Jul 10

Lovely words from The Phraser

Georgie Knaggs, aka The Phraser, freelance writer and ZANE Trustee joined Tom and Jane on the last afternoon of the walk and has written this lovely account on her blog:

ZANE (Zimbabwe a National Emergency): walking for the forgotten in Zimbabwe


Jul 03

The Day After


A long walk to end the trek at Liverpool Cathedral. On the way we tramped through Huyton where, in 1974 I contested the seat of the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. He was a great man, one of the most talented Labour politicians of his generation, and sixties and seventies Labour was blessed by many talented big men and women: for example, Bevan, Bevin, Crosland, Shore, Brown, Barbara Castle and Denis Healy. What would they think of today’s Labour party?

I thought I recognised places we canvassed all those years ago, but I’m sure that after all this time this is wishful thinking. Of course Harold beat me by a vast margin. They hardly bothered to count votes in Huyton in those days: they just weighed Labour’s majority.

Some years ago Jane and I holidayed in the Scilly Isles and we flew from Penzance Airport. By chance there stood Mary Wilson who charmingly claimed to remember me. Then to my surprise she then poured out her heart that Harold – who was by then clasped in Alzheimer’s ghastly grip – was pretty much ignored by today’s Labour party, his achievements long forgotten. I tried to cheer her up by reminding her how Harold had held the party together – a mighty task at any time and one that requires great skill. Then he created The Open University. And under great pressure from US President, Lyndon Johnson, Harold steadfastly kept us from a bloody involvement in the Vietnam War. I suggested to Mary her that politicians should be judged not merely for what they do but what follies they keep us away from. Being Prime Minister is a lonely job.

During lunch in a bar I watched a woman breast feeding her baby. What bothered me was that the mother didn’t look at the child during the process but she was wholly preoccupied on an iPad, fascinated I presume by some game or other she was addicted to. Surely this is profoundly sad. Ever since Adam delved and Eve span mothers have focussed their love and attention on their children, sometimes softly singing to them, then making faces at them, playing silly games like peek-a-boo, or admiring them and smiling devotedly as they feed, just simply loving them as the centre of the world. Now mothers are apparently addicted to iPad and phones; their babies have been replaced by some stupid video game on an electronic machine.

I am sure that such a fundamental and profound change in behaviour is deeply significant and comes at great cost. It fills me with a sense of profound unease.


Another long trek has ended in beautiful Liverpool RC Cathedral. What a peerless and Godly place it is.

We have enjoyed great hospitality from generous hosts. I think it is invidious to start naming you for it becomes rather like a visitor’s book, trying to think of something original to write that is markedly different each time.

So let me limit my thanks to Markus our wonderful driver and support from Bulawayo. A delightful and kind man and a great driver.

Our heartfelt thanks to all our generous donors. Without you all, we have no mission.

To ZANE Trustee Georgie, and Charlie Knaggs who lifted our morale at the end of the walk.

My love and grateful thanks to Jane who puts up with my grumpiness with great grace.

To Moses, a dog who gladdens the heart of all who meet him.

You may recall in an earlier correspondence that I dedicated this walk to a lady I met recently in Harare, one so poor that the mere offer of milk in her tea brought her (and by way of her reaction, me) to tears. So my final thanks is to her and all of ZANE’s grateful beneficiaries whose quiet bravery and stoicism in the face of such hardship inspired me every step of the way.

Jul 03

Day 13 – Widnes to Liverpool

Wickedness and Virtue

As soon as the extent of the terror attack at Westminster was known, several friends of the murderer, Khalid Masood, announced that he was a “lovely man, always smiling and joking.”

However, after this “lovely” man checked out of his hotel on that March morning, off he went on the rampage in London, mowing down numerous people before stabbing a House of Commons policeman to death.

So he wasn’t such a nice man after all. When his crime record was searched, it was discovered that he had “form”, and had been jailed in 2003 for possession of a knife. At that time, another friend claimed: “This is a great shock to me…It’s hard to take in that this is the same bloke.”

In a local paper, there was a school picture of smiling Masood with a statement underneath: “His arms folded, he gives no clue as to the murderous path he will take.

Did they expect him to scowl and hold up a sign reading, “Here is a future serial murderer”?


Shades of Grey

The assumption that external appearances and everyday behaviour are any sort of guide to the full extent of a person’s intentions is clearly dotty. Of course, unless he was bonkers, Masood would have done his utmost to hide the plans that were likely to bring horror to all he encountered on his murderous enterprise. The illusion held by many today is that we are either wholly good or wholly bad. This notion has a long genesis.  Apparently Socrates, Plato and Aristotle believed in the “unity of the virtues”, insisting that any bad person was bound to possess the totality of wickedness, and a “good” person was bound to possess not just some, but all the virtues.

This attitude is represented in the 1950s film High Noon. There stands the epitome of virtue and courage, Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), pitted against Frank Miller, cast as the essence of wickedness. The Kane character is, of course, perched on the moral high ground. Off set, this “pure” image is somewhat tarnished as actor Gary Cooper was having a raunchy affair with his leading lady, Grace Kelly. So when reality kicks in, morals often squeak in second – what’s new?

