Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 25th February 2019

I SUPPOSE I should be hopping mad that, in just over three years’ time, I could be about to lose my free colour TV licence concession.

Over-75s may have to stump up the licence fee once the Government has switched the concession from the Treasury coffers to the BBC, a change due to take effect in 2020. Pensioners are keen voters and a number of MPs have already had their ears bent by constituents warning of the unpopularity of the move.

However, I concur with former BBC director general Greg Dyke’s argument that, while there are many people, young and old, in need of financial help, pensioners these days, the baby boomer generation, are generally better off than their predecessors. A lot can afford to pay.

We tend to stick to outworn stereotypes. The old couple, shivering over a single bar electric fire, living on scraps, when truth to tell it’s the older folk out there enjoying life. They are more likely to be cruising the Med than donning an extra jumper to guard against the cold. Dyke says giving free licences to all over-75s is “ridiculous”. Some of today’s pensioners are among the richest members of society.

I think the BBC could reduce the licence fee if it stopped dishing out grandiose salaries to some very average performers. And from my point of view, I watch the Beeb a good deal less these days because frankly many of its programmes no longer appeal to me.

But unlike many older viewers, and fellow newspaper columnists, I’m not going red in the face with apoplectic anger over the prospect of having to fund the money for my licence if I am fortunate enough to get to 75 sound in mind if not limb.

Mind you, the first time a bunch of distressed 80 and 90-year-olds are hauled before the courts for non-payment, woe betide the BBC bosses at that moment as they try to justify what the politicians did in 2020.

OUT OF TUNE

WHEN footballers are transferred to a new club there is a tradition that they perform a song for their new colleagues. The footballing world can only give thanks that I was never good enough to play professionally.

New research carried out at the University of Delaware in the US, analysing the brains of a group of musicians with perfect pitch, and a similar number of people with no apparent musical skills or training, has revealed a genetic link. In other words, if your parents could sing in tune you probably can, whereas if they were off key you most likely sound like our cat that once got its tail caught in a mangle.

Boffins believe people are predisposed to have perfect pitch. Their scans found a pitch-perfect musician’s auditory cortex — the part of the brain that processes sound — was about 50 per cent larger than normal.

But with all things, there’s bound to be an exception. My father was apparently a fine singer. In fact, he sang as a semi-pro and opened for the great Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson during one of his English tours.

Dawson may not mean anything to the younger generation — he died in 1961 — but he was a best-seller in his day, performing operatic arias and rousing ballads over a career spanning 60 years. In 1984 Dawson was chosen by the Guinness Book of Recorded Sounds as one of the top 10 singers on disc of all time, alongside the likes of Caruso and Elvis.

I never heard my father give voice, but he was often asked to sing at regimental dinners in the Army and Peter Dawson once signed a concert programme saying he hoped Ernest, my father’s name, would never turn professional as it might put him out of a job.

My father’s party-piece was a setting of Rudyard Kipling’s Boots. I remember covering all-male dinners as a cub reporter in the 60s where there was often a singer who would perform a couple of those sentimental old classics — The Road to Mandalay, The Trumpeter, Boots — as well as the national anthem.

Clearly my father’s singing talents skipped a generation when I came along. Perfect-pitch may be determined by your genes, but even warbling in the bath I’m aware of being hopelessly off key. There’s always that one person who makes a mockery of all that scientific research.

PASSWORDS WERE HIS LAST WORD

AS we move ever onward towards becoming a cashless society, it’s worth recounting a salutary tale from Canada where Gerald Cotten, the founder of a cryptocurrency exchange handling more than £100 million of clients’ wealth, died suddenly aged 30 — taking all the passwords with him to the grave. It’s fair to say his investors were more upset about the whereabouts of their money than about the poor chap’s premature decease.

Passwords. The bane of my life. I can never remember them. If I write them down it’s usually in some private code I can’t bring to mind when I need the information in a hurry. I have lost count of the number of times I have gone online and received that infernal message saying my password has not been recognised and, after one more try, I am being locked out. And just try resetting a password with a computer somewhere out there in la-la land that will only believe your original password, the one you’ve just lost. Some we keep in our head, some when written down are a godsend for your average burglar. Mr Cotten promised total security. He certainly achieved that.

While the world of cryptocurrency and Bitcoin is beyond my simple intellect, even my jam jar of pound coins, saved for the inevitable rainy day, is going to be rendered useless one day quite soon. We pay by card at the supermarket because they’re gradually removing those nice checkout people. We get our pay and pensions paid into accounts. Banks, as they disappear from our high streets, urge us to do our business online. And now many councils across Britain are refusing to accept cash or cheques for taxes and fines.

Rules forcing residents to pay electronically are being quietly introduced by authorities who claim they can no longer afford to run cashiers’ offices or bank processing charges. But going “digital by default” makes it impossible for some, mainly the elderly, to pay bills such as council tax or rent in this vast impersonal new world order.

Millions of older people aren’t online, or confident with mobile banking, and the charity Age UK has accused councils of effectively “airbrushing” them out. Of course financial businesses will tell you it’s safe and it’s easy. I imagine poor Gerald Cotten said something similar to his clients.

GOLF WITH A LEGEND

SEVERAL years ago I had the pleasure of playing golf with England’s legendary World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, a man as pleasant and unassuming as they all said of him in tributes last week after his death. It was not my most distinguished performance on course. From the tee I managed to send my ball spiralling off to the right, out of bounds striking an unsuspecting sheep on its bottom. It was on the telly, too. “Hard luck. We’ve all done it,” said the great man.

That Banks was never knighted is a disgraceful omission, not that this humble man would have ever moaned. To learn that some Whitehall pen pusher lost his recommendation not once, but twice, is an outrageous bureaucratic shambles.

However, while the likes of Sir Philip Green hang on to their knighthoods amid accusations of sexual and racial abuse of employees, the question one asks oneself is would Gordon Banks have wished to be a part of such a ghastly brotherhood. Football fans who applauded at Brunton Park on Saturday, and at grounds all over the country, accorded him something Sir Philip and his ilk will never achieve — respect.

A SENIOR MOMENT

I MEANT to conclude this week’s column by writing about a new drug, to be trialled on humans within the next two years, that is reputed to reverse everyday forgetfulness in the over-50s.

The pill may restore youthful vigour to brain cells, keeping older brains sharp. It may also provide a treatment for mild cognitive impairment as seen in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. As we plod remorselessly on into the autumn of our years most of us fear dementia more than we fear dying.

A pill that halts senior moments. It sounded like a good news story. I kept a cutting from my newspaper, written by the science correspondent, intending to expand a little by quoting from it. Now where the heck did I put it?