April Fool

2012-04-02 00:00

YESTERDAY was April Fool’s Day and some of us can’t resist the opportunity to play a prank.

On March 31, 1989, Richard Branson scared the daylights out of thousands of Londoners who saw a flying saucer hovering over the city. Many commuters pulled to the side of the road to watch the bizarre craft float through the air. The saucer finally landed in a field on the outskirts of London and nervous police officers approached to arrest the alien invaders.

The saucer turned out to be a hot-air balloon that had been specially built to look like a UFO by Richard Branson, the founder and chairperson of the Virgin group.

The April Fool stunt combined his passion for ballooning with his love of pranks. His plan was to land the craft in London’s Hyde Park on April 1. Unfortunately, the wind blew him off course and he was forced to land a day early in a different location.

April Fool’s Day is a tough one on the South African calendar. Worldwide, people go out of their way to find funny pranks to play on their office colleagues and families to make them believe something ridiculous … in this country it’s not difficult at all.

We are quite prepared to believe in the absurd at the drop of a hat. The police commissioner has been arrested — Okay!

The Health Minister says beetroot cures Aids – Okay!

In fact, as South African comedian Trevor Noah has said: “The politicians practically write our comedy scripts for us.”

So if you were looking to play a prank on your friends or family yesterday, let’s hope you were original.

Avoid making over-the-top statements about crime or the state of the nation because your family will probably believe you — heck — the whole nation will believe you.

Local newspapers usually have a field day on April 1, using the opportunity to pass off a piece of nonsense as real news. Usually, April Fool’s stories revolve around a well-known landmark or famous personality and the more outlandish the claim the more obvious it should be.

• The BBC’s first known and most famous April Fool’s joke was in 1957 about the bumper crop of spaghetti being grown in Switzerland. They showed an insert in the national news which showed Swiss “peasants” picking spaghetti off the trees. The viewers were amazed and most of them were completely fooled.

The “news” item caused havoc in families with members arguing about whether it could possibly be true. The women argued that spaghetti was made with flour and water and the men said that if the BBC said it was true then it must be true. The BBC was inundated with calls from Britons wanting to grow their own spaghetti plants.

• In Australia, the public were told that the conventional way of telling the time was to be changed to decimal time. An hour was no longer going to be divided into 60 minutes but was going to be brought into line with the metric system, where everything is measured in tens and one hundred units. The nation went into an uproar. Time stood still until the public realised it was an April Fool’s joke.

• In the United States they took the liberty of playing around with a national treasure. In 1996, Taco Bell, a national restaurant chain, claimed that it had bought the Liberty Bell, a national monument, in order to alleviate national debt. They claimed it would be renamed Taco Liberty Bell.

• In 1983, Australian millionaire businessman Dick Smith played a joke. He claimed to have towed an iceberg from Antarctica to Sydney Harbour. He used a barge covered with white plastic and fire extinguisher foam to convince witnesses. When journalists insisted on feeling the iceberg they realised it was a hoax – they became a little frosty.

• Even Nelson Mandela was taken in by British journalist Nic Tuff who claimed to be British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 1998, he phoned South African President Nelson Mandela for a chat. It was only at the end of the call when Tuff asked Nelson what he was doing for April Fools’ Day that the line went dead.

• In 2004, a British breakfast show claimed that Yorkshire Water was testing a new “diet tap water” that had already helped one customer lose 10 kilograms in four months. They told viewers that a third tap would be added to kitchen sinks, allowing customers easy access to the water. Following the story, Yorkshire Water received 10 000 inquiries from viewers.

•In 2006, the BBC reported that the door to No. 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, had been painted red. The same story was also reported in the British newspaper the Daily Mail which credited the new design to April Fewell. The door is in fact black.

Unfortunately, The Witness did not publish a paper on Sunday so we couldn’t tell you that the city hall was sold to Mr Lota Moola for conversion into a used-car sales hyper, or that the Botanical Gardens will be closed and used as an exclusive graveyard for VIPs. Maybe next year ... tee hee.

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