Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Warning: Taking Risks Can Damage Your Health

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Warning: Taking Risks Can Damage Your Health

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

Don't Get Me Started Five

ASKED about his attitude to disasters, Salvador Dali said: "Whenever there is a train accident, I like the people in third class to be hurt the most."

And I am similarly heartened when I hear about very stupid people who have brought disaster upon themselves, be they lumpen types who smoke in bed and burn down their own houses, or teenage idiots on 5,000cc motorcycles who arrive in A&E so mutilated that they can kiss their own ear.

The kitchen is an even more dangerous place for the hard of thinking, what with scalding fat in the frying pan, and listeria in the fridge, and I read recently of a case where a simple juicer had sliced up its owner so severely that he had to be identified by his dental records (although if the authorities didn't know who he was, how the hell did they know who his dentist was?).

But I stay safe by being smart, because as soon as I read the alarming statistic that 75 per cent of all accidents occur in the victim's own home, I wisely decided to avoid the risk altogether by immediately moving next door.

I blame the onset of British paranoia about safety on the Central Office of Information, who issued short "filler" films about the dangers of modern living throughout the Seventies and Eighties. After two decades of seeing chip pans bursting into flames, or Taiwanese dollies decapitated to reveal lethal spikes where the neck should be, it's no wonder that our risk-averse society is now obsessed with Health and Safety legislation, of the type Michael Gove fulminated against in last night's Don't Get Me Started!

"All these rules rob us of our freedom and our sense of responsibility," he declared as he marched along the crowded pavement outside the Houses of Parliament, lamenting the growth of the nanny state and arguing that "it's time we learned to live a little more dangerously". And he was certainly practising what he preached as he talked loudly (apparently to himself) while crossing George Street without looking right or left, and several passers-by were clearly so concerned by his behaviour that they seemed on the verge of calling for police assistance in restraining him, until they spotted the Channel Five cameraman filming him from several hundred yards away.

In an age when television is obsessed with showing both sides of every argument (in the quaint belief that there are only two possible views about any given topic), it was refreshing to hear Gove present a passionately-argued case, with little attempt at balance. "If we never take risks, we never learn to stretch ourselves," he pointed out, and contrasted the derring-do of bygone heroes (like Drake and Scott) with the derring-don't of our own timid era.

He wondered if modern society is capable of producing death-or-glory types like Donald Campbell (the Bluebird hero who ended up as Campbell's Cream of Coniston soup), and suspected that the problem begins in childhood, now teachers are nervous about taking pupils on adventure trips, or even letting them play conkers, lest a mishap occur and the school be sued. …

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