The universe is actually evilby Listener Archive
David Hill finds malevolence in everyday catastrophic convergences.
The essential malevolence of the universe is encapsulated in the way toast hits the floor buttered-side down. I read somewhere that it’s all to do with the distribution of mass and the laws of rotation. Someone with a grant from Nasa has shown that we never drop a piece of toast evenly – and indeed, there’s seldom anything even about my language when it happens. So the slice begins to turn as it descends, and usually has time for only half a rotation before the lipids hit the lino. Apparently, if bench-tops were twice their normal height, the toast would land in the eat-me position. Great news for the Masai.
The clever dick/chick responsible for this research may indeed be the toast of the scientific community, but s/he still hasn’t explained the crumb that breaks the camel’s back. Why does the buttered side land on one’s foot almost as often as it lands on the floor?
I know, I know. It’s the convergence of the twain, the dark fate that sends two objects on an intersecting path of destruction. Think Titanic and iceberg, or Paul Henry and microphone, or gesturing hand at party and wine glass carried by approaching hostess. Or, in this season of the Rugby World Cup, think predatory Wallaby back and wayward All Black pass.
There are people who raise these catastrophic convergences into art form. The public relations executive from Seattle, both of which labels may be seen as tempting fate, who leaned carelessly over a curling iron and burnt “a rather phallic image” on her chest. The patent attorney from Wisconsin, who inadvertently stabbed himself with a tuning fork. Clearly an off-key kind of guy. The UK farm worker, who broke both ankles after falling over a potato. Alistair from Burton-on-Trent, who had to have his toothbrush surgically removed from his ear.
My own achievements in the field are much more modest. I restrict myself to the knife placed in the sink at such an angle that when the tap is turned on to rinse it, water from tap hits blade of knife and sprays over front of trousers. The spade leaned against interior shed wall that instantly topples sideways, taking six other garden implements with it. The cup pulled from back of shelf with handle that gathers up two other cups for a bench-bound cascade. The hand yanking up duvet at 4.00am that slips from duvet and strikes cheekbone.
I rise above such painful proximities, of course, though I’m not sure about Australian hands and the William Webb Ellis Trophy. However, there was the time I reversed smoothly into the garage. I’ll start again – the time I reversed the car smoothly into the garage, and nobody had the decency to point out that my bike’s rubber-worn-off handlebars were jutting out at precisely rear-windscreen height. Did you know that when an impact jars rear-windscreen glass out of shape, it explodes? This phenomenon, coupled with my finely honed reflexes, brought another calamitous conjunction – my forehead and the steering wheel.
And there was the other time, very early in our relationship, when Beth and I were still circling each other. No, the comparison to raptor and prey is not an appropriate one. We were at a social occasion in a house with sliding glass doors leading to a balcony. I’d gone out onto said balcony to strike a Byronic pose. After a while, I turned and gazed back into the room to look for Beth, as I’d become increasingly in the habit of doing.
There she was, in conversation with someone irrelevant. She looked up, her eyes met mine – stop that solo cello this minute – she took two steps towards me, and she jolted to a stop. Many other women have done the same, of course, and the comparison to gourmet confronted by plate of cold chips is not an appropriate one, either. But in the case of the comely contact-lens-wearing young object of my affections, it was because she’d walked into the sliding glass doors.
For more stories and insight by David Hill, click here.
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