Why I don't bother with Littlejohn columns

I've never touched upon Richard Littlejohn's column before - and I never will! Don't know where it's been!

Sorry - with that bit of Carry-on style campness over with, I'll continue. I don't look at Littlejohn's writing much, mainly because I think he's an arse who probably doesn't even believe what he writes himself, but I want to break that rule for now just to go through 'How Elf 'n' safety stole my country'. It shows how to shift about and cherrypick information to give a skewed version of events quite well. Before I start, I'd like to get one cheap point out of the way. Nobody stole his country. He gave it up when he went to live in his gated mansion in Florida.

Right. On with the actual column.

It opens with a statement about a bonfire party in Ilfracombe. It leaves out the fact that it was run by the Rugby club as a bit of a joke, as this from the BBC shows:
"We've received a positive feedback, people realise it's a little bit tongue in cheek and a laugh and they could be seeing Britain's first virtual bonfire," said Paul Crabb.
Littejohn reports:
The organisers decided on this performance after concluding that it would be uneconomic to comply with precautions insisted upon by the local council's elf 'n' safety officers.

They would have to hire steel safety barriers, an army of stewards and first-aiders, and have the fire brigade on standby. They concluded it wasn't worth it.
The guy from the Rugby club actually says:
"When you are planning a bonfire you have to do risk assessments. We would have needed four or five more marshals than we have so it was all going to involve a huge amount of effort."
Four or five more fire marshalls does not mean an army of stewards and first-aiders or any of the other rubbish Littlejohn bangs on about. That would be an exaggeration. Get used to it if you're going to read any more of his stuff.

Also, you see that bit about it being uneconomic? This is what the guy from the Rugby club actually said:
Of course it would be cheaper to build a bonfire, but at least it'll be safer.
So the uneconomic bit - bit of an exaggeration. Or 'lie' if you're being uncharitable.

Another significant thing he's ignored is this:
The move comes after youths threw left-over fireworks onto a nearby football club's bonfire four years ago.
So the regulations are in response to something that actually happened.

Then, we move on to:
At Upton Park, in Slough, Berks, uniformed elf 'n' safety officers were busy confiscating sparklers from five-year-olds at a bonfire party, even though the children were being supervised by their parents.
Again, not really, strictly the truth. The truth is that people arent allowed to bring their own fireworks into the display at Upton Park, including sparklers. The emotional image he's created would only ever have happened if the parents had smuggled sparklers in in the first place.

The column moves on to Watford Council. What Littlejohn does is take this quote from Dave Cobb that appeared in the Watford Observer:
"Due to a number of factors, we will not be having a bonfire this year," Dave Cobb, Watford Borough Council service manager said.

"It takes significant staff resources to build and steward the fire, and reinstate the area afterwards. Once lit, it is extremely difficult to put out, in case of overcrowding or crowd surges.

"It also goes against the council's key objectives of having a smoke-free town, by causing air pollution and scorching surrounding trees."
And switch it around to put the secondary reason about a smoke-free town first, to make it look as though it's the main reason. He also eliminates the 'number of reasons' part of the quote and the word 'also' to make it look as though Dave Cobb has given different reasons at different times and stupidly contradicted himself by asking:
So which is it - elf 'n' safety or because it contravenes the "smokefree" policy? I don't suppose it matters to the Dave Cobbs of this world. Any excuse to ban something will do.
As Littlejohn knows full well, it's both. He knows it because he removed the 'number of reasons' and 'also' bits of the quote.

He also ignores this:
This year's fireworks display is being organised by Watford Borough Council after Watford Round Table pulled out of running the event.
And this:
Peter Taylor, treasurer of Watford Round Table, said: "We are very sad to lose it. We have done it for 38 years. The reason is that it is a lot of work for what is now a small group.

"Last year it cost about £26,000 and we took in £27,000. It's very tight on breaking even. A few years ago we made a significant loss and Round Table members could be liable."

Dorothy Thornhill, mayor of Watford, apologised for not being able to have a bonfire in Watford on Bonfire Night.
So, the actual story is that the people that normally run it pulled out and left it for the council to run, and the council couldn't afford it. Bit different from the impression created by Littlejohn.

It's also important to mention that the council had a Guy Fawkes night celebration without a bonfire. Littejohn says:
Thus did Dave Cobb, Watford Council's "service manager", justify banning the town's traditional celebration.
The celebration in and of itself was not banned. It went ahead without a bonfire. Sure, that's a bit lame, but it's a bit different.

He goes on (and on):
There's an entire puritanical, purselipped industry dedicated to finding out what people like to do and stopping them. All at public expense. The Health and Safety Executive long ago lost all touch with reality.

They even wanted the Army to put handrails on the side of the Brecon Beacons to stop soldiers falling over on training exercise. Warden Hodges, from Dad's Army, is alive and well and living in Britain in 2007.
There's a section on the HSE website called 'Myth of the Month' and lots of press releases and letters to the editor that attempt to put the record straight when it comes to false stories. One of them says:
Richard Littlejohn pokes fun at health and safety (March 30). I'm not sure the families of over 200 workers killed and 28,000 seriously injured last year would share his sense of humour.

For the record, the Health and Safety Executive has not tried to ban window cleaners using ladders or ordered the Army to put handrails on mountains, but we are about the application of sensible controls to protect people at work.
There you go. They just didnt. The HSE wrote to Littlejohn's paper when he originally wrote this piece of crap to point that out.

