Howard Croft column: Celia’s daring mountain bid for St Catherine’s

Celia Durham
Celia Durham

There can be few readers who are unaware of the remarkable services that are provided by St Catherine’s Hospice in Scarborough to those who need end of life care. Many will have had personal experience of family or friends benefitting from the skills and expertise of St Catherine’s staff. They are not unique in offering palliative care, but I have a particular interest in them because of the time I spent in their Scarborough hospice during the final days of a close friend.

A friend and neighbour in Old Malton, Mrs Celia Durham, whose late husband John was also helped by St Catherine’s, is in training for an extraordinary – some might think it foolhardy – challenge designed to raise funds to benefit this charity. In September next year she is going to climb a peak in the Atlas mountain range and she is currently submitting to a punishing fitness regime of a type more commonly associated with those aspiring to join the SAS. Celia is not as young as those tough guys and I don’t think she will mind if I say that she is getting on a bit. She is at an age when sensible contributions to good causes would be a spot of jam making and knocking out the odd Victoria sponge.

That is not Celia’s way – she is in boot camp, climbing steep hills with a rucksack stuffed with rocks, swimming across fast-flowing rivers and fighting bad tempered polar bears. There is some mystery about how, having achieved the peak of her chosen mountain as she undoubtedly will, she will get down again. There are rumours that she will hang-glide back to sea level with a long-stemmed rose gripped between her teeth, but this may be fanciful. Who knows?

Celia is looking for sponsorship. She has set herself a target of £2,500 and after only a few weeks she has raised £900. If you would like to help Celia in her heroic bid to help St Catherine’s you can do so by going to If you do not have access to the internet and would like to help, contact me on 01653 691382. No time wasters please and note I do not consider proposals of marriage made over the telephone.

We are in the early stages of planning a charity auction in support of Celia and St Catherine’s. When I say we, I mean a small group of Celia’s admirers that includes, crucially, Duncan and Marion Hunter who have offered to put their pub – the Royal Oak in Old Malton – at our disposal for this event, probably in January. As you may know, the Royal Oak has been undergoing radical refurbishment over the past few months and is now offering, to the delight of this pie-lover, Thursday Pie Night and unbelievable Sunday roast lunches. Booking is advised. As to the auction it will definitely not be held of a Thursday evening and Sunday dinner time for obvious reasons – details will appear on these pages and elsewhere when available.

With winter approaching and Christmas barely over the horizon, there is much of a seasonal nature to look forward to. Urgings from the chief constable not to drink and drive, scary warnings from the Chief Medical Officer not to drink at all and the annual prediction of a winter crisis in the NHS from the medical profession. We are used to hearing about the pressure on the NHS every year, but this year I do believe there is a serious danger – not just what used to be called by the cynical tabloids “shroud waving” on the part of doctors agitating for pay rises.

There are many causes of this problem – bed blocking, we are all living too long, obesity, global warming, and fracking now; you know how it goes. But the truly seasonal one is influenza and the possibility of an epidemic to which there is a simple solution: close all the schools when things look critical. It is in schools that the super-infectors are to be found – among the children. Every classroom is a petri dish. I imagine that such a measure – a sudden two week closure of all schools – would be popular among most pupils (not the swots) and all teachers. But not parents.

What I suggest is two petitions on the Government website, one for closure of schools to beat influenza organised by pupils and teachers, one against by parents and see who wins. A hundred thousand signatures gets you a parliamentary response. With a few hundred thousand teachers, millions of pupils and I don’t know how many parents, but I know they are motivated, it should be fun. And if it goes the right way, no epidemic.