Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Wednesday 3rd January 2018

I APPROACH the exit to 2017 very much as I entered it — personally content but discontented, confused and apprehensive about all the other aspects which affect my life and over which I have less and less control.

A consistent theme may have become apparent over the year in this column that its author is finding it very difficult to understand why thousands of ordinary people watching their televisions, listening to the radio or reading newspapers are capable of doing what legions of politicians and regiments of civil servants and associated bureaucrats just can’t, and that is the ability not only to see and understand problems but to sit there and think up practical solutions to them.

Why have our leaders and their highly paid Oxford-educated minions lost the ability to see problems for what they are and then get on and solve them?

Perhaps it is the deskilling and depracticalisation (is there such a word?) of modern man brought about by the reliance on technology and computer models to provide solutions to problems which computers have never actually experienced. Thank God people like Brunell, Telford, Watt and Stevenson didn’t have computers or we would still be travelling by stagecoach.

This week inspectors have named Walton jail in Liverpool as the nation’s worst and most decrepit prison, overrun by rats and cockroaches and with dangerously unhygienic conditions caused by broken lavatories, showers and cell blocks unfit for human habitation in a crumbling structure.

Some people might think that people who commit crimes bad enough to be sent to prison don’t deserve any better. They may not, but we do.

What we all deserve, prisoner and law-abiding citizen alike, is a system which does everything it can to think and act both practically and innovatively to solve two problems, refurbishing the prison and rehabilitating the inmates, both at the same time.

There are about 1,100 hundred men in Walton, the vast majority being young and fit and lacking in any skills but in the taking of drugs and committing crimes. Why, in all the years the prison has been deteriorating to the point that it is little more than a penal slum, has nobody come up with the obvious solution?

What prisons should be doing is recruiting tradesmen in conjunction with local technical colleges who can then have several inmate “apprentices” attached to them as they work on repairing everything, plumbing, electrics, brick and metal work and joinery, so that eventually when something breaks down the prisoners can not only fix it but will leave prison fully qualified and certificated in a trade and are employable.

What we have instead is people moaning about deteriorating prison buildings which just get worse and more and more expensive to repair with every passing week, while, at the same time, also moaning about high reoffending rates but doing nothing practical or intelligent about either.

Britain is getting good at endlessly talking about what is wrong and what is getting worse in education, the NHS, the legal and penal systems, social care and protecting our children. Everything in fact, and yet those with the old-fashioned practical bent and experience to put forward workable solutions have no power and no access to the ears of those who do.

We prefer to try to find solutions to our problems by setting up inquiries or committees populated by professors, lords, ladies, dames, sirs and CBEs, none of whom have ever had their hands dirty in their lives or lived outside Oxford, Cambridge, Surrey or Westminster, and who think a practical solution is something you wash your hair with and who believe manual labour is a Spaniard.

It is little wonder everything just keeps getting worse as those with experience-based common sense become an endangered species. The man standing at the bar in the local pub or the woman managing three tasks at once have more practical sense and ability in their little fingers than all the committees, bureaucrats and politicians put together.

THE BBC very recently ran a series of daily reports about what it called “Super Agers”, which appeared in just about every news program for a week. The corporation seems to do a lot of that lately — carpet bombing a subject it thinks important or newsworthy to the exclusion of a lot of actual news.

There is a mild interest in the fact that more people are getting to be a hundred than ever before in the history of human evolution and that some of them are these super agers who can run, jump skydive and ride bucking broncos better those who are 70 years their juniors.

Very nice for those who achieve their century and remain fit and healthy, but the BBC seemed obsessed with the idea, mainly, it would seem, because some scientists are claiming that they are close to producing a drug, the elixir of life, the fountain of eternal middle age which will slow down the ageing process.

Science is on the brink of achieving what centuries of alchemy failed to do and soon, if they are right, a chemical or genetically engineered version of the Philosopher’s Stone will banish the word “geriatric” from the dictionary, making room for a whole set of newly-invented words like supertonners or pensionletes to describe those over a hundred and still running.

What a waste of time and science. Man has sought immortality either physically or spiritually in the form of an afterlife ever since he first understood and was frightened by the significance and finality of death.

That is one theory of why religions came about and have proliferated ever since, but did we really want to, if not live forever, live so far beyond the years of those who have gone on before us?

The irony of the BBC’s tub thump on super agers was that it came just a week after it had devoted even more time and effort in haranguing us about the problems of loneliness and isolation associated with old age. Unless these drug-induced super oldies are going to spend all their time on the running track or rugby field, they are just going to end up spending many more years on their own.

It will all end in tears. It will be like some Hammer House of Horrors film where the drugs stop the ageing process and everything looks wonderful until all those years of arrested ageing stop working and people end up looking worse than a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy overnight.

It is a waste of time, and nothing more than a science vanity project which will inevitably become available only to the Hollywood super vain who already do everything they can to look like plastic puppets.

What this promise of eternal life does is to mistakenly concentrate scientific resources at the wrong end of life.

If scientists really want to do something useful then they should look not at later life but at the beginning and find out why it is that since the early 1970s the greatest increase in deaths from cancer by age group is among those aged from 0 to 24. That is a problem which merits scientific research, not finding out how to make the old even older.

ANOTHER reoccurring theme this year has been my combined criticism of the quality of modern news coverage together with the clear lack of general knowledge of the world so often displayed by those who compile and report news features. Their ignorance is appalling.

In one recent report on the BBC about an infestation of rats in an area of one of our major cities there was actual footage of lots of the horrible rodents shot, as it is so often now on someone’s telephone camera, jumping in and out of black bin bags.

As the report came towards its end there was a short piece about the brown rat as a nasty species which consisted of a voice-over and picture of a brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) sitting up, except that the photograph filling the screen was of the genus Castor, the beaver. A great big, wet-furred, web-footed, flat-tailed beaver.

That one picture encapsulated every criticism ever made here. Some university-educated journalistic media type wanted a picture of a rat and came up with a beaver almost certainly because Google or some other search engine said it was a rat and not one person putting that news report together had the knowledge to spot the mistake.

“Mr. Rat this is a writ, writ for a rat and this here is lawful service thereof (bang).” Rooster Cogburn, True Grit.

A happy and healthy new year to everyone.