Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Health Warnings


It’s time for a Grumpy Old Man blog posting.

Firstly can I point out I do not condone smoking or drinking alcohol to excess. Nor do I want people to fall over and hurt themselves. But can we please stop all this Government molly-coddling and insurance-claim based concern that requires a health warning on everything.

When health warnings appeared on cigarette packets in the late 1960s there was a valid reason for them. It could be argued (and was successfully in the American law courts by people out to make a quick buck!) that some people didn’t appreciate that smoking was harmful. Everyone I knew was aware that smoking was harmful in the 1950s and my Mum gave it up in the early 60’s because she was concerned about the effects on her children. Nevertheless, there was a valid argument for putting the signs on. Surely nowadays everyone is well aware of it and only hardened smokers continue to consume their cigarettes (and money) through lack of will power or because they think it makes them feel better. (I won’t go into arguments here about the placebo effect but they do have some validity.) So surely health warnings should be getting smaller not bigger. Notwithstanding which, graphic pictures of diseased lungs, hearts and other organs will be required on all tobacco products sold in Britain by the end of 2009.

Similarly the argument can be applied to alcohol. I love diaries and from Pepys and Evelyn to the present day every diarist I have come across has bemoaned the fact that he has consumed excessive alcohol and resolves – the next day – not to do it again. Today I saw, for the first time, an advert for Hardy’s wines on television which had a little notice at the bottom - ‘Please enjoy Hardy’s responsibly.’ (Interestingly, I saw this on one of their TV adverts and when I went to check their website I found I had to put in my date of birth to enter their website – under 18’s not being allowed. Like, if I was under eighteen and wanted to enter the website it would not occur to me to lie about my age....) All alcohol adverts in France come with the disclaimer, required by law: 'Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health'. (Actually they don't because they are French so it reads - “l’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé”)

In America health warnings are already on alcohol bottles and from next year they will be on wines in Britain. (So if you want to collect an unadulterated wine bottle label now is the time to do it).

From this year all advertising for new cars will have to carry cigarette-style “health warnings” about their environmental impact, under a European plan to force manufacturers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As if we didn’t know cars damaged the environment. SUVs, otherwise known as 4x4s, four-wheel drives and all-terrain wagons, have become badges of middle-class aspiration. They are also dangerous, fabulously polluting and, as part of a general transport problem, set to become, according to the World Health Organisation, one of the world's most common causes of death and disability - ahead of TB, HIV and war. No doubt future adverts in glossy magazines will carry a warning to that effect.

One of the best of all was the nature trail I went on through a woodland where almost every protruding tree root and low branch was marked with a warning. “We have to do that because the Health and Safety Inspector warned us they wouldn’t approve us as a nature trail if we didn’t warn people of the hazards.” OK, hidden boggy ponds and open mine-shafts I can understand but tree roots!

Then there was the insurance company that insisted my brother put a notice outside his pottery that anyone parking their cars did so at their own risk. Car crime being unknown in the Outer Hebrides (where the locals never even lock their cars) it seemed rather ridiculous. My brother complied in his own unique way by putting up a notice which said something like “Despite the lack of car crime in the area my insurance company insists that I put up a notice warning you that vehicles parked here are parked at their owners’ risk.” (Actually it was briefer than that but to the same effect.)

Vitamin supplements, it seems, are likely to get government health warnings to the effect that taking them in excess may be harmful. Surely the very word excess suggests that! Sweets manufacturer Cadbury is considering a message on its products advising consumers to eat a healthy diet. Customers may be told that sweets and chocolate should be balanced by eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

A leading professor has suggested that oversize clothes should have obesity helpline numbers sewn on them to try to reduce Britain's "fat crisis".

Video games, a government report has concluded, can harm the development of children’s beliefs and value systems and desensitise them to violence. It recommends - surprise, surprise - that health warnings be put on them. Even assuming the report is correct (remember all the warnings about what television was going to do to my generation!) will warnings on the packet make a difference?

iPods, we are told, are ‘desocialising’, a word that doesn’t appear in my – or anyone else’s - dictionary so I’m not sure how we guard against it - and encourage isolation. Mark Splinter suggested the above warning!

I can see it will not be long before we get a health warning on the cover of every book- reading can damage your eyesight.

Laughter, it is said, causes good digestion but what if carried to excess? Perhaps Courts should hold that articles praising politicians may cause apoplexy. Registrars and vicars will be required to issue a medical warning that, as every mature adult knows, marriage can be dangerous to your mental health. And maternity hospitals will have huge notices at their entrances - "Warning - Having children is the first step to total insanity."

Pens will be sold with warnings that you should stop and do finger flexing exercises every ten minutes. Our computers will flash a warning every fifteen minutes that we should stand up, exercise and change the focus of our eyes. Cars will slow down and stop after having been on the road for an hour and fifty nine minutes without a door being opened for the driver to exercise his legs and take a break. Every door will have its little sticker “Warning – trapping your fingers can be painful”.

Of course, I know what is next - Toilet seats will carry a notice ‘Warning - Put me down or the next female to use the loo will give you grief...”

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Book Prizes

One is forever reading on book covers that a book or an author has won this prize or that award. (And why is every book an international bestseller!) I thought it might be useful to list and outline the awards that really count. Then I thought I would add the most recent winners. It was at that stage I realised I had hardly heard of any of the winners and had not read a work by a single one of them. Until then I had thought I was reasonably well read. Obviously I ain’t.

The Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to 104 people since 1901. The 2007 winner was Doris Lessing. (2006 Orhan Parkun; 2005 Harold Pinter). Doris Lessing CH OBE was born Doris May Tayler in Kermanshah, Persia, on my birthday! - 22 October - but thirty years earlier - 1919. She is a British writer, author of works such as the novels The Grass is Singing and The Golden Notebook. When she won the Nobel Prize she was described by the Swedish Academy as "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny". Lessing is the eleventh woman to win the prize in its 106-year history, and also the oldest person ever to win the literature award. I haven’t read a single Doris Lessing book though I may well now give one a try.

Probably second most notable prize is
The Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is an American award regarded as the highest US honour in print journalism, literary achievements and musical composition. It is administered by Columbia University in New York City. Prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. The prize was established by Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American journalist and newspaper publisher, who left money to Columbia University upon his death in 1911. Pulitzer Prize: Fiction - This award was redefined from "novels" to "fiction in book form" in 1947. 2007 The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Pulitzer Prize: General Non-Fiction - This award of General Non-Fiction was created in 1962. 2007 The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
I hadn’t heard of either of these books.

Perhaps most famous of the UK awards is
The Man Booker Prize

Referred to colloquially as the "Booker", this literary prize is sponsored by Booker Plc and administered by the National Book League in the United Kingdom. It is awarded to the best full-length novel written in English by a citizen of the UK, the Commonwealth, Eire, Pakistan or South Africa
The winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2007 was Anne Enright with her novel The Gathering.

The Man Booker International Prize
Only inaugurated in 2006. The second, and current, prize-winner is Chinua Achebe

Guardian First Book Award
The award is for any first book, fiction or non fiction, prose or poetry.
Before 1999, this award existed in a different format as the Guardian Fiction Prize. The winner is chosen by a panel of judges. The short-list is decided by reading groups organized by the bookstore chain Borders.
2007 winner - Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu

National Book Awards
The most established book award in the United States, the National Book Award recognizes outstanding works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and books for young readers by American authors..
2007 - Non-fction - "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA" Tim Weiner
2007 - Fiction - Denis Johnson: "Tree of Smoke"

The Cartier Diamond Dagger lifetime achievement award
As the name suggests, this coveted award is sponsored by Cartier, who have done so since its inception in 1986. The Crime Writers' Association (CWA) committee selects writers nominated by the membership. Nominees have to meet two essential criteria: first, their careers must be marked by sustained excellence, and second, they must have made a significant contribution to crime fiction published in the English language, whether originally or in translation. The award is made purely on merit without reference to age, gender or nationality.
2008 Sue Grafton

Duncan Lawrie Dagger
This is the second year of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger - formerly the CWA Gold Dagger for Fiction (see below) - with a prize of £20,000. This is now the largest award for crime fiction in the world. The winner is Peter Temple for his novel The Broken Shore.

The CWA Gold and Silver Daggers
Initially titled the Crossed Red Herrings Award, this was first presented in 1955. The award was renamed the Gold Dagger in 1960. The Silver Dagger goes to the runner up and came into being in 1969. This award was replaced in 2006 by the Duncan Lawrie dagger and the Duncan Lawrie International dagger.

Hugo Awards
Hugo Awards established 1953 as Science Fiction Achievement Awards for the best science fiction writing in several categories. Annual prize of chrome-plated rocket ship model awarded at the World Science Fiction Convention. 2007 Rainbows End Vernor Vinge

Orange Prize for fiction
For women writers only, the Orange Prize for Fiction is the UK's largest annual literary award for a single novel. Since its launch in 1996 it has become one of the most prestigious and influential awards in the literary calendar
2007 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Prix Goncourt
The Prix Goncourt, administered by Société de gens de lettres on behalf of the Académie Goncourt, is France's most prestigious literary award. Under the terms of the will of Edmond de Goncourt, it is awarded every December to "the best imaginary prose work of the year". 2007 Alabama Song Gilles Leroy

Whitbread Book Awards
Established in 1971 the Whitbread Book Awards aimed to celebrate and promote the best of contemporary British writing. It was sponsored by Whitbread PLC but in 2006 the award was taken over by Costa Coffee and has disappeared.

The Costa Novel Awards
Costa Coffee announced 1 June 2006 a new sponsorship deal and took over the prestigious Whitbread Book Awards. 2007 winner - Day by A.L. Kennedy

Nebula Awards
Awarded by the Science fiction Writers' Association
2006 winning novel - Seeker by Jack McDevitt

Edgar Allan Poe Award
Mystery Writers of America award for the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in the previous year. The Edgar for Best Novel for 2007 went to The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

Somerset Maugham awards
Created and endowed in 1947 by Somerset Maugham to enable British authors under the age of 35 to enrich their writing by spending time abroad, the Somerset Maugham Award may be best known for its being given to Kingsley Amis for Lucky Jim. Amis famously disliked foreign travel and used the money to write a book called I Like It Here. Even more ironically, Maugham had reviewed Lucky Jim, pronouncing its author "scum." It is administered by the Society of Authors. 2007 winners Horatio Clare’s Running to the Hills and James Scudamore for The Amnesia Clinic

W H Smith Literary Award
2006 J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

More British awards can be found at