Where laughter goes to die

Withnail and I: bloody wonderful film. It ends with a quote I’ve had on my mind lately:

“I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the Earth, seems to me a sterile promontory.”

Someone told me that’s actually a line from a little-known Shakespeare play but I’d rather hear it from a pissed-up Richard E Grant than some bellend in tights.

It’s been on my mind because I have, of late, lost all my mirth. More clearly, I’ve lost the ability to laugh. And boy, do I love a laugh.

Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid. Bill Hicks and ‘Drink Coke’. Malcolm Tucker. The Peckham Spring. Hud Hastings and Giant Reid. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue. Dwayne Dibley. McLovin. Fuck the napkin. Those aren’t pillows!

Even the internet hasn’t been able to foul it up for us. Oh Fenton, how you captured my heart. The righteous fury of Ronnie Pickering. Cats scared of cucumbers. The destroyed testicles of unlimited skateboarders. The innocent pleasure of a man hit in the face by the lid of a wheelie bin on a windy day.

All wasted on me. I’ve not laughed out loud in about three months.

My sense of humour is largely intact but my body is not. In the clapped out, screaming-children-thrown-to-their-deaths rollercoaster that is my immune system, I’ve lately been inhabited by something called Haemophilus influenzae. I only wish this was the flu, but the man who named it had an off day – it most commonly manifests as pneumonia, which by a lovely coincidence is what killed my dad. Its main symptom is a hacking cough that produces the most incredible browns, yellows and greens, that stick to the nearest porcelain such that the best minds at Domestos couldn’t shift it. If sinks aren’t safe Christ alone knows what it’s doing to my lungs.

My God, this cough. It makes unbroken sleep a long-forgotten dream, though to be fair at my age I was probably up anyway for a piss. Mornings are mayhem, coughing to the verge of unconsciousness with a suspicious pain where brain tumours normally live, and afternoons are spent trying not to revisit lunch. And if I’m anywhere near other people obviously they all suspect Covid, glowering as they back away as if from a sharting tramp.

Three months and counting. My medical handlers have thrown antibiotics at it: amoxicillin seemed to pat the infection on the head, I might as well have stuffed the co-amoxiclav up my arse, and up next it’s doxycycline, which is currently proving as effective as bollocks on incels. Nothing works and nothing looks likely to.

And the cough means if my humour is raised beyond the merest titter, I’m soon hacking like a 60-a-day man. I can’t fully explain what not being able to laugh does to your overall disposition; ironically there’s no way to make this bit funny. I actively avoid laughter. I try not to watch any comedy I might enjoy, sticking to the Mighty Boosh and Count Arthur Strong to be absolutely safe. If I’m caught out with a sudden laugh I have to immediately suppress it, huffing and wincing like a baby with wind. When you can’t laugh, nothing seems as funny as it once did and I am become Meldrew, destroyer of cheer. It’s disheartening and depressing, and I just want it over with one way or another. And you can take that sentence however you want to I’m afraid.

My worry is that the laughter will be gone for good. The baby with wind will stay with me like the devil on my shoulder, whispering Lucy Porter routines at me to destroy all levity (I had children and you’d be amazed how it changed my life oh no oh no please no). Sure, as we age we tolerate hearing aids, reading glasses, pacemakers, replacement hips, dentures and wigs, all the while grateful we’re not the guy moaning in the cubicle next door about a cold finger up the ringpiece. But nobody told me getting older meant my knackered frame becoming the place where laughter goes to die.

I suppose this is a plea for understanding. I’ll still be laughing inside at your hilarious tales of what Jamie in Sales got up to, and that picture of your dog in your child’s padding pool, even though the dog thinks it’s saving drowning infants and will remember your laughing face next time there’s a fire. But if I seem grumpy, well I am fucking grumpy, just for one more reason than usual. And hey, let’s look at the bright side – at least I can’t sing either.

Pass the remote, Toast of London‘s on.

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