Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Tony Deyal | Alive in Wonderland

Published:Saturday | April 1, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I don't remember being absent-minded, but my family sure does.

I sat talking to my wife and two daughters when the conversation shifted to my memory. I admitted that recently, I wore two different-coloured shoes for about two weeks, and it was only when my wife drew it to my attention that I stopped. My children admit they are used by now to my calling Marsha 'Jas' and Jasmine 'Marsh'.

However, I am not as absent-minded as the professor who entered a crowded bus with no available seats. Then a little girl got up from her seat and offered it to the professor. He was astonished and said to her, "You are a very good girl. What's your name?" She replied with a smile, "My name is Eve, Daddy."

I still have not reached the stage where I do not recognise my own children. I might forget their names and I used to forget to pick them up from school. Worse, when they rang to remind me, they generally discovered that I had forgotten my phone at home.

But still, the professor in this story is worse than me. He and his family had moved further up the street. In the evening, he returned out of habit to the old house, tried the key and could not get in. He wandered along the street and stopped a young man who looked at him curiously.

"Excuse me, I'm Professor Galbraith. You would not happen to know where I live, would you?"

"Sure, Dad," said the boy.

I was always a daydreamer. The teachers would see me staring into space with a smile on my face, and even the duster whizzing past my head after I had failed to respond to a question did not shake or wake me. One Christmas season, I sold a woman salt instead of sugar and she put it all in her cake. My father had to pay her for all the other ingredients, and he was so upset, he kept asking me to answer why he was sending me to school.

Still, I am not as bad as the doctor who, after the surgery, exclaimed, "An appendectomy, you said? I thought it was an autopsy!"

What I found out recently is that jokes about absent-mindedness go back to Ancient Greece and Rome. Classics professor Mary Beard has discovered a 1,600-year-old book which demonstrates that Roman sense of humour. In fact, even in those days, the 'egghead', or absent-minded professor, was a particular figure of fun. This is Ms Beard's favourite joke from the collection:

A barber, a bald man and an absent-minded professor are taking a journey together. They have to camp overnight, and so decide to take turns watching the luggage. When it's the barber's turn, he gets bored, so he amuses himself by shaving the head of the professor. When the professor is woken up for his shift, he feels his head, and says, "How stupid is that barber? He's woken up the bald man instead of me." It is like the professor who was asked to book three 20-year-old women for a stag party and hired a 60-year-old instead.




There are some old stories and jokes about absent-minded or forgetful people that I really like. There is the professor who, on leaving his office, put up a sign 'Back in 10 Minutes' and, on returning, saw the sign and sat down and waited for himself.

There is a medieval version of it about an itinerant preacher who served several churches each Sunday, riding from one to another on horseback. One Sunday morning, he went to the stable while still meditating on his sermon and attempted to saddle the horse. After a long period of toil, he aroused to the fact that he had put the saddle on himself, and had spent a full half hour in vain efforts to climb on his own back.

As you get older, your memory goes even further astray and is many times missing in action. I once heard a joke about amnesia, but I forgot how it goes - but it was good. This just shows that the first sign of senility is loss of memory ... . I forget the other two.

One of my favourite and more endearing stories is about an elderly man who was invited to his old friends' home for dinner one evening. He was impressed by the way his friend addressed his wife with endearing terms, calling her 'Honey', 'My Love', 'Darling' and 'Sweetheart'. The couple had been married almost 70 years and they still appeared very much in love.

While the wife was off in the kitchen, the man lowered his voice and commented to his friend, "I think it's wonderful that after all the years you've been married, you still call your wife those loving pet names." The old man hung his head. "I have to tell you the truth," he said. "I forgot her name about 10 years ago."

Because absent-mindedness is really a preoccupation with something other than what your family or clients think you should remember, old folks like me are not the only people who forget. A doctor, off on a vacation at a posh hotel with his wife and family, returned to work and saw that he had to make an urgent call to a patient. The doctor said to the man, "I have some bad news and some even worse news for you. The bad news is you only have a week to live. The patient exclaimed, "Oh, my God! What could be worse?" The doctor responded apologetically, "I should have told you last week."

My final story almost happened to one of my university roommates who came from a rich family, was always preoccupied with his studies, and he never had to iron his own clothes at home. The student arrived at the emergency ward with both of his ears badly burned.

"How did it happen?" asked the doctor. "I was ironing my shirt," explained the student, "When the phone rang, I answered the iron by mistake." "What about the other ear?" "That happened when I called the ambulance."

- Tony Deyal was last seen asking, "What do you get from a forgetful cow?" Milk of amnesia.