Andrew Vine: Fool’s gold and the PM in the lion’s den

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WE AREN’T going to have to wait until next year for the general election. It’s going to be announced later today that it will happen a fortnight on Thursday.

The reason for the snap poll, I can exclusively reveal, is that David Cameron has decided to relinquish the premiership in order to fulfil an ambition he’s secretly harboured since he was a boy, namely to run away and join the circus as a lion tamer.

Sources close to the soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister tell me that his mind is irrevocably made up. Apparently, he’s come to the conclusion that putting his head into a lion’s mouth is going to be a lot less stressful than trying to keep the Lib Dems on side.

Mrs C and the children are fully behind his decision, and looking forward to swapping the stuffy formality of life at Number 10 or Chequers for the freedom of a caravan travelling from town to town. She’s even been practising her juggling to add a bit more lustre to the act.

The lion’s excited too, having grown disillusioned with the stage after drawing lukewarm notices for his performance in a touring production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He found the one which said he was more wooden than the wardrobe particularly wounding.

And if you believe there’s the remotest shred of truth in any of this, then you’re gullible enough to fall for the sort of telephone scam where somebody rings up and says you’ve inherited a gold mine somewhere that you’ve never heard of, and the deeds will be sent upon receipt of your bank details.

It is, of course, the day for tall tales and poker-faced preposterousness, April 1, when the unwary should be alive to the possibility that their leg is being gently pulled, and the old axiom about it being possible to fool all of the people some of the time gets its annual airing.

The proof of that lies in some of the most spectacular April Fool’s jokes on record, including the fondly-remembered – and oft-broadcast – jape by the BBC in 1957 when it showed footage of spaghetti apparently being harvested from trees in southern Switzerland.

The switchboard lit up with calls from people asking where they could buy this delicacy, or if it could be grown in Britain. The reply was the equal of the joke itself: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

Yorkshire – where the ability to keep a straight face is part of our collective DNA – went one better in arguably the greatest April Fool of the lot. If the Beeb fooled Britain, we took in the whole world.

It was in 1972, long before the age of rolling news, that a grainy black-and-white image flashed around the globe announcing that the most tantalisingly elusive creature anywhere, the Loch Ness Monster, had finally been found. Unfortunately, it was dead.

But here was proof at last – a picture of a creature said to be 15-and-a-half feet in length and weighing one-and-a-half tons, washed up on the shores of the loch, and discovered by a team from Flamingoland.

The hoax worked, albeit briefly, sending the whole Nessie industry into a frenzy until closer examination revealed that the “monster” was really a dead seal that thanks to one or two cosmetic adjustments looked rather other-worldly.

But the April 1 that sticks out most vividly in my mind concerns a chap I knew who was a relentless practical joker. For him, every day was April Fools’ and work was his playground. Telephone handsets were glued to the cradle, drawers were filled with sand and chairs sabotaged.

His wife ran a daily gamut of whoopee cushions, stink bombs and tin boxes out of which shot giant spring-loaded furry fake caterpillars. She must have had the patience of a saint to put up with it, as he shrieked with laughter at how funny he was. If she’d finally snapped and grabbed him by the throat, there would have been enough character witnesses to testify that she had been goaded beyond reason to stretch out of a courthouse and round the block.

He came downstairs on April Fools’ Day to find her waiting for a taxi by the front door with a packed suitcase, and collapsed into paroxysms of mirth, gasping: “You’ll have to do better than that.” It wasn’t a joke. There’d been one caterpillar too many.

When word reached his colleagues, it raised a bigger laugh than he ever had.

So do please be conscious of the sensation of your leg being pulled today, and if by chance somebody does ring up and offer the deeds to a gold mine, just remind yourself of the date.