I took my sister, Carly, and nephew, Noah, up for a walk to Lister Park tonight. As expected, it was great. The evening was warm, the flower beds were as varied as they were manicured, and the fountains in the Mughal Garden were shooting forth. Excellent! Noah was captivated by the water features and Carly was astounded at the Park’s beauty, variety and wealth of information. Perfect!
But, was we crossed from one sidde of the water feature in the Mughal Fardens to the other, Carly said something that really jarred with me: take a look at the photo below.
The water is, probably, 3 inches deep, and certainly isn’t 1/2 a foot. The water is less than a foot from the path. If you fell off the path and into the water, you’d fall, at most, 13 inches before hitting solid, if wet, ground.
As we crossed, Carly said, “That’s not very safe, is it?”
I was shocked. But then I thought, “No, it’s not. It’s not very safe.”
It’s not very safe and I’m ok with that. Her words shocked me a bit because I’m worried that this is what we have come to expect: ultra safety. We expect guard rails and notices and areas closed off to the public to keep them ‘safe’. We expect “It’s not allowed” to be the default position, and for people to look for why we should be able to do something before allowing us to do it, rather than looking at why we shouldn’t and stopping us with good reason. We expect “Health & Safety” to be accepted and understood as reasonable reason for doing or not doing or not allowing anything without further explanation or elaboration. Anything!
The Mughal Gardens are wonderful, and show everything that’s great about our country and our city: we take the best of what the world has to offer, polish it with a little British spirit, sense and sensibility, and offer it up, allowing our fair citizens to experience other cultures on their doorstep, allowing them, inviting them, to expand their minds and imaginations on their doorsteps, and rails and the like would ruin this beautiful enclave. I’m glad that there aren’t any, and I pray they’ll stay away. I’d hate for someone to fall in and be hurt, but I’d hate it more if that were to spoil this wonderful walk.
Carly is great. She’s a strong woman who’s taken a lot and given a damned sight more back. She’s over a foot shorter than me but has a right hand that’s brought me to my knees more times than I care to remember, and I still have more than a few scars, and a deformed thumb, that have her to thank for their existence. She brings up Noah with maturity and grace, and without help from a father David Cameron would love to flog. And yet she comes out with “That’s not very safe” over a foot high fall into 3 inches of water. What have we come to? What have we come to expect?
Immediately, it took me back to a trip to Francea few years back. I’m not one for animals in captivity but everyone else wanted to go to the zoo. So, we went. I remember walking round an enclosure which had a waist-high wall and that was it. In it was a range of animals but, I remember best, it contained emus or ostriches. We bought popcorn to feed to them and they came up and pecked it right out of our hands. I remember their dead eyes, their leathery necks and the feel of their beaks on my hand: sharp, hard, unnatural. And then I saw them: in the same enclosure were small black rhinos. I was surprised. I was shocked. Just like Carly, I thought That’s not very safe. There were some rhinos and there was me, and between us was a waist high wall.
Back at the house we were staying in, I spoke with Adrian, my best mate’s step-dad and owner of the house – an ex-pat Brit and Francophile. I mused on my thoughts from earlier, about the lack of safety. I may have even been dismissive of our Gallic chums, as a Brit abroad is want – did I suggest they were a bit backwards for not seeing the possible danger? Maybe. Adrian smiled. He explained the difference in French attitude. Why would you need a fence? Can rhinos jump? Could a rhino go through a very thick, if rather short, wall? I asked about people jumping over. In France, he said, if you want to jump over a wall into a rhino enclosure, what happens next is down to you. Why should it spoil anyone else’s view?
In Britain, we expect the state to look after us, and it does. But we’ve got to a situation
where we no longer have self-responsibility and self-reliance. The state looks after us and, if a mishap befalls us, it is the state’s fault for not protecting us… and we demand retribution and redress. Well, they’ve taken too much from us when we expect to be protected from 3 inches of water and I’d like to reclaim responsibility for myself. I enjoy walking perilously close to a foot drop; I’d like to be given the chance to prove myself by being given the opportunity to jump into a rhino enclosure and trust myself that I won’t.
However, it’s been a while since I went to that French zoo so, maybe, I shouldn’t be trusted: if I see a small wall with potentially dangerous animals on the other side, perhaps I’ll assume that, if the state hasn’t protected me, there’s nothing I need protecting from, and leap over. Perhaps, but I think I can be trusted… I’d just love the chance to prove it.