Ian McMillan: Brains or no brains, don’t play the fall guy...

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Before you carry on through this golden field of sentences, let me issue you with what they call on TV (often accompanied by harsh and doomy music) a Stark Warning: Don’t Try This At Home. Just don’t. Any of it. Ever. In fact, let me construct this entire column from a series of Stark Warnings. The starker the better, as the naturist said. Don’t try any of this anywhere near your lovely home.

So: Don’t agree, when you’re working as a naïve young graduate on a building site near Sheffield in the late 1970s, to climb up onto some scaffolding that looks as though it was erected by someone whose expertise was more in playing the jazz trombone. Don’t feel, as you ascend the rickety ladder to the top in a howling gale, that because you are young and daft you will never fall off anything and anyway, if you do you fall off you’ll just fly like a bird.

Don’t forget your hard hat. Don’t leave it in the cabin. Don’t think: “Oh, I’ll go back for it later.” Don’t think: “Anyway, my head’s hard enough.’ Don’t walk along the boards at the top whistling nonchalantly and waving to your mate Arthur who is unloading bags of cement from a wagon.

Don’t fish in your pocket for a notebook to write down the poetic observation that from certain angles Arthur looks like he’s got a cement bag for a head. Don’t drift off into a reverie about spending the prize money you’ll get when you win a poetry competition with a sonnet about Arthur and the bags of cement called The Man With a Cement Bag for a Head. Don’t, whatever you do, take your eyes off the rail. Don’t let your jacket flap and get caught by the wind. Don’t momentarily lose concentration as you think about the poem and slip and trip and fall quite a long way down. Don’t shout rude and angry words: a number of children are out in the playground of a nearby junior school having an innocent and gleeful game of rounders. Don’t panic when the wind is knocked out of your body and your lungs feel like an empty pair of novelty bellows in an antique shop.

Don’t lie on the ground for too long because your workmates (they’re the ones rushing up and shouting: “Eyop, did tha see him go? Like a big sack of spuds!”) will think you’re more badly injured than you are. Don’t be in any hurry to stand up. Don’t, once you’ve stood up, gesture at the scaffolding in a comic manner and shake your fist at it; this won’t endear you to the horny-handed sons of toil who are working alongside you and who at best tolerate you as an amusingly soft student.

Don’t smile at the sweating gaffer when he runs up and says: “We should sack thi!” Don’t remind him that you’ve got a degree in politics and that falling quite a long way onto hard ground is not a dismissible offence. Don’t sit down suddenly and start blubbering and laughing with delayed shock. Don’t make your blubbering and laughing so loud that your dour Yorkshire workmates are both concerned and embarrassed and start saying things like: “Stop that. Stop that nar.”

Don’t do any of these things and you’ll be okay. Don’t try this at home.