Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 13th February 2018

BEWARE the law of unintended consequences. That might be a salutary warning to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority as it considers implementing a massive hike in council tax bills for second home owners.

What’s happening today in the Dales will doubtless be watched with close interest by the Lake District and other national parks where there is concern about the depopulation of young people and the increase of second homes in the villages and valleys.

It’s a worthy aim, but I can’t help worrying that they are putting the cart — in this case second homes — before the horse, which is decent well-paid jobs. And, in seeking a solution to a more balanced population, the thinking could just be flawed.

It’s surely more complex than second homes being snapped up by outsiders. Young people move away to university and then see the wide world when it comes to their careers. What is there to bring them back to areas like the Lakes and Dales other than tourism? The world has shrunk, and they can head off almost anywhere now in pursuit of good jobs.

Naturally we want to retain the character that attracts millions of visitors. But we need something to stimulate the economy if our young people are to be drawn back to play their part in enhancing the vitality of our rural regions.

In the Dales, where there are 1,500 second homes, they have more people over 60 than under 25. But a fivefold increase in council tax for second homes will not necessarily end the exodus of youth. Affordable homes are all well and good, but no use without attractive jobs.

Carl Lis, the chairman of the Dales national park, says: “We are not prepared to sit idly by and watch the slow decline of communities.”

The decline in communities is about more than the proliferation of second homes. Shops, pubs, schools, police stations, banks, libraries, even churches have closed. Young people look at this decline. They don’t all want to work in tourism, traditional jobs have long since gone and it’s not just housing that’s their issue, it’s their long-term careers.

A further consequence of the tax plan is that it might simply depress the housing market and, if owners of second homes pull the plug, local tradespeople and businesses will suffer.

Who knows whether the Yorkshire Dales has brought forward brave new thinking, or has opened a can of worms with its five-year pilot project. Years ago young people went into family businesses or on the farms. Now they want bigger wages and better career opportunities than our areas are currently offering them.

LOST FRIENDS

I’M not a huge fan of American TV comedies, Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm a notable exception, and I watched only one episode of 1990s cult series Friends. That was because someone told me there was an engaging character called Ross and I guess I was curious to see what this “other” Ross was like. Especially when I read that he was “a sweet-natured man of good humour, although clumsy and socially awkward”. Just like me!

In its day — 10 series between 1994 and 2004 — Friends was seen as a sharp, funny commentary on life as a 20-something living in New York. Six friends shared romantic adventures and career issues and it regularly topped the ratings with nominations galore for Emmys. The finale, on 6th May 6th, 2004, was seen by more than 52 million Americans, making it the most watched television program of the 2000s decade.

Apparently Friends, which had some huge stars in the cast, the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Matt LeBlanc, is enjoying a comeback thanks to the availability of episodes on-line. I heard a psychologist talking on Radio 4 the other day about analysing the program so deeply that he was spending his entire weekends without sleep just to catch up.

But wait. Friends, harmless old Friends, has also attracted the attentions of the super-sensitive. It’s sexist, homophobic, transgenderist, fattist and racist, they claim. And if you’re caught watching old Friends’ episodes that brands you all of those things and more. It won’t be long now before the thought police come knocking at our doors in the middle of the night.

“Yes, my name is Ross. But no, I didn’t get Rachel pregnant after a one-night stand. That was David Schwimmer, the bloke who played Ross. Well, it wasn’t exactly Schwimmer, it was just the character he played and anyway I preferred It Ain’t Half Hot Mum … oops”.

It’s virtually impossible to find any telly program we watched before 2000 that isn’t considered offensive to the snowflakes. Admit you watched the Black and White Minstrels and Love Thy Neighbour or Mind Your Language and they’ll put you away for the rest of your days. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s history, dears. We’ve moved on since lightly clad girls in flats had to resist the amorous ventures of young bloods, but we can still look back at those TV shows that depict the 60s, 70s and 80s and gasp at how “ist” they all were and smile without feeling guilt.

It’s a pity the BBC didn’t consult Friends before allocating payment to its political presenters. It might have avoided that Carrie Gracie fiasco had it followed the collective bargaining example of the US cast. The series creator wanted all the actors to be equally prominent and before series two they agreed to have the salary of the least-paid member.

The producers of Friends once said it was “just a TV show”. Little could they have guessed that the on-line audience of 2018 would be branding it an offence against humanity and demanding old episodes be taken down.

APPLAUSE FOR CHURCHILL

REGRETTABLY I have not found the time to see the Churchill film Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman, but I’m told people in cinemas where it has been screened having been giving it standing ovations.

Churchill was the great enigma. Flawed yet courageous and inspiring when the country needed him. We could do with another Churchill in the modern political wasteland, but of course it’s impossible. A modern Churchill would be destroyed by social media and the censorious moralists of the snowflake generation.

There’s no place for flawed heroes any more. The present bunch of politicians are a shoddy and gutless bunch, preening and plotting with no real regard for democratic debate. Heaven save us if there was another war.

We stand and applaud at the flicks, but really we’ve handed over to those who want to remove paintings from galleries, break up speeches in our universities, whitewash history, abolish John Humphrys. It’s a wonder they haven’t ordered Churchill to be written out of the Second World War.

Folk aren’t being nationalistic in clapping a wartime hero, it’s an expression of sorrow for something lost.

ERASING HISTORY

SHOULD those blue plaques on buildings commemorate only the acceptable?

In Wolverhampton a debate is raging over Enoch Powell, he of the infamous rivers of blood speech 50 years ago, and whether his one-time home should be marked with a plaque.

My father was a huge Powell fan, and yet dad was no racist. No way. He said that Powell had served as a brigadier in the war and there was a lot more to this intellectual giant than that one speech. Poet, philosopher, MP for 24 years, cabinet minister.

No doubt Powell was a difficult man. When having a hair cut he was asked how he would like it. “In silence,” he replied. The odd thing is that he had fans on the left and right of politics — Tony Benn, Denis Healey and Michael Foot for example.

What Powell said in his notorious address effectively ended reasonable debate about immigration for many years. It would almost get him chucked in jail today. But the pity is that it’s all he is remembered for by many as he was an important political figure of his day.

Whether it’s Winston Churchill, Enoch Powell or others, we seem terrified of acknowledging our past. What is it we are so afraid of? Do we really need the easily offended, super-sensitive to tell us what bits of our history we are allowed to keep and which bits we need to erase from art and literature?

Are we so pathetic that we are unable to form our own judgement? Is that all we can do — stand and clap in the dark, safe among friends?