Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 9th January 2017

IT’S a statistic that should shock and enrage. Over a year after Storm Desmond, more than 1,240 families living in an area stretching from Greater Manchester to Aberdeenshire are yet to return to their flood-damaged homes.

Around 16,000 properties were flooded in England in the wettest December in a century. The 1,246 households are spread across 27 council areas and include 760 homes in Cumbria. The real situation could be even worse because this figure was obtained under freedom of information laws and councils in some areas insist they do not have the statistics.

Just imagine if this was Japan, the United States or Germany. Indeed in dozens of other countries. It would be unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.

Charities report that many families remained in their houses after the floods, living upstairs while their home became building sites. They say the figures are just “the tip of an iceberg”, blaming a shortage of tradesmen, delays with insurance claims and a need for more support from national and local government for families left living in “Third World” conditions.

As a nation we are just so bad at getting things moving. The politicians turn up for photo opportunities, but you rarely see them again while flood victims are left to flounder on their own and the perception of the authorities is one of treacle-paced slowness with a notable lack of energy and leadership from government.

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, has accused the Government of overlooking the north of England after reports that claim some other areas of the country benefitted from more flood spending per head of population. “Many places in Cumbria were among the worst hit by the floods last winter, but the Government was more interested in offering warm words than cash,” he said.

There is a general feeling amongst flood victims in this part of the world that, once the emergency is over and the TV film crews have gone off to the next disaster, local problems are almost forgotten and, should we get another flood of Storm Desmond ferocity, there are simply no new major flood prevention measures to prevent another story of chaos and suffering.

For so many people to still be out of house and home is a disgrace. Perhaps governments think we northerners are a stoic, phlegmatic race that doesn’t kick up a fuss and just gets on with it. However, there is a hidden health element to all this. In the Carlisle area alone, two-thirds of victims have sought help from their GP for flood-related stress.

Council leaders, insurers and the Government all say they are on the case and it takes time to dry out properties and sort out the costs of damage. They may have a point, but to the ordinary observer, the pace of recovery appears to be painfullycomplacent and without clear direction or real, genuine concern from the Government.

NO “C” WORD HERE

THERE … you see, it is possible. Regular readers of this column may just have gleaned that, as we approached the festive season, I studiously managed to avoid use of the “C” word.

Whoever gave us Winterval deserved a good thrashing, but when I discovered that BT, on its website, was encouraging us to enjoy a “Merry Giftmas” I knew that the end of civilisation was nigh. A shame they did away with the stocks and hanging, drawing and quartering.

Having got through one avoidance crisis, I promise that there will be none of those irritating reviews of the past year which come to the rescue as space fillers in newspapers and on TV at this time, when everyone is far too occupied eating, drinking and ordering sofas to actually provide us with much genuine news.

All I will say on that subject is that 2016 was the year we discovered that pollsters are more often wrong than right. In fact they had virtually a 100 per cent. record of getting it wrong when prognosticating on major events.

So I won’t even descend to one of those articles forecasting dire happenings in the next 12 months. It’s notoriously tricky and your idiotic assertions generally come back to bite you on the nether regions later.

So there it is. Time for me to stop basking in my rather negative seasonal triumph. Can we just get on now? Choccy eggs are in the shops. Buy early for Easter!

SAVE YOUR TEARS

FOR many years the Herald published a page listing all those locals who had passed away over the preceding 12 months. “Long-lived Penrithians” was its customary heading.

It was always something of a ceremony in the office, waiting for the undertaker’s representative to come calling just before the year end, bearing the gloomy list.

I don’t suppose young readers gave it a second glance, but no doubt it was of importance to friends and relatives of those who had died, and it provided a talking point for older folk who doubtless knew personally, or if only by casual acquaintance, many of those listed.

Much has been made about the number of celebrities who have bitten the dust during 2016. There has been a great deal of weeping and wailing over the deaths of people who, let’s face it, we didn’t know much about, other than what was in the more salacious gossip columns.

Bowie, Cohen, Parfitt, Victoria Wood and now George Michael, dead at just 53. Anyone reading fans’ tributes on Facebook pages will have encountered almost uncontrollable emotional breakdown.

Come on people, get a grip. Are you really that upset over the death of a pop singer or comedian? Or is it what the psychologists term “transference” of emotions, when people who find it difficult coping with real life issues switch their attention obsessively to someone they’ve only seen on TV or maybe from 50 rows back at a concert.

Is this distress more about ourselves? Our memories and lost innocence? After all, we haven’t a clue about what really goes on behind the closed doors of our idols and what lies behind the image they and their publicists want us to believe in. So how can our tears be for them? Celebrities in all probability we have never even met.

It’s been claimed that, in terms of high profile deaths, 2016 was something out of the ordinary. I’m not so sure. It just seems like that. Many of the celebrities had lived long lives and nobody can go on forever. Others, bearing in mind their lifestyles of drugs, booze and birds, probably did well to reach the age they did get to. By the end of 2017 we’ll most likely be saying similar things after another batch of well-known faces have shuffled off this mortal coil.

It’s easy to become a celebrity these days. There are a lot more of them about. More of them to kick the proverbial bucket. And for those of us who are getting into our dotage, we’ve lived long enough to remember people who were stars in the 1950s and 60s and who are now popping off simply due to old age.

The real sadness is not about celebrities. It’s about those who have suffered genuine personal loss, especially when it involves a family member or close friend who has died far too soon.

The sobering reminder for me is counting up the cards at this time of year. Always one or two fewer than last time. A card arrived in mid-December. An old fell running pal — I used to spend hours at their house sharing meals after a day on the hills, discussing our next race plans — writes to tell me his beloved wife has died. He’s not yet “come up for air”. The sadness permeates his words. They were married for more than 40 years and did so much together.

That’s one of the first tasks of 2017. To write a letter sympathising with my friend. Perhaps reliving some happier times. As you get older you do this more often. It’s a reality. Death is a natural thing. If we have any tears, let them for be for real people, not cardboard celebrities whose work may have given us pleasure, but whom we were never close to other than in our imagination.

HOT CHOCOLATE

WE will remember the year 2016 as the one where nothing was destined to be quite the same again.

Donald Trump heading for the White House, Britain heading out of Europe. Forget those minor irritations. No, it was the year when chocolate manufacturers decided, unforgivably, to tamper with tradition.

They took the toffees out of Quality Street and changed the wrappers on Roses so that you now have to tear the sweets open rather than twist the paper.

As if all this was not an outrage, Toblerone decided to redesign its triangular-shaped bars. Putting more space in and taking more chocolate out.

They destroyed our hopes and our dreams, and our simple pleasures. The world will never be quite the same again.