Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 22nd August 2017

TECHNOLOGY has moved on a lot since football journalists in the 1880s took a couple of pigeons along to games so they could tie reports to their legs and fly them back to the office. It was the beginning of those old Saturday night Football Pinks and Greens, which are sadly now defunct. Now you can get all the scores you need off the television and Internet.

They took two pigeons in case one didn’t make it and their reports were written on something akin to toilet paper in order to make the bird’s load lighter.

I had to evict a pigeon from my seat in the new press box at Carlisle United prior to the opening game of the new season, but that’s where links with those pioneer reporters ends, although I suspect this particular Brunton Park pigeon will not give up its residence lightly.

When I began covering sport in the 1970s, reports from distant football grounds were phoned in. Nowadays every reporter is plugged in to a laptop. Technology remains, to folk like me, a mystery. But needs must, and even the biggest Luddites among us have had to learn the basics.

I’ll admit I get annoyed when I see kids buried in their mobile phones or wedded 24/7 to their computer games, but then I’m from a generation that, unless you were well off, didn’t have cars or television. My mother never had a washing machine or fridge.

As a child I remember her working up a sweat as she battered sheets clean in a tub, then struggled to wring them through the mangle. Ah yes, it wasn’t that much better in the old days, really.

Modern kids live in a hi-tech age and, unless they keep up, they’re the ones who are likely to grow up to a depressing life of unemployment and banishment from social media.

Surprising maybe, but I share something of Robert Hannigan’s view that children need to develop a symbiotic relationship with the digital world, otherwise where are our computer scientists, engineers and spy catchers going to come from?

Hannigan is the former head of Britain’s electronic surveillance agency, GCHQ, and he’s got a message of reassurance for those parents whose offspring seem to spend an inordinate part of their lives on-line. He said: “If you are spending a disproportionate amount of your holiday unsuccessfully attempting to separate your children from WiFi or their digital devices, do not despair. You could be helping to save the country.”

Look, I have no idea what coding is. Needs must is my computer creed. Writing a weekly Herald column and despatching Keith Curle’s post-match words to the wider world are the limit of my abilities. But kids these days know everything. Sometimes too much. The Internet has many good points, and a few less good. But rather than discourage youngsters from using it, parents need to talk to their children about what they’re doing on-line. Maybe we oldies might learn something useful in the process.

For, let’s face it, in 10 years’ time you won’t be able to bank, apply for a driving licence, pay your taxes, register to vote and a host of other everyday tasks unless you are at least basically proficient with new technology.

This can be a frightening prospect for some. I know elderly people who are terrified that they won’t be able to cope. But technology is not going away. And the next generation of computer whizz-kids could be your kids or your grandchildren, so perhaps we need to encourage rather than complain after all.

We may not all like the world Mr. Hannigan portrays, but it makes sense to ride with it and adapt rather than close our eyes to the reality.

TAKING GENDER ISSUES TOO FAR

BACK then, in the 1950s, he was the family member they spoke about in whispers. I was too young to understand and I only met my distant cousin once, but later the penny dropped. He was born with gender issues. Neither fully male nor female, his childhood must have been a nightmare, facing gossip and prejudice. Brought up as a boy, when he got into his 20s he decided to live as a woman and, for the first time in his life, he felt closer to his true self.

I support diversity. I welcome openness. Things that most definitely did not apply to my cousin’s story in what, in the 50s, was a very different world from today. What worries me though is when diversity takes a giant step into madness. The madness that prompted an invitation to children as young as 13 to describe their gender from a list of any one of 25 different options in a Government-backed survey.

I must stress that Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield withdrew the survey, which was described as a “draft”, once issues were raised about the suitability of certain questions and the politicisation of the document.

The original survey asked youngsters whether they agreed people should be free to choose their gender. One leading family researcher said it amounted to “exploitation of children for the purposes of gender pressure groups”.

My own cousin’s story tells me that there are genuine gender issues out there, but my fear is that, rather than helping, this kind of thinking is putting unnecessary pressure on young people to question something that doesn’t really exist for the majority. It’s turning gender into something fashionable and politically-based.

Children growing up can be confused at times. They see so much sex on TV and the Internet and it’s not always good. But offering them a choice of 25 gender options in a questionnaire? That just seems so wrong.

HAVE A GOOD TWINE

TRAWLING the English regions for suitable dialect words to incorporate into National Poetry Day, they deemed the word “twine” to be Cumbria’s contribution.

Initially I considered it to be a strange choice, plucked from the many evocative dialect words you still hear in daily use. But then, thinking about it a bit more, I came to the conclusion that, as we are a bunch of twiners, the word twine suits us admirably.

Take where I live. This year alone we’ve had campaigns about parking, stuff that goes into £5 notes, kerbs that jump out and trip people up and, more recently, anti-Christian Convention feeling that has landed Keswick on TV and in the national newspapers as a mean-minded town.

Yes, twine. It’s one thing we do rather well. I wonder what the poets will make of it as they seek to include it in their latest offerings. As far as I know Wordsworth never wrote “twine” in any of his poems, so this could turn out to be a cultural first as the Lakes wallows in its new-found international heritage status.

So go on this weekend. Treat yourself. Have a good twine and feel better for it.

PARTRIDGE RETURNS

ALAN Partridge is a hard Brexit supporter. Sorry all you Brexit people out there, this has got to strike the biggest blow yet on behalf of us reviled Remoaners.

Steve Coogan’s cringeworthy TV presenter will become the BBC’s “voice of Brexit” when the comic character returns to the Corporation. The spoof presenter backed Brexit and his creator says: “He’s a Brexiteer because the Daily Mail told him to be. It’s a Little England thoughtlessness. He’s the kind of person, a bit like my dad, who tries to impress but it comes out all wrong.”

Coogan toured some of Cumbria’s top eateries with fellow comic Rob Brydon for a television series, The Trip, munching their pricey taster menus while exchanging witty badinage. Now he’s writing scripts for a new Partridge series, hopefully coming up with more inappropriate examples of Alan’s inept philosophy. In the next series he’ll be the man the BBC turns to in order to get in touch with Little Englanders. Hard Brexiteers, you have been warned.

GIVE US A CLARE-FREE DAY

THERE are “Days” for just about everything. In August alone you’ve probably missed National Scrabble Day, Coastguard Day, Book Lovers’ Day, Play In Sand Day, Tell A Joke and Bad Poetry Days. There’s even been a Lazy Day.

I’ve got an idea for a “day”. She’s good at her job, she’s popular with a lot of folk and she can turn her hand to almost anything from gee-gees to international sports events.

She’s on the radio doing country rambles and religious programs, she’s one of the BBC’s bigger female earners, and if that’s not enough she’s even moonlighting on Channel 4 and BT Sport.

I’m talking here about a National Clare Balding-Free Day, just to give us a rest.