Friday, January 05, 2007

A Touch of Nelson

Yesterday morning, I nearly choked on my morning croissant when I read that a 14 year old English boy, a mere beardless stripling, had sailed across the Atlantic single-handedly. Great Heavens, thought I, where on earth were the authorities? It just goes to show what happens when you leave Prescott in charge for five minutes. Anarchy breaks loose and, if the authorities care to look, around every corner you will see kids playing conkers or similar life threatening sports next. This sort of reckless activity might spread. Nintendos and Gameboys will languish in closets and children will be taking up all sorts of unsuitable activities, such as tree-climbing.

The threat to the nanny state is clear. Something will have to be done and the Health and Safety people called in at once to prosecute the boy’s parents and certainly his headmaster who had the temerity to condone, nay, to encourage, such recklessness. No doubt on his return to England, the young criminal in question will be placed in a suitable foster home for his own protection lest he should be tempted to go boating on The Serpentine without a life jacket and suitable safety equipment.

I note that he set sail from Gibraltar. Probably a wise move. If he had left from Plymouth or any other port in the UK, he would have undoubtedly been pursued by the Royal Navy, if they could find a spare ship which now seems to be unlikely, and dragged back home to face the consequences of this affront to nannydom.

Although I failed to appreciate it at the time, I was fortunate enough to be sent to one of those institutions that were called, rather oddly, Public Schools. I’m sure that the sort of malpractice they got up to in my day would have resulted in fines and convictions all round for the staff. Cricket was played without helmets, we were taught boxing and, even more alarmingly, shown how to handle firearms. Conkering was rife in season and the gymnasium was full of potentially hazardous bits of equipment that we were encouraged to use without safety nets. In the Air Training Corps, I was launched off the side of a hill for my first solo flight in a totally inadequate glider (a Slingsby product, as I recall it) not only without any protective gear but without even a note from my parents.

Compulsory National Service was the making of many young men when it was in force but now, of course, since every teenager knows his rights, would be totally unworkable. The idea of deference to one’s elders or to authority of any kind flies in the face of present day thinking. Just imagine the law suits that anxious parents could file at the NCO’s in charge of their loved ones during square bashing. As I remember it, these worthies had scant regard for political correctness. But the end product was infinitely superior to today’s laissez faire youth, I’m sure.

The young navigator made landfall rather appropriately in Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua.

Nelson was a genuine British hero even if his treatment of Lady Hamilton left something to be desired. I’m sure he would have approved of the young man’s escapade.

But I can’t help feeling that it would have far more wonderful if he had contrived to make his landfall at the home of Mr. Gibb of BeeGee’s fame, in Miami. It might have discommoded Mr. Blair’s lunchtime cocktail session around the swimming pool but would, perhaps, have given him an inkling that there are still people in Britain who have some spirit and guts and don’t need a nanny state to take care of them.


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