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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cheltenham lady

I took the kids to the Cheltenham science festival. In the Town Hall, they were looking round some exhibits and I wandered into the buffet to get a drink. There was some sort of press conference going on in the buffet. There were three or four people on a panel and one of them I recognized, I'm sure, from the telly. She was a woman scientist of some description and I'm sure I've seen her on Horizon or something like that but I can't quite place her. I didn't catch the question she was asked as I walked in, but from her answer it was something about making science more accessible to the public and discussing how to give science a more friendly face. I wandered back into the exhibition area. The boys had been making playdoh models of molecules, bacteria and other stuff. All very educational. My youngest wandered over to a nearby exhibit which had instantly attracted his attention because it featured a football in some role. I went over to see what was going on. Basically you had to kick the football at a target and a radar gun measured the speed. He scored a respectable 41 miles an hour, which I didn't see any other kids come close to, most of them were around 30. Anyway he was having great fun so I thought I'd get a picture of it to show Grandma and Granddad. No sooner had I taken the camera out than I was approached by a lady jobsworth with an official looking pass who told me I was forbidden to take pictures. I assumed that I'd misunderstood what she said so I asked her to repeat it and she said that I wasn't allowed to take pictures because it was against the council policy because of child protection. Incredulous, I spelled it out exactly to make sure I understood exactly how unfriendly the science festival was. So I said, very clearly, "you're telling me that it's against council policy for me to take a picture of my own son kicking a football?" The lady jobsworth repeated that this was indeed the case and asked me to put the camera away again. Perhaps if they want to have a more friendly face on a science festival for children next year, they should consider somewhere other than Cheltenham, because I certainly won't bother going there again. P.S. What's tragic about this vignette is that it highlights one of the more catastrophic ways in which our country becoming a less pleasant place to bring up a family every day. I haven't the slightest doubt that the council's absurd policy has made no difference whatsoever to the quality of life of any single child in their jurisdiction. All it does is introduce yet another mean and petty restriction on the people once responsible for the Magna Carta. P.P.S. This farcical bureaucracy was of course defeated. I saw countless people taking pictures with camera phones. It can only be a matter of time before Cheltenham Council ban those on the grounds of child protection shortly before they ban all phones because they cause brain cancer.

1 comment:

Hil said...

Hey Dave,

Hope your kids, and you, enjoyed the festival and sorry that you had a hard time with staff.

I've worked in an organisation where I've been asked to enforce a child protection policy in this sort of situation. It's difficult to do and I suspect that that's why the woman you encountered didn't come off as all that convincing.

The problem for organisations like this is that parents don't like having photographs of their kids taken by adults unknown to them. While you were obviously taking pictures of your own kids, staff in this situation have no knowledge of whether that's the case, so it's easier for the rules to say no to all photography.

It's not great for anyone, and the rules are sometimes difficult for staff to understand (in fact, they often would rather not enforce them). But the basic idea is to protect children from having their picture taken by someone who will use it for an unwanted purpose (as often as not any problems arise from photos turning up in local papers etc. without parents' permission).

I agree with you that it's not great that they have to do this, but they do have to do it. Most organisations that involve children have a similar policy.

I also suggest that you write to the festival organisers - it was really useful where I worked when parents discussed with us how they thought the policy could be improved.

Sorry for long comment... Would be interested to know what you think