Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 2nd May 2017

PARKED up next to a swanky health club the other day — no, I wasn’t visiting the gym, just half-inching a bit of free parking space — and I could not help noticing that every other car arriving was a posh, brand new number.

Soon my Punto was hidden shamefaced between a collection of BMWs, Mercs, 4x4s and a range of sporty cars as the women arrived for their morning bums and tums session. I’m not being sexist. That’s what was advertised in the reception area.

Forgetting bums and tums for a moment, I wondered how many of the drivers in their fancy limos actually owned them outright. Or how many hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of loans were involved in this show of wealth.

Apparently there’s concern in the City that British families are borrowing far too much in order to drive their status motors. An estimated £30,000 million is owed to so-called personal contract purchases. Indeed Steve Baker, an MP on the Treasury Select Committee, says the bubble resembles the sub-prime mortgages that precipitated the 2008 financial crash.

I suppose I’m out of date when it comes to this sort of thing. My parents would never had dreamed of buying something they could not afford. If they didn’t have the money they did without. Agreed, there was a “live now, pay later” philosophy even in those more austere times. It usually led to disaster for those who practised it.

Looking round the car park, at the glistening models and their new cars, I could not help wondering if anyone ever says “you can’t have it because you can’t afford it” nowadays. Mind you, mortgage lenders are, by all accounts, asking about those mega car loans when it comes to judging how much potential housebuyers can afford. So maybe there’s a bit of justice out there for we poor old codgers in our modest motor cars. At least we won’t have to end up sleeping in them when the money runs out.

RUNNER’S PINTA SCANDAL

THE death of one of our great middle-distance runners of the 1950s, the era of Bannister, Chataway and Brasher and John Landy and their stirring mile contests, passed with little notice recently outside the athletics community.

Derek Ibbotson set a new world mile record in 1957 and won bronze in the Melbourne Olympics a year before. Although he was made MBE for services to the sport in 2008, his death in February, aged 84, received scant coverage. So much so I only heard about it a couple of weeks ago.

I remember interviewing the Yorkshireman when he ran at Ambleside sports, having left the amateur game behind to try and earn a few bob in the latter stages of his career. Running on a bumpy track, handicapped out of the race, I felt it rather sad that it had come to this. What did he get for his efforts? Not much, I imagine.

Today someone of his ability would be a big earner and, no disrespect to local sports meetings, would not have to prostitute his waning talents for a few quid.

There was a period when Lakeland sports attracted big crowds and paid fading ex-amateur stars to perform. Gordon Pirie came to Keswick’s August Monday sports. So did shot putter Arthur Rowe, who at least went on to achieve fame as a caber tosser in Highland Games. Of Jimmy Savile the less said the better.

Ibbotson once recalled that, after setting his world record on the cinder track at White City, he was photographed swigging a pint of milk, supplied by the Milk Marketing Board which further refreshed him with £100 for compromising his amateur status with a bit of tacky advertising.

Like many largely unrewarded athletes of the time, he deserved better than to finish his career giving away hundreds of yards to fellow competitors for a bit of appearance money at local sports.

GOOD THINKING

MOUNTAINS, it would seem, are good places for thinking.

Theresa May was on a walking holiday in Snowdonia with her hubby when, it’s said, the idea of calling a general election took shape.

Now Brendan Foster, who commentated for the BBC on his last London Marathon on Sunday prior to retirement, reveals that the concept of mass participation events like London and Foster’s own Great North Run were formulated over dinner in the Lake District.

Brendan met up with Chris Brasher, the Olympic gold medallist and regular Lake District mountain trials competitor, who had taken note of the upsurge in public running in the USA and felt there was an opportunity for it to take a similar hold in Britain.

I’m not sure which chippy they were dining at when the idea took shape, but the rest, as they say, is history.

AN ELECTION WINNER ALREADY

I’M already in profit regarding the forthcoming general election. I took 10p off a journalistic colleague when my forecast of a summer election came good, against all the odds.

My colleague made the big mistake of trusting Theresa May who said, when launching her leadership campaign, there would be no election until 2020.

The public liked her apparent honesty. Even non-Tories said Mrs. May was a breath of fresh air in the tarnished and tawdry world of politics. But she showed by calling the June vote she could be as false as all the others when it suited.

Short of a shock that out-trumps Trump, she will win big on 8th June. Not even Labour’s inner circle believe they can win with Corbyn as their leader, but will a substantial victory for Theresa May unite the country? I doubt it will.

The media has already found one unlikely election hero. Brenda, from Bristol, who when vox popped in the street by the telly, announced: “Another election? No, not another election. There’s too much politics.”

I hope Brenda is wrong, but with local council elections on 4th May, I strongly believe that by June we will be heading for an overdose of voter apathy. Will 8th June see the lowest turnout in the post-war period, even lower than 2001 when just 59 per cent. of the eligible electorate cast their vote? When there’s no coherent opposition it drives a low turnout.

Mrs. May is aware that things can only get worse as the Brexit negotiations proceed and there is the impending problem of the criminal investigation into the expenses of around 20 Tory MPs, so going to the polls now makes sense for her.

As for the TV debate, why would she? She will simply continue quoting the “strong and stable government” mantra and take no risks that someone might emerge, as Nick Clegg once did, as the unexpected star of the television Punch and Judy shows.

It says a lot about the campaign, which has several weary weeks to run, that so far the most memorable contributors have been Brenda from Bristol and poet Pam Ayres with her homespun ditty about “rhetoric, hot air and gas, I’m on my way to Dignitas”.

By the time 8th June comes round, a trip to Dignitas may seem the kindest option for voters who have had enough electioneering for one lifetime, let alone a few weeks in spring. Do you have their number?

PS: I’ve gone double or quits on that 10p, backing the Lib Dems to win more than 25 seats.

LONG LIFE SECRETS

WHEN I was starting out in the reporting lark more than half a century ago it was quite a thing to be sent to interview a centenarian. Living to 100 was rare and, naturally, we wanted to discover the secret.

I’ve heard it all. Some never touched a drop of liquor and swore by abstinence. Others were convinced of the benefits of a couple of stiff whiskies every night. Some said chocolate, some said pickled onions. Nobody ever mentioned the Mediterranean diet in those days.

We’re living longer, though not necessarily any happier. But soon reporters will have to raise the longevity bar a bit. A ton up, for the next generation, will be a matter of life expectancy, not something worthy of a Royal telegram.

Emma Morano, who died last week aged 117 in Northern Italy, ate two raw eggs every day and chucked out her husband in 1938. I give you that for what it’s worth. She also mentioned the small matter of her family genes.

They are all long-livers. So, whether you are teetotal, like a tipple and, heaven forbid, consume raw eggs as part of your daily diet, the truth is, it’s all in the genes. We reporters have been barking up the wrong tree for years with our quest for secret remedies for staving off the inevitable.