Weekly Newspaper of the Year 2013 Winner

Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 1st November 2016

YOU can bet your plummeting pound that, when it comes to a bit of prestige, politicians will be there, buzzing like wasps round a jam pot as they get in on the act.

We’ve just witnessed the parades in Manchester and London to mark the remarkable achievements of Britain’s Olympic athletes.

But wait. At the very moment our medallists were basking in public adoration, a report by The Times Education Supplement, based on an analysis of Department for Education data, was revealing record sales of school playing fields.

No doubt the Government was thrilled by the performance of British athletes in Rio, but when it comes to supporting grassroots sport, there’s the whiff of hypocrisy.

A record number of playing fields were sold by cash-strapped councils this summer, including 11 sales for which the Government gave the go-ahead in August, more than any other month this decade.

Headteachers say funding pressures within local authorities could be fuelling the surge. While it’s claimed that merging or rebuilding of schools is one of the most commonly stated reasons for sales, critics point out that there is less space for playing fields in some new schools than in those they have replaced.

Tim Gill, former director of the Children’s Play Council, said it was “completely scandalous” that, at a time of rising childhood obesity, the very assets which helped with children’s physical and emotional health were being disposed of.

The Department for Education must be held firmly to its own guidance, which says reinvestment of proceeds from playing field sales should, as a priority, go back into sports facilities.

The National Lottery has provided the wherewithal for many of our top sportsmen and women to train full time and to have access to the back-up facilities they need to achieve success at the highest level.

At last our athletes are able to compete on a level playing field with their counterparts from other countries and the combination of talent and opportunity has provided tremendous results at the last two Olympics.

But one still gets the feeling that grassroots sport comes a distinct second in terms of funding and prestige. Success should not always be measured in terms of gold, silver and bronze medals, but also by the number of children taking part in sport at all levels.

Many of those youngsters would not get to participate in sport at all were it not for the army of volunteers who keep the local clubs going, often at their own expense. They rarely get the cheers at victory parades.

We are supposed to be facing a health crisis as today’s overweight, under-exercising children grow up into middle age facing diabetes and heart trouble, putting extra strain on the health services.

It’s even reached the ludicrous stage where a few schools have banned children from running around at break times because playgrounds are too cramped.

It makes no sense economically if sports grounds are being sold off for short-term profit when, in the long-term, the nation will pay a high price for the medical treatment today’s unfit kids are going to require when they get older.

Kids these days are more likely to finish up in hospital having fallen out of bed than out of a tree. A leading Cambridge academic said that just recently when lamenting the fact that children are spending six or seven hours a day in front of gadgets, rather than enjoying outdoor adventures.

If Britain is to keep the flow of medals going in future major sports events, thus bringing credit to politicians who enjoy hanging on to the coat tails of the winners, then grassroots sports must be fostered and positively encouraged by the provision of more, not fewer, facilities. We’re currently on the crest of a wave. Don’t toss it away by losing the interest of the next generation.

PUT IN THE PICTURE

THIRD row back, left a bit from the middle. That’s me, the spotty, pale-faced, thin one with the National Health specs.

For half a century it was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes in the morning and the last thing I viewed at night. My old school photograph hung on the bedroom wall all those years — and yet I hated the sight of the darned thing.

Don’t know why I didn’t chuck it out. Well, it’s gone now. Donated to the old pupils’ association, They’re collecting school photos from every year since the war.

To make matters worse, the school photographer arranged the picture so I had the muscular captain of rugger to my left and the kid who got all the girls to my right. I suppose it made them look good. It didn’t do much for my abject image. School days, the best of your life? Not for me.

That 1960 school photo was long before technology had arrived along with the opportunity for a bit of airbrushing like some school photography firms offer these days as part of the service. It’s turning the traditional school photos into modelling shots.

They’d have had to do a lot of photoshopping and retouching on me, but I suppose in those days we weren’t thinking about body image and cutting bits here and there, making pimples disappear miraculously and removing gravy stains from our shirt fronts.

Should kids today be even thinking about such matters? In my day a few mates had a chuckle at my hapless appearance, but that was it. Now it would be all over social media. Kids can be very unkind when they try, tweeting and posting in the anonymity of their bedrooms.

I think it’s very sad. Childhood seems to end at about eight these days. You see kids dressed up as mini-adults by their parents and for children so young to be concerned about unattainable body image can lead to tragic consequences.

A bit of cropping and smoothing out may seem harmless enough. But surely it’s more important to be reassuring youngsters to be happy in their own bodies, not to constantly be striving for the perfection that doesn’t really exist.

You have only to see those paparazzi newspaper shots of celebrities nipping to the shops or collecting the milk to see that, without the hours in make-up and the cleverly lit photos, they don’t look so hot at 8am either.

Mind you, had the school photographer offered the service back then when I was a lad, I can’t say, hand on heart, I would not have been tempted.

My one consolation is that the rugby player put on weight and the lad who got all the best girls is now follicly destitute. Yup, bald as a coot. So there is some justice in the world if you wait long enough.

SURVEY MYSTERY

A NEW survey has shown that around one-third of young adults can neither boil an egg nor change a light bulb.

Okay, so they may have to Google “how to boil an egg”. But they are all experts in social media, they know how to get the cheapest flights, tickets for pop concerts, and, although it sounds like a Ken Dodd joke to us oldies, they’ve definitely got the apps and you can’t touch them for it.

So nothing very revealing. The one mysterious thing about the survey. It was carried out by Poundland. Can anyone explain that for me?

HEAD NORTH — WHY NOT?

SOME of the BBC’s finest panicked at thoughts of moving staff and program making north to Salford. All the experts are in London, they said. Well, they’ve found plenty of professors at our northern universities ready, willing and very able to comment on matters of moment.

So why not Parliament next? The current estimate for restoration of the Palace of Westminster is £4 billion and rising. If politicians really believe in the north, then move north. The current buildings could become a world heritage site and coming up north might just broaden the horizons of our out of touch law makers.

They’d never wear it, being dragged kicking and screaming from the capital. The North’s all right — as long as you don’t have to actually go there. But it might just remind our London-centric politicians and their civil servants there is a land out there, north of Watford. You know the one, that Northern Powerhouse George Osborne was banging on about pre-Theresa.


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