Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 19th March 2019

MANY readers are ardent fans of the royal family, but there will be those who have no time for what they see as costly privilege, pomp and ceremony.

However, when it comes to value for money, there’s no gainsaying the remarkable energy displayed by the Princess Royal who, last year alone, carried out a total of 518 public engagements. Princess Anne was clear top of the table of the busiest of our royals.

On Saturday the Herald carried an account of an Appleby woman being presented to the Princess who was attending the annual conference of the Women’s Royal British Legion in her role as president. No doubt, for those who get to meet a member of the royal family, it is a memorable day.

The news item prompted memories of my own meeting with an amazingly well-briefed Princess Anne back in the 1970s when she came to officially open new premises in Carlisle where I worked. The Princess was scheduled to walk through the various departments on a conducted tour with the bigwigs. Occasionally, we were advised, she might pause for a word with one of the lower orders, so we should have some examples of our work on the go just in case to make us look busy.

She stopped at my desk and spotted a Carlisle United football programme. “You must be the person who writes about the team,” she said. “They are having a good season.”

Now, I don’t for one moment think the Princess Royal is a closet Blues fan, but she clearly knew her stuff when it came to sport. She may have been briefed that Carlisle had a decent football team in those days, but I was mightily impressed and I’ve had great respect for Anne ever since.

The royal family often gets stick, but when you consider the figures for public engagements the leading members attend, they tell a different story regarding the value they give back. In 2018, 15 royals, classed by the Court Circular as working royals, attended 3,793 public engagements, an increase on the 2017 total, with the Prince of Wales next behind the Princess Royal on 507, followed by the Earl of Wessex and Duke of York. While the Duke of Edinburgh was no longer classed as a “working royal”, the Queen continued her duties, recording a total of 283 engagements.

You may not have heard the name Tim O’Donovan, a retired insurance broker from Berkshire. But he’s the man who, since 1981, has scoured the Court Circulars to compile annual lists of royal visits, opening ceremonies, lunches and other occasions. Every 1st January, in his role as unofficial archivist, he sends a letter to The Times containing the results of his survey. Mr O’Donovan, who is in his late 80s, should probably get out more. But who am I, a devoted collector of football programmes, to criticise.

As for my brief encounter with Princess Anne, it shows that our royals do find out about places they are visiting, no matter how dull some of them may be, and her question about Carlisle United was living proof that there’s more to their conversation than “have you come far?”

ABANDON IT NOW

IT’S strongly rumoured that the cost of HS2, the high speed rail link that’s going to hurry businessmen from the North down to London 10 minutes quicker, is set to rise from an original £32.7 billion budget to £132 billion. Time, surely, to say no more and invest the money going into this expensive white elephant into making the rail network run properly, the police, the NHS, schools; in fact anything but HS2.

The cost of acquiring land and properties for the project has gone up five times the original budget to more than £1.1 billion, yet passenger facilities on some lines are no better than cattle class and, last summer, we in this part of the world witnessed timetable chaos and cancellations.

Everything Transport Secretary Chris Grayling touches seems to fail. During his six and a half years in the cabinet he has presided over a long line of mishaps and become a gift to political sketch writers. Only his enduringly loyal support of Theresa May can have kept him in post given his “I don’t run the railways” response to Northern Rail’s chaotic timetable collapse last June, his handling of the third runway controversy at Heathrow and, latterly, the £33 million Government payment to Eurotunnel to settle a legal action over the award of Brexit contracts to ferry firms including one that had no ships.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said that “in any normal world” Grayling would have been fired and it was incomprehensible he was still in his role. Well we know that this is no longer a normal world when it comes to politics.

If Grayling and the Government could finally get one thing right, then please, please scrap HS2 before it runs the country even further off the economic rails.

NOTHING’S CHANGED

“THE occasions of assault on referees are well known to all football followers. The cavilling at the decisions of the referee and the abusive language employed against him have not disappeared from football grounds and the consequence has been the refusal of men of position to officiate.”

No, not 2019. These words were penned in an article by the Rev F.Marshall in the Athletic News Football Annual of 1893. A reader, knowing my interest in sport past and present, kindly furnished me with some old annuals that came to light during an early spring clean, and this little goldmine of information, price 3d in old money, was among them.

Clearly respect for officials then was no better than it is now. Next season VAR is due to come to the Premier League, further undermining the role of the man in the middle. And will it solve all the disputes that have players besieging referees? No, it won’t. It’s still one person’s opinion based on circumstances that are unclear and open to different interpretation. The Manchester United penalty against PSG, for example. No two people can agree on that, for all the slow-motion replays and angles.

VAR, football’s own Brexit, will destroy the flow of games. Mistakes happen, whether committed by players or refs. Rugby fans now don’t cheer so loudly when a try is scored because, in nearly every case, it has to be reviewed. I find VAR irritating and affecting my enjoyment of the excitement of the moment.

It would be better if people could accept that errors are made and get on with the game, but I know both me and the ghost of Mr Marshall are whistling in the wind without any realistic hope that’s going to happen.

THE YUK FACTOR

THE arrival of the weekend newspaper supplements, with their glossy holiday advertorials, is time for the hospital cardboard bowl to come out again. I call it the yuk factor. That queasy feeling when you read about luxury yurts on Cumbrian farms, hot tubs in the garden, hotels with extravagant views of Wordsworth-land, pubs with log fires and authentically rustic residents, even accommodation with your own butler on hand in one supposedly enticing article I spotted recently.

So this is the authentic Lake District is it, then? I love the area, you all know that, but sometimes it feels like living in a box of chocolates where the rich tourists get all the strawberry and orange creams while the locals are left with the nutty ones nobody chooses first.

At the weekend there was something in The Sunday Times that topped all previous queasiness levels — a description of a Lakeland village that was “almost unbearably cute”.

The serious truth is that rural life isn’t a box of Milk Tray or Black Magic. It’s actually quite tough unless you’ve retired here with a handsome pension. What aren’t second homes are too expensive for local youngsters to purchase and, without your own transport, services like hospitals can be difficult to reach. Plus the trend nowadays is to strip the countryside of farming as we know it and turn sheep off the fells where they are blamed for eating the grass and causing floods down below.

Very seriously, you stand a greater risk of dying after a cancer diagnosis. In remote rural areas, says a study by Aberdeen University scientists, you have five per cent lower survival prospects because you live further from treatment or lack access to transport.

A fifth of Britons, or 11.9 million, live in the countryside. “The statistic is quite stark,” says lead investigator Professor Peter Murchie. See what I mean about us being left with the nougat and the nuts.