Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 17th December 2018

IT is rather fortunate perhaps that one-time Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman did not allow his gaze to settle on the town of Penrith.

It was Betjeman who penned the famous words “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough, It isn’t fit for humans now.” It’s said that he later came to regret the poem’s harshness. Not half as much as the good people of Slough, one suspects.

His poem, published in 1937, urged bombs to pick out the vulgar profiteers, but spare the town’s “bald young clerks”. Slough was used as a dump for war surplus materials between the wars then became the home of 850 new factories.

But what could Slough and Penrith possibly have in common? The answer is that both figure in the top 10 in a survey by property website Zoopla which reveals the places in the UK where homes for sale are most in need of renovating.

So what does it all mean? Either Penrith has some of Britain’s crumbliest tumbledown houses or, more to the point, it’s a great place to buy a property — average price £255,165, says Zoopla — do it up then sell on for a handsome profit.

Penrith has many good things going for it, but joining the list of “Britain’s top renovation hot spots” does not readily lend itself to a poetic response. However, Wordsworth attended school in Penrith, where he stayed with family members, and W.H. Auden mentioned the town favourably in his writing and took great delight in the “beloved chilly North”.

And although I cannot establish if Betjeman ever stopped off in Penrith, there is a link with the town insofar as he was the poetic mentor of Mary Wilson, the wife of former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, whose father was a Congregational minister in the town. Harold Wilson visited Penrith several times and said he was always happy to return.

Mary Wilson published her own volumes of wistful, rather nostalgic poetry in the 1970s and they sold in the tens of thousands. Present Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was a big fan and, by way of a tribute after her death, described her as “a wonderful poet”.

Of course, more recently, the TV programme The Office was set, in its first series, in Slough. The residents of Penrith, in between doing up their homes, can truly give thanks they avoided Betjeman’s bombs — and David Brent.

WELL-DESERVED RECOGNITION

CONGRATULATIONS to all the winners in the recent Cumbria Sports Awards, but a special word for the volunteer of the year, Penrith’s “nappy squad” football coach Irwin Wallace, who is not just a jolly nice bloke, but represents a lot of people who give up their time week in, week out, to provide activities for kids with their only reward being that they love doing it.

Irwin has been providing an early introduction to football for youngsters for more than 30 years. His creed is “fun, friendship and football”, and he retains the same enthusiasm he had when it all began.

I can vouch for the hours that people like Irwin Wallace devote to communicating that same enthusiasm to the youngsters because, several years ago, I was responsible for reviving a junior team and managing them with all the unseen jobs that entailed.

Starting off with half a dozen under-12s the first task was to beg and borrow some kit then get local schools onside with identifying kids who might want to join. There was transport to arrange — we always seemed to be one car short — pitches to book, training to fix, indoor facilities to find in winter, meetings to attend, suddenly finding players became unavailable when it came to away games against the league leaders, encouraging parents, oh, and our only match ball has burst. Does anyone know where we can get a new one free before Sunday?

It was rewarding, and there were a few Irwin Wallaces around willing to share advice and knowledge, but at times you wondered if running a junior football squad was becoming more onerous and time consuming than your actual job. Mourinho has it easy compared to some of our local volunteers.

Without the coaches, secretaries and managers there would be a lot of kids left to their own devices. Forget the Premier League prima-donnas, they are the real stars of football and the often overlooked heroes of our local communities. Irwin’s award shows their hard work does not always pass unrecognised.

MOUNTAINS MEASURE UP

WELL, well. You live and learn. Until my ancient knees gave out, I was out on the fells every week, winter and summer. A faithful follower in the footsteps of Alfred Wainwright. But, until this week, I confess to knowing nothing about Hewitts — I knew him only as a character in Coronation Street in the 1960s — let alone Dawsons, Simms and Nuttalls. The latter were the people who made mints, weren’t they?

Britain has gained a mountain after two ramblers re-measured it to reveal it had been wrongly classified as a hill for years. Foel Penolau in Snowdonia has always been 16ft over the 2,000ft minimum height requirement for being classed as a mountain and now it has been added to the list of Hewitts — an acronym for Hills in England, Wales or Ireland over Two Thousand feet high.

The Hewitts addressed one of the criticisms of the Nuttalls which were listed in a book by Anne and John Nuttall in 1990. Subsequently Alan Dawson supplemented Hewitts with Simms, a full metric equivalent.

Got all that, have you? Well, I’m certainly confused. The two gentlemen with the GPS technology, who measured the latest addition to the Hewitts, describe it as “a very worthy addition to the mountain ranks”. Me? I’m sticking with A.W. His guides are a whole lot simpler to understand.

As for Harry Hewitt, he came to a sticky end in Corrie. Husband of Concepta, father of the wayward Lucille, he was crushed under a van while carrying out repairs. His character, played by the late Ivan Beavis, never actually climbed a Hewitt in his seven-year stint in The Street. The closest most residents come is when climbing the front step of the Rovers Return.

RORY’S ON HIS BIKE

LOOK, I know our parliamentarians are driven to distraction by Brexit, and anything that provides a diversion from the dreaded “B” word is welcome. But come on, Rory, you can provide too much information when it comes to your, ahem, sex life.

Speaking for the Government in a road safety debate in Westminster Hall, Penrith and Border MP and justice minister Rory Stewart espoused the merits of cycling, pointing to an American study that claims men who cycle have the sexual prowess of those five years younger.

The minister spoke of an “astonishing range” of health and environmental benefits. Better for your weight, your bowels, your heart and your skin, always assuming you don’t fall off regularly as happened to me when I tried unsuccessfully to learn to ride a bike.

“It’s better for your sex life … yes, much better for your sex life,” said Rory, sending a frisson of excitement round the normally staid room and, no doubt, prompting fellow Honourable Members to dial 118 on their mobiles for the phone number and address of the nearest cycle shop.

BREXIT BLAME

SO who’s to blame for the Brexit fiasco? David Cameron is chief suspect. After all it was his idea to call a referendum under the mistaken impression that a sizeable majority would vote Remain and, once and for all, enable him to silence the dissenting Euro sceptics on his own back benches.

I suppose you could lay blame at the feet of the Prime Minister and her selfish, duplicitous colleagues, whose negotiations with the EU produced an agreement that satisfied neither Leavers nor Remainers.

Farage, even Ted Heath if you want to go back that far. You could even blame Jeremy for his indecisive approach to Brexit and, let’s face it, the EU was never going to give us all, or even a small part, of what the Leave campaign promised.

Personally I blame the 52 per cent who voted Leave. Democracy is all very well, but it doesn’t always provide the right result. Mind you, they’ll never admit they got it wrong.