Nothing floats a boat like a good joke

Ahoy, me hearties. ’Tis almost talk like a pirate day. On Sept. 19, let’s all say Arrr! Any lubbers not adequately conversant with this terminology (that means “Huh?”) can tack over to for a few pointers, including a video on the Five A’s explaining how the vital term “Arrr” can be employed to convey anything from obsequious acquiescence to contemptuous defiance to drunken incoherence.

Some of you may be thinking Short John Lack-of-Silver had best ease off a few points on the rum, talking of fripperies instead of advising us how to make that Osama bin Laden walk the plank or stop methane bubbling up from the sea like pitch between deck planks in the horse latitudes. But belay that talk while ye clap your spyglass on two points that line up to guide us into harbour.

First, where in the code is it written that we can’t have fun, shipmates? Part of the charm of hoisting some grog and squawking “Pieces of Eight” is that it tips the black spot to all the forces of grimness, from the politically correct to the Islamists, who recoil in horror at levity.

It also maroons the scurvy swabs swiping childhood nowadays, by thunder. Did ye hear the Hold on to Childhood broadside by the Daily Telegraph broadsheet in old London Town against the Nervous Nellies, Gadgrinds and electronics peddlers stealing children’s innocence? We want the little matelots running around making up games and dreaming of adventure, not sitting in rows bathed in strange pale light as though someone had clapped them in irons down in the hold, rushing about in structured recreational sport play like slaves on the rope walk, or toiling over figures as if chained to oars in the galley. But how can kids have fun if adults have forgotten how? Answer me that. In a funny voice, if ye please.

Now here’s the second point, me hearties. There was more Moby Dick than Jolly Roger about G.K. Chesterton’s appearance, I’ll warrant. But did he not say, plain as potatoes, that “Modern people would get on perfectly with their movements for symbolism, only they have quite forgotten everything that they want to symbolize. They have found that they want flags exactly at the moment when they have found that they do not want nationalities. They cry out that there ought to be more temples almost at the same moment when they cry out that there ought to be no more gods. Few generations have desired festivals and pageants so much as we desire them; our only disadvantage is that if we get them we shall not know what they mean.”

He’s right, by thunder. We cling to old rituals tattered like the sails of a ghost ship because we can’t make new ones worth the name, and rush through life like the Flying Dutchman never finding a port with comfort and good cheer. Take that Saint John Baptiste Day over Quebec way, when people celebrate the total rejection of their religious past. Could one in 10 say who the Baptist was, let alone what he has to do with hauling down the Union Jack?

Yet they can’t create a festival of dreary secular promiscuous nationalist collectivism comme nos ancêtres vive la révolution tranquille, now can they? And ye can talk a blue streak about Gingivitis Week or World Day to Combat Desertification or International Orangutan Awareness Week or World Turtle Day or World Poetry Day or World Television Day, rip me liver if they ain’t all real examples, but ye’ll never get folks broaching a cask and dancing the hornpipe over weevilly biscuits. And blow me down if the International Years of the Potato and of Planet Earth ain’t the same, but I’ll wager a marlin spike no one knows or cares which.

As for the official gay pride parades sailing the main today, shiver me timbers if I see the use of a government-sponsored celebration everyone pretends to applaud for fear of the thought police.

Any true pirate has to admire the way they plundered the treasury, then swaggered down main street defying anyone to object. But there’s no festivity in this festival. Or in anything else we’re meant to celebrate by hoisting a glass of dealcoholized beer and lighting a no smoking sign. So avast there. If we cannot outrun the king’s flag, it doesn’t mean we have to salute it when we’re luffed and forced to heave to.

Perchance ye’ve a mind to go dig up the old festivals. Aye, if we only had a map where X marks the spot. But memories fade and old shipmates die and codes get lost. And besides, in the modern world we’re fair becalmed, me hearties. So keelhaul me if it ain’t at least a gag to put on a character and a voice and inject some laughter into daily living. It might even lift our sails a bit.


[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson