Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 1st May 2018

IT was the best day of my working life. A trip to Millom, way out on the west coast of Cumbria, to put things right with the locals I had upset.

Millom doesn’t often hog the headlines or attract the TV cameras. Even by Cumbria’s geographical standards it’s pretty remote. Say you live in Alston, then you will need to set off early in the morning to get there before it starts getting dark. London and the Kent coast are probably closer in travel time.

But this was one of those occasions when Millom was in the news, and not for happy reasons. A police officer, taking his dismissal case to a tribunal, claimed that he had been sent to work in Millom — “as a punishment”.

I wrote a dismissive article saying I understood what he meant. The good folk of Millom got wind of it and wrote to my boss. They were not chuffed. An unfair blot on their lovely town’s reputation, they said. Come and see Millom for yourself before you write any more insulting comments.

So the boss said “why not?” And thus I was packed off to Millom, along with a photographer, to record the other aspect of the town, the welcoming residents, the lovely beaches nearby, the nature reserves, the busy social life, the town that just wanted an even break to show its good side.

We arrived to find a double-decker bus waiting at our disposal and the entire town council in full regalia simply itching to give us the grand tour of the town which once was the home of the famous Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson.

Just up the coast is Haverigg prison, said to be the model for Slade Prison in the Ronnie Barker television series Porridge, but that’s a minor blip when you see the lovely beach and the seascape views and the backdrop provided by Black Combe fell.

What became evident was how much these people loved Millom. It was their kind of town. Unusual in some ways, certainly out on a limb, but I could not help warm to them and it. Millom may be a hidden corner of Cumbria, getting a mere fraction of the tourism that brings millions to the rest of the county, but when they spot a visitor they certainly know how to lay out the red carpet.

While we were meeting shopkeepers one of the councillors spotted something rare in Millom — a car with a German registration plate. A deputation immediately set out to make inquiries. They don’t get many overseas tourists in Millom and they genuinely wanted to welcome whoever had alighted on the town. Unlike Basil Fawlty, Millom knew how to treat German tourists.

I see Millom is in the news again. This time it’s a plan by developers to build an eco-village where residents can grow their food and work from home, as per Tom and Barbara Good in The Good Life.There will be 500 houses on 300 acres at an old iron mine, all part of a £200 million scheme which aims to create the first community in the UK to “give more than it takes” by producing an energy surplus.

A bit late for Richard Briars, I fear, and I don’t suppose they supply Felicity Kendall, who I once spotted, many years ago, having lunch in a Keswick cafe. No petrol cars will be allowed, although there will be driverless electric cars for residents. Perhaps we’ll all be green with envy one day.

When you say Millom is on a railway line and accessible by an A-class road, it doesn’t really tell the story of exactly how far away it is from the eastern fringes of Cumbria. Once a new town built up around the iron works, and with a 10,000 population, it has struggled since the works closed in 1968.

But I found its people wonderful — and forgiving. They’d held a special council meeting to discuss my original column and, rather than fume silently, had pushed the boat out to show me that Millom was not a “punishment” posting.

You’ll need a whole day to do it, but go on, give Millom a try. Make it a summer’s day and take your bucket and spade, wander round, speak to the locals and you may find, as I did, something special. in this part of our county that I suspect many of us have never visited.

WE’VE BEEN DUMPED — AGAIN

EVER had the feeling that you’ve been dumped? Not nice, I know.

But another bank has just announced it is pulling out of town. That leaves just the one remaining bank, and that opens four days a week. How long, I wonder, before it too joins the exodus of local services?

I live in tourist town and it’s busy all year round. I remember when it used to shut down at the end of August and reopen the following Easter. When all the shops closed on Wednesday afternoons.

Now we’ve got thousands of visitors in the season and at weekends, so the cafes and the outdoor shops will find a market, but, unless you have transport, buying essentials is another matter altogether, and one of the most obvious shopping developments of recent times has been the proliferation of delivery vans with their online orders negotiating streets that were once designed for the horse and cart.

The House of Lords recently issued a scathing report about the failure of successive governments to support rural communities. An indictment of Defra and Whitehall for failing to grasp the importance of the countryside, its way of life and economic well-being. The Lords spoke of years of underfunding affected the economic and social welfare of towns and villages.

When the Government claims it puts the needs of rural communities at the heart of everything it does, why then do the Lords feel the responsibility for rural policy should be transferred from Defra to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government?

All isn’t well in the countryside. We’ve seen a constant erosion of services and the gathering pace of closures of local businesses. For lots of older people, who are not technology savvy, being cut off means more than just living in a remote area.

The banks running out on us is just a part of a wider problem. The question you have to ask is, who really stands up for the countryside and its people?

BOWLED OUT

I KNOW. You don’t all love cricket. But bear with me, an old traditionalist raised on the ball by ball broadcasts of Test Match Special with Brian Johnson, John Arlott, CMJ, Aggers and the ex-players like Fiery Freddie and Trevor Bailey, who never used three words where two would suffice.

Cricket, with its 100 ball bash, is moving away from the game we old-timers love. Change is coming and we can’t stand in its way, I suppose. But the very essence of the game, as portrayed so lucidly by writers like Neville Cardus, is slipping away.

Scores of cricket buffs expressed shock and dismay on social media at the announcement that their beloved TMS has been bowled out by the BBC’s commercial rivals TalkSport. The Beeb has lost the radio rights to cover England’s forthcoming tours of Sri Lanka and the West Indies, one poster describing it as “a national disgrace”.

Once, in the days of Johnners and Blowers, it would have been. But I don’t think Test Match Special these days is a patch on what it used to be. Life, and cricket, moves on.

The old boys have passed on to cricketing heaven, or retired, and there will never be another John Arlott, his Hampshire drawl describing a “freaker” bursting naked on to the wicket at Lords.

Much as I’m an old sentimentalist, and I abhor the way cricket is shaping, I’m not shedding any tears over the commercialisation of TMS. It’s been wonderful, but it’s had its best days.

GRACELESS FANS

I’M not a Premier League football fan, but hearing Arsenal fans speaking in insulting terms about their manager of 22 years, Arsene Wenger, I bridled somewhat. Wenger is stepping down. Maybe it is time to go, but what a graceless bunch of buffoons these fans are.

Nothing against a great club, but my wish for them? That celebrity fan Piers Morgan gets the job and gets Arsenal relegated for the first time in their history. Then they might appreciate the measure of the man they’ve lost.