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Rod Liddle

From the land of the risk assessment, everywhere looks as dangerous as Beirut

There was a stupid woman on the television news the other night, interviewed the day after she and her family had arrived for their holiday in — yes — Tunisia.

22 January 2011

12:00 AM

22 January 2011

12:00 AM

There was a stupid woman on the television news the other night, interviewed the day after she and her family had arrived for their holiday in — yes — Tunisia.

There was a stupid woman on the television news the other night, interviewed the day after she and her family had arrived for their holiday in — yes — Tunisia. The rioting had been going on for the best part of a week by the time she showed up, but this fact had entirely escaped her notice. She told the reporter that upon arrival she saw some holiday-makers milling in the hotel lobby and approached one to ask cheerfully if they were going on one of the set excursions, perhaps to a local souk. ‘No, you fantastically silly bitch. There are no excursions. There’s a revolution taking place and crazed ragheads with machetes or machine guns are wandering around, we’re waiting to be evacuated,’ came the reply, or words to that effect — I may have embellished a little. She was cross, the stupid woman, because the holiday company had still flown her out and the British government hadn’t told her nuffink, how was she to know, as a person who lacked all sentience? It is possible she didn’t even know she was on holiday in Tunisia at all, just some place called Hammamet with a swimming pool and all-you-can-eat buffet bar which might as well have been in the Ganges delta, or Tierra del Fuego, or Rhyl.

I was reminded, listening to her complaints, of two things. First those British holiday-makers three years ago who booked a nice beach holiday in Beirut and were subsequently roused from their sunbeds by the multiple detonations nearby of Israeli heavy ordnance. They were cross, too — that the Royal Navy hadn’t turned up yet to rescue them at our expense. And when a ship did turn up they complained that the boarding procedure was chaotic and they weren’t too sure about the meals on board. A nasty part of me, back then, rather wished that Hezbollah had decided it was time for a bit of judicious infidel hostage-taking. You want a beach holiday in Beirut, fine. But know what you’re getting into and take responsibility for your decision.


Watching the moaning stupid woman in Tunisia, I was also reminded of the design and technology teacher Richard Tremelling, who was sacked recently from a secondary school in Wales. The connection is not immediately clear, I accept. Tremelling was given the boot for having demonstrated the principle of aerodynamics to his class by allowing two pupils to go down a very short slope on a sledge in the snow. Nobody fell off, nobody was hurt, the kids didn’t complain and neither did their parents. Tremelling, however, had failed to write out a health and safety risk assessment form and similarly failed to write to the school governors to tell them of his sled-based lesson plan. So, sacked. A later inquiry, incidentally, showed that there was no risk at all inherent in the sledging. But where the school has a point is that a parent might have sued because procedure had not been followed to the letter and they need to cover themselves. And in this respect the school is no different from the Foreign Office and the advice it gives to Britons heading abroad on holiday.

I looked up the Foreign Office advice for travel to Tunisia online. Be afraid, it said. There is the perpetual danger of terrorism, indiscriminate terrorism, particularly in prominent places. Also you might get killed on the roads because the driving is shocking, or you might be robbed, or mugged, or sexually assaulted. Best to register with the Foreign Office ‘Locate’ programme so they know where you are at all times, because never mind all that other stuff, you might easily get killed in a wildfire or by an avalanche.

Hang on, an avalanche, in Tunisia? My mistake; I had meant to tap in ‘Tunisia’ to the computer but had tapped in ‘France’ through error. That stuff above is what the Foreign Office tells you might happen if you go to France on holiday. And there’s another section which makes it clear that if you do go to France and are raped by a member of al-Qa’eda while skiing down an avalanche then they are not to blame, they are indemnified. And for France, read Austria, Germany, Spain. Everywhere abroad is fraught with danger, is full of swarthy, dangerous wogs who behave oddly and where you might therefore lose your life or your wallet. This is the Foreign Office covering itself if you have a nasty experience abroad and suddenly decide, like the stupid woman in the Hammamet hotel, that it is someone else’s fault that, as a congenital idiot, you were not given the advice you required and therefore are indemnified for your actions. The effect of these stark warnings about entirely safe European countries is to undermine the rather greater dangers which exist further afield. Everywhere abroad is much of a muchness — full of trouble.

And every action you take as a teacher, or an employer, must be covered by a risk assessment form because, one way or another, every action involves some sort of risk, however utterly minuscule. So the whole point of risk assessment forms — to prevent injury or loss of life and to make employees think long and hard before sanctioning something which might genuinely be dangerous — is almost entirely lost in the labyrinth of procedure and bureaucracy.

My solution to the Hammamet problem is not to let the lower orders travel abroad unless they can answer a 20-point questionnaire about the country to which they are travelling, beginning with: what is it called?


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