Tears of mirth have of late been running down my face.
And for all the wrong reasons.
Mine, you see, is the land of mummers and Punch and Judy; of blatant slapstick humour which is shameless and ribald. Shakespeare did it; we all do it. Make rowdy jokes about wind.
Tonight, like a Sultan, I needed a fairy story. There are days like that when nothing else will do. And like a speculative holidaymaker in a lending library, my fingertips traversed the different classes of tale.
And lo: there is a class of traditional folkloric tales from across the globe entitled: Breaking wind: legendary farts.
Forgive me. So base. But utterly mesmerising! How could I pass on by?
Yes: there are seven tales. The majority are from Germany. And one hails from Korea. But two come from the same hallowed source: from the storyweaving of one of my greatest heroines and role models, Scheherazade.
And one of them goes something like this.
Once upon a time, in the city of Kaukaban in Yemen, there lived a wealthy merchant, plump with power and influence, called Abu Hassan. His wife had died: and his friends urged him to take another.
He became weary of their pestering and took himself to negotiate with the women who matchmake. And they found him a woman as beautiful as the pale serene moon over the sea. Scheherazade relates that he invited everyone to the wedding: “kith and kin, ulema and fakirs, friends and foes, and all of his acquaintances.”
So it was a grand affair with incredible food, and according to the traditions of the time and place the bride tried on seven dresses for the womenfolk to admire, and another. And they were captivated by her fair grace.
The time came for the groom to enter and claim his bride, to see her radiant beauty. Except that Abu Hassan had been indulging in some very rich food and had had more than his fair share of Dutch courage. The assembly was hushed with awe at this seminal moment. You could hear a pin drop. His footsteps echoed up the long aisle. And then suddenly, disastrously, Abu’s digestion took over. In abject horror, he let rip a great and terrible blast of noisy, flapping wind.
All the guests turned away, terrified, and affected they had not heard, for this was a powerful man. Aghast, the merchant made some excuse about needing to use the bathroom, and fled from his intended wife’s gaze.
He did not pause to think or consider; did not weigh up whether to return and mend his flatulent reputation. He knew that it was irreparable. He walked straight out of the hall, jumped on his horse, and rode off into the night, weeping bitterly, into self-imposed exile. When he ran out of land, he got on a boat for India and sailed far away.
In India, he was able to leave his shame behind, becoming a highly successful captain of the king’s bodyguard.
He did not return for ten years, but his longing for his country became almost overpowering.He left his successful post one night, disguised as a dervish, and endured hardships and terrors to make it back home to Kaukaban.
“I don’t want anyone to recognise me,” he said to himself. “So I’ll just hang about near the city walls to listen to people.”
And this is just what he did. For seven nights and seven days he listened: and on the seventh day he heard a little girl addressing her mother in innocent piping tones. “Mummy, one of my friends wants to tell my fortune,” she was saying. “On which day was I born?”
“Child,” the woman replied levelly, “You were born on the very night Abu Hassan farted.”
The merchant shot in the air. “Oh, curses,” he wailed, “truly, my fart has become a date!”
And he turned and fled, never to return.