Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 12th March 2018

WHILE we seem to read almost daily horror stories about the activities of paedophiles, there’s a danger of our suspicions getting the better of us.

Take the story of the man and woman who just happen to like small animals and went along to a petting zoo only to be denied entrance —because they did not have children.

How dreadful to assume that a perfectly innocent couple, just because they are not parents, might be a danger to youngsters. The animal park owners stood by their decision to refuse entry quoting safeguarding rules.

They aren’t the only ones, because when a father checked in at a hotel in Cheshire, along with his 14-year-old daughter, they were questioned by police after staff reported the dad as a suspected sexual predator.

Karl Pollard had taken his daughter, Stephanie, to visit her grandmother in hospital before she underwent treatment for lung cancer. But hotel staff assumed he was a paedophile and while he faced questioning Stephanie was reduced to tears.

Not the first time it’s happened either. Last year, a 46-year-old widower was accused of being a sex offender when he tried to book a room for himself and his daughter as part of a theme park treat.

Would-be abusers are far cleverer than to go round petting parks grooming kids instead of goats, and smarter than to book hotel rooms with their victims at their side in broad daylight. We are right to concern ourselves about the evil paedophiles out there in society. Social media has proved an effective grooming ground for many of them. Others infiltrate organisations with youngsters, or have family links with their victims.

But unfounded suspicion has been generated by the publicity surrounding the activities of these paedophiles. There’s not an abuser hiding behind every bush and tree in the park. They are more likely to be posting anonymously on their laptops or plucking disadvantaged kids in care off the streets and building relationships before turning to abuse. I know adults who say they’ve become wary of talking to children in case someone gets the wrong idea.

Once we start suspecting everyone who just happens to have a teenage child, or no kids at all, we’re in real trouble and the offenders we ought to be worrying about are the winners in promoting unnecessary fear and suspicion.

MORE FOR LESS

DEATH and taxes. Life’s only certainties they say. Regarding the latter, I suspect that when the next council tax bills arrive, most of us will feel we are being asked to pay more for less.

‘Twas ever thus. If you read the 50 years ago section in last week’s Herald, you will have noted nothing much changes. Cumberland County Council’s Finance Committee, even then, was prognosticating gloomy times ahead.

A 3d — that’s d not p mark you — rise in council tax was fixed for the coming year. If you are a young reader perhaps you’d better ask granny about old pennies and how much better off we were pre-decimalisation when every cost seemed to get rounded up and never down. I don’t know how that 3d extra compares to what we are likely to pay now. But even with tax increases, local authorities will still fail to offset the demand for cuts in key public services. They could stop paying inflated salaries to some of their senior executives, but that’s another moan for another day.

It’s getting to a point where council tax will barely cover the basics and the most vulnerable will suffer from further cuts. Why the government doesn’t announce a national consensus to bring together health and care services and start addressing the needs of the frail and elderly, which will only get greater with the passing of time, is beyond me.

We will end up having to top up council tax if we want, for example, a local bobby on the beat or the ever-deepening pot holes down our road mending. A quid a week for a policeman. A fiver a month for road repairs. All on top of the basic taxes.

Whatever shocks our next bills contain, the complaints that threepenny rise in 1986 generated seem almost laughable in comparison.

TOWN CENTRES SUFFERING

I’VE just heard that of our local shops, a family enterprise with a name that goes back many decades, is set to close. Too many costs involved in town centre trading these days.

This is a pattern I suspect we’ll see repeated over and over as town centres become less viable now most of us do our buying on the internet from companies like Amazon who have established a nigh unstoppable dominance. Two major companies have gone into administration in the past fortnight. No doubt this will lead to shutting less profitable branches. Shopping habits have changed drastically and the survivors are the stores that got ahead of the game with their online offers.

Who, 20 years ago, would have forecast that stores like BHS and Woolies would be closed and that jobs in stores would be radically reduced. Online is great until you have a problem. These days it’s virtually impossible to speak to a real voice at the other end of the ‘phone or to get expert advice like the sort Maplins, one of the companies put into administration, had an outstanding reputation for providing.

I remember my dad back in the 1950s going to buy a single nail at the local ironmonger’s. They spent half an hour looking for one, found it and charged him a penny. Not cost effective, you wouldn’t get that personal service nowadays. Banks have run out on us, costs are driving shops out of business and the internet grows stronger. As 5,500 workers discovered last week, rumours of businesses going into administration were well-founded. A shopping centre in Falkirk, valued at £26m in 2006, was sold for £1 million last October. “In those days the internet was no competitor,” lamented Glenn Maud, who owned the centre until 2012.

Is the face of our town and city centres irrevocably changing? More familiar shops will go to the wall before we get an answer, that is certain.

A GLOOMY TASK

IN a throwback to a different era of journalism, The Times newspaper published the names of the mourners — around 150 of them — who attended the funeral service of former Essex and England cricketer Doug Insole. As a young reporter, standing outside church waiting for the mourners to leave and endeavouring, not always successfully, to write down their names, it was a job that made the heart sink.

While a more senior colleague was inside the church juniors had to stand and shiver — services always seemed to take place in the dead of winter — among the gravestone outside. Some mourners already had cards bearing their details to present to the reporter, but most had to be approached for their names and titles. I remember the horror of one service I attended. As I loitered outside the main door awaiting the rush of departing mourners, I suddenly spotted the majority leaving by a different side door. Too late. Many had gone before I could dash round to begin the process of gathering the names.

Trouble inevitably ensued. Already various military high rankers and toffs, the Mr Cholmondeley-Warners of their time, were huffing on the phone to the editor. I don’t rightly remember if we went ahead and published the few names I had got, or whether the whole thing was a dog’s dinner and had to be omitted entirely. But my name was mud for a couple of weeks — until the next big funeral.

Doug Insole, whose funeral commanded the full works in The Times, was a controversial cricket administrator — the selector who dropped Geoff Boycott for “selfish” batting after his 246 against India. It’s not recorded if Boycs was present at the funeral of Insole, who died aged 91. One presumes not, although The Times’s correspondent, given journalism’s worst task, may just have missed a few mourners in the rush for tea and cakes at Lords.

GRAVE OFFENCE

WANNA draw a crowd at your funeral? Then book a stripper. The Chinese ministry of culture has launched a crackdown on “vulgar and pornographic” funeral strippers with some rural communities believing hiring performers increases attendances, thus honouring the dead.

Sounds a mint idea to me. What a send off. Just one thing, can I have my funeral now, while I’m still around and able to enjoy it?