Saga of the knitted farm makes me break a promise
It's clearly a scene that is enacted time and time again at hospitals up and down the land. Little Johnny is rushed by trolley to his bed in the children's ward. He is surrounded by anxious doctors, nurses and machines that go "Ping!" and the parents look on traumatised.
In the midst of it all the lad himself seems frightened and bewildered and unprepared for the long, painful fight ahead. However, there is one small comfort. As mum is ushered away she goes to hand over the tattered and much-loved teddy bear that has slept with him every night since he was born. A small token of love in a cruel world.
But no! Officials in hard hats, face masks and industrial gloves just have time to leap forward to grab with a pair of tongs the offending item and place it in a bag marked Hazardous Waste. The bear, you see, could not be sterilised. It's very presence in such a clinical situation could easily bring about sickness and fatality that would make 14th century outbreaks of the Black Death look positively trivial.
One can only imagine, then, the scale of pestilence that would have been unleashed had the ladies of Sidford WI in East Devon been successful in their attempt to hand over to hospice, hospital or nursery a huge model village knitted entirely by hand.
"We were all a bit fed up with knitting scarves so decided to do something a bit different," said one of the conspirators, so they embarked on a year-long project to create a 6ft by 4ft landscape complete with woolly people, animals, houses, a farm and a church. "Everyone got involved in the knitting and we all really enjoyed doing it," she went on. "We really thought it would bring a smile to some young children's faces."
But when they tried to see that happiness realised they hit the wall of bureaucracy. It began with Children's Hospice South West which declined the offer saying the village and its inhabitants could not be sterilised, and from there on down it was the same. Hospital after hospital turned the creation away as it did not have the appropriate health and safety certificate.
Quite right too. Children in these medical situations are clearly highly vulnerable to infection but was there anything in the WI gift that presented a bigger risk than anything else? What about the clothes the kids arrive in – are they taken away and boiled in bleach for two hours before being folded up in a bedside locker? What about books, comics, bunches of grapes or that teddy bear?
Still, these health professionals know best. It was these experts, after all, who until quite recently were killing thousands of patients each year with hospital acquired diseases. Thank goodness one bright spark suggested that it would be a good idea now and then to wash your hands after visiting the loo.
I swore I would never again write a piece along the lines of "health and safety gone mad". It's good to know, for example, that the train we're travelling on won't lose its wheels while moving at 100 mph or that steak and kidney pie doesn't contain broken glass.
It's slowly emerging too that many of these stories are rubbish. The Health and Safety Executive themselves have set up a "myth busters" panel saying that many of the scares we hear of are not down to actual rules but to a jobsworth enjoying a rare bit of power. You know the sort of bloke. Hi-vis jacket, a clipboard and aged 40 but still living with his mother.
Even so, whether it's down to genuine regulations or their over-zealous interpretation, the tales keep coming thick and fast and it was just bad luck that the women of Sidford found themselves in the middle of one. Not to be too down-hearted, though, they hung on to their woollen village and took it along to their local flower show where, by sheer accident, it was spotted by a charity volunteer who knew of an orphanage in South Africa where, he reckoned, they would love it.
But oh what a lovely whiff of cultural imperialism. It's not good enough for our kids but it's good enough for theirs. Or perhaps it's just that we go in for cotton wool and namby-pamby rules but the rest of the world just gets on with it.
If, however, even the South African authorities change their minds and send the village back, can I suggest the ladies enter it for the next Turner Prize?