A Safer World for Kids One Pen Top at a Time

I have a strange new idiosyncrasy -- going round to peoples' homes and offices, including our own, checking the tops of the ballpoint pens. If they don't have a little hole in the very tip, I put them in my pocket to be destroyed as fast as possible.

The point is that Miranda and I have just done the Red Cross First Aid course, and, with just a little extra knowledge, a brave new world full of dangers has opened up to us. Pen tops, for example, are a favorite thing for children to swallow and then sometimes suffocate on.

In Britain, we discovered, it is illegal to sell a pen without a hole in the top that lets through enough air to allow the child to breathe, and, indeed, the pen manufacturer Pentel has just been successfully sued for failing to comply.

Sadly, when I look around my own country through these newly trained eyes, I fear we have a long way to go before the niceties of pen tops are legislated. There's the glass in the playgrounds, the polluted rivers, creaking ferris wheels, crazy drivers, gaping holes in the pavements, ferocious unmuzzled dogs, dodgy wiring everywhere and toddlers bouncing around unrestrained in the back -- or even front -- of the car.

Which brings me to another depressing point about the course. Training as a First Aider, it was impressed upon us, carries with it a responsibility.

We now have a moral obligation to check the pulse of every drunk lying flat out by the metro station and be prepared to press our lips to his and start resuscitation if necessary, or rush to the aid of some dodgy character in a black-windowed BMW who's just driven into a tree at 200 kilometers an hour, or practice our newly acquired bandaging prowess on a krutoi -- or tough -- gang member emerging from a shoot-out in the woods.

I suspect in Russia the ratio of accidents to properly trained First Aiders is somewhat different from wherever it was the course was devised. But of course when it comes to children you wouldn't fail to stop, and the first step has to be a bit more prevention in the first place and to replace our helpless "God has given, God has taken" mentality with a hint of personal responsibility.

Thanks to the appearance of imported goods we now know what a child car seat is for. So now, expatriates, the moment you have been waiting for: Your chance to take revenge on all those interfering old babushki you're so fond of complaining about. Peer into their prams and tell them that their child or grandchild should be properly strapped in.

Keep it up and who knows, one day even Russian adults might start wearing safety belts.