Petronella Wyatt

Not amused

The ongoing escapades of London's answer to Ally McBeal

Text settings

'Tis the season to be self-deprecating. Or even more self-deprecating than during the rest of the year. The traditional British custom of laughing while others tell insulting stories about you, running yourself down, making yourself look a perfect ass, and being the butt of practical jokes, while keeping a fixed grin on your face, really comes into its own in late December and early January.

My father was very good at using this peculiar device against others during Christmas. Family members were teased about their supposedly inadequate sex lives or careers and then expected to be the first to giggle - which, of course, they always did. If we had people to stay my father would put itching powder in their beds. After a sleepless night and the immense difficulty of getting the stuff off their nightdresses and pyjamas, how they would roar and call him a wag.

Sometimes he inserted exploding devices in women's cigarettes. He did this again and again. How the women would titter at this frightfully good joke. I remember once how I put an exploding device into one of my father's cigars. He did not roar with laughter and think it a frightfully good joke. He roared with rage and sent me to bed. 'But I thought you said it was a frightfully good joke,' I protested. 'You said people should laugh at themselves otherwise they didn't have a sense of humour.' 'They should,' he replied. 'But I'm your father, and this is a bloody expensive Havana cigar.'

As I grow older I begin to think that my father's response was the correct one. I have begun to despise those who allow themselves to be humiliated because to protest might suggest that 'one didn't have a sense of humour'. I remember how silly they all looked when my father made them put on paper hats. The only person to refuse to don a paper hat was Arnold Weinstock, whose family had come from Poland. Arnold himself told lots of jokes - many even featured him -