Recently we learnt of the death of the one-time head of the IRA, Martin McGuinness. In his early life, he was a widow maker on an industrial scale, responsible for many hundreds of deaths and atrocities. Then terrorist McGuinness suddenly decided to go into peace-making politics, and having arranged an amnesty for himself and his cronies, was promoted to hero and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

His funeral was attended by Alastair Campbell – who wrote a flowery tribute outlining his latter-day virtues in the Guardian – and Bill Clinton, who told the weeping congregation what delightful company Martin had been. Some other people – like Norman Tebbit, whose wife Margaret has been crippled since 1984 as a direct result of the bomb planted (at McGuinness’s supposed command) in the Brighton Grand Hotel – had less complimentary things to say. McGuinness never said he was sorry. Apparently when faced with awkward questions, he let it be known that the “peace process” was merely the continuation of terrorist activity by other means, and so as far as he was concerned there was nothing to be sorry about: “We all have blood on our hands, don’t we?” was the sentiment he offered to deflect hard questions.

So McGuinness was not only a cold-eyed killer but he was also capable of great acts of kindness, and devotedly looked after his wife and four children.


Jekyll and Hyde

Of course, a mix of wickedness and virtue is at the heart of most of Shakespeare’s plays. None of his characters are wholly virtuous or villainous either. In recent times, Hitler’s secretaries disclosed what a delightful, kind and considerate boss he was. And Hitler’s sidekick, Heinrich Himmler – the SS killer who devised the “Final Solution” that killed 6 million Jews – was the subject of a film called The Decent One, which showed the charming and tender correspondence between him, his wife and children. Himmler also expressed great concern about the effect mass murder was having on his gassing and shooting troops.

That depravity and decency can coexist in individuals is demonstrated by Robert Louis Stevenson in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which I wrote about in my last commentary.

How tidy it would be if we could collect all the good guys in one camp and all the evil ones in another. However, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, there is a thread of evil that runs through the hearts of all men (and women too).


The Choice

Where does all this leave us? How self-aware are we? I have often thanked God that I wasn’t born German a generation or two earlier, for in my prime I was blond, thin-lipped and blue eyed, all straight from central casting. I could have played a credible Nazi officer in any of the 1950s Second World War black and white films.

But what about real life?  On our last French holiday, I visited Oradour Sur Glane, where, on 10 June 1944, the Das Reich battalion under Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann massacred over 600 people as reprisal for some trivial offence or other. Later, of course, it was discovered that Oradour was the wrong village, but what did that matter to the Nazis in wartime when lives were so cheap and soldiers brutalised? One of the defences offered at the 1946 trial of the surviving murderers was that this massacre was nothing compared to the ghastly crimes conducted in Eastern Russia only a few months before.

On the command of President de Gaulle, Oradour remains untouched these past decades, a silent memorial to the fallen French civilians of the Second World War.

I occasionally imagine myself aged 19 or so, and under Diekmann’s command. Ordered to shoot hundreds of women and children, what would I have done? Rather than be shot myself, I suspect I would have obeyed the order.

Then I would have been a war criminal, a monster rightly to be hunted down like a dog.

I think that the sentence in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead me not unto temptation” is a prayer to Almighty God that we might be spared facing such soul-shattering choices.

So virtuous reader, what would you have done? How depraved might you have become if cruel circumstances had obliged you to face an unspeakable choice? And if you had machine-gunned innocent women and children, would your childhood and university friends all say how jolly and kind you usually were, and then announce how surprised they were that you – of all people – had turned out to be a soulless mass murderer?




Jul 02

Day 12 – Lymm to Widnes

Carnal Canal 

Shock, horror, a vast gay dog shot out of a thicket next to the canal just before Lymm and then poor innocent Moses found himself horribly hidden under a labbymongrel, all set to have his wicked way with him. Reader, when did you last try and prize a rampant dog off another when they are locked in a homosexual embrace ? After heaving and cursing we just about managed , then the  bounder escaped down the towpath.  Poor Moses. Having just about escaped a date worse than death, he spent the rest of the day either coyly sitting down or peeping round corners to avoid the second coming.


Judged Suitable

I see that the judge in the Grenfell disaster is deemed to be unsatisfactory by the suffering victims. No one can do anything other than evince heartfelt sympathy for all those involved. However I hope they will be able to show some restraint and accept the High  Court judge who has been asked to do the job instead of campaigning he be replaced. Once sufferers find they have the power to accept or reject judges there will be no end of it.

This started eighteen months back; ‘victims’ of sex abuse campaigned to get HMG to reject Dame Elisabeth Butler schloss, said to be too “establishment” and therefore unfit to preside over the enquiry.  At last the. “Ideal” judge was found: Dame Justice Lowell Goddard from New Zealand.

Goddard was established with four first class return tickets to New Zealand in a flat a heartbeat from Harrods  and a half million pound package. Then it was found not only was she more or less impossible to work with but she knew little about UK law. A few months later the dear lady apparently got homesick and that was the end of her.

We have very little corruption in the UK. Our judges are world class. If our judges find themselves conflicted they will “recuse” themselves and they should be trusted to do this without a campaign to oust them. If these campaigns are seen to succeed then the integrity of our court processes is weakened to the loss of us all. I experienced some attempts to undermine judges in the Lloyds’ of London debacle in the early nineties and it was as disgraceful then as it is now.


The Great British Baby


As Dickens’ Wilkins Micawber says in David Copperfield:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure, nineteen pounds nineteen and six: result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result: misery.”


Pigs Might Fly

During the election, politicians talked about increasing expenditure as if the government had its own money – not taxpayers – and had to be badgered into spending it on the needs of an impoverished and deserving electorate.

