Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 1 September 2012
A cat may look at a king
Sarah - over on 'A Wine Dark Sea' - has been recording an old salt for posterity, and I mentioned that I tell my grand children that the next generation always regrets not listening hard enough to the previous two, but nothing ever changes.
Every now and then, accidents like Samuel Pepys's diary happen and we get a crystal-clear view of the past, as if from the window of a time-machine. Looking into the eyes of Velasquez's court dwarfs has a very similar effect, and we have never had a deeper insight into the mind of a Pope than when looking at his portrait.
Which brings me on to jesters.
There has never been a greater need for court jesters than the present, and there has never been a greater lack of them than now. World wars could have been prevented by employing a jester, but many of them came to sticky ends - if the truth be told.
Idi Amin came very close to keeping a jester near to him at all times when he picked up the English tourist after a car accident involving his entourage and a wounded animal, but Amin was too mad to understand the opportunity which had been offered to him, and the whole business ended in the Israeli strike on Entebbe Airport.
The last real court jester was probably Rasputin, the mad monk, but he was a self-centred and corrupt one who was taken too seriously by the Romanovs, and look what happened to them.
In the days when it was forbidden to look directly into the eyes of a king, the wise king would employ a fool, and the fool should be wiser than the king.
When surrounded by ambitious sycophants who formed an impenetrable barrier between the court and the rest of the world, the jester would deliver unalloyed truths to the king, softened - in most cases - by sweetening humour.
The humour was also a very necessary form of self-protection for the fool - it is very difficult to kill someone who makes you laugh. I should know, as I spent most of my school days fending off bullies by telling jokes. What you must be careful of, however, is to never make the king the butt of the joke, because everyone at court will laugh except the king himself, and executioners are not renowned for their sense of humour.
What a tight-rope to walk - nimbly stepping between one dangerous situation and another; constantly looking over your shoulder to detect any hostile intentions toward you from embittered courtiers; choosing your jokes carefully and wisely; deliberately over-stepping the mark with no guarantee you will not be punished for it - and all for the good of the country.
I would offer my services to the Windsors, but I am just not tactful enough. I'm just not small enough either - only my size has protected me from a good many beatings by an insulted fool in a pub. 'Fool' is probably the wrong word, but you know what I mean.