Here is the only thing I have written in a year. It was, of course, produced for the fantastic Summer Special edition of All The Rage.
What to drop
I fell down the stairs yesterday. I forget which foot it was that glanced the cliff-edge of one stair and slid across it, causing me to shoot down the slope, and banging my right arm quite badly on the way. It was fortunate, perhaps, that I wasn’t carrying our one-year-old daughter at the time, as though I would like to think that hard-wired primordial coding would have kicked in and instructed my reflexes to do all I could to protect the child, even at risk of more serious injury to myself, who knows what might have happened?
Let’s assume that evolution in all its complexity would ensure that I saved the child at the expense of myself and any other items I happened to be carrying at the time. It is not uncommon for example for me to be making my way downstairs with the infant firmly tucked under one arm and my laptop under the other. The laptop is at least as delicate as a baby, but while it has been with me for longer, and contains countless priceless documents which I seem incapable of backing up, I think in a head-to-head with my actual biological progeny, I’m guessing – this is all conjecture: how could we know? – it is the computer that would be sacrificed.
Which leads us inevitably onto the question:
Not including babies, what is the hierarchy of objects to be dropped when falling down the stairs?
To investigate this I propose first a list of not quite randomly selected items, in alphabetical order: a balloon; a canary; a cat; a cup of tea; a fried egg sandwich; a laptop; the laundry; a piano; a plaster of Paris bagel and cream cheese paperweight; ten chocolate layer cakes; an unbound manuscript; a vase.
This list instantly throws up some mouthwatering fixtures – canary vs cat is the stand-out tie – but also several potential “local derbies”, such as “balloon: helium or air? and “laundry: ascending (clean) or descending (dirty)?”.
So, and in no particular order:
Piano We’re in strictly Laurel and Hardy / PG Tips territory here, the consequences of dropping a piano on the stairs being well documented. It is to be avoided, especially if you’re the pusher upper rather than the puller upper. But is it possible to drop a piano, if you’re pushing it upstairs? Doesn’t it drop you?
Ten Chocolate Layer Cakes There is a scene in Sesame Street, in one of the many songs dedicated to the number 10, in which a baker, holding a pyramid of ten chocolate layer cakes at the top of some stairs, sings “ten chocolate layer cakes”, and then falls down the stairs. It makes a right mess.
Fried Egg Sandwich We all understand the pain of losing a lovingly prepared fried egg sandwich before the first bite, and there’s the risk of some staining here too, especially if we consider the high probability of tomato sauce. However, the potential for serious damage is limited. Perhaps if that was the last egg, the safety of the sandwich should be prioritised, otherwise, regrettably, it might have to go.
Cup of Tea It’s the fried egg sandwich again, but with more valuable crockery – is it part of a set?
Cat and Canary The ability of a cat to right itself after release is legendary, and even on the uneven surface of a staircase, it should be able to escape the incident relatively unscathed. It is a cat. The canary is more contingent: a loose canary, a bird in the hand as it were, should, like the cat, be fairly self-reliant, unless it is being carried upstairs because it is has fallen asleep watching the snooker. Equally, a caged canary would only be able to mitigate slightly the effect of gravity, so an effort should be made to hold on to it.
Laundry Traditionally considered a “non-breakable” item, there is minimal risk involved in letting go of laundry in an emergency, the only slight concern might be that the clean laundry becomes dirty on falling, especially if dropped in conjunction with an egg sandwich. We shall assume for the sake of the argument that the laundry is not sufficiently dirty as to become a potential source of embarrassment if allowed to tumble out of the basket.
Balloon Dropping a standard domestic air/breath-filled balloon is relatively harmless. Dropping, or at least letting go of, a helium-filled balloon runs the risk of balloon loss, especially if, to add a consideration not hitherto introduced, the staircase is exposed to the open air. This in turn depends on the presence of a string attached to the balloon, and whether the string is tied to part of the body. Perhaps the balloon is being carried upstairs in 1994 after a Christmas party for employees of a leading insurance company, this particular employee having walked the four miles from the Botanical Gardens to their house in the early hours of the morning with the balloon tied to their wrist.
Plaster of Paris Bagel and Cream Cheese Paperweight In all honesty, this item was serving merely as a pretext to acquire the girl in the coffee shop’s phone number, and as such can be released without guilt. Almost entirely without guilt.
Vase Are you just working in the museum in the summer holidays, or is this your career? You are about to find out.
Unbound Manuscript Inevitably, whilst you had finished the dissertation with plenty of time to cycle down to the department office before 4.45, you had seriously underestimated how long it would take to spell check and print it, and now you are cutting it very fine, and, gambling on the secretary having one of those really industrial staplers or something, just gather it into a bundle and set off down the stairs. It is at this point that you start to wish you had bothered to number the pages.
Laptop Hey, it’s a MacBook.
And here it is, the order in which you should drop various random items if you are about to fall down the stairs.
1. Balloon (air)
3. Canary (uncaged, awake)
4. Plaster of Paris Bagel and Cream Cheese Paperweight
5. Balloon (helium)
6. Laundry (descending)
7. Laundry (ascending)
8. Fried Egg Sandwich
9. Cup of Tea
10. Ten Chocolate Layer Cakes
11. Unbound Manuscript
12. Canary (caged/asleep)
Remember, it’s very important to try to hold on to the baby.