Twists of fate

In Here: Hundreds of people have to have hospital treatment as a result of rakes every year and ten people, in this country alone, lose eyes as a result of flying champagne corks

There are some basic things one needs to know to get by in life. Among them are these: if you can't find a screwdriver, don't think that a knife will do instead. If the little button falls off your suspender belt, an aspirin makes a very good substitute. Never, ever, trust a man who says the words "You have to trust me." And don't try typing with a strained hand. It hurts.

My hand isn't a pretty sight. The little finger sticks out at an odd angle and looks like a sea slug without the squirty bits on the end and the palm has a lump the colour of the eye makeup we used to think was pretty cool in 1978. And, like many accidents, the way it happened was deeply humiliating. I did it picking up an eight-pack of Stella Artois. I wasn't concentrating because the country and western station was playing a song which is right up there in my all-time top chart along with "I'm Gonna Hire Me a Wino to Decorate Our Home" and "Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through the Goal Posts of Life". This one is riding high in the charts in the States at the moment and it's called "That Ain't My Truck in Her Drive".

So I was unloading my car and singing along - the great thing about country and western is that you can generally get the drift of the chorus the first time you hear the song - when I noticed the Stella on the floor on the far side. So I stretched, while marvelling about the kind of brain that can think up lines like "That's my girl, my whole world, but that ain't my truck" and then sing them with emotion, and, yikes! someone stuck a red hot poker through the centre of my hand. I won't be playing the violin for a bit.

I've been thinking a lot about accidents recently, ever since my friend Lucy sneezed so much after kissing a cat that she fell downstairs and tore a ligament. Or since Martha jumped neatly over a child's roller skate on the garden doorstep and landed on a rake. Honestly: the old rake gag really happens. Hundreds of people have to have hospital treatment as a result of rakes every year. And ten people, in this country alone, lose eyes as a result of flying champagne corks.

But anyway, I have realised that accidents are God's way of telling us to lighten up. I mean, too many people spend their lives worrying about how to control their environment when all along there's a runaway disabled carriage with their name on. There's just no point. You can have any amount of pension plans you want, but in the end the Boston molasses flood is going to get you.

The Boston molasses flood is one of those episodes of American history which, while it doesn't rank up there with the Declaration of Independence, has shaped the great country's existence: well, at least its industrial safety controls. What happened was this. On the Boston dockside, they used to store molasses in huge drums 100 feet high and several acres across. Then, late in the last century, there was a summer a bit like the one that's just been. And the molasses in one of the vats fermented. One Sunday, when most of the city's population were out taking a constitutional, the vat went pop. Dozens of people and horses were drowned in a wave of molasses 20 feet high. Boston attracted flies for years afterwards.

See what I mean? It probably wasn't much fun at the time, but you can bet all those people are having a good laugh about it in heaven now. "Hey, Jethro. To think that you were gonna go down in history as the rubber king of Massachusetts." You fight your way up the ladder of politics and think you'll go down as a great law-giver, and what do you become? The Tory MP who was found with an orange in his mouth.

Mountaineers who have climbed Everest are becoming pretty much three- a-penny these days. They strive for glory, but in the end they will now only become part of a growing list. Except for Gerard Hommel. Hommel was a French mountaineer. A good one. He had gone up Everest and down six times before he met his fate. And it's his death for which we'll remember him best. He died after falling off a stepladder while changing a kitchen light bulb.

Marta Espina, meanwhile, had got through 75 years of blameless life in Buenos Aires, never putting herself in the way of trouble, when a poodle fell from a 13th floor balcony and landed on her head. When the crowd which gathered to gawp grew too large, a spectator who stepped out into the road to get a better view was killed by a passing bus. Now, if that's not God taking the mickey, I don't know what is.

And then there are my personal favourites. History doesn't relate their names, but they were grave-diggers at St Botolph's, Aldgate, charged with disposing of the remains of those who had succumbed to the final humiliation in the mass graves reserved for paupers. One was in the bottom of the pit when he was overcome by methane given off by the decomposing corpses therein. He keeled over and his son jumped in to help him out. He keeled over as well. A companion leaned over to see what had happened and dropped in too. Four people kicked the bucket that day and another only narrowly survived.

Getting depressed? Well, don't even think about popping yourself off to avoid the horror. That was what Lupe Velez tried. Lupe was a second- string film star and former wife of Johnny Weissmuller who went for the glam suicide option. Candles, purple sheets, the lot. Only the overdose she took disagreed violently with her tum and she rushed to the loo to disgorge. Where she tripped, knocked herself out and was found the next day face down in the porcelain bowl. Irony will get you in the end

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