Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 10th April 2017

IF the world continues on its present crazy way, the long-held tradition of April Fool’s Day will soon become a forgotten relic of the past.

In the newspaper business it’s always been a jape on 1st April to come up with a slightly plausible but completely outrageous story to get readers taking a second and even third look before deciding it’s probably a clever spoof.

The same with television. The BBC even got in the act some years ago with a film item about people picking spaghetti from spaghetti trees in Italy. It actually fooled several viewers into thinking that the main content of their spag bol actually grew on trees.

As kids we always played April Fool pranks on our mates, our parents, even the neighbours. My stock-in trade as a cheeky five-year-old was to inform the woman next door, an enthusiastic gardener, that escaping livestock were munching her best plants. She always played along with it and came outside only to pretend she’d been taken for an April fool when no animals could be seen.

But one 1st April half a dozen sheep and a goat, escapees from a field up the road, did enter her garden for real and began chomping on anything vaguely green and growing. I dashed round to tell her. “Oh, yes,” she said warily. “You’re not catching me with that one any more.”

It says something about our mad, mad world that some newspapers had to print articles on Monday explaining that April Fool stories they had used on Saturday really were that — April Fool jokes.

The i ran a story about a secret plan to introduce cheaper ticket standing carriages on the railways. Those of us who have travelled cattle class for real invested this tale with more than a vestige of belief until Monday’s paper stated there was no plan — “at least, not that we know of”.

The Guardian’s item about George Osborne becoming a fashion designer, about to unveil a range of hi-visibility industrial garments, could easily have been on the mark. Six-jobs George seems up for any paying job these days.

The Daily Mail’s only mistake was running the runaway marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on pages 6 and 7, but the BBC, yes, them again, presented a story so realistic that rapper Stormzy got on his high horse on Twitter protesting at news that Sir David Attenborough was about to present a documentary about grime music. He did see the funny side later and apologised.

Not that many years ago, had you told people on 1st April that Donald Trump would be President of the United States, they would have thought you had lost the plot big time.

Five years ago, had you suggested that by 2017 David Cameron would be yesterday’s politician, that Theresa May would be the incumbent of No. 10 and that Britain would have voted to leave the EU, I think you would have got odds of a million to one about the treble at Ladbrokes.

In today’s world nothing is unbelievable, nothing is impossible any more. The unpredictable has become real, and the maddest April Fool could come true. Which rather dispenses with the whole idea of an April Fool’s prank. It’s a scary thought, isn’t it.

WHY NOT A CUMBRIA SLEUTH?

JACK Regan came out with the oxymoron of the week in an old 1970s episode of The Sweeney, one of my favourite TV detective programs of the past.

Detective Inspector Regan, one of many memorable John Thaw television characters, was discussing criminal types with his oppo George Carter, when attention turned to the gangster’s moll. “Who’s the bird, then?” said Carter. “Oh her,” responded Regan. “She’s just a high class scrubber.”

I’ve always been a fan of TV detective programs. At least the old-style ones where the cops paid little regard to the rules, yelled “you’re nicked” a lot and invariably had to fend off the determination of their bosses to stop their wilder excesses. Cops like Jack Regan, from the Flying Squad, who carried a shooter in his inside pocket and usually ended up using it. They still show The Sweeney on one of those outlying Sky channels, and I still love it.

I was a great fan of 77 Sunset Strip as a kid. Stu Bailey, the top man in a detective agency, was my big hero. I even ran home from football on Sunday tea times just to watch it in black and white on our old telly. Bailey was played by American actor Efrem Zimbalist Junior, a real smoothie with a voice to match, and the series ran until 1964.

But cool as Stu Bailey was, I prefer my detectives with rough edges these days. For instance, I like Rebus, the Edinburgh copper who also breaks the rules to catch the villains. And Vera, the dumpy middle-aged detective who drives around picturesque bits of Northumberland in an old Land Rover, always working it out eventually thanks to a bit of overlooked evidence. There’s a new Vera series showing on Sunday evenings. It’s gold dust for the tourist economy of the North East.

Which makes me think, why don’t we have a Cumbrian detective series? A copper who studies Wainwright’s guides, recites Wordsworth at the drop of pair of handcuffs, goes after the criminals on an electric bike, has a mate who wild swims in Derwentwater for a hobby, that sort of thing. Catching the rogues, but preferably while showing off the most scenic places.

They filmed an episode of Poirot in the Lake District a few years back and television does love the area, so why not a Cumbrian dialect-speaking detective of our very own? Mystery falls from frayed ropes on Shepherd’s Crag, bodies turning up in Millican Dalton’s cave, death stalking marmalade festivals, it’s all there. Plots aplenty. We just need to think of a name.

A MESSY DIVORCE

A LEADING divorce lawyer once proclaimed that it was only when both sides were discontented with the outcome that you knew you had arrived at something like the correct result.

Article 50 has finally been triggered to signal Britain’s departure from the European Union. We’re in there, for better or worse, ready to begin negotiating our divorce. I still find it hard to believe that we’ve voted for this massive gamble, with so many factors hanging unresolved.

I believe that we will have a far more dangerous world if Europe splits apart politically. The EU has its faults, many of them. But at least we have had 60 years of peace.

We are in it now, for better or more likely for worse. Brexit supporters seem to think we can simply keep the best and get rid of the worst. But, as our friend the divorce lawyer would say, it’s not like that in reality. The end of free movement, dropping out of the single market, the price of departure and the impression that our negotiators start from a negative position up against the clock.

It’s a path fraught with difficulties as we are seeing already. Twenty-seven other member nations with the right of veto. Gibraltar, Scotland, Ireland, all there to add confusion. A mass of laws and regulations to plod through.

We were sold Brexit on a false prospectus and, as in any divorce, only the lawyers will come out smiling. But it’s happening and I sincerely hope we are able to get a deal that is no disaster for this country. If not I suspect a whole younger generation will not look favourably on our generation, one which preferred turning the clock back to the 1950s than looking to the future. I accept the inevitability of our leaving, but remain, in hope rather than confidence, one of those blasted Remoaners the Daily Mail delights in pillorying on a daily basis.

A MERCIFUL RELEASE

OUR local mountain rescue teams lack nothing in resourcefulness — or domesticity it appears. When a climber got her hand stuck in the rock while climbing in Borrowdale, members of the Keswick team had a ready answer — a bottle of Fairy Liquid.

They poured the slimy, soapy liquid between hand and crag and duly freed the unfortunate woman who was then lowered, along with her rescuer, to the bottom of Shepherd’s Crag, uninjured apart from, one assumes, a sore hand

It’s good to know that our rescuers are not only efficient climbers, but do the washing up at home as well. Surely the makers of this popular brand of washing up liquid can be prevailed upon for a handsome donation to the cause in return for the unexpected publicity afforded by the incident.