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Leave Me the Hell Alone, Government

Thursday, 3rd January, 2002

This writing project I've set up has varied in content over the months. Some of it is fiction, some of it serious debate, some of it humorous frivolity. Every now and then I feel the urge to rant and some of the news stories I came across around the Christmas period nearly had me shouting at the screen.

Like any sane person I appreciate that government is necessary to represent us to the world at large. I understand that there are tasks that fall to governments and I'm glad for their presence to deal with them. Sometimes, however, I can't understand why their elected members can't just leave us the heck alone. It isn't corruption that annoys me as there are procedures in place to deal with that, it's the stupidity and highhandedness that comes out on occasion.

Here's an example. There is a quarry in Wales that has become disused and filled with water to a considerable depth. Being Welsh and openair it's not exactly warm and there is over a hundred metres of water in places to freeze the cojones off anyone who chooses to dive in it. Unsurprisingly though, divers are flocking to Dorothea Quarry because it's a godsend to them.

They call it 'The Big One' and note that 'on occasion there are probably more advanced and technical divers in this small part of North Wales than any other place on earth.' World records have been set here and more are likely to be set in the future.

This all sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Well there is a flipside. Not everyone who chooses to dive into a hundred metres of freezing water knows what they're doing. Divers sometimes dive beyond their competence and experience and they pay the price. It's a dangerous sport and Dorothea Quarry has now sadly notched up a number of lives, four in four months.

Sad it may be, and I'm sure anyone reading will grieve for those lives lost, but at the end of the day it was their choice to dive and they died doing what they loved most. I'd like to think that each life given to the water would serve as a warning to those who would dive next.

The MP for Caernarfon, one Hywel Williams, has different ideas about it all. Among his statements on the matter was this one: 'Sometimes regulations are necessary to protect people form endangering their own lives in such a terrible fashion,' he said.

How can anyone, elected or not, presume to know what people should do better than they themselves? How dare he presume this? Surely in a free society it is up to me to decide what is best for myself. I'm sure that every diver in the country is disgusted. I would certainly be disgusted if someone were to stand up and tell me that I was not allowed to do something purely because he thought it was bad for me. Excepting what is totally insane or what would harm other people, I should be allowed to do whatever the hell I want without interference from anyone.

Williams wants the quarry closed. Local county councillor Les Jones wants it closed too, until appropriate facilities are installed. I'd ask why and at whose cost? If the divers want to provide their own facilities then all power to them but they can pay the bill themselves. If they don't then they are the ones running the risks. It is no taxpayer's concern what they get up to in their own time. It's simply none of our business.

Is it such a threat to the nation that what we get up to in our private lives should be regulated? Is it really the business of the law to monitor what we choose to do and to control what is allowed and what is not? Obviously the police need to arrest those involved in murder, rape or child abuse, but for diving? I can't help but remember the Spanner case that became a cause celebre for the fetish community.

Police arrested a man for a crime that I can't remember. I think he was guilty but that's irrelevant to this case. They discovered in his possession a number of home videos detailing a bunch of men shooting steel bolts through their testicles, amongst other painful acts. Naturally they investigated further.

What they found was that all the men were consensual adults indulging in this behaviour in their own homes. The videos were circulated only amongst themselves. Surely there was no crime here? Well, for lack of any other possible charge, all the men were arrested for GBH (grievous bodily harm) and imprisoned. Why? I would never in a million years shoot steel bolts through my testicles but to me this case was just another example of intervention in private lives where it was not required.

It is the same lack of tolerance or common sense that has made certain forms of homosexuality or bondage illegal and brought over us years of state censorship. I'm happy to be a heterosexual male but I see why that is any reason why others should be forced to follow the same lifestyle. I also see no reason why I should not be allowed to watch some films or segments of others. An official body to classify them is one thing but one with powers to ban them or order cuts is quite another.

Censorship in this country has thankfully pretty much died a death since the advent of DVDs and e-commerce. Time was when if a film was banned it became almost unobtainable. There were always nth generation copies under the market stalls of black market traders but they only reached a small audience of diehards. Now anyone can logon to Amazon in the States and order a pristine copy on DVD. Customs & Excise officials simply cannot search every package coming into the country.

But I digress from the other news item that raised my disgust. There is apparently a bill going through Parliament that will limit large shops of more than 280 square metres from trading on Christmas Day. Why? If someone wants to open a shop, what business is it of anyone else?

I appreciate the calls from USDAW, the shop workers union, to make sure that workers are not forced to work against their will. This is only right, but on the flipside, why should they then force others not to work? Two chains, Woolworths and Budgens, opened in areas that do not have a high population of people who celebrate Christmas, and only employees who wanted to work did so. Not only that but they were paid handsomely for the work they did.

Why should I be banned from working on any day of the year if I chose to do so? Why should non-Christians who have no interest in Christmas be forced to follow the calendar of a religion that is not their own? What would happen if Christians were not allowed to work on Eid or Yom Kippur or some other holy day? What happened to tolerance of religion?

At the heart of all of these issues is people presuming to know best and pushing their own beliefs onto others. Luckily we can usually ignore such busybodies, but when they are elected officials with the power to pass legislation to prohibit behaviour of which they don't approve then the whole thing becomes dangerous.

I try to be a good person. I really do. I try to be a law-abiding citizen but I shudder to think what laws I'm broken without realising or what laws will be passed tomorrow to prohibit what I do today. Every time I trim my beard I can't help but think that if were to be living under the Taleban I would be breaking the law. Is not be allowed to trim my beard any more stupid than not being allowed to watch Cannibal Apocalypse or not being allowed to dive into a quarry or not being allowed to open a shop on Christmas Day?

I don't think so. I think those in power should leave us alone to do as we will, just so long as others do not suffer from what we do. Maybe then we'll live in a free country.

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