Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 15th August 2017

THIS week I came across a funny yet disturbing story about our lack of knowledge and understanding of where our food comes from.

A customer who had purchased a chicken from a farmers’ market took it back soon afterwards, complaining bitterly that the bird he had been sold was a dud. It only had two legs, he moaned. He had been expecting four, “which is how they come in the supermarket pack”.

You might think at first sight it’s one of those “you couldn’t make it up” tales that have been embellished by the passage of time. It’s in a new book written by a countryside expert. I tend to believe it’s true. There is huge ignorance about where our food comes from and how it is produced.

Findings recently revealed by the British Nutritional Foundation were something of a horror story when it came to children’s appalling lack of knowledge of food sources. The survey of more than 5,000 children aged from five to 16, came up with several worrying beliefs including a quite commonly held theory that pasta comes from animals. Some youngsters said eggs are from cows and fish fingers are made of chicken.

Something important seems to be missing from the education process when such basic ignorance prevails. One can only think that the majority of children who took part in the study were from urban schools where little is being done to widen their knowledge of nutrition beyond what they glean off the Internet.

The survey went a step further, discovering that, in primary schools, seven in 10 teachers said they had not undertaken any professional development in “food” during the past two years.

It is, of course, scandalous that such levels of ignorance exist in this day and age. Perhaps the left field appointment of Michael Gove as Andrea Leadsom’s successor as Environment Secretary will prove surprisingly beneficial in raising the importance of farming and food production.

Might it not be a good idea for Mr. Gove, brought back into the political mainstream after the election, to get together with his education counterpart and come up with some ideas to promote better knowledge of the food industry among young people.

Not that government ministers appear to be doing much constructive talking these days as they vie for position and power behind a distinctly vulnerable Prime Minister.

However, Mr. Gove did show willing last month when he turned up at the Great Yorkshire show to deliver an optimistic message to farmers and producers. The problem is that, post-Brexit, Mr. Gove will more than likely be post-environment as well, such is the short shelf life of ministers on the uncertain shifting sands of government.

However, it’s a welcome change for a Defra minister to be seen outside Westminster and to be taking a close interest in countryside issues. The PM enjoys country walks, but I suspect that’s about as far as Theresa May’s comprehension of the countryside goes. When did she last say anything important on the subject?

In the world of four-legged chickens and carrot trees, maybe it’s time this sadly-lacking aspect of education was given more emphasis.

SECOND CHILDHOOD FOR OLDIES

THAT program on Channel 4 about a bunch of four-year-olds being unleashed on a Bristol retirement community was revealing.

Why do people think that, because people grow old, all they want to do is spend their declining years sitting around among a bunch of even more grumpy oldies?

The message which came across loud and clear from Old People’s Home For Four-Year-Olds, was that even the most curmudgeonly codgers found themselves being won over by the energy and affection of the kids.

There’s a tendency in modern society to segregate seniors instead of keeping them with their families and neighbours. So much wisdom and affection is lost. You could not help being moved when one young child flung herself into the arms of an elderly woman she had made friends with the day before.

The kids soon formed a bond with the elderly people and the impact on the mental and physical health of the oldies was amazing.

In our nervous society, kids are discouraged from talking to adults, but these octogenarians seemed safe and, after a little encouragement, willing to forget their aches and pains for a while to get down and dirty with face painting and sports.

There was still a tendency on the part of the program makers to patronise. But nevertheless there were some valuable lessons to be taken from the experiment, not least that pensioners do have something useful to contribute, and do not want to be stuck away amongst other old people all the time. Here the kids and the oldies gave to each other in equal measure.

NO WINNERS

A CHILD’S death is always sad and Charlie Gard’s story was a tragic case that became public property and, for a few weeks, was never away from the headlines or the TV news bulletins.

I find it equally tragic that the reputation of Great Ormond Street Hospital was trashed to such an extent that, in The Guardian on Saturday, a member of the medical team that helped treat Charlie felt it necessary to go public to condemn ill-informed politicians and religious leaders for stoking abuse of the hospital and its staff and undermining confidence in the treatment of its young patients.

The clinician said the furore over Charlie’s case had already led to some nervous parents questioning the judgement of doctors and spoke of colleagues’ shock at becoming the target of “horrendous and offensive” on-line abuse and campaigners camped outside the hospital.

They’ll have gone now, with their home-made placards and their rent-a-crowd chanting, to find some other cause. Meanwhile, months of frustration and concern have taken their toll on staff at the hospital.

Doctors and nurses don’t want any child to die. Yet the expert consultants found themselves being lectured by people who had only the sketchiest knowledge of Charlie’s condition. Once the Pope and Donald Trump got involved it truly became a soap opera and once emotion and the law were thrust together there were to be no winners.

Staff treating other children on the cancer ward were branded “killers” and “scum” and made victims of death threats by opportunists who did not have a fraction of their concern for sick children like Charlie.

Charlie is at peace. His tragic story left behind only losers, not least a world-renowned hospital whose reputation has been unfairly sullied.

MINTY HINTS

WEALTHY racehorse owner Michael O’Leary — he owns Ryanair — and his racing manager brother Eddie apparently have an unusual way of saying “you’re fired”. “Let’s go for a cup of tea,” is reportedly the Gigginstown Stud owner’s preferred means of dispensing with an individual’s services.

This reminds me of former Carlisle United manager Alan Ashman’s delicate way of telling a player that he was being dropped for Saturday’s game, or expressing his displeasure at something written or said about his team.

Ashman always kept a packet of mints on the desk in his office at Brunton Park. Out of favour players would be called in on Friday morning and offered one. They invariably knew bad news was coming.

I once incurred Ashman’s mild disfavour. Something I had written about a transfer request. I, too, was invited into his office for Alan to proffer a mint and an expression of his disappointment. Nothing more was said after that. It was never referred to again. That was Alan Ashman.

As a player Ashman scored 98 goals for Carlisle in more than 200 appearances before a knee injury forced his premature retirement. But it was as the manager who led United into the First Division and was in charge during several of the club’s most successful seasons that he is best remembered.

He also managed Penrith before taking over at Carlisle and, while manager of West Brom, was an FA Cup winner. He moved back to the Midlands and died in Walsall in 2002. Never one to say something outright when a Polo could do the job, you might say that Alan Ashman invented the original hint with a hole in the middle.