Sunday, June 22, 2014


Although I have no recollection of ever meeting anyone who actually had somebody's eye out with that, I recall being warned about the possibility on several occasions. Raspberry canes, in the wrong hands, must be the world's deadliest anti-ocular device.

Lectures about risk were regular. Walk downstairs properly not on the outside of the bannisters. Don't run with a drink in your hand. Don't hit your sister with that whatever was to hand.

In fact I paid little attention to those rules and the only occasion in my childhood I can recall attending Selly Oak Accident Hospital was preceded by the statement 'Mum I dug up an old light bulb.' I still have the scar in the palm of my left hand. Don't run excitedly to your mother with an old light bulb in your hand. Good advice that but I had never been given it.

In fact my parents had a strange attitude to risk. Living in a massive old Victorian house, much of which had fallen into disrepair, was a permanent adventure and we were allowed to play with things we found. Hide and seek could include an oily inspection pit in the garage. Building games took place with old bits of rough wood leading to splinters. Many of the planks we found had nails sticking out of them but nobody seemed to mind as long as we had a tetanus jab from time to time and always cleaned any wounds with Dettol.

The one thing that was an absolute no was playing in the front. In the street. This was not, as far as I could tell, because of the risk of abduction. Such things were not heard of in the early sixties and even the Moors murders failed to make a mark since the moors were in the north and it was well known that northern murderers never came south of Derby.

Neither was it a risk of car accident. Oakfield Road is a long straight suburban road where you could see and hear a car approaching easily and if you couldn't the gene pool would surely find other ways of removing you. In fact Oakfield Road was used by a local garage as a brake-testing strip in the days when that was done by mechanics not computers. It was a long, straight road with a thirty mile an hour limit where many drivers were expecting to jam on their brakes at some point. I doubt if there was a safer street in Brum.

No. The problem with playing out was that it was common. The sort of thing the people in Croydon and Luton Road did. And my mother required me, if going down to the shops, not to walk down Croydon Road for fear that I might catch working-classness.

I thought about this afresh today having observed a couple of builders place their ladder in the road on a busy blind corner. Then they proceeded to remove a piece of rotten wood and replace it with a stone lintel. Gloves to protect from splinters? Pah. Eye protection and face masks from the brick dust and chips? No way. Protective footwear? One had bare feet and the other wore flip-flops.

Discussing Gozitans' maniacal approach to risk - apprentice builders have to walk round the top of an uncompleted house wall before the roof is in place to show they are made of the right stuff - I recall the words of a travel rep some years back, 'Last week a priest fell down a hole; what can you do?'

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