29 June 2007

The bomb that got away

On the whole, bombs placed in cars outside nightclubs are probably bad things. Not a controversial point of view, but nevertheless one that was repeated quite frequently on the BBC news tonight, after a major terrorist attack was averted in London. Because the bomb didn't go off, we were presented with the rather surreal spectacle of people who hadn't been blown up asked to comment on what it would have meant to them if they had been.

"Charlie", who had been at the Tiger Tiger bar nearest the suspect car bomb, was left to speculate on the "talented people" he'd been with who might have been killed, had the bomb gone off. To be fair, talented though Charlie's friends may be, even they must have been a little stumped to describe what it was like to witness a bomb not exploding.

Having the right tools for the job

I like the idea of running as a hobby. It's free, minimal equipment required, can be done at any time and keeps you fit - what could be against it? Well mostly the fact it is even more boring than swimming. Any of those treadmill activities have always seemed, to me, to be the most senseless hobbies - how does anyone become motivated to do them?

Today on the tube I saw a fit young man proudly sporting a tracksuit with BRITISH SWIMMING TEAM emblazoned on the breast, and the UK Olympic symbols to denote a bona fide swimming star of the future. He was lugging up the stairs the most enormous kitbag that looked like it contained a dead wildebeest. For swimming? It was either a heck of a number of towels or swimming has become a whole lot more complicated than the 1970s, when I could fit trunks, goggles and a towel into a single Sainsbury's bag. Unless he had to bring his own pool to practise in.

Bloggin' USA

A brief hiatus to take in a family holiday in the USA. I'd like to say I came back from the trip full of insights into cross cultural difference. But, actually, when I come back from a trip to the States, I feel more like Rip Van Winkel. When holidaying in Europe, it's hard to avoid contact with the UK - English newspapers, BBC World on the hotel TV, British holiday makers pack the beaches. In the US, the international news vacuum allows you to retain a sense of perfect isolation. So when I return to the UK, it's like someone has erased a portion of my memory - I don't get the satirical jokes on the radio, someone important dies and I don't find out for months.

This time when I came back it was as though the UK had been frozen in time for two weeks and it was I who had moved on. Gordon Brown was still not Prime Minister, the weather was still lousy, the Tories were still bleating about grammar schools - absolutely nothing had happened. And within five days we have a new Prime Minister, apocalyptic floods, terrorist bomb threats and Tim Henman's annual anguished exit from Wimbledon. Maybe America doesn't really exist, but is really a tear in the fabric of space-time. It would certainly explain why the jet lag lasts a week, and you can't buy Oreo cookies in the UK shops.

01 June 2007

Health and Safety: sofa so good.

Just when did Health and Safety has become a dirty word? Once it would have been seen as the working man's defence against finger-removing machinery or asbestos-laced working environments. Now it is the meddling maiden aunt, wagging its finger at us for using a lift incorrectly.

There is a case for saying it is victim of its own success. As recently as the 1970s, thousands of British workers died every year from untrained operatives incorrectly using unsafe equipment. Since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974, fatal injuries at work have fallen by 76%. In the EU, Britain has one of the lowest rates of workplace fatalities, and the numbers continue to fall year on year. Clearly the story "No-one died at work today" will not sell many papers, so the media latches on to over zealous H&S practice to ridicule the entire profession.

Playing into their hands this week was the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, who disciplined three firefighters for sleeping on the floor, instead of designated chairs bought for the purpose. Or as they rather pompously described it "involvement in the use of unauthorised rest facilities" (click here for full story). The Health and Safety Executive have so far refused to say whether furniture-related injuries had hampered the operation of the Fire Service in the past, but they were clearly taking no chances.

And with good reason too, for there is clearly cause for concern. In 2005, in separate incidents, a south London drug dealer was murdered on his sofa, while a man in the USA was crushed to death on a settee by an ice-laden tree. And just last year, two people were crushed to death in Saudi Arabia, in the grand opening of IKEA in Jeddah. Given the challenges firefighters face every day in their job, why take the risk?