Wednesday, 12 January 2011

New Year Sledging

Yesterday I got rather carried away and posted twice (though there was a healthy sleep in between the posts). I had been attempting to blog daily since my second wind came at New Year. Unfortunately, the final touches to my price rises blog took me just past midnight. Perhaps it is as well that I failed only a week or so; the more I built it up, the harder the blow of my eventual failure would have been to my fragile confidence.

I simply couldn't resist because I have rather a lot of 'material'. It seems the people in life who irk me have also received a New Year second wind. I suppose I should keep a couple of them back for the bad times (the good times) when nothing is that irritating and when I might actually have to accede to a request for an overwhelmingly positive post. The English are often at their happiest when all around them is in ruin, so they can get a good moan on. Think how down in the dumps English cricket critics must be now.

Today's short intrusion into your spare time is about a couple of news stories of the last week or so. They are quite different scenarios, but what exercises me about both is common ground. The first: a near octogenarian being ejected from a shopping centre for taking pictures of shoppers for use on his Christmas cards and postcards. The second: a design technology teacher being sacked for bringing in a sledge to class as an example of good engineering and letting a couple of children (who just survived the terrible ordeal) use said sledge on a snow-covered bank. The second allowed me the pleasure of my sledging pun, for which I am almost grateful to Cefn Hengoed Community School, Swansea. I have wanted to use it for ages...

Now I hope you know where I'm going with this. If not, you either haven't read anything I've written so far, or you think both of those cases are perfectly sensible. In the former case, that's totally understandable. If you like this one, feel free to scroll backwards, though not all at once or you might realise I only ever make roughly the same 2 or 3 points and just jiggle around the words, toss in the odd synonym, that sort of stuff. In the latter case, I might ask you also to scroll through my back catalogue in an effort to help you see the errors of your ways, but I think you are probably beyond my average-at-best powers of persuasion. Go work for your local council, they have plenty of spare cash for jobs for people just like you.

The folly behind both the ludicrous examples is twofold -

Firstly it is the risk-averse culture we have allowed to develop. The culture that would rather be safe than sorry, or really just rather be safe. Safe from everything. Like life. The culture that behind every accident there is blame, and with it, a claim. It is this that makes it seem normal for schools to have to do a risk assessment on allowing children to decorate the school Christmas tree (branches poking eyes out, sharp broken baubles, and don't even get me started on using stepladders). This is also the culture that has allowed society to sleepwalk itself into a surveillance state. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, "those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor safety". This is the first folly, one of general acceptance in society that this is right, and the actual laws that have fallen out of this. In the second example these are the "Health and Safety" laws that Richard Tremelling was found guilty of breaching by the General Teaching Council for Wales. Yup, taxpayers' money well spent. Yes, the obviously overly-funded school which chose to dismiss a successful and innovative teacher via a costly disciplinary hearing stated "he failed to carry out the appropriate risk assessments and failed to provide a written risk assessment" and "he didn't ensure the pupils wore protective headgear and protective clothing." Crazy.

The second is even more annoying than the first. More infuriating than a crap rule is someone in an arbitrary position of power totally misunderstanding it and applying their version. There are no laws that ban you from taking photographs in a public area. You will no doubt have heard of breaches of this public freedom country-wide. From a parent banned from recording a school production, to a well-wisher being stopped taking photos of a military parade, you have heard all the excuses - "data protection", "human rights", "child protection", "anti-terrorism". All of them total bollocks. Take all the photos you want. In the first example this is demonstrated in the totally incorrect statements made by our noble police service that the 78 year old photographer was breaching anti-terrorism laws and must leave the area. Utter crap.

It is difficult to work out which is the worse problem: the malaise of society and the weakness of the judiciary that have allowed this malevolent, litigious culture to grow; or the eagerness with which the mentally sub-normal bizarrely in charge of much of this country seem to have grabbed it as a jolly good idea. Either way, David Cameron must deliver on ridding us of the pointless bureaucracy and regulation in which we are so mired. Maybe that would be a starting point for a widespread reset of the British psyche on norms, for we are way off track at the moment.

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