FIONA LOONEY

KITCHEN SINK DRAMA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

I’m not sure whether it’s apoc­ryphal or not, but the story goes that when I was a child, one of my peers fell off the slide in Bushy Park and landed on his head on the con­crete. He was, by the ac­counts of the time, ‘never right’ af­ter­wards. I was told that by my mother, back at a time when the chances of me and my sib­lings fall­ing off the same slide and land­ing akimbo on the same con­crete were rel­a­tively high — hence I can­not en­tirely rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that it was fab­ri­cated as a cau­tion­ary tale. Be­sides, years later, when I hooked up with The Hus­band, it turned out that he also had a con­tem­po­rary who had sup­pos­edly fallen from a slide onto the con­crete ground of a play­ground and was also deemed ‘never right’ again. The chances of iden­ti­cal ac­ci­dents oc­cur­ring a decade apart in play­grounds on op­po­site sides of the Ir­ish Sea seemed re­mote to me, but I sup­pose any­thing is pos­si­ble in this crazy world.

Any­way, the most in­ter­est­ing part of those sto­ries — au­then­tic or not — is surely that the ground sur­face in play­grounds used to be con­crete. This, of course, was in an era be­fore in­sur­ance be­came the mas­sive cash-cow in­dus­try it cur­rently is: ac­cord­ing to the sto­ries, it never oc­curred to the par­ents of ei­ther the un­for­tu­nate boy in Dublin or his op­po­site num­ber in Liver­pool to sue their re­spec­tive lo­cal au­thor­i­ties for dam­ages. You didn’t, in those days. You goes up the slide and you takes your chances.

It couldn’t hap­pen now, of course, ei­ther in real life or the des­per­ate imag­i­na­tion of a ha­rassed mother. These days, play­grounds are car­peted ei­ther in soft wood chips or a kind of spongy tar­mac that might just al­low a fall­ing child to bounce. The rea­son for this, let’s be hon­est, has less to do with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties’ con­cerns over chil­dren be­ing ren­dered never right again and more to do with the very real fear of be­ing sued all the way to the bank­ruptcy courts — and for in­juries far more triv­ial than brain dam­age.

You prob­a­bly won’t be too sur­prised to learn that I am one of those peo­ple who shakes their head in ex­as­per­a­tion when I read of peo­ple tak­ing claims against night­clubs where they fell

When I trip on the paving I never think ‘compo’. If I fall in a

pub, I take it as noth­ing more than a sign that I should prob­a­bly go home

off their plat­form shoes and restau­rants who served cof­fee so hot, it burnt when they spilled it in their laps. To a cer­tain ex­tent, I am still with the ‘you goes up the slide, you takes your chances’ school of thought — when I trip over bro­ken paving slabs, I never think ‘compo’; if I fall in a pub, I take it as noth­ing more than a sign that I should prob­a­bly go home. I moralise on all this, of course, from the safe ground of the mer­ci­fully un­in­jured; if I were to be genu- in­ely hurt by some­body else’s feck­less­ness, I would wholly re­serve the right to change my stance. And, of course, since I prob­a­bly have as much in­sur­ance as the next man with an un­nec­es­sary neck brace, my stan­dards come in pairs. Still, when the Bren­nan In­sur­ance form first came home from the school — in spite of the whole wood-chip thing, I had no idea that chil­dren are now in­sured against calami­ties that might be­fall them on the school premises; I did con­sider opt­ing mine out of the com­pen­sa­tion cul­ture. But a dis­creet ask-around in­di­cated that they would most likely be the only chil­dren unin­sured in the whole school. And since I also sub­scribe to the ‘sod’s law’ school of thought, that would also, logic sug­gested, make them in­trin­si­cally more likely to be hit by a fall­ing roof tile than any of their school­mates. They would have been prac­ti­cally mov­ing tar­gets.

Still, a dozen years af­ter I filled in my first Bren­nan In­sur­ance form, the list of ‘ben­e­fits’ still amazes me. This year’s form prom­ises that if my child loses an eye, for ex­am­ple, we stand to make €100,000. If they loses both eyes, we’re in line for €150,000 (even though los­ing two eyes is surely more than twice as bad as los­ing one, if you see what I mean, which, if you’ve ever lost both eyes in the yard, you won’t).

Amongst the many calami­ties Bren­nan In­sur­ance lists, though, I note they have ne­glected to cover ‘never right again’. Per­haps their ac­tu­ar­ies couldn’t put a value on it. Or maybe, when they looked into the whole ‘never right again’ phe­nom­e­non, they con­cluded that it re­ally only ex­ists in Love/Hate, and in the heads of ter­ri­fied moth­ers hold­ing a chubby hand as it as­cends a slide for the very first time.

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