As everybody knows*, the traditional English ballad Greensleeves was written by Henry VIII as a lament for his singular lack of progress – at the time – in wooing Anne Boleyn. That this venture by the much-married monarch should have proved to be so spectacularly enduring is just one of those happy chances that history sometimes throws up.
He was one of our first polymaths, you see. When he wasn’t dissolving monasteries, ushering in the Reformation, creating the Church of England and getting excommunicated, he was busy setting the record – which still stands – for ‘most people executed at the orders of a single monarch’, and writing a tune that, more than 400 years later, would be a staple jingle for ice cream vans everywhere.
Ice cream vans are very much part of the UK summer scene, of course, and as mothers and fathers of young children everywhere know, their siren call is but one of the many sounds that usher in acrimonious disagreements between parent and child on those long holiday afternoons:
“Can I have an ice cream? Plee-ease?”
“Sorry, but you’ve only just had your lunch.”
“But, Dad, I’m still hungry…”
“How about one of those nice apples in the kitchen?”
“But I don’t want an apple, I want an ice cream!”
And so on and on, and round and round it goes. But did you know that the very same jingle that set the battle lines in place, is exhaustively regulated by a stringent Code of Practice? (pdf, 1.42MB) Me neither, but it is. And it makes fascinating reading. You don’t have to be a trained solicitor to see the sheer hopelessness and potential for misunderstanding contained in it.
The Control of Pollution Act 1974, which is the mother ship for all this, makes it an offence to sound chimes “at any time in a way which gives reasonable cause of annoyance” and then enumerates the many and various ways in which “annoyance” might be caused. There are rules on length and frequency of chime, particular hours of the day when chiming is banned, the types of building that must not be in earshot of chiming and – my particular favourite – a stipulation that the luckless Mr Whippy must not chime “as loudly in quiet areas or narrow streets as elsewhere”, the sheer subjectivity of which sets your head spinning.
Red tape and petty bureaucracy
This, I should add, is but one of thousands of examples of red tape and petty bureaucracy that have grown like bindweed through our business and commercial life over the last few decades. There are rules on things like arsenic and chloroform in water that, despite having been drawn up 30 or so years ago and long-since replaced by more effective and fit-for-purpose regulations, are still alive and well and being at best a distraction, and at worst a slow puncture, for people trying to grow a business.
But last week we set something up that might just help turn the tide on all this nonsense. The Red Tape Challenge is a website where you can go, leave your thoughts and experiences of all the rules and regulations that impact on your private and business life, and challenge Whitehall where necessary to justify each and every one of them. If they’re fair and sensible, like the rules on food hygiene and safety at work, they can stay. But if they’re shown to be out of date, contradictory or pointlessly bureaucratic then the working presumption will be that they’re for the chop. We want, in fact, to be the first government in living memory to leave office with fewer regulations than when we came in. The Cabinet Office is holding the ring on all this, and have divided the business world up into its different sectors, allowing each one to be in the spotlight for four weeks. The hospitality, food and drink industries – including mobile ice cream vendors, of course – are having their turn at the moment: I hope you’ll log on and have your say.
My eye was caught, a week or so ago, by a story on the web about “Tupperware tourists, memento misers and tented travellers” which, apparently, are the three types of tourist most often found among what an Experian survey describes as “Middle Britons”. Once you strip away the alliteration, this all boils down to the conclusion that significant numbers of domestic tourists will this year choose packed lunches over dining out, refuse to buy souvenirs or gifts for loved ones and – most bizarre of all, I think – will prefer camping to staying in a hotel.
Well, there’s nothing new about taking a packed lunch on a family outing – it’s been part and parcel of the English holiday experience for as long as I can remember. It’s also the traditional means by which we learn that bread, butter, ham, lettuce and sand are not a great combination, and that wasps are – by a very long way – the most persistent (not to mention angry) of God’s creatures.
And as for not buying souvenirs or gifts, I’m bound to record that the neighbour who looks after your cat while you’re away expects a present and you fail to bring one back for him or her at your – and your cat’s – future peril.
Which just leaves the proposition that people this year, or 12 per cent of them at any rate, will “camp rather than stay in a hotel.” Now I have nothing whatsoever against camping as a leisure pursuit; quite the opposite, in fact. I have, indeed, paid my dues under canvas and very much enjoyed it.
But the idea of presenting it as the only alternative to staying in a hotel is a bit bonkers – taking things from one extreme to the other, without stopping along the way for what the last Government might have called a ‘third way’. And that third way is self-catering. It comes in all shapes and sizes and there are options to suit most pockets. Best of all, you don’t have to tip anyone before, during or after your stay nor, for that matter, do you have to march across a field if you want to go to the loo. Well not usually, anyway. The truth is, there’s a brilliant range of holiday options in the UK; shop around and you may be surprised by what’s available.
As for the “tented tourists” story that started us off, I can’t leave it without commending the sub-editor on The Daily Mail who, reading the story, slapped on the headline “Hard up families loiter within tent.” Genius.
*This is a joke, by the way. I know it isn’t true. It’s inserted, I fear, for no better reason than to set up a gag about ice cream van jingles. Please don’t write in. Wikipedia, I know, is clear on the matter: “There is a persistent belief that Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. Boleyn allegedly rejected King Henry’s attempts to seduce her and this rejection may be referred to in the song when the writer’s love “cast me off discourteously”. However, Henry did not compose “Greensleeves”, which is probably Elizabethan in origin and is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after his death.”
Ice-cream van image by kenjonbro on Flickr. Some rights reserved. Packed lunch image by Richard Carter on Flickr. Some rights reserved.