My sister, Alice, came to stay recently and we had a ball. The joy of close friends and family, or even better family who double up as close friends, is the frequency in laughter, the sheer joy of their company.
All Alice and I have to do at the moment is tell each other, as straight-faced as we can, that we use antlers in all of our decorating and we fall into a fit of helpless giggles. Childish, ridiculous, understood by no one other than ourselves. It is the very definition of an in-joke.
Whilst laughing with my sister over the sheer excess of venison I currently have, on account of needing nothing but the antlers, I became suddenly worried that this would not last forever, that one day I would not laugh like this with my sister, or with my friends, that my children would grow up without seeing me giggle like a fool. I wracked my brain for a memory of one of my mothers lying doubled over on the floor with laughter tears streaming down their face on account of an in-joke with their own sister or friend but came up blank. I tried to think of any of the ladies from my village. Anyone I had seen in town.
At some point in life do the in-jokes stop? Do we get so good at controlling ourselves that the laughter halts on our lips and we merely hum out a giggle whilst dying of laughter inside and unseen?
That thought is so very, very sad because laughter, true, joyous laughter, is a beautiful sight to behold.
I tried to console myself with the fact that I have many in-jokes with my fictional entourage. One of the characters I’m currently writing frequently makes me laugh. And that’s OK, right? It’s normal to say to these folk in my head, “Hey, Selina, remember the time when…” whilst I laugh out loud and she laughs silently inside my imagination where no one else can see her or hear her. That’s normal, right?
Then I remembered, much to my utter joy (and relief), a scene I was witness to on a train recently. Two ladies, post-sixty, huddled together over a table on the GWR journey from Paddington to Reading. They had just been to see Fifty Shades Darker at the cinema and were giggling about it, heads together, in such a high-pitched, helpless squeal that it was impossible not to smile at the sound. One reached over and touched the elbow of the other in a certain, pointed way and, for reasons unbeknownst to me, this simple movement set them off again for another few minutes of shoulder-juddering laughter. For the rest of the journey, a dance ensued. The women would control themselves, sit straight faced and talk about something unrelated, their eldest son’s law degree, their husband’s broken lawn mower. Then one would lean over, touch the elbow of the other in that certain way and that would set them off again laughing and talking about Christian Grey.
I hope this is the way my life pans out. I hope that aged one hundred and two, I can be found on a train laughing with my friend about something no one else gets or doubled over in a giggling fit because my sister had just asked me if I have any antlers to spare.
And no, Alice, I have none to spare.
I’ve used them all in my decorating.