Listen sunshine, here's what you can do with your nannying amber alert! QUENTIN LETTS on the health bosses telling us to stay inside
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/artic ... alert.html
Outside it may be tinder-dry but, goodness, how drippingly, melodramatically, self-absorbingly wet our weather forecasters have become.
‘Amber alert!’ they screamed yesterday, when they saw the sun shining down for the umpteenth day in a row.
Rather than do their basic duty of predicting the weather, the Met Office started to tell us how to behave. Stay indoors as much as possible until Friday! Close your windows and draw the curtains! Drink water! Check that granny hasn’t collapsed!
Shades of ARP warden Hodges in Dad’s Army. Put that light out!
Underneath the Met Office’s edicts was the subtext that we should heed their official word, or fry and die.
Did a cowed, respectful nation pay attention? Of course not. Seaside resorts were packed with holiday-makers and a couple of beauties off ITV’s Love Island were photographed in bikinis at Thorpe Park in Surrey.
From Bournemouth beach, Dorset, came the pop of pork crackling which, on closer inspection, turned out to be the sound of sunseekers, young and old, working on their tans.
Squeals of merriment from children were accompanied by the contented ‘zzzzzz’ of grandparents dozing on the sand.
Deckchairs in urban parks were bagged by office workers intent on catching rays during their lunch.
County cricket grounds saw larger than usual crowds — my mother and son had a wonderful day watching Gloucestershire at the Cheltenham cricket festival — and pavement cafes from Cornwall to Cumbria were doing brisk business.
I hate to tell those fusspots at the Met Office, but the British people love a hot summer and we took not a smidgen of notice of their mollycoddling. The Met Office, a Government agency attached to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, should possibly be renamed the Fret Office.
Not content with telling us to stay out of the sun, it instructed us to wear suncream and to beware excessive levels of ultraviolet radiation. ‘It is important not to be caught out by the sun,’ it said. Savour that word ‘important’. Note its tone of assumed authority.
On and on they went, wagging their fingers, pursing their lips as they told us we must avoid risk at all costs. Don’t forget to wear dark glasses, because sunlight can cause cataracts, ‘the leading cause of blindness’. Keep hydrated and only open your windows at night.
We should also don lighter clothing, as opposed, presumably, to the three-piece tweed suits we were thinking of wearing in these high-July days.
So many warnings. So many statements of the obvious. They really must think we are all half-wits not to be able to work out these things for ourselves.
Who needs a nanny when the Met Office is looming over our shoulders, telling us ‘do this, don’t do that, varnish yourself in sunscreen’?
Such imperiousness from climate professionals is a comparatively recent phenomenon. The late Bert Foord, the face of the Met Office and its BBC TV forecasts in the Sixties, was rather celebrated for his phlegmatic manner in front of the cameras.
Old Bert, standing in front of a couple of maps with stick-on symbols, would maybe tell us it was going to be ‘rather cold’ or that we might have ‘a touch of rain’, but he would rattle through his script without feeling any need for grimaces or little winces of sympathy. He was wonderfully wooden and dispassionately informative.
You could say the same about James Stagg, a Scots meteorologist who, shortly before D-Day, advised General Eisenhower to delay the Normandy landings in order to avoid a storm that could have sunk the Allies’ landing craft.
Stagg’s story is told in a fine play by David Haig called Pressure, currently in the West End. He was an intense man, but he kept his official forecasts impeccably factual.
Eisenhower saw Stagg’s scientific seriousness and, thank goodness, followed his advice rather than relying on an American meteorologist who blithely said the weather was going to be fine.
Trust in meteorology that day saved thousands of lives and probably won us the war. Would Eisenhower believe a forecaster who had previously over-hyped his advice?
Compare the behaviour of Bert Foord and James Stagg to more recent Met Office weather presenters, and it is like comparing Greek tragedians to pantomime villains.
Helen Willetts was one of the first of the new brigade. When she mentioned frosts, she gave a little ‘brrrrrr’ and a shudder. No doubt her producers hoped it would create some glitz around the weather slot. When Helen forecast rain, a tone of sympathy entered her voice. Incoming gales? Helen’s eyes would widen with the sort of golly-gosh terror employed by kindergarten teachers when they are reading the tale of the big, bad wolf.
They had managed to achieve the near-impossible: they had dumbed down meteorology.
It has been politicised, too. There is a section of the Met Office’s website devoted to health and safety at the seaside. It starts with ‘head to a lifeguarded beach where there are trained professionals to keep you and your family safe — they’ll be on hand if something goes wrong’. Sheer infantilisation.
Another page describes the Met Office’s commitment ‘to making a positive contribution to UK society, international development and protection of the environment’.
All we want is an idea of tomorrow’s likelihood of rain, yet they take it upon themselves to strive in support of ‘outlining shared values, principles and commitments while setting out guidelines for how Government and the civil society should work together’.
Weather forecasters are not the only ones adopting simpering tones and telling us how to lead our lives. Public Health England has been hard at it, with ‘top tips for staying safe in the heat’. Top ruddy tips. Ugh. Whoopee, whizzo! Let’s all sit down and hear a teatime story from Big Ted.
Public Health England’s tips include to ‘walk in the shade’, ‘avoid sugary, alcoholic or caffeinated drinks’ and ‘avoid physical exertion in the hottest part of the day’. Bang goes the idea of a romantic siesta after a two-bottle lunch.
Control. Self-discipline. Sobriety. These are the imperatives pressed on us by the clerisy of Britain’s state sector. In every circumstance you are told to seek assistance from ‘trained professionals’ (rather than work something out for yourselves).
Forget the life-enhancing liberty of being alone at some sandy cove on the Western Isles. Forget personal initiative. Spontaneity. These modern-day preachers want us to genuflect to the priesthood of ‘the trained’, the hierarchy of fusspots with certificates to prove they’ve been on some course.
The same sort of people lined up to tell us to stay in the European Union. We ignored them then, too.
Officialdom loves to lecture us like nursery children. It relishes giving us ‘advice’ and ‘further information’ and those maddening ‘top tips’, and it does so with a strange mixture of alarmism and babyishness.
They love to borrow the jargon of the emergency services, with their ‘yellow, amber or red’ warnings, their ‘impact levels’ and their new practice of giving a name to storms.
And you can be sure that they have personnel on hand 24 hours a day to tweet and try to whip the kingdom into a frenzy, because they are driven by a desire to justify their jobs.
Weather would still happen if the Met Office were abolished, but you would never think so from their self-important pronouncements.
And yet no one takes notice. The country is roasting out there in the sunshine and it is having a wonderful time.
I’ll drink to that, but you can keep your water. Mine’s a pint of cold cider.