Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 7th May 2019

MY mother, then aged about 10, remembered playing out with the little boy from next door. The following day they came with a horse and cart to take away his body.

My parents were lucky. They survived the influenza pandemic of 1918. Every other house in the street suffered death or serious illness and, despite close contact with victims, my mother and her brothers got away without being infected. My father was in India, in the Army, where they had the small matter of cholera to bother about rather than the flu.

That flu pandemic killed more people than the entire First World War. An estimated 50 million. One-third of the world’s population. Although the very young and very old suffered, the sinister part of it was it was most deadly among healthy 20-40 year olds.

No antibiotics. No vaccines in those days. Now we all trot along to the GP’s surgery for our pre-winter jabs. It may be good fortune, but since I started getting my regular annual vaccination I have avoided the flu. Fingers crossed, not to tempt fate, I’ve not even had a bout of man flu this winter.

Diseases prevalent when I was growing up — polio, measles, mumps, rubella — were virtually wiped out as a result of vaccines becoming available. I had a cousin who suffered permanent disability as a result of polio. Another friend had lifelong deafness following measles. Mumps, innocent mumps, could do nasty things to your testicles.

I recall having measles aged four. It was bad. Very bad. So bad the doctor called twice a day for a week and shook his head in concerned silence. Even now it brings back horrific memories of hallucinating, seeing creatures emerging from the walls of my bedroom, screaming with fear when large animals appeared at my bedside. Many would dismiss these illnesses as part of childhood, but complications like meningitis, swelling of the brain and deafness, problems with pregnancy, were far from rare.

And they are coming back. More than half a million children in the UK have not been vaccinated against measles, according to figures from Unicef. The charity is warning that youngsters left unprotected against this highly infectious disease could suffer disability and even death.

An estimated 169 million children around the world missed out on their first dose of vaccine between 2010 and 2017. Measles cases have quadrupled in England in just one year, possibly because of scare stories about the safety of the vaccine, some religious and cultural opposition, maybe complacency.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is calling for new laws to force social media companies to remove content that promotes false information about vaccine. It is clear a major campaign is needed to debunk myths and groundless fears, many of them fuelled in the 1990s by a discredited doctor who has since been struck off. The Sunday Times, earlier this year, uncovered numerous examples of false information online, one site claiming “half of all children” would be autistic by 2025. Anti-vaccine propaganda made statements that vaccines were “biological warfare against humanity” and “weapons of mass depopulation”. The World Health Organisation says “vaccine hesitancy” is one of the biggest threats to global wellbeing.

In the United States one county, responding to a severe outbreak, declared a state of emergency and banned children under 18 who had not been vaccinated against measles from going out. A bit over the top maybe, but diseases we’d almost forgotten about are still lurking out there just waiting to re-emerge. More than 220 suspected cases of mumps were recently reported at two universities in Nottingham, many of them affecting students who had not had two doses of the MMR vaccine.

Parents are responsible for vaccinations, but much work needs to be done on education if we aren’t to slip back to a time when youngsters suffered life changing effects from what we’ve come to dismiss as bog standard, harmless childhood illnesses.

Vaccination gave us “herd immunity,” but there is a real danger of virtually extinct diseases rearing their ugly heads again.

If you want to know what measles is like, just ask. But be prepared for a horror story that beats any movie scenes or violent computer games about monsters and zombies.

PUT PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY FIRST

THE Home Office and Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet when they issue a call on GPs, teachers and social workers to play a bigger role in spotting the signs that youngsters are becoming involved in crime.

Nothing wrong with joined up thinking — as long as it is properly resourced which is rarely something that accompanies government initiatives. But there’s one very important missing element here — parents. When it comes to behaviour of the young the last people the Government seem to take into account are the parents. Yet they ought to be the most important factor in bringing up their kids.

Sadly these days many young people who get into trouble — joining gangs, for example — have no male parent around. Their role models are often the wrong sort, the gang leaders and criminals. But authorities seem reluctant to confront the fact that family life is very different now and too often parents simply abdicate responsibility.

Is it really fair and right to pile the extra pressure on teachers and the police, holding them accountable for failing to spot the warning signs? These people are already stretched to the limit in their jobs. If there’s any blame going round then parents should shoulder their share for a change. It’s yet another instance of parental responsibility failing.

ARCHIBALD, MY HERO

I WASN’T a precocious child. Just a bit odd, I suppose.

At primary school we were asked one day to write down the name of a famous person. My mate put Mickey Mouse. I said Archibald Leitch. Archibald who? Unless you are an enthusiastic follower of football stadium architecture your reaction will probably be that of our headmaster.

Some of the class were asked to say why they had chosen the Queen, the Prime Minister or the bloke off Crackerjack. I didn’t get asked to elaborate on Archie.

25th April marked the 80th anniversary of the death of a man whose hand was on the design of dozens of football grounds throughout Britain before the war, yet someone who died almost completely unacknowledged despite his enormous contribution to the beautiful game.

Archibald Leitch’s biographer Simon Inglis does a great talk about football grounds. He says that when Leitch died there was not a single newspaper obituary or news item, yet if you went to a match in 1939 there was a one in three chance you would be sitting in a stand or standing on a Leitch terrace.

His early years spent designing tea factories in Ceylon, Leitch discovered a market in the growing requirement for football stadiums. He was touched by tragedy in 1902 when 26 people died after a wooden terrace collapsed at Ibrox Park, home of Glasgow Rangers. Leitch had been commissioned to design the ground of his boyhood team and, despite this disastrous event, he went on to build grounds from Arsenal to Anfield, from Old Trafford to Roker Park and many in between. Most were demolished after the Taylor Report’s call for more all-seater stadiums, but the cottage at Fulham and two stands at Everton remain symbols of Leitch’s design.

I’m an inveterate doodler. Many hours spent whiling time away at council meetings or in court as a reporter. I love drawing my own designs for football grounds. Mostly in Archibald Leitch’s style. Even as a youngster football grounds fascinated me. I once drew a ground and filled it with 70,000 dots, representing the crowd, for a school art competition, themed “an outdoor scene”. All the winners drew trees. My entry baffled the judges who must have thought I was a suitable case for psychiatric investigation. Like the visiting psychiatrist said of Basil Fawlty, “there’s material for a whole conference there”.

I met Simon Inglis some years ago and found a kindred spirit. They probably thought he was a bit odd as a youngster, too. He’s still touring the great footballing towns of Britain giving his talks about Archibald Leitch, a man who left his mark on generations of fans. It’s a shame so few of them knew his name or the part he played in the development of the game.