Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Just let it all hang out

In breast cancer ads, if it is a case of "see a nipple and save a life" then surely it's worth taking the risk of offending the purists?
In breast cancer ads, if it is a case of "see a nipple and save a life" then surely it's worth taking the risk of offending the purists?

If there's one sound more annoying than the screaming of suburban lawnmowers it's the sound of suburban moaners. Such as those who have just learned that the council is no longer grooming their verges.

The news also encouraged an explosion of puns along the lines of "Crash and berm" and "Berm notice". I was a little disappointed no one used "Berm wails."

It's as though, mindful of our grief over the America's Cup result, the council needed to come up with something to take our minds off it and decided to leak the fact that it has for some time now washed its hands of any berm-care duties. Given its record in other areas, however, such a degree of forethought seems unlikely.

Besides, there is no intrinsic reason why a patch of grass between a footpath and a road must be kept to a prescribed length, like a 70s schoolboy haircut.

Many people prefer their borders untended. One street away from my home there is a house whose owner planted a sign on her berm that read "Council: please do not mow." Others plant flowers and fruit trees.

In some cities, letting it all hang out, herbaceously speaking, is quite the rage. A corner of deepest metropolitan Paris has been fenced off in an environmentalist experiment to see if, left to its own devices, the original eco-system will restore itself. Across the Channel, Prince Charles has led a movement to allow parks to revert, with the result that Hyde Park is a veritable tangle of weeds.

And that is what we're telling our neighbours we're doing out the front of our place, too.

I don't spend a lot of time on my berm, or even looking at it, so it's not particularly front of mind. If I felt any sense of ownership I'd probably put in a lily pond or vege patch.

But I don't and neither does the council. Nor should it. Why it has ever been expected to bother with reining-in wayward verges is a mystery. Those punctilious homeowners who are pained at the sight of scraggly growth should find something more important to worry about. Such as breast cancer.

The disease itself is frightening enough but it appears that the mere sight of tits scares the bejesus out of some people, especially children, who must be protected from the sight of them, says Rob Hoar of the Commercial Approval Bureau. He advised the Breast Cancer Foundation that an ad that showed the items in question would receive an Adults Only, post-8.30pm rating.

Bairns across the nation are safely tucked under the covers by 8.30 every night in the mammary-free, cocoa-fuelled, flannel-pyjama-clad world Mr Hoar apparently inhabits.

But in Scotland, where the original ad was made and aired, it was subject to a similar petticoat-clutching restriction and in fact shown half an hour later than it would have here - after 9pm.

Yet the number of women thus motivated to get themselves checked rose by 50 per cent. If Nanny Hoar's strictures were observed, therefore, it would still have been worth doing.

Even so, it's hard to believe the Commercial Approval Bureau has no room for discretion. If, for instance, it were a case of see a nipple and save a life perhaps the risk could be taken and any viewer complaints bourne.

Which reflects badly in turn on the Breast Cancer Foundation, which caved in and produced a bowdlerised version of the ad, making their officers appear timorous, and possibly unsuited for their very important job.

- Herald on Sunday

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