Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster
PENSIONER Peter Maddox got right up the noses of his fellow villagers when he bought a yellow Vauxhall Corsa car.
Peter, who is 84, parks his pride and joy outside his cottage in the Cotswolds. His house, owned by the National Trust, is one of the oldest inhabited homes in the UK.
However, visitors began complaining about his yellow car wrecking this classic, English picture postcard scene. And one day he awoke to find graffiti carved into the bonnet, scratched windows and a smashed rear screen. Mechanics said the cost of the damage was more than £6,000.
So now we’ve got yellow car syndrome. People who demand that our countryside and rural villages are made into museum pieces. Exhibits for the tourists and second homes, set in aspic, for the weekenders who ever more frequently buy up the properties, thus edging out the true locals.
We are fast turning into an intolerant nation, and for Peter’s car to arouse such anger is pretty shocking. The vandal who scratched “MOVE” across it needs treatment if you ask me.
There is an element that would happily turn the Lake District into a museum and, in the rush towards preservation at all costs and rewilding of the fells, shove the people who are such an integral feature of the district out of the picture.
We’re on the telly a lot these days. Terry Abrahams’s excellent mountain portraits, film scenes for various drama series, and last night The Lake District: A Wild Year on BBC2, a program following the cycle of change throughout the year for both animals and humans in this ruggedly beautiful area.
In it, farmer Eric Taylforth talks about threats to the future of hill farming and how, once lost, this hefted memory will be gone forever. Fixed cameras all over the Lake District have captured the cycle of change in the lives of animals — notably Eric’s flock of Herdwicks — plants and people for the documentary.
The son of a shepherd, Eric has been farming in Langdale since 1980. His farm dates back to the 17th Century. The previous tenant’s father was a shepherd for Beatrix Potter who used the fortune she made from writing her children’s tales for the conservation of the Lakeland countryside and the unique culture of the hill farmers.
The main point here is the people who inhabit this wonderful part of the world. If and when we become a world heritage site, we must not forget about the people whose lives are inextricably entwined in the landscape. Those who actually live and work here 12 months of the year.
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom was up here recently to promote the heritage site bid and, more likely, to support the Conservative candidate for the forthcoming Copeland by-election. The status may be good for tourism and for the environment, but it will be no use if it’s not good for the folk who live and work here.
We must never get to the stage where yellow car man is made a figure of hate by those who have bought their own personal, exclusive form of preservation in places like the Lake District.
A SYNDROME CALLED LES
I’M suffering from a syndrome. I call it Les. Short for Long Envelope Syndrome.
For it seems that, every time the postman arrives, it’s to deliver another of those long envelopes, the sort that make your heart sink.
Where are the mystical perfumed red notelets of days of yore, with their hints of romance? Come to think of it I never did receive any of those. Or just simple handwritten letters from friends. Now it’s all e-mails and texts. Somehow a Christmas or birthday message on an e-card doesn’t do it quite the same as a real life card or note, but hey, that’s progress.
But back to Les, who almost invariably brings bad news. Long envelopes from the tax office, from the bank or building society telling me that their rates of interest have dropped so low I’m shortly to start paying them for my savings.
And since I became a pensioner I also seem to get more and more long envelopes from doctors telling me it’s time for my health check, or that they need to see me about some wayward blood results. And they always spell bad news, one way or another.
Long envelopes with those little address windows in them are the worst. Tidings of great gloom they bring to all mankind, especially me. Bills, letters in red print, tax demands, they all come in long brown envelopes with windows. Whereas once upon a time the postie was the bearer of good things, nowadays I watch them sorting my letters with a deepening sense of foreboding. Anything that isn’t junk mail, and there’s vast volumes of that, is generally something I’d rather not know about.
Seems I’m stuck with my unwanted mate Les for the foreseeable future.
ROMANCE ON RAINY NIGHTS
SO how was it for you? That great romantic rip-off called Valentine’s Day. Unbridled joy for some, disappointment for many, I suspect.
Talking of great romantics, the late Michael Williams, who married Judi Dench in February, 1971, had a red rose delivered to her every Friday, wherever she was in the world, until his death in 2001.
Apparently Michael proposed to his fellow actor in Australia and she said no. It was too romantic, all that sun, sea and sand. “Ask me on a rainy night in Battersea and I’ll think about it,” was Dame Judi’s response.
Well, they seemed to be a rarity in the entertainment world. A happy, well-adjusted couple. I remember when they came to Keswick to support the project for a new theatre at the lakeside and Dame Judi, game as ever, hopped up on a bulldozer, safety helmet, high-vis jacket and all, for a photo opportunity. She and fellow actor Michael also put on a free show to raise money and boost the profile of the new theatre. Michael joined the press gang round the back for a quick smoke. “I’ll just let the other half get on with it,” he said with a smile. “She’s the boss.”
The romantic bit? I can quite believe it. No theatrical airs and graces or actorish pomposity about this down to earth chap. He was a thoroughly straightforward, charming man. And I’m sure Dame Judi appreciated all those red roses.
TRY TELLING IT TO THE SLOTHS
AH yes, the Copeland by-election. Just how many rain forests have gone into this one? I can’t recall a single election that has produced so many leaflets, so much guff, so many electioneering promises.
The canvassers were out even before the candidates were known. They push leaflets through your door, they sometimes knock soliciting your vote, and the postman — yes, him again — is burdened down with leaflets and fliers to deliver through the letter boxes of the constituency.
I live in the Copeland constituency — just. Apparently I will be shifted to a new constituency, further north and east facing, by the time of the next general election. Nobody who lives near me has a clue to be honest. We were in Workington, then we became Copelanders, whither the next move? Probably to become Rory Stewart’s constituents, assuming he keeps winning.
The only thing I can find colourful about the by-election on the 23rd of this month is the leaflets. All very neatly set out to promote the policies they eschew and to discreetly cover over the ones they’d rather not discuss in too much detail. One or two of them certainly didn’t impress with their television skills either.
No doubt we’ll see a final push before Thursday. I will vote, even though none of the leading candidates fills me with much excitement. I believe we all must vote. But do we really need all those shiny leaflets?
Somewhere out there in the Amazon rain forest there’s probably a sloth clinging on to a tree, about to be made homeless by the new Copeland Member of Parliament. Environmentally friendly, huh!
A SHEEPISH ADMISSION
SEEMS I was caught sleeping in during Sheep Week and missed all the fun.
It was on Farming Today on Radio 4 recently. Special sheep-related events. I often listen to Radio 4 of a morning, even early enough to catch Caz Graham — ex-Keswick School pupil — and her chums reporting from the fields and fells of our great agricultural land.
But how did I miss Sheep Week? They might even have explained the flocking principle which always fascinates me. I must be following the wrong people.