Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 3rd December 2018

THREE hearty meaty cheers for climate minister Claire Perry’s declaration on BBC News that it’s not the Government’s place to tell people they can’t eat steak and chips despite the environmental impact.

Attempts by government to tell us what we can’t do rarely play out well. Buoyed by Ms Perry’s commonsense comments, I immediately bunged a juicy piece of sirloin on the George Foreman grill, got the oven chips in the microwave, and enjoyed a gloriously guilt-free dinner.

There seems to be a disturbing trend these days to drain all elements of fun from our lives. Those who wish us to give up our steak and chips won’t be deterred easily. On the very day Ms Perry’s comments were being reported, Christopher Snowdon, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, predicted that taxing food, which at least the food authority believes is bad for us, will be “the next battleground for the nanny state”.

A friend skipped home from work the other day after cheerfully celebrating her birthday in the office by sharing cakes. Just the thing to liven up a dull day you might think. A slice of cake never did anyone any harm … or did it?

Health chiefs have warned that the practice of sharing cake with colleagues is adding to the national obesity crisis and should be avoided. Instead co-workers should celebrate with cucumber, carrots and celery sticks. Healthy alternatives should be provided. Not that the nanny state is likely to send round the health police to feel the collars of indulgent cake eaters just yet. But give it time.

The advice from Public Health England is that bosses should “begin a conversation” about how special events are to be marked. Mr Snowdon says they are “trying to suck the joy out of life.” I’m on his side with this one.

So is former Great British Bake Off winner Nancy Birtwhistle who said: “Eating cakes does not in itself cause obesity. I’d struggle to make a showstopper celebration cake from carrots, celery and a cucumber.”

Celebrating birthdays and other special events with colleagues at work helps to brighten up the day and bring staff closer together. A nibble on a cream cake may add a fraction of an ounce to the waistline, but think of the pleasure it gives.

“Thinking about healthier habits at work is a good idea,” says PHE. I don’t know about you, but a celery stick on a birthday just doesn’t do it. I’d rather take the risk, have a slice of chocolate cake, and be damned.

A DEATHLY DEAL

IT’S a good deal. Least ways I think it’s a good deal. A few years ago I put a very modest few quid in a building society. In return for my valued custom it offered a will writing service — and the chance to pay a fixed price sum for my own funeral.

Compared to the rising price of funerals it was a cheap deal. However, I’ve since wondered what other things I could have done with the money. At the time it would have nearly got me round the world, paid for a new striker for Carlisle United or bought me a potential Grand National winner or, more likely, a nag that would end up pulling the milk cart, although most of those would now be out of reach such is the increased cost of dying.

It’s the sort of deal advertised endlessly on daytime TV. June comes round, hears about the funeral package — the one Parky’s on about — and promptly takes out her own insurance to save the family the trouble later on when she pops her clogs.

As we get older I suppose we think more about our finale. Death is inevitable for all of us. When you’re younger it hardly crosses your mind, although it’s always more tragic when a young life is cut short. Thankfully it is becoming less of a taboo subject.

When BBC presenter and newsreader Rachel Bland died from breast cancer in September — she was just 40 and left a young family — there was an openly expressed sadness in tributes from colleagues and a remarkably explicit and yet comforting contribution by a counsellor who deals with death on a daily basis.

You hope that, when your turn comes, you can face death with the equanimity 91-year-old Jean Hedley did when she wrote her own advance obituary notice for the local paper in which she said she had “finally popped her clogs” and “it was time to go” and be reunited with her late husband, Ted.

Mrs Hedley told friends and family: “Don’t be sad, she was ready. There are to be no flowers, no tears, no sad poems and hymns. Only smiles, happy memories and pretty colours. Your love, support and kindness have been wonderful and I’ll miss you all.”

Even the most modest of funerals can be expensive. Citizens Advice Carlisle and Eden recently highlighted the case of a funeral company refusing to release the ashes of a woman to her son until the bill of around £4,000 was paid in full.

Andy Auld warned of the temptation to go over budget in the aim of providing a lavish send-off. “We have clients on a low income who now have a debt of over £4,000 which they cannot afford to pay,” he said.

If I had a quid for every time someone has asked me if I’ve penned my own obituary — I have not got round to it yet— I would be having the full works at my funeral and not the basics that my deal covers such as a hearse, a quick flick round the crem, and someone to say a few words.

The problem with writing your own obit is restraining the need for humility. An author once wrote a book about humility and told an audience at a literary do some time later “it has never been superseded”.

I have written hundreds of obituaries in my reporting life, but I confess my own is the hardest to contemplate.

DEFENDING MISS DAISY

THEY are already threatening the removal of sheep, including our very own Herdwicks, from the fells with the argument that overgrazing is one of the causes of flooding. Soon thousands of trees will be marching over fellsides where once sheep quietly munched the grasses.

And as for cows, well we’re told climate change is all their fault. Not the industrialised nations like India, China and the United States where Donald Trump doesn’t even believe it’s happening. Whoever thought windy old Daisy was bringing down the planet.

A Times correspondent at least put up a decent defence of your humble cow. Cows do not cause greenhouse gases and so can have no effect on climate change, he wrote. “They and other ruminants are part of the natural carbon cycle. Ruminants simply recycle carbon. It is not called the carbon cycle for nothing.”

Vocal minorities have power out of all proportion to public support and I can foresee a day, not many years hence, when agriculture and the countryside in places like Cumbria will be changed forever.

In America a company is working on meat grown in vats rather than taken from animals. It says it will deliver the world’s first commercially available cell-based meat before 2018 is out and stresses the potential for this “meat” to have a lower environmental impact. Another body blow for poor old Daisy, then.

WOOLLY THINKING THREAT TO FARMERS

I LIKE to think I am kind to animals. But I’ve got nothing on the knit-wits from the animal rights group Peta which has called on the Dorset village of Wool to change its name as it “promotes cruelty to sheep”.

No matter that wool has been the mainstay of British trade since the Middle Ages, or that the village name is derived not from sheep but from an ancient word for a well, the politically correct has its eyes everywhere seeking out offence and a cause.

In York, vegans — I’m not anti, but it’s a lifestyle choice not a demand — have scored a public relations victory with the renaming of a pub, for 60 years the Shoulder of Mutton, to a bland new title in the hope of attracting non-meat eating customers.

No more mutton, dressed as lamb or otherwise. Meat is fast becoming a dirty word in the eyes of the PC brigade. The time will come when cows and sheep join the dinosaurs in Jurassic parks where tourists come to see what life was once like in the British countryside. And farmers, as we know them, will not be far behind in taking up their place in the museums.