Nuns throw a mean tomato

17th March 2000 at 00:00
WHEN I had a holiday job in the tomato houses, I hit on a way of entertaining myself and a co-worker for an afternoon. As soon as a couple of the other pickers were within earshot, I'd tell him a joke that wasn't funny. All he had to do was laugh uproariously.

The joke ran: "Why are the insides of lemon meringue pies yellow? So nuns don't put them into crisp pokes." Some people joined in the laughter anyway, others were bemused but, after our prompting ("think of cockney rhyming slang . . .") felt themselves close to understanding, while others became aggressive to the point of throwing tomatoes.

Recently I told all this to a colleague and for a time the scam was resurrected to wind up some first years. Variations on the non-gag were developed: How many nuns does it take to change a light bulb? Three - one to change it, one to hold the crisp poke and one to stick the lemon meringue pie in. And did you hear about the Scotsman, the Englishman and the lemon meringue pie working on a building site?

I got quite philosophical on the subject of jokes. Suppose that one day all genuinely funny jokes had been told. A whole new seam in humour could be opened up if it was assumed that the original jest was funny. Roy "Chubby" Brown and Bernard Manning would be espectively vulgar and racist on the new topic. As with astrology, entire careers could be built on a single dodgy premise.

(Aren't we Taureans sceptical sods?) All of this brings me to my fabulous, monstrous grade point average predictor spreadsheet. Marvel at the massive data entry task! Swoon at row upon row of crunched numbers! Gasp at the use of statistical formulae not only to predict a student's physics Higher grade but to also apply lower and upper limits based on the standard deviation of grade points divided by the square root of "n", the number of Standard grades. Then ask yourself why the predictions do not, in anyway whatsoever, correlate with your class prelim marks.

Maybe the final exam will be different. Maybe it's just my subject or my class or maybe it's just me. Whatever, I have at the back of my mind the suspicion I might have fallen for the analytical equivalent of the lemon meringue pie wheeze. Respected, sensible people appear to "get" GPAs but I have yet to be convinced, or to be more honest, I thought I'd got them but am now uncertain.

Did you hear the one about the nun, the packet of Quavers and the normal distribution curve?

Gregor Steele discovered that tomato picking literally does give you green fingers.

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