Two stories, one tragic, one merely absurd, that illustrate the mess we're in.
In Kirby, staff at Morrissons refused to serve Tony Ralls, 72, on the grounds that he refused to prove that he was over 21. Yes, I thought the legal age for drinking was 18, but apparently they have to challenge you for ID if you look under 21. When the fortysomething checkout assistant refused to let him buy a bottle of wine, he demanded to speak to the manager, who responded by putting the wine back on the shelf. According to Mr Ralls, a grandfather of three,
"It is bureaucracy gone mad. If the checkout lady had asked me with a twinkle in her eye perhaps I would not have been so tetchy.
"But she asked me the question with a perfectly straight face and I said I wouldn't dignify the question with an answer.
"And if the manager had explained that all the staff had to ask everyone because they had previously been fined, but said I was clearly over 21, it would have been fine - but he showed no sense of humour."
By no stretch of the imagination, of course, does Mr Ralls look too young to buy alcohol. So what was the problem? Just some bone-headed application of a policy that was never intended to apply to the over-thirties, let alone the over-seventies? Not a bit of it. As a singularly humourless spokesman for Morrissons explained,
"We take our responsibility with regard to selling alcohol very seriously and all our stores operate the Task 21 scheme, which addresses the difficulties our staff face in being able to determine if a customer is legally old enough to buy alcohol.
"To further limit any element of doubt staff at the West Kirby store are required to ask anyone buying alcohol to confirm that they are over 21."
There you have it: no apology to their embarrassed customer, no regret for the loss of business to the store. The staff "did the right thing". They were "just following orders" (where have we heard that one before?) Actually, I suspect that this demonstrably crazy policy has nothing at all to do with removing doubt and everything to do with being afraid of seeming to discriminate. But do they really ask all their elderly customers their age? Or was Mr Ralls singled out at random. If it really is their policy, it must become a bit tiresome. And do their other customers meekly go along with it? If there were more people like Mr Ralls Morrissons would have to change their tune.
This story comes out at the same time as the inquest into the tragic death of 10 year old Jordon Lyon, drowned while trying to rescue his younger step-sister from a pond. Two police "community support" officers stood by an watched while the brave youngster struggled for breath, waiting until a proper policeman arrived, by which time it was too late. Two of them? What were they talking about?
Condemnation of the inactivity of the part-time coppers has been universal and uncomprehending. How could they have been so robotic? Don't they have lives and families? Don't they care? The boy's stepfather spoke for the nation,
"I can't understand it. If I had been walking along and seen a child drowning I would have jumped in."
Well I can understand it. Like the staff at Morrissons, they were just following orders. Orders put together by some bureaucrat in an office, who clearly didn't envisage drowning children. Orders that probably make perfect sense in theory.
Any apology from the police? Of course not. DCI Philip Owen told the inquest,
"Having made an assessment, one of the PCSOs called the Greater Manchester Police control room and an officer was at the scene within five minutes of this.
"PCSOs are not trained to the same extent as police officers, so wouldn't have been taught how to deal with a situation like this. It would have been inappropriate for PCSOs, who are not trained in water rescue, to enter the pond."
Inappropriate? Saving a child's life inappropriate?
We have become a nation of robots.