After Christmas some years ago, one of my relatives took down the decorations. Indoors the job was easy; outdoors less so, since his display of festive garden lights rivals Blackpool’s illuminations. Such is their magnificence, you can probably see them from Mars.

Collecting the strings of bulbs, he moved from eaves and garage to one of his taller trees. Rather than unfold the step ladders, he merely propped them against the trunk. He was reaching for the upper branches when suddenly - predictably - they slipped from beneath his feet. Leaping into the arms of the tree, and clinging on like a firefighter to the station pole, he hollered for help. Fortunately a neighbour heard him and came to his aid. The next day he could barely move his limbs for squeezing so hard. His respect for koala bears now knows no bounds.

Another friend, while strimming a hedge, half-severed a finger. Just writing that makes my stomach flip. Similarly awful was when my sister caught her fingers in the whirring blades of a blender. I can still see the blood spatter on the walls.

Accidents, clearly, are lying in wait, whether we’re strolling in the country, or making lunch. Most of us try to be careful, but not all of us succeed. A recent report from the NHS about the mishaps leading to hospital admissions in 2020 suggests that, with more empty hours than usual to fill, the population found increasingly inventive ways of landing in A&E. The figures might only cover England, but the story they tell is universal.

Unequivocally they show that, in the midst of a global medical panic, some people were less rather than more cautious. While a swathe of the country was metaphorically bubble-wrapping itself, others were enjoying a second childhood or trying over-enthusiastically to emulate the antics of Joe Wicks or Jamie Oliver.

The catalogue of errors that filled hospital beds does not include the injured who were patched up in the emergency department, or by their GP. That’s a hidden army of walking wounded, identifiable only by their scars and limps. By far the biggest reason for admission to a ward was “overexertion and strenuous or repetitive movements”, which afflicted more than 12,000. I’m guessing that includes home gym enthusiasts who hit the wrong setting on their cross-trainer, and the house proud who, in the absence of tradesmen, decided to paint their living room ceiling in homage to the Sistine chapel and later discovered their arms were locked above their heads. Not for nothing did Michelangelo devise scaffolding.

Being bitten or struck by a dog - does that mean knocked over? - was the second most common hazard, accounting for 7386 casualties. As the nation cooed over newly purchased puppies, hospitals were stocking up on tetanus jabs, suture kits, and replacement knees and hips. Power tools also got out of control, accounting for 5600 serious mishaps. As did less animated hardware such as hand saws and hammers. Lawnmowers mowed down 349 Monty Don wannabees.

We can skip over the rat and spider bites and the case of a 90-year-old attacked by a crocodile or alligator, and focus instead on the eight intrepid ninety-somethings who hurt themselves mucking around on children’s play park equipment. As did innumerable would-be gymnasts over the age of 30. Children generally bounce when they fall, whereas adults imitate stones.

My tree-hugging relative narrowly avoided joining the 962 who lived to regret mistaking a venerable oak for a climbing frame. What all this tells us is that, in the months when motorway hoardings and TV adverts were urging us to stay at home, save lives, and protect the NHS, countless folk went out of their way to embark on activities designed to fill the surgical ward.

One of my friends, whose middle name is schadenfreude, enjoys watching 24 Hours in A&E which, he tells me, is filled with men of a certain age who have fallen off ladders. Other than buying a scarlet Lamborghini, there’s no surer sign of a mid-life crisis than a bloke, loudly asserting that it’s perfectly safe, putting up rattly, ill-balanced steps and heading skywards, with a life-threatening implement in one hand and a mug of builder’s tea in the other.

Some of us are naturally gung-ho, others see pitfalls everywhere. As one of the latter, I take the view that since there are enough life-threatening eventualities we cannot control, there’s no need to go looking for more. A writer friend felt differently. To celebrate his 60th birthday he went paragliding, and was blown against a rock face. He recuperated in Raigmore hospital, reading boxloads of books, and felt the after-effects for the rest of his days. Yet the same might happen, medically speaking, when I next drive - or walk - to the shops. An icy corner, a reckless oncoming car, swerving to avoid a rabbit, could land me in the Borders General with time to read not just War and Peace but Tolstoy’s entire backlist.

It could send you loopy, anticipating the ways in which everyday behaviour might turn out badly. Perhaps some of those who found themselves on the wrong end of a rotavator or rottweiler in 2020 were wise, putting anxiety to one side, curbing their overactive imaginations, and getting on with life. Indeed, maybe the prevailing sense of pandemic doom in which we have been living, not knowing when any of us might be felled, made it feel worth running greater risks than normal. Others, of course, won’t have thought at all as they flambeed the Christmas pudding with a blowtorch or roller-bladed towards a barbed-wire fence.

But that’s only natural, isn’t it? To calculate the odds of harm in every activity would mean never leaving the house. Or, if you did, taking a hard hat, first aid kit and personal injury lawyer. Life is full of dangers, but even scarier than the fear of a falling tree, or an escaped python in the laundry cupboard, or the barbecue spontaneously combusting, is the prospect of living as if every hour might be your last. So it might prove, but that shouldn’t stop us getting on with things as if we have all the time in the world. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is to savour the moment. And think twice about balancing on the top rung.

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