My mother has the heartiest laugh of anyone I know. Seriously, she clasps her chest and doubles up, bawling her eyes out with laughter. It’s some sight to behold. I love to laugh too, of course, and enjoy a good joke, the more preposterous the better. But mum is in a league of her own. And once she starts laughing she just can’t stop.
My father could be very contrary when it came to jokes – sometimes amused, other times as immovable as stone. That was his way and you learned to work around it. Many years ago before I met Trish I was in the family kitchen telling mum about a friend of mine who was in hospital. And what, she enquired, was wrong with him. I hesitated. “Em,” said I, “he had an I ingrowing hair on his bum.”
Well, that was all she needed. She just couldn’t control the laughter, which set me off too in a welter of guffaws, snivelling and tears. We were totally convulsed, so much so that we had forgotten my father, who happened to be in the room. There he was staring at us at if we had gone mad. Indeed, we were delirious alright – but it was just that the humour had enveloped us. He was furious, angry that we were laughing, but we were powerless to stop. Our jaws were aching from laughing, and all dad could mutter was that “we were idiots” and he couldn’t see what was funny. And with that he left the room slamming the door, which only made us laugh all the louder.
I learned early in life that laughter was the best antidote to my troubles. I might occasionally feel low and sorry for myself, but I only had to read a Spike Milligan book, or watch Jerry Lewis or Norman Wisdom in the cinema to feel good about myself and the world. I loved Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, The Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, and everyone from Harry Worth to Benny Hill and Tommy Cooper. In their worlds I could forget my worries and lose myself even if only for a hour or so. But those hours added up and were a great form of entertainment and a medium to escape the real world. And my world back then was no place to be.
Tom Hickey is a former chief sub editor at the Irish Examiner. He was burned as a child and blogs about his life and facial disfigurement at hickeysworld.com Subjects he tackles include everything from travel to his family, and coping with facial disfigurement.