Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Wednesday 3rd January 2018

THINK you know your sport? Well, what about these names? Rhona Martin, Deborah Knox, Fiona MacDonald, Janice Rankin, Margaret Morton. Remember them. Salt Lake City, 2002. Five braw Scottish lassies who became the nation’s darlings? No? You don’t? Well, think sliding about on a well polished floor while your team-mates brush away feverishly in something akin to an advert for Flash. You’ve got it now. Curling.

While most sports fans can name most of our summer Olympic gold medallists, memories are a good deal shorter when it comes to the Winter Games. Curling team skipper Rhona was on the telly a few times. Some even suggested — they weren’t joking either — that curling was about to become the next big thing on the BBC. Looks great in slow motion. Oh wait, that’s the normal speed.

Whatever happened to Rhona and the gold medal gang? Whatever happened to curling as the new national sport? Do they still get an invite to Sports Personality of the Year like all those other names from our sporting past? I may be wrong, but I suspect the letter got lost in the post long since.

And now we Brits have to look out for a young lass called Izzy, a freestyle skier who, say those who follow this sort of thing, has medal prospects at the XXIII Winter Olympics, in PyeongChang, South Korea. The events start on 9th February and no doubt Herald readers will be glued to their TV sets for the three-week duration.

Izzy Atkin has a Malaysian mother and British father. She was born and raised in the United States and her accent is described as “mid-Atlantic”. Happily, for the GB park and pipe team, she opted to compete for Britain. She’s talented and brave, in a sport that is more dangerous than average.

But truth to tell, hardly any of us can name the stars of these winter sports. We lack one vital ingredient — year-round snow. All our skiers and bobsleighers live and train abroad and anyway snow has never been a medium that suggested unfettered excitement, especially as the participants come down one at a time instead of after a mass start with bodies littering those safety nets. And we don’t seem to do ice skating as well as we used to. Perhaps if the IOC made it pro-celebrity skating, like Dancing on Ice or Strictly On Skates, it would catch on more.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if there just happened to be five Scottish lassies practising away like mad at a secret rink in the Highlands, set to turn up out of the blue at the Olympics and put those pesky foreigners in their place, exactly like Rhona and the gang did in Salt Lake City. Now that is something about the tedious Winter Games I could enjoy.

PUTTING A.W. IN THE PICTURE

LIKE thousands more, my love for and knowledge of the Cumbrian fells was initiated by Alfred Wainwright and his indispensable guides.

But, like many other devotees, I never actually came across the great man on my fell wanderings. Perhaps that reclusive figure darting behind a craggy outcrop as I approached might have been Wainwright after all. Maybe A.W. would have disapproved of my being a fell runner taking insufficient time to soak up the views as I plodded head down towards Scafell.

The fact is that for more than 30 years I was out on the hills most days, and I never met A.W., and yet my mother, who never climbed a mountain in her life, once sat at the same table as A.W. having a cup of tea in a Keswick cafe. He’d been for fish and chips and was waiting for the Kendal bus. “Nice man,” she recounted. “Said he’d been for a walk. We just exchanged a bit of small talk really, about the wet summer and the tourists.” Little did she realise she was in the presence of the great man.

One Keswick woman who got to know Wainwright through a shared love of the mountains was Mary Helps, whose meeting with him while on honeymoon in the Isle of Skye in June, 1954, is recorded in Hunter Davies’s book The Wainwright Letters.

Mrs. Helps, latterly a resident at the Millfield retirement home in Keswick, died just prior to Christmas, at the age of 98. She and her husband retired to Keswick in the 1980s. Wainwright’s correspondence recalls how she and her husband, John, were staying in the same bed and breakfast as A.W. and Henry Marshall and how, while climbing Sgurr nan Gillean, they came across them struggling to reach the top.

They escorted the pair to the summit where Mr. Helps took a photo of Wainwright, Marshall and Mary, opposite the cairn. A year later she sent the photo to A.W. and Marshall, who replied saying Wainwright had just published his first book.

A.W. always liked that photograph and kept it carefully. In June, 1955, A.W. wrote to her hoping she had “had an enjoyable holiday and collected more precious memories”. He added: “Here’s the book and I do hope you like it.”

Clearly the author’s life was not all plain sailing for Wainwright in the early days following publication of his first guide, The Eastern Fells. He told Bill Mitchell at Cumbria magazine that reviews had been favourable, but he “was making postal disruptions an excuse for the negligible response so far”.

About 150 copies had been sold in the shops and A.W. had received — and refused — an offer from another publisher for the six volumes still to come. He need not have worried — they went on to sell more than a million copies and his name became a legend among all who ventured on to the fells in his footsteps.

LOCAL IS BEST

EDWARD and Tubbs were supporting the community of Royston Vasey with their local shop in The League of Gentlemen.

Look, we’re all guilty of it. Support local shops, we say. But what do we then do? Key into Amazon or a dozen more on-line shopping sites, bung in our order in two minutes and go back to Judge Rinder on the box.

Out in town a few days before Christmas it wasn’t that busy. The banks are already pulling out of our high streets with indecent haste, and on-line shopping, combined with the big supermarkets, spells an uncertain future for local shops.

You couldn’t get parked at some of the big stores, but there were gaps in the car parks in town. If we don’t use our local specialist shops then inevitably we’ll lose them, and our town centres will lose their appeal.

And local, as Royston Vasey’s eccentric shopkeepers will tell you, is often best. Take the Lake District company that ran into problems with its regular delivery network just before the holiday. Did it give up when customers were awaiting their festive season goodies? Not on your life.

The Grasmere Gingerbread shop hired a different delivery firm, costing another £22 per parcel, just so its customers were able to receive their orders by lunchtime on 23rd December.

When one of our leading chocolate makers could not be bothered to supply a finger of fudge — easily the tastiest item — in its selection boxes, here we have a local Lakeland firm going the extra mile to keep the customer satisfied. Edward and Tubbs Tattsyrup would be proud of them.

WEARY OF “SLEEPS”

HOW many “sleeps” until your big day, then? Thank goodness at least Christmas is over. I was being driven potty by every radio and TV presenter announcing daily how many sleeps we had left to endure before the 25th. They were counting it like some gross Advent calendar from the beginning of December onwards.

So who invented this latest nonsense? Apparently it’s a children’s thing, snaffled by adults. There’s even an on-line calculator to help you work out the number of sleeps before your birthday, holidays or other special events.

It appears children measure everything by sleeps. As for this little 70-year-old angel, the calculator shows I have 211 sleeps to go before my birthday. But as an OAP, given to afternoon naps, do they count, and what does that do to the sums?

SNOW JOKE

UNIVERSITY College, London, drew on a Bing Crosby White Christmas analogy to inform students it was remaining open during the pre-Christmas snows: “Dreaming of a white campus.”

Certain students, ignorant of the 1942 song, branded it “racist and fascist” and forced a grovelling apology. Yes, totally bonkers. But that’s what educashun does for you.