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The Daredevil Barber
by [?]

Not that even the most daring seeker after uniqueness fails to take numerous precautions for his safety. No man is mad enough to set out along a tight-rope in hobnailed boots with out previous practice. No woman who has not learned to swim has ever tried to swim the English Channel from Dover to Cape Grisnez. Even the daredevil barber of Bristol insured himself, so far as he could, against the perils of his adventure. He had an oxygen tank in the barrel which would have kept him alive for a time if the barrel had not been swept under the Falls, and he had friends patrolling the waters to recover the barrel. Like the schoolboy who takes risks, he did not feel that he was going to get caught. “I have the greatest confidence,” he said, “that I shall come through all right.” His previous escapes must have given him the assurance that he was not born to die of danger. Not only had he served through the war, but he had once plucked a woman from the railway line when the express was so near that it tore her skirt. He must have felt that one man at least could live in perfect safety in the kingdom of danger. He was probably less nervous as he crept into his barrel than a schoolgirl would be in getting into the boat on the chute. He had we may be sure, his thrill, but was it the thrill of being in peril or the thrill of being conspicuous? Some men, of course, there are who love danger for danger’s sake, and who would run risks in an empty world. Men of this kind make good spies, and, in their youth, good burglars. Theirs is the desire of the moth for the star–or at any rate of the moth that feels it is different from every other moth and can successfully dare the candle flame. To play with fire and not to be consumed is a universal pleasure. The child passes its finger through the gas-flame and glories in the sensation. It is like playing a game of touch with danger. The triumph of escape gives one a delicious moment. That is why many men invent dangers for themselves. It is simply for the pleasure of escaping them. There are boys who enjoy wrenching knockers off doors, not because knockers are an interesting kind of bric-à-brac, but because there is just a chance of being caught in the act by the police. I once knew a youth who had a drawer filled with knockers. He felt as proud of them as a young Indian would have been of an equal number of the scalps of his enemies. They proved that he was a brave. Every man would like to be a brave, though every man dare not. I confess I never had much ambition to wrench knockers, but that may have been because I was perfectly content with the world as it is without making it any more dangerous. I often think that people who put their heads into lions’ mouths do not realise what a dangerous place the planet is without any artificial stimulus.

Did the daredevil barber of Bristol ever realise, I wonder, the danger he was in every time he raised a fork with a piece of roast beef to his lips? Either the beef might have choked him or it might have given him ptomaine poisoning, or, if it failed of either of these, there are at least half-a-dozen fatal diseases which vegetarians say are caused by eating it. Even if we take for granted that there is little danger in plain beef, are there not curries and sausages and pork-pies on which a lover of risks may exercise his daring in the restaurants? I know people who are afraid to eat fish on a Monday lest it may have gone bad over the week-end. Others live in terror of mackerel and herrings. I myself have always admired the gallantry of Londoners who go into a chance restaurant and order lobster or curried prawns. Then there are all the tinned foods, a spoil for heroes. I have known a V.C. who was frightened of tinned salmon. And a man’s food is not more beset with perils than his drink. Even if he confines himself to water, he is in danger at every sip. If the water is too hard, it may deposit destruction in his arteries. If it is too soft, it may give his child rickets. Or it may be populous with germs and give him typhoid fever. If, on the other hand, he is dissatisfied with the drink of the beasts and takes to beverages the use of which distinguishes men from oxen, what a nightmare procession of potential ills lies in wait for him! You may read an account of them in any temperance tract. The very enumeration of them would drive a weak man to water, if water itself were not suspect. But, alas, even to breathe is to put oneself in danger. There are more germs in a bus than there are stars in the firmament, and one cannot walk along the Strand without all sorts of bacilli shooting their little arrows at one at every breath. If men realised these things–truly realised them–they would see that there is no need to go to the North Pole in order to live dangerously. A walk from Charing Cross to St Paul’s would then be seen to be as rich in hairbreadth escapes as a voyage to an island of head-hunters. The man who lives the most thrilling life I know is a man who rarely stirs beyond his garden. Every time he is pricked by a thorn or gets a little earth in his finger-nail, he rushes into the house to bathe his hands in lysol and, for days afterwards, he keeps feeling his jaw to see whether it is stiffening with the first signs of tetanus. He lives in a condition of recurrent alarm. He gets more frights in a week than an ordinary traveller could get in a year. I have often advised him to give up gardening, seeing that he finds it so exciting. I have come to the conclusion, however, that he enjoys those half-hourly rushes to the lysol-bottle–the desperate game of hide-and-seek with lockjaw. He needs no barrel to roll him over Niagara in order to gaze into “the bright eyes of danger.” He finds all the danger he wants at the root of the meanest brussels sprout that blows.