The party that borrowed the most was “generous and kind”: the one with modest plans was “mean and nasty”.

For heaven’s sake! Are we infants? If so, it’s our own fault for being credulous fools. As DH Lawrence writes:

We can’t be too careful
about the British Public
It gets bigger and bigger
and its perambulator has to get
bigger and bigger
and its dummy-teat has to be made
bigger and bigger and bigger
and the job of changing its nappies
gets bigger and bigger and bigger
and bigger
And the sound of its howling gets
bigger and bigger and bigger and
bigger and bigger…   

So our party leaders are howled at by reporters:

“Don’t doctors and nurses deserve a pay rise?”

“How can benefits continue to be cut?”

“What about increased funding for the schools?”

It seems implicit that good politicians have to do the decent thing and spend more: only the mean and nasty embrace “austerity”.

The late US President Reagan once joked, “The US national debt is big enough to look after itself.” It was (I hope!) meant to be Ronnie’s little joke.

But seriously, don’t voters even notice that the UK remains submerged in debt? Dear old Gordon Brown borrowed vast sums and we haven’t yet recovered from that binge yet. And an ageing population and creaking NHS promises further acute pressure on the public purse down the track.

So how can we save? It’s hard politically. Take the so-called “triple lock” on pensions, a Cameron gimmick he never believed he would have to deliver as he was sure he wouldn’t win the 2015 election. But today the “triple lock” is inevitably regarded as a “right”, and any reduction is described as an “assault on the elderly.”

Every day, HMG is spending money that it hasn’t got and no one seems to mind. But there has to be a day of reckoning. Every attempt to try and live within our means is described not as praiseworthy, but “barbaric”.

Change can only come after the questioners start asking politicians, not how much money are you going to spend, but how much are you going to save?

Gosh! Are those pink pigs flying past my window?


Jun 30

Day 11 – Cheadle to Lymm

My trip to the important ZANE meeting in London was a success and I will report the implications in another blog at another time. Poor Jane and Moses were obliged to continue to walk through lovely country in slanting rain and mist. We spend the night with a friend I have not see since my time in the army half a lifetime ago. Most generous hosts so a joyous evening full of gossip and laughter.

The Wisdom of Moses

One of the many joys of this walk is Moses, our two year old “cockerpoo”, our third dog to accompany Jane and I as we totter around the UK. The previous couple of dogs were Staffies; although Jane and I loved them dearly they were not everyone’s favourite. Particularly Dinah, who although she looked as if Almighty had bestowed special favour in her in terms of her shape and her colour, she was as sharp as she was beautiful. She was run over near our house and it was all my fault. Soft old thing that I am I water up still when I think of her death.

What massively irritates me about Moses is that he regards me as a wholly dispensable
add-on in his doggy life, perhaps good for a walk or two , and an occasional pat… but he loves Jane to an obsessive degree. When I arrive home and Jane is not with me he rushes over, then stands forlornly searching for Jane. Then when her absence is obvious her slinks away giving me reproachful looks over his shoulder for not being his pride and joy!


Shedding the Pounds

Read any of the papers or glossies and you will be overwhelmed by the vast number of weird diet choices offered to a confused and desperately overweight public. They are all based on the proposition that if you follow this or that diet, or use this or that device, you will end up slim, happy and looking like the slender, sun-kissed model on show in the ad.

The latest enticement that caught my eye came from a very attractive and clearly up-market girl holding a 10-inch Perspex pipe and with a large carrot stuck in her mouth. No reader, it was not a sex invitation or one of Trump’s playmates on the pull, but she was selling a device that incredibly purported to remove fat from food. I am convinced that this is yet another confidence trick cruelly pulled by a dewy eyed, slim, privately educated posh girl seeking to make a fortune by persuading sad shop girls who gorge on sugary food, factory pies, McDonalds and fizzy drinks that – at not inconsiderable cost – if they follow the diet and buy the plastic device, they will end up looking just like Keira Knightley.

When – after losing half their body weight – these girls remain skinny versions of who they were before (and very definitely do not morph into Ms Knightley), reality dawns: they are still plain and poor. The misery backlash more or less guarantees they will end up gorging on junk food from sheer desperation and ending up the same size they were before they started – or possibly a few sizes larger. Then the cycle starts all over again.

The Benyon Regime
For free, I offer donors the Benyon diet plan, guaranteed to keep anyone slim and reasonably fit!

Don’t eat anything out of packet, and don’t eat in front of a screen – unless you are watching your favourite soap (and then only indulge yourself once a week). Don’t drink more than one pint of beer in the pub in an evening, and don’t drink port or any brightly coloured, sweet, fizzy fluid. Never eat while standing up and please don’t scoff hamburgers on public transport or in the street. Always use cutlery and don’t munch anything out of a box. Avoid eating anything delivered to your door by a man on a motorbike – and the same goes for food passed through your car window.

Don’t eat anything your dog would ignore. Don’t eat anything you “can’t resist” because you must; and don’t eat “because a little bit of what you fancy does you good” – because it doesn’t. There’s no point in eating food just because you saw it advertised on TV, particularly if it says it’s low in calories (it’s surely a lie). Never eat because you are bored or depressed.

And, last but not least, don’t eat anything your granny wouldn’t have recognised as food.

