Our Executive Editor Michael Hodges continues on his saintly mission to sample the very worst of what to do in London. This week, don’t drop down dead at the bar…
‘I’ll have a glass of…’ I’m waving a fiver at the barman when the man standing next to me, in his mid-sixties perhaps, but looking good in dark jeans, shirt and jacket, and with well-kept short silver hair, drops down dead. Or, rather, drops down and starts to die. Without warning or any preamble he cries out, puts his hand to his chest, falls from the bar and, after landing on his back, emits a deathly gasp. I don’t know what to do. The man behind the bar doesn’t know what to do either.
The dying man is with friends, and when they realise what is happening they rush over from their table. ‘Ralph!’ the first man to reach the bar says. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ All sorts of things are wrong with Ralph. The obvious ones being his face has turned pale green and his eyes are rolling back in his head. A woman from the table arrives at the bar and cries out, ‘Ralph! Ralph! No!’ I am still holding the fiver, but things are getting pretty crowded around Ralph now. A third friend arrives. This man is more authoritative. ‘Clear the way,’ he barks. ‘Give us some room. I’m a trained medic.’ The trained medic puts Ralph in the recovery position, but no recovery is apparent. Ralph is fading quickly. His eyes have stopped rolling and are now glassy and fixed. ‘Ralph. Stay with us,’ the woman wails. But Ralph, I fear, is off.
I stand above this scene at a loss. Walking away would be rude, but, not being trained in resuscitation techniques or knowing Ralph at all, there is nothing I can do to help if I stay. The barman, in a similar dilemma, stands there with my glass in his hand and his mouth open. The spell is broken when the trained medic looks up from Ralph’s dark shirt, which he is undoing, and shouts, ‘Ambulance!’ The barman looks at me. I look at the barman. ‘Has anyone called an ambulance?’ the trained medic demands. No one has called an ambulance. ‘Call a bloody ambulance, then!’
Frozen in time, neither the barman nor I move. The tearful woman says, ‘I’ll do it.’ And she dials. ‘Hello, yes. Ambulance, please.’ She gives the name of the pub: a big faceless bar on a big faceless street. Outside the window London rushes on; job interviews to go to, tubes to catch, lovers to dump, dates to meet, lunches to eat, impervious to Ralph’s apparent demise.
Londoners die in public all the time. Not surprising when you consider how many bars, cafés, theatres, cinemas, pubs, clubs, restaurants, shops and public spaces there are in this city. In the Borough of Bromley alone there are 750 miles of pavement. With the borough’s population of around 300,000, simple mathematics suggest that these pathways should be littered with corpses.
Yet London can also put obstacles in the way of the dying citizen. For instance, it is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. If you find yourself shuffling off this mortal coil in the Palace of Westminster, then do so in the direction of the exit before you’re arrested. However, licensed premises are quite legal for dropping down dead in, as Ralph, apparently gasping his last, is about to prove.
The room fills with the keening sound of sirens as the ambulance arrives outside. The paramedics come in and have Ralph on a stretcher within minutes, then out through the pub’s doors. His friends follow him, the woman crying as she goes. I’m pushed out of the way, but not before I see Ralph’s face one more time. I may be wrong, but it looks as if there is just a hint of colour coming back to his cheeks. ‘So,’ says the pale barman, when we are left in silence, ‘white wine, was it?’ Michael Hodges
Four more unusual London ways to go we don’t recommend…
Death by carrot juice
In 1974 a coroner ruled that Croydon resident Basil Brown had inadvertently caused his own death by drinking a gallon of carrot juice every day for ten days, giving himself 10,000 times his required amount of vitamin A and doing irreparable liver damage.
Death by simmering
Accused in 1532 of attempting to poison the meals of the Bishop of Rochester, his cook, Richard Rise, suffered an appropriate fate. He was put in a large pot of water at Smithfield market and brought to the boil. It took him two hours to die at gas mark three.
Death by beer spillage
In 1814 the Meux Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, now the site of a large, golden Freddie Mercury statue, caused havoc when it collapsed and sent 323,000 gallons of ale flooding into the surrounding slums, killing eight people.
Death by cold chicken
Highgate resident and all-round renaissance man Sir Francis Bacon met his end in 1626, working on an early technique to freeze meat. After stuffing a chicken with snow he developed pneumonia and passed away three days later.