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» Real-life slapstick

Remember kids, smoking's bad for you
A friend's grandad (or great-grandad - some branch on the family tree, anyroad) worked on road repairs for the council. To be precise, he drove the steamroller. Once the boiler was lit and the steam was up to pressure, he'd release the nurdler valve and trundle out of the depot gates to wherever he was needed. There was a cornershop on the road from the depot. Our man's daily routine was to put a bit of left-hand-lock on the steering and step nimbly off the footplate, in through the side door of the shop, slap down his one-and-six for the box of matches and twenty Woodbine that would be ready waiting on the counter, pick them up, and walk smartly out of the other door and swing up back on to the steamroller as it came round the corner and, with as much elan as you can muster on a slow-moving steam-powered piece of heavy plant, away.

Except one day he missed his footing and fell flat on his face. Literally: the back wheel went over him. The steam roller carried on turning and demolished the cornershop.
(Tue 26th Jan 2010, 2:04, More)

» Real-life slapstick

A sidecar named desire
There's something fundamentally slapstick about motorbikes and sidecars, never mind the fact that one holds the outright lap record for Brands Hatch, that makes them irresistible to sitcom writers. I'm ashamed to admit my headline has also been used for a Last of the Summer Wine episode. You never will get the comical separation of bike and chair, as so frequently depicted, but they are a hoot to ride.

It's nothing like a solo bike - you'd be amazed how many bikers don't imagine that third wheel will make a difference. The handlebars are there simply to provide something to hang onto, they're not much cop for steering purposes. No, to go left, you open the throttle. The bike accelerates around the sidecar, and hey presto you're turning anti-clockwise. To turn right, hit the brakes, and the sidecar finds itself moving faster than the bike. Pretty soon you'll be drifting round right-handers and waggling the sidecar wheel in the air round left-handers. Doesn't half impress other road users, that one. Especially your passengers. George and Mildred, my arse.

But the first time you try and ride one, blimey, Charlie. It's worse when you get that tiny bit of confidence, think you've cracked it, and decide to show off to your mates. You belt off round the block, whack open the throttle to get you round the last left-hander, with nonchalant grin under your piss-pot helmet. Then you realise the sidecar wheel isn't actually on terra firma, and nobody's written a post on an online forum telling you that's ok, it happens now and then, and whatever you do don't back off when it does. Your grin takes on something of the rictus, your ingrained habits kick in and your foot stomps the brake pedal while your hand takes a death-grip on the brake lever. If you were paying attention in the previous paragraph, you'll know what happens next: the bike slows, the sidecar slews round, and suddenly your mates are looking much less impressed as a ton of metal, patently out of control, heads straight for them on the pavement.

They jump out of the way as the outfit ploughs into the wall, leaving a huge dent in the brickwork. Bike, sidecar and rider all miraculously unscathed - truly the gods smile on drunks and fools, and, no, I'd not been drinking. All I can say is, there was some pretty impressive forward planning when it came to choosing the site of Bradford Road Safety Centre.
(Wed 27th Jan 2010, 0:29, More)

» Real-life slapstick

Should've gone to Specsavers.
My dad went to the opticians for a new pair of glasses, and walked into a lamp-post on his way home.

(Tue 26th Jan 2010, 1:19, More)

» Real-life slapstick

Let's all go down the strand
Banana skins? Yeah, right, they went out of slapstick fashion along with stepping on a rake and looking down the sharp end of a hosepipe, ooh, around about the time the talkies came in. Look, Ted bloody Bovis in Hi-de-bloody-Hi talked about them being a comedy staple. How much more proof do you need that they're not funny?

Except, except... On a drizzly, dank evening in 1994, at the exit to the Vasileostrovskaia Metro station, where the wind whips in off the Gulf of Finland and where the apartment blocks huddle together in groups to disperse radioactive fallout. It's that kind of a cheery place. The St. Petersburg winner (and believe me there's stiff competition) of the Nora Batty lookalike contest - headscarf, blue raincoat, face hewn off the distaff side of Mt Rushmore - struggles out the station door and shuffles off down the plaza with a bulging net carrier bag in each hand, the kind Russians fold up and carry on the off-chance you come across something worth buying, because you knew it won't be there later. The economic chaos of the early 90s meant Soviet habits died hard, and it was a struggle for many to make ends meet. Russia had the best-educated taxi drivers, not to mention other unfortunates working the streets, in the world. I can't remember now what she had found, but whatever it was it looked heavy.

Now it wasn't quite wartime levels of deprivation: people didn't have to be told that bananas needed peeling; they had seen them before. At least, one person near that station exit obviously had. Mind you, poor Nora Ivanovna obviously hadn't seen the banana skin. I wonder what went through her mind as her feet went up in the air. Her legs and torso described a perfect right angle with the arms still weighed down vertically by the net bags. I swear for a moment she floated there, a blue-clad geometric vision backlit by the advertising hoardings, a martyr to the immutable rules of comedy. Then down she went with a crump.

I don't know what happened after that. I was too busy wiping away tears of laughter. Part of it stemmed from a post-modern disbelief: "Bugger me, I have actually just seen someone slip on a banana skin" but, let me be honest, most of it was sheer hilarity at the misfortune of someone else. And do you know what the worst thing was? The fact that she'd seemed miserable as sin prior to just made it all the funnier. I've never seen it happen since. But, frankly, after that performance, I don't need to.
(Tue 26th Jan 2010, 1:16, More)