Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 6th February 2018

MEETING Elvis changed Cumbria farmer Simon Wood’s life forever. Not THE Elvis, but a fellow of the same name who provided Simon with business contacts in China, helping him to set up his Warm Welly Company.

Simon, who runs the business from his farm in East Cumbria, is a glowing example of how diversification has become an essential part of farming in this day and age.

Radio 4’s Farming Today program centred on Saturday on the multitude of diversification that is helping to keep people on the land, even if the concept of the traditional family farm has virtually disappeared. Almost two-thirds of farmers in the UK have diversified their businesses and now have an additional enterprise. From B&Bs to green energy, selling clothing, animal feed, solar panels, barn conversions and even, in one case Farming Today featured, a clay pigeon shooting simulator.

But back to Simon Wood and Elvis. It all came about one freezing morning when Simon was on lambing duty and, rather than helping dad, the kids were tearfully howling with cold feet. “I’ll get you some warm wellies,” he promised them.

And in that moment the seed of a business idea was born. He discovered Elvis, investigated a supplier and now selling wellies has taken over from early morning lambing duty on a 150-acre farm that, purely as an agricultural operation, was no longer viable.

Back in the day, when I was a junior reporter on the Herald, we got to know local farmers through articles about their stock, and through meeting them at shows. Fifty years ago hardly any of them were into diversification. Maybe the occasional bed and breakfast, but that was about it. Nowadays a farm has little prospect of survival competing against the big boys and with the costs involved unless it has at least one other string to its bow.

Having lived alongside the killing fields during 2001 and foot and mouth, I imagine it was the final straw for some, who wondered if this was the time to get out of farming. Others survived, picked up the baton and set off running again, showing typical Cumbrian fortitude.

Multi-faceted farming, as opposed to age-old tradition, may be the only way forward, and the best hope we have of keeping our green and pleasant land just that. On one farm warm wellies have replaced expectant sheep as an example of how imagination and enterprise are keeping the show on the road — and keeping the kids happy to boot.

CUMBRIAN JUSTICE

LOSS of public faith in the justice system is worrying. At the moment the entire system seems to be in chaos, with cases taking an inordinately long time to come to court and some sentencing practices wholly out of sync with public opinion.

And now we’re told there has been a 70 per cent. surge in failed prosecutions caused by evidence blunders. More than 900 suspects had charges dropped last year because police and prosecutors failed to hand over evidence to defence lawyers. It comes amid disquiet with the criminal justice system after a string of rape cases were halted after the authorities had not passed on texts and photographs which undermined alleged victims’ stories. Hundreds of cases are to be re-examined.

A former Cumbrian bobby, Eddie Wren, posted his recollection of the Keswick scooter riots in 1981 on the Old Keswick Facebook site last week — and reminded me how quickly the wheels of justice turned in the case of the rioters who were arrested on the Saturday night and before a special court 36 hours later.

Eddie was at home when he received a message telling him to get his uniform on and dash straight to Keswick. He didn’t believe it at first. Riots? Keswick? Not the sort of place where riots happen.

Extra police were drafted in from all over the North and it was the first time riot gear had been deployed in this country. The image of Century Theatre enthusiast Lindsay Temple on the steps of the old Blue Box, defying the gangs as they tried to set his beloved theatre on fire, will long live with me.

The rioters were hit with £1,000 fines — a lot of money then — and threatened with the impounding of their prized scooters if they didn’t pay. Keswick magistrates made front page news. One national paper wrote an editorial lauding chairman Leslie Eynon — “the sort of man this country needs”.

Now it takes months to decide whether to charge an England cricketer. Cases often take more than a year to get to court. And there’s the worry that innocent people may have been locked up because of disclosure failings. It was not always so. Local beaks, in a court that experts decided more than a decade ago should be closed, demonstrated on that Monday afternoon in July, 1981, that, given the will, there’s a way in which justice can be applied swiftly and effectively.

RIOTER IN A “JAM”

IT’S fascinating to hear a version of events from the “other side”.

Speaking of the Keswick scooter riots, the majority of the gangs that rolled up in Keswick that weekend in 1981 were tarred with the same brush, as out and out troublemakers intent on causing as much damage as they could.

After all, Keswick was not the only resort to suffer invasion by scooter riders around that time. It was mostly coastal resorts — Brighton and Scarborough, for example. Ironically, these days many of the towns that suffered now welcome back those same rioters as mature adults with pounds to spend.

One woman recounts in a blog her frightening experience of a weekend in Keswick as part of a scooter group who travelled up from Norwich. “One of the most eventful rallies ever,” she said, describing Keswick unflatteringly as “a poky little place, the hills around strangely oppressive”.

She recalls how every business closed including the pubs, chip shops and restaurants, and how scooter clubs gathered chanting in the Market Square. She went back to her tent at the lakeside car park, only to be woken by the sound of breaking glass and flames. It was, she says, “a full-scale riot with petrol bombs raining down on the tarmac”. A police car had been tipped over and was ablaze and the blogger comments: “It was chaos with scooterboys fighting scooterboys to try to stop them rioting and looting.”

Police helped the young woman and others to escape through a large hole in the fence. “I was thankful to them for rescuing us. I’ve never been a fan of destruction and violence. They told us never to come back. It was a hell of a weekend and somewhere in the midst of all the chaos someone was playing Funeral Pyre by The Jam.” This particular scooter enthusiast had one more scary moment to undergo. When she got home she had to face her mother.

We often think the time we are living in is the worst, but looking back to 1981 and the year of the Keswick riots, life in Maggie Thatcher’s Britain was pretty grim. It was the year of Toxteth and other urban riots, IRA hunger strike deaths, Peter Sutcliffe found guilty of being the notorious Yorkshire Ripper, the first Aids diagnosed in the UK, CND anti-nuclear marches and warnings from Enoch Powell of racial unrest.

Oh, and if Theresa May has sleepless nights worrying about unpopularity, it’s worth remembering that in 1981 a poll showed Maggie to be the most unpopular post-war British Prime Minister with 50 per cent. of the electorate supporting the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

IT’S A DOG’S LIFE, JULIA

MUCH admired in these parts for regularly championing the Lake District and its walks, Julia Bradbury was joined by Keswick’s celebrity dogs Max and Paddy on the BBC’s One Show last week prior to her new Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100 program launching on ITV.

Julia, Max and Paddy have something in common. They’ve switched on the town’s festive lights — Julia in 2009 and the canines at Christmas, 2017.

Presenting walking programs has its perils as Julia discovered when ambushed by a cheeky nudist who wanted her autograph while doing a piece on one of the Dorset walks. “I kept walking. Thank goodness he didn’t ask for a selfie,” she said.

Not much chance of that on our frozen fells recently. It would take a brave, more likely foolhardy, nudist to tackle Sharp Edge. One slip. Ouch!