Whelped in the late fifties, I was lucky enough to be a child and adolescent when the Monty Python team were at their zenith. I watched the series avidly, saw all their films at the cinema – and regularly laughed so much that tears (and other liquids too!) gushed forth. I can remember, vividly, writhing around on the floor in fits of hysterical mirth at ‘Albatross’ and ‘Upper Class Twit of the Year’ – particularly, with the latter, the priceless moment when they attempt to remove the debutante’s bra!
When I was that age, it was the wonderfully anarchic and zany rude humour that lured me in. I didn’t really stop to think about the little gems of life’s truisms hidden behind the belly-laughs and bizarre characters.
But, as an adult, I have come to see a level of human understanding and hilarious scathe which missed me in my intemperate youth. One sketch, for me, stands out for its rich and sardonic recognition of a dark seam in the emotional rock-face of humanity: Competitive Suffering. ‘The Four Yorkshiremen’ is a classic, and very clever, revelation of this tendency.
You know the one I mean: The urge so many of us have to up the stakes in any conversation which centres around misery, pain or death. Childbirth is an especially popular one amongst women, with truly gruesome accounts competing for supremacy, and a normal labour and delivery being seen as wimping out totally. Gallons of blood, veterinary-sized forceps, sadistic staff, placentas which cling stubbornly for weeks (causing a medical professional to have to go up there, headlight on, and chisel the bloody thing out) and post-natal complications on an epic scale are absolutely de rigueur.
Do not, I urge you, ever get involved in a Coven of Recently-delivered females when the subject of Childbirth: Pain Before, During and After starts. You’ll lose your appetite, probably your lunch and will be unable, for years to come, to hear the word ‘stirrups’ without breaking out into a cold sweat.
Childbirth is raw and primal and messy. I know. I’ve done it! But what both amuses me, and gets my goat, is this well-nigh-universal need to embellish, to exaggerate, to lie even in order to win the coveted ‘I’ve Suffered the Most’ Award. So – and some of you may wish to turn away at this point – the common birth-time affliction of faecal escape (shall we say) takes on epic proportions, with women boasting that they gave ‘birth’ to a monster turd which weighed more than the baby, or claiming that blood seepage made Jack the Ripper’s victims’ end look like peaceful demises.
Not just in childbirth does this phenomenon strike. Would that it were just consigned to the Delivery Wards of the world. But no. You name a human endeavour and I’ll show you the escalating Pain, Doom and Gloom Quotient which is being bitterly fought for by all concerned.
Some of the little catch-phrases which give a Competitive Sufferer away are beautifully used in ‘The Four Yorkshiremen’, the clip I am including with this post – but there are many others: ‘That’s nothing…’ ‘You think you had it bad?’ ‘Piles? Ha! If only! My whole system has prolapsed…’ ‘Two day labour? Is that all?’ ‘Think you’ve got problems? I nearly extruded a kidney…’
Now: Fellow-feeling is fabulous. It is always good to know that one is not alone. Stories of other people’s experiences can be enlightening, reassuring, a sign of trust, hilarious and bonding. But sometimes, and with some people, the suspicion bowls over one that the Dramatic Monologue Exponent currently hogging the metaphorical stage is not concerned about sharing, or connection, but is all out for one-up-man-ship and utterly focused on winning the Best of Worst Prize for 2017.
I rest my case and leave you in the capable hands of Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman and Terry Jones…