If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Blaming the Bonfire

It's starting to look as though a culprit has been found for the M5 accident on Friday evening - a nearby bonfire.
Police probing the M5 crash which killed seven people have said a firework display next to the road is the "major line of inquiry".

Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, of Avon and Somerset Police, said he was focusing on the event held on Friday night.

He said "a bank of smoke" was across the M5 at the time of the crash.
This may well be true. Fires have a habit of making a lot of smoke, and the wind has a habit of taking that smoke where it is not wanted. Sometimes this causes problems. It does not mean that fires should be banned.

I lived for a long time in North and South Humberside, an area of predominantly arable farming. At certain times of year, the farmers used to burn off the stubble in the fields, which caused massive thick clouds of yellow-white smoke to hang over the landscape. Often, the wind would blow it across roads - even major routes - and the traffic would come to a near standstill for a while. It was like a very thick fog, only it made you cough as well as blinding you. People grumbled, obviously (especially if you had a load of clean washing on the line when they set it off), but no-one suggested that the burning should be banned. It was a seasonal thing, part of the way of life in those areas, and you accepted it.

I have a feeling that a different view will be taken over the bonfire smoke from Taunton Rugby Club. Even if the smoke is not found to be a primary cause of the accident, I am sure that there will be calls for bonfires near major routes (and how many are not?) to be banned. After all, if it saves just one life ...

Sorry, no. Bonfires are part of our tradition, going back thousands of years. Never mind recent history like the Gunpowder Plot - our Celtic ancestors were burning the old year away back in the Iron Age, and I'm sure their Neolithic forebears were doing something similar. The smoke from a bonfire is just something that we have learned to deal with, even as motorists - back to that old rule about 'being able to stop within the distance you can see to be clear'.

Sometimes I think our roads are too good. Because of the regulations surrounding motorway construction, we expect good surfaces, shallow bends, consistent road marking and signage, control of joining traffic, and so on. In short, we expect them to be an ideal environment in which we can go fast and not have to think too much. We feel 'entitled' to a certain standard, and when something unexpected comes along, we can't cope. More, we are annoyed, because that kind of thing 'shouldn't be allowed to happen'.

I think we are going to see a curtailment of bonfires "for everyone's benefit". That would be sad, but it's easier to do than, God forbid, expecting people to think for themselves.

And, for a bonus point, in the coverage of this over the next few days, look out for the climate change argument to be added to the mix - all that nasty CO2 being pumped out for no good reason every year. It will be there, mark my words.

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