• neil

Day 66 (22 May): Volte-face

At three thirty I sat down behind my keyboard without an idea in my head. Well, obviously I sat down behind it. If I had sat down in front of it my view would have been blocked by the back of the screen and the keys would have been the wrong way up. A statement of the obvious.

When I then opened up the BBC website I saw another statement of the obvious - an article explaining how to wear a face mask. Here’s the gist of it: It should go over the front part of your head and cover the bits you use for breathing. They omit to mention you should never cover your eyes with it when riding a motorbike. The serendipity of two back-to-back statements of the obvious filled me with glee and what passes for inspiration.

It seems to me that we are becoming increasingly accepting of being led by the hand for the simplest of things; there is an infantilisation of society which manifests itself in over zealous health and safety regulations, health warnings on all we ingest, ubiquitous warnings of physical, moral and psychological dangers. We would seem, if the university 'no platform' movement is a sign of things, even to need protection from challenges to our beliefs.

We have become tender specimens best left indoors.

Are you ready for an apparent rant?

Not so many years ago, during the sixties and seventies, we were a tougher bunch. Not necessarily a happier bunch and certainly not a healthier bunch - but decidedly a tougher bunch.

To set the picture:

Children crossed the city by themselves on public buses to get to their schools; these buses had open platforms at the back for access and egress. People smoked on the buses. People smoked just about everywhere.

Grown-ups would frequent public houses so fugged up with tobacco smoke you would have thought oxygen exposure was the health risk; safe drinking meant not falling off a bar stool.

Ritualised and pre-arranged fights were normal in schools and if you didn't get beaten up by other kids some teacher would step in and do it.

Bullying? Well, everybody was expected to have a hobby. There was less obesity in those days but each class was provided with one fat child to encourage victimisation. Being gay would excuse any amount of aggression and gender diversity was not even a concept let alone an option. Physical health awareness was rudimentary. Mental health awareness was nowhere to be found. There were only two mental health categories: normal and nutter. Nobody had ever heard of a school psychologist and we didn't know the difference between a psychiatrist and a trick cyclist.

If you survived school (or the pub) the diet was likely to do for you. Vegan? Never heard of it. Vegetarian? Never heard of it. My dad’s low fat action plan on learning he had a dodgy ticker was to stop using lard to fry the obligatory breakfast of bacon, eggs, black pudding and fried bread. He would eat meat again at lunchtime and meat again in the evening before visiting the pub to give his liver and lungs a good going over. In those days people gave up any sport or physical training in their early thirties - at which point they received a pair of chest high trousers. Belt under belly or over belly sir?

And talking of belts, there were no car seat belts. The crumple zone was your parents in the front seats. In the event of an accident you would recognise your Dad. He’d be the one with the non-retracting steering wheel coming out of his back. His last words would have been ‘It’s not worth disturbing the doctor’.

We did get some safety equipment, I remember. Not bike helmets, they didn't exist; but we did have bicycle clips to put round the ankles to stop our trousers getting damaged.

I am not suggesting tougher is better. Tougher meant less understanding, less consideration, less inclusiveness, less comprehension and less sensitivity.

It is true that our kids are now molly-coddled, wrapped in in cotton wool and driven everywhere. It is true that home made merriment has largely given way to canned entertainment.

But who did this? We did. Our parents seemed happy enough with a more rough and ready life but we clearly wanted something else for our own children. We wanted everything to be better and we might unwittingly have made some of it worse.

But that’s the way things go. All we can do is keep trying to improving our lives. Sometimes we will be successful and sometimes we won’t.

‘The old ways’ are not ways anybody should contemplate going back to. Society today is kinder, more open, better informed, more civilised, less dangerous and presents far greater opportunities for far more people. In five words: things are much much better.

But if we don't want to be talked down to and fed on statements of the obvious, if we do wish to be treated as mature, responsible beings, we could push back and defend personal responsibility a bit more; encourage beneficial change through our own efforts, commitment and positivity. The counterpart to this is less blaming and whining.

But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. That breaks all kinds of health and safety regulations.

Take good care and have a lovely weekend!



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