Belfast Telegraph

Rab’s week: A few April fools

By Robert McNeil

WEDNESDAY: It's been nothing but jokes, jokes, jokes in Ireland, North and South, this week. Honestly, it would really get you down. Much of the humour involved the British Royal Family, some of whom took part in the unrestrained japery themselves.

Firstly, yon Prince Charles engaged in banter with a group of Fermanagh mummers. Many young adults will have been warned by their parents: "Never engage in banter with a group of Fermanagh mummers."

Everybody knows this. But in blunders Charlie, with his hands as usual stuffed in his 1930s jacket pockets, making out like he was a stand-up act rather than the man that the English Empire expects to see sit down on the ancient throne.

The setting was Enniskillen Castle Museum and, inevitably with mummers, the subject of cider came up, with Charles making a controversial quip about the potential difficulties of imbibing while wearing a face-covering hat.

"But you take the lid off first before you pour it in?" he asked Jim Ledwith, captain of the Aughakillymaude mummers. James confirmed this was the best strategy.

The leading prince laughed immoderately, before turning to another straw man and opining: "By God, you must get pretty hot in there." The mummer replied: "It gets hot surely. You don't want to have hay fever."

Even this valuable medical intelligence caused the prince nothing but mirth. However, there was little laughter among the royals when controversial Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary joked about "making love" to the Queen.

Of such an unimaginable event, O'Leary told a high-profile gathering in yonder Dublin: "You know it is a great honour. You're not just not sure how much pleasure it is going to be."

An English Tory MP complained and, fearing punishment, O'Leary apologised. By ancient English by-law he could have been sentenced to walk about without trousers for a month. But the legislation does not extend to Ireland.

Lastly, Stormont – of all places – hosted a joke-telling championship. Here's an example from junior minister Jonathan Bell: "When I was in school the teacher always kept the light on, because I was so dim!" I see.

This at least was in a good cause (aiding children with communication problems).

But, next week, it's seriously to be hoped that this mass outbreak of tomfoolery will end and that scowls will once more become the default position of all who value freedom and its guarantor, the Monarchy.



Well, I made a desultory attempt to get Kate Bush tickets. I didn’t really want them and didn’t really try, because I can’t take the time out to travel to London and back, complete with overnight stay.

My mate said: “I presume you’re going.” And I said: “No.” But I watched the DVD (terrible quality) of her one and only tour 35 years ago and thought: “Jeez, that was special.”

So I had a look when the tickets went on sale and got stuck in queues, and gave up quickly, which was fine, because I wasn’t going anyway.

But selling out 22 gigs in 15 minutes: what kind of hunger is that? It’s a yearning for sensitivity, integrity and leotard-related memories.

KB’s decision to tour again came out of the blue. Perhaps, if she enjoys it, she’ll venture furth of yonder metropolis.

And this time I won’t be wearing my leotard.



What an inspiring story: Bill Hagan, originally from Co Down, recounted how he fought off a plane hijacker — by poking him in the eye.

Bill, then a pilot but now an aviation consultant living in Glasgow, confronted a mentally ill passenger who’d got the Being 747’s joystick and was threatening to kill all 379 passengers on board.

These included popster Bryan Ferry, millionairess Lady Annabel Goldsmith and her daughter Jemima Khan, as well as Bill’s wife and two children.

Bill wasn’t having that and recalled that his little boy had recently asked him what he’d do if attacked by a shark. Bill’s answer: poke it in the eye.

And so the solution came to him while 30,000ft in the air.

This column would not normally advocate eye-poking as the answer to life’s problems. But, faced with a shark or a hijacker, a man has one course of action: unleash the digit.



Jeez, talk about a bad rap. Archaeologists and forensic scientists examining diseased 14th century skeletons — I’ve read better job descriptions — have discovered that fleas on rats didn’t cause the Plague after all.

It’s become commonplace to demand apologies for historic wrongs. But this one’s a doozy.

The scientists, working at Clerkenwell, London, believe only an airborne infection could have spread so rapidly. This doesn’t mean you can go out now and happily get bitten by a flea off a rat.

I don’t suppose either that it means we’ll start to love fleas and rats. But we should put our hands up and say: “Oops.”



Oh Lordy, Edinburgh Zoo pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang are showing signs of getting frisky again.

 I think that means Yang has raised his eyebrow in a lewd and libidinous manner.

Once more, the world holds its breath, hoping for a cub. But Tian Tian remains more interested in bamboo than bambini.



The world may regard this neck of the woods as wimpish when it comes to producing fine weather. But to kick Saharan sand into folk’s faces was a bit much.

The sandcoated car windscreens in dust and formed a haze in the atmosphere.

A Met Office spokesman said Northern Ireland only got dust like this after southerly winds had persisted over Europe for several days.

It can cause serious breathing problems, and vulnerable folk should stay indoors when it’s around. Still, it wasn’t all bad news. Garages reported a brisk trade in used camels, while Dunne’s sold out its entire stock of tagelmust turbans.

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