Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Monday 12th March 2018

WE were warned not just once or twice or even 10 times but ad nauseam that we were in for nasty weather but the warnings went unheeded not necessarily by ordinary members of the public but by those whose only role it is in life to plan for these events but clearly don’t.

London and the Home Counties planned ahead, sort of. They did as they always do down there and took fright at the very mention of the possibility of snow or strong winds by cancelling trains two days in advance of the forecast event, just in case.

So afraid are they that it might snow, rain or even get a bit breezy that recently when someone standing on platform 13 was overheard complaining that they were suffering from terrible wind all trains in and out of Waterloo were immediately cancelled.

Cumbria didn’t get that much of a mention nationally during the week but that could have been because the BBC’s weather map showed the amber warning python snaking down from north-east Scotland into Lincolnshire but not crossing the Pennines.

Even though the BBC did have people in “the North” there is still that stereotypical undercurrent displayed in phrases like, “even in areas used to this sort of weather”.

It’s as if we are a different country with a different climate lying somewhere in the tundra north of Hemel Hemsted shown on the map as, “Here be Ice Dragons”.

I’ll bet the greatest worry for these news teams sent north was not the cold but that they might get eaten by wolves or bears which roam these remote places or, even worse, that they might have to spend more than 24hours in places that just don’t stock Nocellana olives or sun dried tomatoes

What they would have seen had they peeked over the Pennines was a county which had already experienced a long and often not very pleasant winter but they would have seen something else, something which was, to my big brother at least, an eye opener.

My brother lived in Barrow-in- Furness from his mid teens until his mid sixties when he finally saw the light and moved to Lazonby. Last week he rediscovered something he had not seen since our childhood and that is real community. People calling round asking if he needed anything, people ringing to check on him and those with vehicles suited to the conditions bringing fresh milk and bread to his door (it seems we can survive anything as long as we have milk and bread) and this week, of course, the (airborne) cavalry have arrived to lend their very welcome assistance to still isolated communities.

Meanwhile, in much of the country while similar community spirit was to be seen the authorities failed miserably to either prepare or cope.

Hours in cars with no help or even information from constabularies which seem to have all gone home. Railway passengers stranded on trains with no-one seeming to have any idea of how to get to them.

It was a tough week while the “Beast from the East” blew but it was not unprecedented, no matter how much the news media liked to bull it up, but the authories too often seemed moribund and clueless.

We can blame motorists and travellers for not heeding the warnings, but in a time when the news media over-eggs every pudding and turns every incident into a major crisis, we respond by taking the boy who cried wolf attitude. When dire warning after dire warning fails to materialise we statrt to ignore the constant threats of Armageddon in the same way that we ignore the motorway matrix because too often we travel for miles with a 40mph speed limit just to see “End” when there was no problem to be seen.

If this weather is repeated next week or next year those who should have learned lessons and have plans and contingencies to deal with it will not.

However, Cumbria will because living inside the Arctic Circle we know how to deal with bad weather and to keep the bread and milk flowing while those in the softer lands where it is milk and honey which usually flow haven’t a clue.

THE most recent NHS satisfaction survey found the greatest overall dissatisfaction levels amongst patients since the 1990s.

The most worrying decline in satisfaction and confidence was with the General Practitioner (GP) part of the service. These results must make fairly bleak reading. Satisfaction with GPs last year fell to 65 per cent, a drop of seven per cent on 2016 to the lowest point in the survey’s 35-year history. Another annual survey by NHS England has also shown a consistent decline in patients rating GP services as “good”.

There may be more to this than meets the eye on first reading or on first sensationalised reporting in the media. A more detailed look shows that it is the younger user of the NHS, those who work, being the least satisfied with GPs (so are Brexit voters, Labour supporters and ethnic minorities) than those who are over 65, while Liberal Democrats and remainers are the most satisfied. It is clearly a very comprehensive and very nosey survey.

The point is that those who are dissatisfied with the NHS in general and GPs in particular are the groups who seem to be dissatisfied with everything.

It can be a pain to get an appointment with a GP and an almost impossibility to get one with a specific doctor.

The response of the GPs’ spokesman to this survey was a bit puzzling and could be an illustration of how and why GPs may just have moved a bit too far from meeting the needs of their patients.

Dissatisfaction caused by long waits for appointments and hence slow referrals for conditions in which early detection is essential he blamed on a shortage of GPs which he attributed to a combination of stress, too many demands on doctors’ time and lack of resources which has led to a real difficulty in recruiting new doctors to become GPs.

That doesn’t seem to make sense. We don’t recall great shortages of GPs when they worked morning and evening surgeries, did house calls in between and were on call some nights and at weekends and got paid far less than they do now and we were given appointments within a day or so.

Perhaps it is not that we are short of GPs, but that they are doing other things. How many of us have tried to make an appointment with a particular doctor only to be told that they do not work on that day (or days) of the week. Where are they? We no longer have “a doctor” in the sense that we could claim to have in the past.

It was the last Labour government which did the damage by revising GPs’ contracts without, as usual, thinking about the law of unforeseen consequences.

IT is ironic that at the same time as we celebrate the life and achievements of Sir Roger Bannister and hail him as one of the last (he wasn’t really) true amateur athletes we groan at the news that one of our modern sporting icons, Sir Bradley Wiggins, is under a cloud of suspicion for taking performance enhancing medication.

Former students and staff of what was then Ullswater Community College may recall my annual commentary on the Bennison and Thwaites mile race in which, David Coleman-like, they heard the story of how on a damp and windy evening at the Iffley Road Stadium in Oxford on 6th May, 1954, a medical student who trained in his spare time achieved the holy grail of athletics to run the first sub four-minute mile.

Soccer and boxing are the only sports which I can recall from my youth which were professional. All the rest right up to international level were played by amateurs. Many of us will recall Bill McLaren, the consummate rugby commentator whose encyclopaedic knowledge of each player always included their profession, “Och, he’s great lighthouse of a fellow this policemen from Swansea”, and “Colin Meads the great Waikato sheep farmer who carries the ball in his hands like an orange pip”.

Amateur sport was no less thrilling or competitive than the modern professional equivalent. In hindsight it was the fact that it was ordinary people we were watching achieve extraordinary sporting feats which made the individuals and their accomplishments so special.

These people were not sponsored or paid to do nothing but train and occasionally compete and winning was honour and acclaim enough. Winning a gold medal did not bring with it the riches we see today and knighthoods were only given at the end of long careers of service to sport.

They played sport for different reasons, basically the same reasons all the rest of us lesser mortals played sport but these people were exceptionally talented and, I would suggest, would not have cheated even had they been given the incentives to do so which seem to tempt so many modern athletes enjoy.

It is huge amounts of money from television deals, betting and advertising revenues that have changed sport but they have not changed it for the better. Money has taken the sport out of sport.

Roger Bannister and those of his era were true sportsmen (and women) and we may never see their like again.