News, Culture & Society

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring … it’s only an Easter egg! 

What has a press release from a charity called Asthma UK got to do with the tardy response of the fire brigade on the night of the Manchester Arena concert bombing?

On the face of it, not much. But bear with me. All will become clear.

Asthma UK thought that this week would be an appropriate time to warn people about the dangers of eating Easter eggs, hot cross buns and Simnel cakes.

‘Easter could be deadly for some people with asthma,’ said Dr Andy Whittamore, described as ‘clinical lead’ at Asthma UK.

‘We advise people with an allergy to ingredients in Easter eggs or hot cross buns to avoid the food completely, recognise the symptoms of a reaction and know what to do if it happens.’

Chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and Simnel cakes ‘may’ contain wheat, eggs, nuts and dairy products, to which many asthmatics are allergic. If you suffer from asthma, you should avoid outdoor Easter egg hunts, too. Because if the eggs don’t get you, the pollen almost certainly will.

Chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and Simnel cakes ‘may’ contain wheat, eggs, nuts and dairy products, to which many asthmatics are allergic

Here’s Dr Whittamore again: ‘Many people may not realise that trees begin releasing their pollen as early as January, so they may be caught out with hay fever over Easter.’

Oh, and if you fancy a drink during the long weekend, best avoid red wine, white wine, beer and cider. Just to be on the safe side.

But don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring. ‘If people take precautions, making sure they take their brown preventer inhaler and have their blue reliever inhaler with them, they can still enjoy Easter.’

Phew! Thanks to Asthma UK, we can all wheeze easily in our beds.

Does Dr Doom really think that genuine asthma sufferers are so stupid they have to be told that Easter eggs, hot cross buns and Simnel cakes may contain ingredients which could trigger allergies?

How many people with asthma are going to stuff their faces with Cadbury’s fruit and nut, down a couple of bottles of Malbec, and then go gambolling through the cornfields without their inhaler?

So why the patronising lecture? I know outfits like Asthma UK have to justify their existence — and I’m sure they do a lot of good work — but can’t they just lay off the nannying over Easter.

Probably not. It’s what they do. We are constantly bombarded with fatuous health warnings.

Fish fingers ‘may contain fish’. Packets of peanuts ‘may contain nuts’. I’ve been poking fun at this madness for three decades. These days I don’t often bother, because you’ve heard it all before.

Elf’n’safety culture has turned us into a cotton-wool society, scared of our own shadows — and afraid of being sued.

Much of this is down to those no- win, no-fee, spiv ‘slip and fall’ law firms who advertise on daytime TV. Where there’s blame, there’s a claim. You could be entitled to com-pen-say-shun.

An entire industry has grown up around ‘risk assessment’. There’s no element of human activity they won’t try to regulate.

For instance, as part of an anti- obesity drive, Newcastle Council thought it would be a good idea to get children to play in the streets, instead of sitting in front of their computers.

Residential roads would be closed for three hours at a time, to let the kids play safely. So far, so good.

Elf’n’safety culture has turned us into a cotton-wool society, scared of our own shadows — and afraid of being sued

Elf’n’safety culture has turned us into a cotton-wool society, scared of our own shadows — and afraid of being sued

But it was never going to be that simple, especially once the ‘cabinet member’ for transport got involved. So now, parents who want to take advantage of the scheme will have to apply two months in advance, to allow time for risk assessments to be carried out and neighbours consulted in case they object.

A designated safety officer will have to be on duty and parents must be given lessons in how to put out traffic cones.

Can’t be too careful.

So much for spontaneity. And what if it’s pouring with rain during the officially allotted three hours eight weeks hence?

Everybody back on the PlayStation.

All of this is simply irritating when it involves warning asthmatics not to eat Easter eggs, and downright stupid when it comes to training parents in traffic cone placement, just so their kids can run around in the fresh air for three hours, two months later.

But it can also have more serious consequences. This week we learned from the official report into the Manchester Arena terror attack — in which 22 people died, many of them children — that the fire brigade weren’t allowed to approach the scene for two hours because it might not be safe.

Fire chiefs demanded a full-scale risk assessment and insisted that none of their officers go nearer than 500 yards, just in case another bomber was at large.

This was despite the fact that ambulance workers and paramedics were already on the scene, regardless of the potential dangers.

No wonder firefighters were furious and frustrated, feeling they had ‘let down the people of Manchester’.

This was an extreme example, but we’ve been here before. We have seen police and firemen ordered to stand around and watch people drown in ponds in the past, because a risk assessment hadn’t been carried out and they’d not had training in ‘water rescue’.

So while it may seem a giant leap from nagging asthmatics about killer hot cross buns to ordering firefighters not to go to the assistance of terror attack victims, it’s all part of the same risk-averse culture, which trusts no one to use their own judgment or initiative.

Still, Happy Easter. Stay safe.

We’re all agreed that anything which prevents our streets, hedgerows, rivers and seas being polluted by plastic bottles is welcome.

There’s no doubt that the environmental damage is far reaching. But I do have to raise an eyebrow at some of the statistics being bandied around.

A report earlier this week claimed that ‘as many’ as 3.2 million mice, voles and shrews die every year after getting stuck in discarded bottles and cans. How do they know? Has somebody counted them all? Of course not, it’s based on a tiny sample in Norfolk.

Still, one dead vole in an Volvic bottle is one too many.

So the 20p deposit scheme being proposed to encourage us to return our empties is a good idea — even though there’s nothing new about it.

As kids, we used to collect Corona bottles and would get a few pennies when we took them back to the shop.

That was until the local newsagent became suspicious, worked out that the empties we were returning we’d just collected from a crate in his back-yard and threatened to call the police. I like to think of it as an enterprising early example of recycling. You won’t be able to get away with that in future, though. Under the new plans, plastic bottles will be put into a giant, sealed, computerised skip, which will then issue the refunds electronically.

Just one question: will it still pay out if it detects the bottle contains any dead mice or shrews?

Funniest clip of the week featured comedian Jimmy Tarbuck being interviewed by Sky News outside the funeral of his friend Ken Dodd, in Liverpool.

He was interrupted by an elderly lady in a headscarf, who wondered: ‘Excuse me. Are you Roy Hudd?’

Tarby started laughing. ‘I am Roy Hudd, that’s me, luv.’

So did the Sky reporter, who turned to camera and chuckled: ‘That’s very good. “Are you Rod Hudd?” ’

Rod Hudd?

I wonder where Emu was.

The Guardian has been leading the charge against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica for harvesting the private data of users and their online ‘friends’.

But if you sign up to the Guardian’s own Facebook app privacy policy: ‘You will be agreeing to share your Facebook user details (including your name, picture profile, gender, networks, user ID…) as well as the user details of your Facebook friends…’

So that’s all right, then.

We’ve always thought that Jeremy Corbyn is a visceral anti-monarchist, dedicated to establishing a glorious socialist republic in Britain.

So I was intrigued to hear from Mail reader Barry Southcott, who discovered in a German tourist guide that Jezza has been moonlighting as a Beefeater at the Tower of London.

The brave French gendarme who was murdered after offering himself in exchange for a hostage in a terrorist siege has been buried with full honours and posthumously awarded France’s highest military and civil accolade, the Legion d’Honneur. This would be the same Legion d’Honneur awarded to Financial Times editor Lionel Barber for his heroic efforts to keep Britain in the EU. Vous ne pouvez pas le faire. (That’s ‘You couldn’t make it up’ in French.)