Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 13th November 2017

IT was an interview I will never forget, and it’s one of the reasons why I buy a poppy at this time of year and give some thought to why I wear it.

He was an old soldier who had been on his final visit to the war graves. It was a special anniversary, a chance to meet up with a dwindling band of fellow veterans and to remember his fellow servicemen who did not return from the Second World War battlegrounds.

He had witnessed men cut down beside him and said the real horror of war was like nothing in the films. And suddenly tears filled his eyes and he apologised for having to ask for a break in our talk while he composed himself. As if any apology was necessary from this brave man who was not ordinarily given to sharing his wartime experiences.

Indeed it was his last visit. He died a few months after our meeting. This was a man who didn’t parade on Remembrance Sunday for the public to see his medals. He couldn’t even remember where he’d put them. “I was just an ordinary bloke, taken from work to go to war. You just did it. It wasn’t heroic or anything like that,” he told me.

Well, he and his colleagues were far from ordinary. I don’t suppose our snowflake generation would understand. A survey suggests that one in three Britons under the age of 25 is refusing to wear a poppy because they believe it glorifies war. So easily have the sacrifices of courageous men and women been forgotten. For this chap, and many of his wartime friends, the poppy was not a glorification of war. And for us, our freedom won from their sacrifice, it’s a reminder of the obscenity of war. I imagine many of today’s under 25s have no idea what the two world wars were about. We certainly don’t seem to have learnt the lessons of war.

TV newsman Jon Snow declines to wear a poppy, denying any lack of respect, but pointing to the tyranny of the charities and their badges and ribbons almost forcing people to display support. I take his point, but I don’t agree with him. The poppy is something we all should wear. In an age when everyone displays their victimhood and “war” is a word that’s become devalued, I will always remember that interview and the tears that streamed down the cheeks of a tough man reliving memories most of us will hopefully never have to experience ourselves.

A TAXING JOB YOUR MAJESTY?

WHEN my accountant sent me my tax returns he always added a note that I should “read and check thoroughly” before posting them off.

I don’t know if the Queen gets a similar missive from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when her investment portfolio is due for review. I imagine not. Her Majesty probably has people to do that sort of job. Unlike your average small business or freelancer. The Duchy secretly put more than £10m of Her Majesty’s money into funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, neither of which has corporation tax. The Duchy handles the Queen’s investments and her £519m private estate.

Instead of looking forward to her 70th wedding anniversary later this month, cue embarrassment for Her Maj. Nothing illegal you understand. But leaks and revelations that renew political controversy over tax havens. Hard to argue with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that “there’s one rule for the super-rich and another for the rest when it comes to paying tax.”

The Duchy says all its investments are fully audited and legitimate, and there are examples in social media, technology, sports companies and A-list celebrities of far bigger sums being moved to overseas havens. We’re by no means the only country to have people taking advantage of tax havens. While the rich get richer legally if not morally, you can bet your bottom dollar if the small businessman so much as failed to provide a receipt for a tank full of petrol the taxman would jump on him like a ton of bricks.

“Read and check.” Perhaps next time the Queen will be tempted to attend to her own paper work, even if it’s ten million quids’ worth that’s got to be gone through.

CLOCK THIS MYSTERY

“MAKE sure you come round for four o’clock if you want to see it,” advised my friends. And indeed, at that very hour, I witnessed the phenomenon of their kitchen clock suddenly taking on a life of its own, the hands zooming round crazily until, at last, it settled at one minute past, like nothing odd had ever happened.

The clock does this every afternoon. Apparently the answer lies on the Cumbrian coast, at Anthorn where the radio station sends out a signal which serves as the UK’s national time reference. The signal is derived from three atomic clocks installed at the transmitter site and is based on time standards maintained by the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington. The signal strength can make some equipment fail, especially domestic items not designed for optimum sensitivity or positioned haphazardly. In other words, your kitchen clock could just be facing in the wrong direction, or be hanging on the wrong wall to receive the signal.

Anthorn is one of those outlying bits of Cumbria that, I’m willing to wager, many Cumbrians could not identify on a map. I went there once on an interviewing mission and the people I was seeing had to talk me in on the phone like air traffic control. However what comes out of Anthorn by way of The Time From NPL as the signal system is known, can be received throughout the UK and across much of northern and western Europe. The facility has been located at Anthorn since 2007 when the signal from Rugby in the Midlands was switched off.

Radio controlled clocks using the signal always display the right time and correct themselves for summer time. This then must be the explanation for my friends’ extraordinary spinning clock hands.

I’m always amused when people ask if I have “got the right time.” As if I would deliberately give them the wrong time. But here’s one bit of Tomorrow’s World in Cumbria that demands the right time, all the time.

NO MORE CLOCK WATCHING

AS a semi-retired person one of the benefits is that once you’ve left full time employment you gradually get over being a clock-watcher. When you are working full time your life is dictated by time. Appointments to make, deadlines to meet, longing looks at the clock as home time approaches.

Now I’m only concerned with time when it comes to kick off at the football on Saturday afternoons and, once a week, ensuring that the column is done and dusted. I’m not even that bothered if I miss something on the telly. And like the Pope, I can have a kip in the afternoon if I want without feeling guilty. The Pope is 80, after all, and entitled to nod off. It’s said he sometimes falls asleep while praying.

The other day I was overcome by sleep watching a boring football match on the box. When I woke the team in red was now in blue. It took me a while to realise the first match had ended long since and I was now viewing a different game. I’d missed an hour of one match and the first half hour of the next.

I’m no good with clocks and I don’t own a watch. The clock in my car is an hour ahead — I still can’t work out how to change the time despite reading and re-reading the instruction manual. Still, who cares. It’ll be right in six months’ time when the clocks change again. Ah the sweet bliss of retirement and the end of all that clocking on and off.

A FINE ROMANCE

AS Britain’s politicians descend into a slough of despond, awaiting the next revelations of inappropriate conduct, knee fondling under the table and worse, I’d like to end this week’s column on a genuinely old-fashioned romantic note. Sculptor Meryll Evans from Keswick, who has died aged 94, once told me how she and her husband Archie got together for a marriage that lasted well over sixty years.

Archie first spotted fellow student Meryll across a crowded room — a chapel in Cheltenham actually. She was dating one of his pals and it was only later, when in the army, that Archie wrote politely asking if they could meet. But he had to ask her parents’ permission first. Imagine that happening in a relationship nowadays.

The couple lived in Kenya for several years, where Archie helped develop the country’s sport and Meryll taught local teachers. Many of her sculptures were nostalgic reminders of Africa, although visitors to Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake will know her work best for the bust of Dame Judi Dench and Michael Williams.

What a pity some of our politicians haven’t been as discreet and romantic as the delightful Archie and Meryll Evans.