Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 1st April 2019

A SMALL group of schoolkids gathered in a Cumbrian city centre with a home-made banner looking more limp by the minute in the rain. A few disinterested shoppers occasionally pausing on a busy Friday morning to see what all the fuss was about.

I’m sure more than a few passers-by tut-tutted at the sight of teenagers protesting in a call for action on climate change when they would normally have been in school. Interesting to contrast the views of Theresa May, who criticised the disruption and waste of valuable teaching time caused by protesting students with those of a more conciliatory Michael Gove, who said people with strong views deserved respect.

I may be getting long in the tooth, but I’m rather proud of young people who care. After all, it’s their future world at risk and we underestimate them at our peril. Kids nowadays are brilliant at taking in information and they know far more about issues than previous generations ever did. I guess my generation hasn’t done very well on protecting the planet. The UN tells us that if global warming continues at its present rate, by 2030 it will be irreversible.

Such is the power of social media that a campaign started by a Swedish teenager, protesting outside parliament every Friday with her home-made placards, led to hundreds of thousands of students across a dozen or more countries taking up her example.

Sixteen is a good age to try and change the world. I remember, just about, when I was 16 and thought I knew it all. Then it was nuclear disarmament. Crikey, I even joined in a demo in London one Sunday, more by accident than design as I was on holiday and saw the march and curiosity drew me in. That same day our lot cheered the anti-apartheid protesters who were doing their thing in Trafalgar Square.

So are the climate change protests merely an excuse to bunk off school, or are the young people as committed to the cause as they ask us to accept? Well, the Easter holidays are just around the corner. A chance to make their mark in their own time, outside school hours. Or will many of them be jetting off abroad with mum and dad for Easter?

A couple of hours spent setting up a protest on a Friday morning is one thing. Example is another. I wonder how many of the kids realise that the internet accounts for 10 per cent of all the electricity consumed around the world. Think about that as you order the next iPhone, laptop or tablet. Why not have a tech-free fortnight? Manage without social media for once. And walk or cycle to school next term instead of hitching a ride in mum’s new Range Rover.

I hope I’m right about the kids. The message is, after all, a powerful one. They are the ones who will breathe the polluted air, see their rivers and seas filled with plastic and experience extremes of weather. I so hope they are as determined and devoted to the cause as Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old who began all this, and action on global warming is more of a crusade than a fashionable lark with the extra benefit of missing Friday’s double maths.

BATTLING FOR SURVIVAL

IN times of stress I still have the nervous twitch that I developed on my way out to bat at Temple Sowerby many cricketing moons ago.

The village team had a quickie of some repute. He had already accounted for all the recognised batsmen in our line-up amid a maelstrom of shattered timber and strangulated cries from the five slip catchers who were stationed, along with the wicketkeeper, some considerable distance behind the wicket.

I was in at number 10, which illustrates how bad our number 11 must have been to be positioned behind me in the batting order. I think we were about 50 for nine at the time, Mike Salkeld, the speedy bowler, having claimed most of the victims.

I remember his first delivery to me. At least I take it on trust because I never saw it. There was a sort of zing as the missile passed at chest height. The wicketkeeper leapt about like a wounded animal, half appealing and half taking avoiding action as it thudded into the hedgerow behind him. Four byes.

I did just about see enough of the next ball to back away towards the square leg boundary. Justified cowardice, I’d say. It passed high over middle stump and the over ended in survival and nought not out against my name in the score book.

Quite sensibly my batting partner took advantage of the first ball of the following over to allow it to go by before setting off on a fatally flawed run. He ran himself out, thus saving both of us the nightmare scenario of Mike Salkeld’s next over.

Mike’s death at the age of 74 was reported in Saturday’s Herald. He enjoyed a long and distinguished amateur cricket career. He also played in goal a few times for a notably unsuccessful football team I was associated with in my youth.

Celebrated cricket writer Neville Cardus reckoned the wickets in the Elysian fields were suited to fast bowling while also taking a bit of spin. Some angelic batsmen — I refuse to use the vogue description “batters”, which sounds like a job in a chip shop — might be in for a few nervous overs shortly.

PROMISES, PROMISES

PARENTS, teacher and governors at Langwathby Primary School have learned a bitter lesson about promises made and promises not kept.

Cumbria County Council is threatening to renege on a promise that was made 50 years ago that it would provide buses and chaperones following the closure of eight Fellside village schools when the children were transferred to what was then a newly-built school at Langwathby.

Much as I sympathise with their predicament, the chance of any authority, whether it be government or local, adhering to a promise that’s half a century old, let alone promises made five years ago, is slightly less than nil.

With justification, parents and staff are concerned about the well-being of children who are aged between four and 11, particularly as the journeys are on rural roads that often have communications blackspots.

But I’m afraid the lesson in all this is a harsh one. Never rely on promises made, probably in good faith at the time, by politicians and officers. I imagine most of the present county council were not even born when director of education Gordon Bessey gave his assurance about accompanying kids travelling to the new school. Much as we’d like it to be so, the present council can’t be held responsible for decisions of 50 years ago.

I’m old enough to remember Mr Bessey visiting my school. Ofsted wasn’t even a twinkle in the ministry’s eye then, so when the director came everything had to be shipshape. He was responsible for developing adult education centres in Cumberland in the 1950s. Some of those have since closed. That’s the problem with plans and promises made a long time ago. Even the Cumberland authority of Mr Bessey’s day has long since morphed into Cumbria County Council. And some of his own promises fell by the wayside over time.

Money. Ah yes, money. The root of most broken promises, particularly promises made in a very different time for education. I did sense a certain lack of empathy in the council’s statement to parents, but the warning to all those who come into contact with authority in its various forms is quite simple — don’t take promises at face value. Always question what might happen to those promises when a council’s political make-up could be radically different a few years hence. False promises have become a staple diet of our Parliament. What chance then for us little folk?

BOY RACERS SET THE PACE

THERE are plans to bring motor racing to city centre circuits in cities like London and Birmingham. If you’ve spent any time in Penrith, early evenings, you might be excused thinking it’s already happening.

But now one northern city has decided the sound of engines revving and music booming from in-car speakers is antisocial. Bradford Council has introduced a public space protection order which gives its officers powers to penalise noisy motorists with £100 fines.

Two-thirds of residents in a survey claimed nuisance drivers were a problem although some did say it was unfair to target car enthusiasts. Boy racers everywhere beware. Quite a few towns will be looking at Bradford’s measures to see how well the sounds of silence prevail.