Not long after I moved here I noted the many contradictions of living in a supposed "nanny state", a term used to describe the sometimes extreme measures taken by the government to keep its citizens safe and healthy.
For instance, I heard about a town that cut down all its lime trees because a limb had fallen, and it was feared that the trees could fall on unsuspecting passersby. Graveyards are also seen as places of potential fatal hazards after an old leaning tombstone fell on a child once, thus requiring notices to be put up. And then there's the size of Teddy bears: mustn't encourage our tots to gamble at the Fun Fair by offering too-large bears as prizes!
But anyone who's ever called Great Britain a nanny state obviously never endured a night of anything-goes fireworks. The three weeks of pyrotechnic frenzy around Bonfire Night sound like Baghdad during Shock and Awe. BOOM! Welcome to Buckinghamshire during Diwali.
Recently, a friend on Twitter mentioned that New Jersey didn't allow any fireworks at all for home use. I was surprised to hear New Jersey was even more health and safety conscious than the UK, with its Teddy-limiting laws. New Jersey?! Isn't this the birthplace of concrete shoes?
Yet the law in the UK seems to allow celebratory fireworks year round. A few months ago, my daughter took the dog on a walk and came home with a strange story about some twenty or so weird glowing apparatuses she'd seen in the sky. Since she had a friend along for confirmation, we believed her, and it wasn't until an American neighbor put on a Fourth of July fireworks show in his garden that I realized what she must have seen: Chinese lanterns. Apparently it's entirely legal to send flaming bamboo and paper balloons into the atmosphere. As we watched our Chinese lanterns disappear over the M25, I wondered if there were any thatched cottages nearby.
Surely these must be safe, I reminded myself—I live in a nanny state! I'm not even allowed a damper in my gas fireplace, or an electrical outlet in my bathroom! No worries. Right?
But today I read in my local paper that over New Year's, two fires were caused by Chinese lanterns. A car caught on fire when one blew underneath, and a tree went up in flames after one was caught in its branches.
I found this comment interesting:
Chris Bailey, head of Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team, said: “You can’t control the direction they take or where they will land.
“There is no guarantee that the fuel source will be fully extinguished and cooled when the lantern lands, and that’s a real fire hazard.”
He said unsuitable locations for flying lanterns included areas near telephone and power lines, areas near standing crops, anywhere near buildings with thatched roofs, areas of dense woodland and areas of heath or bracken.
That pretty much describes all of England.
A nanny state that can't be bothered to regulate dangerous fireworks, yet doesn't allow dampers on gas fireplaces, in case citizens kill themselves? It's one of those contradictions that make me more certain than ever that political labels are meaningless. I live in a theocracy, where the state media broadcast church services, yet much of the population never attends church or even thinks about religion very often.
It would be enough to make my head explode, except for the fact that I'm sure the Health and Safety Executive has issued a guideline against exploding heads.
So bring on the nanny state. I'd like more of it, please—just don't tell me how big my Teddy bear can be.