Prophets of doom eclipsed again;Opinion

3rd September 1999 at 01:00
WHAT I did on my holidays: drove three children to Cornwall in a car laden with two dozen toilet rolls, one five-gallon emergency tank of water and several spare cans of fuel in case petrol pumps ran dry, emergency stand pipes failed and ram raiders with dysentery hit the shops. I also set off in the middle of the night - just in case the M5 was gridlocked - and carried my son Tom's plastic replica sten gun for when law and order broke down.

Of course, the children considered this a highly amusing way to embark on one's summer holiday but then they hadn't read Brigadier Gage Williams in the Daily Mail as I had. Brigadier Williams is now the most reviled man in Cornwall, for it was he who prophesied that on August 11 we would all be wading knee deep in sewage, as the Cornish infrastructure broke down under the influx of 3 million tourists desperate for a view of that famous eclipse.

What happened, of course, was that instead of soaring above the monthly average of 500,000, the number of people in Cornwall during August actually dropped as a result of such scare stories and several hoteliers went out of business. The moral of this tale - apart from never believing anything you read in the Daily Mail - is do not over react.

When I was a teenager we were always being told that Britain was about to be hideously short of teachers. As a result hordes of my friends applied to training colleges and within a few years the unemployment exchanges were awash with newly-qualified, wholly unemployable, young people who knew one hell of a lot about the Tudors.

It happened again a few years ago when the Government was so worried about girls underachieving that they brought in GCSEs designed to capitalise on female learning skills. And now we're all worried about boys underachieving at GCSE level.

No doubt complaints by business that school-leavers are under-prepared in such key areas as IT, communication and problem-solving will result in Tom being fluent in floppy disk and overhead projector use by the age of eight but devoid of any knowledge worth communicating.

Mind you, I must say Cornwall was delightfully quiet this year.

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