Leading Article: Just for the record

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER WEEK of records. Rebecca Stephens becomes the first British woman to climb Everest. Inflation falls to its lowest level since 1964. Robin Smith makes the highest score by an England cricketer in a one-day international. More tragically, Beverly Allitt becomes, as the Daily Telegraph's front-page headline put it, 'the worst female serial killer of the century'. The welfare state (the same newspaper's helpful headline again) faces its 'biggest challenge for 50 years'.

This national obsession with record-breaking seems a little desperate. Despite Mr Smith's efforts, England lost not just the match but the series. Ms Stephens had been beaten to the top by 16 other women. But we have become an achievement-orientated society, in which even schools and hospitals compete to head league tables. Even if we were the 100th country to get our first woman up Everest, we would not keep quiet about it.

The Guinness Book of Records suggests that the United States holds most of the world's records: longest in an iron lung and largest gall bladder, for example. We, though, have the largest gallstone as well as the largest number of gallstones, showing that we can still compete. Last week, British sextuplets were born. Alas, Australia once managed nonuplets. But the papers soon found the angle: the parents were not married or even cohabiting. Surely another British first.

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