The ex ex­pat

Af­ter be­ing de­nied her check­out choco­late, Kate Birch rails against a coun­try that tells her what to eat and when to eat it

Friday - - Friday Contents -

Kate Birch de­bates the mer­its of the nanny state.

Some­thing an­noy­ing hap­pened the other day. I fin­ished my weekly gro­cery shop, reached the check­out, and dis­cov­ered the choco­late dis­play had dis­ap­peared. “The govern­ment made us move it from the check­outs,” said the cashier. “To stop people get­ting fat.”

Yes, the govern­ment has told su­per­mar­kets to re­move con­fec­tionary from the check­outs af­ter re­search found 83 per cent of par­ents have been pestered by chil­dren to buy sweets, with 75 per cent ad­mit­ting they give in.

Well, you just say ‘no’ to your kids, right? I mean, that’s how they learn.

Not ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish govern­ment, which be­lieves it needs to pro­tect us from our­selves by re­mov­ing all temp­ta­tion (and risk) from our lives. Not only do politi­cians be­lieve us com­mon­ers have no willpower, but they also think we don’t pos­sess the in­tel­lect to man­age our own health or dis­ci­pline our own chil­dren.

OK, I know the na­tion’s health is in cri­sis, or so the govern­ment keeps telling us, but ac­tu­ally, I’m all right, thank you very much, as are my fam­ily, friends, work col­leagues and, well, most people I meet.

I am com­pletely ca­pa­ble of say­ing ‘no’ to my chil­dren. In fact, I be­lieve both temp­ta­tion and risk are cru­cial, help­ing us to learn im­por­tant lessons about self-mod­er­a­tion.

I would also quite like the op­tion to im­pulse-buy a choco­late bar at the check­out if I so wish. Or, at the very least, gloat smugly while other people – you know, those obese ones ev­ery­one keeps talk­ing about – snatch them up.

Well, I’m out of luck, be­cause that tiny in­dul­gence that made my weekly su­per­mar­ket slog just a lit­tle bit brighter has been re­moved by our ‘nanny state’. Here in Bri­tain, we have one of the most in­tru­sive gov­ern­ments on the planet. Not only do they like to tell us how to run our lives but they spend time and tax­pay­ers’ money putting in place ridicu­lous rules, to re­move what they think are dan­gers.

I agree there need to be laws that pro­tect us, and many are sen­si­ble: seat­belt se­cu­rity for kids in the Seven­ties and ban­ning smok­ing in pub­lic places more re­cently.

Other rules though, like mak­ing it il­le­gal to flirt with wait­resses, are sim­ply ab­surd. While send­ing of­fi­cials to wake people up for job in­ter­views is just wast­ing money and un­der­min­ing per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The govern­ment seems de­ter­mined to crack down on the ‘obe­sity epi­demic’. There was talk last year of ban­ning packed lunches for kids (par­ents have been deemed in­ca­pable of pro­vid­ing a bal­anced diet) and stop­ping the school run, with par­ents in­stead made to drop their kids off a quar­ter of a mile from school, so they walk.

If politi­cians are so con­cerned, why don’t they take se­ri­ous mea­sures that would im­prove the na­tion’s health? Why not kick out all of the fast-food chains, or ban the sale of cig­a­rettes? Could it be be­cause up to 88 per cent of the cost of a packet of cigs goes to the govern­ment in tax?

It’s not just our health, how­ever, that the govern­ment wants to con­trol, I mean, pro­tect. It’s our en­joy­ment, too. Yes, fun, it seems, has had its day. In 2008, grad­u­ates at a Lon­don univer­sity were banned from throw­ing their mor­tar boards into the air in case one of the hats hit some­one; while work­ers in some com­pa­nies were stopped from putting up Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions, in case they got tan­gled in the tin­sel.

Last year saw the end of bouncy cas­tles for kids in Corn­wall and kite fly­ing for fam­i­lies on a beach in York­shire; while across the coun­try foot­balls have been ban­ished from school play­grounds.

It’s not just our safety wor­ry­ing those up top. It’s also our feel­ings. Some schools have re­placed red ink with green when mark­ing pa­pers, deem­ing red too ‘con­fronta­tional’; while oth­ers are pre­vent­ing chil­dren from hav­ing BFFs, so as to spare other kids’ feel­ings.

If it’s not Bri­tain’s ridicu­lous rules threat­en­ing to mol­ly­cod­dle us to death, then it’s the silly ‘stat­ing-the-ob­vi­ous’ warn­ings that spew from those above.

Last sum­mer my lo­cal train sta­tion pro­vided half-hourly an­nounce­ments re­mind­ing me to drink wa­ter. Yes, it was hot; yes, my body needed wa­ter, but I’m an adult. I know I need to hy­drate. Just like I know I need to clean my teeth, wash my chil­dren’s clothes and look both ways when I cross the road.

So, as we Brits steam­roller down the bub­ble-wrapped road to­wards a to­tal­i­tar­ian regime, safe from choco­late bars, foot­balls and Christ­mas tin­sel, and with our per­sonal free­doms in­creas­ingly con­stricted, I re­mind my­self that I am liv­ing in one of the world’s so-called great­est democ­ra­cies.

Temp­ta­tion and risk are cru­cial, help­ing us to learn im­por­tant lessons about self-mod­er­a­tion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.