Blown out of proportion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 March, 1996, 12:00am

THE wonders of modern technology. When an MTR train pulls into a station it looks like a thundering juggernaut. Nothing can stop it until it is ready to stop itself.

And yet, to the embarrassment of all concerned, this formidable piece of machinery was paralysed at a stroke by a Minnie Mouse balloon last week.

The incident resulted in a tricky problem for the MTR management. The company has already banned eating, drinking, bamboo poles, wheelchairs, smoking, going to the toilet and carrying whole roast pigs - no doubt for good reasons. Could it add to the list a ban on balloons and still be taken seriously? Commuters require fast and convenient transport but do not want a mobile sample of life as it is in Singapore.

Last week managers were obviously worried by the thought of uniformed MTR flunkies on duty at stations to confiscate the balloons of travelling toddlers.

One spokesman commented darkly the balloon which paralysed the Island line seemed to be of more robust construction than previous sabotage methods.

Apparently, the odd balloon has drifted on to overhead wires before, but usually they are vaporised by the current.

I wondered where this line of thought was leading.

Was the MTR going to approach manufacturers to ask them to sell balloons with thinner skins? The odd thing about the MTR story was the absence of any news of the real victim.

Last week anyone aged over 50 who left this world for the next was assumed automatically to have been left to freeze to death by an indifferent Social Welfare Department.

But there was not one word about the person who must have been really traumatised by the MTR incident: the owner of the balloon.

Losing a balloon when you are young is a serious matter. Seeing Minnie Mouse vaporised is the sort of thing which scars you for life.

Then trains mysteriously fail to appear, the platform fills with irate people, all blaming you . . . The poor kid will never live it down.

The MTR will have to do something about this before any more young passengers are scarred by tragedy. I suggest a carefully policed regulation that all hot-air balloons must be securely tied to their owners.

Management will, I trust, observe this new rule will straddle 1997 in its effects and consequently should not be implemented without prior discussion at the Joint Liaison Group (JLG).

I thought I would get that in because it seems that these days you can score points by suggesting that anything, however trivial, ought to go before the JLG, overburdened though that body already is.

Particularly fatuous suggestions trigger a sequence of events.

First, some senior official offers an outlandish explanation for the move. Then local left-wingers complain the whole affair is sapping confidence. Then some even more senior official announces that they did not mean it.

The Lutheran conference row followed the script to perfection. I particularly enjoyed the spectacle of official spokesmen for an avowedly atheist regime complaining that the handover might be upstaged by a church conference.

Now come on, folks. Lutheran conferences, even world Lutheran conferences, are right up there with meetings of the North District Board or the Urban Council sanitation subcommittee as compulsive reading.

Some people simply believe China should be consulted about everything. This is all right in principle but it is not very practical.

Even at the humble level of the Hamlett household, transitional issues are beginning to pile up.

I notice in the next year or so I shall be signing the following items (perhaps the JLG secretariat would care to cast its eyes down the following list and let me know which ones they would like further details of): domestic helper's contract (September); car licence (November); flat lease (December); RSPCA membership (January); Visa card (February 1997); Amex (April).

If I can muster that many then I imagine the Convention and Exhibition Centre, for which big bookings are made years in advance, has a very fine crop.

The serious point behind this, of course, is that some of the enthusiasts for 'one country, two systems' have trouble with one part of the Hong Kong system: the one which says that some things are simply none of the Government's business.

A private citizen has the right, if he wishes, to host a gathering of Lutherans or llama fanciers. Careful with that extra 'l' please. Lama fans, even now, may not be so welcome.