It is the annual clergy night for a businessmen’s association. Clergy across the denominations are invited by local businessmen to join them for dinner at a city centre hotel. It is a convivial occasion with only one sting in the tail: after dinner there is story telling where various members of the assembled company are invited to stand up and share jokes and anecdotes.
Being the world’s worst teller of jokes, the punchline is always forgotten or wrong, the open floor is a moment of mortal terror.
There is only one story I know, and it was told to me three years ago by a Cornishman. ‘Is there still a comedian called Jethro in Cornwall?’ I asked him.
‘Jethro’, he said, ‘Jethro. I’ll tell ‘e about Jethro’.
‘Jethro’s friend Denzil Penberthy comes to him one day and ‘e says, ‘Jethro’. ‘Jethro’ ‘e says, ‘Wha’s this I hear about an Antiques Roadshow? Wha’s Antiques Roadshow?’
So Jethro turns to Denzil and ‘e says’, ‘It’s like this, Denzil. It’s like this, Denzil’, ‘e says. ‘What you do is this. What you do is that you take along to the Antiques Roadshow something from your house tha’s old and what you do is you say to them,’What I want to know is: what it is and how much it’s worth’.
Denzil Penberthy knew that the Antiques Roadshow was coming to Truro, so Denzil gets ready for the visit. Denzil goes to Truro and ‘e lines up with everbody else, except Denzil has the biggest ruddy package that anyone on the Antiques Roadshow has ever seen.
Denzil pushes and pants and ‘e gets this ruddy great parcel up on the table and e’ looks at the man from the Antiques Roadshow and ‘e says to him, ‘You see this thing ‘ere. You see this thing ‘ere. This thing ‘ere has been in my family for generations and for as long as I can remember it’s been up in the attic. What I wants to know is what it is an’ ‘ow much it’s worth’.
The man from the Antiques Roadshow looks at the table and ‘e looks at Denzil Penberthy and ‘e says, ‘I’ll tell ‘e what it is. I’ll tell ‘e what it is. It’s the ruddy hot water tank’.
The story was told in the broadest of Cornish accents with a peppering of slightly coarser words, I laughed so much that I lost my footing, fell over and slid down a mountain slope.
The story would do for the dinner tonight, were it not for the fact that I told it last year (and maybe the year before that). I must get out my book of after dinner stories by the late Brian Johnston. They will have heard all of them before, but will smile politely, even when the punchline is fluffed.