If folk laugh when you fall you are young; if they panic you’re past it

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Watch your step, Banksy!

I HAD A FALL YESTERDAY. Not a sprinting-for-the-bus-and-tripped-on-the-kerb sort of fall, nor a three-sheets-to-the-wind-but-didn’t-spill-a-drop kind of comeuppance.

No, this was a fall that says you are old. If you simply ‘fall’ it’s no big deal: you roll over several times and call for a penalty. Or you are run out. Or a teammate collects the ball from the boundary.

Let’s face it,  if you fall and people laugh you are young; if you fall and people panic then you’re old. That’s the difference between falling and ‘having a fall’. Believe me, I’m an expert.

This latest fall occurred as I was welcoming London friends Ajit and Maureen into our garden for a spot of tea on the terrace. Perfect weather, birds singing, water feature gurgling, then. . . CRASH! Down I went.

From where my guests stood all was panic and concern. From where I lay on the hard, York stone paving, a forest of legs was thundering down on me from all directions, hands grabbing my arms and heaving, ineffectually, at my sprawling bulk.

“Bugger off!” I roared with the simple gratitude and willingness to accept help for which I am rightly notorious. “I’m okay, I can’t fall any further. Let me just lay here awhile.”

Lying still while gingerly stretching limbs one by one in a sort of DIY triage routine – as your chest pounds a rallentando – is, I have found over recent years, very much the best way to avoid adding a heart attack to grazed knees and general embarrassment.

Why do I fall? Well, having one eye and a seriously impaired sense of balance doesn’t help. Plus I’m not so much nimble as ‘numb-le’ these days so I go down at the drop of a hat (particularly when picking up said titfer!).

Slippery, sloping surfaces are a sure thing when it comes to ‘ground-surfing’. The garden is a favourite place: I knocked myself out while weeding a steep bank sent me tumbling onto the patio once and I demolished an entire glass wall of the greenhouse while watering the tomatoes one year.

But I am an indoor champion, too. I fractured a couple of vertebrae when I slipped in the shower; then I reduced a fireside table and stool to matchwood when I over-reached for the TV channel changer and managed to rearrange the lounge décor in the resultant tumble.

There was a time when falls were everyday, not-to-be-feared events. In my earliest years in journalism I joined the Territorial Army in order to report, firsthand, on the activities of the South Lancs, an artillery regiment with a battalion based in Warrington. At our annual camp on the Isle of Man I joined a beach rugby game and was hit from behind by an unseen tackler of similar height and weight but different from me in one important respect: while I was a milksop junior reporter trained on ciggies and pints of bitter he was a semi-professional rugby league forward who played for Blackpool Borough.

As I lay, winded in the sand, I swear I trod the white Wembley Way to Heaven. Fifty years later, penning this reminiscence of the ‘Tackle Which Almost Killed Me’ (some soldier I would have made!) I read a Guardian column by sports writer Richard Williams eulogising the late and great Wales and British Lions captain John Dawes, whose mastery of the sport, Williams recalled, came at a time “when rugby was a game of evasion rather than collision”.

I seem to have arrived at a time of life where falls, once avoided by natural ability, are merely a matter of inevit-ability. . .

Boris the testicular chancer
I LOVE THE WAY a seed sown in a well-written newspaper column can germinate and mature into a full-blown forest of opinions (unlike my own febrile broadcasts which either fall on stony ground or rot, wither or are otherwise blown away by reader ridicule).

Samuel Earle, writing in The Guardian, argued that the right-wing press stokes an irreconcilable culture war in society by inventing divisions: those who campaign for more inclusive policies become “the woke mob” and “the loony left”; those who want students to learn about the darker parts of Britain’s history become “people who hate Britain”; judges and politicians who want to follow basic parliamentary procedures become “enemies of the people”and so on.

In every case, Sam argued, we’re told that the future of the nation is at stake leaving us with the image of a rift between North London liberals obsessed with identity politics and sidelined social conservatives who have been ignored in ‘the red wall’ constituencies north of Watford.

Within 24 hours one reader had coined the word ‘hyperbollocks’ to describe such campaigns of exaggeration and falsification and almost immediately another reader responded by defining the word testiculating as “Boris Johnson waving his arms about while talking bollocks.”

Groundhog Day for my missing underpants
IT WAS JUST AFTER LUNCH one Tuesday afternoon and I had been on hold on the M&S complaints line for 35 minutes and 10 seconds. . .

During that time I became more familiar with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concerti than either Nigel Kennedy or the Red Priest himself; was assured a dozen times that, although M&S were experiencing a higher than normal level of calls (blame Brexit/Coronavirus/Matt Hancock) my call was particularly important to them (unless I would like to hang up and call back some other time?); and was finally dumped, inappropriately, in the ear of a bemused customer services person at the M&S Bank who unhelpfully switched me back to the start of the giddy merry-go-round.

I have now been trying for more than a week to establish what has happened to the nine pairs of underpants (don’t ask; I’m a big bloke) I ordered online from the M&S website, for which £72 has been taken from my bank account and deposited in theirs.

M&S have been promising “delivery today” every day for a week now via a succession of emails which began on June 6 with “Order processed”; June 7, “Pick-up scheduled. The package has been prepared and is waiting to be picked up by Hermes”; June 8, “Dispatched, goods have been sent. In transit, goods are on the way”, followed by “Delivery is being prepared, goods have arrived in the destination region”.

Bear with me, dear reader, for this is where the Tale of Banksy’s Missing Underpants gets interesting. A second email arrives, announcing: “Delivery delayed. An exception occured (sic). Pedant that I am, the spelling error appalls and yet interests me more than the delay. Until the next day, when the whole ridiculous cycle of is repeated exactly as before (including the spelling error). . . and the following day. Then the next day . . . and the next.

This continues for a week or so. Same emailed promise; same evening apology. Result: my underpants are at rock bottom.

Finally, one week after sorry saga began, I called M&S at the crack of dawn to cancel the order and demand my money back.

“Don’t do that,” was the customer service operator’s plaintive plea. “I’ll fix it for you.”

You’ll be pleased to know that she did. Twenty-four hours later my big bag of big ‘uns duly arrived, having been taken out of the hands of Hermes, wing’d messenger of the goods, and sent safely via Royal Mail.

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