Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 30th October 2018

TUMBLING out of bed these autumnal mornings my ancient and crackling arthritic joints sound almost musical. A Rachmaninov piano concerto, played on two sore knees and a bad back.

There are times when I wish my body could feel young once more. To dash up Scafell Pike on a Sunday morning whim or trot round the lake. Yes, I miss all that. You never think, when young, that you will grow old and bent and slow. I would like my aching limbs and muscles to, just once, remind me how it felt to be young and fit. But would I want to actually be young? Not for a million pounds.

I pity the upcoming generation who seem to be entering a joyless world, one where fun is forbidden. A new age of Puritanism. A world where everyone has to tread on eggshells for fear of causing offence to a vocal minority.

Youth was a time of experiment. It was when we made our mistakes and mostly survived intact. A time when we committed all our embarrassments, acted a bit foolishly, had hopes and dreams, believed in a better world. We had Bob Dylan at his caustic best. And a few drinks on a night out.

But being young doesn’t seem like that any more. One in three of those aged 16-24 have never touched a drop of alcohol. Researchers from University College, London, found that young people in England are not just drinking alcohol less, more of them are not drinking at all. Being teetotal is gaining wider social acceptance to the extent that it is becoming “mainstream”.

The UCL team examined data on nearly 10,000 16 to 24-year-olds, collected as part of the Health Survey for England 2005 to 2015, and found that the proportion that didn’t drink alcohol had increased from 18 per cent to 29 per cent. There were also significant decreases in the numbers of young people who drank above recommended levels.

Of course I’m not advocating excessive boozing, but these results tell us something about changing social and cultural patterns and attitudes. Good in the health sense. At last the Booze Britain label is being renounced by the young. That’s got to be welcomed. But, extending the outcome of the survey, a lot of these youthful non-drinkers expressed unhappiness and worry about their lives now and the future in an uncertain world.

When kids move on from school to university they are more likely to be asked for a gender statement than details of what they are studying. At Edinburgh University pronoun badges are made available during “welcome week” to avoid “misgendering” of youngsters who identify as non-binary and transgender. The university has published a guide that hammers home the importance of referring to others by the correct pronoun. Respect for others and their views is important. But it’s wrong when it extends to censoring language, and the Campaign for Real Education describes the policy as “remarkably silly”.

Those fortunate enough to win a place at Cambridge are being warned they may have to study books — Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, for example — with upsetting content. Lecturers claim the advice is to protect undergraduates’ mental health, even though many of the bard’s plays are known for their depiction of sex and violence. Trigger warnings allow students to prepare themselves to deal with potentially offensive or upsetting content in English lectures. Just wait until they get on to Titus Andronicus with its scenes of rape and cannibalism. They’ll be carrying the snowflakes out on stretchers from where they have passed out.

I recoil every time I hear the word “activist”. For too long we have walked on the other side of the road without challenging their wild and unfair accusations of bigotry and racism. Our culture is in danger of being suffocated by the narrow-minded fringe. Tear down statues and art works from gallery walls, remove books from libraries, rewrite history. One town recently banned a charity showing of Zulu at the local cinema.

Our future is in the hands of the young and they are gradually being led into what’s sold to them as equality and tolerance, but which is more often the opposite, a move to restrict free speech and imagination. Our present leaders are a poor lot, but where will the leaders of the next generation be found amid the snowflakes and the politically correct bullies? No more booze, There’s a new addiction. Playing games on their mobile phones, or whatever hi-tech device is next, and sheltering pitifully from the realities of life.

PR MAKEOVER FOR WORDSWORTH

SO Willie is to be rebranded to “build momentum and awareness” ahead of his 250th birthday in 2020.

Not before time, if you pay attention to a Poetry Society survey of verse enthusiasts aged 11-17, who were asked to name their top three poets of all time. Women featured strongly — Sylvia Plath came out top — but there was no mention of William Wordsworth in the top 10.

Wordsworth languished somewhere beneath Shelley and Keats, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou and Carol Ann Duffy. Clearly the one-time denizen of our Lakeland’s vales and hills, our most famous daffodil spotter, is in urgent need of a PR makeover.

A £6 million rebrand is under way and the Wordsworth Trust is seeking a “dynamic and creative” public relations agency to run its “Reimagining Wordsworth” campaign and present the trust as a “relevant and inspiring organisation”. The museum at Grasmere is to be modernised with the help of a £4.1 million Heritage Lottery grant.

It reminds me I once spent a day dressed in old-world costume with tight trousers and frilly collar and cuffs, posing as a poet, during an open day at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, the poet’s childhood home. Although I say it myself, I was rather good in the role of a romantic. Lots of scholarly ladies seemed impressed anyway.

One can only hope this rebranding will avoid the last time the tourist board brought out a video for YouTube that featured a human dressed as a squirrel rapping “I wandered lonely as a cloud”. Making Wordsworth down and cool with the kids? Enough said.

SPARKING THE SUPERHUB

PLANS are afoot to create a “superhub” for electrically-powered vehicles in the north of the county — a grid-scale battery paving the way for a project to charge 100 vehicles as part of a national sustainable charging network costing £1.6 billion.

Government plans to ban new petrol and diesel cars may be brought forward from 2040 to 2032 as part of the agenda to counter climate change, and this sounds like good news for motorists using the M6 where the company behind the scheme intends to create several charging points.

Surely no-one could object to the removal of polluting vehicles from our busy roads. But unless the Government plans more effectively for this concept than its record with several other schemes, it won’t win over the driving public at large.

Cars have to be competitively priced to incentivise people to switch. Charging costs must also be low enough and offer quick-charging facilities. And what about those who live in remoter parts of Cumbria? Knowing 100 motorists are getting a quick buzz in Carlisle may not be much consolation if you live in Nenthead or Millom.

There are still more questions than answers if this transport revolution is not to be stuck in the crawler lane.

MAKE BACK STOP A FULL STOP

SOME years ago the firm I worked for organised a cricket match. Not being one of the boss’s close-knit coterie, I was left on the boundary for much of the day. “Back stop” was my ordered position. It involved being struck periodically on the shins as the opposing batsmen dealt with the tripe bowling and retrieving lost balls from the field beyond. Very much an allegory for Theresa May’s back stop struggles with the EU.

Perhaps more “back stops” ought to be utilised when it comes to costly follies. HS2, for example. The planned new high-speed railway will cost taxpayers 25 per cent more than similar projects abroad, a leaked Department for Transport report has shown. How to turn a £52 million price tag into £100 million. Easy.

HS2 will plough through the countryside, knock down buildings and the cost of getting businessmen from the North to London 20 minutes earlier will rise, always provided there aren’t leaves on the line or the wrong kind of snow. A perfect back stop candidate, I’d say.