I have never broken any bones; not when  I was a kid doing daft things, not when I was a young man still doing daft things, and not now (or should I say yet?) as an old man at increased risk of falling over.  An exception might be my nose which I probably did break playing rugger at school.  Somehow breaking a nose doesn’t seem to count – no tell-tale plaster smothered in signatures, not even any certainty that it is actually broken; a non-event.

There have been plenty of times when I should have broken bones.  Going headfirst over the handlebars  on my bicycle, skidding on gravel on a fast bend and falling off my motorbike, being flung forward in a taxi that did an emergency stop (I know, I know, wear the seat belt), falling down rocks on a holiday in Ikaria.

However, the most stupid accident, when breaking bones would have been entirely deserved, was when I fell off the tailgate of a Land Rover and bounced to an eventual halt down an unforgiving tarmac road.

Explaining the circumstances will only serve to confirm my foolishness.  I was a young subaltern in the army doing National Service and we had been on a firing range all day.  The targets were dispayed on large squares of hessian fixed to wooden frames.  They were too large to go into the back of a Land Rover.  As a keen young subaltern in charge of clearing up after a day’s shooting practice , I ordered the soldiers at my disposal to stack the hessian frames onto the roof of the Land Rover.  Taking this sort of initiative was entirely appropriate for a young subaltern; indeed, you could argue that all the officer training I had received had been in preparation for such a moment.

The soldiers (they were Malaysian, we were in Singapore) obediently did as I had decreed, giving no hint of any misgivings.  Having stacked the hessian frames onto the roof, another problem reared its head; we had no rope with which to secure the load.  Undaunted, I rose to the occasion once again and announced that I would stand on the tail gate and lean forward with my arms outstretched to prevent the hessian frames from lifting as we moved forward.  The soldiers demurred. This, of course, was standard practice; orders were to be obeyed without question.  I realised later that the soldiers, far from being in awe of my ability to improvise, were a few steps ahead of me in anticipating a likely unintended consequence.

I instructed the driver (also Malaysian) to drive VERY SLOWLY and the rest of the squad were left to march back to base.  I gallantly took up my position on the tailgate.

Alarmingly, the Land Rover gathered speed and the hessian frames started to lift.  I fought to keep them down, calling out to the driver to slow down.  He failed to hear my cries or, alternatively, decided to teach a young, headstrong subaltern a lesson.  The speed of the Land Rover increased.  The hessian frames flapped uncontrollably.  Suddenly they became airborne, pushing me  backwards.  I hit the road on my left hand side and, after a long slide down the tarmac that shredded my tropical gear and a few layers of skin, I came to a halt under the Land Rover where the driver, seeing my plight in the wing mirrors, had finally braked.

Blooded and bruised, but miraculously with no broken bones, my wounds went septic.  This tended to happen when you broke your skin in Singapore/Malaya.  It took weeks to heal and I still bear some tell tail scars.

And all because I was arrogant enough to think I could conquer the slipstream.  Or was it because I assumed the driver understood what driving VERY SLOWLY meant?  Clearly, something got lost in translation.


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There is no such thing as a non-learner, only inappropriate learning opportunities.