Apr 5, 2023
Practical jokes, within reason, put spice in our lives and we could use more of them these days
Back in 1975 radio announcers Wally Stambuck and Denny Carr, of Saskatoon’s CFQR station, chose to add a breaking news story to the official announcement of our country’s dramatic move to the Metric System. In it they shared that the changeover would also include what they called “Larmencaller time”, that is to say, our time keeping would be metrified.
Well it seems that being metrified turned into being terrified and the word quickly spread like wildfire. Columnist Paul Jackson, with Saskatoon’s Star Phoenix paper, recounted the following, “The odd couple were so convincing, folks started turning in their watches and alarm clocks at jewelers around town to have them replaced.” Apparently Saskatoon’s City Hall took dozens of calls from taxpayers refusing to pay a tax increase that would result from having to “change the clock tower to metric”. People actually called Revenue Canada wondering about how “Metric Time” would affect hourly wages. What?
The panic quickly spread across Canada to Ottawa with people were calling elected officials and MP’s to complain. One Member of Parliament worried that because of all the angry phone calls, that perhaps Pierre Trudeau had really gone too far and brought up the subject of metric time in the House of Commons. This April Fool’s stunt had perfect timing and was really well played and is right up there with the best stunts ever pulled.
My first recollection of realizing the potential of a well thought out manipulation of the truth occurred when I read the story about the BBC running Austrian cameraman Charles de Jaeger’s spaghetti-tree harvest film in 1957. It featured traditionally dressed women in Castiglione, in the Tuscany region of Italy, gathering in the harvest from the spaghetti trees and draping it into wicker baskets. Again with the phone, calls, this time to BBC, wondering about where one could buy a spaghetti tree.
Sometimes this type of deception can turn sour as was the case of the infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds done on October 30, 1938. H. G. Wells wrote the science fiction book of same in 1897 and it has been made into movies several times. The radio play caught many Americans off guard just before the start of World War 2 when tensions were high and war was expected. Welles realistic voice and the actors, that chimed in from various locations around New Jersey describing the Martian attack, went on for 40 minutes without a commercial break. Because many listeners missed the opening of the play which carried a warning, panic ensued but it seems that it was the media that really blew things out of proportion after it was broadcast. I thought I had read of several suicides because of its impact, but the record shows nothing of the sort occurred. Some old-timers broke out their old World War 1 rifles but that was about it. So despite urban legends that persist, it did not have as dramatic an impact as has been portrayed.
Closer to home it appears that I have snared some of my readers, once again, with one of my occasional dalliances into pesce d’aprile. That is what the Italians call it but most of us know it as April Fools’ Day. For those of you that were so astounded at that rare encounter with the Indigo Bunting, let’s just say it was more of a rare encounter of the foolish kind than a bird kind.
There is no specialized flap on an Indigo’s chest nor is there a bug known as the Weaver. As my hippie generation used to say, it was all just a fig of my imaj. A good practical April Fool’s joke is a craftily woven tale of fact and fiction and is designed to create a believable story that our so well-informed world is supposedly unaware of.
There are hundreds of examples of this type of tomfoolery that have been “pulled off” through the last few decades, most of which were harmless. It used to be that the prank had to occur sometime before noon on the first of April but through the years liberties have been taken. My first encounter with the broadening of this rule was when I read in a March issue of the reputable Discover Magazine about “hot-headed naked ice borers in Antarctica. Depicted as hellish looking creatures that tunneled in the ice, they reportedly used their body heat to melt the ice under penguins so that it collapsed and they quickly overcame the helpless creatures. Only their inedible feet could be found afterwards. Because of the magazines unquestionable authenticity I went for that one, hook, line and sinker. The revelation that it was bunk, revealed in the April issue, left me feeling rather foolish but likewise inspired to venture into the world of crafting a story, mostly false, that the readers would swallow. Hook, line and sinker.
Perhaps inadvertently there is another message created here. One that speaks to verification and fact checking, something woefully lacking in today’s world. It has led to some of the wildest and most disturbing beliefs imaginable. We have learned that some social media sites have been manipulated to reinforce often offensive beliefs on various situations. I won’t point fingers specifically here but we all have encountered these dumfounding conspiracy theories.
My history of pranksterism is most likely a result of heredity and the environment I was raised in. Principally it comes from my mother, who for all intents and purposes, felt that an April Fools-type prank could happen any day of the year. On April 1st, around our house, the mantra was “beware and be wary.” Her creativity and unpredictability were legendary, whether it was a mouse trap in my lunch bucket or her waiting with a sheet over her head as I tried to sneak into the house past my curfew. One of my most endearing memories was her trick of leaning the wooden ironing board up against the bathroom door while one of us was inside. Most times ,on opening the door , one could not react fast enough to catch the board as it fell forward , resulting in a backwards toppling to the floor clutching that board whilst hollering out loud. Practical jokes, within reason, put spice in our lives and we could use more of them these days.