We walked through the Derbyshire Peak DIstrict, which Jane and I hunted over in days gone by. We were regaled about Zimbabwe by one ancient farmer, who told us that charity starts at home and that Mugabe was “spot on” in his views on the homosexual community. Jane and I decided to cut our losses so we walked on. I must advise the gay lobby that they have work to do in rural Derbyshire.
It was very hot and humid, and hilly with it. I decided to join Dinah splashing in the Dove river and I was just about to dip my head in the shallows when I saw a dead lamb floating towards me feet first. The water trickled from my horrified lips.
As we walked down “Bonny Prince Charlie’s Way” we were joined by Michael Hastings (Lord), his son Carl and a mutual friend James Woodward. Mike is the chair of Zane’s Council of Reference and one of my closest friends. We met many years ago and our senses of humour seemed to mesh. Mike – bless him – walks with us each time and we always have great fun.
James helped Zane Australia get its regulatory permissions. He is very bright and a trusted friend.
Talking the Walk
I think of the reason why we are walking.
There are many worthy charities and God bless them all. But Zane is the charity I founded some ten years ago. Amongst various activities – clubfoot and vulnerable women’s support to name but two – It looks after a vulnerable group of aged pensioners, forgotten people whose lives have been devastated at a time such that it is far too late for them to recover. If they have children they will have left Zimbabwe to find work. So they are often very lonely. It could be any of us. Zane is in business to help them grow with dignity and help them retain their self respect. Zane employs the services of twenty-eight people – the bulk in Zimbabwe – and as a colour-blind charity It is unique in southern Africa.
Jane strides on ahead. Apart from helping me run Zane, Jane runs CEF – the Oxford Community Emergency Foodbank – now a major charity in its own right.
We have four children and all are married. We have ten granchidren. Our lives are enriched with family and our charities.
There are three things for a man to live for: “A maiden to woo, a battle to fight and a cause bigger than yourself to live for.”
Jane Is my maiden. I have fought plenty of battles and Zane is my cause, far bigger than myself, to live for.
In the last year Jane and I have been questioned closely on more than one occasion as to why we continue to work for the poorest of the poor in Zimbabwe and in Oxford.
The reason is, put simply, that we have been called to do so, that as long as we have puff we will continue with the work until we drop. Surgeon Lord McColl told us once of an incident that ocurred after he and his wife, who was a Nurse, had worked from early morning until night operating on a mercy ship in Africa. When they were returning home they were obliged to pass through Cape Town airport. There they met a party of friends who had been partying on safari for weeks and living high on the hog. McColl told me that his friends appeared to be envious of his and his wife’s exhausted state.
Jane and I are having the time of our lives.
A Bear Garden
The Woodstock Passion play was a deeply moving experience. There were at least 800 spectators and not all were believers by any means. Indeed, why should it be necessary to believe in God to participate in church activities? All you are doing when polishing the church brasses, changing the flowers for the Sunday service – or enjoying a local Passion play – is participating in one of the customs of your tribe. And there is not exactly a surplus of communities around these days.
Our play was a valuable community exercise. Chronic loneliness is endemic in today’s society and the play brought us all together. It was an opportunity for laughter as well as plain, innocent fun, and the result was wonderful. At least 80 of Woodstock’s finest were involved and the churches united – well, most of them – to make it happen.
But it didn’t all go smoothly – of course, nothing worthwhile ever does! The manager of the smartest hotel in Woodstock complained (ring me and I’ll tell you which one). We were told afterwards that she complains about everything so we shrugged and just got on with it. But, it was beyond parody.
This voluble Italian lady snarled at our excellent and kindly producer: “We expect to hear a pin drop on Sunday morning in Woodstock, so why should we have to put up with your noise?” We tried to explain that it was important for the community and it only happened once a year, but we got nowhere.
“Why should our guests lunching in our lovely hotel have to watch you crucifying someone in the garden opposite?”
The acronym NIMBY has never seemed more apt…
“This lady tells us that you have been using insulting language!”
My gym manager looked deeply distressed. I followed him to his office and sheepishly explained that I was playing the role of Pontius Pilate in the Woodstock Passion play and that the lady may have heard me practising my lines under my breath.
He stared blankly at me. “Passion Play? Pontius Pilate? What are you talking about?”
I spent 10 minutes explaining what the Passion play was all about and who Pontius Pilate was, but I might as well have been talking in Esperanto for all he apparently understood.
The offending lines came from my first scene: “What are these ghastly Jews doing here at this hour of the morning?”
I apologised profusely and by the end of the conversation I even managed to make the two of them laugh. But it took some doing. You can see the problem – the idea of political correctness was not an issue in Roman times!
An Eye for an Eye
I understand that a performance of an Oxford Passion play was barred by a licensing council official who assumed it must be a sex show. More’s the pity that the organisers didn’t proceed regardless. It would have been salutary to see Christ led away in handcuffs by the local police – and then he would have to face the magistrates as he did 2000 years ago. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
On the evening of our dress rehearsal, I was standing on the pavement watching the crucifixion scene. A car drew up. The driver’s voice was hesitant: “What’s going on?”
“It’s the new parking laws,” I replied. “The council is very tough in these parts.”