How wonderful that actress Sheila Hancock has had the honour of damehood conferred – in recognition of her contribution to British theatre and to the world of entertainment in general.

Many remember her Shakespearian performances in Workington with the touring RSC company in the early 1980s. The town, its people and the hospitality she received made such an impression that she said it would remain forever her favourite place – alongside Chichester (home to the famous annual arts festival of which she was often a part).

While she was enjoying Workington, I was privileged (as chief reporter and sports writer with the Times & Star) to have an official ear to her memorable visit to Derwent Park to chat up Ike Southward, one of Workington Town’s most famous rugby league sons (and sadly no longer with us).

Sheila was intrigued by the sport she had only seen on television and asked a star-struck Ike to interrupt his groundsman’s duties to explain the game to her and in particular the part of proceedings where play would stop and the players from both sides would hug each other and put their bums in the air. Yes, that’s how she put it.

She was, of course, talking about the era of contested scrummaging (now no longer part of the game) and if the question sounded funny, then Ike’s explanation, in his broad and homely West Cumbrian accent was even more memorable – and left them both in stitches.

Having served club and country as a player (at home and down under in Australia) and club and county as a successful coach, he knew how to explain things to her with a touch of earthy good humour – though whether Sheila Hancock was left any the wiser I’m not sure. A case, I think of As You Like It or perhaps Love’s Labour’s Lost– but a great laugh to all who were there.



PM 'is out of his depth'

I WONDER if some of your readers share my incandescent anger over the late introduction of the latest lockdown?

On December 22 the Prime Minister was advised by Sage to close schools and consider a lockdown because of the rapid growth in Covid cases. Sage has on a number of occasions made the point that early action is required to get ahead of the infection.

The first lockdown came late and the lesson was not learnt. Responses to this pandemic by the PM and his colleagues have consistently been reactive, not proactive.

The swift approval of the vaccine was not a government act, but was the responsibility of the MHRA. Collectively the Government has been responsible for thousands of needless deaths. They have blood on their hands.

In relation to education, we have seen many U-turns, not the least of which came with this lockdown – only seven hours after the Government said the schools would remain open, the lockdown ensured their closure. The casual announcement of the cancelling of GCSE and A-level exams without consulting schools was vague and unexpected as education secretary Gavin Williamson had continued to insist that they would go ahead. It required Michael Gove to clarify the cancellation on the Today programme.

The left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing.

The PM’s responses to the pandemic have been characterised by unrealistic promises and fatal vacillation. He is clearly out of his depth, but continually seeks to avoid accountability either to Parliament or the abysmally served population. How our MP can support such incompetence defies belief.


Dovenby, Cockermouth

‘Wake-up call’ to MP

I had hoped that my letter (Times & Star, December 31), which raised concerns about Mark Jenkinson MP’s habit of launching toxic political attacks rather than representing the views and needs of his constituents, would be a wake-up call to him.

I was therefore holding my head in my hands in despair last weekend when he launched a blistering attack on Cumbria County Council for stating that it would offer support to primary school heads who were struggling to reopen for all children this week.

I was greatly heartened to see that Mr Jenkinson’s Facebook page was swamped with comments criticising his conduct. Thank you West Cumbria! Please do keep going.

We need to do absolutely everything we can to help our MP to begin to understand that when he accuses others of political messaging and inciting panic in cases where they are very clearly just trying to narrate incredibly stressful situations, his behaviour is absolutely unacceptable.


County councillor, Cockermouth North

WATCHING the TV coverage on Tuesday night about the spike in Covid cases in Carlisle was never going to be cheerful, but I was truly shocked to listen to the comments from the Carlisle Tory Councillor and from Mark Jenkinson our MP which seemed to ascribe the whole problem to foreigners.

The councillor said that the increase in cases was due to tourism, and the ‘diversity’ of Cumbria’s population (Cumbria, diverse?). Mr Jenkinson put it down to ‘itinerant workers’....

This is cheap Little Englandism and strikes a worrying note.

PS: When I worked at Defra, it was common practice to blame any unwelcome developments in farming on the EU (though not to complain about grants from social or structural funds). Look where that got us.



Rock of ages

In response to the letter by D Taylor in last week’s Times & Star, I can assure him that in fact there is no need for money to be spent on geological surveys for a potential nuclear waste facility in West Cumbria. A firm called Nirex explored the possibility of just such a facility in the early 80s.

The proposal was firmly rejected when geological evidence showed categorically that the area is not suitable for a nuclear storage facility.

Times and politics may change: geology does not. Any new proposal cannot change that reality.



Let’s get started

I WAS delighted to hear that Maryport will receive such a fabulous boost to its town centre.

So many times it has been overlooked in favour of other areas nearby and so this is very pleasing to see that, at last, we have been remembered.

Please can I ask that we spend ALL the money on the projects and not on MORE public consultations using expensive third-party companies.

This money will need to stretch a long way to fulfil all the promises made, so let’s use it carefully.

Chances like this won’t come around again, so let’s all get behind this in a positive and supportive way.

Maryport is a gem of a coastal harbour town that has great potential for tourism and for locals. I can’t wait to see things getting started.



Great little toon

I might be reet and I might be rang

But there’s nowt in this wurld like the Maryport twang.

On fust arriving in our quaint little toon,

You might just think its a larl bit run doon.

Git out of yer car and hev a good walk –

It’s a strange little spot where people still talk.

They’ll talk about Marra’s father’s and mother.

I’m gonna jure this am gonna jure tuther.

The regeneration is is coming quite soon.

But we doon ‘t wanna spoil our great little toon.

Wheel niver be Blackpool, Keswick or York.

Just a quaint little toon where people still talk.

We may not have much and nothing to boast –

Just a great little toon on the Solway coast.