I visited Crete after reports of a man sticking feathers on his son and then encouraging him to jump out of a tall tower. The man’s name was Daedalus. He was shut up in a tower to prevent his knowledge of his Labyrinth from spreading to the public. He could not leave Crete by sea, as King Minos kept strict watch on all vessels, permitting none to sail without being carefully searched. Since Minos controlled the land and sea routes, Daedalus reasoned he could only fly out of the island.

 

“Do I have the pleasure of speaking to Daedalus, creator of The Labyrinth?”

“You do and who might you be?”

“My name is Brian Snell and I am from the Health and Safety Time Executive.”

“Why are you here, are you going to tell me I should have put more directions in The Labyrinth, to prevent people from getting lost?”

“No, I wasn’t but that’s a good point though, perhaps you should have placed the words ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’ over the entrance. Anyway, the real reason I am here is because I have been told you are sticking feathers on your son, Icarus, and encouraging him to jump off the tower.”

“There is some truth in that, yes.”

“I should warn you that it is illegal under statute 35262 of the flying code to encourage people to jump off towers without at least a safety harness or a recognised parachute. Attaching feathers to their body and getting them to flap their arms vigorously is not sufficient.”

“The feathers were attached to a frame that I engineered and should have been strong enough if only he’d flapped his arms harder. I tied feathers together, from smallest to largest so as to form an increasing surface. I secured the feathers at their midpoints with string and at their bases with wax, and gave the whole frame a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird. As it was it took him three months to recover from the broken leg and he was able to work on his arm strength during that time of enforced rest.”

“You blame him for your faulty design?”

“It wasn’t really faulty, but I should have allowed more gliding to take place. As it was he turned into what I would call the reverse gannet, in other words he hit the ground feet first and quite hard too.”

“You were hoping for more of a swoop were you, rather than a plunge.”

“Yes, I wished he could have exhibited more grace on his way down to the ground.”

“Perhaps he could learn to fly from another place, such as a tree, or even the ground, it would be less dangerous that way and wouldn’t break any laws.”

“We’re not really supposed to leave the tower, but you might be able to help by getting out of this tower, so I can teach my son to fly. I have flown before and I know I can do it.”

I was able to let Daedalus and a limping Icarus down to the base of the tower. When both were prepared for flight, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun would melt the wax, nor too low, because the sea foam would soak the feathers. They took off and headed past Samos and Delos, but soon Icarus began to forget himself and started to soar upward toward the sun. The blazing heat softened the wax that held the feathers together and they gradually started to fall off, like autumn leaves dropping from the tree. Sadly, Icarus did his impression of a gannet again, but this time he drowned.

Extract from the Diary of a Health and Safety Executive