Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 22nd May 2017

BY any standards the statistics are shocking. More than 2,500 dangerous weapons, including Samurai swords, axes and air guns, were confiscated at schools in 2015-16, and the figures could have been higher as just 32 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales provided data. Some of the culprits caught carrying knives were under five years of age.

The worrying fact is that so many young people feel the need to arm themselves and believe it is acceptable to take weapons into schools. In 2014 teacher Ann Maguire was stabbed to death by a 15-year-old pupil. The following year a teacher was seriously injured in a racist attack by a pupil.

Many people felt annoyed when Ofsted inspectors decided two Cumbrian secondary schools, both with exemplary records as far as one can judge, were placed in special measures due to alleged shortcomings in safeguarding.

Schools whose budgets are already stretched may have to fork out tens of thousands of pounds to provide security fences. Some heads have already taken pre-emptive steps rather than risk their own schools being unfairly branded and going into special measures. I can sympathise with the inspectors to an extent. After all, just once incident and they would be pilloried for failing to take steps to point out security weaknesses. But schools in rural Cumbria are being lumped in with inner city establishments.

Pupils from Kirkby Stephen Grammar School even wrote to Ofsted saying their school is not being fairly represented and the “inadequate” label isn’t something they recognise on a daily basis.

Nationally the appalling statistics demand far more attention than political leaders are giving them. Children can see pretty disturbing material on the Internet and discipline has clearly broken down in some schools. But I’d rather have an extra teacher than spend £30,000 on a fence if I was a school governor because some perfectly good schools are being lumped in with the bad the way the statistics are framed.


ONE thing was guaranteed to get a sleepy 10-year-old up and out of bed at 7am — the arrival of the chimney sweep.

Bob was something of a hero of mine with his chat about the fell runners he trained (on a diet of sherry and raw eggs) and the horses he backed that either won him a few quid or robbed him of his just financial rewards due in the main to his conspiracy theories about dodgy jockeys.

He would lay down sheets to protect the carpet then tell me to run outside into the garden and give him a shout when I saw the brush appear out of the top of the chimney. He wasn’t just a chimney sweep, he was an entertainer.

Later in the day, chimneys swept, Bob became the local window cleaner, while his afternoons were spent nipping in and out of the betting shop. When it came to the traditional Lakeland sports events he was in his element, urging on his runners and dashing off to have a wager on the hounds.

However, Bob Thirlwall’s most important role was to hold Bill Teasdale’s false teeth while the Caldbeck shepherd added still more lustre to his legend as the greatest guides racer of his or any other era.

Teasdale won Grasmere sports, the blue riband of guides racing, 11 times between 1950 and 1966. I was present for many of those victories and to hear the band strike up See the Conquering Hero Come as he bounded down the steep fellside and into the ring well ahead of toiling fellow competitors was an inspiring moment.

The Herald used to despatch John Hurst and myself to Grasmere to write about the events and, for a youthful reporter, it was exciting to meet up with some of the national newspapermen who covered the sports in search of romantic stories of derring-do by men like Teasdale.

Ray Huddart, a regular reader of the column, was interested in my recent piece about Lakeland sports. Ray recalls driving Teasdale and entourage in a battered old van to events in Lakeland and southern Scotland, always ensuring the valued passenger had maximum leg room.

Teasdale did not need a sophisticated training regime. He was out on the fells all day and on the odd fine Sunday evening would run over Skiddaw from his Caldbeck home to Keswick’s Bank Tavern, stop for a shandy and a bit of “crack” then lope back home.

Ex-detective Ray, a constable in Keswick in those days, took a keen interest in the town’s August Monday sports. He recalls 1st August, 1955, the day when Michael Glen, of Bathgate, broke the world professional mile record in a time of 4 minutes 7 seconds, “in a virtual sea of mud”.

Ray looks back nostalgically at those thrilling days and some of the star names on the circuit, but he says one name “reigns supreme” — Bill Teasdale. I’ll go along with that, but give a bit of credit also to the bloke who swept our chimney and looked after a true Lakeland superhero’s bottom set of choppers.


IT’S probably come a bit late for Bill Teasdale, or for Joss Naylor and a lot of other legends of the fell running world.

But I have it on good authority that someone who can run up and down the fells and does a passable imitation of actor Christopher Eccleston might just be in line for a bit of TV stardom.

The BBC’s six-part series, The A Word, proved such a hit they are currently filming a second series of the program which is set in the Lake District. Some of the locations for the initialseries included Keswick, Coniston, Broughton-in-Furness and Thirlmere reservoir.

It’s a story about a five-year=old boy called Joe, who has autism, and his dysfunctional family. Christopher Eccleston plays Joe’s grandfather Maurice and, in the new series, he takes part in a fell race, hence local athletic clubs have been enlisted in the search for a body double fell runner.

I’d have had a go myself back in the day when I took part in all the long distance fell races — but for a couple of minor problems. I look nothing like Eccleston, and I wasn’t very good. Still, you can dream of fame.


GETTING old has precious few compensations. For instance you can no longer propel arthritic joints up the fells any more. And you are definitely considered ineligible to become lead singer in a punk group.

Spotted in my local supermarket this week. An advert: “Punk Band Seeks Singer. Age, 18-25.”

A bit of a confession here. While I was brought up on 60s music and tell people any pop after 1969 means nothing to me, there was a flirtation with punk in the mid-70s.

I suppose the anarchic rejection of anything mainstream appealed. It was fast-paced, hard-edged and anti-authority. I loved the bits where they insulted the audience, too. And those highly offensive T-shirts. Never brave enough to wear one myself. My interest in punk was always viewed from a safe distance.

Judging by the supermarket advert there’s at least one local band keeping the healthy anti-establishment genre alive. Mind you, these days any punks who survived the drugs and the punch-ups of the 70s and early 80s are probably planning to vote Tory or do TV adverts for British butter.


AS a cub reporter I was told to exercise caution when espousing views on three topics — religion, politics and foxhunting.

I have ignored that advice for the first two, but on foxhunting I have steadfastly adhered to neutral ground because I am acutely conscious that hunting has many supporters in this neck of the woods, yet successive opinion polls, even those taken in rural areas, show that millions remain opposed.

Theresa May is playing with fire when she promises a free vote in Parliament should she remain Prime Minister after the election. Logically the fate of Basil Brush and friends should not influence the great affairs of state, but it does.

Mrs. May and hubby took no chances when they appeared on TV’s The One Show. Two dead sheep would have given them a harder time than the presenters, and her speeches have been stage managed in front of Tory faithful. So why is she so keen to promote a foxhunting vote when it could send people who do not normally take an interest in elections heading for the polling station?