Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 27th August 2019

NEVER accuse me of failing to look after the interests of my valued readers.

Last week I came forward with a few bright ideas for compensation culture. Ways of lining your pockets, and incidentally those of accident lawyers, with a few small slips and a lucrative negligence case.

This week it’s the TV licence fee for over-75s that’s occupying my thoughts. I think I’ve got a wizard wheeze, as dear old Billy Bunter was wont to muse, that will at least guarantee oldies a lovely warm room with three meals a day and free telly on tap. At least this way you will never miss your festive season Morecambe and Wise repeats.

Back in the day when we still had local courts to dispense justice, I remember attending special Christmas Eve hearings to deal with gentlemen of the road who had discovered that, by breaking a shop window, they would be inside in the warm over the festive period. Our local court had a “regular” who, on being remanded in custody, was particularly courteous and grateful to their worships.

Kindly magistrates, for there were some, could hardly fine a tramp when he had no money. And they did not have the heart to cast these amiable itinerants out into the mean streets for Christmas with a conditional discharge. In any event, they would just go out and smash another window to ensure that a second offence meant being locked up until well after Boxing Day.

For over-75s whose free TV licences are to be withdrawn next June, the answer is obvious. Go break a window. Break several. I have heard that HM Prisons have a television set in each cell. No licence fee to be paid by the occupants. Taxpayer funded naturally.

Three million households are expected to lose the right to free licences. The BBC has confirmed plans to make most over-75s pay, arguing it’s the only way to avoid closing channels and making substantial cutbacks. Licences will still be free if OAPs can produce evidence that they claim pension credit.

I believe that a lot of elderly folk are not badly off and probably can afford the licence. But just wait until the first dodderer has their collar felt and gets hauled off to court. Cue national outrage. The ethics of the BBC put firmly in the dock. Gary Lineker’s salary increase blamed for the whole charade. And not even a broken window in sight.

Free licences were introduced in 1999 by then Chancellor Gordon Brown, with the cost being met by the government. But in 2015, with George Osborne in charge of the nation’s cash, the government struck a deal under which the subsidy would be phased out by 2020 with the broadcaster having to shoulder the cost of free licences.

So if you are going to be over-75 next June, you know what to do. Have a smashing time, but just don’t let on to the beak that it was me who put you up to it.

POWERFUL PANTS

IN my fell running days, any competitor who turned up in a non-sweaty club vest and clean footwear was viewed with suspicion. Scruffy kit was the true order of the fells.

I ran for years in a pair of football shorts torn to shreds after an unfortunate incident involving a barbed wire fence. A bit free to air maybe, but perfectly serviceable. Joss Naylor, king of the Lakeland fells, wore a pair of his wife’s tights. Eddie Campbell, who ran Ben Nevis a record number of times, invariably turned out in a pair of standard plimsolls.

And there was a legendary chap who looked straight out of a Biggles story with his wavy hair and moustache, plain white shirt possibly of M&S origin and old rugger shorts tied up with string. One runner lost his false eye in a stream during the Wasdale race and half the field got down on hands and knees to assist in the search for it.

There was almost kudos in being the scruffiest runner. I was once given a vest by the famous marathoner Ron Hill. He was presented with it after a victory in Japan and it was too large for him, but me being a bit porkier than the 8st gazelles, it fitted perfectly. It had some lettering on the front. A party of Japanese tourists in Borrowdale spotted me out training, pointed, took photos and fell about laughing. I never did find out what those words meant.

These days runners are pretty well kitted out. Some even have sponsors. And the fell runner of the future may have the assistance of a pair of special shorts which are being developed by the US military, the ones that tense and flex your muscles to make you go faster more easily, like a biological muscle.

Tests show that joggers go further faster and burn fewer calories in the assistive devices. However, the American Advanced Research Agency is more concerned with producing the super soldier than the park runner after a PB.

Racing cyclists have come under suspicion of having tiny electrical motors built into their bikes, but fell runners need not concern themselves just yet that an inspection of their inside legs may become compulsory before the start of the Skiddaw race. Until the super shorts become widely available, ladies’ tights remain the state of the art anti-fashion must-have for the fells.

AGRICULTURE THE TARGET

I’M not by nature a conspiracy theorist. But I can’t help thinking that someone has got it in for the farmers. There appears to be a plot to destroy the industry as it is today and rid our green and pleasant land of modest-sized dairy farms and the sheep that wander our fields and fells along with the farmers who look after them and help to provide our food supplies.

Why this demonisation of farming? Even the United Nations is accusing farmers of degrading the land and making it less able to absorb carbon. Ironically, while the UN picks on farmers and flatulent ruminants, it does nothing about the real polluters like China, India, Russia, Brazil, the United States. It’s politically easier to blame people who have little opportunity to defend themselves and agriculture is an easy target.

NFU president Minette Batters has spoken about the anti-farming narrative, the “terrorising” of people whose livelihoods are taking a constant hammering.

No doubt many farmers voted Leave under the impression that it would lead to better trading arrangements with the EU. However, the National Welsh Sheep Association now says no-deal would be “absolutely catastrophic”.

Agriculture, certainly in the short to medium term, is set to become the most seriously affected by a no-deal. Which may be good news for the vegans who are campaigning with ever more vocal force for a society that is totally meat-free.

Everything seems to be conspiring against agriculture at the moment. If the days of the industry are numbered, then what is the future for rural communities like those we celebrate in counties like ours?

WATCH THE WEATHER

THE eco-warriors of Extinction Rebellion don’t need to block the streets to bring business and travel to a halt. Just wait for the next fairly normal weather event to do the job for them.

For a nation that, according to its Prime Minister, is more than capable of going it alone, establishing new business opportunities in a post-Brexit era, you’ve got to wonder if we really are capable of sustaining the basics of life.

Just recently a technical fault at the world’s largest offshore wind farm resulted in Britain’s worst power blackout in a decade — at the same time a town was being evacuated in fear of a dam bursting and Heathrow, our major airport, came to a standstill due to a computer blip. Oh, and trains were paralysed so no-one could get home.

Next time a bit of rain is forecast, a rumble of thunder, a brisk breeze maybe, we should all take to the hills with our survival rations.

AMERICA’S DANGER MAN

NEVER trust a man with a ridiculous moustache. If there’s anyone a bigger bet to start World War Three than Donald Trump’s security adviser, John Bolton, I’ve yet to come across him. Bolton is a self-confessed hawk. He’s been in London for talks with Boris Johnson about trade deals with Britain after no-deal Brexit.

Bolton is no Father Christmas, for all the facial adornment. His speciality is military adventurism and regime change. He knows we will be more reliant than ever on the US and you can bet your last euro or dollar any deals with the present American administration won’t come cheap and in return we will be expected to go to war if they say jump to it. He’s a dangerous individual.