Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster
ALIENS. So what do you think? Is there something out there, or is it all a load of tosh?
The existence of UFOs using technology more advanced than human capabilities has been proved “beyond reasonable doubt” according to the former head of a secret US government program.
Luis Elizondo, who quit as head of the Advanced Threat Identification Program two months ago, warned nations now “had to be conscious” of the potential threat posed by unidentified flying objects. The unit produced documents that described sightings of aircraft travelling at extremely high speeds with no visible signs of propulsion.
A few years ago I spent a night in a lay-by up on the moors between Ireby and Carlisle, waiting for an alien experience. All in the interests of reporting, you understand. I’d been invited by Cumbrian UFO spotters who explained that this was the likeliest spot for an alien visitation.
One of those assignations you look upon with a giant degree of scepticism, but as you meet people who appear to live perfectly normal lives outside their pursuit of UFOs you begin to ask questions about how barmy all this really is.
I interviewed this bloke who claimed to have been abducted and examined by aliens. He had a job and a house and friends and, ostensibly at least, a life. He told me, in all seriousness, how he had been taken up into their craft and poked and prodded before finding himself back on terra firma with no rational explanation for what had taken place.
In view of this man’s experiences, I was rather glad that on this particular night any travelling aliens declined to show themselves above the Solway or land to make contact. Given the state of our world, I’m surprised aliens of vastly advanced intelligence would want anything to do with us.
It was Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New Word, who wrote “maybe this world is another planet’s Hell”. As we’ve done our best to destroy it, he could have been right.
WILLIE’S ONE JAG
IF anyone deserved a Jag then it surely was Willie Whitelaw.
Among the fascinating documents just released from the National Archive, including those from Mrs. Thatcher’s last government, comes the tale of ministers and their jostling for the right to be chauffeured in an official Jaguar — and avoid the indignity of being transported in a Rover.
Some members of Maggie’s cabinet in 1989, among them Chancellor Nigel Lawson and Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe, privately approached Downing Street and pleaded their cases to be driven about in a stately Jaguar. Previously cabinet ministers were allocated a Rover 827 to support the British brand.
The files reveal some political creativity by ministers, including Tory big beast Whitelaw, on behalf of the eminence of their office or simply lack of leg room in the spurned Rovers, to obtain the limo of their choice. A memo said Lord Whitelaw, as Lord President, had a Jag “on grounds of comfort”. The Rover was judged too small for him, particularly on the long run to Cumbria, where he was the long-serving MP for Penrith and the Border.
A wartime hero — he was awarded the Military Cross — Whitelaw was known for his loyalty and never shirked difficult political posts. On winning Penrith and Border in 1955 he moved his home to Ennim, near Blencowe. He always described himself as first and foremost a farmer.
The Independent’s obituary following his death in 1999 said: “With the death of William Whitelaw a particular and admirable tradition in British politics has come to an end.” Among vain, squabbling colleagues, Willie was definitely worth his one indulgence, that Jaguar.
ONE thing I have in common with Home Secretary Amber Rudd is that both of us have been recipients of less than flattering invitations.
In her case it was an invitation to appear on BBC2’s Newsnight, shortly after becoming an MP in 2010. Telling them she was tired, Ms Rudd added gamely that if they got to the end of their list of possible invitees without finding anyone she might change her mind. “But you are the last name,” she was told.
The story of her barbed invitation from the Beeb, recounted in a recent address to the Centre for Policy Studies, reminded me of the letter that arrived one day seeking my services as opener of a local event. At first there was the preening. They’ve heard of me. Okay, so it’s only local, but it’s local fame. But then I read on. “We’d be most grateful if you could make it,” wrote the secretary. “We have tried everyone else with no luck — and you are our last resort.”
Whether those words were penned in jest or panic — I strongly suspected the latter — never have I felt so deflated. Pomposity thoroughly pricked. Did I accept? Well, it would have been churlish not to.
Unlike Amber Rudd, strongly tipped as Theresa May’s successor as leader of the Conservative Party, I did not go on to achieve greater fame and influence. which might have caused my potential hosts to regret their dismissal of my non-talents.
HANDS ON CELEBS
THE cartoonist Gerald Scarfe recalls a visit to playwright Arthur Miller and his disappointment upon learning that Miller’s glamorous wife, Marilyn Monroe, was not at home. Scarfe had to console himself with the thought that he had shaken the hand that had cupped the breasts of Monroe.
I’m afraid I don’t have a story as good as Scarfe’s. The nearest I came to shaking the hand of a celebrity who had been, shall we say, intimately associated with a large number of good-looking women, was outside Queen’s Park Rangers’ football ground in the 1970s.
I was in London covering a match when I was introduced to this chap who, at the time, was a bit of a celeb. through his starring role in a series of cheap budget films all beginning with the word “Confessions” as in Confessions of a Driving Instructor and Confessions of a Window Cleaner.
He was an associate of one-time Carlisle United superstar Stan Bowles who, by then, had moved on to play for QPR. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s probably sexist in today’s supersensitive world. But as I momentarily clasped his hand, similar thoughts to those experienced by Gerald Scarfe flickered across my mind.
Robin Askwith played the part of a cheeky chappie who was invariably caught in compromising positions with attractive young women. At the time it was thought rather racy. Today, compared to much of the stuff on the box and at the cinema, it’s laughably awful and about as unsexy as it gets.
THIS FARMING LIFE
I HAVE never fancied the farming life, and yet one of the first things I do in the morning is switch on Radio 4 for the news, the shipping forecast — I’ve never fancied being a sailor, either — the tweet of the day (birds, not computers) and, absolute must, Farming Today.
They say that one’s listening habits show one’s age. In my three score and 10 years I have swung the whole gamut, from illicit listening to Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes at night, to early mornings with Radio 4.
On Saturday Farming Today turned 80 and remembered a Wednesday evening in 1937 and a series of radio talks beginning with Cambridge academic William Mansfield, on the subject of grass. Farming Today disappeared entirely from the network early in the 1950s and has been perilously close to the axe several times over the decades.
With presenters like Caz Graham, who went to Keswick School, moved off to Scotland and then returned to Cumbria, there’s always something even the non-farmers among us can grasp. Former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown were fans and it’s said the Queen is a regular listener.
Caz often returns to her Cumbrian background in broadcasts. She was on the air during foot and mouth, reported from Cockermouth after the floods, and has interviewed many locals about countryside issues.
At 80, Farming Today has around a million listeners and is regarded as a mainstay of early morning broadcasting. It’s an interesting thought that, as I rise if not shine in the mornings, Her Majesty is probably doing likewise, making sure that Radio 4 is tuned in at the Palace.