The other day I was in the library and was confronted with a rather unsavoury situation. Now I greatly admire the staff at our local branch: they have always been polite — in fact as a show of respect for my frequent custom, they often allow me to take home books for free as long as I show my loyalty card. However, my experience this week was quite shocking: inside the library was a large and perpetually annoying fly.
Now as a rule, I cherish all sentient beings, even disgusting ones, and I’ve got no problems with flies when they are out in nature or buzzing around someone other than myself. But I am sorry: I just cannot tolerate them near my face. Call me a Nazi, I don’t care. Flies in my face are simply unacceptable.
Obviously, my first strategy was to move away. I left the periodicals and moved to a more central location, hoping that if he were to follow, at least there would be other people present for him to annoy. However, the fly did not take the bait. Fine, I thought, I am free from torment, and I sat quietly, reflecting.
Shortly thereafter, the library began to empty and I soon found myself alone in the big, book-filled room. Lo and behold, who shows up? That’s right, it was the fly. The dastardly little devil obviously just wanted to avoid having witnesses to his harassment. A war was now on.
I grabbed the first book I could and prepared to send the fly to his maker. I won’t detail the delicate dance of battle, but I can assure you that only one of us walked away still breathing.
As I sat down to wait for Christopher’s play group to come to a close, I found myself skimming through the book-cum-murder-weapon. It turned out to be Careful Now! The History of Health and Safety Laws. And I must say, I found it surprisingly interesting.
Buttloads of people currently find Health and Safety laws oppressively restrictive and generally stupid, and, quite frankly, they frequently are. I now know, though, that it’s incorrect to assume these rules are evidence of today’s Nanny State. Actually, H&S has been around for a long time and it used to be much worse than it is now.
NOW: East Riding Council restricts kite-flying on beaches because it is a risk to others.
THEN: In the early twentieth century, word went round about an old woman who had died after swallowing a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a goat, a cow, and a horse, so a small Cornish village ordered all farmers to slaughter their animals to ensure such a circumstance did not reoccur.
NOW: A school bans triangle-shaped flapjacks because they could thrown at children.
THEN: For almost a month in 1923, children were not allowed to eat any solid food as the chewing motion was deemed “potentially threatening to others.” Parents were only permitted to serve soup and applesauce for twenty-six days before the law was reversed.
NOW: The Royal British Legion stops supplying pins with its poppies to avoid being sued by those who prick themselves.
THEN: Although the most famous of these cases is the American woman who sued McDonalds because her coffee was hot, it was not the first example of this type of litigation. In Victorian times, Lord Stephens of Stephanie brought a case against a five-year-old child who was playing with a stick in the street. Lord Stephens’ argument was that the stick could have flown from the child’s hand, turned the corner and continued into the window of a building where the good man was purchasing a piece of jewellery for his mother. The Court agreed that Lord was assuredly more important as a human being than any dirty child could ever be and awarded him the boy’s newborn sister (who was quickly deposited at the nearest poorhouse).
I am hoping, of course, that the fly’s family does not press charges against me. It’d be a bitter irony to have the book thrown at me for throwing the book at the fly. Bitter, but admittedly poetic.