Nobbut laiking: Ros Brewster

Date: Monday 30th July 2018

WE have the very man on our doorstep should the prolonged dry spell turn into a full blown drought.

The last time we needed a minister for drought was back in the scorching summer of 1976 when Birmingham MP Denis Howell, a former Football League referee, was appointed to urge the nation to use less water. He was even pictured in the national newspapers manning the phones as residents called in to split on neighbours who were still using hosepipes to water their precious but wilting gardens.

Howell, who acquired the nickname minister for rain, was even instructed by the Labour government of the day to perform a rain dance. It was the driest summer in more than 200 years and the minister, ever aware of a good publicity opportunity, invited reporters to his house to see how he and wife Brenda were sharing baths.

The appointment of a minister for rain was greeted cheerfully by the public, but in reality things were becoming worrying and the government was considering measures such as cloud seeding, or shipping in water in tankers from Norway. The Privy Council spoke of a “national crisis” and warned that public complacency “must be shattered”. I remember my own modest contribution to the problem. I wore a little badge that proclaimed “Save Water, Bath With a Friend.” I seemed to run out of friends rather rapidly.

People queued at standpipes in northern towns and cities. You could have five inches of bath water. Seemingly no-one thought of taking a shower and bottled drinking water was not yet a fashionable fad. In Surrey a group of vigilante housewives staged a sit-in at their local golf club to prevent staff from watering the greens.

Denis Howell’s rain dance uncannily worked, for 48 hours later the country was deluged by storms and it was not long before the minister of state for drought became floods minister and even minister for snow.

Recent fires on Saddleworth Moor and, to a lesser extent closer to home at Thirlmere, act as a reminder that, as a nation, we simply aren’t prepared for fine weather. Just lately the shores of Derwentwater have seen an explosion of pallid bodies soaking up the sun. More the Costa Derwentwater than any Spanish resort. Indeed folk returning from holiday have looked enviously at home-grown tans.

The hot spell has merely fed our proclivity for moaning about the weather. At least it’s different. Usually everyone is going on about how wet and miserable the summer has been. Now they’re complaining about the temperatures and the parched gardens.

If it goes on much longer, and the Government for a moment forgets about the torments of Brexit and turns its attention to water shortages, then send for Penrith and Border MP and justice minister Rory Stewart, that man for all seasons.

Rory once walked 6,000 miles across Asia, through some of the most arid countries on Earth. He travelled on foot through Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal and, as chairman of the Turquoise Mountain Federation, was responsible for establishing a water supply in Kabul. If ever a man should know about water in dry conditions it’s Rory Stewart.

He’s already earned his weather credentials as floods minister in the wake of Storm Desmond. I recommend that he start planning his rain dance.

MAKING YOUR MARK

THE hot weather has brought out much bare flesh, not all of it attractive and much of it lobster-like due to its unaccustomed relationship with that big yellow thing in the sky.

Apologies now to anyone who has proudly acquired a tattoo, or indeed a whole body’s worth of them, but they have flourished to an unsettling degree in the long, hot summer. Tattoos have become fashionable in celebrity circles. Unfortunately what starts off as body art does not always stand up well to the ravages of time.

In the past having a tattoo was a manly sort of thing. Sailors traditionally bore designs that had some significance to the nature of their work. Anchors that signified crossing the equator, the souls of dead mariners, or maybe hope. The names of girlfriends perhaps. There’s always a bit of a risk with that, of course. Explanations demanded by new partners after you’ve moved on. I can’t help thinking that, for all the discreet tattoos, there are many more that people are going to regret in later years. Those lovely elegant lines worn by young women which, in 50 years’ time, will make people think you suffer most terribly from varicose veins.

Having seen just how many people have been showing off their tattoos in the hot weather, perhaps I am missing something. Maybe it’s one more example of my dinosaur tendencies in old age. But some do look pretty dodgy. Think before you ink would be my advice.

NO TIES TO BIND

A JOURNALISTIC colleague, recently retired, was musing the other day about ties, and the fact that he no longer needs his large collection. For 40-odd years he wore a tie to work every day. He wore a tie for social gatherings and funerals. Now he has wardrobes and drawers full of useless ties, destined never to see the light of day again.

I know exactly what he means. I must have around 100 ties. Club ties, sporting ties, charity ties, black ties, old school ties, joke ties that play Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, spotted ties, plain ties, lurid ties that look like someone has been sick on them.

When I started work I remember getting ticked off for coming in one day without a tie. These days, in many offices ties are the exception rather than the sartorial rule. Top executives like Richard Branson wear open-necked shirts and where they lead we follow.

And nowadays, when someone has died, it’s more than likely people will be asked to wear bright colours at the funeral. Where once we turned up in dark suits and black ties, now it’s a Carlisle United deckchair replica strip from the first Wembley visit.

My friend is sorting his ties for the charity shop. I doubt many charity shops these days would welcome a collection of ties. Mine are probably destined to linger, hidden away in a cupboard. I’m not much good at throwing stuff out when it’s past its sell-by date. I have this vain hope that, one day, my old clothes will come back into vogue, yet I know in my heart of hearts they never will.

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS

IF our first memory was before the age of two it’s almost certainly fictional, say researchers from the City University of London, who carried out a study involving 6,600 people.

I had whooping cough just a couple of months short of my second birthday. So how come my memory of lying in bed, my mother looking anxiously on, Dr Kirkpatrick hovering even more anxiously, is so vivid?

Am I, as the scientists maintain, creating a false memory from pictures or the recollections of others? He says our brains at that age had not developed the ability to remember anything. Yet an astonishing number of people claimed their first memory was from their first year.

Professor Martin Conway believes that older people effectively make up a memory to “complete” the story of our life. But my memory isn’t a happy one, and I know from being told later that I was quite ill. It’s not something I particularly desire to complete my life story. For someone creating a memory, the recall of how scared I was being unable to breathe, racked by these great coughing fits, is more than any fabrication of something I was told subsequently. It remains, as a first memory, all too real.

NO MANNERS

LIGHT on his feet film star Fred Astaire once said “the hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any”. That was probably about 80 years ago. What would hoofer Fred think about today’s lack of manners?

I was in the street one day last week when a party of around 30 kids and adult companions approached. Space on the pavement was tight. I was in no hurry so I stood back to let them all pass. Not a single word of thanks from any of them. Not even a glance from the adults.

At least none of them was on an iPad or mobile. I suppose we must be grateful for small mercies in an age where manners no longer matter very much. If it was getting bad in Fred’s day, what’s it like now?