Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 16th May 2017

YES, you are reading it right. I feel desperate pity for Diane Abbott after her mathematics gaffe last week when she was being interviewed, put on the rack more like, by a radio shock jock with a bit of a reputation for giving his “guests” a hard time.

The shadow home secretary’s car crash performance had political opponents guffawing and her own side creeping away red faced with embarrassment. It’s a fair bet Ms Abbott will not be getting an invitation to receive an honorary maths degree from one of our seats of learning any time soon.

So if it was that bad why am I feeling sympathy? Maybe she should have been better briefed. Labour, after the council elections, could not organise an effective campaign if all the other parties went away and left them a clear field.

Brain freeze. I once had it when invited on to a radio program as part of a current affairs discussion. First off the presenter lobbed a question at me. Did I know how much foreign aid cash was being spent in India, and on what exactly. And did I agree with the allocation of money.

I knew nothing about the figures on aid to India. I’m no expert, so how was I to know? Sporting topics I could have dealt with. Domestic politics, too. I’ve usually got an opinion on that. But this momentarily had me flummoxed. I just went silent then compounded my shame with some inconsequential remarks which were quickly picked up on by my fellow panellist, who just happened to know everything there is to know about overseas aid.

I cringed when Diane Abbott quoted a figure of £300,000 for putting 10,000 extra coppers on the beat. Of course it was nonsense, but she was like a rabbit in car headlights as Nick Ferrari pressed home her weakness. I’m no fan of hers, but in that moment I almost prayed for her deliverance.

Her reaction was hideous, however. Did she really think she could bluff her way out of the mess? Who would be a politician when you are supposed to carry hundreds of facts around in our head in case you encounter a stroppy interviewer?

The sad thing is, this is one Labour policy that outdoes the Tories on their own home territory. The traditional law and order party has cut police funding and numbers while Labour seems to better recognise the growing and changing nature of crime and have a plan to do something about it.

By its own admission, one major police force admits half of house burglaries are no longer investigated under a policy of “screening out” crime reports. Figures for Greater Manchester police do not encourage victims of crime to expect much succour.

Furthermore just one per cent. of frauds and cyber crimes reported to police result in prosecution, official figures show. Police say they are being overwhelmed by rocketing levels of fraud and financial scams. They have had some successes in shutting down fraud and cyber crime schemes, but in the majority of cases there is no prosecution.

We need more, properly trained, police to deal with these modern-day crimes and the increased threat posed by terrorists and cyber criminals, plus the crime that is worrying people in rural areas including the national disgrace of fly-tipping.

The pity is that Diane Abbott unwittingly played the clown, while a serious issue for all the political parties never got the intelligent debate it merited.

MAY DAY RED TAPE

IN my long ago days as a junior reporter, it was around this time of year when you cancelled any weekend plans. Instead we would be running ourselves silly on Saturdays covering May Days, parades and those inevitable fetes worse than death.

These were big days in the year for small communities. There was always a formidable but kindly woman in charge, who knew all the the children and could describe what they were wearing, but the real nightmare of the job was getting all the fancy dress winners and the 1-2-3 positions in the sports on the green. Woe betide the scribe who got one of those names wrong. There would be a phone call or a letter. A parent wronged. A child in tears after waiting all week to read in the Herald that they came third in the egg and spoon race.

Many of these traditional days have gone by the board. Half our villages are occupied by second homers without the commitment to help, there are too many counter attractions and children are wedded to their mobile phones rather than wanting to dress up and parade in front of their cheeky pals.

And then there’s all the red tape. The health and safety requirements. The form filling. A Lions’ fete in the Wiltshire town of Devizes recently made the news when it was allegedly cancelled because the organisers did not have a suitable anti-terrorist plan.

It turns out it was nothing to do with terror, just plain and simple bureaucracy. A Lions’ spokesman told the BBC they always filled in an event management plan, but this year the council came back with another three pages asking for more information “about this and that”.

The council said the Lions “could not guarantee a safe event” and so the May Day event was cancelled. It appears the normally Big Society-conscious organisers just got fed up with all the box ticking and took the day off.

Of course it would be stupid to ignore safety. But where does commonsense begin and end? The pub, the village shop, the place where we work. There has to be some challenge in life, otherwise we’ll find ourselves living in a very dull world. Will everywhere have to carry warning notices and submit risk assessments just to operate normally? Or should we all just stay home playing games on our iPads?

BIRDS BEAT THE BLUES

CROWS get a bad press. They’re ugly and a pest, folk say of them. Well, I’ve been observing the crows that live out back where I live. These are the most fascinatingly clever birds. I saw a pair working together on material for nest building. One picked up lengths of dried grass while his mate broke them up into smaller parcels ready to be carried off to the nearest crows’ roof garden. It was amazing co-operation.

It’s reckoned that just seeing a wren or a blackbird in the garden can cut the risk of suffering stress and depression. People in neighbourhoods with more birds have better mental health, regardless of whether they live in a leafy village or a busy city, says a study by Exeter University.

No matter whether they are pretty robins or big black crows. Only the number seen makes the difference in making us that bit healthier and happier. Other research has shown bird song can help people recover from the mental fatigue of a hard day’s work. Walking through green spaces makes us more relaxed.

I usually wake up to Radio 4’s morning “tweet” — bird song often presented by Sir David Attenborough — although long before that there’s an early starter blackbird outside the window giving it his all telling any would-be usurpers “this is my land, clear off”.

The Herald had a delightful nature columnist many years ago called Enid Wilson. I once went to her house to interview her. It must be 50 years ago, but I have memories of her enthusiasm for the wildlife, the birds, badgers and foxes, that she spotted from her living room window and wrote so knowledgeably about.

On Saturday Radio 4 broadcast seven hours of bird calls as part of International Dawn Chorus Day and now the Royal Mail has unveiled a set of 10 stamps of British song birds. A positive delight, but why a cuckoo when there’s no robin?

The number of robins in British gardens is at its highest for 20 years, conservationists report. The rise in numbers is “quite remarkable” given they dropped considerably between 2008 and 2014, says the RSPB.

Enid Wilson would have loved that bit of information — and she would already have handwritten a column on the good news for her Herald readers.

EXOTIC PROMISE UNFULFILLED

AN unsolicited e-mail invites me to “become familiar with exotic Russian women”. I feel like replying, explaining that these days the biggest thrill I’m likely to get is when the new Chums catalogue arrives in the post.

Russian ladies of dubious virtue might be all right for younger bloods, but sometimes a pair of comfort stretch high-waisters and a windproof zipper jacket, “perfect for the bowling green,” have more practical appeal.