Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Please don't jump off the roof, Gordon

In the days when the BBC broadcast programmes with titles as patronising as Children’s Favourites, I particularly enjoyed my regular Saturday morning singalong with that most unlikely crooner, Tommy Cooper. His song was called “Don’t Jump Off the Roof, Dad” and concluded with the appeal “If you must end it all, Dad, please give us a break. Just take a walk to the park, Dad, and there you can jump in the lake.”

Desperation and suicide no longer seem to be considered fit subjects for kiddie-friendly comedy in 2009, even by such exponents of edginess as Jonathan Ross. Yet when I found myself caught up in the aftermath of some poor soul taking the easy way out on Friday evening, the only possible reactions were to laugh or cry. In which case, I always feel a strong preference for the former.

To be honest, my own involvement was completely tangential. My fiancée was travelling from Chester to London to meet me for an evening at the theatre. And, having dashed to the station from work and caught her train with about five seconds to spare, gasping for breath, she naturally found herself delayed for more than three hours by a death on the line.

This at least made a refreshing change from the long string of problems on the West Coast main line caused by failures of overhead equipment, immediately after they had finished spending £9 billion of our money on an upgrade. Believe me, if you ever feel aggrieved with the service between Newcastle and King’s Cross, you do not know how lucky you are.

If you are stuck on one of Sir Richard Branson’s trains on the other side of the country, you cannot even relieve your feelings by firing off abusive emails. He may aspire to take passengers into space, but it has apparently never occurred to his minions that those on the ground might quite like wi-fi.

Every year some 200 people decide to end it all under a train, and in my experience quite a few of them reach the end of their rope just as the Friday evening rush hour is getting underway. Is it the prospect of another weekend alone, or with a family they have finally decided that they cannot stand?

If your thoughts are running along those lines, I am here to beg you to think again. While I cannot deny that I have considered it myself in the past, experience of its effects on others has led me to conclude that suicide really ought to be rendered socially unacceptable on account of its total selfishness.

Frankly I don’t think it comes much more selfish than popping up in front of a traumatised train driver who has no chance of avoiding you, and screwing up the happy plans of thousands of your fellow human beings. So please do not end it all, and if you absolutely must then find a way of doing it quietly in the privacy of your own home. Gas explosions are another no-no.

But think first whether you would really have wanted to die if you had been aboard the amazing Captain Sullenberger’s plane last week, as it plunged towards the Hudson. Surely not. Now that really was no time for a novice, and I promise that I shall never scoff again when the stewardesses run through those life jacket demonstrations before take-off.

Now reflect that we are all aboard a similarly hazardous flight as Captain Brown battles with the controls to bring the crippled British economy to a safe landing. It has never been done before, but then neither had ditching a full passenger jet on water. Surely it will be worth hanging around just to see whether he can pull it off?

Do keep your fingers crossed, but on no account hold your breath.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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