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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

What Kind of Fool Am I?

This is the original version of the article produced for the Derby Telegraph on 01.04.14

As this was written for April Fool's Day, I thought it might be appropriate to tell you about a few situations of extreme gullibility.  I suppose the first thing I should say is that I'm certainly not in a position to take the moral high ground here.  When it comes to gullibility, I'm your man.  Not that I'm constantly sending money to claim lottery wins that I haven't entered, or trying to pay for the release of funds from Nigerian bank accounts, thank heavens, but I am rather suggestible and, therefore, easily convinced.

For example, about 12 years ago I was sent on a course which involved an extremely charismatic chap who helped you to visualise your goals and, allegedly, achieve them.  One of our senior managers had, apparently, taken this course and was very impressed, so we all trooped off to Glasgow to do likewise.  On the first morning, the charismatic bloke announced that there would be a coffee break at 10.30 but that would be the last one, as we wouldn't be drinking coffee ever again.  I think we all wondered if this meant that the coffee was so vile it would turn us off it for life!  Instead, later that morning, he put the whole hall of people through a form of self-hypnosis during which he convinced us that coffee was not something we would want to drink again. 

Now, I used to really like coffee, the stronger the better in fact.  However, since that session I have only had three cups of coffee, and two of those were because I didn't want to upset the person who had kindly made a cup for me.  I just can't bring myself to want to drink it.  Given this level of suggestibility, you can see why I avoid stage hypnotism like the plague and I'm a sucker for April Fool's pranks.
I don't usually perpetrate April Fool's and suchlike for the twin reasons that (a) I wouldn't like them perpetrated on me and (b) I can never think of anything remotely convincing.  40 years ago, however, I did work with one chap who was brilliant at this and, somehow along the way, I became his unwitting straight man.

At this particular organisation, there was a ritual whereby the handful of managers and office staff in the organisation, were called to the General Office in the morning and afternoon for tea or coffee (which I could still drink then). 

The Office Junior was tasked with the unenviable job of making all of these drinks and then telephoning to call us to our steaming cups.  This girl was young, pretty and very friendly but a little na├»ve in some ways.  Colin was a departmental manager, rather handsome, with the ability to charm birds off trees, and he delighted in winding this girl up.  I, on the other hand, was seen as rather serious and somewhat nerdy (you've seen the pictures so you'll know what I mean). 

One day, as we were standing drinking our tea/coffee in the General Office, Colin was expounding that he always insisted on having leather soles for his shoes.  The Office Junior inevitably asked why this was and Colin responded, in all seriousness, that his Doctor had prescribed them for his hearing loss.  I was just about to take issue with this, when I noticed a sly and almost imperceptible wink.  Thrilled to be allowed into the game, I concurred it was a well known fact that leather soles were an aid to impaired hearing.  My testimony swung the day and the Office Junior was eager to hear more from Colin about this wonderful advance in hearing technology.  He and I kept this up for weeks, and I'm not sure that he ever did tell her the truth.

My ability to keep a straight face and to agree with whatever story Colin came up with, no matter how surreal, was something we employed again and again and I think it became a challenge to him to think up increasingly bizarre and unbelievable yarns. 

Inevitably, I was tempted to have a go on my own account, as I'll tell you next time.