The heart of the matter

news: The heart of the matter

I really enjoyed your last piece, Judy, strange as that may sound! And I am sorry for provoking you… but I think it was necessary. Finally, the words on the page assumed flesh and blood, but your sentiments revealed heart and soul and I feel much closer to you.

Just to draw a line under this particular chapter, chewing over the bones of what the other said the previous week serves no worthwhile purpose and does not entertain our readers. A certain degree of shared ground, however, does, by all accounts. Albert Einstein said: “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it’s only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.” I hope we come relatively close to achieving the first scenario!

And, yes, of course I believe in angels! Blondes, brunettes, raven beauties… I also believe that a healthy sense of humour and the capacity to laugh at oneself are important ingredients in the human make-up and our general survival per se. It is a quality, according to a recent European poll, that our continental neighbours most admire in us – and I am assuming my British guise now.

The ‘70s sitcom Are You Being Served is in danger of a US ban – double entendres that have had British audiences in stitches are considered too risqué for American audiences. I’m just surprised that it took them 30 years to catch on! Mrs. Slocomes’s constant complaints about her “pussy” are already being bleeped out – I am reliably informed that “pussy” cannot only be a pet but also a ‘bum’ – oh dear!

Double entendres, or rude jokes in plain old Anglo-Saxon, were started by classic writers such as Chaucer – very saucy! – and Shakespeare, and seem to be a quintessentially British thing, not appreciated by our cousins across the Atlantic. But then again we don’t think people like Reagan, Bush or even Arnold Schwarzenegger are remotely funny either…

My Portuguese girlfriend is also less than appreciative at times. “Just once,” she shouts, “I wish I could get a straightforward answer out of you – why do you always say the opposite of what you mean?” I firstly point the finger of blame for our occasional communication breakdowns at my British heritage – 16 years, including six at a public school – have left their indelible mark. Cricket, another great British institution that baffles anyone outside the former colonies, has provided moments of great hilarity too, that I have so far been unable to explain to friends of other nationalities.

How do you communicate the comedy contained in, “Aggers” and “Johnners” cracking up on Test Match Special over the idea of Ian Botham managing to get his leg over “the stumps”, or indeed “the batsman’s holding the Bowler’s Willey”– I rest my case! Saucy jokes, hidden meanings, mildly cheeky and, therefore, harmless and unthreatening, are part of our culture and remind us that we should never take life too seriously – an attitude that has other, less obvious, beneficial side effects.

New research suggests that having a good giggle makes us healthier and even smiling can help us cope better with pain. With the help of comic character, Mr. Bean, scientists at Dusseldorf and Zurich Universities found that laughing and smiling increase people’s ability to tolerate extreme cold – not particularly useful in the Algarve! The idea that cheerfulness is beneficial dates back at least as far as the Old Testament, a concept discussed at the recent International Humour Conference in Dijon, France.

Hilarity, it is claimed, lowers blood pressure, keeps stress hormones at bay and relaxes muscles. It also boosts the immune system, which increases the number of cells available to fight infections, and raises levels of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Dr. Willibald Ruch, who led the new study, says: “Laughter boosts your mood, relaxes you psychologically, frees your mind and makes you feel more energy.”

Nowadays you can even attend laughter yoga classes that combine deep breathing with stretching and laughter – a novel idea that is enjoying growing popularity, ridiculous as it may seem. I have always believed that laughter and the resultant absence of stress is good for you, and would even go as far as saying that particularly stress, if allowed to dominate your life, is the cause of many modern illnesses, if not cancer in some cases. Even if not true, just smiling exercises your facial muscles and, if you smile at the people you deal with in your everyday life, they will inevitably smile back – or think you are an idiot! In either case, life is that much more enjoyable. So go on, have a laugh more often, smile at the world and, in most cases, the world will seem a much brighter, happier place.