Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 17th September 2018

I’M not a switcher by nature. Call me naive, call me lazy. But I harbour a belief, one that’s been steadily eroded over time, in fairness.

I did try switching once, to my present supplier. All sweetness and light they were at the start. Soon I was getting snotty letters from my old supplier. It took months to sort it all out in the end. Not quite the slick switching that TV money shows talk about.

More than 11 million households will save a combined £1 billion a year under plans to cap gas and electricity tariffs at £1,136, the energy watchdog announced last week. Ofgem says a typical customer will save £75 a year on average and the regulator, given powers by the Government in July to bring in the cap, hopes to have the measures in place by the end of the year.

I’m sick of rip-off prices and adverts harassing me into switching. I just want and expect a fair deal. Overcharging has been a disgrace and it’s we non–switchers who have been their patsies for too long.

It’s all right if you’re smart and know where to look for the best prices. But a lot of older people, plus those who are vulnerable, cannot be expected to make yearly price comparisons. Not everyone has a computer or the know-how.

Moves to block unjustified price rises are long overdue. If we can’t trust the energy firms, then at least someone will be watching our backs. But even so, energy experts say households will still be better off switching rather than relying on the cap to give them a fair deal. It seems, in the energy world, some definitions of fairness are different from others.

THE TRAIN IS THE STRAIN

IT’S years since I let the train take the strain. Working out ticket prices, routes and whether there will actually be any trains passes way over my head as I have neither the time nor a mathematics degree.

Baffling jargon will be banished from train tickets for half a million routes with phrases such as “route direct” and “any permitted” being removed or clarified to make it easier to buy the correct ticket.

Clever clogs buy tickets for intermediate stations and claim they save pounds rather than ticketing the direct route. I just want a system that’s clear and simple to use. Is that asking too much?

A recent study found that one in five passengers does not understand what type of ticket they need, while a third do not believe they are getting the best deal.

Anthony Smith, of Transport Focus, says removing jargon is a “significant step” towards a fares system passengers find easy to use. But, he adds, more fundamental reforms are required if train companies are ever going to enjoy the trust of the travelling public.

After this summer’s rail chaos, being ripped off and left standing at the station has been a double whammy that’s extra hard to forgive or forget.

STAN WAS THE MAN

IMAGINE some of our present day footballing superstars having to take to the stage in the off-season to earn a few bob to boost their wages.

The first player I remember featuring in adverts, back in the 1950s, was Stanley Matthews. He put his name to football boots that looked so cumbersome you wouldn’t try to get up Scafell in them nowadays. And yet they must have been state of the art for their time.

Sir Stanley was one of the great footballing icons, and yet he had to spend his summers working in vaudeville to pay the bills during the close season when players were on virtual subsistence pay. Even internationals had to go out to work, getting part-time jobs often provided by supporters.

In Stan Matthews’s case, he and his brother Ronnie were lucky that they lived in Blackpool where there were summer shows and they put on a head tennis demonstration with Stanley doing a few extra tricks with the ball.

Seemingly Stan wasn’t thrilled with the concept, but recalled later that it paid the bills. Billed as the Wizard of the Dribble, he was support act for a couple of well-known comics of the post-war era, Charlie Chester and Wee Geordie Wood, who did the summer season at the seaside resort.

Only the well-off had TV sets then, so it was probably the only time Blackpool holidaymakers had the chance to witness the skills of a masterly footballer. Messi, Ronaldo, Harry Kane even, are unlikely to ever need to resort to an eccentric stage act for extra income. Today’s superstars would regard it as demeaning.

But Stan Matthews lived in the real world where the earnings of a top professional were much the same as those of any other working bloke and the game’s stars could not afford to be sniffy about how they paid their way.

THE WRONG DIRECTION

I CALLED in at Frenchfield on Saturday to witness what has become a wearily predictable aspect of the new football season for Penrith, a defeat.

A far cry from my youthful reporting days when Albert Clapperton was smashing in the goals. “Ah, but you never saw Charlie Short,” regulars would remind me. In the 1960s newspapers printed Saturday night sports specials and I remember running to the nearest phone box to send over reports, usually to North East papers, every 20 minutes or so.

A far cry from today when I sit at my laptop at the back of the stand at Brunton Park and it is instant, mainly websites rather than sports papers which have died out due to advancing technology.

I’ve nothing but sympathy with the hard core of volunteers who keep clubs like Penrith going. Two teams in Penrith’s division of the Northern League have folded since the start of the season, which is indicative of a worrying trend. Big ideas, grandiose hopes, dashed in the cold light of reality.

Listening to former Penrith manager Matt Henney on my way to the game — he was talking to Radio Cumbria — I realised the true difficulty facing clubs like Penrith. Henney recalled that, during his time as manager of another local club, two players pulled out at the last minute saying they were taking their girlfriends to a One Direction concert. “Let the girls go together and you play football,” suggested Henney. You can guess the outcome. One Direction and the girls won the battle for the lads’ affections.

This is the first season Henney has not been directly involved in football. He was doing a bit of punditry for the radio on Saturday, but admitted it was “a relief” not to have the burden of running a club where it’s hard to find players and even harder to retain their interest when there are counter-attractions.

As for Penrith, they were outplayed at times, patently lacked confidence and a couple of players to calm it all down, but to their credit they didn’t give up. Sometimes that’s all you can ask. However, losing can become a habit. Their best player, Willie Paul, is twice the age of some of his team-mates.

On the way out I bumped into Doc Airey, a leading light in that quality side from the early 60s. Shame he’s not available next Saturday.

HAVE A HEART

TAKEN the test yet, have we? The NHS’s online test that is designed to tell you the age of your heart compared with your actual age.

The good news, if you are a reader who doesn’t enjoy my weekly ramblings, is that according to the test results I can expect to be popping off any time soon. The local undertaker is on red alert. At 71 I have the heart of a 95-year-old. Does that mean I am five years away from my Queen’s telegram?

They ask you all sorts of questions about your blood pressure and cholesterol levels — I haven’t a clue about the latter and probably pressed the wrong key — plus things like smoking, weight, family history and postcode. So there is a postcode lottery for life after all.

Nothing about the benefits of exercise and, oddly enough, there’s no mention of booze at a time when they’re telling us there is no safe limit. So carry on drinking that daily glass of red until some loony medic comes up with yet more nannying advice to the contrary, upon which I recommend two glasses.

And don ‘t worry if your heart is older than your age. Those with a good reading will just linger on longer, to die of something infinitely worse than your heart attack.