Thursday, April 20, 2006


With every day that passes the world seems to go increasingly mad. It has just gone particularly bonkers on a Cardiff bus. In a vivid demonstration that who really runs Britain is not the Government, the Civil Service, big business nor Labour Party donors but the health and safety police, a man has been thrown off the No 9 service from Heath Hospital via city centre to Prospect Place for carrying a tin of paint. There are some items that it is inadvisable to carry on a Cardiff bus, such as an England rugby shirt. And there are some that are forbidden, such as guns, swords, gas cylinders or cans of petrol. But when Brian Heale got on board with his purchase for a DIY job at home he found that “antique cream” emulsion had been added to the list of undesirable luggage.

Mr Heale, 73, an RAF veteran who suffers shortness of breath after a heart attack, could not manage the 20-minute walk from the paint shop to his home in the Leckwith district of the city so, naturally, he caught the bus. But the driver caught Mr Heale in the act of carrying a can of emulsion and ordered him off. “When he told me I couldn’t take the paint on the bus I thought he was joking. But he parked the bus and called head office. He told me carrying the paint was against new health and safety regulations and told me to get off,” Mr Heale said yesterday. “It’s crazy and hysterical. Next thing, you won’t be able to take a wet umbrella on in case it drips water on the floor. Health and safety rules are one thing but this is just daft; it was a No 9 bus not a dangerous building site.”

Ejected on to the rainy street, Mr Heale took shelter in a cafe and ordered a cup of tea to steady his nerves. There the manager took pity on him and gave Mr Heale, and his paint, a lift home.

New health and safety rules governing public transport do indeed list paint as a “hazardous article”. It can be taken on the bus only if it is “carried in two containers, ie, a sealed pot and a bag, and is not left unattended on a parcel shelf where it could slide and tip, burst open and spread across the floor”.

Cardiff Bus admitted that it may have been a little hard on Mr Heale. A spokesman said: “We apologise to Mr Heale for the obvious inconvenience caused. The safety of our passengers is our No 1 priority, which is why the company takes regulations on health and safety very seriously.” The company admitted, however, that there were times when it needed to display a little more flexibility when enforcing the rules.

More examples of loony British safety regulations:

Paper napkins being handed out with meals-on-wheels in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, were suspended by the council after fears that pensioners and disabled people might choke on them

After a woman caught her foot in the new doors at BBC Birmingham the corporation issued a memo “Revolving Security Door User Instructions”, advising staff on how to use a revolving door

Police called to investigate a broken stained-glass window at a church in Rochdale in March 2005 refused to inspect the damage because they did not have specialist “ladder training”

Moscow State Circus was warned in July 2003 that any acrobat performing at a height above that of the average stepladder would have to wear a hard hat or risk losing its insurance cover

Plans to chop down 20 horse chestnut trees were announced by Norwich City Council because it claimed that passers-by risked head injuries from sticks thrown up by children to knock down conkers

Gardeners working for Cheltenham council, in Gloucestershire, were banned from planting pansies under town centre trees because workers digging with trowels risked spraining their wrists in the root-filled soil



A new breed of educated women has discovered the secret of a happy marriage - opting to stay at home instead of pursuing a career. The phenomenon, in which wives prefer their husbands to be the main breadwinner, has been identified by American sociologists and is now gaining a foothold in Britain. Unlike the housewives of the 1950s, who had little choice over rearing children and acting as homemaker, this generation of women is building on the advances of the feminist movement to determine their optimum lifestyle. The women are predominantly drawn from the middle classes and have young offspring. They regard themselves as "at-home mothers", seeing their prime responsibility as bringing up the children rather than housekeeping. They include women who have given up jobs altogether as well as those who have taken extended career breaks to be with their children throughout their upbringing.

According to research by academics at the University of Virginia, 52% of modern housewives describe themselves as "very happy" with their marriages compared with 41% of working women. Other key ingredients to matrimonial bliss include an attentive and emotionally responsive husband, a sense of fairness in a relationship and a lifelong commitment to the institution of marriage. Women who go to church with their husbands also claim they are happier than those who do not, according to the study, which is based on the responses of more than 5,000 couples. "Progressive women with kids at home feel it is a legitimate choice," said Brad Wilcox, co-author of the report, which has been published in the Social Forces journal.

In a second study that has not yet been published, Wilcox found that even wives who described themselves as feminists claimed they were happier staying at home to raise children. The research shows fairness is seen as vital, although this need not mean splitting domestic chores down the middle. In most marriages, wives do twice as much housework as husbands, yet only 30% of women in the study thought their relationship was unfair. "They tend to think things are fair, either because the man is taking the lead in breadwinning and/or he is taking care of the car and other household affairs," said Wilcox.

With divorces in Britain reaching a seven-year high in 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, some couples might heed the example of Jessica Renison, a self-declared "liberated" housewife. Renison, 33, a former English teacher from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, has chosen to stay at home to raise her 16-month-old son George, while her husband Mark continues to teach physics at a secondary school. "I certainly feel a woman has a right to work if that is what she feels is right for her family," said Renison. "But I am happier than I would be if I was working. If you are working, you can be torn between professional and home life. "It is a difficult decision to make from a financial standpoint, but I do feel liberated."

Kirsty Robeson, 32, from Wolsingham, County Durham, gave up her job in financial public relations to raise daughters, aged one, three and five. "If your mind is fully occupied with other things and you don't put the effort into marriage, then it can go awry," said Robeson. "My husband Simon is involved emotionally with everything that happens at home and everything to do with the domestic side."

The University of Virginia study does, however, have its critics. Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas in London, said: "What makes a happy marriage is likely to be people engaging with each other. If the full extent of your relationships with the external world is the toddlers' group, daytime TV and ironing, it has got its limits."


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