Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 30th January 2018

I’VE heard of clouding the issue, but the Ministry of Defence’s objection to a proposed series of zip wires over Thirlmere is mighty confusing when it comes to the mounting scale of opposition to the proposal.

The Lake District National Park Authority faces the vexed question of a planning application for the zip wire attraction at its February meeting. While the Lake District has rejoiced in the sobriquet of Adventure Capital, it now faces conflicting views of those who welcome its world heritage status. Somehow adventure, this type of adventure anyway, and heritage have a habit of colliding head on and I would hate to think that the description “museum” became associated with world heritage inscription.

Jeremy Clarkson reckons the Lake District is for the “old and dull”. Melvyn Bragg, on the other hand, is determinedly opposed to the zip wires. Wainwright would hardly have been its first customer, he wrote in the Daily Mail last week.

One of the standpoints of the objectors, ranging now in their thousands, is noise and disruption to the peace of the area. The objection by the MoD hardly helps their cause. Jets screaming low over Thirlmere. I’ve even seen planes level with the A591 alongside the reservoir. Danger of colliding with the wires, yes, but those claiming that whooping adventurers would wreck the tranquility will hardly be relying on the military in support of their argument.

Unlike many I speak to I am not a rabid opponent of new ideas. The Lakes ought to be for the young and adventurous as well as my generation, and these days they seek more than the traditional pursuits.

My opposition to zip wires over Thirlmere is on the grounds of precedent. Allow one scheme and pound signs will ring up in the eyes of others with similar developments in mind and that would put the Lake District at risk.

RORY’S MYSTERY ROLE

HE will carry out his role assiduously and intelligently, of that I am certain. However, I am still trying to make sense of Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart’s new job as prisons minister, part of the recent reshuffle carried out by Theresa May.

Mr. Stewart declares his new post, minister of state for the Ministry of Justice, “an amazing challenge”. On day two he was thrown in at the deep end, visiting Brixton prison in South London where he met a career burglar aged in his 50s, with more than 100 convictions and dozens of prison sentences on his record.

Mr. Stewart spoke about the need for more prison officers, nothing new there, and public protection being a priority — try telling that to the Parole Board.

But what sense is there in moving one of our most knowledgeable foreign affairs experts to prisons? As daft, on the face of it, as making a Yorkshire MP junior minister at the Welsh Office. Yes, the Prime Minister did that, too.

Surely Rory Stewart’s experience and undoubted talent makes him a far more reliable bet as a minister dealing in world affairs than, say, Boris Johnson who, as Foreign Secretary, has at times displayed a cavalier approach to the diplomacy the position demands.

The move from the Department of International Development and the Foreign Office, where Mr. Stewart was minister for Africa, has baffled political observers. Totalpolitics.com said it had left journalists and fellow MPs “scratching their heads”.

Rory Stewart now finds himself responsible for more than 100 prisons, 83,000 prisoners and the Probation Service. The shortage of prison space, the stretching to breaking point of prison officers and the ageing state of many of our prisons make it all sound like a poisoned chalice to me.

The Penrith and Border man with vast overseas know-how is more likely to end up doing metaphorical porridge in the coming months of this seriously weakened Government.

MELVYN CONFESSES

ANY time I’ve tuned in to Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time discussion program on Radio 4 I have ended up feeling a total ignoramus.

How does he do it, I have asked myself. Our leading Cumbrian arts luminary seems to know chapter and verse on everything from science to mystical religions. Either he’s a living genius, or he’s got good researchers my only explanation for the fact that Lord Bragg is able to hold his own in the company of our foremost scientists and philosophers.

I confess that In Our Time, broadcast live on Thursday mornings after the 9 o’clock news, with Lord Bragg discussing subjects drawn from culture, history and science with three academics, is usually way over my head, simple soul that I am.

Thank goodness his Lordship has finally admitted that he’s not the know all I’ve been led to believe. Indeed Lord Bragg admits, in an interview for the culture section of The Times, that he’s been known to wave his hands, “completely out of it”, and let the academics do the talking. So Melvyn isn’t the expert on every subject.

The 78-year-old says his radio interviewing style is more urgent than on the South Bank Show, which has just celebrated its 40th year and which featured Sir Paul McCartney in the first program. The Royal Shakespeare Company had been lined up, but Melvyn chose the Beatle — “my call, but a hard call”.

As president of Cumbria’s Words by the Water festival, Lord Bragg is due in Keswick in March talking about his book on scholar and theologian William Tyndale, and taking to the stage at the Theatre by the Lake alongside his novelist daughter, Marie-Elsa Bragg.

Methinks Lord Bragg protests his humility a bit too much and knows a good deal more about the topics he deals with than he’s letting on. In Our Time? Crikey, I struggle answering the questions on Radio Cumbria’s morning Biz Quiz.

FILM STAR — OR MUSEUM PIECE?

SOMEONE suggested, tongue in cheek — I think — that I was becoming a bit of a museum piece these days.

Well, I’ve made it. On Friday I attended the opening of a splendid new exhibition at Keswick’s Fitz Park museum, coinciding with 100 years of women getting the vote, illustrating the important role women have played in local and national life over that time.

Part is a replica of a newspaper office, paying tribute to two women journalists, Eliza Lynn Linton, the first salaried female reporter, and Pat Branthwaite, who for a generation ran Keswick’s unique local paper, the Reminder.

Linton, the daughter of the vicar of Crosthwaite, left the Lake District in 1845 to become a writer in London. Ironically several of her essays bore a strongly anti-feminist slant. There is an annual Lynn Linton prize for English at Keswick School. I wonder how many present day students know anything about the remarkable woman whose name is linked to the award?

Running at the exhibition is a TV film and I’m in it. Eat your heart out, Colin Firth, I’ve been on the telly and silver screen more than you lately. The producers came to interview me, asking me about amusing tales of misadventures in the quest for news, and there I was on Friday, on a continuous loop appearing every 30 minutes.

I can claim a record, having been seen on telly and at the cinema, all in one week. Last Tuesday I was at Keswick’s Alhambra to see a preview of a film made in October about the local area, specifically for Japanese TV. Three of us of a certain vintage — the last of the summer wine — went on a ramble with the film crew who also shot scenes of a Cumbrian meal at the home of retired teacher Bob Bryden.

In this excellent film I made my own modest speaking appearance, with Japanese subtitles. There was a pop song a few years ago, Big In Japan. I doubt I’m that. More of a codgers’ corner museum exhibit in all honesty.

NOT FINE AT ALL

MOTORIST Mike Shuttleworth showed commendable determination to overturn a parking fine at a Penrith supermarket, hatching an elaborate plan to prove that cameras did not show that he’d left and come back later.

I had a similar experience, though not in Penrith. Much to my shame I stumped up the fine rather than face the inconvenience of fighting the case.

ParkingEye cancelled Mike’s fines “as a gesture of goodwill”. Not good enough. They were in the wrong. A grovelling apology would have been more appropriate, I suggest.