Three years ago I took my children to France for the day by car using the ferry from Dover to Calais with the sole intent of mooching around for the day and possibly bringing back a few duty free crates of lager.After boarding the boat I was informed by P&O that in order to comply with French law I was required to purchase a hi vis vest for all four of us, a warning triangle and headlamp beam deflectors even though I was to be home before night fall and not even use the lights. Luckily for me it just so happened that there was a shop on board the boat that could sell me these items for a highly extortionate price but given that it was ‘suggested’ that if I was to continue to drive into France from their boat without them then the gendarmes would be waiting for me and have me arrested, my children would be placed into care and my car crushed I decided to spend €50 and buy what was necessary. Luckily for me though the day passed without and incident and none of this equipment was needed and despite having had the best part of 20 different company cars since then it has always been carried around with me everywhere stowed away in the boot and never used. Well when I say never used I did once try to assemble the warning triangle which resulted in a cut finger after i’d trapped it in the hinge, a bruised eye caused by a bit breaking off it and hitting me in the face after I’d angrily smashed it up against a wall after failing to put it together and an exceptionally foul mood caused by the lack of ability to assemble it. I few weeks after this trip I was informed that the beam benders had been put on the wrong way round and all but one of the the hi vis vests had been lost.
Talking of hi vis vests, I get the impression that I’m soon to be the only person in the world that’s not required to wear one on a day to day basis. The guys who deliver our cars wear them, the parts delivery drivers have them when loading and unloading and the man who comes in to check and service the fire extinguishers wears one. I saw two horse riders wearing them the other day while they strolled along the pavement.You would think that a person weighing 100 lbs on top of an animal weighing a 1000lbs walking along the pavement would be visible enough without the need for a vest and if they are that hard to spot why not kit the horse out in a luminous vest instead? A few weeks ago I went Into the wild bean cafe opposite work to buy some lunch. Now I know that adding the word wild to the name of this place adds a sense of fear and danger but was there really any need for the woman who was re stocking the sandwich shelves to be hi vis? What possible set of circumstances would occur to require her to stand out and be noticed and why do I and the rest of the public need to be made to beware of her?Surely the more these things are used the less effective they become as it must at some point be true to say that the ones not wearing them stand out and get noticed first.
Having said that, I actually needed mine last night.We were sitting down for dinner at the white horse in Sundridge when the barmaid came over to us and asked us if we had anything hi vis as a motorcyclist and a car had been involved in an accident outside. As she was asking me this question she was putting our starters down in front of us and I won’t lie I was torn between doing my bit to help and tucking into my deep fried Brie but being the good Samaritan that I am I went outside to try and help.Laying in the middle of the road being comforted by what I assume to be a passer by was the biker who did strike me as seeming to be in a bad way and about 20 yards away was his bike and a peugeot with a huge dent in the drivers door. Not being quite sure how much help I was actually going to be I got my vest from the boot of the car and walked back up to the scene of the accident where where I was confronted by quite an odd sight. The traffic in every direction had stopped and lots of people had got out of their cars to offer help and pretty much all of them were wearing a hi vis vest of their own so many of them were there that the place was lit up like a beacon. So I decided that I should put mine on too only to discover it was way to small for me. So there I was at the scene of an accident,wearing health and safety equipment designed for a 10 year old girl,severely lacking any useful skills to be able to help out and missing out on my rapidly cooling dinner. So on the basis that the only action I was qualified to take was to offer a reasonable estimate for repair of the car I decided that I was totally superfluous to requirements and went to start my meal.
This has caused me to question the Point of all of this so called health and safety equipment that I am required to carry around with me.While I would concede that it is both desirable and necessary for certain professions such as the emergency services or night time motorway workers to wear,in the untrained hands of a buffoon like me it is totally pointless. What would be much better would be basic emergency first aid training for everyone as part of the school curriculum and refresher training every couple of years thereafter right through until the age of 30. As I discovered tonight being at the scene of a big accident and wearing ill fitting day glo is utterly pointless without the relevant skill to do anything to help and that feeling of helplessness has actually had a bit of an impact on me. I don’t want to feel useless or stupid, I want to feel like I know what to do, I want to know what signs to look out for in an emergency situation and what to do. I want to be involved and potentially be the person who could save a life but simply doing my best would probably not be enough. I would like to know how to do my bit and I don’t want my bit to be simply standing around being visable. Of course I could go on a course and I could by a DVD box set of ‘casualty’ but I think that we should all get free education in this from school age upwards. I wouldn’t know what to do if someone was having a heart attack or a fit, I wouldn’t know what I could do if confronted by someone who was slipping into a diabetic coma or how to check if someone was choking on their own tongue or vomit.
When Fabrice Muwamba had his heart attack on the football pitch those watching later said that they felt utterly helpless and that this helplessness has contributed to their shock at witnessing such an event. Now clearly a situation where hundreds of enthusiastic well wishers running onto the pitch to offer help would be highly undesirable but the fact that he is alive today is down to skill AND luck as one of the county’s most eminent heart specialists just happened to be in the crowd that day and recognised that he could be of help. More help it seems that St.Johns ambulance and club doctors were able to be and should I ever be in need of someone who could recognise the symptoms in me if I was having a heart attack, I would like it to be the case that more than one in 50,000 people would be available to help. Why can’t we start to lead the world in this and set the standard for everyone else? Most of the argument against will come down to cost but as we never seem to run out of money to pay for the likes of Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada to be held in this country or spending £200m a year supporting the government of India while we’re in recession (and they’re one of the fastest growing economies in the world) I’m sure we can fund a programme to educate everyone to help save lives. But sadly it seems that it is easier to pass laws making us carry health and safety equipment than it is passing laws to show us how to use it.
When we went to settle our bill at the White horse the barmaid who had asked me to get my hi vis vest hadn’t added the drinks onto it so I queried it and she explained that she had though we had paid for them before we sat down but I hadn’t so asked her to add them to the bill. She re calculated it and then told me that she would leave the beer off as I’d “helped out”. Nice lady and an even nicer gesture but she clearly lacks any observational skills!