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Don't drink the water and don't breathe the air!
on 18 February 2013
'Playing It Safe' is a collection of nearly 250 short press clippings compiled by journalist Alan Pearce. They paint a rather unflattering portrait of 'bureaucratic Britain' which may have you holding your sides with laughter, or your head in your hands with despair, according to your sense of humour (and, possibly, your age).
The cuttings have been gathered between 2000-2007 and come from a wide variety of sources . There's a good mix of articles from local and national tabloids and broadsheets and even some tales from Auntie Beeb herself. They are presented in one long stream, with no chapter breaks or any other headings. Without any natural pauses in the text, it's quite easy just to plough through the lot in one sitting, as I did. In spite of the cartoon image on the front cover, there are no other illustrations in the book.
The stories range widely in terms of subject matter. Ladders, conkers and Christmas decorations all feature heavily. Health and Safety Officers from local authorities are oft quoted. The town council of Bury St Edmunds is mentioned on more than one occasion! Overall, I didn't find the collection quite as side-splitting as some other reviewers did, but the story of Shenkin the goat's unfortunate incident at the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff did cause a tear of mirth (no animals are harmed in the incident, before you ask). Another personal highlight was the tale of the shopping centre Santa who had to be given a hard hat after local kids threw mince pies at him.
Even in some of the more mundane accounts, there are some great quotes to be found. When Paul Hudson found that he could no longer take his pet iguana into the Metrocentre in Gateshead, his response was not entirely reassuring: "He is a nice animal. He could bite someone if he wanted to, but he wouldn't." There are also some feisty displays of righteous indignation, such as one pensioner's retort to concerns over distributing special napkins with meals-on-wheels: "To risk-assess a napkin is utterly ridiculous ..."
So, if you fancy a light-hearted look at life in modern Britain, you might like to give this a try. Downloading the Kindle version will, of course, reduce the risk of paper cuts whilst reading ...
This review refers to the Kindle edition of 'Playing It Safe: Crazy Stories from the World of Britain's Health and Safety Regulations'.
A note to Kindle users: I have found a number of typos in the Kindle edition, especially in the headings, which is a bit of a shame. The stories 'Losing Their Marbles' and 'Don't Eat The Napkins' have their headings the wrong way round, which is a bit confusing at first.