This is a story about my first love: the first joke I ever told.
Q: “Where do ladies keep their pork?”
A: “In their ham-bags!”
I first told this joke to my grandmother when I was about six years old and all things considered it’s pretty good (it was 1994 so standards were low.) In fact, it’s really good isn’t it? Really really really good. It was the first joke I ever wrote and I truly fell in love with it. “Ahh, lovely story” I can imagine you thinking, and you would be right… sort of. I could finish this right here and leave you to imagine just how cute I was, asking my granny an innocuous question about meat storage before hitting her with a punch-line that no pensioner could expect. But I can’t. This love story has a deep dark secret – a proverbial mad wife in the attic.
Like most children I was stupid. But I was an expert when it came to classic childhood misunderstandings: I used words such as vigenar (vinegar) and ambleance (ambulance) and for a short time I even believed that my nipples were made from the tips of carrots (I had at the time, and still have, unusually small nipples so you might not be able to empathise with this one.) It was this atmosphere of ignorance which led to the creation of my magnum opus. You see, at the time, I thought a woman’s travel pouch was both pronounced and spelled ‘hambag’ NOT ‘handbag’. I was wrong. A joke borne from my own misinformed invention.
There you go, my deep dark secret – that joke is genuinely one of the best things I have ever done and I didn’t even mean to do it. Or at least, do it so well. Can you believe that? What a coincidence of obtuseness. I slipped. I tripped. I took an inch and was given a mile, and that’s the most beautiful thing about all of this.
So here I am fifteen years later, thinking about something brilliant that I once did – like an arthritic painter recalling the greatest portraits of his career or Einstein on his deathbed spluttering nonsense as his life’s work lay strewn around him (he was spluttering German actually but close enough). I’m realising just how different everything is for me and my joke.
I recently thought it might be a good idea to check I hadn’t plagiarised as a toddler so I did a quick google search. The search yielded not only a reassuring “Did you mean handbag?” but also links to various meat storage devices and one link which casually explained that ‘hambag’ has now come to mean ‘ballsack’. I’m surprised. I know that I invented the joke but I’d always felt that my affections lay with the word ‘hambag’ itself, which I naively assumed was also my creation. And, if anything, surely “hambag” should refer to a vagina? My childhood innocence destroyed in one paragraph – my joke, my pun, my word – dirty and scrotal.
But it’s okay. I realise that hambag and I have both moved on and I think that I can deal with that. It’s actually quite reassuring to see how symmetrical our separate lives seem to be. Hambag has found its niche and vocation as the pork-holder I once predicted whilst I am coming to terms with the fact that very soon I’m going to have to get a proper job too. Not to mention that recently I’ve grown a beard and, for me at least, hambag has grown some pretty serious pubic hair.
Here’s to you, first ever pun. I’m moving on.