Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 18th April 2017

KIDS today feel they are victims of deprivation if they have not been to Disneyland or on the sort of holidays that weren’t even a dream when I was their age.

Our annual “holiday” comprised of a few days visiting relatives in the Midlands. Not much of a holiday for my mother — she spent the time cleaning her mother’s bungalow and catching up on some washing.

My father would hire a car for the journey. It usually broke down at some point on the A1. But for me it was great to have fish and chips for tea, travel round on trolley buses and, the absolute highlight, get taken to a proper league football match by my sports-daft uncles.

Did I feel deprived? Never. Was I taken out of school in term time? Never. My parents would not have dreamed of it. Too much respect for the school and its teachers.

That word respect. There’s not a lot of it about any more. That’s why, while I sympathise with genuine cases where parents’ jobs mean they have to take holidays at inconvenient times when it’s most expensive, I support the ruling of the Supreme Court and the landmark decision on term-time absences.

The judges ruled against parent Jon Platt who took his daughter to Disney World during school time in April, 2015. The case divided opinion between those calling for stricter policies on school attendance and those seeking fairer pricing from holiday companies at peak times. There are exceptions, such as religious observance and sickness, but the ruling means parents should not take their child out of lessons at any point without the headteacher’s approval.

Just think, what kind of chaos would ensue if teachers all decided to take a couple of weeks off in term time? Parents would be outraged that their children’s education was being made to suffer for the teachers’ convenience.

If the teachers have to show up for school then parents should jolly well do everything they can to ensure their kids attend. Education is not some optional extra. Some parents have claimed that foreign holidays can be mind-expanding experiences for their children. I’m not sure meeting Mickey Mouse exactly fulfils that criterion.

Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said that unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child, but also on the work of other pupils. Quite right, too. Teachers should not be expected to spend time helping kids to catch up work they’ve missed while on holiday. As if they have not got enough to do, and it takes up time that could be devoted to other children. It’s also disrespectful to the teachers.

What really got my goat was when one of Mr. Platt’s supporters had a go at summer holidays in this country, saying that a week in a seaside caravan with a couple of kids in the British weather, with nothing to do, just didn’t cut the mustard.

This is all about expectation and laziness. The expectation that these days only an exotic break will impress the Jones’s next door. The lazy view that there’s nothing to do when there’s plenty — if you can just get the family off their backsides and out there.

A few years ago a group of Cumbrian parents got together and produced a book crammed full of ideas for 50 family adventures in the area. Raft building, stone skimming, rowing, walks, museums, catching minnows, ropes courses, nature trails, cycling, even gold panning were just a few of their ideas.

Again, looking back to my own childhood, a day at the seaside, exploring rock pools and paddling, followed by ice cream, was a huge joy. We had simple pleasures, probably because our parents did not have the money for anything more expansive. But did we feel we were losing out? Not in the least.

The Supreme Court ruling may seem harsh for Mr. Platt and other parents — usually the richer ones — who want to take their kids out of school for reasons of budget or practicality. But when it comes to education, the judges have got it right.

And those people who maintain there’s nothing to do on holiday unless you are jetting off to Disney World, might do well to grab a copy of the parents’ little publication and start ticking off some of the wonderful, often free, attractions on their doorstep. To say there’s nothing to do is an insult to places like the Lake District which offer a rich storehouse of adventure in a healthy, if sometimes damp, environment.

CALLING ALL PEDANTS

THE satirist Craig Brown wrote one of the wittiest pieces I’ve read in a long time, about the annual day out at the seaside of the Pedants’ Association. Great stuff. Endless arguments over tautology and punctuation meant it took half the day before they could agree to set off. Once at the seaside a member of the party had her legs bitten off by a shark while fellow pedants debated the use of an exclamation mark after her cry for help.

Here’s a confession. I was a pedant, still am to some extent. It’s easier to quit smoking than to stop worrying about the appropriate use of semi-colons. I have tried my best to give it up, but even now I cannot resist rubbing out unnecessary apostrophes on chalk menu boards in pubs and restaurants. Even now, with the worst of my pedantry a distant memory, I recoil at the sign that advertises mushroom’s with your steak dinner.

At least I don’t go around with a step ladder, prowling the streets for errant signs above business premises, like the hooded crusader in Bristol — by day a highly-qualified engineer, by night a hooded vigilante sworn to improve grammatical standards.

“I do take it to heart. I think it’s a cause worth pursuing,” he told a newshound, who managed to track him down as he patrolled the mean streets with his correcting stick. “I think you can do it without causing too much offence. I’ve got to make sure it is technically right.”

The BBC ran a documentary about “The Apostrophiser” on Radio Four last week. Doubtless pedants everywhere spent the rest of the evening agonising over the use of the word apostrophiser. Meanwhile, the Bristol vigilante would be out on his rounds. No time for idling in front of the TV — sorry, television set — with punctuation marks to be covered up.

Like Craig Brown’s pedants, he’s the sort who would have stood arguing over a split infinitive and the spelling of “aaargh!” with or without the exclamation mark, while the shark dined at its leisure on Ms Everett’s legs. “I stand corrected,” she shouted. “Not any more, you don’t,” replied her fellow pedants.

A VERY DIFFERENT ROSS

ROSS rips off his shirt and the ladies swoon, shouted the headline.

Sorry, that’s Ross Poldark, not Ross Brewster. There was a time when I had a 32in waist and vestiges of a six pack, but these days it’s buried under an immovable mound of flab.

Poldark actor Aidan Turner gives women the vapours when he disrobes and the good news for his fans is they are starting to film a fourth series later in the year. Much of it with Turner shirtless, I suppose.

A while back I invested in one of those wonder machines that promise to restore your six pack, or at least reward daily exercising with the occasional sighting of a muscle. I’m up to 75 sit-ups at a session. My tummy has got larger and firmer. Is this supposed to happen?

I fear that if I rip my shirt off on the beach this summer, Poldark fashion, all I will get is belly laughs.

STEERING A SAFE COURSE

THE Ordnance Survey has gone 3D with its latest maps which offer an aerial view of Scafell Pike and other peaks in fine detail while at your desktop.

OS says there’s extra safety in being able to draw on a picture of where you plan to walk. However, it still suggests you might like to take the correct paper map with you, just in case.

When visibility gets down to five yards, as it tends to suddenly do on the fells, I would think a good old map and compass might be every bit as useful as a modern tablet with Google. And the ability to use them, of course.

NOT ALL GOOD EGGS

A LAST thought concerning the row over Cadbury and the National Trust and dropping the word “Easter” from the name of their annual egg hunt.

I suppose Theresa May, the daughter of a vicar, and Archbishop John Sentamu are entitled to express their Christian disgust at the omission.

But I wonder just how many of the outraged, those who jumped on the bandwagon of righteous indignation, will see the inside of a church this Easter?