Thoughts inspired by a soda bottle.

I recently bought a bottle of Pepsi – I’m not proud of it, but I was thirsty. As I was opening it I noticed that written on the cap was the instruction ‘Open by hand’. This struck me as odd; what else would I use to open it? Looking around I tried to imagine what else I could use – a hole-puncher? A corkscrew? A bedpan? (Don’t ask). I also started to wonder whether the advice had been added after numerous complaints, or simply to conform to some twisted Health and Safety regulation. The story of the woman who sued MacDonald’s after spilling hot coffee on herself has passed into urban legend, and perhaps the Pepsi Company were afraid of being sued after some ignorant hillbilly managed to injure himself after attempting to open the bottle with high-grade explosives. Of course, it is simply possible that the advice was added only after large numbers of complaints had been received about the difficulty the evil wizardry of the bottle cap presented. The secret is to twist the cap, folks. Use those opposable thumbs!

Health and Safety is perhaps one of the most overblown worries of today’s society. Ever since the first caveman was run over by a woolly mammoth, society has been looking for a way to reduce the dangers that society faces. In fact, many archaeologists think that Lollipop Ladies may have been around since the Stone Ages after excavating a circular piece of stone tied to a long thin stone pole with the words ‘Ogg! Agg Oog!’ meaning (according to experts on protolanguage) ‘Stop! Children crossing!’ (Or possibly, ‘Hey! Remove your hand from my loincloth!’ – the language is vague) at the Via Appia, the largest road of the palaeontological world.

The fact is that humans have been killing themselves through sheer, mind-and-testicle-numbing idiocy quite happily for as long as we have existed, and this is not going to change. One only needs to examine the Darwin Awards to see this. To take the example of the Hot Coffee incident, the result was that now all beverage containers sold that contain hot liquid must show the words, ‘Warning! Contents may be hot!’ on them. However, let us examine the case objectively. Firstly and most importantly, what on earth was the woman doing buying coffee from MacDonald’s, for crying out loud? I drink MacDonald’s coffee when I want to punish myself as an alternative to self-flagellation, not when I want a pleasant, enjoyable drink. Secondly, it is a well known fact that MacDonald’s heat their coffee to well over 40,000 degrees Celsius, hotter than the surface of the sun. MacDonald’s employees don’t even go near the coffee machine without donning heat-resistant clothing. Therefore, unless she was specifically expecting a cold cup of coffee, indicating the most perverted taste buds on the planet (with the exception of those who like Brussels Sprouts), she knew that the coffee would be hot. Thirdly, it only spilt on her because she had sat it on the dashboard of her car whilst moving off. The average American car has 47.63 cup holders. Car manufacturers boast of the number of cup holders their models contain. Why had she not secured it safely in one of these ingenious inventions? However, it spilt, it scalded, she sued – and now my polystyrene coffee cup is warning me that my coffee could be hot.

Of course, as it happens this case was blown way out of proportion, I merely used it as an example because research is a lengthy and time-consuming process, and I am too lazy to do that. Far easier to go with an example with which everyone (by which I mean me) is familiar. However, the case in point remains valid, that Health and Safety regulations have evolved from common sense into crazy, vampiric forms, feeding off the stupidity of the innocent. Everything these days comes with a warning label, advising us to do something which no one would ever think of doing (unless drunk, in which case a warning label isn’t going to prevent anything), for example the label on my water bottle, warning me not to swallow the cap.

In Britain, the noble and ancient sport of Conkers (dating back to 1066, brought over from Normandy by William the Conkerer) has always been played on the school playground. However, numerous schools are now banning it. Why? I hear you all cry. Well, apparently because conkers are, in fact, nuts, there is a danger that someone with a nut allergy could swallow (as you do) a small shard of conker that has flown off mid-battle and have a severe allergic reaction. Never mind that this has never happened, never mind the fact that chestnut allergies are not incontrovertibly linked to nut allergies, never mind the tiny, tiny chances of this happening, the mere threat is good enough to engineer a ban. And, of course, it is a total ban, not just a ban for those with nut allergies. If anyone reading this has a nut allergy, allow yourself a lovely warm glow as you realise that you have ruined a traditional aspect of English childhood for everyone. Those schools which still allow Conkers to be played almost invariably insist that anyone playing should wear eye-goggles. Again, even though there is almost no chance of a piece of shrapnel flying off with enough force that it could seriously damage someone if it hit them in the eye, and if it did happen the silly bugger probably deserved it, in interests of Health and Safety those children who can still play Conkers must now look like pillocks whilst they do it.

We have had quite a bit of snow here in England recently, and as every schoolboy knows snow is an opportunity to engage in that most glorious of activities – a snowball fight. However, again numerous schools have banned snowball fights in acquiescence to the almighty god of Health and Safety. Far from being small balls of soft, compressed snow, thrown at about 20 mph with a range of about 40 feet, snowballs are actually harbingers of doom. Apparently those who engage in snowball fights could run the risk of being knocked unconscious by a snowball and then catching hypothermia as they lie there in the snow, ignored by their comrades. I may be in favour of bringing back corporal punishment to schools, predominantly to be used on any little bastard that gives me cheek, but even I am not cruel enough to suggest taking away snowball fights, particularly when for many of the little tykes it is the only time when they are truly happy, especially on such pathetic grounds.

I could go on, but I risk labouring the point. Suffice it to say that Health and Safety regulations are getting out of control. Obviously, some are required and it is important that people are aware of risks around them. However, there is a difference between a rule forcing people to where hard hats inside a building site due to the risks of falling objects and refusing to let kids play Conkers out of fear for their safety. I also realise that this diatribe has come a long way since the opening of my bottle of Pepsi, but I like to think that it all happened organically. Either that or it is the result of the most excellent sugar buzz generated by the litre of liquid sucrose that I have been gradually introducing into my system. So, as I am becoming increasingly aware of the pressure on my bladder, perhaps this is a good moment to wrap up with a final thought: You are going to die anyway, so you might as well indulge in some enjoyable, reckless activities instead of sitting around all day dressed in a bubble wrap suit for protection. Just don’t be morons, okay? I don’t want to get sued for influencing you to jump off a cliff without a parachute for shits and giggles.

WARNING: This article contains dangerous, choking hazards and unsafe advice. In the interests of Health and Safety, do not read it. Go have an ice cream instead.

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