Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 14th January 2019

THE editor was plainly shocked as he reached for a glass of fortified water to calm his nerves. “I want to introduce more ‘f words’ in the column in the coming months,” I announced. He had jumped to the obvious conclusion when all I meant was these “f words” stood for fun.

Wasn’t 2018 a dreary year for fun lovers? It’s as if there was a campaign to remove all elements of fun and turn our lives into some dismal celebration of correctness and the studious removal of anything that might just give one sad soul offence.

Just before Christmas the comedian Konstantin Kisin pulled out of a charity gig at the School of Oriental and African Studies because the organiser, Unicef on Campus, insisted he must not, at any time in his act, say anything remotely funny. They handed him a “behavioural agreement form” listing stuff he was forbidden to joke about and quite rightly he told them where they could put it.

The list contained every “ist” known, and indeed a few more previously unknown, to mankind. All, this, they said, to ensure “an environment of love, joy and acceptance reciprocated by all”.

It all came to a head for me a few months earlier when the Two Ronnies were branded racist for some long forgotten sketch in which Ronnie Corbett, dressed as a sheikh, has a convoluted conversation with Ronnie Barker, playing a shopkeeper, which results in a lot of misunderstandings and mispronouncing. A forerunner of the classic “fork handles” sketch.

A school head thought that by screening the sketch it would lighten up a dreary parents’ information evening. Rather than be pleased parents were outraged and he was forced to issue a grovelling apology for the “inappropriate” clip.

Our problem is being unable to understand that things we saw on TV 50 years ago were not as politically correct as we demand now. It’s useful and important to see how many attitudes have changed for the better. But we have moved on into an era of ever more censorial behaviour. We are losing the skill of using intelligent judgement. Irony? It’s dying. The Government and indeed the media are terrified of causing offence. Soon our neighbours will be listening at the walls to hear if we say anything controversial before reporting us to the thought police.

It’s driven by a vocal minority and it’s draining the fun out of our lives and it’s more than just about the “f word” which I’m sure will offend at least one reader, it’s about the way in which our freedom of expression is steadily being dragged from under us.

DECLINED WITH DIGNITY

THE dignified way in which pop singer Ariana Grande declined a New Year Honour left me greatly impressed in this world of aspiring celebrities.

She was performing at the Manchester Arena the night a bomb was set off, killing 22 people and injuring dozens of young fans. Two weeks later she returned to host a special concert in the city and plans another concert at the venue, the scene of the tragic events, later this year.

She could have accepted the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire in the New Year honours list, but politely declined, saying it was too soon after the tragic events of Manchester. What a contrast with the attention seekers who would no doubt have revelled in a visit to Buckingham Palace to be photographed receiving their gong from the Queen.

I have nothing against England football manager Gareth Southgate and striker Harry Kane, but when their names came up in the honours I could only wonder what have they actually won. A reasonably successful World Cup last summer maybe, but surely it’s too soon to start dishing out honours when one would hope the best of their respective England careers lies ahead of them.

Wasn’t it ironic that the day the awards were announced, Kane was accused of “going down rather quickly”, as they say in football, when describing a national hero who is accused of diving to win a cheap free kick.

Imagine the scene at the Palace. Her Maj, no particular footie fan, asking Harry: “So you’re a diver, then. Like that nice young Tom Daley?”

The honours list contained many worthy recipients this time, but it still abounds with the names of public servants, government-supporting politicians, annoying MPs who they want to buy off with a medal, and a sprinkling of celebs. Mostly it’s people just doing their jobs. The inordinate rush to honour sporting and entertainment stars is all too often premature, hardly merited and a sop to public opinion of the whole flawed system. By all means give the likes of Harry and Gareth gongs, but wait for them to actually lift the World Cup first.

FOOD SNAPPERS

IT’S not often I get to dine at a posh restaurant, but the opportunity did arise a couple of weeks before Christmas. The food was every bit as good as the place’s reputation suggested it would be, but even in the posh dining room I found cause for grumpiness.

Why, oh why, do people believe it’s a good idea to take their tablets and mobile phones with them when they go out to dine, in order to take photographs of their meals? Presumably it’s so they can bung the pics on Facebook or whatever social media platform they post on.

Who wants to sit looking at a computer screen with a picture of someone’s dinner displayed on it? Do the folk who post pictures of their food, no matter how artistically it is arranged, really believe their friends and family are vaguely interested in the contents on their plate?

In the restaurant where we were eating there was the predictable forest of phones shooting up seconds after the waiters had delivered the meals. Admittedly the food was beautifully presented, real Masterchef finalists’ standard, but by the time it had been snapped from every possible angle it was most probably cold.

For many families meal times are no longer an opportunity to bond and share the crack, but a running battle over the use of mobile phones at the table. One restaurant came up with a novel publicity stunt recently in a bid to get people talking and eating at the table.

The No Phone Zone campaign at Frankie & Benny’s gave families who wanted to take part a box in which to deposit their phones and tablets. If they managed to survive a whole meal without going back to check for messages or take those infernal photos, the children’s food was free.

When the firm carried out a survey of 1,500 children and their parents, the surprise was that it was the kids who got annoyed about being ignored by phone addict mums and dads. A large percentage reported parents using phones while driving or checking screens rather than listening to what their children were telling them about their day. Half the kids surveyed said they would like to confiscate parents’ phones during meals.

Adults tend to mutter about kids being wedded to their devices. Looks like it’s the mums and dads who are in greater need of education — and a lesson in good table manners.

ROYAL FASHION

A LITTLE royal name-dropping to finish this week. Princess Alexandra, who is 82 and not in the best of health, is apparently due to retire from the round of royal engagements, a retirement that was to have been announced last year but was put on hold when Prince Philip took his step back from the public eye.

I was once sent to cover a visit by Princess Alexandra, sister of the Duke of Kent, who was to be met by a band of dignitaries in a car park which had an entrance and an exit. I was told to stand well away from the formal group near the exit.

Unfortunately for the bigwigs, the Princess’s driver got mixed up and came in the “out” way, leaving me all on my own as the limo swept up the drive out of sight of the welcoming party. It stopped and a window wound down. In the back sat the honoured guest and lady-in-waiting.

“We seem to have come the wrong way,” said the Princess. “And who are you?” “I’m the local reporter,” I replied. “Ah, so you’ll need to know the colour of my outfit, then,” she said smiling mischievously.

So I got it dead right, and from Princess Alexandra herself. “Didn’t know you were that up on royal fashion,” the boss told me when I submitted my report.