Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 12th August 2019

WHENEVER I’m about to start having a go at modern day popular music — so much better in the 60s, I moan — I look back to some of the cultural classics of my youth, such as My Old Man’s a Dustman and Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight, and promptly shut up.

The problem with those witty songs, which admittedly did have their roots in old-fashioned folk, is that nearly 60 years later they keep coming back into your brain, like some insistent little worm, and you can’t stop yourself humming the catchy tunes.

It just takes something like the bin collection problem the council has been having round our way to spark off another bout of My Old Man’s a Dustman. Allerdale Council has been holding meetings to try to resolve the problem with its contractors over the suspended collection of garden waste, glass, plastic and tins, a contract agreed by a previous pre-election incarnation of the council.

Labour’s John McDonnell says rubbish collection, previously outsourced to private firms, should be provided by local councils as it was in the past. Councils are, he claims, being “carved up” by contractors.

What he doesn’t mention, of course, is the cost of all the new municipal dustcarts and extra binpersons our local authorities would have to pay for if the job was put back in-house. Come to think of it, what do you call a large number of dustcarts? A collection, I suppose.

Plus, if the council was to adopt Lonnie Donegan’s lyrics, all these dustcart operatives would need to be supplied with cor blimey trousers, hobnail boots, dustmen’s hats and live in council flats. And woe betide any householders failing to provide festive season gratuities. Donegan’s old man would simply go round there and deliver a “punch up the throat”. Donegan did have a more serious side to his music, although it was fripperies like My Old Man and Chewing Gum that furnished him with his most successful number one hits. The “king of skiffle” was possibly the most influential recording artist before the Beatles. As Britain’s first real pop music superstar he is credited with bringing the blues to Britain, yet ironically he was paid the equivalent of just £3.50 for his first hit, Rock Island Line. It went on to sell three million copies.

One of the first records I ever bought was a Lonnie Donegan classic, Puttin’ On The Style. One should not judge a singer by his more bizarre songs, nor a dustbin by its contents. If you spend a moment looking through his catalogue of hit records you realise he was one of the true superstars of his time — and old codgers like me still go around singing to ourselves while folk with no recollection of the songs think we’ve finally lost it.

Donegan was 71 when he died of a heart attack, while waiting to go on stage and play, with the Rolling Stones, at a memorial concert for Beatle George Harrison. Consigned, like cor blimey trousers, to the happy memory of we oldies.

A Miracle Of Nature

I GOT a little confused between naturist and naturalist and shocked one elderly woman of my acquaintance the other day.

But for one magical Thursday I became Chris Packham’s pal as I joined the observant ranks of the butterfly recorders and took part in the big nationwide survey surrounding these remarkable little creatures and their life cycles.

Visiting a friend’s house on a sunny day, I was astounded to see a buddleia bush covered in dozens of butterflies. Not the type I recall seeing before. Thanks to the internet, a quick check revealed they were Painted Ladies and had flown 3,000 miles from North Africa just to settle and feed on a pretty purple bush in a Lake District front garden.

Millions of them are making their way north, eventually generations later to reach the Arctic Circle as part of a once-in-10 year phenomenon. I call it a miracle. A miracle of nature which it was a privilege to share. The last time these wonderful butterflies were seen in this country in such profusion was in 2009, so I’m going to be a doddery 82 before they return.

They fly at speeds of up to 30mph over deserts and seas — and Bournemouth where they were first spotted a couple of weeks ago apparently. Favourable breeding conditions are thought to be the reason they have appeared in their crowds. Normally they fly so high we don’t even know they’ve passed over on their extraordinary journey from countries like Benin, Niger and Chad.

Each weighs less than a gram and has a brain the size of a pin head. Yet the Painted Lady is one of nature’s most sophisticated travellers. “An amazing wonder of nature,” as one expert described them.

We go through our lives often too busy to contemplate some of the more incredible aspects of the natural world. I guess I’m lucky. Retired, I have time to stand and study bushes and their insectivorous contents. But it does make you wonder at miracles like the butterflies that make this fantastic journey, perpetuating their species as they go, and why and where it all fits into the great pattern of existence.

The late Professor Sir Fred Hoyle, once a resident of these parts, would no doubt have had some theories. Before Stephen Hawking came along Fred was Britain’s best known astronomer and physicist, propounding his views on Big Bangs, the energy level of the universe and many more things way beyond my simple ken.

Sir Fred loved fell walking. He said it helped him to think. He divided his retirement between the Lake District and the south coast. He’d have been round like a shot to study those Painted Ladies, you can bet on that. There was nothing he loved more than trying to rationalise the miraculous, but even he admitted that if the planet we live on had been one giant jigsaw puzzle, what odds would you have got on it coming down to earth and fitting in the wonderful way it’s done. Whether you are more naturist than naturalist, religious or atheist, it’s something to think about over your cornflakes this fine Saturday morning.

BRENDA KNEW BEST

WHERE’S Brenda from Bristol when you need her brand of great British commonsense? Remember Brenda. She went viral in April, 2017, when she was interviewed by the BBC’s Jon Kay after Theresa May had called a snap election.

“You must be joking. What, not another one!” said an outraged Brenda. “I can’t stand this. Why does she need to do it?”

Another election now looks inevitable. Not a question of if, but of when. In the next few weeks perhaps. Or will Boris hang on until the spring?

The new Prime Minister is losing his majority and no-deal Tories will be praying that, during the summer hols, MPs keep their hands off their secretaries, drink nothing stronger than lemonade on nights out and resist defecting to another party. In turn MPs will be praying that Boris, thus far impermeable to scandal, keeps foot as far from mouth as possible.

The electioneering has already begun. Why else would the Government be handing out money like sweeties? One minute austerity, the next there’s £2.1 billion extra to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. That’s on top of the £4.2 billion allocated in 2016. For once I agree with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell when he says it’s “an appalling waste of taxpayers’ cash”.

We’re witnessing a nation self-harming, and none of this need have happened. Heaven only knows what Brenda thinks of it all now.

A MILLION PROBLEMS

I WAS one of the reporters covering the presentation of a cheque for £1.9 million to 16-year-old Cumbrian girl Callie Rogers when she became the youngest National Lottery jackpot winner. Sometimes in this job you get a feeling and I felt that day this was not destined to end well.

Nearly all the money’s gone now, most of it wasted on “fake friends”. I only hope that 16 years after that gathering at the Armathwaite Hall Hotel, she’s found some happiness. They say that the people best able to cope with a big win are those who already have a few bob who know how to keep hold of their cash. There’s something in that.

Politicians are more concerned about OAPs doing their 10p Lucky 15s in the local betting shop than teenage Lottery winners. Sixteen is far too young to deal with the multi-million prizes. But of course it raises money for good causes — from losers. And governments don’t have to pay for youth centres, play groups and other facilities they used to have to fund while the lottery is doing it for them. Ever wondered if our greed means we’re being taken for a ride?