- Industry Links
- HCB Shop
Misadventures and misdemeanours
Originally published:  01/07/2011
More sceptical readers sometimes enquire if the stories on this page are made up. But, to be honest, “you couldn’t make it up”.
Take this one, for instance. An elderly woman living in Australia’s Gold Coast was made homeless earlier this month after her house burned down. The fire started after she put her pyjamas in the microwave – presumably to warm them up (they’ve been having some cold weather down there lately).
Or this one, with a self-explanatory headline provided by the BBC: Russian who buried himself alive dies by mistake. The 35-year old man dug a hole in his garden in the city of Blagoveshchensk, climbed into an improvised coffin, with holes fitted for air pipes, taking with him his mobile phone and a bottle of water. A friend covered the coffin with earth to a depth of about 20 cm; the man rang him to say he was fine and his friend left.
Coming back the next day to dig him up, he found the man dead. Police suspect that heavy overnight rainfall blocked the air supply to the coffin. But why do it at all? Two explanations were offered: that he was trying to test his endurance; and that he hoped the stunt would bring him luck. The obvious explanation – that he was a nutcase – did not suggest itself to police.
However, it seems he is not alone. Last year a man in the Vologda region persuaded a friend to bury him in order to help him overcome his fear of death – except the weight of earth crushed him to death. And Rossiiskaya Gazeta has recently run a story on the practice of self-burial, which seems to be being promoted through >ahem< “specialist websites”.
The ethanol effect
Other incidents have a more obvious cause. Last month ambulances were called to a house in Center Township, a small but apparently (according to Wikipedia) fairly respectable and wealthy town in Wisconsin. Four people had been injured by an explosion in the early hours after a bag full of fireworks was thrown into a bonfire.
Police surmised that the four individuals had been having some sort of party, setting off fireworks, but had run out of patience late into the night. One of the group tossed what was left into the bonfire where, not surprisingly, it exploded. He was arrested in hospital and charged with recklessly endangering safety.
According to a police statement: “Alcohol is believed to have been a factor in the accident.” You don’t say...
Alcohol was also behind another and rather more expensive incident in Portland, Oregon last month. A young man had been out drinking with friends and was caught short on the way home. The group stopped at what they thought was a sewage treatment plant to relieve themselves (which at least shows some intelligence). Unfortunately, they were not at the sewage treatment plant but at one of the city’s reservoirs.
This might have all gone unnoticed had the man not been caught on a security camera, relieving himself into Portland’s water supply. As a result, 8 million gallons of drinking water was flushed away. “Nobody wants to drink pee,” said David Shaff, administrator of the town’s water bureau, “and I don’t want to deal with the 100 people who would be unhappy that I’m serving them pee in their water.” He was backed up by City Commissioner Randy Leonard, who cited a public health risk. “I’m for taking the most conservative approach,” he said.
Others pointed out the ridiculousness of the decision. Dr Gary Oxman, county health officer, said the risk was close to zero; other correspondents to the local paper, The Oregonian, pointed out that ducks and other birds “contribute waste routinely” to the reservoir – and sometimes die in the water. A biannual draining of the reservoir for cleaning always turns up dead animals, firework debris and plastic bags with dog poo.
Even so, the “yuck factor” seems to have trumped other considerations. And, after all, the glaciers on Mount Hood are sending copious supplies to the city. “If I lived in Texas, I might have had a different response,” said Shaff.