‘The first of April, some do sayPoor Robin’s Almanac (1760), “All Fools’ Day”.
Is set apart for All Fools’ Day;
But why the people call it so,
Nor I, nor they themselves, do know’.
It seems that one of the inbred human conditions is to laugh at others misfortunes. The German expression that has migrated into English terminology is ‘schadenfreude’; and my spellcheck didn’t blink an eyelid as I typed that, giving proof that it is well-used. ‘The self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another’ is an accurate definition, and no day in the year typifies this odd emotion better than April Fool’s Day. A day (or more accurately, half a day) devoted entirely to making other people look stupid. I’m not sure exactly what that says about the human race, but I’m sure psychologists could wax eloquent on the subject.
The history of this day of pranking, joking and humiliating is a long one, proving that practical jokes have been around probably as long as mankind has had the ability to converse. There is some belief that Chaucer referred to the day in the Nun’s Priest Tale in the 1392 edition of the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer – perhaps taking an April Fool’s aim at readers – wrote ‘Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two,’ which even the most unscholarly reader could probably translate as ‘since March began, thirty days and two,’ or, April the 1st. This doesn’t tell of the origins of the day, of course, and the protagonists in Chaucer’s tale were a fox and the vain cock Chanticleer. But, as the exasperated English professor repeatedly pointed out to us dozy students, Chaucer was a master of metaphor, so there was probably an entrenched tradition of April Fool’s pranks in the 14th century.
There are other thoughts and opinions as to the provenance of the day, none more feasible than the others, but one ‘scholarly’ historian (or arch April Fool’s joker) traces it back to the Bible; I quote the passage from Harper’s Weekly 1908 without further comment…: “The mistake of Noah sending the dove out of the ark before the water had abated, on the first day of April, and to perpetuate the memory of this deliverance it was thought proper, whoever forgot so remarkable a circumstance, to punish them by sending them upon some sleeveless errand similar to that ineffectual message upon which the bird was sent by the patriarch.” Hmmm.
The day is pretty much an international occasion of sneaky fun, and the Ukraine went gone so far as declaring it a national holiday in 1973, calling it Humorina which also doesn’t need translating. In Scotland it is known as Huntigowk’s Day, from the practice of sending people on never-ending missions: hunting the ‘gowk’, or goose. This futile search is somewhat akin to the start of ‘Haggis Hunting Season’, which also kicks off on April the 1st. What has become more and more prevalent is the sophistication of the hoaxes around the world, and the various media revel in catching out their reading and listening public; for newspapers this will typically be a first-page article but not the top headline. I recall the Argus telling the Cape public some years ago that a windfarm was to be erected across the top of Table Mountain, the turbines rising in magnificent glory above the Table Top. The outrage among mountain lovers was palpable, and red faces were to be seen around the city when realisation dawned.
Television has produced some equally successful hoaxes, and prominent among these was the BBC’s announcing that the Swiss had eradicated the spaghetti weevil, and were now again harvesting spaghetti from trees. The switchboard was flooded with requests from pasta lovers for details on how to obtain and cultivate spaghetti trees. In 2008 the BBC followed up with reports of the discovery of a colony of flying Antarctic penguins. Comedian Terry Jones narrated a beautifully filmed special tracing the penguins migrating to the Amazon Rainforest. And yes, people believed it. As far as radio pranks are concerned, it is unlikely that any can beat the 1976 BBC radio hoax: the Jovian–Plutonian gravitational effect. Eminent astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told listeners that a unique alignment of the two planets would result in an upward gravitational pull making people lighter at precisely 9:47 am on that April day. He invited listeners to leap into the air at that time to experience a ‘strange floating sensation’. Of course, many, many people did experience exactly that…and told the BBC all about it.
April the 1st 2021 is almost upon us: keep your wits about you, and here’s a few suggestions that are not jokes! Waterfront Charters will be offering Pre-sunset Champagne Cruises at an exceptional half-price rate for the Easter Weekend, and there is a special Sunset Champagne Cruise on Saturday the 3rd of April. Waterfront Charters elegant catamaran Sea Princess will be sailing at 17h45 (quarter to six in non-nautical terms) for a ninety minute excursion into Table Bay, giving plenty of time for guests to sip complimentary sparkling wine and enjoy Cape Town’s beautiful views before watching the sun dip over the Atlantic horizon. Watch out too for our upcoming Brunch cruises kicking off on the 24th of April…eat a gourmet breakfast at a respectable time of day as you cruise Table Bay. That’s no joke!