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Is ignoring barriers a big deal when we all break rules?

PUBLISHED: 12:42 23 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:42 23 March 2019

People have been climbing over and dismantling the barriers on Westlegate. Picture: Archant

People have been climbing over and dismantling the barriers on Westlegate. Picture: Archant

Archant

Polite notice: do not read on if you cannot handle the truth.

Scaffolding remains in place on Westlegate after cladding was ripped from Westlegate Tower due to high winds last week, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodScaffolding remains in place on Westlegate after cladding was ripped from Westlegate Tower due to high winds last week, Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

As with all “polite notice” signs, this is not polite - it’s passive-aggressive. For example: “Polite notice: No parking outside my house” means “you’ll be glared at, boxed in and have your tyres let down”.

But, despite the veiled threats, all these signs achieve is the opposite of their intention – they make us want to park there.

For, at heart, we are rebels. We do not like being told what to do, as most of our life is spent conforming to rules.

And so I come to those very naughty people who have been climbing over the barrier to access Westlegate in Norwich after 60mph winds tore some cladding off Westlegate Tower.

You can still see the ripped cladding on Westlegate Tower due to high winds last week in Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodYou can still see the ripped cladding on Westlegate Tower due to high winds last week in Norwich. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

The correct response to such behaviour is to brand them “idiots” and say they are “taking their life into their hands”.

After all, one never knows when the planets will align, the wind will be strong enough and from the right direction, and the timing will be so perfect that another bit of cladding will blow off and plummet into the street at the precise time that the aforementioned idiot is walking past at the correct distance from the building.

If you’re one of the self-righteous brigade who tuts at “idiots”, bear that in mind. The risk of a repeat was negligible, and barriers are usually more about protecting businesses from liability than heading off a realistic danger.

I’m not saying I condone ignoring barriers, but I do understand why people do it. In fact, I have done it – and so have you, haven’t you?

Unless you are a uniquely dull individual, you’ll have chosen to turn a blind eye to a barrier or a sign at some point.

Our entire life is a risk assessment. We weigh up everything we do according to the benefit and the calculation of risk. Sometimes, the benefit of taking the shorter route outweighs the risk of being wiped out by a slab of tower block cladding.

Now I come to the next group of “idiots”: those who ignored a clifftop cordon and stood close to the edge in north Norfolk.

Here, I make a full confession, having as a child and a teenager ignored warnings about climbing the cliffs. The benefit to me and my mates was a lot of fun – including rolling back down the sandy slope – while the risk was a twisted ankle or death.

I do know that very few people have been seriously injured or killed on those cliffs during my lifetime, so the chances are you’ll get away with it. But you might not.

If you remain in the “they are idiots” camp, you’re probably still feeling holier than thou? In that case, have you ever:

■ Exceeded a speed limit?

■ Queued “beyond this point” at a car park?

■ Touched (when warned not to in a shop)?

■ Stood the wrong side of the yellow line when a train is approaching?

■ Stood up in the seated area at a football match?

■ Cycled without wearing a helmet?

■ Crossed a road before the little man turned green?

■ Run in the school corridor?

If you still have a 100pc risk-free record after all these, then I salute you – and christen you Britain’s Dullest Human Being.

I wouldn’t suggest that you become more interesting by going straight to cliff climbing or running the gauntlet of flying cladding, but it might be worth living life closer to the edge.

Touch a bench that has a “wet paint” sign on it, or eat something that is past its use by date.

Feel the frisson of risk – you’ll never go back.

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