Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 5th November 2018

IF there’s one thing that does this old heart good it’s when I hear stories about pensioners — I’m one — rising up against a perceived iniquity.

We’re a pretty easygoing bunch on the whole. And happy? According to the Office for National Statistics older people are actually the happiest members of society and have a good sense of their self-worth.

So we don’t have the stresses that are driving under-35s into depression with their worries about a lack of job satisfaction and finding somewhere to live away from mum and dad. We now have the time, health permitting, to take holidays and learn fresh skills. Older people are the backbone of so many local groups and societies.

So youngsters don’t have our rheumatics. We move a bit slower than we once did and we do tend to bang on a bit about the old days being better, even if they weren’t that good really. But what the heck, at least we are not rushing around trying to beat the traffic, catch the bus or train, and get to work on time.

The statistical study contradicts the widespread perception that growing old brings mainly loneliness, isolation and ill-health. Older people, it says, are emotionally better off than the young and middle-aged. The ONS found that more than four out of 10 people aged 65 to 85 have a very high level of happiness. Compare that with 45-49 year olds, fewer than 30 per cent of whom saw themselves as happy as they struggle to juggle jobs, finances and family problems.

But, just because we are happy, don’t regard us oldies as a soft touch. No, sir. We laugh at ourselves and our deficiencies. We aren’t looking for hate crime round every corner. But we will rise up if we feel we are being taken for mugs.

Pensioners, irritated by a trend for museums and gardens to get rid of discounted prices for senior citizens, have resorted to small acts of revenge. The Times recently reported that visitors to some tourist attractions, upon discovering their concessions had disappeared, refused to sign gift aid forms that would cost them nothing, but allow the attractions to claim money from the government. Others have left negative reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor.

Many of the attractions say OAPs are benefiting from a price structure that is a hangover from the 1950s and 60s. However, Age UK points out that, contrary to the urban myth that the older population is rolling in money, millions of elderly folk are managing on a tight budget and a cut-price ticket may be the difference between being able to go out or not.

Our physical fitness may decline, but older people are more empathetic and positive than younger folk — the survey’s opinion, not just mine. We see the best in situations and although we joke about being like Victor Meldrew or Hyacinth Bucket, the reality is that we aren’t as pessimistic and accident prone as the TV characters portray us.

It’s just that once in a while we are roused into action, and then people discover that OAPs are creative and determined when they feel wronged and strike back. Power to the pensioners.

CLOSER TO HEAVEN

THERE is nothing quite so peaceful and inspiring of our past as time spent in an old church — even if you aren’t religious. I don’t profess to hold any religious beliefs, but that does not mean I can’t enjoy the experience of wandering round a historic church or cathedral and admiring the remarkable skills that built them all those years ago.

In Cumbria we are rich in atmospheric churches. The county’s churches have topped a poll which compared more than 2,000 churches in England, rating them for their architecture, historic value, atmosphere and famous connections. The national map for heritage hunters, created after an extensive survey for the National Churches Trust, says Cumbria has the highest percentage of churches offering atmospheric surroundings.

Often these churches are small and rural and referred to as “thin places,” an old term used by Celts and Christians to describe the close proximity to Heaven. Sunday attendances may have dwindled in many churches, but the survey revealed that 49 per cent of us visited a church in the past year and congregations are being urged to make more of their heritage to attract visitors.

For once Cumbria pushes London into the background with its claims to historical events and celebrated figures. Some of the churches in the north of the county were built with stones from Hadrian’s Wall, while in Grasmere the churchyard of St Oswald contains Wordsworth’s grave.

Norfolk came top for its interior features, Shropshire for exploring churchyards and Northamptonshire for ancient monuments, but Cumbria’s “other worldly ambience” struck a chord with visitors.

Our churches have an important role in bringing communities together, especially these days when parts of rural Cumbria are increasingly populated by second and holiday homes and when local services and facilities are disappearing. And whether you have belief or not, they are still the place we look towards for solace and spiritual inspiration in times of trouble.

It’s vital that we retain a passion for churches both in a historical sense, but also for their continued survival as focal points of communities.

A LOST CAUSE?

CHIEF constables say the police will no longer accept lost property which is handed in at police stations. What police stations? They have all been closed.

Dealing with lost property may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, but it is one more way in which the police are losing touch with the public.

Back in the day, we reporters had a regular midweek date at the local cop shop. We went along for a cuppa and a chat, picked up stories about local crime and helped get out messages relating to crime prevention and road safety. We knew the local bobbies well and they knew and trusted us.

I doubt in this day and age many local hacks have ever seen the inside of a police station. Along with most other smaller towns we lost our police station more than a decade ago. Along with the adjoining magistrates’ court it is now a Wetherspoons and a novelty for customers who barely remember when we had police stations and local justice.

Members of the public used to hand in found property. Anything from a dropped fiver in the street to a wad of readies, from lost watches and wallets to bank cards and items of real value and importance to the loser. It was reassuring to know so many honest folk were around. And occasionally the police received information that proved useful. Now it’s not just contact with people they have lost, it’s the decriminalisation by stealth of so-called low level offences such vandalism, theft and antisocial behaviour.

The public perception is of an increasingly less visible police force and, once people lose faith, we are in dangerous waters.

ARMCHAIR THRILLS

WORRYING news for Wainwright fans. The day may not be too far distant when nobody needs one of AW’s famous guides any more. Indeed it may be possible to reach the heights without leaving terra firma — or the hotel bar.

The latest way to explore travel hot spots is to ease back into a comfy chair, put on a virtual reality headset and take in the view from a drone camera beamed at you live from hundreds of feet above. Companies from Cornwall to Mauritius are charging from a fiver to £34 for a 15-minute aerial tour where a drone pilot uses a remote control to bring bird’s eye footage to small groups of visitors.

Are we really at the dawn of a golden age of armchair tourism? Is this the answer to thousands of footsteps wearing away our fells? No more crowds. Forget long walks waiting for the slowcoaches to catch up. Today I fancy doing Striding Edge. So I’m scared of heights. But this is a drone doing the awkward bits. Just order another pint and sit back.

Don’t we have enough problems with obesity without providing the thrills of areas like the Lake District for the lazy? What would AW have made of it all? Drones disturbing the sacred peace of Haystacks, his final resting place. I suspect the old boy would not be amused.