A face peers over the edge several hundred feet above me. It is a grown man gripped by a morbid elation as he looks down on a sheer drop to the rocks, the beach — where I am standing — and the sea.
What he can’t see from his perch is that he is resting on an overhang, a lump of chalk protruding over thin air and a very long drop. At any minute, the ground might simply give way, as this famous English beauty spot has had a habit of doing since time immemorial.
What happens next, though, is a more recent phenomenon.
Slowly a hand comes in to view and it is holding — what else? — a selfie-stick. Click. Moments later, the man has retreated back from the brink and moved on.
How much longer can it be before a new category is added to the list of verdicts available to a coroner? In addition to ‘accident’, ‘misadventure’ and ‘open’, there will soon be a new pronouncement: ‘death by selfie’.
Last year, it was reported that the number of people killed by sharks around the world had, for the first time, been overtaken by the number of those killed while snapping themselves on a phone (and in a record year for shark attacks, too).
Pretty soon, no doubt, someone will kill two birds — and themselves — by taking a selfie with a shark moments before they are chomped to death.
But the number of narcissistic fatalities just keeps on rising. Last month alone, there were at least 15 selfie-related deaths.
Leading the world in this idiocy is India, where selfie-cide is almost a daily occurrence.
In Britain, we have got off fairly lightly thus far. But if it is going to happen anywhere, it could easily be here, on the Sussex coast.
For this six-mile cliff-top between Newhaven and Beachy Head — a stretch of corrugated peaks and troughs known as the Seven Sisters — has become so popular with selfie-seekers that the locals are about to take pre-emptive action.
Lately, we have seen images of jaw-dropping stupidity as daredevil walkers — mainly young men, it seems — creep to the edge of these chalk faces in considerable numbers for that must-have selfie.
Last summer, a local photographer captured a row of irresponsible people sitting at the site, with their feet dangling over an edge which is not even there any more.
In another shot, a man is sitting on a chalk overhang which already has a very obvious fault line running down the side.
It is purely down to luck rather than judgment that no one has been sitting on these chunks of rock when the ground has given way. For erosion is a fact of life here.
‘Very often, you come here in the morning and see a great pile of chalk and rocks on the beach,’ says Molly, a volunteer in the National Trust visitor centre. ‘But with two tides a day, it gets washed away, so people don’t see it for long.’
And in recent years, for reasons which are not entirely clear, there has been a run of particularly hefty falls. Indeed, as Molly points out: ‘The Seven Sisters have now become eight.’
That’s because one stretch of cliff has had such severe falls either side of a grassy promontory that it has now created an extra peak.
The worst cliff-fall in living memory occurred during a storm in the winter of 2013-2014 when several yards fell into the sea at once. But these episodes are by no means restricted to extreme weather.
A German woman with two young children welcomes the idea of a fence but then wonders whether it would be wise to bash poles into ground that is already unstable.
yaning from language.chinadaily.com.cn