Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 23rd October 2017

HAVING just received despatches from the annual conference of the Monster Raving Loony Party in Blackpool, I am firmly convinced that they should be put in charge of Britain’s Brexit negotiations with the EU.

The Monster Loonies seem to be the most sensible and trustworthy party right now. They surely could not be any worse than our present negotiators. Sixteen months since the referendum, the referendum the Government never needed to call, it’s a mess, a shambles, a catastrophic case of mismanagement.

We still have only the merest idea of the terms on which we plan to leave Europe. Is it the Prime Minister’s hard exit or the Chancellor’s soft Brexit? Is this really what people thought they were getting when they voted? Meanwhile, David Davis, our Brexit Secretary, just seems to be whistling in the wind while the EU hardliners heap humiliation upon humiliation on us.

I make no bones about it. I hold no brief for the EU’s bureaucracy, but I voted Remain because I fear, in this dangerous modern world, Britain is isolating itself in some nostalgic concept of a glorious past. Plus, however they couch it, many pro-Brexiteers are quite simply anti-foreigner.

Still, the great British public voted to Leave. I don’t think the great British public gets it right all the time, but even the Leavers had the right to suppose the Government was on top of its brief and had worked out in advance how it planned to organise our exit. Did they really believe that the EU would roll over, let us tickle their tummies, demand what we wanted, hand back the stuff we didn’t like, and it would all work out fine? Having effectively insulted them they’re bound to play hard ball now in the knowledge that our Government is riven by internal warfare and hasn’t got a clue how to proceed with the talks, other than now to suggest there may be no deal at all.

They initiated Brexit knowing full well that it means vastly different things to different factions of the Tory Party and those differing views are never going to come together. Furthermore. I’ve no idea what Jeremy Corbyn really believes about Brexit.

Every Conservative MP with the exception of Kenneth Clarke voted to trigger Article 50 when there was not Plan A, let alone a Plan B. I fear that future generations will not thank us.

Meanwhile, the Monster Raving Loony Party, with eminent good sense, restricted its policy statement to calling for Morris dancing to be an Olympic sport, and then went off in an open top bus tour of Wetherspoons pubs.

It’s been a famous year for the party. For the first time a candidate retained his deposit. Tommy Disco stood in the Manchester Gorton constituency by-election only for it to be cancelled when the snap general election was called.

The conference heard a rousing, cough-free address from its leader, Howling “Laud” Hope, who left members with a message to “go forth and stay loony”.

Send them to Brussels. Invite the EU’s negotiators to join them on a Wetherspoons tour. By the time they’ve finished Michel Barnier and Jean Claude Juncker won’t know what day it is, and the Monster Ravers will have those pesky Europeans so confused they’ll agree to anything.

QUICK ON THE DRAW WITH WILK

GEORGE Graham QC, Major Phil Davidson, Johnnie Richardson, Joe Wear, Sir Percy Hope, Paddy the policeman, Mrs. Tudor from Blencarn. They all had one notable thing in common. As Lakeland “characters” they were immortalised in Wilk cartoons.

There were many others, of course. Wilk, or Billy Wilkinson to give him his proper name, drew gentle caricatures of genuine local characters, mostly those associated with the Lake District hunting packs.

Since Wilk’s day — he died in 1994 — hunting with dogs has been banned. However, political correctness has not extended to his cartoons. They still sell well when they come up at auctions. One sold for £600 only last week and others have gone for four-figure sums.

I remember Wilk, not so much as an artist with a unique style, but as the man who sold sweets in his little shop in Keswick in my formative years as a pupil at the nearby Brigham School.

Billy was born, lived and died at Brigham. There was a pub, the Twa Dogs, no more than 50 yards from his front door. As a connoisseur of the Jennings bitter they sold there, it’s hardly surprising he saw no need to move away. He went to work at the bobbin mill at Low Briery after leaving school. It was a busy industry then. I remember trains stopping at the halt alongside the mill and collecting bobbins from workers who used to walk and cycle past my home after finishing work for the day.

After a spell as a fitter with the local gas company, Billy and wife Mary opened a shop in the front room of their Greta Cottage house. Dozens of youngsters like me spent our pocket money buying sweets there. Sherbet and liquorice, that tasty Scottish honeycomb candy and a few loose sweets for threepence or, if we were flush, sixpence.

Billy would invariably regale his customers of all ages with a Cumbrian tale and later, when I was working as a reporter, I would bump into him at various shows and hunting and sporting events where he was regarded as something of a celebrity.

You could never say that Wilk flattered his subjects. He chose them for their physical characteristics and their eccentricity. But, even when portrayed with extreme features and florid complexions, they regarded it as an honour to be framed in a Wilk cartoon.

The cartoon which fetched £600 at a Mitchells’ auction sale last week was typical of Billy Wilkinson’s humour. A huntsman eyeing up a bikini-clad lass while allowing the fox to make its escape. How non-PC is that?

In some ways Wilk was a recorder of local social history. His cartoons told a story that photographs didn’t always reveal. While his work remains in circulation, occasionally coming up for sale, there will be plenty of folk ready and willing to snap up a drawing to display on their wall. It’s principally a local market, but Wilk’s name lives on. Raise a glass of Jennings’ best to his memory.

REMEMBERING ROVER

PURCHASING seats and placing them in favourite spots, bearing a little plaque saying who they are in memory of, has long been considered a fitting tribute to a deceased friend or relative. Particularly so in areas like the Lake District, where people come on regular holidays and form an association with certain places where they have found peace and been able to enjoy a glorious view.

It’s a sentimental but worthy way of remembering those who have gone before, while helping those who come along afterwards to rest a while and share in the pleasure of being in that quiet place on a hillside, in a wood or a park. But some friends who have recently been travelling around some of Britain’s beauty spots noted a subtle change in emphasis. The increased number of seats named, not in memory of human visitors, but of dogs.

In my local park there’s actually a wooden statue of a dog. He was called Will and he was taken for his daily exercise in the park by his late owner, a retired police inspector. Every dog owner in the district knew Will.

In future I suspect we are going to have more and more seats paying tribute to Rover and Fido now the trend is becoming widespread. Each of them bearing a little bronze plaque saying something to the effect that Sam, Butch or Flossie peed here.

GHOSTLY STUFF

QUITE by accident I came across a play on Radio 4 last week which was set in the Lake District. Billed as a comedy, it was really a ghost story about this chap who comes to stay in a house eight miles from Keswick — he arrives by train which is a ghost story in itself as the line closed years ago — and gets a date on his smartphone app with a woman who has been dead for more than 200 years.

There was a joke. The taxi driver tells our man: “There’s nothing open in Keswick at this time of night — except the heavens.” I suppose, being Radio 4, that’s considered subtle wit. I’ll leave it with you.

ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA

ARE kids really getting fed up with the way social media has taken over their lives? A survey of 5,000 schoolchildren, on behalf of headteachers and Digital Awareness UK, reports that they’re not as keen on their smartphones and tablets as we all think.

Over two thirds of the kids claimed it wouldn’t bother them if Twitter, Facebook and their like had never been invented. Then they dashed off to get on their social media sites to tell all their mates about it!