13 AUGUST 1988, Page 51


Leaves from the commonplace book of Wallace Arnold

I WONDER if anyone else read Paul Johnson last week? He was writing on the subject of humour; home ground, of course, for this perennial jester. Men and women are different, he argued. So far, spot on. I, too, have noticed differences: women have somewhat higher voices, much given to shrillness, and they dress slightly oddly too, favouring 'skirts', `blouses' and so on. But Paul did not stop there. Women have a different sense of humour, he said, citing as evidence the fact that few men can appreciate Mrs T's hilarious 'feminine' jokes, which, on more than one occasion, have set Johnson him- self a-roar.

Now, Johnson is always worth bending an ear for, and never more so than when talking of mirth. Anyone who, like me, has had the immense good fortune to venture Into Maison Johnson will have been de- lighted to find that the giggling never abates. Morning, noon and night, the merry cackle of the jovial scribe echoes from the attic room wherein his knockab- out jests take shape. Whoopee cushions, water pistols, novelty masks, stink bombs

and 'Dirty Fido' memorabilia are scattered hither and thither throughout the public rooms. Following a feast awash with hilar- ity, Paul launches into his celebrated im- personation of Mr Frank Spencer from the television comedy programme, Some Mothers Do Have 'Em, and the old ribs simply ache with laughter.