by Black Sheep, 25th August 2022
But you're about to be alerted
And so, with all the crushing inevitability of an England batting collapse, the last of the hosepipe bans came into effect this week, just as the heavens started opening again.
“I'm pretty horrified. How am I going to water my tomatoes?” said one Welsh Water customer, while on the other side of the argument, the co-founder of the Welsh Rivers Union, Kim Waters (I kid you not…) had been calling for an immediate ban weeks ago.
Not to be outdone on the aptly named front, Friends of the Earth Cymru spokesperson Bleddyn Lake (you think I’m making this up, don’t you?) waded in, insisting the Welsh Government’s plans to reduce water-use targets were "not ambitious enough”.
Except, it’s been raining all week now, so…
With all this alarmist talk of drought - on an island nation where we’re never more than 70 miles from the sea, and desalination is, like, a thing - something else a little more alarming may have passed you by earlier this month. The government announced the start date for its new… wait for it... Emergency Warning System (makes Dr Evil quote mark sign with fingers).
Got a smart phone? Roughly 85 percent of us have. And if that includes you, you can expect to receive a “welcome message” from the new system before the end of the year. Whether you like it or not.
Trials have been going on in Reading and East Suffolk since last year, and now the boffins are just about ready to scare the bejesus out of everyone in England, Scotland and Wales.
In what must be a post-GDPR watershed, the messages will be sent automatically to any working smartphone, and will be different from other normal alerts you get on your phone. They’ll last for about 10 seconds for a start. And they’ll make a “loud siren-like sound”, even if your phone is set on silent. At which point you should “stop what you’re doing and follow the instructions in the alert”, so says the government website.
If you happen to be driving at the time, well, “find somewhere safe to stop before using your phone,” says gov.uk, before reminding us it’s illegal to use a hand-held device while driving.
Calmly finding somewhere safe to stop may not be so easy. Not when the alerts are designed to warn of a “danger to life” in the immediate area - things like flood, fire, extreme weather and terror attacks. And not when your phone is giving it the full air-raid siren while you’re in the fast lane of the M5.
But here’s the thing. The alerts won’t be limited to those four horsemen of the apocalypse (with apologies to The Book of Revelations). Public health emergencies are also cited by the government as reason for a klaxon going off in your pocket. And what does that remind you of?
Come on now, you don’t have to think that far back.
Far be it for me to suggest the powers that be have truly developed a taste for, well, power these last couple of years.
Some of you may recall receiving a text out of nowhere back in March 2020, telling you to stay at home, protect the NHS and barricade yourself in the airing cupboard if you lose your sense of humour. Or words to that effect. I pondered then whether the reaction to Covid was the thin end of the wedge. Now it seems it’s getting thicker.
Alarmism is en vogue right now, be it the new heat-health alerts of recent weeks (that have doubtless been viewed with no little amusement by our Australian friends), those ever-escalating cost-of-living crisis estimates or the Bank of England’s doomsday scenarios, right through to the drought warnings and this week’s hosepipe bans. And that’s to say nothing of those mustachioed, old duffer ex-generals who rock up on Newsnight from time to time with their predictions of when Putin is most likely to start a nuclear war.
It sort of makes you wonder how the human race ever made it this far without being warned about impending doom lurking around every corner.
Fact is, I’d rather not know when Death is swishing away with his scythe. Certainly not when I’m out for a walk with the mutt and expecting nothing more than a text from Mrs Sheep to say we’re having hoops for dinner.
And anyway, we’re already warned well in advance about things like floods and storms. That handy little system is called the weather forecast.
Public health emergencies? It took us months to lock down after Covid arrived on these shores. By which time we kinda knew about it.
And as for a terror attack, 99 times out of 100 they’re over and done with in the time it takes to snip the red wire. Or the blue one. In which case a text after the event ain’t really gonna cut it.
Thank heavens then that in the true tradition of democracy we can opt out of this new hysteriapp. If we dare.
Earlier this month, whilst touring the Met Office - that premier league of alarmism - government minister Kit Malthouse chucked a bone at freedom lovers.
“You have the ability to turn it off,” he insisted, adding - with all the condescension of a Bible-belt preacher man - “if you really don't want to know that these things are coming to your area and are going to affect you.”
Truth is, while you will be able to opt out of some of the alerts, the “most important” alerts will always come through.
Hmmm. Now what might they be, then?
Officials wouldn’t discuss arrangements for warning the population of an impending military or nuclear attack. And nobody dared ask about asteroids.
Might the dinosaurs have benefitted from some sort of Stone Age emergency warning system? Fred Flintstone shouting the code word WILMA from the top of a mountain, perhaps?
Me thinks that big fiery ball thundering across the sky might have been enough of a warning sign. Much good it did them.
A mutton for punishment, Black Sheep welcomes all comments. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to air your points of view.