brain, light as a cloud, buoyant as a cork on a pond.

So, there’s my nomination- LIGHTMINDED. If you’ve got any sense, you’ve gotta love it.