Jun 29

Day 10 – Glossop to Cheadle

We walk along the Pennine Way, the loveliest walk we have completed since we mastered the pilgrims way connecting Winchester and Salisbury. On the way we saw a beautiful flock of grey very tough”Herdwick” sheep who come from the Lake District. The shepherd, a jolly man, Sam Sawyer, tells us that they will all have to be moved to cater for a scheme to hide electricity pylons. It all sounded very odd to us.

I caught the train at Glossop, a nice little place; pity about the station. The ticket machine was broken, the tickets sales people were on strike, the lavatories were all firmly locked and I was told by a man who looked rather desperate that no one knew where the key was. To cap it all, it was pouring with rain and a bitter wind stripped the flesh from my bones with great efficiency and then returned for the marrow. True that the weather wasn’t the fault of the railway network but it neatly added to my gloom and made me wonder why we choose. to live out our dreary little lives at the bottom of an UK well.

Red Tape

For guaranteeing sleepless nights, The Data Protection Act is in a class of its own. Extraordinary as it may seem, members of the public have won the right in law not to be contacted by charities outlining in graphic detail the effects of, say, starvation in Chad, a tsunami in Thailand, modern slavery or universal child abuse. If these citizens feel so strongly about it, why can’t they just bin the offending solicitations? No, they need a law to stop such unpleasantness crossing their doorstep in the first place.

No one has ever carefully explained to me why this law is necessary, or how it is that the USA gets on just fine without such regulation – but there it is. I would argue that instead of protection from solicitation, it would do the British public far more good if there were a “Legally Obliged to Read About Third-World Poverty And Other Disasters Six Times A Week Act”. Why not? After all, we are living in the UK. We are rich, fat and selfish (apart from ZANE donors, who are wonderful), and should be daily forced to read charity solicitations reminding us that most people living on this planet just aren’t so darn lucky as we are. For example, slow, silent starvation is a painful and rather miserable process. And being caught in the middle of a civil war is ghastly. No one in the UK should be permitted to turn a blind eye to such miseries, their insularity underpinned by statute.

Reality Check
Each time I go to Zimbabwe, I am reminded that its people have no state benefits of any kind and no public healthcare worth a damn: nothing at all. If you are ill and broke, you suffer, and then you die slowly or quickly. Bad luck, period.

When I get back to the UK, I am struck by how the political parties, especially during an election, are always trying to tell us just how much they love the NHS – and so much more than any other party. It’s childish. We know the public loves the NHS because “focus groups” tell us that in a society without God, the NHS has taken his (or her) place. And the NHS is only the start of it. My Zimbabwean friends who come to the UK tell me they are simply overwhelmed by the wealth of the houses, the profusion of goods in the shops, the fancy clothes people ponce about in (actually I think most of our fellow citizens look like temporary shelf stackers in Aldi, but let that pass), the unbelievable choice of the food stacked high in the stores, the very odour of wealth that hangs everywhere like a pall, and the overarching sense of safety and entitlement. One told me that a vast sign seems to hang over the UK: “Bad luck, Johnny Foreigner and other losers: the UK has won first prize in the lottery of life. We feel your pain, now go and get stuffed!”

Amidst this cornucopia of wealth and the blizzard of trashy entertainment that fills our lives, ZANE tries to raise a bit of money to alleviate the misery and poverty in Zimbabwe.

ZANE gets no official help: in fact, quite the reverse. I reckon that today it is more or less impossible to start a charity and obey all the rules that appear stacked against any charitable entrepreneur, and that’s just the start. For over a third of our administrative meetings each week, we are obliged to spend valuable time dealing with the rules, laws and codes that are designed to regulate – and in reality, make it far harder – to raise money from the British public. We have to deal with the “Fundraising Regulator”, the “Risk Register”, the “Annual Complaints Register”, and then our old friend “The Data Protection Act” – and on it goes. Of course, the rules are written by people – civil servants and MPs – who have probably never started a charity or tried to fundraise in their lives.

As a polite, well-ordered and law-abiding charity, we strive to obey these rules in spirit as well as letter. Of course, most of these regulations will never materially alter the behaviour of the real rogues who will just ignore them and laugh. Rules are a growth industry. As good manners, morality and trust decline, rules and regulations sprout everywhere to fill the vacuum. But knee-jerk reactions from our lawmakers – reacting to media pressure and high-profile cases like the very avoidable and absurd Kid’s Company collapse – have made life difficult for decent, law-abiding outfits like ZANE. Big charities of course have rooms filled with box tickers, but small charities like ZANE just have to manage it all with as good a grace and as much gallows humour as we can muster.

Ho Hum!

Freedom of Thought
Sad that no one who is a serious Christian with conventional views can hold a senior office in any political party. Your views will be analysed and you will be under attack; if your opinions fall short of what the liberal consensus thinks is “right”, you will be mocked, then destroyed.

I have no idea what ZANE donors believe or do not believe, but whatever your views, if they are not acceptable you will be deemed to be thick and bigoted.

Today we all have to more or less think the same thing. In particular we can’t be “pro-life” or against gay marriage. We all have to believe that there is no moral distinction between heterosexual and homosexual activity.

We have all forgotten what it means to be liberal in the best sense of the word: that is open-minded and generous to the views of others.


Jun 28

Day 9 – Dunford Bridge to Glossop

Off at seven thirty. A long day today and we are over half way, hooray! I have to nip to London later today  (Wednesday) for a vital ZANE meeting that will affect the lives of a great many people in our care so a break for me anyway as poor Jane goes on walking.


