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Britain is gripped with fear about everything these days – are we thinking ourselves into a new Cold War?

The chances of being poisoned are tiny, and do we really need telling to ‘stay safe’ from a bit of snow? This constant stream of negativity can’t be good for our mental health

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 09 March 2018 15:15 GMT
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Do people in Salisbury really need to live in fear? The chances of them getting caught up in the Skripal poisoning are infinitesimal
Do people in Salisbury really need to live in fear? The chances of them getting caught up in the Skripal poisoning are infinitesimal (Getty)

This morning I sat behind the wheel of my ancient Freelander with clammy hands and a thumping heart.

This bout of anxiety was an overreaction: I was starting a familiar journey, driving over the moors in North Yorkshire to my farmhouse. Most of the deep snowdrifts had melted, but a couple of hours earlier there had been another heavy fall. Now the skies were blue and the weather was warming up, but I was really worried – would I make it?

I’m not feeble; I’ve dragged myself up an extinct volcano in Chile, walked the mountains in Wales and travelled on foot from Edinburgh to London. When I broke my ankle hiking in the Highlands, I clambered down, slid through a river on all fours, and drove myself to hospital in Fort William. It takes a lot to frighten me. So what’s changed? How have so many plucky Brits been turned into weaklings who see danger on all sides?

The breeding of mass unfounded fear has been a subtle process, but it’s fast turning us into a nation of namby-pambies. Meteorologists are big culprits – completely unnecessary little asides have been drip-fed into every bulletin. Throughout the recent snow, we were told not to go out “unless it was really necessary”. We were told not to drive, to “stay safe”. Schools closed for a couple of inches of sleet. The nation was housebound.

People stocked up on bread, milk and beans as if we were facing a siege rather than a storm. Every day the smartypants weather people would say: “There will be some frost, so take care.”

Why on earth do we need to be told to “take care”? The job of meteorologists is to describe reality, not project blanket anxiety. Sure, the recent weather has been appalling, but no worse than a few years ago when I left my car a quarter of a mile from the house, dug a trench from the gate to the front door, and another to the woodshed. It was -16C – we made a snowman and ate from the freezer.

21 people treated as a result of poisoning of Sergei Skripal

Is there really so much danger around in 2018 that we have to be reminded to “stay safe” quite so many times a day? If it’s windy, we know what to do. If it’s cold, we wear more clothes. Nannying extends to so many aspects of our lives, infantilising us and making us anxious. No wonder men’s sperm count is going down – there’s probably a deep-seated reason connected to the fact they are not hunter-gatherers any more, and can’t even be trusted to drive in snow or walk in wet weather.

Students consistently claim to need “safe spaces”, but what is so threatening about free speech? Have we arrived at a point where hearing someone offer an unpleasant point of view or one we find repugnant makes us fear for our personal safety? What has happened to fighting back with words and equally strongly held opinions?

Brexit was sold to us by Remainers as a potentially terrifying experience, which would ruin our lives forever. Now we’re just getting on with it.

Healthcare professionals are major scaremongers as well. In the last week alone, they have called for the whole country to go on a diet of 1600 calories a day, an intake which we haven’t managed since the Second World War. What’s going to happen if we eat more than the proscribed 400 calories for breakfast? If we fail to eat five fruit and vegetables a day? Is heart failure and cancer inevitable?

I exaggerate, but a constant stream of negative messages can’t be good for our mental health. Baby boomers are a big target for those who insist on spreading doom and gloom: their main crime is to be alive, to enjoy working or spending our retirement travelling, learning new skills, redefining the ageing process.

Lord Willetts is determined to make boomers more anxious, to jolt them out of complacency – he wants them to pay more tax, downsize their homes and make way for millennials in the workplace. Boomers have paid tax and national insurance all their working lives, so why should they be demonised and asked to pay more? If they have the temerity to have bought a second home or a holiday flat, then a growing number of local authorities are determined to charge them double or even triple council tax.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists wants GPs to interrogate their baby boomer patients about their drink and drug intake, because of the growing number of people over 65 with drink-related health issues. As there are more people in this age group than ever before, is this scaremongering really justified?

The poisoning in Salisbury has triggered another bout of hysteria. Only a couple of weeks ago, we were watching McMafia on television; now we are wondering if there are potential assassins lurking in every shopping precinct.

On the radio, a local resident confessed in the immediate aftermath: “Every time you see an emergency vehicle, you wonder what’s happening next,” and a BBC reporter intoned: “Salisbury is still functioning, but it feels more subdued than normal. There’s no sense of panic, more a sense of fortitude and regret.” Get a grip! The chance of harm from a nerve agent is infinitesimal, but in anxiety-prone Britain we seem to want to think ourselves into another Cold War.

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