Here I am, breaking once more my promise to post only half-monthly. Last week’s post on puns was incomplete. But You probably didn’t know it – I nipped the piece at a convenient place. I thought the post would be too long if I went the whole nine yarn. I was planning to save the rest for another time. However, there’s the concern that some of you may lose the plot, if you had to wait too long. So here’s the rest of it, now.
Over the years, I had spun a great many puns, too many to recount here. Here are but a small sampling of my favourites :-
My perpetual champ : I was the master of ceremony at the wedding dinner party of a good friend of mine and his bride. It was back in a time when the Malaysia Cup football competition was still alive and attracted huge followings both sides of the causeway. Every year, the Singapore national team would battle the other Malaysian state teams and invariably forge its way into the finals. Support for the competition reached feverish heights each year around finals time, with swarms of supporters making the trip to Kuala Lumpur to cheer on the local team. Our bridal couple had unwittingly chosen to host their party on the same evening of the finals that year. It was a tough competition – one final versus the other. There were a number of regrets for dinner, and of those who appeared, many came with little transistor radios plugged in their ears, the better to follow the other set of proceedings. Some made frequent trips to the washroom, making long detours to the hotel reception area where a television set had been set up for the ardent football fans. Aware of the split loyalties, even among family members of the wedding couple, I knew I would have a tough act come time for the traditional toast. I had to catch the attention of the football fan and the dinner guest in every member of the dinner party – to marry the two, so to speak. So, just before the toast, I crept out to check on the latest score of the football match. Thus armed, I was able to open the toast with, “Across the Causeway, at the Merdeka Stadium, the score is one-love; over here, in this room, the score is love-all.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard more thunderous applause and resounding approval for a wedding dinner toast than this one. My friend and I met again recently, this time at the wedding dinner of his daughter; we reminisced about that toast years ago, and agreed that it could not be replicated for the new couple. It was only right for that one special moment that one evening.
Another all-time favourite, with a bit of political flavour to it, also took place some time ago. It involved a policy change that the then Singapore Health Minister and his erst-while deputy, the Minister of State, were promulgating. It was just a bit uncanny that both ministers bore the same surname – Wong. I can’t remember the exact details now, other than that the proposed change was somewhat controversial. The newspapers and airwaves were flooded with chatter about it. Some time during that period, I had the occasion to make a speech at a private gathering, and had to make some reference to the mini-storm that was brewing. I referred to the ongoing brouhaha, and told the audience that “Two Wongs don’t necessarily make a right.” It literally brought the house down. Regardless of their individual leanings, I think the audience realized they had just heard an exquisite pun. Not for its political flavor necessarily, but because of its unique setting. It was a little like the perfect storm, where all the elements combine and gel in a time and place to produce a tempest of maximum proportions. But unlike the perfect storm, which could conceivably happen again, the perfect pun is practically unreplicable. The issues change, the players are different, and the moment passes. The perfect pun can only be spun once.
The purists will tell you that politicians don’t make good subjects for puns. Why not? Because they’d rather be rulers than subjects, that’s why. The real objection is that political puns have to do with personalities and local situations, which may not be universally familiar to their listeners or readers That’s why I am staying away from them here.
Punning seems to run in the genes. Our daughter, as a teenager, ran a small personal enterprise selling greeting cards made from recycled paper. She branded each card “A Nilnew Production”, a clever palindromic play on her name, Wen Lin. In later years, as a recreational photographer, she had many of her photographs framed and displayed, with apt captions. There’s one of an assortment of nuts displayed in a spice market with the caption “Nuts To You.”, another of multivariate balls of threads and wool which declared “No Strings Attached.” My favourite, which hangs in our living room, is one taken in Kyoto of a number of Japanese fish in poses suggestive of a mating ritual, which she called “Playing Koi.” Now married, she and hubby run a web-based food and beverage related business called Edible Experiences; their weekly newsletter proudly displays the tag-line “Big Flavours, Small World, Incr-edible Adventures.”
Our son, performs magic of a different kind – he’s a musician. But even he is not immune to making the occasional pun. One time, when we were holidaying in Phuket, he showed that he could pun as good as any other Soh. We were staying at the 5-star resort called the Chedi. Next to our property was the 6-star Amanpuri. Over a family mahjong game, we were comparing the relative merits of the two resorts. After enduring a few rounds, where suggestions had been made that the Amanpuri might indeed be classier than the Chedi , he sardonically pronounced the verdict, “You may be an Aman, but you’ll never become a Chedi !”
The only one in the family who doesn’t pun is their mother, my wife, though she recognises a good pun when she sees one. She’s the embodiment of the dutiful wife who sticks with her husband for better or for worse, and for the truly awful. She doesn’t laugh at all my attempts, but she doesn’t groan at any either, not to my face anyway, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I know she loves me for what I am, puns and all, intended or unintended. She knows that I can’t help it – I was probably born with a silver pun in my mouth, and will probably go out with one when my time comes. I have already pictured it all myself, the final moments and the last words I will utter. God willingly, I will take a quick trip down memory lane, and sign off with “It’s been a great run.”
But just to nail it, I have left final instructions with the family. The envelope containing them is marked “Last Rights.”
Right after the previous post and before this one, I was encouraging some of my Facebook friends to share the existence of my blog. In asking them to spread the “word”, I inadvertently typed “world”. See, I just can’t help myself.