Wednesday, April 26, 2006


To the patriots of Bromham, a hearty English breakfast seemed the perfect way to celebrate St George's Day. Some 300 villagers were planning to tuck in to the fry-up in their community centre. But yesterday's charity event was cancelled at the last minute - because of a health and safety warning against frying eggs. The local council's guidelines state that volunteers should not prepare "protein-based foods" without proper training. Furthermore, the centre did not have the correct facilities to "chill, prepare and store" the food. Faced with not being able to serve eggs, cheese or milk, organisers abandoned the event.

They had been hoping to raise 500 pounds for St Nicholas Primary School in the village near Chippenham, Wiltshire. Peter Wallis, 39, chairman of the school's parents and teachers association, said: "I was astonished to discover that we had to adhere to health and safety regulations to cook people breakfast. "We have to provide evidence that whoever is handling the food has been trained to do so. "We spoke to other schools in the area and decided that because people were not properly qualified in food preparation we had to cancel the event. "This is just plain daft. These breakfasts have been going on for many years and we've never poisoned anyone. "We are looking at sending some of our parents on training courses but with the turnover of members each year that could be too expensive."

The school, which has 85 pupils aged between four and 11, has held fundraising breakfasts for some 15 years. This year ten parents had promised to help cook and serve the fry-ups. School governors now fear the guidelines could lead to the cancellation of their summer fetes and Christmas parties. The events raise 2,500 pounds a year to be spent on books and teaching equipment.

Tory MP Philip Davies said the guidelines were "bonkers". "It is barmy that parents who want to celebrate St George's Day and raise a bit of money for their local school are prevented from doing so by ridiculous rules and regulations," he said. "Do mums and dads really need to spend valuable time learning how to fry an egg? I'm sure they do it most mornings without training. "These potty rules are one reason people are discouraged from celebrating St George's Day."

Mr Wallis, whose seven-year-old son Sam attends the school, added: "The regulations also say the eggs have to be chilled literally from when we buy them to when they are cooked to be eaten. "What we have done for years and years is to buy them and take them home overnight to someone's home but that is not allowed any more. "Keeping them at some parent's house overnight is not sufficient evidence they have been stored properly." Councillor Mark Baker, vice-chairman of education on Tory-held Wiltshire County Council, said the authority's health and safety guidelines were not legally-binding.

The breakfast rumpus is the latest in a string of healthy and safety controversies. Last week grandfather Brian Heale, 73, was ordered off a bus in Cardiff because he was carrying a tin of paint. Earlier this month a lifeguard instructor and her husband were banned from taking their three children into the toddlers' pool at Sedgemoor Splash in Bridgwater, Somerset. Keren and David Townsend were told their children needed individual supervision.



A brothel in Cologne was forced to black out the flags of Saudi Arabia and Iran from a huge World Cup soccer-themed advertising banner after angry Muslims complained and threatened violence. The 24-metre-high by 8-metre-wide (78 by 26 ft) banner displayed on the side of the building features a scantily-clad woman and the slogan: "The world as a guest of female friends," a variation on the World Cup slogan: "The world as a guest of friends." The flags of the 32 nations taking part in the month-long soccer tournament which kicks off in June are shown below.

Those of Saudi Arabia and Iran have been covered with black paint, according to a worker at the brothel who would only give his name as Peter. "Some people turned up and demanded that we remove the flags," Peter told Reuters. "First they were sensible but then they became threatening. The management here decided to do it so that we didn't get any more trouble." "They didn't want these two flags to be associated with this go-go girl on the banner as it's a brothel and it offended their religious feelings," said a spokeswoman for the Cologne police. "The owner removed the flags even though he wasn't legally obliged to as no crime had been committed."


Rhapsody of babies

A wise woman tells you what no feminist will:

My mother called from Melbourne the other day with big news. She's going to be a grandmother again. "That'll make 10," she said. I quickly did the maths: there are already eight little ones plus one of my sisters-in-law is pregnant for the third time, so that makes nine grandchildren for mum. But who could be carrying No.10? Sadly, neither me nor my sister, or my brother's wife, so who? "It's Nick!" she said.

