Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday 8 November 2012

"You can't start a fire without a spark..."

If there is one device that has 'Darwin Award' written all over it, it is surely the angle grinder (see here and here, for example).

Every now and then, our home is invaded by returning offspring and our normally civilized television set opens a window on a whole new world.

Among the Urchin's favourites is a festival of consumerism known as 'The Gadget Show', in which an assortment of presenters discuss and, more pertinently, demonstrate the latest technology, which seems to necessitate much whooping and shrieking and distinctly antisocial levels of noise.

One of the most jaw-dropping scenes from the last series involved a presenter directing a cabaret performance in which a trio of scantily-clad dancers cavorted onstage in what appeared to be large metal codpieces.

To the accompaniment of a pounding bass track - big speakers are something of a 'Gadget Show' Leitmotif - they then proceeded to apply angle grinders to their steel-clad groins, producing abundant showers of sparks.

Leaving aside the obvious Freudian connotations, this seemed to be a particularly foolhardy and pointless activity; I was thus astonished to learn this week that it is a 'common form of entertainment in many nightclubs'.

My source of information is the BBC report on a fire at an Essex nightclub, where 1,000 people were evacuated after sparks from an angle-grinding act started a fire. Amazingly, only one person was injured; the potential for disaster in such situations is all too well known.

Is there, I wonder, such a thing as a collective Darwin Award? While the performer would obviously qualify in the event of a disaster, there must surely be some contributory element in choosing to be in an industrial-scale nightclub on the outskirts of Basildon at 2am gawping at a load of sparks.

Meanwhile, further research on the subject turned up an unlikely competitive combination of angle-grinder sparking and pole-dancing in a burlesque club, at which point it all got too weird and I decided to leave the story well alone.

However, I should like to commend the BBC journalist for the best use of inverted commas I've seen all week:
A club spokesman said angle-grinding "entertainment" would not be used until the fire investigation has concluded.


  1. That only one person was injured shows that health and safety was working - in the building. What wasn't working was the brains behind the health and safety. Now a days H&S is all about ticking boxes rather than actually thinking. No problem with angle grinders on stage, just make sure nothing flammable nearby (including the audience with their nylon clothes).

    As for brains vs tick boxing I remember a scene from a Discovery channel programme where someone was asked why they weren't wearing a hard hat in a very dangerous industrial environment. He pointed up at the 75ton piece of metal above and said "I don't think a helmet would make much difference". Shows that he had evaluated the situation and came to the conclusion that other stuff such as avoiding the metal above was better than wearing a hard hat.

    As for the Gadget Show, it's gone downhill with only Jason and the dolly bird Pollyanna on it. Needs Suzi Perry and less gallivanting around the world.

  2. Good point, SMBL!

    Incidentally, some research for this post unearthed a quote from Irish singer Imelda May about her days working in a burlesque club:

    "I'd sing while the other girls were onstage. One of them used to take an angle grinder to her crotch and would produce a shower of sparks. One day a spark flew down my throat while I was singing!".

    Personally, I think the Gadget show must be unbearable without Jon Bentley.


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