Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, November 6, 2007

THERE’S a statistic often quoted whenever anyone voices the slightest doubt about the safety of air travel.
It is that, worldwide, more people are kicked to death by donkeys than die in air crashes.
I’m not sure how much comfort it is to know, as you plummet towards the ground desperately trying to remember what the cabin crew said about inflating your life jacket, that out there somewhere a gang of donkeys are kicking to death the equivalent of your planeload.
Also, what happens in a year when there are more than the usual number of plane crashes? Do the donkeys suddenly get more murderous in order to maintain differentials.
But I guess what those who quote that figure are trying to say is don’t get in a sweat about disasters, because there are a lot more people out there dying in a very mundane way.
But I think it’s human nature. We’ll fret about the unknown threat far more than we will about the cast-iron, guaranteed thing that’s very likely to do us in.
So, for instance, outraged parents will go on the march against paedophiles they are asure are lurking on every street corner. And they’re right, that might happen to about five children every year. But 140 or more children will die on the roads – 28 times as many as are killed by strangers – and yet where are the baying mobs protesting at that?
All too often we are unable to properly assess danger, which means we’ll warp our kids in cotton wool one minute and expose them to unbelievable risk the next.
So it was with a degree of weariness I turned on Radion 4 the other day to hear the debate as to whether Snowdon should remain open to walkers.
This was, of course, in the wake of the terrible death of Liam Costello, the young boy who died after falling while climbing there.
The death of anyone in the mountains, young or old, is a dreadful thing, but it is all the more painful when it is a young life that is lost.
However, deaths in Snowdonia, when compared to the millions of people who visit, are tiny in proportion. To talk of closure of the mountains is a massive over-reaction to what is a small, if undoubtedly tragic, problem.
All too often now we hear about the obesity timebomb that is facing our children, that they never get out, that they spend all their time watching TV or on their Playstations.
It will come as no comfort to the Costello family I know, what could possible comfort them after all, but they were giving him experiences he would never have forgotten.
The joy of climbing the mountains is transcendent, it is beyond all experiences he would have had before and to take a child into the mountains is one of the healthiest things you could possible do for them, mind and body.
What would be tragic would be of parents, having read of the death of Liam, now decide not to go to Snowdonia because of the perceived risks.
With care, it is still a safe place to go and compared to other activities, or even a life of inactivity, it is by far the better thing to do for your children.
If you play it safe and let your child live a life of indolence they may safely make it to adulthood, but you will have sown the seeds of the heart attack that will rob them of an adulthood.
There are enough real demons out there, mundane as they are, there really is no need for us to conjure up any more. The mountains must remain open to us all.

SOMWHAT unfortunate that in the week a fire seems to have claimed four firefighters’ lives one North Wales fire chief should send out an ill-tempered memo about use of appliances after they appeared in a nude calendar.
As far as I’m concerned, if they are prepared to run into a burning building when everyone else is running out, what they do with their appliances in their spare time is their business, not mine.
And if it does no harm and raises a bit of cash for a good cause, it’s none of their boss’s business either.

YOU would have thought that the prospect of serving in Afghanistan and Iraq were worrying enough, but now another concern surfaces for our troops.
Insurance premiums.
Incredible as it might sound, troops are encouraged to take out extra cover when they are deployed to the front line.
Insurance companies, not slow to cotton on to risks, have realised the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq is a sight more risky than manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain, and they’ve whacked up the premiums by an eye-watering 160pc. This means your average squaddy has to fork out £1,000 a year for the privilege of insuring himself or herself for active service.
Of course the MoD is denying any culpability in this shambles, saying it is the soldiers’ own decision to take out the additional insurance. But let’s face it, if you were off to Iraq, you’d want to know your family would be taken care of wouldn’t you?
It’s all very well committing troops to two highly dangerous theatres of war, but if you do so as a government then you owe them a duty of care.
Whenever this issue is raised there is usually someone who bleats about World War Two and how the soldiers weren’t compensated then.
No, they weren’t. But the enemy was on our doorstep and we were all in it together then. Now we expect a tiny Army, Navy and Air Force to do every job we ask of them and more.
The least we can do is assure them that should the worst happen their families will be taken care of without the need for them to take out crippling insurance.

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