In the early days of mechanised transport it was thought that travelling at speeds greater than that of a brisk walk would result in a fractured larynx, ruptured jowls and, in cases where the commuter was exposed to the elements, chronic brain freeze. Such was the concern over these hazards that the UK introduced the Locomotive Act, which required mechanically propelled vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot bearing a red flag. Hopes that this would ensure that these infernal new-fangled contraptions did not exceed walking pace were sadly dashed, with the emergence of a class of 'Red Flag Men' who could move like shit off a shovel - that's a technical term, which in today's money equates to about thirty-five miles per hour. In practice, the Locomotive Act, far from achieving its stated aim of reducing risk of injury, was the prime cause of traffic incidents during the latter part of the nineteenth century, as evidenced by the numbers of red flag men admitted to hospital with tyre marks on the backs of their heads.
Wotcha. My name is Doctor Adolphous Bongo, celebrated internationally as the inventor of the Bongo Revolving Artificial Socket Joint, an innovation which has proven instrumental in the alleviation of slack knees and elbow tremblage all over the world. I don't like to blow my own trumpet - I have a man who comes in twice a week to do that for me, and a lady down the road very kindly shakes my maracas every third Sunday - but I feel that it's no understatement to describe my Revolving Socket as - well - revolutionary. What is amazing is that thus far it has failed to win me any kind of major award. Clearly someone somewhere has dropped a gonad - and I'm not referring to the infamous incident during the Duke of Buckridge's hernia operation, for which my colleague Dr Fatty Robinson still receives more than his fair share of ridicule whenever he's unwise enough to show his face at the General Medical Council's monthly bingo night.
Nowadays, of course, we know that fractured jowls and that other one I mentioned are nonsense. They are what we doctors call 'made up' - ridiculously unconvincing conditions, that wouldn't fool even the most credulous punter. Doctors today have access to vast archives of research data, and incredibly advanced diagnostic procedures, and are therefore able to concoct far more believable afflictions. And with the remarkable range of clever sounding drugs at our disposal, we can eke out periods of phantom illness and achieve levels of profitability that would give our forebears the screaming heebie-jeebies. Which wouldn't be a problem, actually, because we've devised quite an effective and relatively inexpensive course of treatment for heebie-jeebies, screaming or otherwise.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that travelling at speed does not have consequences for human physiology. Granted, pootling along at 20 miles an hour in a steam-driven bath chair is not going to tear your face off or rearrange your giblets - not unless your giblets are loose to start with. But modern forms of transport regularly reach speeds of up to... ooh... fifty or sixty miles an hour. More, in the case of my brother-in-law, who can frequently be seen screaming down the fast lane of the M4 in a 1976 Vauxhall Victor at a frankly implausible speed of 120 miles per hour. The chaps in blue would have put paid to his adventures years ago, were it not for a combination of disbelief and the thick cloud of oil that billows from the exhaust and obscures the number plate.
But what happens to the human body at speeds like that? Well fortunately, as a doctor, I have access to more human bodies than is healthy and I'm in a position to run a few tests. There are precious few perks in my job, but the opportunity of taking some of my more obstreperous patients, strapping them to a high-velocity test bed and firing them along a track at speeds approaching two hundred miles an hour is one that very nearly brings a smile to my face.
And what have I discovered? Well, I discovered that Mrs Lillian Mulepoker's false teeth flew out of her mouth after two hundred yards and were found embedded in a concrete pillar half a mile from the test site. I discovered that Mr Kevin Bladder's vocabulary as he approaches 28 metres per second becomes considerably more colourful. I have also learned the hard way what many of my test subjects had for breakfast, and spent rather longer than I would have liked shovelling it up.
More importantly, we have strong indications that travelling at speed causes shrinkage to the human frame. In some cases, our subjects were as much as two feet shorter following the high velocity test, although it is unclear at this point whether this is a result of the actual journey, or the steel reinforced wall that we used to stop them at the other end.
What is certain, however, is that prolonged periods at high speed will invariably cause the subject to develop sloppy ankle syndrome. This is an extremely nasty ailment, which causes the patient to unexpectedly wander off in random directions. Case studies have revealed subjects suddenly stepping out into oncoming traffic, veering sharply into solid walls, or occasionally ambling uninvited into other people's houses and getting a belt in the mouth for their trouble.
Fortunately, a simple and reasonably priced operation can cure the complaint, by exchanging the ankle with a Bongo Revolving Artificial Socket Joint. This remarkably elegant, yet astoundingly innovative device has saved countless lives, avoided untold embarrassment and, when used in conjunction with a ceramic heel replacement and a new set of carbon fibre toes, can even save on shoe leather. And what recognition has its inventor received for this remarkable breakthrough? Exactly: precisely nothing. What does a chap have to invent to get a knighthood? Revolving kidneys? Oh well, this time next year...
Copyright © Paul Farnsworth 2012
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