Next is something I'm prepared to give Littlejohn. Not planting palm trees because of health and safety rules is a bit much. But one thing I do recognise is that when Colin Charlwood compared them to tigers, he was probably, you know, joking.

Next, there's this:
[...] Here's a real sign that was put up in Nottinghamshire a few years ago:


Do not throw sticks etc. into this tree as it could cause injury to people walking below.
You know what? I smell bullshit. Do a Google search on the conker thing. I can wait. Find anything? I didn't, except a cached version of the original article. And Charnwood is in Leicestershire, not Nottinghamshire. You know what I said before about spreading urban legends? We might have an example here. The ususal stuff applies - if anyone has any more info, please add it to the comments and I'll update this message if I'm wrong.

Since then, acting on the orders of elf 'n' safety, councils all over Britain have been ruthlessly chopping down chestnut trees and hiring cherrypickers to remove killer conkers, lest passers-by slip on them or have one fall on their heads.
Name one. Just one. Then name some more, since they're all over Britain. One of the first rules about spotting urban legends is to be suspicious of missing specific information.

Suffolk County Council banned hanging baskets from 'lighting pillars' - what jobsworths call lamp posts these days - during the Bury St Edmunds In Bloom festival, for fear they might fall on someone's head.
Sort of true. The BBC covered it in a similar 'PC Gone Mad' fashion at the time, but one thing in the BBC report that's missing here is:
But after this year's stock were weighed, filled with soil and water, the council decided they should be banned altogether on some lampposts.
Some lampposts. Not all lampposts. And as for the 'lighting pillar' comment, here's a really dry bit of the Council website about highway emergencies. It says:
If you do not know the lamp post number, please give some other means of locating the light, such as a nearby house number.
So, 'Lighting pillar' is a bit like 'non-gender specific access entry unit' for 'manhole cover'. It's cobblers.

We've had a village in Gloucestershirebanning swings in a children's playground, and elf 'n' safety officers in Bognor Regis insisting kiddies wear crash helmets when riding donkeys on the beach.
I can find nothing on the swings ban except this. If it's true, swings haven't been banned, but had to be replaced. Could also be an urban legend. Stick it in the comments if you know different.

Can't find anything about crash helmets and donkey rides. I've never been on a donkey, but I've been on a pony ride on holiday when I was a kid and we had to wear crash hemets then, over 20 years ago. Even if this were true, would it be news?

Football in school playgrounds has been given the elbow, in case anyone involved scrapes a knee.
What schools? Name them.

Ditto firework displays, bouncy castles, boating lakes, hopscotch, slides and roundabouts. If there's the slightest risk of anyone getting hurt, it's banned.
Name them. Name all of them. And when I say all of them, I mean all of them. I want to see the rule that says hopscotch has been banned. I'd like the Act of Parliament.

The column just gets more shrill and stupid after all that. I can't be bothered to look thorugh it all any more. 'They're so scared of being sued that they'd rather kids sat around shopping centres - shooting up heroin, smoking dope, sniffing glue and supping Special Brew - than play hopscotch.' Yes Richard. I'm sure they would. They love the herion. So do the kids. It's very moreish.*

Are all Littlejohn columns this bonkers? Jesus, there's even more than I've looked at so far to go though. I think I've lost the will to live. Why do people enjoy this shit? Ruthlessly and unremittingly told over and over again that we're living in a real life version of Escape From New York with us as the prisoners. But of course, he lives in America now. When was the last time he set foot in a park in the UK?

If I can be permitted another cheap shot:
But, despite our cuts and bruises, my generation was a damn sight fitter than today's pasty-faced, flabby breed.
Not now you're not, you fat cunt.

There. Got it out of my system. The rest of the article falls into the category of 'no you fucking don't'. Like the bit where he mentions window cleaners having to use scaffolding. The bit the HSE already refuted. It's just exasperating to look at. Seriously. Read any sentence. Now add 'no you fucking don't'. It applies all over the place.

Sorry, I started this post with a serious aim that the column destroyed with its utter, utter mind-numbingly rubbish whining. But I forget the point now. Something to do with pretending lots of unconnected events are connected and that separate people are part of the same conspiracy. I probably would have said something about this sort of column actually creating the environment where people think they need all sorts of stuff they don't, so they avoid doing things altogether unneccessarily. And then that feeds into poo columns like this and so on until there are people needlessly wandering about with crash helmets and knee pads on because they believe this goon and think they're the law.

If this is really what Littlejohn thinks Britain is like, no wonder he buggered off to Florida.** I don't recognise it.

*Thank you, Harry Hill.
**Littlejohn might actually not live in Florida most of the time. I haven't checked, since that's not Littlejohn's strong point either.


Mephitis said...

My daughter's school would be somewhat surprised to find hopscotch is banned - they've got one painted on the playground.

Not to mention the council play areas have recently got new equipment including roundabouts - there's even a "death-slide".

Ludicrous stuff from Littlejohn.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Yeah, but I bet they have to wear goggles when they play conkers. Pffft.

That HSE putting the record straight section is great. There's another section that goes as far back as 2003 here:


James said...

There are times when health and safety regulations can be somewhat frustrating, and their logic is not always apparent. Fencing off two or three tons of burning timber and having a number of fire extinguishers and people who know how to use them properly close by is not one of them.
And I bet Littlejohn would be the first to sue his local council if a falling hanging basket gave him a fractured skull.