Warty Talkers

Jane tells me that nine times out of ten, when she sits next to a man – any man – at, say, a function or any casual dinner she is hardly ever asked anything about herself, her work, her family or her views but the man just more or less ignores her as a human being and simply talks about himself, his work, his stories; then he will give his often puerile and drivelling views in exhausting detail. It’s an interesting phenomenon that.  Is it all women most men simply ignore or just Jane? Are all (most) men simply incapable of holding a proper conversation which is surely to share information and politely listen to the stories of others? Were they never taught basic manners when they were children? After all Jane is a fascinating woman who has worked as a social worker specialising in mentally ill geriatrics ( do be aware that when she appears to be nice and friendly  she is actually professionally assessing you!);  she has started two charities, one for the mentally ill, the other one of the first UK food banks; she has been an MPs wife, mothered four interesting children,  yet all this is ignored. It’s not rude, just sad!

The US poet Don Marquis used to write about a toad called Warty Bliggens who used to sit under a tree and wonder that the sun and moon an stars were all created for him alone.

I recall that Marquis finished the poem about Warty by saying don’t laugh too much at Warty for most human beings think the same!


Bolt-on B*****d

On our day free visited Bolton abbey, a peaceful retreat shattered for the monks by Thomas Cromwell acting under the orders of Henry 8th: what a total bastard he was. You only have too look at his piggy little eyes staring  straight at you out of the vast Holbein picture in the portrait Gallery to understand the sheer terror he must have instilled in everyone who served  him. He was Stalin in ermine. Poor Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s dutiful servant, who did everything for Henry and yet was executed anyway because he fell out with the nobles.

In the afternoon we went to Towton Moor, the UKs largest and bloodiest battleground where the Yorkists finally beat the Lancastrians in 1467 and thus ended the War of the Rose’s at a joint cost of about 24.000 hideous brain bashing  deaths. The Lancastrian were destined to win the battle but lost when the wind changed and blew their arrows short of the enemy. I often wonder what the poor bloody soldiers on both sides actually thought the battle was about, or how their miserable, brutal and violent lives might have been improved a single iota  if their guy won? I suppose  they fought because their chums fought and that was would be the end of it.
This is how it is in all battles since the world began. Of  course,  if they were on the side of the losing army they would  be massacred. Poor Lancastrians. Everything was going for them and still they blew it. Just like the last election really.


Mr Bean

Those of you who read my blog may recall my hapless attempt to teach volunteers in the Oxford Community Foodbank (CEF) how to solicit food outside Waitrose in Headington. As I was once a politician, I reckon I know how to persuade strangers. The volunteers were all set to watch the example of the master.

“All you have to do,” I said brightly, “is to be charming and persuasive like me!”

I then chose an attractive woman who looked as if she was just my sort of woman: she probably shopped at Harrods.

“Good afternoon, Madam,” I smiled winsomely. “Please will you contribute some food to the foodbank?”

Hardly breaking her step, she snapped, “Bugger off!” And so that was that.


Ol’ Twinkly Eyes

Undaunted, a few weeks back I gave an encore. I was worried – with, as it turned out, every reason – during the election that Jeremy Corbyn might slide into Downing Street because he is an excellent campaigner – better than Theresa May. I reckon that he and his team are just as dangerous as Donald Trump. Today’s young have little memory of our recent UK past and of course it’s horribly clear many of them voted for that nice old man with the twinkly eyes – because he made numbers of uncosted promises, particularly to the young.

But ZANE donors will recall the three-day week, the winter of discontent, the fact that leftish Labour policies have the opposite effect to that intended: rent controls mean fewer homes to rent, further employee “rights” and higher minimum wages bring unemployment, the unbridled power of trade unions is pernicious, nationalisation is costly, and raising taxation will bring less revenue. The idea that the prime minister should be a pacifist with past links to our nation’s enemies or that his would-be chancellor is a Marxist is profoundly upsetting. (Let’s forget about Diane Abbott for this is a family blog.)


Bullingdon Boy

So, I persuaded myself that the great Benyon had a duty to warn public hustings of the dangers that might lie ahead. And the main danger was that although Labour candidates like Sir Keir Starmer, Frank Field and Dan Jarvis are maybe excellent moderate people, they are of course also standing as proxies for Corbyn and his crew. If enough people voted for the moderates – and they nearly did so – we’d have Corbyn in charge.

The well-attended meeting was addressed by three women candidates. When I arose to make my points, I forgot that my voice when raised is a mix of Bullingdon and Montgomery lecturing troops before Alamein. If I had been addressing Ed Balls in a bar somewhere, it would have been fine, but as it was –in a room full of Remainers in deep mourning over Brexit – the tone could hardly have been worse.

Then to my horror I saw my dilemma was actually far worse than first imagined. The Labour candidate I was aiming at was delightful… and she had no hands. The whole room was murmuring admiration for her overcoming her ghastly disability, and rightly so.

Half a sentence in, I now know what the Titanic navigator must have felt like when he saw the iceberg. The temperature in the room dropped and furious faces glowered at me for being profoundly ungallant – as far as they were concerned, I was attempting to kick a disabled woman to death before their outraged eyes. As I struggled through a question and a half, it became clear that my performance was a hog-whimpering disaster. The excellent chairman knew I was way past the point of no return but what could he do anyway? He was kind later.

