Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 24th April 2017

BACK in the day we used to listen to a radio program called Down Your Way which visited towns and villages all over the United Kingdom, speaking to locals and playing their choice of music.

Several leading broadcasters of the post-war period hosted the program including Richard Dimbleby, Franklin Engelmann and, latterly, Brian Johnson. The BBC once took it off the air as “an economy measure”, but had to restore its second most popular program after a storm of protest.

Down Your Way invariably met worthies like the local bobby, someone from the church, an award-winning gardener, a bank manager perhaps. They’d have a job finding a local bank manager if they brought the program back these days.

Down our way one high street bank is set to close in a few weeks’ time. Another will go the same way later in the year. This in a busy town with a hectic tourist trade which often doubles and trebles the native population.

Banks are businesses and they tell us that in this digital age they don’t conduct sufficient face-to-face business to justify some of their branches. But banks also have short memories. Short memories of the time when the country’s taxpayers bailed them out during the financial crash.

Bank bosses — the big boys in London, not the local managers — were glad of our money then. They are less keen on their social obligations now.

High street banks, part of the so-called big six, have shut more than 450 branches or put others on notice since New Year’s Day. Since 2010, more than 2,600 banks have been closed, with the program more acute in rural areas. Bank closures are making it more difficult to live and work in these areas and, no matter what assurances they give, there are many elderly and vulnerable customers who fear they won’t be able to cope with on-line banking and fears about cyber crime.

The country stood behind the banks — we had little choice — but are the banks standing behind us? Not likely. At a time when they should be rebuilding our trust, they are turning their backs on many communities. For an industry that got more than £500 million in support following their reckless practices, the banking sector is giving us short shrift in return.

It’s time for local communities to stand up and demand that at least one major bank remains operative in their towns and for government to impose tougher tests on their reasons for closure. The banks have forced many of us to do a lot of our business on-line, but thousands still want to bank the traditional way.

You’d think the big banks would want to restore their credibility, not cut and run. I’m sympathetic with local staff who present a good public image of their banks. But clearly the attitudes of the big bosses haven’t changed much since the crash.

And that image of the helpful bank manager, a pillar of the local community, the reliable sort who joked with jolly old Brian Johnson, well all that will very soon be just a memory we old timers recall with nostalgic fondness. Down Our Way? Down the proverbial Swanee, more like.

BAIL MADE THIS PRINCE A PAUPER

POLICE are concerned that the announcement of a shake-up to bail conditions, the biggest in more than 30 years, will adversely impact on victims.

I was sympathetic to their view until I heard a radio interview with a chap called Mr. Prince who said he had spent two years on bail, losing his business, his marriage and having all his accounts frozen, before being told the Crown Prosecution Service did not have sufficient evidence to charge him.

For Mr. Prince, who was arrested on allegations of fraud and money laundering, there was no explanation from the police and even the CPS’s grudging decision came as little consolation.

Music presenter Paul Gambaccini spent a year on bail, unable to work, before hearing that he was not being charged over alleged historic sex offences dating back to the 1980s. He had been arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, and believes his arrest was publicised by the police in a bid to get other people to come forward with allegations against him.

He claims he forfeited £200,000 in lost earnings and legal costs, quite apart from the stress and reputational damage he suffered as a consequence of being in limbo all that time.

The 28-day time limit can be extended with the approval of a senior police officer or a magistrate and comes as a long overdue hurry up for investigations. Each year around 303,000 suspects are placed on police bail with some 19,000 on bail for more than six months and 4,000 for more than 12 months.

The police argue that, in detailed cases, it can take a month for forensic results to come through, while cyber crime requires expert analysis of computer equipment. It’s a fair point, but to some extent they have brought the changes upon themselves by tardiness in several high profile cases where people have been left in legal limbo, only for a decision to be made not to press charges.

There’s no real excuse for leaving someone languishing on bail for months on end when, in all probability, they know they don’t have the evidence to charge them. Some victims will certainly suffer when bail conditions are lifted, but justice has to be done for all and that includes the accused — even if it’s a bit late for the unfortunate Mr. Prince.

MORE ABOUT AUDEN

FURTHER to my recent item about the poet W. H. Auden’s family connection with Threlkeld, a reader points me in the direction of a comprehensive biography by Humphrey Carpenter, in which there are references to Auden’s stays at the family cottage at Wescoe.

The author says that Auden’s family acquired the cottage in 1924 or 1925 and in August, 1929, he went there to work. A poem he wrote during this month suggests he was having difficulty coming to terms with ordinary life having returned in high spirits from Germany. Yet, still happy to be home, he began his poem … “Being alone, the frightened soul returns to this life of sheep and hay”.

There is a further reference to Auden at Wescoe, around 1932, when Carpenter reports that “he travelled up to the Lake District and spent some weeks at Wescoe, his family’s cottage at Threlkeld, where he began work immediately on a new project”. His mother was with him in the Lake District. “Living with Ma is a bit of strain,” he confessed in a letter to a friend who arrived to find Mrs. Auden “rather forbidding”.

In the mornings Auden retired to his room to work, emerging for lunch declaring he had written 100 lines, but, at other times, saying he had produced virtually nothing. His biographer recalls visits, not to the beauty spots of the area, but to old mine workings with rusting machinery.

“Auden usually wore a pair of white shorts which exposed his long, pale legs,” says Carpenter. Once he wore a red shirt and broad-brimmed hat from Oxford days in which he had made a bullet hole. His friend “was embarrassed to be seen with him”.

To add further confirmation to the Auden family’s links to Threlkeld, a photograph in the biography shows Wystan, his brother, John, and their father, leaning somewhat self-consciously on the outside wall of their cottage. Wystan, looking tall and slim, is wearing a jacket and white slacks in the picture, which is captioned as being taken during the 1920s.

W. H. Auden was praised by many literary contemporaries, not least Dylan Thomas and Graham Greene, and in a further link with the Lake District, Sir Hugh Walpole, The Herries Chronicles novelist who lived at Brackenburn overlooking Derwentwater, described his writing as “a delight”.

Walpole moved to Keswick in 1924, making it his main home. He died in May, 1941, aged 57, after over-exerting himself by making a speech and joining a lengthy march for the town’s War Weapons Week. He is buried in St. John’s churchyard. Auden died aged 73 of a heart attack the evening after he had given a poetry reading in Austria.

REAL WORRIES

A PAIR of Alpha males locking horns like stags looking to mate. As if Putin and Trump were not frightening enough, one of those Alpha males is now threatening to tackle a nutter who happens to own a few hundred nuclear warheads and promises he will use them.

And you expect me to be worried about an obnoxious Sun columnist with repugnant opinions, but who, for all that, is no racist”? Even an Everton fan of my acquaintance did not know about Ross Barkley’s ethnic background, so how could an idiot like Kelvin McKenzie have known? We’ve all got bigger — much bigger — things to worry about right now.