Well, it's coming close to April's Fools Day. Now is the time to start planning your pranks, or to start bracing yourself for those played by others.
Is there anyone out there who has never fallen for an April Fool's Day prank? I know I have. I responded indignantly to this Guardian leader which announced that paper's conversion to monarchism, on purely progressive grounds. A liberal friend of mine posted it on Facebook, and I left a withering comment. (I was complaining about the reasons, of course, not the supposed change of direction) Yes, I felt pretty foolish when she pointed out the date.
April Fool's Day is rather different from other traditions in that modern life is no impediment to its continuation. Rather the opposite, in fact. In all honesty, the pranks of media organisations are usually more memorable than those played by ordinary people in daily life.
In America, the case of the Liberty Taco Bell is probably the most famous prank, while in Britain nothing seems to have outdone the spaghetti tree documentary.
There aren't really any famous Irish April Fool's Day pranks. I remember one of my colleagues being taken in by a news story that the Millennium Spire was being taken down for cleaning, a few years ago. (I wish they would take it down permanently!)
I've tried perpetrating a few April Fool's Day pranks myself. One year, I texted one friend to invite him to a funeral for the family dog, and another to invite her to my bar mitzvah as I had decided to convert to Judaism. I got a respectful agreement from the first chap-- when I owned up to the joke, he told me he suspected it was a prank, but thought he'd better not assume anything, just in case. My other friend wasn't falling for it for a moment. She just wrote back, "Mazel tov!".
When I was a trainee in the Allen Library, I played an elaborate prank (not an April Fool) in which I fabricated a ghost story. The Allen Library was housed in a building which used to be a Christian Brothers school. I pretended to be a daughter of a former pupil. I think I was asking if there had been any further sightings, and I linked it to a book which I knew was on the shelves of the Allen Library. I went to the lengths of setting up an email account for one Alannah C. Holmes. (Juggle the letters about a bit.)
Well, it fell pretty flat. I got no reply. I did hear subsequently that one of the Brothers had got quite excited about it-- but obviously not excited enough to reply.
When I was in college, I put up signs in the corridors that said DRY PAINT. When I claimed responsibility for this, one of my classmates refused to believe it was my idea.
I've had lots of ideas for pranks which I haven't had the resources to pull off. For instance, every time I pass a particular telephone box (for there are still some telephone boxes in Dublin) I think about how funny it would be to have one person apparently making a call inside it, while several people queued outside.
Watching some girls roller-skating a few weeks ago, I had the fantasy of a group of elderly, tweedy men roller-skating through the city centre.
There was a time (in my early twenties) when I wore a lot of plain sweaters. (I was so timid at the time, I thought anything colourful or patterned was drawing too much attention to myself.) Whenever I found myself in an electronics store, customers would ask me questions, since employees in such stores so often wear plain sweaters.
It gave me the dark thought of wandering the floor of some department store, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a name-badge, and waiting to be approached by customers. Then I could launch into a tirade, or (less aggressively) make a series of bizarre claims, or some such thing.
As I've been writing this blog post, I've been struck by a peculiar thought regarding the appeal of April Fool's Day. It's a day that most of us don't see coming-- it only occurs to us that it's April Fool's Day when we encounter a prank story. Indeed, that's the only reason that it works.
In this way, it's a perfect example of the duality of time, which is both linear and cyclical. There is nothing new under the sun, but you can't step into the same river twice. There is a certain frisson in the moment (or in contemplating the moment) when you raise your head from the scrum of everyday life to see the larger pattern of which you had lost sight. At least, there is for me.
Why is this? Well, for my part, it's because both of these "streams of time" have their sublimity. There is a beauty in the everyday, the purely ephemeral, and there is another sort of beauty in the timeless, the recurring.
Of course, this collision of the linear and the cyclical can be poignant as well as pleasing. I remember being very struck, in school, by an article about a girl who had become addicted to something or other-- drugs, or aerosols, or some other substance. It described how she was stopped short, in the depth of her addiction, when she looked at the date on a newspaper and saw it as her birthday. She had been so consumed by her addiction she hadn't even realised it.
Another story I heard from a friend (indeed, the same friend who posted the Guardian link) has somewhat the same character. I think I've mentioned it on this blog before. One year, she was so heartbroken by a break-up that she simply ignored Christmas, and lay on her bed watching DVD box sets through the entire season. That story exerts a strange hold on me. The thought of ignoring Christmas is fascinating for many reasons-- one, because it is so sad; two, because there is a strange relief to it (let's face it, Christmas can be pressured); and three, because it underlines the length and variety of human life. We have probably all "missed" a Christmas some year or other. We can afford it.
Well, enough about April Fool's Day. On a completely different note, I will be appearing on RTE 1's Ryan Tubridy Show next Thursday, to talk about a new book I have co-authored with Dirk Benedict, Eternity and the A-Team: Glimpses of the Divine in Eighties TV Drama.