At first I was outraged… and then I remembered I have done this.
Before you click away from here, let me attempt to explain myself. You see, I was young, naïve and completely horrified when it happened.
My thirteen year old self and the boy next door, Ian, had befriended the lonely old lady that lived across the road from us. Her name was Betsy and Ian and I would go around outside of school hours helping her in little ways; going to the shops for her and tidying her garden. (See? Nice, friendly, Girl Guide type here). So we were very sad after she died and jumped on a bus into town alone on the day of the funeral to pay our respects at the crematorium. We possibly took flowers to her from her own garden, but, then… we were thirteen.
On arrival we found the service already in full, erm, ‘swing’ and so jumped into some seats right at the back before snivelling through the service, even joining in with a hymn. I remember one or two people looking back at us with quizzical expressions, no doubt wondering who the heck we were. Only to be expected; we’d never met any of Betsy’s relatives.
Then the minister got to saying something along the lines of this:
‘We have come together from different places and we are all at different stages on our journey through life. Our paths are varied and we look at life in different ways.’
We are nodding. I have tears in my eyes. Ian places one arm around my shoulder and passes me a tissue.
‘But there is one thing we all have in common…’
I look at Ian, my eyes saying, ‘it’s true, we do. We all loved Betsy.’ *sniff*
‘…at one point or another, our lives have touched the life of Margaret….’
That was when it happened – the inappropriate laughing thing. Not loud belly laughs you understand. More of a stifled guffaw as we realised with horror we were at the wrong funeral and dived out of the door before really letting it all out, to outraged stares from the undertakers who had been busy solemnly placing the funeral flowers on the pavement outside.
But it was nervous laughter. You see, we couldn’t hold it in. It was like trying to suppress a sneeze and I’m utterly convinced I’m going to hell for it. Dear reader, I swear, to this very day I feel awful whenever I think of it.
It was the guilty laugh; the embarrassed laugh. The ‘did that really just happen?’ laugh. It is what has happened to me many times over the years while stood in crowded lifts (for no reason at all), when people trip in front of me in the street, when the nurse about to take my son’s blood pressure bends down to get her notes, lets out an accidental fart and continued seriously on like it hasn’t happened. When the doctor examining my boy’s broken arm on the same day said, in very broken English, ‘we’ll have to take it off’. And yes, before realising he meant the plaster cast, not the arm. I was laughing because I thought the doctor was recommending amputation – but, to be fair, my son laughed too. It was a NERVOUS LAUGH. Honestly.
Shocker – this awful thing is hereditary.
Let me attempt to explain the phenomena that is the nervous laugh more clearly:
In my early twenties I worked as an auxiliary nurse and one morning myself and a colleague had been given the unenviable task of bed bathing a recently deceased lady on a low lit ward, in her bed, with the curtains pulled round as the other patients slept. The old lady had passed peacefully with her eyes closed, yet as we struggled to tug her nightie over her head for her wash, the neck of the garment caught on and lifted her eyelids. As we peered down to find her eyes now wide open, both of us jumped back, alarmed, before bursting into nervous laughter. The ward Sister had not been so amused.
‘What on earth is going on in here?’ She’d hissed, while poking her head in through the curtains, making us jump a second time.
I really am going to hell, aren’t I? But we were terrified. We thought the old lady was a) looking at us b) returned from the dead and c) going to need her nightie back on. I do like to think that she was somewhere on the sidelines watching us, having a last giggle at her joke at our expense, before heading to some more peaceful place than this.
However, I can’t help it. Whilst I have the utmost empathy in most sad, difficult or embarrassing situations, life has always seemed to hand me inopportune comedy gold. And yes, often the joke is on me. Check out what happened last time I ever went to the gym in this post: Who’s Laughing Now?
Only two weeks ago I was struggling to open the lift in Edinburgh Premier Inn, which only worked if you put in your room key card, when I turned to the stranger beside me and complained:
‘God, I miss real keys. I hate these things.’
He then proceeded to show me how to work it properly before very seriously explaining to me that he was the person who had installed the entire system at the hotel.
Because of course, he was joking.
Him (still straight-faced): ‘No, it’s true. I work for the company that invented them.’
Most people would apologise or at least have the decency to look mortified. I found myself stifling inappropriate laughter all the way to the fifth floor, which was where I jumped out – glad to be free – and found him following me. He was getting out at the same floor and had to point out the direction of my room for me.
If there is a special kind of hell for people with inappropriate laughing disease, I have a one-way, first class ticket.
For my new novel (she adds in seamlessly), I’ve been studying the Pseudobulbar Affect, which is a neurological disorder involving unpredictable and uncontrollable emotional displays of, among other things, inappropriate laughing. So I may get back to you sometime in the future with the kind of personal diagnosis that will explain everything. Or, I may have been tied in to a strait jacket with locks built by the man from ComparetheKeycard.com
Finally, and I’m aware you might not want to do this now given my confessions of previous, seemingly callous behaviour, I must tell you that The New Mrs D is available to download FREE for three days from tomorrow – 3rd to the 5th of December. I’m giving it away as penance for evil acts. I do hope you will download it… and laugh appropriately.
Here’s a short video all about it.
Note: Names have been changed to protect identities. Except mine. Yours truly, Sharon Osbourne.