Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 5th February 2019

THE worst day of my life came with a phone call while I was working, telling me that my brother’s body had just been found in his shed. He had taken his own life that morning and it was my duty to break the news to my elderly mother.

I well remember it. As I went through the door she was sitting by the fire. “I know,” she said, before I could speak. “Something’s happened, hasn’t it. I can tell from your face, and I have had this strange feeling ever since I got up this morning.” It was uncanny. A mother’s intuition. How else could she have felt the sense of tragedy?

As you get older you become reconciled to the loss of close friends and family members. But there’s something about suicide. A feeling that your stomach has hit the floor as you receive the news.

My mother never spoke about my brother’s suicide again. But she thought about it every day of the remainder of her life. There was a deep, hidden sadness. And I was left thinking, did I miss something in our last chat just a couple of days before he died? Was I too busy with my own life to spot a telltale sign? There is a sense of guilt, no matter how unreasonable, among those who are left to come to terms, as best they can, with the tragedy. Of course you never really do rationalise it.

I can only guess the loss felt by the family of 29-year-old Sophie Airey, who died just days before Christmas. She was, her father Andy says, beautiful and intelligent. Now he is telling her story — it was on the front page of the Herald a couple of weeks ago and has also been on local radio and TV — in the hope that more deaths can be prevented.

Andy, who I know from his time at George Fisher’s outdoor shop in Keswick, plans to run a half-marathon this month to raise money for Papyrus — Parents Against Preventable Young Suicide — a charity which was set up in 1997 by a Lancashire mother after the loss of her son. The charity’s vision is to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives by shattering the stigma of suicide and equipping young people and their communities with the skills to recognise and respond to suicidal behaviour.

Figures for 2018 produced by the Samaritans show that suicide is the UK’s biggest killer of young people — more than cancer, heart and lung disease, Aids, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and a host of other causes combined. An average of four young people a day take their lives. More than 200 schoolchildren were lost to suicide last year. In 2017 there were 6,213 suicides, with men three times more likely to take their life than women, although there has been a decrease in male suicide figures which suggest we are more open to talking about our feelings and listening than we used to be.

Andy, who lives in Morland in the Eden Valley, is training for the run. Sophie had planned to take part and he is taking her number. She will be with him every step of the way, he says. I’m sure she will.

STONE THE CROWS

SEEING that priceless story about the 4,500-year-old stone circle that turns out to have been assembled by a farmer less than 20 years ago, I recall a tale told to me by a chap who worked in a Lake District tourist centre.

Two Americans called asking for information about the Castlerigg stone circle, near Keswick. “It’s Neolithic” my friend informed them, presuming they wanted to know its estimated age. The first American turned to his fellow tourist and remarked: “Say, this guy says it’s near Lithic. Is there a bus or taxi that can get us to this Lithic place?”

Goodness knows what the Americans would have made of the Aberdeenshire stones, which one expert described as “a wonderful and exciting monument” of great antiquity. Archaeologists and historians gazed at it in wonder, agreeing it was a fine example of a recumbent stone circle. After learning of their true provenance a council official, with masterly understatement, admitted: “It’s disappointing.”

I don’t doubt the age of Cumbria’s stone circles, but there’s always been a difference of viewpoint about Castlerigg’s original purpose. Was it a community meeting place, something of religious significance, or was it a farmer with time on his hands and a lot of very large stones to get rid of?

Sometimes I suspect, in terms of the past, we see things as we want them to be, rather than as they necessarily are. The experts so wanted to believe. Think the king’s new clothes. Altogether the most remarkable stones they had ever seen.

Perhaps, in 4,000 years’ time, a party of experts will gather round the circle and contemplate its spiritual aura and deem it the product of a religious or political community, never thinking it was just a bored farmer in the 1990s who fancied having a bit of fun.

CHEERS FOR THAT

A JOURNALISTIC friend, a real pie and pint man, spotted a wise homily on a pub blackboard. “Drink beer,” it advised. “No good conversation ever began with a vegan sausage roll.”

It’s not veganism I’m against. While it’s not my thing, I can understand those who claim it’s healthy, environmentally friendly and doesn’t entail the breeding of livestock for the dinner table. What does annoy me is those vegans who have turned it into some kind of religion and regard anyone who likes the occasional meat pie as a criminal. A healthy, but humourless lifestyle choice.

I wonder how long it will be before someone comes up with a nutty idea that plants feel pain when they are picked and cut? There are those who do already believe this to be a fact. After all, the heir to the throne talks to plants. So if meat is taboo and plants feel distress, what then will we eat? Greggs, supplier of the vegan sausage roll, is probably working on it right now.

DRACONIAN FINES

ONE local authority in the North West threatens to raise the potential fine against parents who keep their children off school for holidays in term time “up to” £1,000.

I understand the frustration of teachers when parents take children out of school and expect them to make up the lost time. There are families who have an arrogant and cavalier attitude, regarding a £100 fine as just part of the holiday expenses.

Now Lancashire County Council has raised the ante, warning that four-figure fines could be on the horizon. You don’t get fined that for serious crimes like assault and burglary. Some parents genuinely can’t get a family break without taking children out of classes. They have jobs that make school holidays a no-go. I’ve done stories in the past about mothers and fathers who felt dispossessed of time as a family due to unbending work commitments.

Exactly how education authorities judge who is taking the proverbial and what is a genuine case, I don’t know.

JUST ME, DRONING ON

THE pace of technology leaves neo-Luddites like me struggling to decide whether each new development is for the good or the bad. Truth to tell, it can be both, for, while there are groundbreaking applications that benefit society, there are those who abuse any invention.

Apparently fell walkers, of the pure and simple variety, have complained after being buzzed by drones at the summit of Scafell Pike, Sir Chris Bonington’s favourite and hailed as “the summit of England” by Alfred Wainwright.

The Civil Aviation Authority has published guidelines for drone pilots. Keep them in your visual line of sight, fly no further than 500 metres away or 400ft vertically. Imagine Blackpool Tower, all 518ft of it, as an example. At 3,209ft, Scafell Pike gives any drone flier a head start.

I’m not sure what Sir Chris thinks. I can guess what AW would have said. A ruddy nuisance. And yet drones are useful for photography and they might even have applications in mountain rescue, tracking lost walkers over large areas it would require dozens of searchers to cover. A few years ago I recall Patterdale rescue team trialling a search and rescue drone. What happened with that trial?

I’m not keen on the idea of labouring to the summit of Scafell only to have some hobbyist drone pilot disturb my jam sandwich lunch, but as folk have tried to land all sorts of aerial craft on the fell tops over time, maybe I just need to accept this is the latest craze and try reluctantly to keep up.