A Joke 2 Far

Congratulations to James Hoskins for his winning entry to our science joke competition:

I trotted up the steps of Millway House with slightly more joyous anticipation than usual for a trip to see Grandma. Not that I didn’t always love to see Grandma but this time I had some jokes to make her laugh and a Penny Post quiz to enter whilst giving a nod to one of my favourite historical figures. What a treat. With local news, family gossip and weather-related chat over and done with I got down to the crux of the visit…

“Right Grandma, I have three jokes to tell you.”

“Oh yes dear… you know I love a good joke.”

“OK… the first one then. What do you do with a dead Chemist?” I already felt slightly uncomfortable about this one in the context of a care home – we usually avoided that subject.

“As in a dead person James? Not Boots gone bust?”

“Yes Grandma, a dead person.”

“I thought these were jokes.”

“Well yes, they are – it’s just a joke Grandma… about a dead chemist.”


“So, what do you think you would do with a dead chemist?”

“Well I hope they have a good funeral at least – everyone deserves a good funeral. How old were they? Too old you see and not many people turn up but too young and you just can’t get everyone in the Church plus the fact it gets very expensive you know what with the prices of sausage rolls and things these days.”

This wasn’t starting well.

“It’s a joke Grandma… Barium… Barium is what you would do with a dead chemist.”

“Why wouldn’t they want a cremation dear? I think I want to be cremated by the way – has your Mother told you?”

“Yes Grandma… but it’s just a joke – a play on words you see. Barium could mean bury them which is what you thought I said, or it could be Barium which is an element.”

“An element of what dear?”

“It’s not an element of anything Grandma – it’s just… it’s just an element – as in the thing that Chemists use… to do… chemistry stuff.”


“So, do you get it? The joke?”

“Yes dear I think so…it’s not very funny though dear – you shouldn’t joke about death – not round here – some people get funny about it.”

“Ok, right let’s move on. So… there was this chemist –”

“Is this one alive?”

“Yes Grandma – there was this chemist and she was reading a book about Helium – ”


“It’s another element.”

“Oh, oh, I get it! She was a sick chemist and looking to get healed… a play on words isn’t it dear… heal em Heeeelium haha very good.”

“I haven’t finished yet Grandma.”

“No, I know – you said you had three jokes… go on, what’s the next one?”

“No, the second joke – I haven’t finished the second joke. There was this chemist and she was reading a book about Helium and she couldn’t put it down.”

There was silence at this point.

“Do you get it?”

“It’s not a play on words then?”

“Well not exactly – Helium is a gas you see.”

“You said it was an element.”

“Yes, but it’s an element which is a gas – which is lighter than air which is why she couldn’t put the book down… because it would float up if she did.”

“Books obviously aren’t made of gas.”

“No, but if they were then they would float you see?”

“Hmmmm… are you sure it’s not just because she found the book interesting dear? Your Grandfather always found gas interesting – ever since he took his eyebrows off while playing with the storage heater… now that was funny hahahaha – it’s quite a job to look startled when you don’t have any eyebrows hahaha.”

“Ok Grandma, let’s move on… just the one more… maybe let me finish this one this time.”

“Ok dear.”

Taking a deep breath, I was beginning to realise the challenge as I thought the first two would be easy. I cleared my throat and began “There are 10 types of people. Those who understand ternary, those who don’t and those who thought this joke was about binary.”


“Yes… carry on dear I don’t want to interrupt you.”

“That’s it.”

“Oh. You said there were ten types of people.”

“But that is the joke.”

“Oh dear, the things people find funny these days. You expect ten but get three. In my day that would be called stealing. You took away my joke haha – is that the joke?”

“Well no, it’s about ways of counting – so the 10 at the beginning of the joke isn’t actually ten it’s more like ‘one zero’.”

“Yessss – a one and a zero does make up the numbers of ten – I get that bit.”

“And we count in decimal right?”

“Yessss – I get that bit – although personally I preferred pounds shilling and pence but there you go.”

“Ok, so in decimal ‘one zero’ means 1 ten and 0 ones – ‘two five’ would mean 2 tens and 5 ones which is why we write it as 25.”

“I know you think I’m stupid dear but remember it was me that taught you how to count.”

“I don’t think you are stupid Grandma but I’m teaching you how to count differently… so we count in tens and ternary means we count in threes.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Well actually I don’t know but I do know why computers count in binary which is when we count in twos – and that is because computers talk in terms of on and off, which only has two states.”

“I prefer it when the computer is off.”

“Yes…anyway…so when a computer wants to count to 7 it counts 1 four 1 two and 1 one – which in binary is 1-1-1, and if it wants to say the number two it is 1 two and 0 ones – ”

“Which is TEN!”

“Yes Grandma – you got it!”

“And when you count to three in ternary you count 1 three and 0 ones – which is TEN.”

“YES Grandma!”

“So, what’s the joke?”

“Erm… well… actually, I’m not sure any more.”

“Hmmm. Shall we have another cup of tea dear?”


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