Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 22nd January 2019

THE famously laconic comedian Arthur Smith reckons the sign of a true grouch is when the moment you leave the house in the morning you spot something to be grumpy about.

I don’t even have to leave the house to be grumpy these days. I just have to switch the telly on or listen to the radio and there are dozens of times when I start to simmer then boil with irritation.

Why do they treat us like kids? Take the warnings before all those accident and emergency programmes. Look, if I plan to watch a programme about helicopter medics, doctors’ surgeries or real life dramas in hospital A&E departments, I know I’m likely to be seeing “challenging medical issues” without needing to be told before it starts. That’s the whole point. They deal with tough medical problems. If they just took off in-growing toenails I wouldn’t watch them. And if it’s a New Year’s Eve fireworks display on the box I think we can anticipate “flashing lights” without the warning.

It’s the same on sports programmes where commentators constantly feel the need to apologise for the odd swear word that gets picked up on the pitch-side microphones. I think I’m strong enough to bear the occasional naughty word without my sensitivities being offended. A footballer who has just been chopped down by a tackle from behind is hardly likely to respond with an “oh deary me, that one hurt a bit”. And on the rugby field, two heaving bunches of forwards in a scrum can equally be forgiven the odd word out of place that comes through on the ref’s mic. If an opponent is trying to remove your left ear I think it’s permitted without nanny having to soothe our feelings.

At least the Beeb is taking steps to end “the BBC understands” nonsense which we regularly hear on news programmes on the box and on Radio 4. The head of news, Gavin Allen, has instructed reporters to stop this pompous and meaningless phrase and ensure only news that is “true and we know it” is broadcast.

The corporation has been under fire for saying “the BBC understands” when following up stories that have broken elsewhere without crediting the original media. A proportion of stories on radio and television owe their genesis to local and regional newspapers, but the instigators are rarely credited.

On the subject of news programmes, the most irritating aspect is when reporters bottle out of asking direct if difficult questions, particularly when talking to politicians. “Some people might say” is a cop out. You are the reporter. You say it. Who are these “some people?”

And finally, before I spontaneously combust, can presenters refrain from using a phrase that you hear increasingly. I refer to “from the get-go”. From the beginning or from the start will do perfectly well without one more creeping Americanism. I’ve heard Donald Trump say it. Surely that ought to be sufficient to have it banned from our airwaves.

DECLINE BEGAN WITH WOOLIES

THERE’S been much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth of late about the decline in our town centres. Just prior to Christmas councillors in Keswick, a town with huge visitor footfall which you would think might make it more immune than most, expressed concern about a so-called “dirty dozen” shops in the town centre that are closed.

A cross-party group of MPs has been tasked with investigating how England’s failing town centres might be revived. The main shopping areas of many towns now face competition from online shopping combined with financial problems.

No doubt some of these towns have drifted complacently while the shadow of Amazon and other online agencies have cast their dark tentacles over them. Customers are choosy and simply won’t pay up to a fiver to park on some grotty expanse of tarmac only to find the shops have no sense of purpose and identity that makes them more attractive than sitting at home in front of a computer screen where it’s all laid out before them, and cheaper too.

But do we the shopping public deserve our vibrant high streets any more? Yes, we say we value them and are upset when yet another familiar face disappears. But then we return to our online shopping without conscience. We even have the cheek to visit town centre shops and look at the prices and then nip off home to see how much we can save by ordering online.

Maybe we are witnessing an inevitable change. Even if government can be persuaded to make it a more level playing field financially with the online giants, and landlords are convinced that it’s better to have properties active even if it means dropping rents, our habits as shoppers have altered, maybe irrevocably. Even retail guru Mary Portas, called in by David Cameron to save our traditional high streets, couldn’t work the oracle.

To have any realistic hope, town centre shopping must be a worthwhile experience that’s different from online, gives outstanding service, is welcoming and effectively marketed. “Places where people want to be,” to quote Sir John Timpson, who heads the government examination into the future of high streets.

We are losing the social interaction which has always been an essential part of the fabric of local life, the sort you still get in these parts on market days. I trace the decline back 10 years to when Woolworths disappeared almost overnight. Our Woolies, red and brash, with its pick n’ mix sweets, toys, music, household goods, in fact just about everything, was not so much a busy store as a place where you met up with friends to chew the fat. Woolies was a community centre disguised as a shop and life’s never been quite the same since.

Our Woolies was replaced by an outdoor shop. Some stores lay empty for years. The ripples caused by closure were to extend far beyond 2008. And now the banks have largely run out on us there’s less reason still to visit the town centre and run the risk of overstaying in a car park and accruing a hefty fine for your trouble.

A mix of retail, business, leisure and living is probably the way forward. But it will require a concerted effort from everyone involved, right down from central government to local authorities, businesses, landlords and people who have bright ideas. But there will never be another Woolies. They truly were a wonder.

ALL OPTIONS OPEN

TALK about keeping all your options open. The Met Office forecast for our weather through January and into February is a fascinating exercise in covering all the bases. “There is a likelihood of colder weather and an enhanced risk of frost, fog and also snow. These notably colder conditions are by no means certain though and even if they do occur they will probably still be interspersed with some milder, wetter and windy interludes.”

Hints there might be another Beast from the East heading this way, but I don’t think they ever recovered from that Michael Fish fiasco all those years ago when he ruled out an impending hurricane only to see the south of England decimated by winds that removed house roofs and tore out thousands of trees.

The latest pronouncement is about as revealing as backing each way in a three-horse race. I’ve seen all that weather on a single day in Borrowdale. They might as well have summed it up in one Cumbrian sentence — “owt could happen”.

CUTTING EDGE VANDALISM

WE all deplore the random and futile acts of vandalism that seem rife these days. A window smashed in a bus shelter, a bit of thoughtless graffiti, seats damaged. Blame the kids.

But wait, the latest Lake District vandals aren’t kids. Since November there have been reports of gates on paths used by thousands of walkers being sawn off and, in some cases, chucked in nearby rivers. Signposts have been destroyed and the national park authority says the bill runs into thousands of pounds. It believes a chain saw or grinder had to be used to cause this scale of damage.

The damage has mainly involved gates in the South Lakes, but over Christmas damage was also reported at the remote hut on Lingy Hill, at the back of Skiddaw. This is not just random vandalism, it’s vandalism with a grudge.

Around Grasmere police have been distributing leaflets warning that vandalism is a crime. This is vandalism on a more disturbing level. One thing is for certain, you would not want to bump into a chainsaw-wielding massacre merchant on a dark night.