As I slouched out, I was cross with everyone, then with myself. I was then informed that my flies were undone.

After apologising to anyone with a pulse, I asked a friend (do I have any left?) what he thought of it all?

“You came over as a total prick,” he said.

Probably an understatement.



Am I rare in thoroughly disliking bus passes, free TV licences, child benefit and fuel allowances? It’s all so darn patronising. And as it’s our money that is being expensively recycled, it’s a total, costly con. If we are entitled for help with our families, why was it nicked in the first place? Tax allowances should have enabled us to keep our own money safely in the bank.

The “left” governments taxed us mercilessly, then the “right” inadvertently left this nonsense in place because they wanted to virtue signal what a “nice” and caring party was by leaning to the left. So when some chancellor tries to simplify the ghastly mess that is our tax system, Middle England, like Violet Elizabeth Bott, stamps her foot and threatens to be sick.

The trouble is that once a democracy makes a concession, it’s impossible even to trim it. I recall way back during the three-day week and the miner’s strike, Ted Heath decided to bribe voters with a £10 “Christmas bonus” (he lost power anyway). Years later, a new chancellor failed to take it away as the cries of pain indicated the impossibility of Baby UK ever living within its means.

Gordon Brown was the worst practitioner of the dark art of bribery. He thought that because we are children of the state, pocket money should be doled out to us whenever he felt in the mood. In this way he succeeded in making us dependent on government pocket money so we would beg for the next gobstopper and vote Labour. And for a while it worked. Now child benefit is paid on behalf of 14 million children, and 45 per cent of all non-retired households receive government handouts – an increase of almost one million over the last 10 years.

HMRC gives with one hand and snatches back with the other. Reform is essential before muddle overwhelms us.


Jun 27

Day 8 – Dodworth to Dunford Bridge

I recall a row between a one time friend and his younger sister. He accused her of stealing his mother’s Tupperware after her death and so he pledged never to talk to her again. Clement and Lucian Freud didn’t speak for forty years after they fell out after a race across  Hampstead Heath. But the strangest story arose when a friend’s sister inherited magnificent walnut chest on a stand.  He lusted after that chest. After he established that his sister didn’t want it he offered to buy it. But she insisted that it went to public auction. So Fred was forced to buy it under the hammer in Sotheby’s then he paraded it proudly in his dining room and asked his sister to dinner. He set the table especially so she was compelled to stare at the chest all dinner.

And neither of them commented. Beat that for English reserve.

We walked through Barnsley and Grimethorpe. I recall when I last lambasted somewhere for being dreary and run down,  someone gently reminded me that all sorts of kindly acts and quiet heroism  goes on behind the closed doors of ugly properties. This is true and I am silenced.


Ministry of Truth

Rewriting the truth was highlighted by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Ministry of Truth was a state engine for propaganda based on his experiences with the BBC.

Apparently today, some teachers in South African universities are preparing their own agendas for students, rewriting details of the wicked British colonial past in such a way that it does not offend African sensibilities. The colonials were all rapacious, cruel and racist and the Africans were exploited, robbed and often slaughtered. The fact that Messrs Rhodes and Beit – in fact the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of their time – chose to give away the totality of their fortunes for the good of humanity is forgotten, while the question, “Which African leader has ever given away tuppence to any entity other than his own Swiss bank account?” is never asked.


Witch Hunt

However, it’s considered dangerous to contradict the apostles of the new truths even though their nonsense may pollute our children. The truth rewriters are using violent protest to force their case and generate publicity, and the numbers of protests are rising fast. Earlier this year, for example, leading sociologist Charles Murray was shouted down by student activists when giving a talk at Middlebury College in Vermont, USA. His book The Bell Curve just mentions ethnic variations in average IQ. He doesn’t actually say this is due to genetic differences but he discusses the arguments for and against this hypothesis. For this heresy, the students – who seem not to be there to learn but to destroy any opposition to their arguments – labelled Murray a “white supremacist”. The students then went on to assault both him and his host, Professor Angela Stranger, who was bravely trying to protect him.

Other universities have been comparing notes and it seems there is a ritualized progress to these protests: they involve chanting, and they bear a resemblance to a witch hunt. One said that this has all the hallmarks of a new fundamentalist religion.

This faith believes that important racial differences are not derived from genes but from the environment. If you claim that race is a valid biological concept or that there are gender differences, both are deemed to be “social constructs” –  the idea that they have any validity is said to be “fiction”, designed to protect “white male privilege.”

The sad truth is that anyone who dissents from this orthodoxy – and apparently dissenters include nearly all who are seriously studying human variances – is deemed to be a heretic. To indicate the role genes play in human behaviour is committing blasphemy. The fact that there is a mountain of evidence to support the belief that genes do of course play a part in racial differences just strengthens the resolve of the witch hunters to double their protests.

One of the characteristics of religious fundamentalists is that the more crazy their views may appear to the outside world, the more their adherents cling to them as they damn all apostates.


Curriculum Vitae

When I have visited care and nursing homes, I have sometimes had to remind myself that the ancient husks listlessly watching bingo on TV – now grey, wrinkled and demented – were once virile and lusty lovers. They weren’t always hobbling or peering out in fear and dependent on us. Perhaps it would be valuable for each to have a picture of what they looked like, say, on their wedding day hanging on a hook at the end of their bed. And a mini CV. Perhaps that would help us keep in touch with our humanity.


