Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Wednesday 11th July 2018

THERE may be a precedent for the recent heat wave that saw my town, Keswick, hit the top spot of 30 degrees on the national weather on TV. England’s hottest hot spot.

It’s only a matter of weeks since the Herald was hailing our “fellside heroes” for their role in digging out some of the more remote villages and hamlets after the vicious impact of the Beast from the East.

Where several feet of snow gathered in drifts we now see parched land that has forgotten what the gentle caress of rain feels like. Where only recently livestock was buried in snow and supplies were running short, now the concern is moorland fires.

But, looking back to the 1970s when we had similar extremes of weather, there seems to be a pattern. In June, 1975, the Herald carried a picture of two youngsters, pupils at Renwick School, about to indulge in a snowball fight. Two inches of snow fell, and eight degrees of frost were recorded on 2nd June. A week later a picture of the same boys appeared in the paper — licking ice creams in the sunshine.

In 1976, the hottest summer I can recall, I was making my way to Keswick’s council chambers to report on a planning inquiry when I looked up in surprise to see a healthy topping of white on Skiddaw. It was the first day of June. Up to that point it had been a wet and chilly spring. Next day we were at the commencement of a heat wave that lasted through to the end of August.

Now we get grim warnings that extremes of weather are evidence of how we are destroying our planet. I don’t disbelieve what the scientists are saying. But in 1976 nobody had even thought of global warming. Climate change was a phrase that hadn’t been invented. The Herald, somewhat unscientifically in its headline, put it all down to “freak weather”.

WHEN WINDOWS GOT BROKEN

ANIMAL rights groups were incensed when they heard that a pub in Dorset was planning to hold a race for pigs and lambs.

Very quickly they got an online petition going and supporters began posting angry comments about “exploitative cruelty”. Furthermore, a barbecue would hurt the feelings of the pigs and lambs who would be forced to smell the burning flesh of their fellow creatures.

Had they checked with the pub they would have discovered that no live animals were to figure in these events. The “pigs and sheep” referred to in the advertising were humans, dressed as animals. Pub customers having a couple of pints before getting togged up in daft costumes.

Too late. The internet was running wild with claims of animal cruelty. But when it comes to the internet, there’s no longer true or false, right or wrong. It’s about getting your views out there fastest to the largest number of people and skilfully feeding the paranoia and prejudices of the Twitter mob.

When you add a dash of hysteria, and remove common sense, social media sites see themselves as platforms, not publishers, and what happens after is no concern of theirs.

You can turn a falsehood into truth with all the speed that online sites offer. So this was just a misconception about a pub’s charity “do”, but it is an example of how more serious allegations can run riot on Twitter and other social media sites without basic checks as to their accuracy.

While newspapers and broadcasters are bound by a strict code of conduct, no such restraints apply to the internet. They can wash their hands of any view, no matter how wrong or malicious.

The traditional image of an internet troll is that of a sociopath, hunched angrily over a keyboard bashing out abuse to strangers. However, a group of scientists in the US say anyone can be turned into a troll if they follow the herd mentality, see personal attacks online and are simply in a bad mood.

The findings are attributed to the “broken window” theory where one person breaking social rules makes others feel more comfortable to follow suit. One person creates the spark and these sparks can spiral out of control. In other words, it’s not just keyboard monsters, We’re all susceptible to following internet views without thinking they might not be telling the true story.

What is it they say about a lie going half way round the world before truth has got out of bed in the morning?

THE FUTURE LOOKS SCARY

BE scared, be very scared about all this talk of AI. No, not the stuff they do with livestock to improve their pedigree herds. This AI stands for artificial intelligence and white-coated boffins tell us it will be mankind’s last invention.

Last invention? Yes, because super-intelligent robots will take over the world and discover they can run it pretty easily without us. It won’t be nuclear war or global warning that does for the human race, it will be some smarty pants machine called Fred or Mary.

One AI expert said recently all we need to do is invent super intelligent machines that do all our work for us and which share our values. I can see the flaw in that argument instantly. Just whose values are those? Ours as decent, peaceable human beings, or the values of people who would quite like to kill us off?

You see, there are those who don’t share our values, but think their values are the only right values, even if it means total destruction of anyone who does not follow their beliefs.

These machines are set to have an intelligence level far beyond ours. They are not going to be satisfied doing the hoovering and loading the dishwasher. No, dear readers, they will soon have us doing their chores.

If the future suggests a horror story world of AI, there’s no guarantee we will be on the right side of their values. Sometimes I feel glad that I’m not going to live for hundreds of years and be part of a world that just gets more frightening.

BACK TO THE WILD

AFTER that little panic, I felt I needed the calming influence of nature to get me back on track and I spent a fascinating half-hour watching some bees at work in a friend’s garden.

There’s something hypnotic, in a good way, about just chilling and watching the wildlife doing its thing. The Wildlife Trust nominated June as a month when we should try to reconnect with the great outdoors as part of its 30 Days Wild campaign.

Barely a day passes without more dire warnings of ecological meltdown. One in 10 of all British wildlife species faces extinction. More than a quarter of our birds are at risk and up to three-quarters of all flying insects have disappeared since 1945. Just don’t ask me to sympathise with those pesky horseflies that bring up vast, itchy bumps.

Apparently bumblebees can identify different flowers by their invisible scent patterns. Work led by scientists in Bristol and London revealed that bees learn the patterns and distinguish between flowers. Flowers advertise to pollinators by using a mixture of colour, shape, texture and smell.

Lucy McRobert, from the Wildlife Trust, says daily acts of wilderness can be the perfect antidote to the current wave of media reports on the state of the natural world. “It’s about making time for nature every single day, no matter how busy we are,” she said.

Just 30 minutes spent in silence, watching those bumblebees flitting from heather bloom to heather bloom, wondering what they see and know in their industrious world, did the job for me. No more nightmares about the march of the robots for a while.

IT’S A FUNNY THING

A BUYER recently forked out — yes, forgive the pun — £28,000 for the handwritten script of probably the finest, funniest cleverest Two Ronnies’ sketch.

Penned by Ronnie Barker, under the pseudonym Gerald Wiley, the “four candles, fork handles” sketch was first aired on the BBC in 1976. The script was uncovered on an edition of the Antiques Roadshow in 2002 and verified by Ronnie Corbett.

Great comedy doesn’t date. The scene, when Barker goes into a hardware shop manned by Corbett and a series of verbal misunderstandings ensue, is as funny today as it was in 1976 when we literally fell about laughing at the duo’s genius.

The sale of the script got me thinking. How many scripts by today’s sweary stand-up comics will still be funny 42 years from now? And how many will fetch any money, let alone 28 grand?