My daughter: the cereal joker

Ellen's daughter enjoys a good giggle

Ellen's daughter enjoys a good giggle - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

WHEN you are five, armpit farting noises are the height of hilarity. Nothing else can beat it.

I know this because I have just spent the last 20 minutes watching my daughter make the squelchy sound and roll around on the floor in hysterics. She has laughed so hard, she tells me, that her face hurts.

By contrast, I do not find it at all funny. I did, for about five seconds. But now, after listening to the continuous loop of giggles and guffaws, the joke is wearing a little thin.

Apparently there is a reason I’ve turned into such a miserable old goat. It’s called Victor Meldrew Syndrome.

“I don’t believe it,” I hear you cry.

Well, it’s a genuine condition, named after the irascible pensioner in the comedy series One Foot in the Grave and discovered by a group of scientists researching the sense of humour.

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In short, as we get older we get grumpier.

Did you know an infant can laugh out loud as many as 300 times a day? Imagine that. That’s a chuckle every two minutes.

But by the time that child has reached teenage years they are managing just six laughs a day; four when they reach their 20s and only two at age 50.

What is it about growing old that saps the very marrow from the funny bone?

It might be the burden of life experience weighing on our shoulders or that, the older we get, the more there is to worry about.

A more clinical explanation may lie in the brain’s ability to process information.

A study last year asked participants to complete a battery of jokes and cartoons by choosing the correct punchline from a multiple-choice list.

The results revealed that younger adults were consistently quicker and more accurate in their answers, suggesting they have better short-term memory and ability to reason abstractly.

We are all born with the capacity to laugh. The first laughter appears at about four months of age, long before we’re able to speak.

Little children find amusement in the very banal. If my kids are anything to go by, any joke that includes a reference to bodily functions or private parts is a winner.

Teens are statistically most likely to laugh out loud at slapstick, but their parents – men and women in their 40s and 50s – find “life’s ups and downs” to be the best source of comedy.

Both enjoy a giggle at the misfortune of others; or, as the Germans call it, Schadenfreude.

This is a form of humour my daughter simply does not “get” yet.

Last Saturday night we sat down to watch You’ve Been Framed, the programme which has long delighted audiences with home videos that include a child being knocked unconscious by a swing, a skateboarder landing awkwardly on his delicate parts on a concrete plinth, and a granny taking a topple out of a rowing boat into a canal.

I hold my hands up. In between wincing, I do find it most amusing.

My daughter, on the other hand, does not.

In fact, by the end of it she was looking at me in utter horror as I roared with delight at the sight of a water skier being dragged along by his Y-fronts across a lake.

“It is not funny to laugh at people who get hurt,” she said.

Things did not improve when Britain’s Got Talent started.

Let’s face it, it’s all very well for presenters Ant and Dec to bang on about showcasing the best acts this country has to offer, but the reason most of us tune in is not to marvel at the best singers, dancers and circus dogs, is it?

We want to see the chap who can burp out the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the pensioner who can do the Can Can in a leotard and the chef reading a poem to a tin of vegetables.

Once again my daughter did not find any of it funny. She listened to each act with a stony expression before curtly pronouncing them either “good” or “good effort”.

And they say children get their sense of humour from their parents...

Apparently they develop it by seeking emotional guidance during absurd events, a phenomenon known as “social referencing”. Oh dear. My kids will be learning to enjoy a good giggle at the expense of others.

In my defence, salivating at the prospect of others’ misfortune underpins the ideology of quite a fair chunk of tabloid journalism, so at least I’m not alone.

And, like many Brits, I am also pretty good at laughing at myself.

Whatever you find funny, reams of research have championed the benefits of laughter for our bodies and minds.

It raises life expectancy, increases the release of feel-good hormones and may well be the key to ageing gracefully.

Yesterday I was making porridge for breakfast when my daughter came into the kitchen.

“Knock knock,” she said.

“Who’s there?” I replied.

“Nobody,” she replied.

“Nobody who?” I countered.

She walked out of the room.

It took a while for the joke to register (it’s my age. See Victor Meldrew Syndrome for more details) and then I burst out laughing.

“Very clever,” I said, as I carried a bowl of porridge through to the dining table.

“That’s funn… eeeeeee,” I wailed as I tripped over my son’s toy truck and the bowl went flying into the air, splattering steaming oats all over my face and hair as I landed on my bottom in a heap.

My daughter looked at me and let out a huge burst of laughter.

“So is that,” she said with a grin.

Please email me at or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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