I saw a story on this morning's local television news. A bit of a non-story, it told how the National Trust planned to put a metal safety rail on a cottage in Ambleside (Pictured) and reported that the Parish Council had dubbed the notion "sacrilege".
It is, unarguably, a beautiful cottage, but a sympathetically designed, black, metal handrail would probably blend in okay and most visitors would simply imagine such a treacherous staircase would always have had this, most basic, safety feature. The addition of the handrail will mean the Trust can open the first floor up to the public and visitors will have a less hazardous ascent. The argument seems a little bit pointless since we all know that the dreaded Health and Safety Executive will ensure that the handrail is in place. Then, elderly Americans wearing rainhoods, plastic ponchos, sandals, white socks and khaki shorts will be able to climb the staircase, coo over the quaint, old, interior and make their way, safely, back down to the street below. Perhaps they'll have a cream tea at the local tea rooms, or buy a slab of tooth-dissolving mint cake from Ye Olde Shoppe before clambering back aboard their coach and heading to Stonehenge. Local folk will tut when they occasionally notice the modern addition to the aging property and, all the while, the river will keep on flowing, as uninterested as the rest of us, beneath the feet of the tourists. A pointless debate to most.
The story interested me in that it holds within it two of my favourite pet hates. Firstly, our pathetic reliance on others to ensure our journey through this universe and into our graves is free from danger and, secondly, our penchant for petty moaning. Moaning about nothing. Selfish moaning. "This is how I like it/would like it to be, so this is the way it must remain/become".
I'm at a loss as to which side of the argument I fall in situations such as these. On the one hand I can't see the point of the addition. The place has been there since at least 1845, but if it's suddenly a problem then why not just put a sign up for strangers to the staircase that reads "Please don't fall off". In this litigious age it would probably be a good idea to add, beneath this earnest entreaty and in smaller lettering, the words "By accessing this staircase you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions of this staircase. You agree that there is no hand rail, you've seen there's no handrail, you're aware that the drop from the top step is considerably higher than the drop from the step you're stood on and that the ground below is stony." If the worst happens and someone falls off, breaking a fragile, octogenarian, pelvis in the process, then phone an ambulance, wish them luck and laugh at their stupidity once they've gone. No one likes to admit it but we all find it funny when an old person falls over.
On the other hand, it's only a handrail. Yes, it's not a pretty addition to the property but, in my opinion, beauty isn't true beauty without imperfection somewhere, the contrast is necessary or the beauty is bland. The ancient and the modern can co-exist in the same view with some dramatic and beautiful results, as I think the picture [Right] of a church in New York demonstrates.
A petty argument, brought about by the Trust having to apply for permission and announce their intention. People see an announcement and look for some reason to disagree. I'm not saying we shouldn't be informed when a new bypass is going to run through our town centre or a maximum security prison is to be built on the local school playing fields, but in this case it was a bloody hand rail. Just a hand rail. Who really gives a shit? Just put the hand rail up and take it back down again if it proves to be a bad idea.
Rules are like farts and farts are like children, we love our own and hate everyone else's. People see a sign and, like the young lady in the picture [Left], obey without question. Nimbyism is rife. Those that don't agree with, or care about, the campaign to prevent the wind farm being built on the side of the hill remain silent for fear of retribution and venom aimed at them by some of their more militant neighbours.
People may complain that the instructions given on the sign are ridiculous or offensive but they'll obey because, by doing so, they'll ensure that they have the right to complain. I sometimes find myself ordering a double-cheeseburger from the pound-saver menu in Maccy D's just because I'm a little bit bored and fancy a moan. There's always something to moan about beneath the Golden Tits of America. Especially at the drive through.
Moaning is wonderful. I moan almost constantly. Sometimes tongue in cheek. Sometimes I go over the top for dramatic effect. Sometimes I'm just in a grumpy mood. Very rarely am I actually angry though. Not about the petty stuff anyway.
My blog entries are generally moaning about something. My most entertaining Twitter exchanges have come about after a follower or I had moaned about some shit or other. I know it's pointless moaning, I know I'm not going to experience a positive outcome once my tirade is over, but it feels so good doing it.
We all want to be safe and we all have a right to expect to be safe from the actions of others. We aren't safe though. Any of us. We are idiots and we cannot be trusted. We do silly things, like turning the light switch on with wet hands, releasing the trapped toast from the toaster mechanism with a knife or bending over naked to spit toothpaste into the sink whilst a cat preens itself behind you.
Then, almost as soon as we've ceased ouch-ing and cussing, we look for someone to blame. Stood on a piece of Lego in bare feet? It's the kid's fault for leaving it there. Dad stands on a piece of your Lego in bare feet? It's dad's fault for not wearing shoes. Hand crushed because you were given the wrong ladder to use at work, or hand crushed because you used the wrong ladder at work? "Ah," you may say, "But it's my bosses job to make sure I'm using the right ladder." Yes, it is. But does your hand hurt any less because it wasn't your fault?
I move a lot of furniture in my day job. Just over a fortnight ago I helped a friend move a three piece suite. It was raining and dark when we arrived to unload so we were eager to get the job finished. After wrestling the sofa in through the front door, with lots of Chuckle Brothers' style "To me, to you..."-ing, we were left with an armchair each to shift. Now, I'm by no means a little fella, so I grabbed an armchair on my own and hoisted it into the air and above my head to carry it to the house. As the armchair reached chest height I discovered that the chair I was holding was a recliner, this being brought to my attention when the intricate and robust mechanical action within decided to adjust the seat into a reclined position. The mechanism scissored shut, hard, on my right pinky finger. It hurt, I screamed and the little bone snapped. My friend was mortified and automatically assumed I would blame him. I didn't. I was rushing and as my dad used to say, with a cheeky wink, "You get nowt good from rushing, son, 'cept babies." Rather than complain, get angry and seek the assistance of some shyster "no win no fee" solicitor I strapped it up, took some pain killers and am currently waiting for it to heal. It is now no more than a funny story and a slight inconvenience when wiping my backside or doing the washing up. Water under the bridge.
I learned a long time ago to laugh rather than to moan. I don't mean we should allow the negligence of others to go unpunished when a catastrophe occurs. Just be big enough to consider your own part in the story.
No hand rail? Stay away from the edge.
No fire extinguisher? Don't play with matches.
Raining and dark and an armchair to move? Take your time, you get nowt good from rushing.
Moan about the bad things, but remember no one cares. Not really. If you've done something stupid be the first to laugh about it, then others will laugh with you instead of making all the right, sympathetic, noises until you've left and then taking the piss behind your back. If you really need sympathy check the dictionary. It lies somewhere between "Shit" and "Syphilis".