Jake O'Kane: Do you know the one about the comedian and the ladder?
"Never get out of the boat, never get out of the boat, I gotta remember, never get out of the boat!" Movie buffs will know this memorable quote comes from Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam classic, Apocalypse Now, screamed by a Marine who, having forgotten his own advice and got out of his boat, almost got eaten by a tiger.
IT COMES to mind as, year in year out, I've my own mantra which I also forget. For the last 10 years, having fallen off a ladder with regularity, my mantra has been, "Never go up the ladder, never go up the ladder" – but I invariably forget and once again find myself airborne.
I'm now at an age where the maximum height at which I should travel is 5ft 9inches, namely the elevation my stumpy little legs position me above the ground. Yet, each year, I look at the ivy growing up the side of the house, or the two conifers I planted out front, and decide on a bit of aerial tidying.
This year my literal downfall came via the conifers. They were dainty little three-foot-high things when I bought them; I never considered they'd grow to Jurassic Park proportions.
Counterintuitively, the house we live in today was bought because of its garden. Once I saw the back garden, surrounded by mature trees and with a large laurel hedge ensuring complete privacy, I was sold. I've always had a thing about people overlooking my house – you don't have to be Freud to work out it comes from having grown up on an estate, where everyone overlooks your house.
My initial rush of horticultural enthusiasm was short-lived. One problem was that I kept buying unsuitable plants; another was when I discovered my OCD tendencies extended from the house to the garden.
My family joked I'd almost managed to force nature into geometric regularity: my preference is for hedges at 90-degree angles and my wife once caught me cutting the edge of the lawn with a pair of kitchen scissors – it seemed rational to me at the time.
However, I soon learned that the greatest problem with gardening is the latent danger it poses to us novices. I can't count how many times I've cut through the wire of my hedge trimmers. My wife wisely invested in a safety extension lead or I'd have gone up in smoke long ago.
The biggest danger is height, bringing me back to those monstrous conifers. Planted years ago against the front wall of the house, I'd forgotten to keep an eye on them and they'd sprouted four feet in a year. So, this week, I propped a ladder against the front wall and ascended with my patched-up hedge cutters in hand.
Insanely, I thought by jamming the ladder against the wall that it would act as a form of scaffolding and be a secure base. Initially, all went well, with substantial bits of tree being felled until, suddenly, the hedge cutters jammed. This threw me slightly off-balance which was enough to precipitate the complete disintegration of my ill-judged construction.
I frantically attempted to grab the tree, only to find it impossible to get a secure grip on the feather-like green shoots of the conifer; it felt like swimming through a sea of green water. The green turned to white as the conifer went one way, the ladders another, then grey tarmac filled my view as I swallow-dived outward, towards the road, from a height of around 10 feet. This may seem no great elevation but I assure you, it allowed abundant time for my mantra to return – "never go up the ladder".
Luckily, a protective covering of middle-aged blubber meant I bounced rather than broke. Mortified, I was more worried someone had seen me rather than any injury and was relieved, looking down the street, to see nobody around. Turning the opposite direction, however, I found myself staring straight into the judgemental eyes of my neighbour's elderly Labrador who had obviously seen me fall before and wasn't impressed. Standing beside him was his owner, horrified at my unorthodox entrance.
I'd missed her by inches. I mean, can you imagine what would have gone on that poor woman's death certificate? 'Cause of death: Crushed by fat comedian falling from ladder'. The indignity!
So, as with every year previous, I'm once again repeating my mantra: "never, go up the ladder, never go up the ladder". Of course, I'll have forgotten again by this time next year.