If the British press is to be believed the whole country is currently under ten feet of water and sinking fast. It’s time to get a grip.
On the strength of governmental, meteorological and media advice, I have decided to remain at home for not less than the next decade. Our railways, roads, motorways, waterways, public bridleways, tow-paths, canals and coastlines are all currently subject to what I understand to be an overwhelming and life-threatening debacle, greater than any calamity in history. Or as they conveniently and rashly call it: chaos. It’s winter. And winter in Britain means rain, wind and snow, so damnably moderate in their amounts and effects, the trains are unable to run, schools collapse and drivers, unable to understand the connection between ice and danger, put their foot down at the first opportunity and wonder why they’ve ended up on their roof in the centre of a field, with petrol streaming down their face…
My food supplies are adequate, if lacking in vitamin K. Being a hill-walker, my wardrobe was already replete with highly fibrous garments that preserve vital body heat, if only at the expense of making me look like an idiot. My torch batteries are charged. The doors are locked. Triple-locked. And electrified. Sand bags are in place. My six guard dogs are due for delivery tomorrow, although I am unsure how they’ll fit through the letter box, or whether the postman will be able to scale my concrete river defences, despite my house not being on a flood plain.
I am all set. Like the scout I used to be, I am prepared. I’ve even invested in the Complete Works of Bear Grylls which are, of course, handsomely bound with the ragged fleece of one of the many dead sheep he’s either gorged on, slept in or abused in some other barely legal manner. Although armed with Bear’s media-savvy, though wholly impractical, techniques, I am a little unsure how I will fare if ultimately forced to leave the safety of my own home to replenish my food supplies with an assortment of local slugs, snails, puppy dogs’ tails, or human beings who have succombed to The Chaos, or its close cousin, Misery.
Yes, I have gone to these extreme lengths to avoid The Chaos, which, according to just about every headline in the last week, has descended upon Britain, showing no mercy and even threatening the post-Christmas sales.
Shock and awe
As each year passes, and with the British media (with the aid of web-based news) believing that rolling and breaking news – like the waves apparently now swamping Britain – rather than analysis, comment and investigative journalism, is what the public want, one could be forgiven for believing that life is now getting progressively more dangerous. If the newspapers are to be believed. Forced by their editors to provide such news, their ability to transform the innocuous into the horrific knows few bounds. They are able to seek out and amplify any story, at any time, at the drop of a hat. A technique that used to be the preserve of the tabloids has now spread to the broadsheets and the BBC. News, therefore, has lost a lot of the respect I used to have for it. And with its red-coloured branding, and minus the surprisingly insipid breasts on page three, the BBC sometimes seems indistinguishable from The Sun. And The Sun doesn’t ever really claim to be other than what it is: largely nonsense, backed up with silly graphics and endless football in a language easily understood by five-year olds. Whereas the BBC is populated by Oxbridge graduates who believe the BBC is the height of radical journalism and that it’s a neutral public service offering balanced and considered content.
A European country or two could be (and is) near to financial collapse; a thousand poor souls could be (and are) dead from storms in the Philippines; the heart of the Middle-East could be (as is) experiencing a raging civil war. Yet, here, despite the obvious danger to those bent on throwing themselves into fast-flowing flood water, what should be described as travel delays, local flooding and taking care while driving, and appear well-down the list of news stories, becomes the top story for many days, and wallows in the gross exaggeration and inaccuracy of calling it Chaos (it deserves a capital letter for the prominence given to the word recent weeks).
A man sits in a traffic jam for forty-seven minutes in the rain, listening to the radio. “It was chaos,” he later bleats to his wife. An overweight child in Plymouth misses his train connection to Exeter due to flooding; his mother picks him up; he arrives home two hours late. He’s very hungry. His mother nips out for a KFC takeaway. “It was ab-so-lute chaos out there,” she says on the phone, to her sister, who, recovering from the winter vomiting bug – norovirus – and in a weakened state, recently fell across a large puddle where she lay for up to a minute wondering where she was. Busy with their own fight against chaos, no one came to help her.
An Englishman now judges a situation to be chaotic if it matches or surpasses the huge increase in blood pressure he experiences when having to join a supermarket queue that is marginally longer than very short and which will add seven minutes to his shopping trip. France does not have this problem, where queues are viewed as too Anglo-Saxon, an unreasonable curb on creativity and spontaneity, and are therefore replaced with small groups of mildly agitated people moving at random until they finally get served. Such Gallic chaos is highly dangerous to the Englishman, and should be avoided for his own well-being.
British TV news has, at least in my lifetime, always been somewhat parochial. But it seems to me that this has now reached new heights. And, progressively, over the last decade, organisations like the Meteorological Office have moved from sensible advice for the intrepid traveller through to alarmist weather warnings, complete with gaudy online maps demonstrating where one’s car may or may not be swept away by an inch-high wall of water hitting you head on as you negotiate a bend. You’d think every one of us lived in an old boat adrift on the high seas. Or took post-prandial walks along cliff-tops in high winds.
Because they don’t really mean chaos. And the journalists know this as well. Except they think people are daft enough to read the headline with no critical view. And many do. But chaos is a much more extreme, wide-spread, long-lasting and, well chaotic thing. Check out any dictionary. No, what happened in Britain were difficulties, inconveniences, limited disasters (for flooded homes and businesses). Or, to be specific, floods, delays, traffic jams. But clearly, now, calling things what they actually are just isn’t done.
Quite in keeping with the often topsy-turvy British way of doing things, we turn a blind-eye to other much more dangerous activities and situations. Huge chip-fuelled coach drivers with heart-conditions, for example, are considered ideal candidates to drive fifty innocent school children at 100mph across the continent at night; strafing a foreign country with bombs, destroying their infrastructure and then their civil society is deemed the best way to pacify disgruntled home-grown would-be terrorists; hurtling upside-down in a ramshackle roller-coaster along tracks hastily cobbled together that morning by a man with unrecognisable tattoos and no fixed address receives official approval. Other countries do these things too, but I’m sure they don’t also bandy around the word chaos as much as we do. Because, after all, they – with their often more extreme weather systems – do in fact occasionally experience chaotic, indeed tragic situations. Whereas the British, constantly battered by the temperate, if blustery and quite damp climate, seem only to have some pale imitation of the ferocious power of nature and which, with the aid of the media, they are increasingly trying to whip up into much more than it is.
Copyright © 2012 David Hansard / davidhansard.wordpress.com
All articles on davidhansard.wordpress.com are written by David Hansard unless otherwise stated.