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Stan’s Stuff

Bye Bye Number 8 Wire?

Forty years ago, when I started visiting New Zealand, I was intrigued by a term I often heard – ‘Number 8 wire’.
 |  Stan Stewart  | 

On enquiry, I learnt it was a way of thinking and doing that Kiwis were very proud of. ‘Number 8 wire’ was the gauge of wire commonly used in farm fences. Farmers and rural people used bits of this wire to repair all manner of things – machines, furniture, toys, bicycles – in fact it was generally believed that almost any breakage could be fixed with Number 8 wire.

Bush dwellers and farmers in Australia did the same thing but the term was never coined in Australia.

Often faced with a breakdown or need for a particular piece of equipment and the solution was not available or not affordable, kiwis would find a way of fixing the problem in an unconventional way. That was ‘Number 8 wire’ thinking.

Recognising a problem and thinking of a solution way with an unconventional method, is also an aspect of ‘Number 8 wire’ thinking.

For example, Ernest Rutherford, whose lab split the atom, was an original thinker. Air Vice Marshall Keith Park tactics decried by many in the Air Ministry, nonetheless won the Battle of Britain. This also applied to his education, scientific and theatrical endeavours.

For a bit of a laugh, Fred Dagg was the epitome of a ‘Number 8 wire’ man. Kiwis were proud of what could be achieved with their ‘Number 8 wire’ approach to life. I admired it.

I haven’t heard the term used for years. The reason for this is because ‘Number 8 wire’ thinking has quietly, surreptitiously been put to death. Health and Safety edicts and compliance requirements have squeezed, assaulted and throttled ‘Number 8 wire’ thinking so now it is just a distant memory. I understand the reasoning behind the Health and Safety and compliance edicts, but I believe that unintentionally it has gone too far. I think in its essence, ‘Number 8 wire’ thinking is terrific. It’s a kind of kicking against the wind, thinking outside of the square, kind of approach that our world needs now and always. In my mind this was a most admirable Kiwi character trait.

In the Weekend Herald, February 24, p.A9, Russel Coutts, the master yachtsman who brought home the Americas Cup in 1995,  says that New Zealand is, “The most complicated country in the world. … ten times more complicated than anywhere else in the world.”

He’s talking about getting things done. He goes on to say that 40% of the cost of building a new housing development goes on compliance costs. He further illustrates his point by comparing the difficulties encountered in staging a yacht race here in his own country, New Zealand as compared with other countries.

I know about children’s clubs, large holiday camps with hundreds of young people, day camps, adventure events, outdoor stage performing events on a large scale.  My wife and I have been running them all our lives.

Recently we have been scanning old albums from some of these joyous events. Guess what! Some of the activities we organised back then, no, most of them, would not be allowed now. Nor could we have recruited our leaders and helpers if we had to put them through the ‘Health and Safety’ sieve of today. Over our lifetime with the thousands of children who were involved in our events, we have never had any life-threatening episodes or scandals or disasters.

Nowadays it is very difficult to run a children’s club because of health and safety requirements. Every potential leader has to have a police check and this applies to adults transporting children to and from any childrens/teens activities. Taking children home after club is now a nightmare. We used to bundle children into a car with the driver. Not anymore! There must be two adults (the driver plus one – certified suitable – police checks etc) in every car.

These days the number of children’s/youth clubs around New Zealand are few and seem to shrink every year. Part of the reason being the Health and Safety requirements for leaders and helpers.

Children can still play outdoors in playgrounds with rubberised surfaces. But mostly they are indoors with their devices. Is this better for them? Safer for them? Apparently not. I have read of horror clips aimed at children. And the constant news about on-line bullying and on-line stalking. They maybe in-doors in their homes but they are not safe from harm.

What can be done about this? Bring back ‘Number 8 wire’ thinking. I’m serious when I say this. I feel that our whole health and safety and regulatory regime needs to be reviewed. I know the intent of current legislation is well meaning, but the rules and regulations have gone too far. In my mind ‘Number eight wire’ thinking must not die. It is part of our heritage that needs to live on. We need it now.