This year's April Fool's Day is no laughing matter, reckons Griselda Heppel

Happy April Fool's Day, all!  
Worksheets - completed before breakfast, of course. 
Somehow I don’t think there’ll be a lot of pranks played today, at least not in the media. Maybe in households up and down the land cries of ‘Worksheets? What worksh- oh those. Yeah, all downloaded and done before breakfast,’ will strike joy into the hearts of parents – before they discover they’ve been had. But no one will be combing the national press for stories about spaghetti trees or 
straight bananas, 
Looks straight to me.

and it seems that Google has actually cancelled this year’s April Fools’ jokes, judging that no one will be in the mood. (Though given this example of the best techie prank of 2019 - 
      Spotify… put together a "Discocover Weekly" playlist that is largely disco covers of non-disco songs.
   - I am tempted to wonder, à la Dorothy Parker, if anyone will be able to tell.)
    The world in the grip of covid19 is in much need of cheering up; yet there’s no trick you could play in current news stories that wouldn’t be tasteless. I’m happy to be proved wrong, but the point is that April Fool pranks are just that, tricks (to make you look silly) rather than jokes (to make you laugh) and anything that mocks people going through such a scary and insecure period just isn’t funny. Highlighting some of the weirdest excesses of human behaviour, on the other hand, is perfectly fine, and releases much needed merriment. You only need to look at the rich crop of bog roll jokes all over the internet to feel the benefit of that.

A rich crop of bog roll jokes
So no April Fool’s Day 2020. This has led me to wonder what other effects the pandemic might have on the national psyche. For years now, certain tropes have dominated Young Adult literature and spilled over into the middle-grade age range (8 – 12 years). Stories are set in dystopias where war, famine, pestilence and anarchy have created a brutal society in which the hero, having gathered together their trusted friends, has to fight for survival against cruel overlords running totalitarian regimes. These are often extremely well-written and deserve their popularity. They allow readers to escape their safe, cosy, predictable world and inhabit the personas of teenage warriors in an alien landscape, ravaged by disaster and uncertainty.

School's out.
So what happens when something rocks the safe, cosy, everyday world we thought could never change… until it did? When at first theatres and concert halls, then restaurants, cinemas, cafes and pubs, finally schools, playgrounds, universities and leisure centres – all these places of security, rhythm and freedom – close down? When families are divided, and people lose loved ones and hospitals can’t cope? 

Forbidden playground.
Photo by Anthony from Pexels

It strikes me that dystopian fiction may lose its frisson of escapism once it finds itself mirroring aspects of real life. I mean, how many people seriously wanted to watch the film Contagion, shown on ITV2 last week? It reminded me of the hilarious detail in the spoof disaster film Airplane when the film that’s being shown as the aircraft lurches out of control is, er, the popular disaster movie, Airport
   Perhaps now that a hidden danger stalks the land, mowing down people of all ages and all walks of life, turning everyday life as we know it into a kind of dystopia, there’ll be a yearning for stories set in the real world, with heroes still needing to be brave and resourceful, still fighting off the bad guys; just against a normal, what used to be everyday, background. You know, going to school, dodging the bullies, stumbling on crime rings, running round town with your friends and getting lost in deep dark forests.
   It’s a dream.

Find out more about Griselda Heppel here:
and her (non-dystopian) children's books:
Ante's Inferno 
The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst


Umberto Tosi said…
You're so right. This does feel like a joke within a spoof within an elaborate April Fools Day hoax, and that we'll wake up now and find that our Groundhog Days of infinite confinement under virus attack was a joke - and that the past three nightmarish years of Hair Hitler's White House reign was part of it. Makes one think, doesn't it?
Jan Needle said…
Hair Hitler. Now that is a good joke. Thoughtful piece, Griselda, thanks.
Bill Kirton said…
Add my appreciation of Umberto's 'Hair Hitler' tag, too, please Griselda, as well as my thanks for a timely wee meditation on the absurdity of all of us and our present context. Ionesco would have loved the incongruity of it all.
I was rather hoping Boris might be on the morning news saying "Ha ha, fooled you! Covid19 was just a big joke to see how the populations of the world would react." But I probably missed it, since am avoiding the news like the plague.
Griselda Heppel said…
Thank you all for these lovely witty comments ( Hair Hitler is excellent). If only the whole covid thing really were just an April Fool joke, albeit a very cruel one... These are harrowing times.

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