Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 27th June 2017

ONE of the most trenchant quotes of the past week came from Peter Canham, chairman of Carers Support Cumbria, whose conference coincided with Carers Week. “The carer is often unseen, unheard and unthought of by the larger population and sometimes by funding groups,” he said.

Another delegate to the conference described carers as “our most valuable commodity” in the NHS and social care sector. Often doing the job for free, or for relative peanuts in financial terms, many carers struggle 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without the opportunity of even token respite.

I found a newspaper cutting from a couple of years ago which astounded and shocked me when I re-read it. The number of carers aged 85 or more who are struggling to look after a frail relative has more than doubled in a decade to 87,000. More than half of this growing army of elderly carers — some in their 90s — spend more than 50 hours a week tending to a loved one.

Charities Carers UK and Age UK warned that the numbers are growing. Older carers make a huge contribution to society, an estimated £15 billion a year, often at cost to their own health. At the last census, there were 1.2 million people in England aged 65 or over, who are carers. A veritable army of hidden heroes.

Of course, for those of us getting older, it’s back to our worst fear, dependence and infirmity. Of being a burden on society and family. We’re living longer, hospitals are under severe pressure and local authorities can’t provide adequate social care for young or old.

For far too long the political parties have swept the potential crisis of care under the carpet. Council budgets have been hammered, there are many hands being held out for money in this age of entitlement and policies to deal with the increasing ageing population just don’t win political popularity. Plus, care homes are closing and immigrant staff feel, post-Brexit referendum, that they aren’t welcome in this country.

So the most vulnerable are cut adrift without even a trip to Dignitas to look forward to when it all gets too much. Unless and until politicians grab the nettle, and the public understand that care has to be paid for and that means taxation, care will remain the poor relation of our society and heads will be stuck in the sand until it’s all too late.

DODGY DINNER DATES

TIMES politicial writer Daniel Finkelstein tells the chastening tale of a recent invitation to a speaking engagement when, midway through the journey to the dinner, he discovered that he had left his jacket at home.

Finkelstein spotted a tailor’s shop en route and dashed in to purchase a jacket in order that he would not be embarrassed when standing up to face delegates at the important event. However, on arrival, he heard the chairman announce: “It’s a hot day so I think we can all dispense with our jackets, gentlemen.”

I believe I can go one better, for some years ago, etched deep in my memory, is the time I received a last minute request to speak at an evening dinner. A couple of weeks before I had done another dinner and, without being a practised smoothie of the after-dinner speaking circuit, I think I got away with it fairly well. At least the audience clapped and a couple of people bought me a drink afterwards.

But this was the dinner from hell. For a start the chap who introduced me didn’t seem to know my name. A few journalistic anecdotes later, my best stuff spent, I was greeted with stony silence by the assembled throng. Actors talk about “dying” on stage. Well, these were my death throes. I brought my talk to a peremptory halt and sat down to a few disinterested echoes of applause.

After the guests had filed out a chap approached me and said how disappointed he had been with my talk as I had not mentioned the eye hospital in India once. “The eye hospital?” I said questioningly. “Yes, we thought you would talk about the work you do there. I could not understand what you were saying,” said the man.

Thus the mystery was solved. The original speaker, who gave back word, was a surgeon. The organiser of the dinner had failed to inform guests that, instead of a talk about eye operations, they’d got me with my less than serious “it shouldn’t happen to a reporter” banter. No wonder they were confused and frankly not all that chuffed.

As for me, a promising second career on the after-dinner speaking circuit was left in ruins. The nearest I had ever got to a lecture on eye diseases in the Third World was an appointment at Specsavers.

CLEARING OUT THE MEMORIES

ONE of the clearouts author Hunter Davies undertook when making the final move from his Lake District home to London, was his large collection of football memorabilia, including several hundred programs of games stretching way back to before the war.

Hunter was an avid collector of programs, notably Carlisle United and Tottenham Hotspur. His Spurs collection going back around 50 years was complete. But with space at a premium, he sent much of his footballing archive to go under the hammer at Sothebys.

Sadly, as I know only too well, a vast store of footie programs is not the equivalent of a pension in one’s old age. I’ve collected thousands of programs over the years, many of them dating back to the 1950s and 60s. Most are not even worth their face value.

But it’s not about money, it’s about memories. These old programs speak of different social times. They are, in their own unique way, history. Apart from Arsenal, who issued a publication packed with information, most old programs were thin on content. But it’s the names of players long since departed to the great pitch in the sky, the adverts and the quaint little notes from contributors that make them so special.

As kids, we saved our pocket money and sent away for “bumper bundles” of programs. Sellers advertised in magazines like Football Monthly, my childhood bible, and for 2s 6d you could get a parcel of about 15 programs, while if you could afford the 4s 6d luxury parcel, there would be around three dozen copies in your package.

And those parcels. Goodness how we managed to restrain our excitement waiting for the postman’s knock. Certain teams seemed to figure a lot. West Brom, Aston Villa, I remember. But the parcels always contained something to fire the juvenile imagination — a Scottish Second Division or a southern non-league, even from time to time a foreign international.

It was from those bumper bundles I learned more geography and history than I ever got from going to school. Games I attended and obtained the programs from are still fresh in my memory half a century on. I suppose, as we get older and need to downsize, some things must go. The programs aren’t worth much in monetary terms, but the memories they contain are priceless.

TIM’S TORMENT

NICE guys rarely finish first and Tim Farron would surely have been facing a challenge to his leadership at some stage. Admittedly Farron has not been the most dynamic of leaders, but it’s now positively disadvantageous to admit to being a committed Christian in British public life.

How times change. Farron’s stepping down dilemma suggests that Britain can no longer call itself a Christian country. I wonder if politicians of other faiths would have been questioned in the same way. But no, political correctness prevails.

My parents were devoted supporters of old-fashioned Liberalism. I voted Lib Dem at the recent election. But this Liberal is not the Liberal of my mother’s era. I doubt I will be voting Lib Dem next time. Farron has been labelled intolerant, a fundamentalist, a homophobe. But in reality it’s Tim Farron who has been the victim of disgusting intolerance, some of it from within the ranks of his own party. He’s well out of it.