Weekly Newspaper of the Year 2013 Winner

Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 19th December 2016

WHAT a thoroughly depressing statistic. According to one academic, children these days are three times more likely to go to hospital after falling out of bed than as a result of falling out of a tree.

Let me say, here and now, I’ve done some daft things in my time — ending up in casualty with a footballing injury at the age of 68 and a half for one — but I’ve never been a tree climber. And, for the avoidance of doubt and future legal action, neither am I urging youngsters to practice falling out of trees.

My dad suffered from vertigo. He once climbed on the garage roof to effect some urgently required repairs after a storm, got stuck and had to be helped down by an elderly lady neighbour who trotted round with her ladder and shinned up after him, knee-length bloomers blowing in the wind. He passed the vertigo on to me. Goodness knows why someone afraid of heights should take up the sport of fell running. I kept my eyes closed and took my chances with Sharp Edge and a few other airy spots, but as a kid I never risked tree climbing.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and a former director general of the National Trust, believes parents need to rethink their children’s experience. Too many are shielded from the tougher realities of life. Loss of space to run around in means that kids who once roamed free no longer have access to nature.

One of the National Trust’s most successful campaigns — once upon a time it used to connect with its members I seem to recall — was “50 things to do before you are 11 and three quarters” which gave parents ideas for taking their children outside.

But these days, laments Dame Fiona, children spend an average of six to seven hours a day in front of gadgets and a third of youngsters are overweight because they don’t play out of doors.

The term “Generation Snowflake” was coined by the Government’s behaviour tsar, Tom Bennett, when he said too many children are being protected from anything that might upset them.

Ironically kids are more likely to suffer mental stress from stuff they come across on social media sites. Indeed they are more likely to come to psychological harm in their bedroom than getting a few bumps and bruises charging around the countryside having fun.

I remember in my school days most of my contemporaries, at one time or another, either had an arm plastered or a bandage covering a cut knee. These were badges of honour, worn with a certain pride. A few stitches — wow, respect.

One of the popular films this year was Swallows and Amazons, set in the Lake District and based on Arthur Ransome’s story about a bunch of jolly kids who sail off to find adventure. These days social services would be round to grill the parents who would most probably find themselves in court for negligent parenting.

Modern life is a far cry from the Famous Five and other children’s adventure stories. Now it’s more likely to be Jack and Jill get trolled on the Internet and require counselling.

If Dame Fiona’s assertion that children have less space to run around than free range hens is correct, then it’s tragic that youngsters don’t have the same connection with the joys of nature that those of my generation enjoyed. It’s her belief that politicians concentrate too heavily on economic indicators as a measure of the country’s success, rather than well-being or the environment.

We’ve got the NHS warning about obesity problems as tubby kids grow into obese adults, yet here we are reducing the places where youngsters used to play and inoculating a generation of kids against the harsher realities of the great wide world.

It’s left to silly old pensioners like me to wear the scars of battle proudly now while the kids have their heads buried in their mobiles and PlayStations.

MAKE USE OF THAT TENNER

CHECKING through my bank statement on-line, something I do nervously every couple of days, there it was, the mystery tenner.

What could it possibly be? During a month of big outgoings the humble 10 quid stood out, a beacon of positivity, one of precious few entries in the incoming money section of the account. But who, what and why?

The penny dropped when I spotted that the tenner had been sent by the same generous souls who pay me my old age pension. I confess I had completely forgotten that we oldies still get a Christmas bonus, the same £10 as in 1972 when it was introduced.

There’s a certain nastiness directed towards pensioners these days over so-called perks. It’s an old trick of government. Pit young against old in order to hide a lot of unpleasant truths.

The proposal to end the triple lock on pensions by 2020 is yet another insult to the large majority who have paid their taxes and never drawn on benefits during a long working life, a working life that threatens to last ever longer in the case of future pensioners.

Politicians sometimes forget it’s the elderly who vote and they should respect the contribution OAPs have made during their working lives. Before he left office in shame over the referendum, David Cameron made just that point about “deserving dignity in retirement”.

When you turn on the TV or the radio these days, if world affairs don’t scare you enough, then there are the chilling warnings about the potential collapse of the NHS and the house of cards that is the social care system. Don’t get ill. Don’t get old. Preferably don’t get ill and old.

In thinking about pensioner benefits and that tenner, it did occur to me that the festive bonus has now become almost an irrelevance. While guarding pensions from government raiding parties, it’s one payment maybe we pensioners could let go, provided it went into the NHS and care systems.

I suspect that, like me, many of us had forgotten all about the Christmas tenner. Yet, more than 1.2 million tenners would pay for more nurses and more carers for those in greatest need of help. A simple concept. It’s just that politics and money don’t seem to work on simple, obvious lines.

THEY’RE NOT BOXING CLEVER

AS a nipper I remember listening under the bedclothes to boxing broadcasts by Raymond Glendenning and W. Barrington Dalby, who gave the inter-round summaries. My mum would shout “turn that radio off, there’s school tomorrow”. But it was exciting and I would simply turn the sound down to a whisper, but go on listening.

These days I find boxing anything but a noble art. It’s turned into a degrading, disgusting charade with fighters posing and posturing, even throwing the odd table, in a bid to attract publicity and sell pay per view bookings for Sky.

It plumbed new depths before the weekend’s boxing contests in Manchester, a night when there appeared to be as much scrapping outside the ring involving spectators, as went on in the ring,.

It’s worth remembering that, amid all the threats to put opponents to sleep, two boxers have been hospitalised in recent weeks with brain injuries and another fighter died after a bout in Scotland not that long ago. Not much respect shown for them.

Look, if boxers want to box and people are willing to pay inflated prices to watch them, that’s their business. I would not seek to ban it. Muhammad Ali insulted opponents, but he was witty and smart. The present day lot aren’t fit to lace his boots. Their threats are merely tiresome and offensive.

YOUR DINOSAUR COLUMNIST

WHEN looking through a list of top trending TV shows — it’s something to do with Twitter, I’m told — I realised just how out of touch I must be with what everyone under the age of 100 is chattering about on-line these days.

It wasn’t until I reached Question Time at number seven I realised that I had never watched Celebrity Big Brother, Great British Bake Off, Love Island, X Factor and Game of Thrones, although I may have tuned in out of curiosity to the Eurovision Song Contest circa Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr and in the dim and distant past when Ireland used to win it and Sandie Shaw lost her shoes.

I realise I’m beginning to sound more and more like one of those austere, bewigged High Court judges. “The Beatles, Mr. Fotheringham-Smyth?” “Ah yes, m’lud, a beat combo much revered by the younger generation, I believe!”

Perhaps it’s time David Attenborough took a look at me for one of his excellent programs about extinct and threatened species. When Dinosaurus Brewstaurus walked the Earth. Eventually killed off by some tweets.


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