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Hee haw, time for the medicine

When I was growing up I was always aware that, somehow and mysteriously, the Reader's Digest insinuated its way into our house. I knew I couldn't buy it in the shops, and no one in the family would admit to subscribing, but it just seemed to be there. On occasions when I was bereft of the Secret Seven or Jennings, I would sometimes turn to the Digest as my night-time fix of print.

The page that stuck in my mind was always alongside articles with screaming lines such as "Hello! I'm John's liver!", and it was headed "Laughter is the best medicine". The fact that it invariably contained jokes around hog farmers with giant silos in Idaho, or GIs at Fort Bragg, caused most of the humour to escape me, but I've never forgotten the thought behind the title.

Reading Pat Sweeney's witty piece (TESS, January 30) exhorting future MSPs to try a little extracurricular education across Holyrood Park, served to remind me how important it is to find humour in our tasks, particularly in the dark days of winter. It is also true that humour in school often arrives in a pattern, much like exclusions, fire alarms and irate jannies.

This January I was lucky enough to experience a "funny week" which has certainly contributed towards my survival to be able to enjoy the wide open spaces of our half-day half-term holiday. It started on a visit to Deep Sea World in Fife, where you can wonder and wander through a plastic tube among the creatures of the deep. At one point there is a board hanging down into the water on which are printed messages for visitors. "Happy birthday, Gareth, " it said, and we were delighted to hear the small boy behind us ask his dad: "Look at that, is Gareth one of the fish?" I found even my S3 were at it next morning, and they confounded me by producing a joke which was both amusing and clean: "Did you hear about the two TV aerials that got married? The ceremony was boring but the reception was brilliant."

I returned to the main office to find our welfare assistant draped across her desk, helpless with mirth. Astutely recognising that this was something more than the normal euphoria induced by our letting her use the new photocopier, I sought an explanation. Apparently a third-year pupil had arrived at the "sick room" complaining of feeling unwell. "Which class are you missing?" she'd asked.

"It's RE with Mr Boyle," he replied, "but it's all right, God will tell him."

"Sorry?" she enquired, disbelieving.

"He's done it before, miss. He's my best friend. He sits next to me."

Just when she was beginning to think in terms of moving statues and heavenly visions, all became clear. "You know Gordo, miss. Gordon Miller in 3E."

That was the week my son received a cyberpet. Gloom was etched on the faces of spouse and offspring as I arrived home. She had taken it to her school rather than expose his primary teacher to its developmental spasms and it had vanished back to whence it came in a space ship.

Resolving to steer clear of Bonnybridge that weekend, I settled down with a Saturday supplement and was reminded that humour includes the need to laugh at yourself. The model on the double-page spread looked vaguely familiar. It was the cosmetics. I had been Tracey's guidance teacher and told her mum the sooner she stopped coming to school plastered in make-up and started to take an interest in her work the more chance she had of any sort of a rewarding career.

Hee haw, hee haw, hee haw.

Sean McPartlin

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