Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 20th August 2019

“’ERE now,” as nefarious spiv Private Walker might have said in Dad’s Army, “I can make you a few quid, easy.”

You don’t even have to send me your bank details and pin numbers to make a few quid from this little scam. All it takes in one pigeon, a little blob of pigeon poo, and bob’s your uncle for a sweet little earner.

One rail passenger was awarded £27,000 by Network Rail for slipping on some pigeon droppings at Paddington station in London. A total of 290 claims for station mishaps in the past five years have been settled at a cost just short of a million pounds.

If we ever needed any evidence that the compensation culture has gone stark raving mad this is a prime example. Another passenger claimed six grand after slipping on tomato ketchup, while “hurt pride” won £500 for a customer at Euston. Just for falling over and looking like an idiot.

I remember many years ago rushing across the road in Penrith to catch a train. A van parked by the kerb had a ladder jutting out and I ran headlong into it, momentarily knocking myself cold. A nurse who was passing came to my aid, picked me up from the gutter and said: “You’re going to have a nasty lump on your forehead. You’ll be more careful next time.”

I never thought of claiming, but in this age of compo culture, that ladder and the bump on the head would be worth at least 10 grand. I just felt a twit for not paying proper attention.

The BBC elicited the latest award details in a freedom of information request to Network Rail. Many accident claims are genuine. But it’s a pity there are so many people willing to abuse claims, with the assistance of law firms hungry for business.

There’s a world of difference between industrial claims that put people out of work and cause serious long-term injuries and not being observant when a pigeon plops in front of you. It’s too easy to claim whiplash and damaged pride for trivial, even concocted, claims. But in this day and age someone has to be to blame. Whatever became of personal responsibility?

GIVE CARLISLE A BREAK

WHAT is it about Carlisle, the great Border city, that attracts such ridicule from the worlds of literature, theatre and television?

In a play I attended last week two characters announce they are off to live in Carlisle. Not a place you would readily visit, it’s strongly hinted, let alone somewhere to set up home.

Our Prime Minister, Boris, once wrote an article about an evening spent in Carlisle which proved so alarming, what with tattooed ladies and threats of violence, that he eventually legged it back to the railway station where he spent the night nervously waiting for an early morning train back to London and civilisation.

Maybe he called in for a pint at the same pub where that young chap worked behind the bar before discovering a cure for Cumbrian ennui by joining the Navy. “Born in Carlisle, made in the Royal Navy,” said the recruiting advert on TV. Okay, so it’s not got the sophistication, but that’s plain insulting.

I can go back to the 1970s and a time when I travelled the country reporting on Carlisle United’s fortunes. Some still thought Carlisle was in Scotland. Southern-based reporters were surprised that we didn’t wear animal skins and woad and live in caves like Millican Dalton. Heavens above, we actually knew how to use telephones and eat with knives and forks.

Eamon Dunphy, a sparky Irish midfielder who played for Millwall, wrote one of the best football books, Only A Game, in 1974, which revealed a truthful, often disconcerting story of day to day life behind the scenes at a professional club.

Carlisle away. The fixture all the players were happy to miss. Dunphy said it was amazing how many of them went down with injury niggles the week prior to the game and declared themselves unfit to travel to the freezing far north. Millwall did not enjoy playing at Brunton Park and usually lost.

In Only A Game, Dunphy recalled a pre-season friendly against West Ham on the East London club’s training pitch, a “grey and cheerless place, shades of Carlisle in winter”. You see, he couldn’t let it go.

But, as the Cumbrians’ fans sing, after every new barrage of insults, “We are Carlisle, super Carlisle. No-one likes us, we don’t care.”

OUR SHAME

CORRECT me if I’m wrong, but it wasn’t the Europeans kicking us out. It was Britain who thought we could do better without the EU and that it would be easy peasy to extract ourselves while still being friends with benefits.

Did not Michael Gove say we would be able to dictate the terms of any future trade agreement? Seventeen million fell for the line that it would be the easiest deal in history and that we would set the terms in our own interests.

Leave supporters continue telling those of us who fear the consequences of no-deal that we’re the losers. We have to “get over it”. So now we’re heading helter skelter for the most stupid decision in my lifetime.

As businesses stockpile for disaster, we will have to cosy up to some of the world’s most unpleasant governments for new trade deals. I hope I’m wrong. I do most sincerely. I hope no-deal departure will mean bright shining uplands for the future of this country. However, I believe future generations will look upon us with shame.

DUMBING DOWN?

THE BBC’s Panorama, first screened in 1953, is the world’s longest-running news television programme.

It has boasted some of the TV “greats” in that time. Distinguished broadcasters like Richard Dimbleby, Robert Kee and Robin Day, the last named a figure of such fearsome journalistic authority that he was given his own Spitting Image puppet.

It’s a fair bet that the Panorama of old would not have got itself into hot water, and been forced into an apology, over a report that accused British women at a Kurdish detention camp in Syria of giving an Isis salute when it was a common Muslim prayer gesture.

The reporter in this complex and highly sensitive item was Strictly Come Dancing champion Stacey Dooley who spoke to women who had left their countries to join Isis. Ms Dooley, who is described as a journalist, film maker, presenter and author, has indeed made several television programmes dealing with controversial topics.

But a programme of Panorama’s repute can surely produce more weighty and reliably researched reporting. The episode would have horrified its former presenters. Is the BBC really dumbing down on its “serious” reporting?

A BURNING TOPIC

THAT’S another year chalked up. Another birthday observed but not exactly celebrated. Why would anyone want to celebrate getting older? Don’t take any notice of all those articles and TV programmes in praise of old age. Take it from my knees and hips, it’s no fun.

When you are young you get exciting gifts. But what do you give an old codger? In my case a book of suggested final words. Mots justes for my last breath. Yea, yea, very funny.

At least I’ve bagged a good deal for my cremation. In fact, I never thought there was so much information about that final ride to the crem until I started investigating on the internet. It’s a pricey business this snuffing it, but I took the precaution a few years back, when I retired, of buying a policy that should at least pay for the basics of my ultimate disposal.

Compared with prices since, it’s a bargain worth living longer for. My value goes up with each birthday. Latest figures released by the Cremation Society, a charity with a most informative website, show cremation charges are something of a postcode lottery.

It’s over a grand when you croak in Oxford and Chichester, but barely a third of that in Belfast. Just over £800 in our local crematoriums, Carlisle and Distington. But that’s only the half of it. The average cost of a funeral is more than £4,000 and once the farewell party and professional fees are factored in, you are looking towards five figures.

Bet you never thought dying was so expensive. “You can’t afford to live, you can’t afford to die,” as one reader told a Daily Mail reporter. I’ll hang on a while, if you don’t mind. I’m still thinking about those famous last words. “Aaargh” is top of the list at the moment.