Jun 27

Day 7 – Day Off

I see that Archbishop Welby has waded into the political arena with a suggestion that forming some sort of committee of all the talents might take the toxicity out of Brexit.

I think he hopes that Brexit might be capable of compromise. As I understand it unless we leave the Customs and Trading Union we would be unable to control our borders  or trade agreements with potential trading partners.

Whether you voted to leave or stay, let’s at least tell the truth. I really dislike the nonsense talked about leaving the EU. We have had a referendum – whether you like or dislike the result you must agree that we have to live with it- let’s stop moaning and make it a success.

When we leave we must be able to control our borders for if we are unable to control them we stop being a home and stay as an hotel.

Then we are told that we have to be in the single market to trade with it. Rubbish! Most of the world seems to be surviving well enough outside it, why can’t we?

And why do all our businesses have to have a tariff free access? The tariffs are low and with currency adjustments we will be able to live with them just fine.

And why would trading under World Trade Organisation rules be a such disaster? Our businesses already trade with a over 100 countries under these rules and we know exactly what we are doing. It’s a commonplace.

Then we are told by experts that we will be palpably poorer outside the EU. Sorry but I don’t believe the experts, they are the same people who told us that we should join the Euro.

And my friends in universities tell us that our institutions and universities will be denied access to the finest minds. Nonsense! No one in HMG wants to stop the coming and going of talent. In fact, I understand that outside the EU our talent pool will be wider.

And why will we be turning our back on the largest market in the world? Of course we will continue to trade with our European friends, yes, we both need each other but heck, the EU is not that successful. In the last fifteen years the Eurozone has grown by 27% and the UK has grown by 40%.

Roosevelt told the American people that they had nothing to fear but fear itself.  That surely applies to us today.

Millennial Snowflakery

My generation was taught the merits of a stiff upper lip. For example, when eight-year old Quintin Hailsham (one-time Lord Chancellor) arrived at his prep school, the bigger boys at once cut up his teddy bear before his weeping face and whooping with glee, flushed it down the lavatory.

Okay my education was not quite as nasty as that – for one thing, I didn’t have a teddy to cut up – but compared to today’s pampering, it was merciless enough. And I’ll bet, dear Reader, that yours was pretty razor-edged as well. I recall vividly that from an early age, any physical peculiarities or pustular eruptions were highlighted by schoolmates who then teased out our character weaknesses and paraded them at every opportunity. One windy friend was called “Farty” for four long years… My time in the army was equally challenging: the Sandhurst staff roared their opinions at top tempo about our physical and mental inadequacies to anyone prepared to listen.

“You ghastly inadequate bastard! ” was the least of the abuse. Just imagine our young tolerating that kind of treatment today.


Harsh Truths

There were rules that governed our behaviour – and anyone who breached the unwritten codes was cast in outer darkness. The lesson was that emotional continence was not an option, it was essential. It was no use complaining or moaning, and to let others see you were unduly sensitive spelt disaster – for if weaknesses could be identified, the sharks would swiftly move in for the kill.

On reflection, I reckon it did no lasting harm: we were toughened to cope with life’s slings and arrows.

But today’s young are obsessed with sensitivity and self. What on earth has happened to us all? Is it raging feminism and political correctness that has reduced the young to a laundry box of big girl’s blouses?

How’s this for offended sensibilities? A student was admitted to hospital for a week having read a novel that was part of her course.  She claimed to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) apparently triggered by the book. While I accept, of course, that PTSD can occur amongst solders who have been on active duty, I reject the idea that our peacetime life is so traumatic that ordinary citizens need to be treated like shell-shocked veterans of war. That sums it up really:  20 million deaths in the First World War, 62 million deaths in the Second World War. There was no counselling then but here is a weeping student overwhelmed by a daft novel.

And it’s not just our introspection either. Political correctness prevents our telling one another hard truths because we are terrified of giving offence. So doctors daren’t tell patients that unless they – or their children – shed some blubber, they will wear out their hips, hearts and attract diabetes. Who is brave enough to tell a friend they smell? Who dares advise a chum if he drinks any more, he will die an early death? Do we dare tell a friend that if he leaves his wife and infant children to shack up with a Thai girl he found on the Internet, it is bound to end in mayhem with lives destroyed? And he will be sucked dry of money.

The educated middle classes have abandoned the moral authority they once had. What morality is and who holds it is today hotly contested, so we shrug and walk away. Our liberal ideology has persuaded us to abandon the imposition of moral teaching, even formal education on children; so we daren’t teach girls how to cook decent food or even set out clearly what constitutes a nutritious meal. Apparently it is considered to be ”sexist” to teach girls how to cook, so parents let their children choose what they want to eat with disastrous results.

In a local school play, everyone had a part (it was more a crowd control exercise than a “performance”). Out of the hundred or so children, there were three – around eight years old  – who were larded in fat. When the play ended, they waddled out with their parents like tugs towing a steamer. I suppose neither the headmistress nor the school doctor would dare risk the vicious row if they warned of future health hazards.

I reckon that letting your children grow obese is a form of child abuse.


Life and Death

The idea that no one should criticise anyone else can have grave results. Take the ghastly case of baby “P”, beaten to death by his parents. Shortly before his death, Peter was seen by a social worker. However, his face was a mess of chocolate. The social worker was so affected by political correctness that she failed to insist the child be cleaned in case she caused “offence”.  Had the child been cleaned, of course the deep bruises would have been visible ­– and perhaps a life might have been saved. How terrible is that story?

