Tipping Point

While falling less than gracefully, breakfast over brain down the stairs I remembered a fact from sometime in a former life: stairs are the most dangerous place in the home.

The speed of thought eh? Normal routine operations, memories, reflection, inspiration, the words of a song I could not remember until I started not to think about it (how does that work?) I am sure that these things are going on simultaneously; that the fantastically effective machinery of the human brain sorts them, arranges them, prioritises them and shuffling them, as appropriate, from conscious to sub-conscious, active to emergency, necessary (so worthwhile) not necessary (so discard) without us ever being aware of what is happening. Some thoughts stored, memorised, others rehearsed and shelved.

Looking back, retrospect is only given to those who survive, it seems so many things were running round my head at the same time I was toppling: instructions on how to programme the satnav I have borrowed, how I might next try to defeat the “unholy skeleton guards” in the role playing game I have free time on (nothing has worked so far, including triple socketed heroic swords with fancy names!), how I lost my balance … and … absolutely nothing about which muscles to load, flex, relax in order to fall on my feet, like a cat on speed, or to soften the inevitable impact!

At what stage in such an incident do we realise we cannot recover to a normal standing pose? What processes are involved? Muscle memory? Recent experience? Instinct? Something else? There should always be the “something else category, it allows more thought at a later time, even dare I suggest it: research? At what stage, we probably lose balance more times than we realise, shoe-lace trips or uneven paths but recover with little more than an embarrassed smile and small loss of dignity because our bodies simply take over, making the necessary connections and physical adjustments (I must remember to thank my body more often – the time machine that carries me from today into tomorrow is a super design after all).

And, with my voyeuristic love of motorbikes and the super camera work now on televised Moto GP I have seen riders hurled from bikes at speeds approaching two hundred miles an hour, slide along wet tracks – and even as they are hurtling through space or across tarmac, grass or gravel – relax and align themselves to be able to convert the tumble into a run, to get the bike upright, remount and re-join the race. Incredible! Incredible fitness, incredible bravery and the ability to react to a near catastrophic fall. I have, incidentally, heard it said that the best way to survive a crash or a fall is to relax: drunks apparently (or apocryphally) get injured less than sober people (don’t try this at home kids!)

But I simply do not remember making the decision: I am not in control – I am falling. Certainly I do not remember any ninja-style moves to minimise damage. But afterwards, with the rue internal smile that recognises luck the thoughts and questions poured in. Little analysis: we have to stop leaving paper for shredding on the stairs and in future forget the magic armour capabilities and concentrate where you are putting your feet sums that part up.

A week later I was upstairs, actually making an impression on the demon villains (maybe it was buying Shuringiana’s Cloak of Starred Protection from a pedlar?) when I heard a thump from the stairway. Without even pressing pause (leaving my avatar to fend for his muscular, never falling self) I went to see… My wife had fallen over some paper left on the stairs.

We have to stop leaving paper for shredding …


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