Friday, September 22, 2006


It didn’t take long, did it? A few hours after Richard Hammond’s sickening crash at nearly 300mph in a jet car, while filming for “Top Gear”, the Risk Faschisti are circling overhead like grey, miserable vultures.

The guy was driving a car called Vampire, which looks essentially like a B&Q ladder with a huge jet engine strapped onto it. He was blasting down a remote runway in Yorkshire, with only himself for company at the time, trying to break the UK Land Speed Record, which stands at 300.3mph. And it all went wrong, for reasons as yet unknown. So he now lies in Leeds General Infirmary, critically ill with serious brain injuries. My thoughts are with him.

And so the “Greys” emerge. One Superintendent Deacon, from North Yorkshire Police, said, most helpfully that “The organisers of the High Speed Challenge should have carried out a full risk assessment before filming began.” Maybe I’m being too simple here, but do you not think they did just that? Hammond was trying to become the fastest man EVER in this country, and do you not believe that he thought to himself “Jeez, this is Bloody Dangerous.” There is no doubt he would have conducted his own risk assessment before pulling on the 3” wide body harness which strapped him, Oh so tightly, into the projectile. And he would have come to the simple conclusion “Start her up, baby!”

He knew clearly what he was letting himself in for, and couldn’t wait for it to begin. People around him report that he was euphoric just before his last run in the machine. For someone besotted with motor cars, sitting in one which reportedly took 6 seconds to get to 272 mph from a Standing Start would have made him just a little bit happy. And who, exactly, apart from himself, was he putting at risk?

He was, let’s remember, careering totally on his own, down a deserted runway in the middle of nowhere, not trying to beat the record round the North Circular in the Friday evening rush-hour. Any risk to life which existed was going to be limited to himself and a few unfortunate rabbits and squirrels who lived alongside the tarmac strip.

And yet it took only a few minutes for the Miseries from the Health & Safety Executive to lick their pencils and issue their expected statement – “One (not I or We – this has to be impersonal and unattributable) would expect the BBC to have organisational arrangements and risk assessments for dealing with any production-related activity on a site like this and elsewhere.”

Why has everything today got to have a risk assessment? The whole of Life’s a risk, for goodness sake. It’s as simple as that. If none of us took risks, nothing would move on. I have no problem with some of the controls which aim to rein in such people as employers who do not see employee safety as at all meaningful, but Those in Charge have tried to broaden this and encompass the whole of the essence of human behaviour from a risk point of view. And it’s getting too stupid and too depressing by half.

I’m old enough to remember July 20th 1969 as, family issues apart, perhaps the most momentous day I’ve ever experienced - Apollo 11’s Moon Landing. An utterly astounding thing to happen in one’s lifetime. Even today, when I think about it, I get a huge thrill.

Now, say what you like, Kennedy’s decision to commit the USA to landing on the Moon was up there with the bravest commitments ever made. At the time he made it, they didn’t know how to do it, and how much it would cost. They took a risk, and a bloody big one.

A book I’ve read recently, called “Moondust”, which traces the subsequent history of the nine men still alive who have walked on the Moon’s surface, addresses, among other things, the issue of the risk level implicit in that Apollo Moon Landing programme. When you read about it, you quickly understand why it was not something that was discussed at the time. It concludes that the chances of a successful landing were estimated at no more that 30%. And yet they still did it – six times. Apollo 13 gave a glimpse of what could have happened. But, can you imagine trying to get such a venture moving today? The USA HSE, or whatever its name is (because there will be one), would bury it from Day 1, and none of it would have occurred.

Why can’t people take risks with their own lives? What is it about some people, mostly politicians, who feel they’ve the right to legislate about this unneccesary and improper intrusion on Individual’s liberty? It’s clearly what drives some people completely, and these are always individuals most of us admire and revere, whether it be Round the World Sailing, Climbing mountains, racing cars, going to the South Pole, and yes, swimming underwater near Sting Rays. Most of us, driven by the mortgage and suchlike, shy away from such danger, and so take a vicarious thrill at watching others who choose not to be so constrained. And sometimes the things they do make our minds soar with unalloyed pleasure and utter admiration.
And very occasionally, they pay the price, and their demise hits us all in a very personal way, because they were doing what we perhaps really wanted to do, but don’t have the courage.

So, the Meanies need to be brought up short. We live a small but very important part of our lives through these men and women, and it must carry on - NIL ILLEGITIMUS CARBORUNDUM

For those of you without a Latin upbringing – it means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

The issue is – How do we go about it?

Answers on a Postcard, please.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I accidentally came across your blog by looking for Fontana photo and just browsed around a little bit more. Oh, my God! thank you for these comments. Life is a risk and a stone will fall on one's head despite all the risk assessments and such. All this fuss makes helpless sheep out of people. I moved from "dangerous" Russia to safe and sterile Canada and still cant get used to this safety paranoia. Exposing other to danger is one thing, but people please leave us a choice of taking risk! Canada would not have been on the map if one did no take a risk at some point :)