Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 2nd October 2017

SCHOOL and me never really got on together.

I passed the 11 plus and went to the grammar school where I hated every minute of it. The excellent education the school offered was totally wasted on me and I left as soon as I could with just a couple of GCEs.

It was quite a tough regime and it quickly became evident that from top of the class at primary school I was definitely one of those starting at the bottom of the heap at my new seat of learning,

Our headmaster. Now there was man. The hardest man I’ve ever know. An ex-commando, his broken nose was as flat as a pancake. Once, when the staff played hockey against the senior girls, he was smashed in the eye by a ball. Despite shedding gallons of blood from a wound that later required dozens of stitches, he refused to leave the pitch until the final whistle. He would not show weakness.

I got to know him better as an adult when I wrote about his retirement and he became a county councillor. “The boot’s on the other foot. You have the power of the pen now,” he joked when I questioned him about his part in a local debate. He was actually a really decent, caring bloke behind the facade of toughness. I’m glad I discovered that.

By the time I was 11 I was already writing about sport for local newspapers, but that counted for nothing at my new school. Even then I knew what job I wanted to do, but they were more interested in teaching me Latin and French than my cricket and football reports.

Later, of course, you realised they were right. School taught other things like discipline and respect, qualities you had to have when you started work. I was lucky. I got away with it. These days my lack of qualifications would terminally hamper me in the jobs market. Then enthusiasm and interest seemed to work the oracle because nobody ever asked me how many exams I had passed when I went for interviews. But my attempts to be an individual in a regimented school regime definitely cost me five unhappy years of my life.

Which brings me round to Barry Smith. He is the new head of Norfolk’s worst performing secondary school. Previously he transformed another failing school in London. He’s presented parents with a 10-page rule book, guidelines that would have been perfectly reasonable and normal at my old school, but which have outraged parents at his new one.

Mr. Smith’s guide is as much directed at parents as the unruly kids. Is he really a bully for asking children to turn up on time, stop abusing bus drivers and local shopkeepers, and do their homework and get some proper sleep so they don’t slump slumbering in class? No more pushing and shoving. Walk quietly between classes. Be polite and respect staff. Is that really asking too much?

They say Barry Smith’s methods are too draconian for the 21st Century when teachers have also to be social workers and surrogate parents to children who are affected by behavioural and family issues.

What Mr. Smith asks is behaviour that would have been automatic at my school in 1963. I know the world has changed a lot since then, but simple good manners and respect have been lost in the process of change. All he really wants is to give kids a chance in life. All some of his parents want is for their children to be as rude and self-indulgent as they are. And no doubt to end up failures in education and life. I commend him, but it strikes me it’s the mothers and fathers who need lessons more than the youngsters.

What’s more, he’s a pussycat compared to my old headmaster.

ADVENTURE OR HERITAGE?

I DON’T know who invented the sobriquet “adventure capital” with reference to the Lake District, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Nor indeed do I recall exactly who first thought of the concept, now a reality, of the Lake District being accorded world heritage status.

But now I sense there’s a danger of the two moving into conflict. Adventure capital, to me at least, signifies something with just a bit more in the thrills department than fell walking and launch rides on the lakes.

The long-running saga of the proposed zip wire at Honister, the brainchild of the entrepreneurial Mark Weir, which was designed to complement his Via Ferrata route up the exposed crags of Fleetwith Pike, met with some degree of opposition, not only from conservationists but from traditional Lake District types who believe the fells should be places for healthy exercise and peaceful contemplation.

Mark died in a helicopter accident at the quarries without seeing his scheme come to pass, but now zip wires are back in the news again, this time with a project to run wires across Thirlmere reservoir, the company involved claiming that it would create 28 full-time jobs and be a major tourist attraction.

Predictably opposition is mounting on social media. Too noisy. “Not appropriate” in the Lake District. Too many people, too many traffic and parking problems.

One local resident was quoted suggesting that zip wires would be better sited in West Cumbria where they have greater need of tourism and jobs. I imagine some West Cumbrians might feel a bit patronised by the hint that we Lakelanders are too posh for such extravagances, but it’s all right for them.

We don’t really know what impact the recently-approved world heritage status will imply for the Lake District. Will it bring more visitors from a wider range of countries, or will it at the same time prove more restrictive for those who live and work here?

I’m not sure we can have it both ways — the adventure capital on the one hand, the world heritage site on the other. Heritage status was granted not specifically on landscape grounds, but for a wider view of the Lake District and its community. But I feel sure people opposed to large scale schemes like the zip wires will quote world heritage as fundamental to their argument.

In the past the Lake District has balanced the worlds of Wordsworth and Coleridge with the pioneering climbers and, in recent times, the enormous growth of outdoor events like cycle marathons and triathlons. Plus the often forgotten interests of those who carry out their day to day lives here.

But the latter events are indicative of a younger breed coming to the Lakes seeking more than Wainwright guides and a paddle in Derwentwater. And that’s where, in future, the pressures and conflicts may arise. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the national park authority, handed the twin objectives of the adventure capital and the traditionalists, manages that balance. I don’t envy it trying to solve our identity crisis.

NO LAUGHING MATTER

VETERAN film producer Mel Brooks moans that political correctness is proving to be the death of comedy. To which you can also add satire, irony, comment and discussion.

Brooks, aged 91, reckons he could never make some of his films today. Blazing Saddles, his 1974 Western spoof, was littered with Jewish jokes and the N-word. A tale of a black sheriff in a racist town.

It was a brilliant satire about racist attitudes in small town America. He’s right. These days the easily offended would totally fail to get it and demand it be banned and Brooks locked up. Like Mel Brooks, I fear the PC clowns have won.

LORDING IT

MY ex-MP Lord Campbell-Savours — still Dale to his many Cumbrian friends — is an example of how the House of Lords should work. Although not in the rudest of health, he attends assiduously and speaks regularly, and with insight, on a variety of topics.

Sadly they aren’t all like him. Latest research shows 115 peers, one in seven, failed to contribute to debate in 2016-17. Yet, on average, they claimed more than £11,000 in allowances and expenses. Too many go there for a kip or as lobby fodder, or just make a token appearance for the money.

The majority of their colleagues understand being in the Lords is a privilege. Their reputation suffers because of the greedy few. It’s high time there were rules to get rid of the hangers-on.

A PROPER SCRAP

DID you hear about that scrap at Hyde Park Corner between transgender campaigners Sisters Uncut and Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFS) which led to one “gender critical feminist” and a few other participants being injured?

We used to have the odd punch-up at village dances and folk can get a trifle uppity after a few beers, but we really live soft, sheltered lives up here in Cumbria. I can’t recall anything like the Hyde Park altercation happening in places like Melmerby and Threlkeld, let alone Maulds Meaburn. Maybe I’ve been missing something, but right now London is where it’s all happening.