Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 4th April 2017

POLITICIANS are fond of using the phrase “in real terms” when talking about how well off, or otherwise, we all are.

The Prime Minister, like all Prime Ministers before her, frequently explains to Parliament that, “in real terms” more money is going into the NHS, the police, the military and everything under the sun, when most reasonable folk have a fair idea that it’s not like that at all.

Chancellors of the Exchequer slavishly follow the same line. For them, “in real terms” is the answer to every complaint about under-financed public services.

Real terms, as defined by the finance site I consulted on Google, is what you get from the change in financial numbers after correction for the effect of inflation.

Which, by a roundabout process, brings me on to the subject of pocket money and the thought that, in real terms, I was probably doing my best financially at the age of 11.

Pocket money currently runs at its highest level since 2007, but according to the Halifax’s annual survey, almost half of children think they should be getting more. Parents are handing out an average of £7.04 a week, more than last year’s average of £6.55. The sum represents a 500 per cent. increase from the £1.13 many of their parents would have been receiving in 1987.

I reckon I was much shrewder about money as an 11-year-old than I’ve ever been since. Arguably 11-year-olds have got it made. No mortgage, no car to run, no kids to clothe and feed. I had an effective way of supplementing my pocket money. Call it a bit of scam if you like, but at least I worked for it.

My weekly pocket money was 2s 6d in old money. Half a crown. You can’t properly compare that sum with what present day kids receive from the bank of mum and dad. That 2s 6d covered me for sweets and comics and, in 1968, there wasn’t an awful lot more a youngster could spend money on.

However, my interest in sport proved lucrative as a means of saving up to buy the latest pop records. I used to score for the local cricket club, write their matches up for local newspapers, even compose letters for the committee and fill in forms. The captain paid me half a crown a week, not knowing that I was also in receipt of a similar sum for my regular contributions to one of the papers. I wasn’t exactly a tax exile, but I was doing okay with a grand total of 7s 6d a week. In real terms, I was well off.

My piggy bank filled up quite well. Apparently the tradition is alive and well these days with eight out of 10 children using one to save. And I’ve still got the habit, with a couple of jars on the window sill in which I save up pound coins — they help to finance my bookie’s holidays — and smaller denominations like 2p and 5p coins.

Once a year I take a trip to the supermarket and run my savings through one of its cash counting machines. They take a percentage, but it’s worth a couple of quid for the excitement of waiting for the slip of paper to print out telling me that, after 12 months of painless saving, I’ve got near on £100 in cash.

Pocket money, like so many things, has its origins in America. It was popularised by Sidonie Gruenberg in her 2012 book Your Child Today and Tomorrow, as a means of teaching children to spend responsibly. But as for my finances, having reached a peak when I was 11, they seem to have gone down ever since. In real terms.

WE’RE GETTING OLDER

CUMBRIAN MP John Stevenson took the opportunity at PM’s Questions last week to serve a gentle reminder to Theresa May that we need to see more from senior ministers than flying visits to boost a by-election campaign.

During the run-up to the Copeland by-election the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers got out their maps and compasses and navigated their way to west Cumbria to support successful candidate Trudy Harrison.

Mrs. May said that Cumbria now has a strong new voice in Parliament, but the Carlisle MP reminded the Government that, for all the great natural beauty of the area, investment in infrastructure is needed if the area is to fulfil its business potential.

It goes much deeper than that for rural communities. Public Health England has warned that, behind the rolling hills and hedgerows, there lurks a potential countryside health crisis, with pockets of social deprivation going largely unnoticed by central government.

Many of us would not choose to live anywhere else. But we’ve all seen rising house prices and fewer job opportunities fuelling an exodus of young people, leaving behind a growing population of elderly people with poor access to healthcare. It’s a view echoed in a report co-authored by the Local Government Association, which says Cumbria is one of the counties with the highest proportion of older people.

Rural life is not all idyllic picture-postcard stuff for people with limited mobility. About 9.8 million people live in rural areas and 23.5 per cent. of them are over 65, compared with 16.3 per cent. in towns and cities.

With politics so Westminster-centred, you sometimes get the feeling that politicians have very little concept of life in rural areas. The royals may get a bad press from time to time, but neglect of countryside issues is not something they can ever be accused of.

There’s no stronger supporter of country folk than Prince Charles, while last week Princess Anne was in Upper Eden visiting parish halls, schools and mountain rescuers. Good for them, but even with royal backing there are times when Cumbrians feel the need to shout up to politicians and say “we’re still here, don’t forget us”.

BACKING NEEDED FOR AW’S WALK

THE contribution ramblers make to the UK’s tourism economy often goes under the radar, certainly when it comes to government. And yet when the Prime Minister, a keen walker, first met German leader Angela Merkel, what gift did she present? A copy of Alfred Wainwright’s coast to coast walk book, that’s what.

It’s said that, since AW trod that route in 1973, there’s not a day gone by when someone didn’t follow in his footsteps. Richmond MP Rishi Sunak spoke about its economic benefits at a Westminster Hall debate, pointing out the strangely anomalous situation where C-to-C does not have national trail status, nor does it feature on Ordnance Survey maps, and it is ineligible for funding for footpath maintenance.

It’s one of life’s ironies that Wainwright never seemed particularly fond of meeting large bodies of walkers on his missions to map and draw ways up the fells. Yet nobody has done more to inspire people to take to the healthy outdoors and it’s the millions of footsteps that have unwittingly led to the need for footpath repairs.

Supporters of AW’s coast to coast walk aren’t asking for huge sums of money. Just enough to ensure its preservation for future generations. Fifty-three local, district and county councils, plus national parks, members of the Wainwright Society and celebrity walkers, are all onside with Sunak’s campaign.

Mrs. May is probably busy with other pressing issues at present, but even if undertaking AW’s 190-mile walk is asking a bit much, could our rambling PM give ministers a firm nudge in AW’s direction?

THOSE ESCAPING FIVERS

THE Keswick bloke who wanted animal products used in the making of the new “plastic” fivers banned, could be on to something after all, for I reckon these new notes are forming an escape committee.

The other day a kind woman stopped me in the street to point out that a £5 note had almost extricated itself from my pocket and I was about to lose it.

Since then I’ve noticed that the new fivers are a bit too smooth and slippery for comfort. They have a life of their own. A fiver in your trouser pocket can’t resist an invitation to escape faster than Steve McQueen on a motor bike.

And it’s not just me noticing this strange behaviour by the new fivers. There’s been chat on the Internet about it. Posters reckon that it’s something do with the polymers in the notes reacting with polymers in our clothing.

One poster I read delivered this sobering warning. Under no circumstance put a fiver in a shirt pocket. An open invitation to scarper, apparently. Don’t say you weren’t warned.