How does one relate the news of a particularly embarrassing demise, muses Nigel Farndale.
A contender has emerged for the Darwin Awards, a website that honours those who improve the human gene pool by accidentally removing themselves from it. Usually the nominees are incompetent terrorists or bank robbers who blow themselves up by mistake, but they can be from any field and I think the jogger in South Carolina who was killed in embarrassing circumstances last week must qualify for a nomination. Because he was listening to his iPod, he didn’t hear the approaching light aircraft as it made an emergency landing …
Two thoughts strike me about this unfortunate incident. The first is that I can see how it might have happened. “Podestrians”, as they are known to the emergency services, now account for one in 10 of all minor accidents involving the sudden braking of cars or bikes. There is a path I cycle along on my way to the station. Joggers use it too and, whenever I approach one from behind, I ring my bell. Usually it makes no difference because they are listening to their iPods. I don’t want to make them jump. I derive no satisfaction from it. In fact, I worry that I will give one of them a heart attack and this will be a great inconvenience to me, having to call the ambulance and then wait for it to arrive, holding their sweaty jogger’s hand while muttering words of comfort.
My second point is that I feel sorry for the South Carolina jogger’s relatives having to pass on the news of his demise. It can never be easy when the circumstances are embarrassing because there is always the danger it will prompt an inappropriate laugh. Elvis Presley was a good example of this (Evelyn Waugh too, if rumours are to be believed). Constipation sufferers both, they went while, shall we say, on an unsuccessful visit to the bathroom.
Autoerotic asphyxia victims such as Stephen Milligan — the Tory MP found dead with an orange in his mouth and fishnets stockings on his legs — keep news pages supplied with other examples. Farmers too. There are always about half a dozen each year who die after falling in a slurry pit. The number of men who die each year after taking Viagra is similar. And there are always several deaths caused by toppling vending machines and people being trapped in saunas. But the embarrassing death need not be self-inflicted. Imagine being the one who had to tell Edward II’s mother what had happened to her son.
“Dead! No! How?”