April Fools or clickbait

People are by nature trusting of one another. We grow up gullible. We put our teeth under the pillow so that fairies will give us money and believe that people can fly in order to deliver gifts. In time we figure out that jolly fat men probably cannot fit in chimneys and we lose that wide-eyed “really?” attitude because too many people ask us for money with tales of woe or Nigerian get-rich-quick schemes begin to sound daft.

However on the morning of April 1 each year we try to tell our friends silly stories to see if they believe us. The idea goes back to the 17th Century, one of the first, so they say, being an announcement in the newspaper that people should go to the Tower of London, to watch the lions being washed. And it’s not just an English thing, its global, the French for example have poissons d’Avril, which were originally paper fish which were pinned to the back of gullible folk…

There have been some spectacular stunts pulled over the years, probably the most celebrated being in 1957 when the BBC Panorama programme ran a segment about Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti. They were overwhelmed by people asking where spaghetti plants could be bought.

Twenty years later The Guardian newspaper hit gold when they ran a special supplement about the island of San Serriffe to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the island’s independence, complete with advertisements from a string of major companies who joined in the joke. The place names all related to printing terms (sans serif being the description used for certain typefaces without decorative serifs) and the fictional island was located in the Indian Ocean…

Motor racing publications regularly include April Fool stories, although they used to be restricted to the years when the date of publication coincided with April 1. I recall a fictitious plan for a London Grand Prix, with the F1 cars going through Admiralty Arch, and a DTM race at Heathrow, with qualifying runs which would have to be timed to happen between the planes landing. I also vaguely recall more than one magazine reporting a fictitious race in which a floating bridge was part of the circuit, it being a righthander or a left hander, depending on the tide.

The Internet has meant that everyone now publishes on April 1, so watch out for Nico Rosberg unretiring, strange calendar stories and livery changes and don’t believe anything about Maldonado joining Sauber.

I’d join in the silliness, but I really believe that we need fewer fools in the world. We seem to have far too many given what people have voted for in the last 12 months. One might argue that Donald Trump and Theresa May will be the death of April Fools Day, as they live in worlds where the truth seems not to matter, with so-called “fake news” and “alternative facts” all around us.

I may be naive, but I hope that truth will, in time, make a comeback, once people realise the daft things they have unleashed.