Arnold's world

Apparently, the nation - or at least that part of it that watches BBC2's Shooting Stars - feels a collective pang of sympathy during that toe-curling moment in every show when Vic Reeves tells a joke that nobody else finds the least bit amusing. The panellists squirm in their seats and the television studio is engulfed in an Arctic silence for what seems like an eternity. Vic is visibly consumed by self-loathing. If there was a sword handy, he would fall on it; if a waitress hoved into view, he'd order a pint of draught hemlock.

I can only guess at how the wretched man must feel. as it has never happened to me. On the very rare occasions when I deliberately say something funny, those fortunate enough to be within hearing range, invariably clutch their sides and hammer their heels into the floor in a futile attempt to control orgasmic paroxysms of guffaws.

No, my problem is of a very different kind: people laugh every bit as loudly when I try to be serious. I have the requisite amount of grey hair to qualify as a sage, I make a point of speaking in the measured tones of someone who thinks he knows what he is talking about, but I somehow lack the necessary gravitas.

If you're one of those lucky people who exude quiet authority from every pore - as the best teachers always seem to - spare a thought for those of us who long for others to treat us as seriously as we treat ourselves. Imagine how disheartening it would have been for Descartes to tell his chums that "cogito ergo sum" or Einstein to announce that beyond all shadow of a doubt "E equals mc squared" or Mr Blair to explain that he had at last found the Third Way, only to be greeted by a fanfare of giggles and the odd belly laugh.

It is some comfort to learn that laughter itself is at least being taken seriously. It seems there is a world shortage. Last month, in Basle, Switzerland, the International Congress of Humour concluded that we weren't laughing nearly enough. In the Fifties, we regularly chuckled for a hearty 18 minutes a day. Today, despite the improved standard of living, we barely manage six minutes. This would be of no great consequence if it were not for the fact the very act of laughing generates lashings of serotonin, a natural chemical that reduces stress, increases the body's resistance to sundry bugs, boosts energy levels and generally has us wanting to whistle Zip-ah-dee-doo dah.

According to Robert Holden, author of Laughter - The Best Medicine (Thorsons, Pounds 5.99) workers who enjoy regular laughter sessions during the working day become more efficient, creative, co-operative, enthusiastic and ready to embrace change. In the States, wily bosses even hire professional clowns to ensure their employees' brains are kept constantly marinated in beneficial brain chemicals.

Headteachers need not go to this expense. Every staffroom already has its court jesters - "allowed fools", as they would have been described in Elizabethan times. They are an indefatigably cheery bunch who adorn the notice boards with outrageous posters, write irreverent limericks, circulate silly memos and generally take the mickey. They should be recognised as being among the most important personnel on the payroll. Of course, their lack of gravitas will always deny them a place in the senior management team, but they could be promoted to advanced skills teacher status. That, at least, should ensure a big laugh. .

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