Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 17th January 2017

FOR those of us around at the time, Donald Campbell’s death in a high velocity crash while attempting the world water speed record on Coniston, was a Cumbrian JFK moment, one of those significant days when we remember exactly where we were when the news filtered through.

I recall when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas because I was at home in bed suffering the unpleasant effects of measles. I was so ill that I could hardly work out if what I was hearing on the radio was just another of the screaming habdab nightmares that came with the horrible illness.

The morning Campbell died I was a youthful reporter working for the Herald and scuttling through St Andrew’s churchyard in Penrithon my way to meet a family to write an obituary. A lady passing by announced to me and the world at large: “Campbell has crashed. They think he might have been killed.” When I got to the job they were a bit surprised to see me. “Thought you’d be at Coniston with all the other reporters,” they said, forgetting for just a moment their own sad bereavement.

Many years later I was to stand on the shores of Coniston, and outside the village church, speaking to local people about their memories of Donald Campbell, and meeting others who had travelled from many parts of the country to attend his funeral. Last week they gathered again in smaller numbers, this time for the 50th anniversary of his death, and BBC4 screened a fascinating profile about the enigmatic Campbell, the man who set eight world speed records on water and land in the 50s and 60s.

If ever a man was both heroic and tragic, this was he. I suppose today there will be those who look back on Campbell as an anachronism, the sort of stiff upper- lipped British male of a bygone age whose achievements, viewed in modern times, seem somehow self-sacrificing and daring, yet foolish and wasteful. It was the post-war period when Britain was trying to re-establish itself. Donald Campbell was patriotic to almost comic book levels. He never quite emerged from the shadow of a father who was a national hero, but who had little time for his son whom he oddly called “old boy”.

Campbell was a popular figure in this part of the world, where many of his speed attempts were focused. He attended local events in village halls, presented cups and chose beauty queens and the documentary showed him to be an honourable and courageous man. It was a time of innovation and without innovation and risk there can never be progress. Campbell knew that the risk of tragedy was just as great if not greater than the possibility of triumph, and yet, as Canon David Peacock said at last week’s anniversary event, he still went on.

Goodness knows what folk would make of Campbell in this age of risk assessment and health and safety. It makes you shudder just contemplating it. But without human endeavour and the pushing back of boundaries, we would still be dragging our tails out of the sea or living in some dark ages.

Sadly, Campbell knew nothing else other than speed, and when financial support began to dry up, it was probably inevitable that his desperation to succeed would cost him his life. It was indeed a tragic end to the story, witnessed by just a handful of onlookers on a frosty, still January morning. It was the men who conquered Everest and stood on the moon, and those like Donald Campbell, who fired the imagination of present-day adventurers and explorers who seek yet greater achievement and risk on earth and in space.

His kind of old fashioned Britishness has long since died out, but in Cumbria he is remembered by an older generation for his modest and pleasant, yet charismatic, charm. His daughter, Gina, speaking last week, put it like this: “His life lives on through a lot of other people’s imagination and their own courage.”


APPARENTLY six out of 10 healthcare professionals think it would be a good idea to have GP surgeries in hospitals. This is one of the most nonsensical ideas I have heard in some while, coming at the very moment when the Red Cross claims that hospitals are facing a “humanitarian crisis” of over-crowding, lack of beds and an incapacity to cope with rising numbers of people presenting themselves at casualty with a variety of complaints.

Those who believe in the benefits of moving GP surgeries in with hospitals simply haven’t thought it through. Their response displays an ignorance of the people they are supposed to care for and treat. But then, who asked the patients for their opinion? For a start it would bring even more people into hospitals and who decides whether someone complaining of chest pains should see a GP to treat a pulled muscle or be rushed to a heart consultant.

All this comes at a time when cash-strapped health authorities are talking closures. A time when hospital departments, even hospitals themselves in outlying places in counties like Cumbria, are under threat. Do these professionals understand how long it can take to travel 40 or 50 miles on rural roads in winter? More patients will add to the existing parking chaos at hospitals. And many young families, and the elderly, the sort of folk who visit doctors’ surgeries, simply don’t have their own transport.

At a time when hospitals are under the severest pressure, even if the Red Cross is slightly over-egging the crisis, the one thing they do not need is more people attending, when most of them need to be seen at an easily accessible local surgery. The survey, carried out for a healthcare company, suggests that some of our medical professionalscould do witha big dose of real world thinking.


A FEW things are bugging me about television news reports. Why, when the newsreader hands over to the outside reporter, does the latter spend the first five seconds nodding like the Churchill dog? And why, pray, does the reporter have to begin every sentence with the word “absolutely?”

You know how it goes. George back in the studio opines: “Looks like it’s raining pretty hard where you are in Downing Street.” “Absolutely” replies the reporter, following the customary nods. George says the Prime Minister must be feeling the heat of Brexit. “Absolutely” comes the inevitable response. And so it goes on, absolutely. It’s only then you discover Mrs. May is in Brussels and the only people left in Downing Street to tend No 10 are the cleaner and the person who comes in to feed the cat when the PM’s away.

Can anyone explain the necessity to have said reporter standing in the pouring rain in Downing Street at 7-30am when the PM isn’t even there? All too often a report is filmed in some location that has little or no relevance to the story. And don’t get me on to schools. Breakfast TV has an item about education, so it packs a cameraman and reporter off to a school that is willing to open at 7am and bring all the kids in to pretend they are working, just so they can get on the telly. If the TV broadcasters, and they’re all guilty of this, think any of this adds authenticity then who are they fooling? The viewers don’t. Absolutely not. And I’m sure readers are nodding in agreement.


WHILE I’m about it, I might as well get another grump off my chest. It’s politicians this time, and their current most annoying saying. Every time you hear one of them say “I’m very clear about this” you know full well they are not clear at all and it’s nowt but flannel. There are variants on the theme. “Let me be quite clear” is a popular one. “We in the Government have a very clear idea of where we are going,” is a useful phrase for not answering the question.

It’s clear to me there must be something in the training handbook for politicians that advises them, when caught on the hop by a questioner, to express their clarity in the midst of a mental fog. Whenever I hear a politician say they are “very clear” about something, I know they are not being at all clear about anything that you and me want to know.