I find myself sitting at traffic lights a good deal. The idiocy of sitting in a piece of metal, in a queue of people sitting in pieces of metal strikes me occasionally, and is, from time to time, heightened by the notion that I'm waiting for a computer to make up its mind whether or not I can go. This is especially ridiculous if nothing is coming but the computer sequence has to run its course. Madness. Surreal. Bizarre in the extreme.
Friday was different. The UK has a charity event called Red Nose Day, or Comic Relief (I remember Lily Savage being asked what she was doing for Comic Relief: 'I might give Ken Dodd a wank' was her reply. That made me laugh because...) of which I was not a great fan - and it was last Friday, 15th March, 2001. I thought the idea of helping people less fortunate than ourselves was marvellously noble, and important and necessary. The notion of a night of comedy, though, to raise money, didn't really seem to work for me - comedy needed a purpose in order to be funny. And 'it's funny, 'cos it's funny' had always, as far as I was concerned, resulted in a whole evening of miserable, and painfully unfunny television - which is where the culmination of the fund-raising happens. Don't get me wrong - I thought the charity was vital, but...
Well - I'll give cash for a worthy cause. I didn't need, I didn't think, someone to do something humorous in order to make me do it.
And then Friday happened.
Where I live is beautiful. I drive down a huge bank to a bridge over a stream with some of the most stunning countryside possible around me. I shall miss it when I no longer live here. I was rewinding a cassette and listening to Radio 4 as I did so. I pulled up at the lights at the bridge. Nigel, from Eastenders - I forget his real name - was talking about Comic Relief on 'Thought for the Day' (a regular part of 'This Morning' - it's usually religious in content, and vaguely interesting. I certainly don't listen to it as a rule though). He'd been to Rwanda to see what use last year's raised money had been put to.
He'd met a woman. She'd seen her family massacred around her - but she'd not been killed. The killers raped her instead; after the ninth rape, she passed out. Later, after she thought the ordeal had finished, she found out she was HIV positive.
Nigel asks if she would be willing to pose for a photograph with him for publicity. She agrees. He gives her a red nose to wear (hence Red Nose Day - lots of people buy them). She doesn't know what it is. (This may not be the exact dialogue, but it's as close as I can remember.)
'What do I do with it?'
'You put it on.'
'On your nose.'
Nigel squeezes the nose, and a little red tongue squirts out of the mouth of the face painted on the front of it (this year's gimmick). The woman howls with laughter.
The lights are still on red - I realise that they've been to green and back. Cars have had to overtake me; doubtless they will have beeped. The beautiful landscape, my car, my cassette, my bag of sweets on the empty seat next to me: I have heard and seen none of it. I couldn't even make out the traffic lights in front of me any more. I had to pull over.
I guess I got the theory of comedy all wrong, and probably of charity too.