I'm feeling a little bit like a minor member of the Royal Family at the moment. I'm traipsing around the country visiting places that still manufacture things, for this show I'm filming called Made In Britain. I'm doing a lot of "So what do you do?" type questioning, and nodding a lot as people show me round factories. It's all very interesting and I'm building up a fabulous font of useless knowledge about everything from Lava lamps to bespoke cologne. What really irritates me, however, is how "healthandsafety" has taken over everything. I wouldn't mind if it was all for "healthandsafety", but it's actually not. It's all about a pathological fear of litigation veiled behind a feigned concern for the visitor's or worker's wellbeing.
I visited a biscuit factory. At reception I was asked to sign in and declare that I hadn't been abroad recently, didn't have typhoid and wasn't an industrial saboteur. I was then taken into a room and shown a long and very dull DVD, warning me about not going down any stairs without holding the handrail and how, if I dropped anything into the biscuit mix, this would make the consumer very unhappy. We didn't want to do that, the DVD hectored, as the consumer was whom we were there to please. Personally, I wasn't there to please the consumer, but this DVD was clearly aimed more at the workers than the odd biscuit fancier who paid them a visit.
The DVD continued on in grave terms about what you were allowed to take with you into the factory. No watches or mobiles, etc, but you were allowed one "plain" wedding ring and a single bangle, if it had religious significance.
The DVD over, I was given a hair net, a white paper coat, ugly black shoes and, worst of all, a beard cover called a snood. Once ready, I looked so totally ridiculous that any thoughts of incisive journalism left my head immediately and I padded about the factory staring at biscuits and praying for the whole ordeal to be over. Maybe that was the plan? Certainly nobody else in the factory was wearing a snood, but then again, nobody in the factory was sporting a beard. I think that any facially hirsute employee, when faced with the threat of the snood, soon decides that regular shaving is the better option.
The following day I went to look round a place that made posh mobile phones. The moment I arrived I was made to sign a non-disclosure form that presumably was intended to prevent me from telling you things like the fact that I had to sign a non-disclosure form. It was very unclear what it was that they didn't want me to disclose, especially as we were there filming everything for television. Perhaps, if or when you come to view this show, you will get a letter from the company concerned asking you not to discuss what you have just seen.
Once again I had to dress up – this time in a white coat with copper wiring running through it to "disperse static." I'm sure that this is all scientifically valid, but you do sometimes wonder whether this all isn't some big joke at the expense of the visitor. I really feel for Prince Charles now, whenever I see him touring some establishment in a silly hat. They must have such fun at these places coming up with more and more weird things to make it look as if they care about your welfare.
Personally, I'd actually prefer it if they came out with something upfront like, "Look, we know you could sue the arse off us if something happens so we're doing this to cover said arse". It was all so much easier in the Queen Mum's day. Mind you, she brought her own silly hats.
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