Saturday, October 21, 2006

Vox Populi

I am a believer in the rights of the individual to do what he or she wishes with their life, providing it does not interfere with the life, liberty, health and happiness of their neighbour.

As George W. Bush once said, in a memorable phrase that a better read president would have termed, “A Phrase that will live in infamy,” - we have uninalienable rights!

But I seem to be in a diminishing number as the populations of the nations crumble under the petty yokes of the likes of the British Health and Safety people.

Personally, I avoid going to Britain nowadays. I’m quite sure that within a minute or two of stepping off my Happyjet flight, I will have breached several ordinances that weren’t there when I was a lad, and will probably become the subject of an ASBO. I am thinking of wearing a veil next time to ensure I’m treated respectfully.

Even riding the bus into London I fear I may be subject to a congestion charge and risk having my leg clamped, the sort of thing law enforcement is on the watch for, giving burglars, murderers and muggers a sporting chance to pursue their professions in peace.

The latest in a series of nonsensical rules is that, to curb binge drinking, the British will now incorporate a warning on the labels of wine bottles. I shall be interested to read the wording that is going to deter a potential drunk with a bottle, screw cap, no doubt, in his hand.

“Look, Pa,” says young Wackford Squeers, “It says it’s harmful to me health.”

“Drink it down, son,” says his father, “It puts weight on you and makes the flesh shine.”

(Those of you who haven’t read Nicholas Nickleby should ignore the foregoing.)

Now I don’t smoke and dislike it intensely, but I can still defend the right of those who may wish to end their life prematurely, to do so. It is, however, pretty anti-social and it does breach my first rule of not interfering with your neighbours health, so perhaps some restriction on the habit in public places is acceptable.

After all, drinking, unless you throw up over your neighbour, doesn’t have a deleterious effect on his life span and even then may mean little more than a trip to the dry cleaners.

Having said that, I recall that one has to step gingerly on the sidewalks of British cities shortly after throwing out (or throwing up)time, but I don’t think a label on a bottle is going to make much difference.

Many years ago, there was a cartoon in Punch in which an elderly matron was lecturing a small boy, puffing on his gasper. “Don’t you know, nicotine is a slow poison?” “That’s all right, lady. I’m in no hurry.” Of course, had it happened today, the helfnsafety people would have had the editor in court in a trice.

France, a nation notorious for gasping on their Gauloise, has now introduced similar rules and I wonder just how seriously they will be enforced. We are a nation of petty bureaucratic rules and regulations, most of which are happily ignored or sensibly enforced. Not so long ago, the gendarmeries protested that, by concentrating on a move to curb excessive speeding by motorists, they were having to ignore their principal task which, they recalled, was of maintaining law and order. A sensible compromise was reached.

And citizens, in general, have at the back of their mind that if Paris gets too uppity, they can always refurbish a guillotine or two and solve the problem.

For years, every bar in France had a huge notice on the wall headed, “Repression de l’Ivresse.” It looked like something that Robespierre might have had drafted during the revolution, and I doubt that it had one iota of effect on the drinking habits of the customers. And the lettering was lot bigger than it’s going to be on the British wine bottles.

Neither do I like hunting. My wife has to be called in to deal with earwigs, but man was born a hunter, and placing absurd restrictions on the practice strikes me as being nonsensical.

Every weekend, on high days and holidays, the fields around me are full of hunters and their dogs, carrying enough arms and ammunition for a decent sized army. Their only requirement is that they have passed a simple exam in the use of firearms and have a licence. Many of the farmers designate their fields as “Chasse Gardée,” Private Hunting, preserving them for those authorised. It seems an admirable arrangement and one that keeps many Frenchmen out of their wife’s way for long periods, thus contributing greatly to domestic harmony. Animal lovers need have no fear – they (the animals, I mean) are far more likely to be run down by a car than hit by a hunter’s shot – and nobody has suggested banning cars.

But in England, two men were arrested recently for potting at tin cans in a remote country spot with a .22 rifle.

America may be the land of the free, home of the brave, but Britain is fast heading toward being the land of the wimps and, under the Health and Safety people, bravery will almost certainly be abolished.

And I wonder, just what will be the wording on the wine bottles?

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