“More people are killed by teddy bears than by grizzly bears.” That was the Tweet that was first on my timeline when I woke at 2am this morning. I know that checking social media in the graveyard hours is a bad idea, but I’ll admit that I was shaken by this bald statement, put out by the folks @qikipedia with no further context. I was left with a vision of killer bears sitting around all furry and cuddly and like butter wouldn’t melt, before turning into frenzied murderers during the wee small hours in the first phase of the moon. (I had eaten quite a lot of cheese before bed, which may have contributed to this fevered interpretation).
Of course, on further investigation, the truth is much less fantastical. ‘Teddy bears’ in this context is used as a short hand for toys in general; and the deaths (which are not at all common) are usually the result of choking on the glass eyes or other plastic components that are sometimes used in their manufacture, or a consequence of trips and falls over toys left strewn on living room floors. Just for the record, 82 Americans have been killed by real bears in the last 89 years; and there are 22 deaths a year linked to toys in the US (most of these, children).
In researching this blog post, I came across a blog dedicated to recording unusual deaths from around the world. The accounts are helpfully organized by country. They are gruesome but fascinating reading. There is the death of a man from Croydon who consumed a litre of carrot juice a day for 10 days, poisoning his body with excess vitamin A, and destroying his liver. Another account that caught my eye was titled : The London Beer Flood of 1814 – caused when several large vats of beer broke simultaneously sending 600,000 litres of fermenting brew into the nearby streets, knocking down walls and destroying several houses and (ironically) a pub. Five people attending a wake at the pub were killed in the debris of the collapsed building. One that appealed to my particularly dark sense of humour relates the tale of a 67 year old woman in the north east of England who decided to feed her flock of sheep by tying a bale of hay to the back of her electric bike and riding around the field allowing the bale to unravel behind her. The sheep – presumably ravenous – rushed the bike as a flock, forcing both it and the woman over the edge of a cliff that formed the boundary of the field. Remarkably, the woman appears to have survived the fall, but was killed when the bike landed on top of her. I’m sure I’m not alone in recalling this classic scene from Naked Gun when reading this one.
Of course, each of these deaths was an individual tragedy for the people involved, But sometimes, it’s hard to respond with anything other than a shrug and the question : “What were they thinking?!”. This is where the Darwin Awards come in. The awards “honour those individuals who improve the species by their departure. RULES: (1) adults, who remove (2) themselves, from (3) the gene pool, in a (4) spectacularly clueless manner, that is (5) true.” There are some spectacular accounts of truly innovative and monumentally stupid ways of fatally injuring yourself on the website. Among recent entries are the two Mexican women killed by a landing aircraft when attempting to get a selfie of themselves on the runway; and the Colorado man who climbed a tower crane, attached a length of rope to create a massive swing, before leaping off, and arcing out, across the neigbouring street and smack into the equally tall building on the other side. If the impact didn’t kill him, the resulting fall to the pavement certainly did.
All of which serves as a salutary warning. Take care out there everybody – and watch out for those teddy bears!