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Saturday Journal: A sporting chance is vital if youngsters are to be healthy

An artist's impression of the new Menzieshill Community Centre.
An artist's impression of the new Menzieshill Community Centre.

After the outbreak of the Second World War forced Henry Miller to return to the US from France, he settled in Big Sur, a remote area of the Californian cost seemingly untouched by modernity.

Miller had made his name as a writer in Paris. Tropic Of Cancer, one of the landmark novels of the 20th Century, described his time gadding about the French capital with nothing more in his pockets than half a sou and an invitation to dinner at Anais Nin’s house.

Unfortunately, as much of Miller’s writing can be charitably described as filth, his books, like many other great works of art, were banned for years.

So while lauded, correctly, in some quarters, ol’ Henry was initially as penniless as he was in France.

In his memoir Big Sur And The Oranges Of Hieronymus Bosch, he described how he survived on handouts and rescue packages from well-wishers delivered by his postman.

Despite his poverty, he tells how he hands over his last handful of coins to the postie’s son stating, and I paraphrase, that while to an adult the handful of coins was not enough to buy anything of consequence, to a child they represented a fortune.

It’s an endearing, if self-aggrandising, story that romanticises the notion of the struggling artist, the innocence of childhood and Miller’s own charitable nature.

It is also, to borrow a phrase undergoing an unfortunate revival, humbug.

Miller may have been able to cannonball through life in pursuit of his artistic vision and romantic targets – not necessarily in that order – but it’s not an option for most of us.

We may say take care of the pennies and the pounds will take of themselves but for many people the opposite is true: there are simply not enough pounds to go round and so every penny counts.

It means that, for some, everyday activities become luxuries. And when times are tight, it is luxuries that people cut back on first.

So it is something of a tragedy that while we know empirically that participation in sport is good for both body and mind, residents in one area of Dundee face the very real prospect of being priced out of sport altogether.

From April 1 the price of renting a sports hall at the new Menzieshill Community Centre will rise from £13.50 to £34 an hour.

The only way the sports clubs will be able to meet this additional charge will be to pass on the cost of hall hire to their players.

That is likely to make a significant dent in the weekly budget of many families. Nearly one in three children in Menzieshill is growing up in poverty.

Some families may simply no longer be able to bear the cost of sending their children to sports clubs.

If those clubs eventually close due to lack of interest, even greater numbers of people may be denied the chance to participate in sport.

Dundee will soon open a brand new and shiny Regional Performance Centre for Sport at Caird Park.

But it will also soon be closing a world-renowned public golf course at Camperdown.

Sadly, coupled with the price hikes in Menzieshill, it appears sport, and all the public health benefits it brings, is becoming a pastime only for those lucky enough to be able to afford it.

An Inspector Calls

Many Scots appear to be tormented by the possible voting intentions of the fictional character Inspector Rebus, who appears in books made up by a writer using his imagination.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she imagined the character would have voted Yes in the 2014 independence referendum while author, and Rebus creator, Ian Rankin disagreed.

Actor Ken Stott, who played Rebus on TV, then chimed in, claiming the detective would definitely have been a Yes man. Bob Servant has, so far, not shared his views.

Now while I’ve never read a Rebus novel I was once given a withering stare by Ian Rankin while interviewing him at Dundee Book Festival, which means if anyone can provide a definitive answer on this, the most thorny of issues facing society today, it is surely me.

Rebus voted the wrong way.

Oops, they did it again

The introduction of parking charges in Angus continues to veer between tragedy and farce.

It emerged this week fines might be invalid because they do not include details of a postal address where payment can be sent.

It is an administrative error that could cost the council thousands if any or all of the 18,000 people hit with fines appeal.

You have to imagine whichever poor soul was responsible for that boo-boo has been waking up in a cold sweat every night since the innocuous-sounding Parking and Bus Lane Tribunal handed down its decision and ruined their year.