Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 5th June 2017

IT’S a sight even in my most alarming nightmares I never expected to see. Armed police patrolling the Market Square in my own town. It’s called reassurance policing — a description I suspect we are going to have to get used to while there remain terrorists out there capable of such depraved acts as perpetrated in Manchester.

All terrorist acts are shocking, but the deliberate targeting of young people, the innocent audience at a concert, showed that there are few if any depths to which fundamentalists will not descend in pursuit of their warped ideologies.

I don’t buy into the argument that our past military involvement in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya is feeding the fires of extremism here. This is all about a wish to destroy our values and way of life, a challenge to our laws, education, religions, treatment of women and the celebration of life rather than their own sickening death cult.

Much as we wish it was not so, every outrage brings a little victory for the terrorists. Beyond the platitudinous condemnatory speeches by politicians, and the impressive public demonstration of support for the dead and injured, they mock us because they have created shock, fear and some hate.

We now have to accept surveillance levels which, a few years ago, would have been seen as damaging our civil liberties. That includes having armed police on our streets, bag searches and even patrols on some of our beaches over the bank holiday. Whether we admit it or not, we will all think about the risk when we go to concerts and sports events and even visit popular tourist attractions.

However, if it’s true there are 23,000 jihadist extremists living in Britain, then the scale of the challenge facing the police and security services is overwhelming. It is not enough for politicians to praise the work of the emergency services without giving them the resources they require to defend us. You can’t go on cutting budgets and expect them to keep us safe.

They can send in the troops, put armed police on the streets and guard major public events. But not forever. After a few weeks the heightened security drops because there simply aren’t the resources.

The often overstretched emergency services rose magnificently to this latest call and it would be wholly appropriate if, when the next honours list is announced, fewer B-list celebrities and time-serving pen pushers were given gongs and the awards went to some of the unsung heroes of Manchester.

A GOOD EGG

RORY Stewart is “a good egg”, although, in the interest of electoral fairness, I should stress that good eggs are available in other political parties contesting Stewart’s Penrith and Border constituency.

It’s rare indeed for an MP of Rory Stewart’s relatively tender years to be made the subject of a play, currently on stage at the Hampstead Theatre in London, where it was been attracting the interest of our leading newspaper reviewers.

Quentin Letts, who doubles as the Daily Mail’s reviewer and political sketch writer, damned the production, Occupational Hazards, with faint praise, calling it “earnest and watchable” yet demanding deeper analysis of its central character, the man he describes as a “good egg”. Letts points out that Rory Stewart was “admirably honest” in his book about the West’s political failure in Iraq, which provides background for a play which dramatises an impossible task: the West telling warring tribes of Iraqis they must bend to democracy.

However, a different diarist in the same newspaper suggested that Rory, who was present at the play’s first night, might need to keep well clear of his leader after passing severe judgement on politicians who call early elections.

The Mail’s Shakespeare column opined that Stewart “will surely be hoping Theresa May does not learn of his opinion of snap elections”. Otherwise, one might find a good egg being fried or scrambled depending on the mood of the PM.

THE DARKEST FEAR

LAST year, Alzheimer’s overtook heart disease to become the leading cause of death in England and Wales. One in three people born in 2015 will die of it, unless new treatments are developed.

A recent survey revealed that older generations fear developing dementia more than cancer. The illness, which can cause memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem solving or language, was selected by 43 per cent. of over-50s as the disease they most dread getting.

Insurance firm Saga carried out the survey as part of Dementia Awareness Week and found that people over the age of 50 are more likely to have had exposure to dementia.

Although cancer kills a similar number worldwide, it receives 10 times the annual funding given to Alzheimer’s. If we are unfortunate enough to develop cancer, the NHS will pay for our treatment. But if we develop Alzheimer’s we will be stripped of our worldly goods to pay for our care. That can’t make sense surely.

A leading British neurosurgeon, Joseph Jebelli, has written a book, Pursuit of Memory, which is a sobering analysis of the disease which has been memorably described as “death before death”. The root cause of the condition remains unknown and there might, in fact, be many causes.

While our understanding of Alzheimer’s is growing rapidly, it’s a dispiriting mark of current science that the best advice Jebelli can offer is to exercise, avoid stress, sleep, stimulate the mind and eat well.

Dementia is the elephant in the room for people of a certain age. There’s always that lingering worry at the back of the mind. Forgetting the names of people you see every day. Putting things away and not knowing where you left them. Losing keys. Just generally not being as sharp as you once were. Are these the first worrying signs of a decline, or simply what happens to us naturally as we get older?

It’s not all depressing news, although it probably is for anyone already thinking they have the first signs of Alzheimer’s, or who has memories of family members who suffered. Genetic research is the best hope. The first step towards a future where every child has their genome sequenced and edited at birth to ensure a long and disease-free life. But a long way off yet. Jebelli says governments are only just waking up to the crisis.

Where once the Big C was the word that went unspoken, nowadays cancer treatments are developing all the time and there is no stigma in talking openly about the disease.

By contrast, treatments for Alzheimer’s have scarcely advanced in 20 years. Today, it’s the “A” word that promotes our darkest fears.

A GENTLE GIANT

WHAT a forward line. Finney, Shackleton, Broadis, Stubbins. And what a pity Brewster had to spoilt it by making up the famous five sitting squashed together in the press box at Brunton Park that day back in the early 1970s.

All of them gentlemen it was a thrill to work alongside. And nobody more the gentleman than Albert Stubbins, whose fame as a goalscoring centre forward for Liverpool and Newcastle led to his appearance on perhaps the most legendary album of all time, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s 50 years ago this week that the album was released and author Hunter Davies, well-known in these parts, claims it was his idea to include the flame-haired footballer among the group’s heroes as depicted on the album cover.

The lads weren’t football fans. Music and girls were more their thing. But John Lennon gave the final say-so to the inclusion of Stubbins. He chose him “because he thought the name was funny,” recalls Hunter.

Stubbins, who became a full-time sports journalist in the North East after he retired from playing, was unfortunate in that his football career was limited by the war. He won a league championship with Liverpool in 1947, played just once for England in a Victory international against Wales, and was, the Guardian’s obituary said after his death in 1983, “one of Liverpool’s most popular players, robust but never unfair, the complete centre forward”.

I remember his squashed nose, the remnant of countless battles with uncompromising centre halves, and his pleasant, self-deprecating manner. “What’s your opinion?” he once asked me, about a player Newcastle United were supposed to be signing. “Me? My opinion?” Albert had forgotten more than I would ever know about footballers, but it was typical of his charming and gentle personality to include me in his discussion.

It was only years later I realised his other claim to fame, perched just to George Harrison’s right behind Marlene Dietrich.

PATIENCE PLEASE

FOLLOWING my item last week about Keswick School of Industrial Art I’m reminded by a one-time employee that the actual wording of the motto on the frontage of the building refers to “The Loving Eye and Patient Hand”. I introduced the word “skilful” which, of course, the work was, but that does not appear in the motto.