Special Report

Unsafe at Any Swing

Britain's politically correct playground police try to shield children from even the tiniest adventures.

By 6.11.07

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Just as you think Britain's local authorities have reached the edge of the envelope in vacuous, bullying stupidity, that they can go no further in their efforts to create a society of politically correct sheep, they excel themselves once again.

It's old news now that at Seagry in Wiltshire, children were banned from playing on a veteran steamroller which had stood in the school's playground without accident since 1964. It was deemed "not proper playground equipment" and "failed to meet any required standards whatsoever."

Something -- actually a quasi-official national body -- called "Sports England" proposed eliminating games like sack races, three-legged races and egg-and-spoon races from kindergartens and nursery schools in order to prevent children learning a competitive ethos, proposing problem-solving exercises instead. The government also supports banning games of musical chairs at nursery schools because they may lead to aggression.

At the village of Great Somerford, Wiltshire, playground swings were ordered demolished for being too tall. A charity kite-flying contest for children was banned by a Lancashire council on the grounds that they did not have health and safety insurance.

At Torbay, palm trees were condemned by the council because "they have very sharp leaves." Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Charlwood is reported to have said, in what sounds like dialogue from The Day of the Triffids: "what if one of those leaves caught a child in the eye for example. It's a little bit like keeping tigers - they are beautiful to look at, but you wouldn't want them wandering the streets." These are trees they are talking about!

Children at one primary school were prohibited from making daisy-chains in case they picked up germs from the flowers. Another school stopped children making hanging flower-baskets for the same reason. Playground pursuits like handstands, tag, yo-yos, tree-climbing and skipping have also been banned in various places.

Children at Cummersdale Primary School, Carlisle, were allowed to play conkers (an immemorially old English game involving breaking chestnuts) as long as they wore safety-goggles. Children's ball games and bicycle-riding (!) were also banned by some authorities. Outdoor activities with a bit of adventure and initiative attached to them, such as canoeing, rock-climbing, archery and sailing are all in decline, according to David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools. At Fairway Middle School in Norwich it was announced that children who wished to throw snowballs at other children would have to obtain their targets' permission first, making the whole exercise rather pointless (What would Calvin and Hobbes say?). Tim Gill, a director of the Children's Play Council, said: "There is no one person or body to blame. What is at fault is our culture of caution." (Huh? There is a Children's Play Council?)

NOT ONLY ARE CHILDREN'S LIVES and growth being stunted by authorities apparently hell-bent on depriving them of the slightest experience of adventure and achievement: adults too are being protected beyond the bounds of sanity.

A garden gnome wearing a policeman's helmet was banned because neighbors were offended or possibly intimidated, and a lady's display of china pigs in a window was also banned, lest any passing Muslims were offended.

As the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar approached, an actor playing Lord Nelson, Britain's greatest Naval hero, who scorned danger in storms and battle, was forced to wear a lifejacket over his Naval uniform while transferring from one boat to another in the calm waters of the Thames at Tower Bridge.

But, as I say, all this is old hat. The latest is that a skull-and-crossbones flag has been banned from a 6-year-old boy's pirate party as being "unneighborly."

Town hall planners told the parents of Morgan Smith that they must apply for planning permission to fly the flag, at a cost to them of $150. It was reported that an assessment of the 5ft by 4ft flag's "impact" on the surrounding area will be undertaken before a decision is made as to whether the flag would be permitted for the party or not. The family have flown a Union Jack or a St. George's flag without a problem, but a neighbor complained to the council about the Jolly Roger and they were ordered to remove it.

Mr. Smith said: "When the lady from the council came to see me she said that it was no problem flying any of the other flags, it was the Jolly Roger that was of concern.

"She took some pictures and said that we would have to take it down from now on. I've put in a planning application but I shouldn't have to go to all this trouble."

This is not the first time officialdom has intervened to protect people large and small from the sight of the Jolly Roger. When, in commemoration of Princess Diana, a "replica" of a pirate ship was built in Kensington Gardens in March 2000, for children to play on, hearkening back to Peter Pan's adventures with Captain Hook (Peter Pan's earliest adventures were in Kensington Gardens), it was decreed it would be without violent imagery such as cannon, walking the plank or the Jolly Roger.

Still, if children are deprived of adventure and excitement in one way, they will often find it in another: All this care lest children be exposed to the tiniest conflict coexists with some of the highest rates for juvenile crime, drug abuse, underage sex, sexually transmitted disease, and underage drunkenness in Europe. (Russia, a byword for dangerous, drunken chaos, has a rate of juvenile and teenage alcohol abuse a fraction of Britain's, according to a recent survey.)

Beverly Hughes, the new Children's Minister, said in May 2005 that the government could do no more to tackle the problem of teenage pregnancy, which was out of control. Britain's teenage pregnancy rate was five times that of the Netherlands, three times that of France, and double that of Germany. In 2004, the Department of Education and Skills released figures showing that more than 10 children were expelled every day from English state schools for assaulting either staff of fellow pupils, and another 280 a day were suspended for similar attacks. Millions of people now claim to be in fear of gangs of marauding teenagers.

H. G. Wells's story The Time Machine depicted a distant future in which the human race had divided into the helpless, sheeplike Eloi and the brutal Morlocks. Present British policies appear aimed at creating future citizens who are Eloi and Morlock in one.

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About the Author
Hal G.P. Colebatch's "Immram," Counterstrike, is being published by Australian publisher Imaginites.