Tuesday 26 October 2010

From bulbs to earplugs via crocodiles

With the country already reeling under the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review, it was maybe not the best of times to subject it to the whirlwind of a visiting toddler.

I am writing this in Lewes, where Charlie Hann has reduced a blameless family to the condition of gibbering zombies through sleep deprivation. To be fair, we were not to know that our little tour would coincide with the attempted arrival of one of the last and clearly most recalcitrant of his molars.

But, as responsible adults, we should perhaps have consulted the universally applicable Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) and planned accordingly. Ideally by staying at home in a cork-lined room.

They were taking no chances with Murphy at the small hotel in Buckinghamshire where we broke our journey south. Noting that Mrs Hann’s bedside light did not work, and guessing the most likely reason, I unscrewed the bulb and took it to reception to ask for a replacement.

The woman at the desk looked at me as though I were holding a hand grenade clearly missing its pin.

Not only should I not have touched the bulb, but no-one else on the premises could possibly undertake anything as dangerous as attempting to replace it, which could be tackled only by an electrician with appropriate Elfin Safety certification.

The world has self-evidently gone mad. By the dim light of the one functioning lamp I lay in bed reading the accounts of tube bomb survivors at the 7/7 inquests, where the emergency services allegedly lurked sheepishly above ground while someone in authority completed the necessary risk assessments. Apparently it now has to be deemed safe before anyone can attempt a bit of life-saving.

Then the baby started screaming. By morning, everyone in that hotel knew how he felt and I empathised with all the other hoteliers and B&B owners who had been eager to accept our booking until we asked whether there would be room for a travel cot, and the line went dead. My wife moaned that it would be much easier to stick the baby in kennels and take the dog for a holiday. Currently, this does not seem such a bad idea at all.

In the sleepless hours of the next night, I read two animal stories in the news with a bearing on Murphy’s Law and Elfin Safety. In the first, two young men drowned in the Thames attempting to rescue a pet dog. The second rule of journalism, after the requirement for all air crash reports to include an eyewitness quote that “It was just like a ball of fire” is that the punch line of this story would be “The dog later scrambled to safety.” It did not disappoint.

Less predictable was the story of the Congolese air crash in which 20 people died after someone attempting to smuggle a crocodile in his sports bag (as you do) was unfortunate enough to have it escape on the final approach to Bandundu airport. The resulting mass panic fatally unbalanced the small aircraft. Naturally the crocodile survived the crash, but was then despatched by a bloke with a machete.

I know just how the killer felt. If I had been in possession of a machete in that Buckinghamshire hotel on Thursday night, the reception desk would now be a bit of a mess and I would be in police custody if I had not been gunned down because it was ruled to be too risky to attempt to disarm me.

While if our kind hosts for the last two nights had access to a suitable weapon, I dare say I might have been out of action on the column-writing front for some time, too. We’re on our way to Northumberland as you read this. I predict a run on earplugs.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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