Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Tea Up Pet

Think back to your school days. Go on, right back to primary school. What do you remember? The sounds? The smells? The images? The rituals? For me, primary school was a long time ago, but if I had to distil the tangled memories into a coherent impression it would be something like this: a rampaging hoard of barely controlled little gits screaming, shouting and fighting over the crayons, covered in glue, smelling of paint (and, in some cases, of wee) and eager for the bell to ring.

Teachers came and went - probably suffering from stress, come to think of it - but that was ok because they were all pretty interchangeable anyway. Sir or Miss, it didn't matter - they were just some harried and hassled authority figure whose will was only slightly important to most of the kids, and not important at all to some.

But, in their quest to impose education on the unruly mob, they had allies. The sneaks, the swots, the telltales and, chiefly, the Monitors. I have no idea if what passes for the education system in Britain today still uses the concept of Monitors, or whether they have been found to be old fashioned, useful, effective, and therefore unacceptable, just like the cane and the three Rs, but anyone old enough to have learned to spell at school will remember them.

For the rest, on the assumption that anything educational is unlikely to have survied in today's schools, they were kids who were given small, useful tasks to perfom on behalf of the teacher, usually as a reward for some kind of achievement or display of academic prowess - getting 10 out of 10 in a test, for eg.

The cynically minded will note the irony of this proposition - you work your ass off to do well, and your reward is ... more work. For somebody else, yet. Joy. The educational value of this life lesson cannot be overstated, teaching kids that, no matter how hard they work, most people will draw life's short straws.

But monitorship was highly sought after, a prized responsibility to brag about to your gran - "I've been made blackboard / stationery / bell monitor for a WHOLE WEEK!" Of course, that was in the days before the competetive instinct was expelled from our schools, to be replaced with lowest possible common intellectual denominator.

And anyway, even if some rebellious teacher were inclined to encourage competiton, it wouldn't be possible. Blackboards may have long ago been replaced by the politically correct chalkboards (no objection to "whiteboards" though, I notice) but can you seriously see health and safely regulations allowing a child to (gasp) step to the front of the class and (shudder) WIPE THE CHALK OFF THE BOARD?? What if they trip? What if they drop the board rubber? Who will train them on how to pick it up safely?

And as for dishing out stationery - are you MAD? What if they get a paper cut? Who's going to stick a plaster on it? Not the teacher, that's NOT ALLOWED. Bell monitor, then? HELL NO! Those old fashioned school bells with the long wooden handle that you need to shake to make a noise - they must have weighed, ooh, very nearly a fraction as much as those cans of pop we're trying to ban, what if they drop it? And the NOISE - might harm the poor little darlings' ears!

But, outside of our terminally diminished educational establishments, the concept of Monitors lives on, albeit in a twisted, politically correct, 21st Century way. Gone is the idea of teaching responsibility, of course, because, after all, nothing is anybody's fault in this day and age, so what do we need responsibility for? Instead it's been replaced with the petty authority so common in office managers, bus conductors and dog wardens everywhere.

Give such minds the opportunity to interfere with something, to gum up daily life with pointless rules, regulations, dos and don'ts and they're in Heaven - unlike the rest of us, to whom their pathetic power trips are more like Hell on Earth. And nothing seems to be sacred, nothing is beyond their desire to meddle.

Take the common cup of tea, for example. It's practially our national drink. Life could not carry on in Britain without it, and yet, even here, the Monitors are at work. According to the Telegraph, the quango Envirowise is calling on employers to appoint a "tea monitor" to make sure staff don't overfill the office kettle. Funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Envirowise estimates that in excess of 30 billion cups of water are needlessly boiled each year in British offices. It has advised that companies re-introduce tea urns and encourage staff to brew collectively, in tea pots.

They're mad. Barking mad. I wonder how many office eco-Hitlers will find themselves "accidentally" locked in the stationery cupboard over this one? But this doesn't seem to the full (or even close to full) extent of DEFRA's insanity. For, also according to the Telegraph, the lunatics running that particular Asylum are say that failing to notice your dog is getting fat, feeding it at the table and chocolate treats are all animal cruelty that could end up putting someone in jail under new government guidelines.

Now, I prefer animals to most people, and I'm all in favour of looking after them properly. But do people really need this sort of inane crap? Of course not. Bill Wiggin, Tory spokesman on animal wellfare called the proposals "absurd" and that's probably the biggest understatement of the century so far. Animals of all kinds have been living in domesticated harmony with humans for millions of years. Dogs, cats and just about every other creature known to man are treated as favoured friends in most households.

Certainly, it's helpful to know how to treat them, what's good and bad for them etc. But there are books, advice leaflets, charities and even vets for that. Do we need further legislation to tell us not to feed our dogs chocolate or keep cats away from washing machines? NO. Sure, there are stupid people who dry their cat in the microwave. But will a new law change that? If they're too dumb to know how a microwave works, what are the chances of them knowing about the law?

But other people will. They will look around at this increasingly petty minded, intrusive surveillance state, where anti-terror laws are invoked against people who let their dog crap in the street or put their bins out on the wrong day, where the Government wants to log every phone call they make, every web site they look at, every email they send, and store it in a database along with their ID card info, their health records and their DNA, and they will draw the obvious conclusion: Keeping Fido is just too much of risk and he'll have to go.

Loved and pamperd pets will be dumped, or destroyed, by the score as people realise that they are now just an invitation for politically corect loonies to have a pop at their owners. Far from protecting the animals whose welfare is supposedly so important to them, DEFRA, with this insane proposal is set to bring about their suffering and downfall.

Then again, that's been Government policy for all aspects of British life since 1997. No change there, then.

Billy Seggars.

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