As I was reading my nightly chapter of Bryson (ok, so I read two chapters today. I'm rewarding myself for being productive), I came across this hilarious passage and had to share.
Bryson's newest book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life talks about just that: the history of the home. Each chapter is named after a room in his current 19th century home in Norfolk, England, and deals with the history of how that particular room came to be, what it was used for, and other various interesting tidbits of information. He provides countless anecdotes (my personal favourites are about the monumental houses that insanely rich people insisted on building, which, in turn, collapsed) which are hilarious and of the sort that you would never have known, or indeed knew you cared to know, had he not told you.
The chapter I'm currently on is "Chapter XIV: The Stairs." Bryson recounts statistics about who and when and how many people fall down stairs yearly, and then talks about what must be taken in consideration when building a stair so as to ensure the least number of casualties. Here is a passage where he describes why people fall down stairs and are, generally, unable to help themselves once they start falling:
Let's look at a fall in slow motion. Descending a staircase is in a sense a controlled fall. You are propelling your body outward and downward in a manner that would clearly be dangerous if you weren't fully on top of things. The problem for the brain is distinguishing the moment when a descent stops being controlled and starts being a kind of unhappy mayhem. The human brain responds very quickly to danger and disarray, but it still takes a fraction of a moment - 190 milliseconds to be precise - for the reflexes to kick in and for the mind to assimilate that something is going wrong (that you have just stepped on a skate, say) and to clear the decks for a tricky landing. During this exceedingly brief interval the body will descend, on average, seven more inches - too far, generally, for a graceful landing. If this event happens on the bottom step you come down with an unpleasant jolt - more of an affront to your dignity than anything else. But if it happens higher up, your feet simply won't be able to make a stylish recovery, and you had better hope that you can catch the handrail - or indeed that there is a handrail. One study in 1958 found that in three-quarters of all stair falls no handrail was available at the point of the fall's origin.
Now if that's not the most eloquent passage about falling down a flight of stairs that you've ever read, then you read too much.