Low-Brow Myths Bad, Compensation Good

“What an insult it would be to thriller writers to suggest you need to be stupid to write them. It seems to me so irritating that you would denigrate a remarkable genre where much of the best writing is done.”

So Joan Brady didn’t sue the shoemakers who took over the neighbouring property because the fumes caused her to abandon her literary novel “Cool Wind from the Future” in favour of a thriller, “Bleedout”.  So what did she sue them for?

After Joan Brady’s legs went numb, numb enough for her not to feel pain if she stuck pins in them and numb enough for her to stop driving and toxicology tests confirmed she had toxic peripheral neuropathy severe enough to force the Whitbread Prize-winning author to stop her current novel, she phoned South Hams Council’s environmental health team. (Incidentally, Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, suffers toxic peripheral neuropathy from experiencing with various glues for trainers and now uses leg braces.) The environmental health team assumed they had faulty meters at first. They were recording concentrates of 600 parts per million of butanone. The safe limit is two parts per million. Other vapours drifting into Joan Brady’s home through the party wall included n-hexane, butanone and toluene. The shoemakers won’t admit liability but did settle out of court. Joan Brady is free to return to “Cool Wind from the Future”, but is enjoying writing thrillers too much for the time being, “At least you can kill people in a book”.

It’s stories like this that completely discredit rants like Andrea Smith’s in the Leicester Mercury, a rant that sweeps in the so-called “compensation culture” and blames people for suing councils for tripping over uneven pavements and taking up money that could fund other things. Actually it couldn’t: council budgets and allocations aren’t that simple. The government’s own figures from the Compensation Recovery Unit show that whilst road traffic accident claims are up (no surprise to any driving on British roads), claims for general accidents are down.

If there is a compensation culture it’s in local authorities who prefer to set aside funds to pay compensation claims rather than paying for maintenance so people don’t trip in the first place. Andrea Smith, who often writes on environmental issues and chastises people for not using public transport or becoming greener, would find her anger better directed at getting local authorities to improve the environment for all of us by maintaining pavements. Victims of other people’s negligence and disregard for others’ health and safety, whether a prize-winning author or a sixty-eight year old tripping on a pavement and suffering a fractured hip, are entitled to compensation and should not be made to feel guilty for claiming.


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