Sunday, 28 December 2008

Travels with Muriel VI: meeting my cousins

Just when I was congratulating myself on having spent quite a bit of time drawing sober breath - days, in fact - my cousins came to visit. Robert and Steven are my auntie Janet and uncle Brian's sons. Robert and his wife Gill live in the Channel Islands; Steven is a barber, among oher things.

They are in their 40s, like me, and clearly aren't afraid of a party. We had a second Christmas dinner last night, catered with apparently effortless style by Janet and Brian, and we managed to stay up until some appalling time (it could have been 3am but I'm hoping it wasn't) drinking and playing word games. They forced me to guess the name of a magician I didn't know (my attempts - Houdini and Merlin - were greeted with veritable hoots of derision; the right answer was Tommy Cooper and I'm still not entirely convinced they didn't just make that up; my uncle Brian certainly made up some words in order not to be bombed out of another game ('ungulous'?); and I discovered that Robert has an encyclopaedic knowledge of movies going back to well before he was born. Who woulda knew?

So I don't have much to say this morning of a travel nature - all I have to report is that I have a pretty hefty hangover (although I have to add, better than usual because I am successfully pretending to be a non-smoker during this trip and haven't had a fag for over a week and strangely enough haven't wanted one - even though Steven smokes and I thought that might tempt me).

This seems as good a spot as any to mention that the British - who have, during their time, produced some truly intrepid explorers, at least one alarmingly brazen woman warrior (aside from Maggie Thatcher), and Richard Branson - are completely obsessed with safety, or at least the notion of it. I have heard the irritating injunction 'Safety first' from practically everyone I've come across on this island, from the minister who conducted the Christmas Eve service in Hitchin (and who seemed genuinely concerned about the possibility that the candles lit by his congregration to represent Jesus as the Light of the World might simply fly out of control and burn the church to the ground) to the driver of the coach that brought me here ('I will be getting you all to your destination as quickly, but MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY, as safely as possible' - comforting, I suppose, for a South African, who is accustomed to bus drivers who regularly and cavalierly steer their vehicles over cliffs).

Perhaps the most amusing 'safety' issue I've yet seen was the label on Michele's kids' trampoline in Hitchin (which, I might add, isn't just a bouncy thing like we're used to back home, but comes complete with a safety net that brackets the entire piece of equipment, making it look like a huge and somewhat intimidating spider's web) which illustrates a stick man bouncing off the trampoline and onto his head - with a big red line through it. In other words, the label instructs users of the trampoline NOT to bounce off it and onto their heads.

Takes the fun out of it a bit, I think.

An example: This building, in Scotland, wasn't 'dangerous' by any stretch of the imagination. It was an old stable on an estate that had been bequeathed by some generous past landowner to The People. The most dangerous thing about it was that you might read the 'Keep Out' sign and laugh so hard you'd give yourself a hernia.

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