David Banks: Beware, old man in the road

Journal columnist David Banks on the dangers on relying on just one source of information

A sinkhole in a road
A sinkhole in a road

The oncoming Royal Mail van, hazard lights winking and headlamps flashing, flagged me down as our vehicles’ paths crossed.

“For goodness sake take it easy up ahead,” shouted the driver. “There’s an old man in the middle of the road flagging down the traffic. He’s round the bend!”

Confused? You bet I was. ‘Beware of Madman in Road Ahead’ is not the sort of welcome you expect up here in Godzone when you arrive home with the supermarket shopping. I proceeded cautiously.

One hundred yards further on all became clear: the arm-waving pensioner “round the bend” was no raving lunatic in the fast lane. . . it was Councillor Turnbull, public-spirited as ever, directing traffic at some considerable risk to his person around a sinkhole which had opened up in the middle of the road outside the village hall.

“I’ve phoned the police,” Tom mouthed to me, nodding vigorously toward the growing obstruction as with one hand he frantically waved me through while using the other to force the Wooler bus to wait its turn at creeping along the newly-created single carriageway past the black hole.

Disaster averted, police summoned and traffic under Tom’s control, I applied myself to putting away the groceries.

Only when ’Er Outdoors returned from tramping over Cheviot did the moral as well as the journalistic hazard of this tale occur to me.

“What’s Tom doing running around in the traffic?” she asked. “I almost ran him over.”

She hadn’t spotted the hole, only Tom, of whose ‘antics’ she was dismissive – a clear illustration, in my view, of Jesus’ observation (Matthew 2, v19-23) that ‘a prophet is without honour in his own country’ (mum would have been proud of me!).

Some minutes later one of Gemma’s rough-shod rambler companions – “the Bobble-hat Brigade”, as the Byreman calls them – arrived to slanderously assert that police were on the scene, possibly “arresting an elderly man”, a classic example of the journalistic hazards of reporting a single source, unchecked.

Of the in the road, swiftly curtained with cones and warning signs, I can report that emergency repairs are under way to be followed – in a couple of weeks, says the county council – by a deeper, subterranean investigation.

But what of the plight of the prophet in his own country, his public-spiritedness misunderstood? Or the gullibility trap set for novice reporters and neatly avoided by your columnist?

Heaven forfend, but might honest journalistic ethics and the wisdom of Jesus be altogether closer than we think?

Here endeth the lesson.

:: IT was all Ma Morebottle’s idea, apparently. So proud is she of her farmer son’s culinary skills that she persuaded the old bachelor to invite his sisters round for a rugby lunch when they were up from the West Country recently.

Big Sis stalked around the farmhouse running a dust-seeking finger along the skirting boards and reproving him for the state of his house plants; Skinny Sis sniffed and picked suspiciously at the tapas for which her bro is rightly famed, then demanded the recipes upon departure.

Ma Morebottle has learned her lesson, though: “No wonder the boy is still single,” she lectured his siblings. “Growing up in a house with you two has had a traumatising effect!”

Meanwhile, the brother-in-law ate all, drank all and said nowt but kept his eyes glued to Morebottle’s seven-foot-square goggle box.

So somebody had a good day.

:: OLD soldiers will recognise the truth of this reminiscence from an elderly pal who was ‘volunteered’ to attend a dockside lecture while awaiting home passage from the 1956 Suez crisis.

Presenting their distinguished guest speaker, the Regimental Sergeant-Major announced: “This ‘ere is Professor Justin Fortescue-Smythe from Cambridge University, ‘oo is going to tell you ’orrible little barstewards all abaht Keats.

‘E will, of course, be ’orribly disappointed as I doubt that not one of you hignorant little twerps even knows what a keat is!”

david_banks@hotmail.com

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer