A Life Of Laughter: Bottoms, Wee-wees, Willies & Poo-poohs

Posted at 19:57pm on 18th September 2008
Other posts on Parenting: Parent Power = Kids Confidence


Yesterday, I received an e-mail from my cousin. He used to be an airline pilot flying holidaymakers out of Gatwick, and he tells stories of walking out to the plane in full view of all his passengers, dressed in a long gabardine, with one leg strapped up and only a wooden broom handle visible. As if doing a Jake the Peg impression wasn’t enough, he’d weave about as if drunk. The story, and his telling of it, made me laugh. But how true it was I don’t know.

Still, when I received an e-mail from him, yesterday, I knew it would be a good one. You’ve probably heard it before, but here goes:


I am passing this on to you because it definitely worked for me, and we could all, probably, benefit from more calm in our lives. Some doctor on TV, this morning, said that the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started.

So, I looked around my house to see the things I’d started and hadn’t finished. Before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of shhhardonay, a bodle of Baileys, a butle of vocka, a pockage of Prunglies, tha mainder of bot Prozic and Valum scriptins, the res of the chescake an a box a choclets.

Yu haf no idr who gud I fel. Peas send is orn to dem yu fee ar in ned ov inr pece.

Now why is that funny? Apart from the occasional glass of wine with a meal, I’m not what you’d call a drinker. But it made me laugh like a drain! Or was until my sides split and I was drenched in tears of laughter? Can you die of laughter? Whatever – my amusement was a tonic. A real medicine.

You see what a lot of language we invest in humour!


Now we read in The Sunday Times that we’re born to laugh. And humour, we’re told, may play a vital role in children’s development. Alastair Clarke, an evolutionary theorist, has conducted a study of 10,000 examples of humour, ranging from slapstick to sarcasm and everything in between. It seems that the human brain is wired to recognise simple repetitive things that surprise us, and even more complex variations, and subconsciously it builds up a pattern.

Children laugh before they can speak, says Clarke – which seems pretty obvious to those of us who are mothers or teachers, or otherwise involved with infants. My twin grandchildren, now four years of age, were certainly exhibiting signs of humour recognition at an early age. Games which startle – like peek-a-boo – easily generate laughter in a baby of only a few months, as does the toppling tower of bricks when they’re slightly older. But we began to notice a pattern between the twins which may be gender-oriented.


Millie came into the world laughing; Tommy was an old sober-sides. Smile at Millie, and you were greeted with a dazzling beam. The response from Tommy would be more likely to be a scowl or a smirk – a hidden smile which says: I’m far too cool to gratify you with an excessive display of humour. Millie is actually a few minutes older than her brother, Tommy, but it rapidly became apparent that despite her ready laughter and his deadpan expression, he was quietly and unobtrusively the leader.

It was obvious from the word go that he enjoyed being able to make her laugh. Perhaps, subconsciously, he is aware of the power this gives him. To begin with, his humour would be purely physical: hiding, then popping out to make Millie jump; pinning her to the ground whilst she writhed and giggled; pinching her toys and running off with them. No matter how irritating this behaviour might be to other sibs, to Millie it was always, but always, a cause for laughter.


And it continues to be. Tuesdays and Thursdays are twin days for ‘Dampa’ and me. The ritual is that my daughter drops the two of them with us before going on to school, herself, and we then walk the children to nursery. Tommy always wants to hold Dampa’s hand, leaving Millie to me. Her cackle of laughter and shrieks of delight can be heard every step of the way, and have their roots in that same physical manifestation of humour – but which she now instigates. Dragging me by the hand along the pavement, she starts a race to be ahead of her brother. However, it’s very evident that her girlie desire is to be chased – and caught. Tommy’s pursuit of her is quite different. He is motivated simply by a desire to be the leader.

As language developed, true to gender stereotyping, Mille was the more advanced of the two. Whilst Tommy was perfectly happy to play alone - bottom in the air, head on the ground the better to see the wheels of his toys – she, the little socialite, wanted to invade your space – yours or anyone else’s – talking non-stop about anything and everything and nothing at all.


But when Tommy caught up, he quickly learned how to tease. ‘Millie’s a poo-pooh,’ he would say. As you would expect, far from invoking laughter in his sister this form of teasing provoked a whining and tearful response from her. Naturally, being male, this both delighted him, and egged him on. Determined not to have a whinging child, my daughter set out to teach Millie to stand up for herself. The result is an intermittent barrage of bottoms, wee-wees, willies and poo-poohs which he, to this day, delivers with inimitable dead-pan, and to which she responds with hysterical laughter. So enamoured is she by humour, that sometimes, she will force a laugh, continuing until you can’t help but laugh with her.

Given that research undertaken by the American Physiological Society has found that laughter induces a decrease in stress hormones and increase in endorphins and growth hormones, Millie’s slapstick humour and easy mirth must be seen as a gift. But where it comes from is a mystery. Her mother and maternal grandfather share the same dry humour as Tommy’s. And her father’s side of the family, whilst fun-loving, are far from displaying the in-your-face hilarity so evident in her.


So what makes you laugh? You, I mean. Not anyone. As far as I know, humour is exclusive to the human race. There is no other animal on earth which holds its sides in helpless laughter. But what, apart from its therapeutic nature, is its purpose? And why is it that what makes me laugh doesn’t even raise a smile with my mother? And that what makes you laugh may leave your spouse cold?

Can you distinguish what makes you laugh? Or is it something so spontaneous and elusive as to be unidentifiable? Do you know where your sense of humour comes from? Can you trace it through your family tree? Or has it lain dormant for years then popped up, simultaneously, in you and your cousin? It’s surprising how often this happens.

But even if that’s so, can you guarantee that you and your cousin will laugh at the same things? You see –I’m not sure that I’d find the reality of being a passenger on a plane out of Gatwick, with a legless pilot coming my way, quite as funny as the much-loved story my cousin told. Or have I missed the point here?

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