Nick? But Nick - my stepbrother - only just turned 21. Have we even returned the tap for the keg and the spit we hired for his party in the backyard? I didn't know he had a girlfriend, let alone they were doing ... well, that. "They've only been together a few weeks," Mum said. "She's just turned 19." Nineteen!

"What can you do?" Mum said. "It happens," I agreed. "Nineteen is plenty old enough ... for that." "They'll manage," Mum said. "They'll have to." I agreed. We both understood that some people would see this as a problem in need of a solution, so we felt very pleased and grateful that Nick's new girlfriend - I still don't know her name - has decided to have the baby.

"It's not like they won't have help," Mum said. She will pitch in when she's needed (and butt out when she's not). Also, critically, the other grandma - Nick's girlfriend's mum - is reportedly over the moon. Apparently, she isn't yet 40 and this grandchild will be her first. "See, she must have had her first when she was still a teenager or maybe only 20," Mum said. "It didn't used to be so strange. I had three by the time I was 21. That's how it used to be."

Indeed, country girls have always started young and many suburban girls still do. Hospitals on the outskirts of Sydney and Melbourne regularly have mums in their 20s on the wards. It's different in the city. I'm 35 and both my children are at school, which makes me positively freaky in my profession. Many of the 33 and 34-year-olds in my office haven't married, let alone started families.

Lately, however, I've noticed a change. My friends are starting to catch up. One by one, as they get into their mid to late 30s, even early 40s, they are getting pregnant and having babies, their lives suddenly transformed. Others are confiding an itch, a nagging feeling, tugging at their soul, a song that sounds like: "Baby, baby, have a baby, quick, now, before it's too late." It's the ticking of the biological clock. "It's not that I'm suddenly dying to have a baby," says one woman in her 30s. "But I am thinking, well, if not now, then never, and I'm not sure I want to miss out." Another says: "I had a dream the other day that I had a daughter and it was fine. I mean, it wasn't a nightmare."

To all the women who are lucky enough to be able to have children, I unashamedly say: "Have the baby! Instantly! It will make you happy." "We are happy," they say. "What we're worried about is doing something that will cost a lot and make a great deal of noise."

I tell them: "You will be overcome by a love so powerful it will leave you speechless. Every feeling that you previously regarded as love will feel like something less."

"But what about the sleepless nights?" they say. "I like my sleep." I say: "In the dark sleepless months that follow the birth, the only relevant thing in your life will be your child, your baby, your heir, your genes, your creation, the greatest love of your life, lying their swaddled so innocent, so pure. You will find yourself thinking: 'Oh my goodness, I really would lay down my life for this baby."' For the first time, you will completely understand those stories about mums who find superhuman strength, able to lift the four wheels of a car clear off the ground to rescue their trapped child.

From time to time - maybe once in six months - you and your husband will drag yourselves, half-willingly, away from your baby to have a night out. You'll spend the whole time talking about your baby: "Have you seen the way he stretches his fingers out like stars when he wakes up? Isn't it the most divine thing?" You'll get home feeling like you wasted money on the babysitter. You'll find a bridge to humanity, a whole world of shared experiences with other parents, a feeling of companionship and solidarity that does not exist in the single world.

You will have no clothes to wear and you will not care, not while the baby looks so gorgeous in their new romper suit. You will stop on the street to share intimate notes with complete strangers simply because they happen to have a baby the same age as your own. You will be amazed to find that all the babies are sleeping beautifully, yet somehow none of the mums are getting any sleep at all. People will ask you how it's going and you will say, wistfully: "We wish we'd done it five years ago."

Nobody else will think your baby is anywhere near as precious as you do and this you will find incredible. Single friends will call you with their relationship dramas and their problems with office politics, and you won't care. They'll accuse you of coming over all strange since you had a baby and you will look at them, thinking: "Don't you get it? I've had a baby." And no, they won't get it. You'll wake up every day knowing that all your energy, all your love, labour and its rewards, belongs to somebody else. I say: "It will feel divine!"

They say: "God, you're nauseating." I say: "Nauseating? My friend, get pregnant. Then let's talk about nauseating."


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