Over the last couple of years I’ve described how I’ve fallen into a urinal, failed to turn over an important sheet of paper, been thrown through the window of a car, sliced open my top lip just before a job interview, detached my retina, lost a front tooth, exposed myself in a swimming pool and been beaten up by a greengrocer. Many of these have been gathered together in a book, Unaccustomed as I Am. Here’s another one.
Looking back over the list it may seem that I’m clumsy, careless or accident-prone. I don’t think I am. Most of these things could have happened to anyone: as things worked out, they happened to me. Last Sunday, however, I did something really amazingly stupid, so much so that I’m lucky to be able to type an account of it with two hands.
It’s not the first time I’ve been really dumb, though in the past I’ve got away with it. Perhaps the most spectacular accident waiting to happen that didn’t happen was about twenty years ago when I was decorating my house in London. At about midnight, exhausted and slightly drunk, I found myself climbing down a rickety ladder which had several rungs missing. Wedged under one arm was a large sheet of glass; in the other hand was a large bowl of paint stripper, already pretty potent but which I’d been advised would work better if it were heated up close to boiling point on a Primus stove, which I had just done; between my teeth was a long screwdriver.
The assortment of objects and my position on the ladder would have kept an art critic in work for years interpreting the symbolism: assuming, of course, that some Florentine Old Master had been there to paint The Descent from the Attic. There was no Old Master, though, nor anyone else: I was alone in the house, another piece of folly. Half-way down the fumes nearly made me lose my footing and for a horrible moment I was on the edge of a really complicated accident. I descended, carefully put everything down and reflected on what the coroner at my inquest would have had to say.
Sunday’s incident was seemingly less perilous. Earlier in the week the handle of a garden rake had snapped leaving only the stump of the pole left in the socket. This had become swelled with damp and refused to budge, so the only option was to drill it out in order that a new handle could be fitted. Fixing the largest and roughest drill into the Black & Decker I set to work. All that happened was that the wood below the drill compacted itself into a hard, unyielding barrier.
I tightened my grip on the socket with my right hand and pressed the drill even harder with my left. It struck me that the plastic was getting hot, suggesting that the drill had veered off course and was working against the inside of the socket. I could feel the vibrations. Clearly the socket wasn’t that thick. With a rare prescience, I found myself visualising the drill bursting through the plastic and embedding itself in the palm of my right hand. About ten seconds later this is exactly what happened.
Like a lot of wounds it looked a lot worse than it was but I had to undergo some ridicule from Penny; from the guests at a lunch-time drinks party; from the nurse at the doctors’ surgery the following day; and, when I stopped to think about, from myself. Impatience, lack of forethought, unsuitable equipment and a pig-headed refusal to change tactics had, once again, undone me.
But the injuries were not yet over.
The day before this fiasco I’d broken a glass in my study and had not really made as good a job as I might have done at clearing the pieces. Despite this, on Monday evening I went in there in my bare feet: why I thought this was a good idea I have no idea. Aside from the glass threat, it was a cold night and it’s a cold room. Sure enough, I soon felt a sharp shooting pain on one of my toes. Cursing, I bent down and examined my toe. No glass in it and none on that area of the floor. Could this be gout? The pain was certainly getting worse.
Resolving to do something right, I went down and got the hoover. It was while I was giving the carpet under the desk a good dose of full nozzle that a large insect reared up, flew into my face, buzzed helplessly for a few moments and then expired behind the radiator. On one of the coldest nights of the year I had been stung by a wasp.
In fact, I don’t think this was a real wasp at all. I think it was a cautionary wasp, sent by my guardian angel who was so appalled at the drill/rake idiocy, followed by the padding round in bare feet after breaking a glass, that s/he had sent this winged and striped fury to give me a short, sharp shock.
Beyond confirming the old adages that most accidents happen at home and that danger is found in unlikely places, there are no morals I can extract from these sorry incidents. I can still move all my fingers and all my toes so I’m at least no worse off than when I got up on Sunday morning. Am I a wiser man, though? Sadly, I doubt it. The wasp sting has long since gone and the wound on my hand is healing. As the scar fades so no doubt will the memory: so, come late January, if you need the stump of a wooden handle drilled out of the socket of a plastic garden rake, give me a ring. I’ve done it before, after all, and it’s a perfectly simple task. What could possibly go wrong?