Pissed-off Toff reveals his fear of slipping up, especially on wet leaves in the autumn. But he has discovered a workable solution.
If, for Keats, autumn was the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, it is, for me, the season of trying not to slip up – literally, not metaphorically.
We all know about the dangers of ice and banana skins, but ever since I had a nasty fall about fifteen years ago, slipping up has been a particular fear of mine. It happened late one evening in Rome, when I was walking along the smooth paving of an arcade. Failing to spot a wet patch in the dark, I stepped on it and fell backwards at the speed of lightening, causing the underside of one of my wrists to smash down with great force on the hard marble surface.
At the time it didn’t much hurt, but a few hours later the pain cut in, and then increased by degrees, becoming so acute that before long I was almost whimpering. Off to the hospital, therefore, where it emerged that my wrist was fractured. There was nothing to do, they said, except let it heal by itself. For days afterwards I was in agony, and it took weeks before I recovered fully.
Let us return to London and to today. A new development of daily life here is that the streets are strewn with elastic bands, large and small, scattered by postmen as they do their rounds. “So what?” you might think. So what, indeed … until you carelessly step on one of them and come crashing down.
Manhole covers, too. The other day, I placed a heel on a damp aluminium manhole cover, and lurched backwards, only just avoiding an undignified fall.
Nor is this fear of falling limited to the outside. Recently, treading by mistake on a pea on the floor of the kitchen (it sounds absurd, I know), I only just avoided a nasty tumble. No wonder cooks wear those special clogs. And have you ever tried walking barefoot on wet linoleum? Don’t, is my advice. Only yesterday, just after the cleaning woman had come, I attempted to walk across the kitchen barefoot. For reasons I won’t go into, I had no choice: I had to walk over the wet linoleum floor, and I had to do it barefoot. But it was just not possible, and in the end I walked round the side of the room, clinging on to the work surfaces.
So we come to the autumn, when the leaves look so beautiful on the trees. But once they have fallen onto a wet pavement, they are a real hazard. Worst of all is wet leaves on wet York paving. This combination is so dangerous that, when I come across it, I resort to walking in the road, where the rough tarmac surface represents safety.
If all this sounds rather bizarre, I am not alone. One woman I spoke to recently says she never goes out in wet weather at all, for fear of slipping up. Which I quite understand; because whilst there is something inherently comic about seeing someone slip up (especially on a banana skin), there is nothing comic about ending up in hospital with a smashed wrist or a broken hip.
However, I have belatedly discovered a solution – or a partial solution. And that is, to wear the right shoes. Being a bit of a shoe snob, I have always worn decent Oxfords or Derbys with full leather soles that have proper leather heels as well, except for the little rubber quartering on which your weight falls at the beginning of each step. And this is just the problem, because it is precisely this bit of black rubber which is so inadequate for gripping any sort of slippery surface.
The answer is straightforward. Taking a deep breath, one must, on damp autumn days, renounce snobbery and put on a different sort of shoe. In wet weather, therefore, I now wear something more modern – trainers, as often as not – with the sort of man-made sole that grips well. No longer, therefore, do those autumn leaves represent a potentially lethal danger.
No. With the leaves now largely neutralised, the real and present danger, in the streets of London, is being hit by one of those accursed cyclists who appear from nowhere, powering blindly ahead as though training for the Tour de France. Only yesterday I nearly came badly a cropper with one of them, when he emerged at great speed from the darkness of an autumn evening. But that’s another story …