Saturday, 15 August 2009

Is Britain really the land of the lazy?

Never mind swine flu Britain, it seems, is in the grip of a potentially more serious epidemic, of laziness.

According to a survey carried out for the Nuffield Trust a third of the people they spoke to said they were too lazy to run for an bus and half of the dog owners surveyed admitted to being too lazy to take their pet for a walk.

Dr Sarah Dauncey, medical director at the Nuffield Trust told the website this week that ‘ready meals, remote controls and even internet shopping’, have all been contributing factors in making the average Briton ‘dangerously lazy and idle.’

Doesn’t the good doctor sound like a bundle of fun, well she does if your idea is being told scolded by nanny before being given a large spoonful of cod liver oil and sent off to bed early.

Perhaps a little perspective is needed on whether or not we’re idler as a nation than we used to be a few years ago. Undoubtedly the rise of car ownership and the decline of heavy industry, never mind the fact that the nation’s couch potatoes no longer have to trek across the room to change channels on the TV, mean we are less active than we used to be, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

I’ll admit there is nothing worse than being trapped in unwanted idleness by unemployment, old age or serious illness; it is also scandalously wrong that we fret ourselves into convulsions about childhood obesity whist keeping school sports facilities locked up at weekends and during the long summer holidays so the nation’s children have nothing much to do in the way of entertainment apart from eating Pringles and playing on the X Box. As for the wilfully stupid practice of selling off school playing fields, well don’t even get me started.

There is though, even the energetic Dr Dauncey would probably have to admit, a difference between being active and just being busy, and that it is important to draw a clear distinction between the two.

Being active means moving about, be it on a sports field or just trotting between the sofa and your computer screen, with a definite purpose in mind, be that scoring the winning goal, taking five wickets in a single over or just writing a halfway decent sentence. Being busy, on the other hand, is entirely different and usually much less productive.

Consider, if you will, the case of our own dear Prime Minister, nobody could doubt Mr Brown’s work ethic, what with his early morning calls to cabinet members and the huge wad of memos and documents he seems to carry with him perpetually like some unfortunate cursed by the gods. The same work ethic can be seen in operation in the endless stream of policies, statements, initiatives and re launches of the policy we started off with in the first place that pour out of Whitehall on a daily basis.

All very worthy I don’t doubt, but how much of it is actually effective? In all probability very little, the awkward truth is that activity alone is neither healthy nor efficient, to do our best we occasionally have to take the time out to do nothing at all.

Are there clouds on the horizon for Little Miss Sunshine?

This week Hazel Blears, the one time Secretary for Communities and Local Government had the tyres of her car slashed by vandals whilst out campaigning in her Salford constituency.

Ms Blears, who earlier this year had to pay back £13,000 in capital gains tax during the scandal over MP’s expenses and came close to derailing the government when she resigned from the cabinet after the debacle of June’s European elections, is not, it seems, well loved by her constituents. In fact she only narrowly survived being ousted by local Labour Party members.

You would, in one sense, need a heart of stone not to laugh at her predicament, from parading around on the day it looked like the government might collapse wearing a badge reading ‘rocking the boat’ she has ended up in a position where her own boat looks like it might be holed below the water line, and yet the newspaper pictures of her sitting in her wrecked car with her head in her hands call for a different and more compassionate response.

Being a victim of crime is no less traumatic just because you happen to be a member of parliament, the same goes for experiencing the dawning realisation that your hopes have been dashed because you decided to back the wrong horse.

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