You have got to hand it to the clergy, trying to grapple with social media to provide their flock with the spiritual guidance that they need.
Take Paolo Longo, the parish priest of the Church of San Pietro and San Benedetto di Polla in the Italian province of Salerno. He thought it would be a good idea to live stream a mass using Facebook and it was. Unfortunately, though, he left the platform’s AR filters active, resulting in him appearing with various animated accessories.
When Paolo realised that his enterprising efforts had gone viral, he saw the funny side, commenting “even a laugh is good”.
It’s 2020 and the Olympics were supposed to be back, now put back a year, Japan having the dubious honour of draining their economy and building white elephants which deliver little in the way of a sport’s legacy. One of the highlights, for me the only one, is the torch relay, which takes a burning torch all the way from Olympus to the host city.
In 1956 it was Australia’s turn to host the event and the torch was making its way from Cairns to the host city, Melbourne, via Sydney. The procession was not without its drama. Runners suffered from the heat of the sun, torrential rains threatened to extinguish the flame, and the torch was dropped and broken in Lismore. On November 18, the mayor of Sydney, Pat Hills, was due to receive the flame from cross-country running champion, Harry Dillon, make a short speech and then pass it on to another runner, Bert Button.
A crowd of around 30,000 lined the streets to see the torch’s arrival, the press was out in force, photographers and cameramen at the ready. At 9.30am the runner, a young man bizarrely dressed in grey trousers with a white shirt and tie, made his appearance, holding the torch aloft. The police shepherded him towards the mayor and the athlete thrust the torch into the hands of Hills.
It was at that point that Hills realised something was amiss. His hands were sticky from paint that had come from the handle of the supposed torch. On closer inspection, he found that what he was holding was a chair leg with a tin attached to the top and a pair of underpants ablaze, doused in flammable material. By this time the runner had melted into the crowd. Regaining his composure, the mayor addressed the crowd with these words; “that was a trial run. Our friends from the university think things like this are funny. It was a hoax by somebody. I hope you are enjoying the joke”.
The mayor may have not been fazed by the prank, but the crowd turned ugly and surged forward. Women began screaming, fearing for the safety of their children and order was only restored when the police cleared a path down which Dillon ran at 9.40. Hills accepted the torch for a second time, made his prepared speech and passed it on to Button he went on his way.
The name of the prankster, Barry Larkin, a veterinary student at St. Johns College at Sydney University, was not made public until several years later but when he got back to the college, he was treated like a conquering hero. Even the college’s rector shook him by the hand and congratulated him. Larkin wasn’t supposed to be the bearer of blazing underwear. One of his co-conspirators, dressed in conventional athletic wear, panicked at the last minute and Larkin stepped into the breach. Hence the tie.
There was a serious message behind the prank, a protest against the origins of the original torch relay that was a feature of the 1936 games in Berlin. As to the ersatz torch, it was taken to a reception at the Town Hall and then found its way into the possession of one John Lawler, who had been following the procession by car. He kept it under his bed, as you do, until it got thrown out during a spring clean.
When Sydney hosted the games in 2000, the papers were full of accounts of Larkin’s shenanigans and although there were several attempts to disrupt that procession, enhanced security saw them come to naught.
If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone.
The Coronavirus pandemic is forcing all of us to modify our behaviours and put on hold most of our plans and ambitions. It is particularly galling for those training for a special event or aiming to set a particular record.
Spare a thought for Jeff Reitz who had visited the Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim for 2,995 consecutive days until its enforced closure on March 13th. He had been attempting a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive visits.
Reitz was phlegmatic, saying, “on the negative side, I didn’t get to choose the end. But on the positive side, I didn’t have to choose the end”.
He plans to resume his visits when it reopens but, in the meantime, think of the money he will save.
I had always considered some elements of social media as a solution looking for a problem. The Coronavirus pandemic may be just that problem. It is prompting many reluctant silver surfers to embrace the technology in order to communicate with the outside world and to stay sane.
There are bound to be some teething problems as the 61-year-old vicar of St Budeaux Parish Church in Plymouth, Simon Beach, experienced when he decided to record his first virtual service via YouTube. Warming to the wisdom and beauty of his sermon, he leant forward and exclaimed “Oh dear, I’ve just caught fire”.
Being on fire for Jesus his sleeve had brushed against the flame of a candle, burning a hole in his pullover and sleeve, but not his skin.
There was a time when the weekly magazine Punch, or to give it its alternative title, The London Chiavari, was influential in the drawing rooms of England. Founded in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and the wood-engraver, Ebenezer Landells, it helped coin the term cartoon to denote a humorous illustration. To modern eyes, many of its jokes were rather lame but it lasted over a century, peaking in popularity in the 1940s, before closing for good in 2002. Doctors’ waiting rooms have never been the same since.
As well as cartoon, it promulgated a phrase which first appeared in its Almanack for 1845 under the month of January, namely, “advice to persons about to marry – don’t”. Sound advice, no doubt, although quite what prompted the organ to pour metaphorical cold water over the marital aspirations of a young man is not clear. One commentator thought it was a spoof on an advert going the rounds at the time. That might well be the case, although no such advert seems to have survived.
Of course, there is no point in looking for consistency in a humorous rag. To prove the point, when discussing the subject of clerical celibacy amongst Catholic clergy, Punch wrote on December 18, 1869, “one of the subjects likely to be debated in St Peter’s is, How to deal with priests who wish to marry. Mr Punch’s advice on this point would be very concise, only two words – let ‘em”.
Mr Punch’s advice on matrimony other than concerning Catholic priests, though, found a ready audience and cropped up in pieces where people wished to make a forceful point in a jocular style. It was used in a piece about furnishing which appeared in Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts in its edition of October 12, 1861; “what has been viciously observed by Mr Punch in reference to matrimony, that I repeat, in all benevolence, with respect to this matter: To persons about to furnish. Don’t”.
Other examples appeared in an article about teetotalism in the Gloucester Journal of October 16, 1858 – “to tell a man not to drink, and then he will be cured of Drunkenness, is little better than a re-production of Punch’s advice to persons about to marry” – and in an account of a lecture given by a Lieutenant Verney on Queensland at Claydon Park School, as reported by the Buckingham Express on December 2, 1871; “the lecturer concluded by giving as the result of his experience, advice to those contemplating emigration, similar to Punch’s advice to those contemplating matrimony – Don’t”. For the school children it was a case of two aspirations being killed by one stone.
Punch’s advice had not only been applied to situations beyond matrimony but had also been abbreviated to rid it of the encumbrance of matrimony. It was used in any circumstance where the recipient of the warning was advised not to do something. It appeared in this sense in a short story published in the Eastern Daily Press on December 24, 1872; “if he contemplated interfering with the personal comfort of either myself or coolie, he had better take Punch’s advice, and Don’t”. It also cropped up in its abbreviated form in an advert in the Evening Chronicle of January 23, 1901; “Are you desponding? Take Punch’s advice and DON’T”. As well as following Punch’s advice, the proprietors of Roberts Sinclair’s Tobacco recommended an ounce of their baccy and one of their celebrated briars, a snip at a bob, to smoke it in as a cure for the blues, advice that may well be sniffed at now.
Our phrase is still used today, although the demise of the magazine may well see it fall into some obscurity. The Stage, the newspaper of thespians, printed a letter on April 27, 1995 in which any aspiring impresario was warned, “so what, apart from don’t can be Mr Punch’s advice to anyone who is contemplating running a theatre, dance or opera company?” Fortunately, there are some who still do.