On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…seven swans a-swimming
Now your true love has really done it. The British Establishment are very protective of swans. Indeed, up to 1998, killing or injuring a swan was an act of treason, under a law dating back to the twelfth century. Even today, two ancient City guilds, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers, still own mute swans on the River Thames. The rest are owned by the Crown, but the Royal swans are no longer marked as Crown property—a shrewd move by the Royals, as it has led to all unmarked mute swans on the Thames being regarded as belonging to the Queen.
As for wild swans in other places, they are protected by large volumes of law, just like other wild animals. But in 1983 a 20-year-old Somerset man, Alfred Dines, was jailed for killing swans under a 1592 law introduced by Henry VIII. As the swans were unmarked, they were assumed to be property of the Crown, so injuring them is classed as criminal damage.
Swans are quite assertive and strong animals, so you might have problems keeping them in your garden, and by now the various cries of hens, blackbirds, geese and a partridge will already have alerted the authorities to the unsuitability of your property in terms of animal welfare. So as you and your true love are marched off to the Tower to trace the steps of Anne Boleyn, don’t say you weren’t warned.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…eight maids a-milking
While we are on it, the a-something construction (geese a-laying, maids a-milking, lords a-leaping) goes back to the Germanic origins of English, and is a form of the y-something construction (summer is y-comen in). In German, it takes the ge-something form, as in ist gekommen, meaning ‘has come’. So summer is y-comen in actually means ‘summer has come in’, not ‘summer is coming in’.
A milkmaid is of course a woman who milks cows. She might also prepare dairy products from the milk, such as cream, butter and cheese. But that will land you in all sorts of trouble. Raw cow’s milk, and the cheeses made from it, are delicious, but the legal authorities—always concerned to make us act for our own good—either ban it or want to ban it. In Scotland, sales of raw cows’ milk and cream (along with those from sheep, goats, buffalo and any other species, probably including yaks and camels) was banned in 1983. In 1995, the policy was reviewed but retained. There have been three attempts to extend the ban to the rest of the UK, which have not succeeded—though they have each led to further ‘consumer protection’ rules.
If your true love got the milkmaids in a job lot along with the French Hens, your troubles multiply. Under Regulation 178/2000, each batch of imported dairy products may need a veterinary or public health certificate and various paperwork to show that it comes from the EU or from EU-approved premises. Eight milkmaids and an unspecified number of milk cows will of course be noticed by the neighbours. Expect a visit from the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…nine ladies dancing
What could be more charming? Lucky you don’t live in Sweden, where ‘spontaneous dancing’ is still illegal, for some bizarre reason, despite promises to abolish it. Mind you, the UK’s own Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 introduced various penalties for ‘anti-social’ behaviour, particularly outdoor raves. And if you were indeed illicitly raving, the Act undermined your right to silence, allowed the police to take intimate body samples, and extended police stop and search powers.
It is unlikely that your true love would have provided you with nine lap dancers, but under the Policing and Crime Act 2009, if you wanted to share the gift with a few friends, you would have to apply for a licence as a ‘sexual entertainment venue’. That would cost you a lot of money and would probably be refused (with no right of appeal) as there is a ‘nil limit’ on new premises opening. In Scotland, ‘sexual entertainment venues’ are covered, rather bizarrely, under the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015.
For dancing you need music, of course, and that could be a ‘statutory nuisance’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The local council could serve you an abatement notice, and give you a spot fine if you ignore it, confiscate your sound system—or even prosecute you, with a potential £1,000 fine. Probably better to tell the ladies just to sit quietly somewhere.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…ten lords a-leaping
Some people say that the ten lords a-leaping in the song actually stand for the Ten Commandments. But by the time you have already dealt with the animal welfare officers, the council noise abatement department, and the EU regulations on dairy imports, you will be all too aware that you have to obey far more than ten commandments these days.
In fact the EU has passed over two-thirds of a million pages of law since its inception in 1957. Roughly a quarter of those are still in force, which means that there are roughly 170,000 pages of EU rules and regulations you have to obey. More than half of those have come in during the last decade, so the pace is accelerating. Put all those pages end to end and it would be longer than a marathon and would take an average person about four hours just to run from one end to the other. If you had to read them all, it would take somewhat longer.
With around 800 people sitting in the House of Lords—eight times the size of the US Senate, in a country with a fifth of the population—ten of them leaping off would hardly be noticed, though it would save taxpayers £3,000 in attendance allowances and a bit more in expenses. No doubt the Lords would not spare the likes of Lord Henley, Baroness Buscombe, Lord Duncan and Lord Gardiner, who are all ministers and who are needed to gold-plate and enforce all those 170,000 pages…
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…eleven pipers piping
Perhaps your true love has sent you some ex-army pipers, since the Ministry of Defence has cut back on military bands in order to save its budget. But with eleven pipers and nine dancing ladies, you now have the makings of a fair-sized marching band yourself. And you are already in breach of the law, because you should have informed the police six days ago that these folk intended to march up and down. The police can change your intended route, limit the time you can march, and stop other people from attending the spectacle. They can even ban your march outright.
Indeed, under the Public Order Act of 1986, your pipers do not even have to be marching to get you into trouble. If a chief of police believes that you are intending an assembly near to any historic building or site, they can stop you. Or move you on for causing a breach of the peace. If your true love’s gift marches in a public park or square, the local authority may well turn up, waving the by-laws by which they can regulate or stop it.
If you live in Northern Ireland you have particular problems, as marches there are strictly controlled—though attempts to ban them entirely caused even more trouble than the marches themselves.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…twelve drummers drumming
The final batch of your true love’s 364 different gifts has now arrived, and are probably proving just as noisy as the geese, swans, cows, pipers, lords and other livestock. The house might be getting a little crowded by now, but luckily (or perhaps for you, unluckily), there are regulations to deal with that. The 1985 Housing Act covers the number of people you can have per room, the amount of space they must have, and so on. Officials can of course enter your property to check. Well, I say your property, but after dealing with so many police and officials, you are probably thinking that you do not have many rights over it. You would not be wrong. Enjoy the rest of the year, and keep away from trouble—though they only way to do that is probably to sit in a darkened room, or perhaps leave the country, as many entrepreneurial people who resent the petty regulations of petty officials have already done.