It’s just like being back in the UK! In Belgrade we’re told, this week’s snowfall caused ‘traffic chaos’. The roads were gridlocked, there were accidents everywhere and the City authorities advised drivers to “…stay home unless they must make the journey, in which case they should not exceed the speeds of 60 kmph on the highways and 40 kmph on other roads, with obligatory winter equipment for their vehicles”. Good advice – I wonder if anyone takes any notice? Sadly, I didn’t see any warnings about the need to put on warm underwear and two pairs of socks, or to have a hot breakfast before venturing outside, but maybe that’s a good thing too. I’d have been at risk of nostalgia overload!
British people (or should I say, British people who live in places which don’t get much snow – which is most of them) invariably react to its arrival with a mixture of disbelief and unbridled joy. The people responsible for transport and public utilities (who are not normally the joyful ones) are almost always caught off-guard and after the first centimetre or so has settled, the Country’s usually ground to a halt. When a few centimetres fell in Wales and the Midlands of England last February, buses and trains stopped running, main roads were closed and children were sent home from more than a thousand schools. Not long ago, one railway company earned pride of place in the Big Book of Daft Excuses when it explained that it could not run its trains because the tracks were covered by the “wrong sort of snow”.
It seems that snow is dangerous stuff but if all the warnings are to be believed, many people in the UK don’t know it. For most, snow must be such a distant memory that even if the temperature’s plummeted, the world's all white and the roads are like ice rinks, they’ll still not understand why they shouldn’t wear clothes more suitable for a day on the beach in Torremolinos or drive to work like a herd of thirst-crazed cattle making for the waterhole.
People in the UK, apparently, are daft. It’s presumed they live in a world of mortal danger and most of the time they don’t realise it. If they do know, then it’s assumed they’re too bloody-minded to take any notice and they must therefore be protected from themselves. Hence, Britain now has what amounts to a vast ‘Health and Safety’ industry and it’s produced a plethora of (often bizarre) rules, laws and regulations to protect people from themselves. It’s called the ‘Nanny State’ and Britain’s only one of many countries like this.
For example, there really are warnings on some packs of peanuts now telling us to “…Beware – this pack may contain nuts”! And I have actually seen a notice telling people sitting near the fire in an English pub that they should be careful because the fire may be hot! Electrical sockets in some hotels have warnings telling you not to stick things (presumably other than plugs) into them and I read recently that the football goalposts in an English park were removed because “someone might walk into them in the dark”!
Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of any idea which will increase my own chances of a long and happy life or the well-being of my fellow humans. I certainly don’t object to sensible rules and regulations or to advice about things that might seriously effect my health and happiness. But at the same time I’d appreciate a bit of respect. Like most people, I think I’m endowed with reasonable common sense. If it looks like a rattlesnake and it sounds like a rattlesnake – it’s probably a rattlesnake, so I’ll leave it alone! It doesn’t need to have a notice tattooed down its back telling me its dangerous and that I shouldn’t try to play with it. And anyway, if I’m stupid enough to ignore the obvious risk then who’s fault is it if I get hurt? Mine of course and if it doesn’t harm anyone else, I why shouldn’t I be free to choose to take the chance? Taking risks can be fun.
Now it seems to me that out of all the many places I’ve been, Serbia’s got one of the more sensible attitudes to ‘Health and Safety’. The Authorities here certainly don’t ignore the need to protect people from themselves but for whatever reason, there don’t seem to be quite so many daft rules. Of course, it’s quite possible that there are lots and that I don’t know about them, or maybe people just ignore them – how Serbian! Or perhaps Serbian lawmakers bow to the inevitable and only make rules they think they can enforce – how unusual, and unlikely!
Recently though, my respect for Serbian common sense has taken a bit of a knock. I’ve found evidence that the Nanny State may be making it’s presence felt here too, and in Zlatibor of all places!
If you know Zlatibor, you’ll have fond memories of the town-centre lake, bordered by elegant pine trees and swarming in summer with happy pedalo pushers. When the snow’s here it’s a place of different magic, especially at night when the light on the ice weaves another spell. But not this year. If you’re coming to Zlatibor for the holiday, you’ll have a fabulous time but you won’t have a lake. It’s been drained, apparently to protect us from ourselves. Now its true that in the past, there have been some whose bravado and blood-alcohol level have encouraged them to enjoy a late-night skating session and those I’ve watched seemed to be having a great time. Yes, there have been accidents and that’s sad, but people get hurt in accidents driving to Zlatibor too, and the road hasn’t been dug up yet – well, not all of it anyway.
So why this year must we be prevented from impressing our friends and/or ourselves by our courage and derring-do out on the ice? Why, instead of gazing in wonder at the new year fireworks across the snow-covered ice, will we be forced to gaze in wonder at - a big hole? Well, if its true that the lake really has been drained to protect us from ourselves, then maybe it’s not just the fault of ‘The Authorities’. Could it be that dark forces are at work? Forces like the insurance companies and the personal injury lawyers?
I’m sure that members of the local Opstina are a responsible and community-spirited bunch and while some of them may even be up for a turn on the ice themselves, they’ve got wider responsibilities to us local taxpayers. One of these is to make sure that their entire annual budget isn’t handed over to some poor soul (or his benefactors) for whom the ice was just too thin. If, as I’m sure they have, the Authorities have insured against claims of official negligence for not making the ice thick enough, then their insurers will probably have insisted on ‘safety measures’, like draining the lake. And its just one small step from ‘safety measures’ like these to a society in which you’re warned about the nuts in a packet of nuts, a society full of ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers and impossible insurance premiums. How very un-Serbian.
Here’s an idea. Next year, why don’t they leave a few centimetres of water in the bottom of the lake and when it freezes, call it the Zlatibor Ice Rink? The Opstina can sell concessions for skate hire, or even stage ‘Ice Spectaculars’ or hockey games and sell hundreds of tickets and make lots of money so our local taxes won’t go up so much. Now that’s much more ‘Serbian’.
By the way, if anyone suggests that my idea means they’ll have to line the walls of the lake with foam rubber to stop skaters hurting themselves, they should be ignored!