15 JULY 1995, Page 44



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Why indeed?


IN COMPETITION NO. 1889 you were invited to write a sonnet beginning, 'Why did I laugh last night?'

As many of you pointed out, Keats's son- net began slightly differently: 'Why did I laugh to-night?', but, as some of you also pointed out, my accidental misquotation made for a better competition. The answer to the question posed often came in the form of morning-after-the-night-before bewilderment, such as Giles Ewing expressed:

I think perhaps! made a dreadful gaffe; It's now a total blank. Why did I laugh?

A true competitor, Andrew Gibbons ended:

... Laugh? Did I say I did?

I didn't — but I would for twenty quid.

These two were both near-winners, as were John Sweetman, Noel Petty and Philip A. Nicholson, but they were pipped by the five printed below, who win £20 each. The bonus bottle of Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch whisky goes to Eric Payne, who, with 0. Smith, provided a delightfully unexpected cause for the cachinnation.

Why did I laugh last night, when all was lost? The croupier did not even raise a smile. As I was slowly counting up the cost, Po-faced he put my chips upon his pile Noir knew me not, and rouge had cut me dead: The more I played, the richer grew the bank. And all the while my inner voice had said, 'You know you only have yourself to thank.'

Yet even as I lost, so had I won: A silver lining sparkled through the cloud. I'll not be shunned by all god-fearing folk, I can look unashamed at my dear son. '

I stand erect, my head remains unbowed.

I own the damn casino, that's the joke.

(Eric Payne)

Why did I laugh last night? The jokes were old, Antediluvian — surely ante-bellum — And not so funny, even when well told, (Your usual coda: 'It's the way I tell 'em!').

But still I made a member of your club, Numbing the evening with the drinks you bought — Saturdays, wine-bar: weekdays it's a pub — Paying the snickering tribute that you sought.

Perhaps I'm sorry for your lonely state, Where empty laughter's welcomed as a friend; Perhaps I'm thinking of the future.... Mate, The truth is, any one of us may end Up local clown, card, character — a wag Whose life's an unsuccessful running gag.

(Alyson Nikiteas) Why did I laugh last night? The party's ended, The dead men lined up for the bottle-bank; Smeared glasses stacked; ashtrays disposed of, rank With butt-ends; fags, fizz, foolery expended. Some smiles were real perhaps, some fences mended, But diaries will show another blank Record of how we play, to hide the frank Truth: that most laughter and most love's pretended.

Outside the world pursues its crazy course; In here the screen dispenses soaps, smart chat, Sprinkles stale jokes about this stalest room, As morning-after sickness brings remorse.

I laughed last night: this morning, hear the flat Sour cachinnations from the Halls of Doom.

(John E. Cunningham) Why did I laugh last night? God only knows! The wine, the food, the company were great And jokes that were three decades out of date Seemed fresh as champagne bubbles. I suppose I laughed at how a chap, half comatose, Of modest means and funds inadequate Got to his shaky feet to advocate Free drinks for all until the bar should close.

I should have wept when I received the bill But Bacchus made me giggle with delight And gleefully I signed for the expense.

I glowed with foolish bonhomie until The sober voice of reason in the night Whispered the facts of my munificence.

(Frank McDonald) Why did I laugh last night? I had a dream, More vivid than the first, that gave a sign That over all my kin I'd be supreme, Since all my brothers' sheaves bowed down to mine.

This time the stars, the moon, the very sun Performed obeisance to me as I stood.

To me, this proves that I'll be Number One; I think my future's looking rather good. My brothers hate me ... jealous, I suppose; They'd like to harm me but they wouldn't dare. I'm Father's favourite, everybody knows; He gave this jazzy jacket that I wear.

Just let them sulk; there's nothing they can do But stand and watch as Joseph's dreams come true. (0. Smith)

No. 1892: Saith the preacher

The Times is sponsoring a Preacher of the Year Award for the best sermon. Let us imagine that there is a wooden spoon to be awarded for the worst. Please supply a bib- lical text and a maximum of 150 words from a sermon worthy of winning it. Entries to 'Competition No. 1892' by 27 July.