Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 29th April 2019

THE protests in London have left me with very mixed feelings.

We could do without luvvies jetting half way round the world to tell us we’ve got to give up our cars, gas cookers, televisions, close down industry and farming and eat nothing but grass. And how many of today’s youthful middle-class activists will one day cut their dreadlocks and turn into tomorrow’s estate agents and marketing managers?

Their aims, such as abandoning fossil fuels by 2025, are unrealistic. Extinction Rebellion is easy to mock with its own sanctimonious hypocrisy, the mess it will leave behind, plus the impact on jobs and lives that punishes the little folk rather than the big corporations it so hates.

You can say they are picking the wrong targets with their protests. The UK has a relatively good record on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Joe Bloggs goes shopping these days with his own little scrunched up bag and while we don’t always get it right, we try. Ironically London, where they protest, has an ultra-low emissions zone and congestion charges.

Just imagine glueing yourself to a train in China. You would disappear — forever. India and America, who are also big on carbon emissions, might not take well to you either.

And yet, for all the faults and inconsistencies of the protest movement, I can’t help thinking they have a point. I accept that climate change is happening and countries have been slow to take action. I’m not sure I agree with the way they are going about it, but there’s a part of me that sees hope in the young and their concern for the planet.

HORACE HAD A PLAN

“GOOD evening friends, this is Horace Batchelor speaking …” Unless you are of a certain age, it’s unlikely you’ve ever heard of Horace, but back in the day, when we listened surreptitiously under the bedclothes to Radio Luxembourg, he was a familiar part of our daily lives.

Wednesday evening in our house was pools night. The football pools that is. Before the advent of the National Lottery, Littlewoods was the only possible route out of poverty for us ordinary, not very well off, people. My father always had first dibs with the section of the newspaper that contained all the form figures and forecasts for the weekend’s football fixtures. He was a four aways man.

My mother took it very seriously. She invariably had an eight from 10 line on the Treble Chance — that’s how they billed it in the 1950s and 60s — and every match she put an “x” beside was carefully weighed in the balance. Back then £100,000 was a life-changing fortune. The equivalent of the millions lottery winners reap nowadays.

For thousands of ordinary families, the football pools represented the only way out of the drudgery of everyday existence — you could give up the job, buy a nice house, a car, a telly and have a few thousand quid left over for a holiday that wasn’t Blackpool out of season.

Of course some big winners quickly frittered away the lot. Remember Viv Nicholson, the Yorkshire housewife who promised to “spend, spend, spend”. There was another hundred grand winner who blew his big win on a string of slow horses and fast women. I suppose, like the footballer Frank Worthington, who spent his entire life savings on booze, betting and birds, he could say “at least I didn’t waste it”.

But what’s all this got to do with Horace Batchelor? Well, he was a tipster who advertised his Infra-Draw Method for winning the pools on Radio Luxembourg every night. He sponsored some of the station’s most popular programmes, boasting his own myriad first dividend triumphs and offering listeners the prospect of winning large amounts for small stakes.

Back then he was a cult figure. The Bonzo Do Doo-Dah Band named an album in his honour and imitated his voice on one of their songs, even listing him as a spoof band member on the credits. The album was called Keynsham because Batchelor used to spell out the name of the west country town letter by letter when inviting Luxembourg listeners to write in for his holy grail of football forecasting.

Anyway, there was mention of Horace Batchelor in a blog I came across recently. The writer, obviously of similar vintage to myself, recalled his nightly adverts. This in turn reminded me how my mother, desperate for extra cash, took the plunge and sent away for the method. All I can say is she had a little booklet and spent many hours poring over the paper on Wednesday evenings with absolutely no financial benefit. As I vaguely remember it, the Infra-Draw System involved selecting around 20 of the most likely drawn games and reducing the final pools entry by a series of half a dozen points tests as directed by Mr Batchelor.

It’s said that Batchelor won more than £12 million in his time. Yet he died in 1977 leaving just £150,000 in his will having spent his latter years living in a small room with two TVs, one colour, one black and white, rented from a local shop. He had a cocktail bar and steel shutters, but for a man claiming more than 1,000 first dividends, it put his claims of success into perspective.

My mother continued doing the pools until the lottery came along. She had no interest in that. A game of chance, she said. She continued to follow Horace Batchelor’s system. Never won a bean. But she had faith that one day …

RADIO 208 WAS GREAT

IT was “The Station of the Stars”. The forerunner of pirate radio and modern commercial radio in the UK, Radio Luxembourg made rock music popular for a whole generation — talking ‘bout my generation here.

As schoolkids we all listened to “Two-O-Eight,” which played all the latest records and thumbed its nose at the BBC which, until then, had a monopoly of radio broadcasting and prohibited all forms of advertising over the domestic radio spectrum.

We drew up our own charts based on the number of plays the new releases received. We listened wrapt to the adventures of Dan Dare, “pilot of the future”, and his battles with the Mekon, and we heard the top DJs, including Alan Freeman, Pete Murray, David Jacobs and, yes, Jimmy Savile and, bizarrely, a regular slot giving the amateur football scores. Late at night there were religious programmes — Billy Graham’s Hour of Decision for example — but we were fast asleep by then, the songs and music still playing in our heads. I couldn’t sleep for a week after Elvis brought out Jailhouse Rock.

Although we went along with the myth that the shows were coming direct from Luxembourg, in reality a lot were pre-recorded in London. We were satisfied that they were rebels fighting the stuffy old Beeb and 208 in the medium wave was giving us something new and exciting. By the early 1970s we’d probably all put away childish things and gone over to the BBC and Luxembourg faded from our consciousness and probably from the airwaves. It was great — while it lasted.

FOURTH PLACE — GOOD OR BAD?

TALK about being damned with faint praise, but Keswick has just been named fourth favourite staycation tourist hot spot in the country. That’s after Whitby, Salcombe and Dartmouth. The highest placed town in the Lake District, though Ambleside and Windermere were not far behind, but only fourth! I ask you.

A survey by a holiday cottage company looked at bookings in recent years and data from 2,000 adults supplied by OnePoll from December, 2018. They say, given all the doubts about Brexit and the usual disruptions to travel plans, plus memories of last summer’s weather, that more than half of Brits are planning to spend their main summer holidays in the UK this year.

There’s the usual patronising guff about Keswick’s “quaint communities” and “paradise for walkers and dogs”, although not all the locals are fond of the “dog town” label. And do we believe all these polls and surveys? Separate ones just recently have named towns like Yarmouth and Filey as top destinations.

What it does show is that a vast number of properties in the Lake District have been snapped up as holiday cottages, which is lovely for visitors but not so delightful for locals who can’t afford to get a foot on the housing ladder.

Meanwhile, we linger in fourth. Good, but not great. Perhaps Whitby’s secret is Dracula and the Gothic influence. Seems you can always Count on Drac putting the bite on when it comes to staycationers.