I think that calling these people 'Health Nazis' is a bit strong. 'Health Whigs' might be a more accurate term

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I once went to a very fancy garden party and part of the entertainment on offer was an aerobatic display by stunt aeroplanes. I found it one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life; watching these aircraft barely missing each other by centimetres filled me with a horrible sense of dread. It didn't seem like any kind of entertainment to me, rather it was a horrible form of voyeurism. I formed the opinion that part of the attraction of these events is the chance that something might go wrong. This was confirmed when I met somebody who was involved in the organisation of a lot of the big air shows. He told me that, indeed, a large part of the crowd travelled to the aerobatic displays precisely in the hope of seeing a spectacular and preferably fatal crash. I don't think that in this modern day and age there should exist an event which caters to the macabre taste of the sort of people who listen to police-band radio hoping to hear of motorway pile-ups so they can pop the kiddies in the car and go and cruise past, slowly looking at the carnage.

Luckily, public taste is moving gradually away from catering to the taste of the Mesdames and Messieurs Defarge amongst us - witness, for instance, the rise of the new and much improved animal-free circuses. I can understand that air shows still need some sort of aircraft-related display at the centre of their day, so, musing on this, I've thought of a scheme to help to render them cruelty free. At Farnborough and other air shows, the highlight of the day would be an acrobatic display not by aircraft but by air stewards. To stirring martial music the stewards will high-step it out to the centre of the field, their buttons polished, their hats at jaunty angles. The public will thrill to the sight of synchronised meal-tray serving, duty- free trolleys performing loop the loops and, as a climax, high-speed close passes performed by BA's elite stewards while carrying full sick bags. This should satisfy the public's desire for danger while risking nobody's life.

The American writer PJ O'Rourke coined the phrase "Health Nazis" for the type of people who try to enforce the sort of change I've outlined above; the people who have lobbied for the wearing of seatbelts, making crash helmets compulsory and the stigmatisation of smoking. I think that term's a bit strong - although a lot of the things these busybodies do are annoying, calling them Nazis is still overstating it a bit. "Health Whigs" might be a more accurate term, or possibly "Health Christian Democrats". I've also always been uncomfortable when people have thrown the words Nazi or fascist about. It's like when people used to call Margaret Thatcher a fascist: while she was a terrible person and did many bad things, she wasn't actually a proper fascist. After all, if you call somebody like her a fascist, what do you call the real fascists when they turn up?

Recently, I've been thinking about the type of ghoulish people who are attracted to public executions and other civic displays of carnage, as I've been doing a lot of reading about the Middle Ages. Life in the Middle Ages was nasty, brutish and short - rather like Paul Daniels, really. I learnt from my reading that the average life expectancy of a person in the 15th century was seven years.

This early death rate meant that sea captains were often three or four years old. You could become a fully qualified doctor at the age of two and a really, really geriatric judge would be eight or nine. The reason we live so much longer these days is because of the huge improvement both in living conditions and medical care - such as the invention of antibiotics. For example, in the Middle Ages many ailments we now consider as trivial could kill you - pimples were usually fatal and hay fever often left the sufferer with a permanent hump.

There was also absolutely no understanding of mental problems. For instance, we now know that if somebody starts hearing voices in their head they are suffering from schizophrenia, but in the old days everybody would believe they were possessed by demons.

However, there was one fascinating recorded case of a woman in the 13th century in Derby who said that inside her head were a whole group of black people who drifted in and out of a barber's shop in south-east London. This perplexed the medical practitioners of the time, but with hindsight we now know that this woman was possessed by Desmond's.

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