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Cool Stuff

Danny Wallace on the struggle to seek appreciation for your humour

I am in the corner shop buying some milk and a newspaper and the man behind  the counter offers me the contactless payment machine.

I am in a good mood, so I decide to make one of my famous humorous observations.

“Why do they call it ‘contactless’,” I say, tapping my card on the machine and smiling, “when you have to tap it?”

I make a funny puzzled face for him to enjoy.

“Say again?” he says, and I suppose, in my bones, this is the moment when I can feel it’s going to go wrong.

“I was just saying, you have to tap the card on the machine, and yet they call it ‘contactless’,” I explain, raising my eyebrows to indicate I have just made a joke.

“It’s contactless,” he says.

“Yes, it’s ‘contactless’,” I say, becoming the person who makes inverted commas with his fingers, “but you have to contact it.”

“No you don’t,” he says, having none of it.

This is infuriating. I was being lighthearted. He knows I was being lighthearted.

“You can just wave it near,” he says, and I know! I know that’s the theory! And I’m sure it’s possible. But you don’t just wave it near, do you? You tap it!

I leave and trudge home under a dark cloud of frustration.

“What annoys me most,” I say to my wife, flinging my bag onto the table, “is that that man was misunderstanding me on purpose.

My wife nods.

“He just wanted to show he knew something about the technology involved,” she says. “That’s why he suppressed his giggles and his sides didn’t split.”

“Precisely! He knew I was only making one of my famous humorous observations, and yet he chose to take it as a statement of fact. It was just a little joke.”

Maybe so little it was invisible.

“I’ve never seen anybody wave their card at a machine when they can tap it. I don’t even think you can really do that. I think it’s a payment industry lie. It’s a house of cards, I tell you, and it’s coming down.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, I agree entirely with your humorous observation,” says my wife, and I am filled with warmth and gratitude towards her. “I too tap.”

For a moment I envisage an entire movement of people, pulled together by this one thought and slogan. I see thousands of people lining the streets, standing as one to rally against the myth of contactless payment, weeping tears of anger and joy under giant banners with my face on that read “#ITooTap”.

“What’s that guy’s problem, anyway?” I say. “Imagine purposefully misunderstanding humorous observations to make yourself seem better. You know what he’s going to do, don’t you?”

“No?” says my wife.

“He’ll steal that humorous observation and pass it off as his own. Mark my words. The next time you’re in that shop and you pay with what I can now only sarcastically describe as ‘contactless’, I bet he says ‘I dunno why they call it contactless when most of the time you have to tap it!’”.

My wife laughs.

“What?” I say, because I wasn’t making a joke, I was being angry.

“I dunno,” she says. “Something about the way you said it.”

I frown. I did say it differently this time. I made it less definite. More personal. I was no longer stating that contactless technology is ineffective. I was merely suggesting that a lot of the time it isn’t. Maybe that guy just didn’t like my angle. But I was still right!

I get my phone out and Google ‘contactless payment’.

“Look!” I say, delighted. “The official guidelines for contactless payment say ‘Simply get your card out and touch it on the reader’! Touch it on the reader! What’s the opposite of contactless? Touching!”

Oh, I’ve got him now. All I have to do is go back to the shop, bring the conversation back round to contactless payment, then pull out my phone on which will already be waiting the official guidelines for contactless payment!

Two days later, I am back there. My plan has shifted and improved. It’s leaner and more nuanced. I’ve worked out a brilliant story I can drop in if necessary, about how I happened to find out the official guidelines for contactless payment, and none of this will make me seem small or petty in any way.

But there is a different man behind the counter. Silently, I fume. I pick up milk and a newspaper and as he offers me the contactless payment machine, I decide to give it one more go. The new way.

“I dunno why they call it contactless,” I say, blithely, “when most of the time you have to tap it!”

The man immediately starts to laugh and says “That’s true, yes!”.

I walk home with such a spring in my step.


No meat-eating vegetables, please


Christopher Maundrell was in Turkey the other day, where – despite its obvious associations with meat – vegetarianism is really taking off. It seems they really have got a vegetarian version of everything these days!

Description may be contagious


Steve Adams was in hospital the other day, reading up on things he might catch there. He spotted one which causes headaches, forgetfulness, and headaches.

The writer might want to get checked out.