And consider that in the last few years, the industrial rape of young girls in Northern towns by Asian men continued unabated because the social workers and the police chose to turn a blind eye towards the abuse rather than run the risk of being thought to be “raaaacist”.

Some even thought that children should be allowed to choose prostitution as a “lifestyle” choice.

Go figure. How craven and marshmallow-soft have we become?


Jun 25

Day 6 – Hemsworth to Dodworth

Walking through West Yorkshire I wondered why the litter was even worse than anywhere else we have been to recently. Why are the footpaths unkempt? When I saw the sign that read: ” West Yorkshire: working for peace” (true, I kid you not), I knew why .

Is this a stupid gesture of council virtue signalling? Or has the CEO gone totally bonkers? As I walked I imagined the letter this pompous ass must have sent round his colleagues:

“Dear Comrade,

My administrative assistants and I have decided that instead of doing boring and mundane things such as looking after the roads and schools and keeping litter collected we are to serve society in the Noble cause of peace keeping. Unlike East Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Central Yorkshire, and what do you expect from the likes of them?!

We consider that the UN and NATO are inadequate on their own and the world needs the West Yorkshire CC to bring peace in our time.

To that end we propose to send a stern letter to Vladimir Putin and that plump  little git with the funny haircut in N Korea saying that if they decide to bomb the UK please remember that West Yorkshire is neutral and working for peace.

If West Yorkshire is attacked I have asked Councillor Vera Bootle – who stands five feet high and weighs eighteen stone – to walk to the county border,  remove her clothes and moon at the oncoming tanks. We are convinced that  that sight will stop them in their tracks.

At the same time we will erect a vast sign in the football stadium  to be read by passing bombers  that says  “We surrender” made from litter culled from nearby roads.  We have decided not to collect this in past months just  in case it was needed for this purpose.

I am also going to visit the 799 twins with our county (club class) to make speeches about peace. I will bring with me all the councillors who agree with me about everything as well as my new administrative assistant.”

What a pretentious ass the CEO has to be. Please get back to the day job.


Love and Kisses

Have you noticed how often cheeks are turned for the mandatory kiss – often by people you hardly know? Let’s be frank, at least half of the time I’m sure many of us would choose to remain chaste (if that were an option).

But when the cheekbone is presented, what can you do – for it’s expected now, isn’t it? So instead of extending a hand, we cave in and go “mwah mwah” along with everyone else. But it doesn’t stop there, does it? When did you last end a letter with “love from…”  – and to someone you have no particular affection for or have hardly ever met? If we end our letters with the quite solemn and serious word “love” to people we don’t love, how are we supposed to end letters to people we do love? Perhaps to our loved ones, we should now seal our letters – as they apparently did in the last war – with “SWALK”: “Sealed With A loving Kiss” adorned on the envelope. There were other acronyms that even in these rude times seem unprintable (even worse that BURML – Be undressed and Ready My Love!). But at least the soldiers then had the excuse that they were terminally frustrated.

My point is, perhaps we should reserve the world “love” for people we really do care about deeply.


Real Heroes

But there is another serious dumbing down of a word: “hero”. The media continually blurs the distinction between a victim who may have suffered a ghastly mishap or accident, and a real hero. To anyone who thinks about it seriously, a hero is someone who has gone out of his or her way selflessly to try and save someone else’s life – or indeed a community – for a higher purpose. The media on the other hand will add the soubriquet “hero”, for example, to someone who safely lands a stricken plane with passengers (whilst all they were really doing was saving their own life alongside others). Or, they will make a hero out of a soldier who has their leg blown off in a war zone. The truth of the matter is that soldiers sign up voluntarily to take that risk, and becoming a casualty doesn’t make someone a hero (sorry about that). And, yes, the charity title, “Help for Heroes” has always made me cringe. It stems from our peacetime snivelling need, whilst drinking in the pub, to indulge in some recreational grief.

Anyone who served in a perfunctory action as, say, the Afghanistan or Iraq wars, and who was subsequently caught up in a car crash or a court action (for example), will be described in media reports as a “war hero”. Such a precious word should be kept for the real thing – and heroes are as common as hen’s teeth. The Dam Buster, Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC DSO (and bar) was an undoubted hero, as was the great Audie Murphy, the highest decorated US soldier in the Second World War. Then my favourite hero, Sergeant Major Stan Hollis VC, charges in. On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Stan three times attacked German positions that were holding up the battalion advance. He charged them alone with a Sten gun and grenades, and he killed or took the defenders prisoners. After the war, his commanding officer said, “Hollis is the only man I met between 1939–45 who felt that winning the war was his personal responsibility.”

It’s only a tiny minority who have the sense of responsibility or a deep-rooted personal anger that stirs them to heroic actions. They are usually serving among the bulk of their colleagues who resent being shown up by what they perceive as dangerous “gong” hunters. The majority of soldiers would much rather be at home, and have no wish to be “brave” or run the risk of being killed or maimed.

Lord Macaulay’s “Horatius” demanded:

“And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”        

But that’s a minority belief. Those stirred by that sentiment will be the real McCoy.

Though, to be fair, I never did say I was a hero…! Reader, what would you have done?


By the Way…

I was told that the rings of Saturn are not astral dust at all, but are actually made up of airline lost luggage forever circling the planet.




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