From the archives:
When push comes to shove, I invariably topple over. If I am standing on a precipice, or at the edge of a gaping pit, this can be life-threatening. Thus, whenever my plans for the day include roaming in the vicinity of a yawning chasm, I take precautions by wearing a sort of winch-and-pulley affair, one end of which is wound around my torso, under my vest, and the other end of which I hammer into a patch of firm ground using a great big iron mallet. I am careful to ensure that this end of my winch-and-pulley is stuck fast in the earth, for if there is any chance of it working itself loose, the entire activity would be pointless, for if, heaven forbid, I were to topple when shoved, my efforts would have been in vain, for the crumbling or squelchy soil would yield up my winch-and-pulley and I would surely topple as if I had never been attached to anything in the first place. That is such a terrible prospect that I make efforts to map out in advance the terrain in which I plan to wander, perhaps a week or so ahead. Of course, fugitive weather conditions can alter the state of the ground as shown on my charts, but risk and chance play a role in all human affairs, and there is no reason why my roamings should be exempt. When setting out on my map-making expeditions, I usually attach one end of the winch-and-pulley to some stable object like a horse-trough or a concrete sundial.
My benefactors have long sought to deter me from straying near pits, chasms and abandoned mineshafts, so I am afraid I have had to use subterfuge. As I wave to them from the garden gate, with the winch-and-pulley concealed behind a muffler, I say something like, “I am just going out to check the concrete sundial” or “My my, the day is so clement that I think I will stroll along a flat and featureless plain like the big field where Farmer Buzan used to grow his potatoes all those years ago”. Sometimes such announcements will be met with questions, which I am usually able to anticipate by peering at the furrowedness of my benefactors’ brows. At other times I may have to improvise a convincing response or deflect the queries by pointing at a starling, for example, or forcing a sudden spray of projectile vomiting. When push comes to shove, pointing at a starling is my preferred option.
It is twenty years now since I bashed in Farmer Buzan’s head with his own spade. I like to think that my benefactors trust me these days, but it seems not. Oh look, there’s a starling in that sycamore tree!