Sunday, 1 April 2012

April Fools Day: a day for Bird Brains!

April Fools Day or, as it is sometimes known, All Fools Day has obscure origins, which are hotly debated. However, it probably stems from the Roman day of Hilaria on 25th March. In Britain and indeed around the world, the day is celebrated the most by school children and sometimes equally enthusiastically, by the intelligencia! Certainly, I went to school on his day, with a fair amount of trepidation. Remember, we still had ink-wells in those days! It was a morning of pranks to play on your friends. And this brings me quite naturally to the events of this morning.

I sent an e-mail out to a few chosen ones in the UAE birding community, certain that they would chuckle, but not really believing that they might actually act upon it! But, there is one among us who is pure of heart and mind. One, who never thinks bad things about anyone. He is trusting to a degree which makes me so proud of him. I am talking about no other than our very own Mr. Lulu! A man whoose generosity of mind and spirit has no equal and whose virtues I have extolled in a previous post.

So when Mr. Lulu opened his e-mail this morning, there sitting proudly on the top, was an e-mail from me entitled Stop Press! it told of the sighting of a Shy Albatross, sitting proudly on the sea, not 50 m from the Corniche, here in Abu Dhabi.

I am big & proud! I am not shy at all!
The weather is a bit warm here. Is it always like this?

 Now I know someone's office it not a million miles from here and therefore I was not too surprised to receive a hasty phone call from Mr. Lulu, asking for details. These I was delighted to provide, in graphic detail. I even gave generous advice on how to find this beastie now it had departed from my sight here on the 11th floor of my office window. On being told that he would require a really high powered telescope in order to have any chance of success. He replied that he hadn't even got his binoculars and he would have to go home and get them. I replied that I am of course, always prepared for any eventuality! Many years ago my lovely wife, Carol received a little surprise when she enthusiastically lept into bed and landed on something hard! (No not that)! On unveiling the bed clothes I was revealed in all my glory, wearing nothing but my brand new Leica binoculars which had just been delivered that very morning! Readers may be interested to know that she has never leapt into bed enthusiastically again! But I digress dear readers of this little blog, I am anxious that the true message may get lost among all the frippery.

Time passed. I kept looking at my watch. And then the moment I had been waiting for happened. The phone rang and it was Mr. Lulu informing me that he couldn't find the bird! Not so surprising to me! But as he regalled me with the finer details of his epic chase to the end of Ras Al Akdar, I just had to put the poor guy out of his misery! He was so mournful!

I don't find this to be very funny at all.
I am looking for the hairdresser!
And what do I find- a lawyer staring at me through his huge telescope!

Dear Andrew, do not feel bad. You have made someone (ie me) very happy today and that is an excellent thing to do. If everyone did as you have done today, the world would be a better place to live in. He took the news surprisingly well, which shows you what a very fine chap, he really is! Might I recommend a closer look at e-mails in the future, as there were a couple of clues hidden in there!

People have been duped before, some of the finer examples are set out below. One of them I actually remember quite well. I wonder if you can guess which one?

 Dutch Elm Disease Infects Redheads
1973: BBC Radio broadcast an interview with an elderly academic, Dr. Clothier, who discoursed on the government's efforts to stop the spread of Dutch Elm Disease. Dr. Clothier described some startling discoveries that had been made about the tree disease. For instance, he referred to the research of Dr. Emily Lang of the London School of Pathological and Environmental Medicine. Dr. Lang had apparently found that exposure to Dutch Elm Disease immunized people to the common cold. Unfortunately, there was a side effect. Exposure to the disease also caused red hair to turn yellow and eventually fall out. This was attributed to a similarity between the blood count of redheads and the soil conditions in which affected trees grew. Therefore, redheads were advised to stay away from forests for the foreseeable future. Dr. Clothier was in reality the comedian Spike Milligan.

In 1975 the famous naturalist David Attenborough reported on BBC Radio 3 about a group of islands in the Pacific known as the Sheba Islands. He played sound recordings of the island's fauna, including a recording of an alleged night-singing tree mouse called the Musendrophilus. He also described a species whose webbed feet were prized by inhabitants of the island as reeds for musical instruments. Unfortunately, the night-singing tree mice were merely products of Attenborough's imagination, perhaps inspired by that old yarn about the Tree Squeaks, that North American species which lives high in the trees and squeaks every time the wind blows.

In 1983 the Associated Press reported that the mystery of the origin of April Fool's Day had finally been solved. Joseph Boskin, a History professor at Boston University, had discovered that the celebration had begun during the Roman empire when a court jester had boasted to Emperor Constantine that the fools and jesters of the court could rule the kingdom better than the Emperor could. In response, Constantine had decreed that the court fools would be given a chance to prove this boast, and he set aside one day of the year upon which a fool would rule the kingdom. The first year Constantine appointed a jester named Kugel as ruler, and Kugel immediately decreed that only the absurd would be allowed in the kingdom on that day. Therefore the tradition of April Fools was born. News media throughout the country reprinted the Associated Press story. But what the AP reporter who had interviewed Professor Boskin for the story hadn't realized was that Boskin was lying. Not a word of the story was true, which Boskin admitted a few weeks later. Boston University issued a statement apologizing for the joke, and many papers published corrections

 Drunk Driving on the Internet

1994: An article by John Dvorak in PC Computing magazine described a bill going through Congress that would make it illegal to use the internet while drunk, or to discuss sexual matters over a public network. The bill was supposedly numbered 040194 (i.e. 04/01/94), and the contact person was listed as Lirpa Sloof (April Fools backwards). The article said that the FBI was going to use the bill to tap the phone line of anyone who "uses or abuses alcohol" while accessing the internet. Passage of the bill was felt to be certain because "Who wants to come out and support drunkenness and computer sex?" The article offered this explanation for the origin of the bill: "The moniker 'Information Highway' itself seems to be responsible for SB 040194... I know how silly this sounds, but Congress apparently thinks being drunk on a highway is bad no matter what kind of highway it is." The article generated so many outraged phone calls to Congress!!

In the 1970's I wrote a scientific paper on the occurrence of Jack Snipe in Yorkshire. Much to my surprise, I received a letter from the editor of the Yorkshire Naturalists Union asking me if I had any photographs to illustrate my paper! If one had read the paper carefully, one might have discovered the correlation diagrams which perfectly fitted the occurrence of Jack Snipe with the wearing of green Hunter wellington boots! I went on to explain this in great detail, which obviously made a lot of sense to someone! They were going to publish it!

So the next time your mobile phone goes off with news of a rare find. check the date on your watch!

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