Happy April Fool’s Day …
It’s a day like any other day, although the myth prevails, or is it a myth?
The Brits blame April Fool’s Day on a legendary town in Nottinghamshire. The arrogant high-born, of 13th-century England, declared that any road on which the king travelled became public property.
Gotham’s citizens, not wanting to lose their main road, spread a false story to stop King John from travelling through their town. Knowing he’d send someone to demand an explanation, they were ready. His man found a town full of people engaged in foolishness: some drowning fish, others caging birds in roofless fences, which, of course, were acts.
The king fell for the ruse, declared the town too foolish to warrant punishment, and they’ve celebrated the success of their trickery every April Fool’s Day since. The king may have agreed with Elizabeth Gaskell, who said, “One likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.”
Across the channel the French blamed it on fish.
In early April, their streams and rivers were full of young fish. Young fish, being easy to fool, are ‘poisson d’Avril’, or ‘April Fish.’ Soon someone switched it to fooling people on April 1 to celebrate the abundance of foolish fish.
The anthropologists think April Fool’s Day came from celebrations of the vernal equinox. These celebrations demanded an inversion of the social order: trickery and raucous partying are the order of the day, slaves rule their master and children play tricks on their parents.
Next the analysts step in, suggesting annual celebrations of misrule and mayhem act as a safety valve, giving people a chance to vent their social antagonisms in a harmless way, a chance to temporarily step outside of accepted rules of behaviour.
Nicolas Despreaux hits home at our crumbling economies, suggesting, “However big the fool, there’s always a bigger fool to admire him.” Hmm?
April Fool’s Day is alive and well the world over. A few years ago Burger King introduced a Left-Handed Whopper especially designed for the 40 million left-handed North Americans. Right-handed folks began demanding one for them.
The BBC announced last year, their crews had films of “flying penguins heading north to winter in the rainforests of South America, suggesting that they’d had enough of snow and ice”—just like us. Another year the Aussies went on metric time, you know, 100 seconds to the minute, 100 minutes to the hour, and 20-hour days, while the Danes passed a law that all dogs had to be painted white so they could be seen better at night. In every case thousands of people got excited, involved, or complained. This suggests that Mark Twain had a point: “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”
Since the pundit’s advice is flopping about like the April fish, we’re not sure if it’s all the king’s men, or all the poor men and women who are engaged in foolishness. Evidence suggests it’s both, and reality is hitting thousands who might gain solace from someone who has been there, done that. The source, Canadian writer Barry Broadfoot’s book Ten Lost Years 1929-1939. He records hundreds of interviews word-for-word from Canadians who lived the lost years.
The last man’s words, carefully chosen to end the book, said: “I’m proud of what I did in the Depression. I didn’t have to eat grass, as the saying went. I always worked and I made nothing in wages, but I kept going and it made me tougher. It made us all tougher. It affected every man-jack of us. It is important to me that people know that I was in that time, that I did my share. It’s like a badge to me, you know, a ribbon saying, I was there. Like in a war. There were bad times, very bad times, and there were food times and we survived. Yes, by the Lord Harry, it was a war and we survived. Our battle flag’s still flying.”
A tip of the hat to the everyday, and usually forgotten, heroes who we hope will not be forced to follow in the same footsteps as Broadfoot’s man. A second tip of the hat to All Fool’s Day, and days such as these that we may tweak fate’s nose.
Enjoy spring which is just around the corner, or is this the year for Mother Nature’s April Fool’s joke? Keep well, and don’t take any wooden nickels!