April fish and other hoaxes

Brock Norman Brock is a writer and soldier.

The absolute pleasure of being had

The man at the door says that he's my neighbour, just four doors down, although I've never seen him before. He explains that he has to go to hospital to see his wife, it's an emergency apparently, but he can't get there because she has his wallet, so could he borrow, please, cab fare - forty pounds ought to do it - which he will promptly repay tomorrow. It's obviously a con. Can't he take a bus? The 242 is probably quicker, anyway. If his wife's got his wallet at the hospital, can't she pay the driver off when he gets there? The man senses my hesitation. As proof that he is indeed my neighbour, and ergo that his wife really must be in hospital with his wallet, the man mentions the names of the people who live in the three houses between "his" and mine. It's tempting. I vaguely wonder how he knows their names. I can feel a tingle begin to creep up my spine. I suddenly remember that there are only three more houses in the terrace after mine, so he can't live four doors down. But it's too late. That familiar rush is coming on. My breathing shallows and my groin clenches and even as I grasp at the facts I know deep down to be true, I am already inviting the man in and offering him a cup of tea while I look for my cheque-book. "Are you sure forty will do?" I say. Ah. Euphoria. The absolute pleasure of being had.

Perhaps, like me, you're a high-powered executive, Army officer, judge, or simply a stern, Victorian paterfamilias. Every day you make decisions on which millions of pounds, human lives, or the future psychological well-being of your children depend. The stress is enormous. Perhaps, like me, you've tried to find relief from this burden of control under the boot of a professional woman, but found the experience less than satisfactory. Because - strangely - it's got nothing to do with women.

It cost me a lot of money and a fair bit of humiliation to understand this. Perhaps I can save you some of the trouble if I explain how. It was at a children's birthday party. My son or daughter was five or six. I can't remember; it's not important. The hired clown in the corner was scaring the hell out of the room full of five- year-olds by pulling sausage-dog-shaped balloons out of their ears. One of the tykes, jumped up on sugar and squash, started insisting that it was all a trick, that there was no sausage-dog-shaped balloon in his ear or anyone else's for that matter, and soon the whole room had turned against the clown.

The clown singled me out for support. Even then I must have been a natural mark. He looked at me from under the purple and silver streamers of his wig and said in a firm, commanding voice: "Well, Daddy's got a sausage-dog-shaped balloon in his ear, haven't you, Daddy...?" Of course I didn't, and I knew I didn't. I was quite sure of that. And even as the clown made distracting gestures with his right hand, I could sense, or maybe see in my peripheral vision, his left hand sneaking towards my ear with the knotty nose of a sausage-dog-shaped balloon already poking out of his oversized cuff.

I was about to reveal the hoax to the now silent, suspense-ridden five-year-olds and explain in language they could understand that when they were all grown up they could choose to suspend their disbelief if they wanted, that the clown was only after his Equity card - but I didn't. My spine had started tingling, my head rushing, and my own ability to choose whether or not to believe melted away in an overwhelming sensation of release. I let the clown have his way with me. It was extraordinary! I'm still shocked at the size of that dog.

I'm not allowed at children's parties now, but I do confess to getting off on buying extended product warranties from high-street electrical retailers. Paying my council tax gives me a secret thrill. And if particularly hard-up, the greasy spoon on the corner is always steamy on a Saturday morning and full of cowboy builders. There's really no shortage of opportunities for a rube to get his kicks. Not in this town. Sooner or later it'll come knocking on your door. And if it doesn't, don't worry. There's always some down-on-his-luck stage magician who'll do tricks for you in a public convenience for a fiver and tell you the card you picked.

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