House (and garden) of horror

Must the UK government really 'take gardening safety more seriously'?

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Double jeopardy

‘The government must take gardening safety more seriously’, announced Brian Donohue, secretary of the UK parliamentary group on gardening, reacting this week to a report that injuries due to gardening have increased by almost 50 percent in five years.

Apparently one person a week is likely to die partaking of this activity, with 62,000 adults last year needing hospital treatment. Gardening is now the ‘ultimate danger sport’, according to one newspaper.

As a budding gardener myself, I fail to see potential peril. The only occasion this pastime has posed mortal danger to myself was three weeks ago when, upon berating me for using a Victorian silver spoon to dig up the soil, my brother hurled a trowel at the fence near my head. The only other real potential calamity I can think of is that, living under a flight path, I might be hit one day by a block of frozen urine jettisoned from an aeroplane.

Such scaremongering is not good for our health. Apparently, most gardening accidents involve the use of ladders and power tools. Presumably the users of these understand the potential danger; they don’t turn on a drill and say: ‘Shall I stick this in my ear for a laugh?’ The general public is not becoming more accident prone; there are just more people doing their gardens these days. In the scheme of things, gardening simply is not risky. Well, not in the way swimming out to sea wearing steel helmets in the middle of a lightning storm is.

Some of you may not be convinced. Well why don’t you stay indoors then? Nice and safe there.

Apparently not. According to a Department of Trade and Industry report in 2001, 76 people are killed in domestic accidents every week in the UK compared to 66 who die in road accidents. In 1999, 13,000 domestic accidents were caused by vegetables, 1300 by bean bags, 3400 by clothes baskets and 37 by tea-cosies. In fact, you may just as well stay in bed, as those of you trying to get dressed are endangering yourselves too: trousers are responsible for 5900 accidents in the home, and socks and tights are even worse culprits at 10,700 accidents.

But I wouldn’t feel so safe beneath the sheets. Apparently, 95 percent of people die in their beds. And what is the government doing about these so-called ‘death beds’? Absolutely nothing. It’s enough to make you want to go outdoors.

  • Hunfunny comparisons

According to his brother Bill, Joseph Coors was ‘a little bit right of Attila the Hun’. Coors, who died at the weekend, was the man behind the beer of the same name and known too as a campaigner and financier for right-wing causes under the Reagan administration. He was deeply unpopular among gays and unions for his policies. But was he really more rightwing than Attila the Hun? In fact, was Attila the Hun right-wing at all?

I don’t see how the king of a plundering, pastoral nomadic people can be described as ‘right-wing’. The Huns did not, for instance, seem to respect the notion of private property. Their understanding of the free-market was certainly immature. They didn’t articulate, as far as I am told, the theory of limited government. I don’t know what their opinion was on the imprisonment of Tony Martin or ‘political correctness gone mad’, but I dare say they’d have much interest.

Of course, by ‘right-wing’, what everybody means is hierarchical, anti-egalitarian, xenophobic, war-mongering and generally horrid. But these features apply to all pastoral societies and pretty much all pre-modern tribal societies. In modern terms, they have been the features of both left and right-wing tyrannies, or simply of archaic regimes who had no time for or understanding of this dichotomy.

It’s not just that ‘to the right of Attila the Hun/Ghengis Khan’ is such an unfunny, anachronistic cliché, it’s that it subconsciously reflects the notion that being ‘right-wing’ is positively nasty. In terms of childish nonsense, you might as well go around saying that someone’s ‘more right-wing than Satan’.

  • Burn, baby, burn

You may remember that during the 1991 Gulf War people started getting jumpy about potentially ‘offensive’ pop songs. In January that year, radio executives at the BBC drew up a list of 67 records they considered ‘unsuitable’ for broadcast, including ‘Boom Bang-A-Bang’ by Lulu, ‘Light My Fire’ by The Doors, ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ by the Bangles and Elton John’s evidently inflammatory ‘Saturday’s Alright For Fighting’.

I don’t remember a lot of heavy metal bands getting into flak. Indeed, I recall that American pilots pumped themselves up by listening to thrash metal before going on sorties. As a weedy metaller at the time, I found this immensely heartening. Elsewhere, the likes of Carcass, Napalm Death and Anthrax survived the conflict unmolested by the then fledgling Deeply Offended Brigade.

Alas, things are not so good now for Anthrax (the band). Whether they’ll have to change their name upon any eventualised bacteriological attack is anyone’s guess. The future looks bleak for Massive Attack too, who in 1991 shortened their name to ‘Massive’ for reasons of sensitivity, only to revert back in the mid-1990s. I fear they’ll have to reverse that reversion soon. Tuneswise, there’ll be no quarter given this time either for ‘Hands Up, Baby Hands Up’ by Ottowan, ‘Jet by Wings’ or the Cure’s ‘Killing an Arab’. (That the last song is a reference to The Outsider by Albert Camus will be lost on most people.)

So Solid Crew will probably get it in the neck again. In fact, the war’s probably all their fault in the first place. This is what happens when dictators listen to bands glamorising dirty bombs and chemical warfare.

‘Chemical Warfare’, incidentally, is a fine ditty by veteran death metal outfit Slayer – music you can whistle to.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from

Topics Politics


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