The Times, 17 November 2010


As decades of David Attenborough programmes have revealed, not knowing when to run away is an objective measure of stupidity. Even bird-brained birds can sense danger and even lumbering herbivores, their tiny brains filled only with thoughts of grass and more grass, know that when a predator pops up they need to do a runner.

So it comes as rather a worrying shock to discover that guidance has been issued to the House of Commons this week, advising its inhabitants that, in the event of an attack by gunmen, they should run, not hide. Even when you’ve passed over the obvious thought that many of our elected representatives are built neither for speed nor concealment, you can’t help but be alarmed that this apparently needed saying. These people can vote to take us to war, and we are genuinely supposed to feel ok about the fact that they need to be told that hiding behind a curtain is probably not a good idea when armed gunmen maraud the halls? An armed raid isn’t an episode of Benny Hill, for crying out loud.

Key groups of workers, including doorkeepers, will apparently be given the task of leading people to safety. Yet surely the doorkeepers - and I am willing to be corrected on this – are generally to be found nearest the doors. Shouldn’t they be the first ones to leave? Besides, once you’ve fled the building enough to be able to see a doorkeeper, can’t you – almost by definition – also see the door? Maybe this is why they have doorkeepers in the first place, though. Maybe the poor MPs don’t know how to get through a door unless the trusty doorkeep is there, holding it open for them. Maybe the aged House of Commons doors don’t have a Push/Pull placard so, left to their own devices, the MPs gaze hopelessly at the door, wondering how it works, until eventually they give up and turn feral, roaming the corridors of power searching for nuts and berries.

Actually, the ‘run don’t hide’ bit isn’t even the best bit of advice they’re given. They’re also told not to worry about Palace treasures and to leave valuables, like the House of Commons mace, behind. Is this a hangover from the expenses row – the idea that a politician can be distracted from even quite an urgent course of action by the prospect of getting their sticky paws on something shiny? Or do MPs’ advisors really believe that an armed gang – far from making a murderous religio-political point – might be there to swipe the flat screen TVs and the over-sized ornamental maces? Besides, anyone knows that when there’s an emergency, we all take our laptops and our handbags: we don’t worry about office furniture, no matter how sparkly it is.

Is it possible that the people who write guidance for MPs in the case of an armed attack are simply recycling the advice they issue in the case of a fire: get moving, don’t stop to pick up valuables, head out of the nearest exit? Do they not realise that our inner action-movie fan knows to leave the ornamental weaponry behind? What else is Bruce Willis, barefoot and vested, going to pick up to thwack the bad guy?

Last Friday, I went back to my old school to give out the prizes at their annual speech day. I couldn’t decide if this meant I was old or merely respectable (and which of those was worse). I shook the hands of about 80 girls, all of whom had got As in everything, won prizes, and were wearing impossibly glamorous 4in heels. I had a dim memory of getting my school prize during the grunge era, which meant men’s army boots, two pairs of walking socks and a skirt that had small bells on it in some benighted fashion.

Then on Monday, NASA announced that they had found the youngest black hole ever. It’s only 30 years old. There is, in other words, a black hole which is younger than me. Astronomers have detected phenomena that I pre-date. I may weep.

I know it’s a little early for a Christmas story, but my phone tells me there are only 38 shopping days left, so I think it’s time we discussed the fact that Lidl is selling reindeer steaks. Not to me, obviously – I’m vegetarian and I only shop in supermarkets that don’t make me want to take my own life. But some people must be buying them – Gordon Ramsay has done a recipe for Reindeer Stew. Like Christmas in his house wasn’t ruined already.

But really, if Santa doesn’t bring you any presents because you ate the owner of the nose he was using to light his way to your house, don’t come crying to me. I would suggest that reindeer-eating is an objective example of being naughty rather than nice. And if you think Santa lacks the Orwellian powers to bust you on this, you are a fool to yourself. A fool with an empty stocking.

Still, it has come to my attention in recent days that more and more animals are being sequestered into the Christmas zoo. Penguins (wrong pole, but snowy background), Scotty dogs (white, look nice in a scarf) and owls (I’ve got nothing – do they hoot carols? Eat mice in a festive manner?) are all adorning Christmas-ware in my local shops. Perhaps they should think hard before jumping on Santa’s bandwagon. Because now I think we’re all wondering - which one will be eaten next year?