It's a time of the year when many people, and I shamefacedly count myself among them, take some guilty pleasure in the silly deaths that some people bring on themselves. Morally bankrupt? Possibly. Can I sleep at night? Yes. What am I talking about? The Darwin Awards.
How I tittered at the electrician from Belize who, after extending his kite's range with thin copper wire, flew it into a high tension electricity line. Fundamental physics quickly took over, and the poor chap was well and truly zapped.
The titter was followed by a chuckle, as I read of the Brazilian chap who tried to disassemble a Rocket Propelled Grenade by running it over in his car. Failing to break it into bits (possibly to sell it, and other munitions, as scrap, according to local police), he thought hitting it with a sledgehammer might help… He went out with a bang (sorry, couldn't resist).
Those two were the runners up. I was all set for a full-scale guffaw when I got to the "winner" (or "winners", in this case) but then my merriment fizzled.
The winners were two 21-year-old students who thought they'd have some fun with helium. Now, we've all done the Mickey Mouse voice after inhaling from a helium balloon, but this young man and woman took it a step further. They spotted and pulled down an advertising helium balloon 8 feet in diameter, and then climbed inside.
No doubt the first 30 seconds or so of squeaky chatter were hilarious for the young pair. That was before they collapsed and suffocated through lack of oxygen. I did not find anything to smile about in this tale.
For me, the Darwin Awards are at their best (and most appropriate) when their winners really really should have known better, and when those winners go against very common-sense safety standards to bring about their own demise.
The breathing of helium is a well-known jape the world over. And here two young people – and not necessarily completely daft young people – saw the opportunity to experience the mother of all helium-based japes. Well, it turned out the "joke" was on them. I've got to say, though, that try as I might, I cannot see the funny side.
I'm not sure if it's me losing my sense of humour, or the Darwin Awards. Which is it?
Sean O'Neill, Online Sub-Editor