I’ve only been the victim of one truly excellent practical joke. It might have started a practical joke war, something akin to the incredible, disastrous, spiralling events described in Charlie Pickering’s excellent Impractical Jokes, but once I uncovered the perpetrator, that was never an option.
And that’s because the perpetrator was this man.
As a practical joker, Tim McGregor has verve, panache, patience, imagination and an unnerving ability to lie to your face. He is a colossus — remorseless and resourceful. If it comes to war, he is Germany and you are Poland. It’s as simple as that. There is absolutely no point in engaging.
When he targets others, it’s always hilarious. Once — famously — he sat in a dinghy in a dam, telling his friend Simon Daly, the farm’s owner and the convenor of the Falls Festival, that he thought trout might be running there. Simon went off for a surf, dismissing Tim as a lunatic. When he returned, Tim was still out in the dinghy and stood to greet him. ‘Check ‘em out!’ he shouted, with two whopping trout raised above his head.
Simon reacted with undignified joy. He boasted to his friends. He posed proudly with the fish. He spent hours in the dinghy himself, not catching anything, but buoyed by the incontrovertible evidence that there were trout in his dam.
There weren’t trout in his dam. Tim had bought the incontrovertible evidence at the Lorne shops. He confessed to Simon, who promised revenge. ‘I’ll spend any amount of money,’ Simon fumed. ‘I’ll get you back for this.’
Tim was a bit afraid, but he responded cooly and immediately. He copied the photos of Simon with the fish and made a flyer: “Simon Daly’s Trout Farm. Open 7 days. Fish with proprietor Simon Daly and then enjoy a meal with him afterwards! Catch guaranteed or money back. Call now, or just turn up!”
‘If you take this any further, this goes in every letterbox in Lorne,’ Tim said.
Like I say, when he targets others, it’s always hilarious.
It’s a little less funny when he targets you. In 1996, I was living in Carlton North and playing my final season of VFL football for the Preston Knights. I was not a dirty player, in fact I was never reported for a violent act in over twenty years of footy, but I did like to talk on the field, and was occasionally cautioned by umpires for using abusive language. Once I was even reported for ‘Audible Obscenity’, and with a Perry Mason like flourish that served simultaneously as both the highlights of my football and legal careers, got myself acquitted on the basis that there was no crowd present to hear the remark.
‘If an audible obscenity falls in a forward line and nobody is there, does it make any sound?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ the tribunal concluded. ‘Yes, it does.’ But it was late, and everyone was hungry, and the real animosity in the room was directed at the umpire who couldn’t quite remember the exact expletive and who didn’t seem to be either as bored or as hungry as the rest of us.
Anyway, the salient point here is that I was not a footballer who played close to the edge. Twenty years, one report, no suspensions. I was a solid citizen, a good sport, a cleanskin. And so when I opened my mail on the 16th of August 1996, I wasn’t expecting this:
I still remember the panic of that middle paragraph. “We have received numerous complaints regarding your onfield behaviour”. By the end of the page, I was in a state of numb disbelief. “You will then be given an opportunity to view the subject footage and make submissions regarding your future with the VFL.”
It’s a remarkable piece of work. The opening gambit about code building and ‘attracting young players to the game’. The shady lack of detail on what I’d actually done. The use of a name investigator in the AFL’s Martin Amad. The closing paragraph condemning me to silence.
I sweated on my imminent deregistration for seven long hours, before finally calling my father in the middle of the night. On the brink of tears, I read him the letter verbatim.
‘I think you’ll find it’s one of your mates winding you up,’ Dad said, after about one nanosecond.
‘Really? And not because I yelled at that umpire last weekend?’
‘”Keep the VFL viable?”’ Dad replied slowly. He might have been laughing if it weren’t one o’clock in the morning. “Keep. The. VFL. Viable?”’
‘Tim,’ I said. ‘Tim fucking McGregor.’
I should have called Tim then. Instead, I held off until 7.30 the next morning.
‘Tim, I know it was you. You sent the letter.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Tim, for the sake of our friendship, answer this truthfully. If you sent the letter, tell me now, because if you say you didn’t, and you did, and I make a fool of myself following this further with the VFL, and it turns out you did send the letter, I will never speak to you again.’
He gave just the right length of pause. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
He rang back two minutes later. Through the laughter and the tears, he confessed to sending the letter, complete with its A-grade execution, pre-Photoshop letterhead and it’s ‘Stop crime … get involved’ sponsor’s logo. Tim had gotten involved. In crime.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, without the remotest note of remorse. He went on to explain why he was sorry. ‘I didn’t want to tell you yet. I’ve set up an answering machine for Martin Amad at work.’ Apparently, In stage two of his plan, I was to receive long lens footage of myself slowed down and ringed in an accusatory black circle. ‘Everything looks bad if you slow it down enough’. Tim laughed — and laughed —and laughed.
On Saturday, Tim enjoyed one of the happiest days of his life. He married his partner Kate, and they announced to a gushing room via a dramatic envelope opening session that their December baby will be a boy. Tim declared his love for his bride, his fondness for everyone in the room, and how the experience of impending fatherhood had matured him like nothing had before.
Let’s hope so.