KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
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.