A family test for lunatic theories

Click to follow
I SHOULD LIKE to propose a solution to the problem of what is to be done about social workers. Admittedly, it is high-handed, draconian, and unfair - but no more so than stealing a child from its parents, which is what the Essex social workers appear to have done. It is this: henceforward no new social workers shall be appointed to any post involving responsibility for children unless (a) they have children themselves, and (b) they are prepared to submit their children to whatever examination procedure - anal dilatation, satanic exorcism, observation through two-way mirrors - happens to be in fashion with the employing social service at the time. This seems to me the only feasible way of introducing some level of sanity to the (ha ha) caring profession. Of course I don't know that the Essex social workers who snatched the two children in the case reported by the Spectator were childless themselves, but I am prepared to bet my fee for this column on it. Parents are never so eager to condemn other people's child-rearing abilities, being keenly aware that their own performance is not infallible. It takes a real fanatic - and I would a bet a childless one - to be prepared to break up a family for the sake of a theory.

HOW EAGER everyone was on Tuesday night to find someone to blame for the Shetland tanker disaster] Even before the Braer hit the rocks, reporters were theorising about whether the disaster was due to poor seamanship, poor steering or a badly designed vessel. Xenophobia, as always, was lurking under the surface: the fact that the sailors were all foreigners, and mixed nationalities, made them obvious scapegoats. (It took a marine lawyer to point out on PM that all tanker crews nowadays are of mixed nationality and that this one included a high proportion of Greeks, who are reckoned to be the best tanker sailors in the world.)

Is it a human instinct to look for someone to blame as soon as a disaster happens, or is it a specifically media one? I suspect the latter, in that journalists seem to be more comfortable in the angry, investigative mode than in the passive, sorrowful one. On this occasion, the Shetlanders themselves, being of a taciturn disposition - and also having benefited enormously from the oil industry in the last few years - were unwilling to produce the requisite tears and lamentations to camera. The only serious question is whether we care so much about environmental pollution that we are willing to ban sea transport of oil altogether and, if so, whether we are prepared to live without oil products. The answer, obviously, is no. Trying to pin blame for a particular accident on a particular individual is pure hypocrisy.

WHAT IS the difference between a sweater, a jersey, a pullover and a jumper? The question arose at Christmas when one of our party was presented with a woolly garment and the rest of us said, simultaneously: 'Oh, what a nice sweater/jersey/jumper/pullover.' There must be some difference but the dictionary is unhelpful. The OED says a sweater is a 'woollen vest or jersey worn in rowing or other athletic exercise' while a jersey is 'a woollen knitted close-fitting tunic'; a jumper is 'a loose-fitting blouse without fastenings, worn over the rest of the dress' and a pullover is 'a knitted jumper or sweater made without fastenings.' Chambers unhelpfully defines a pullover as 'a jersey, a jumper, a body garment put on over the head'; a sweater as 'a heavy jersey'; a jersey as 'a close-fitting woollen upper garment'; and a jumper as 'a woman's knitted upper garment, originally one loose at the waist'. In other words, they are all much of a muchness, though a jumper is loose and female, while a jersey is tight and a sweater is heavy.

However, none of these definitions seems to be reflected in actual usage or, at any rate, not as revealed by my random survey of 25 adults who happened to be passing the coffee machine. The women tended to favour 'sweater' or 'jumper' and were generally scornful of pullover and jersey. But there was no consensus between the sweater and jumper brigades, the pro-jumpers saying that sweater was 'sweaty' and also, some said, American, while the pro-sweaters said that jumper was 'down-market' or 'childish'. The women felt that pullover was masculine but naff, and associated with 'the sort of men who have allotments'. Many of the men on the other hand - none of whom have allotments - said that pullover was the only proper word for the woollen male overgarment, though one Irishman confused the issue by saying he called them all gansi. Jersey is the most interesting: most of the younger members of staff, male and female, said that it was old-fashioned and that they would never use it. One of them suggested that it meant the lower half of a twin-set as worn by the Queen, the other half being the cardi. However, all the non-English men in the office - two South African, one Australian, one New Zealander - said that they used jersey, and the editor, who is Scottish, says that jersey is the only correct word and the others are all 'trendy rubbish'. This inspired me to ask the fashion department who said that jumper, jersey, sweater and pullover are all old-fashioned and nowadays the correct word is tops. I hope this clarification has been helpful.

NOTE to all my new squirrel-killer friends. According to Friday's Sun: 'Hunter Ernst Wendel is facing a 'wrongful death' lawsuit under Sweden's new animal protection laws after shooting a squirrel.' Our first martyr.