22 March 2010
This one might be too good to keep down in the comments on another post, so let’s put some oral tradition to work.
As far as I can remember, this is how my mother told the joke about the Fokkers. It might not be very far at all. I might just think it came from her because the air force is in it; I might just think it’s set in a girls’ school because she went to one. (But this is how we tell stories, isn’t it? And why Pygmalion and Faust and Oedipus and Leviathan go round the world and end up looking like this?)
So the famous British fighter pilot, Douglas Bader, visits a girls’ school. He’d lost his legs in a plane crash ten years before the War, and he sits at the front of the great hall with a tartan rug over his thighs. Was this at my mother’s school? Let’s say it was. My mother’s French teacher is in the audience, the same one who scared the girls because she never wanted to take off her gloves.
‘The Battle of Britain was the hardest,’ Bader says. ‘The Luftwaffe was the strongest it had ever been. I was flying in the Big Wing, and suddenly, out of the clouds, these Fokkers appeared.’
Some of the girls laugh, the ones who always do.
‘I looked out of my cockpit,’ Bader says, ‘and one of the Fokkers was right on top of me. I came out of the sun and shot him down. The Fokkers were swarming around me thick and fast.’
More of the girls laugh. The teacher takes control. ‘The manufacturer of the aircraft is called Fokker,’ says Madame. ‘Please, girls, be quiet.’
‘That’s as it may be,’ Bader says, ‘but these Fokkers? They were flying Messerschmidts.’