We walk from Freshwater Bay to Yarmouth keeping the sea to our left. The path leads through several miles of dappled tunnel lined with trees crouching to attention and nodding in the breeze to greet us like a parade of elderly veterans. On the outskirts of the port we meet a group of biking holidaymakers from Holland, the Dekkers, and a delightful lady with a wholly unpronounceable name. We swopped family gossip and thankfully kept away from Grexit and the Euro! Their English was excellent so good it puts us to shame.
A generous lunch provided by my cousin Giles. a dear man who knew Zimbabwe – and indeed married in “Salisbury”. It was then in its glory days. We discussed how curious it was that our great grandparents suddenly converted to Catholicism in the eighteen fifties when Catholicism was said to be “fashionable”! Perhaps Cardinal Newman’s influence was to do with it. Fashion is a funny reason to change your faith but there’s nowt so queer as folk. Anyway I don’t think they were very serious about it as I was born a Catholic and no one told me anything about it at all except I should feel guilty, which I duly did, for a while at least. Anyway I have long since ceased to be sectarian, but some people take the differences very seriously indeed. In fact when one of my conservative Presbyterian pals heard I had been baptised Catholic he said that if I was to be ever baptised an Anglican by total immersion, they would have to hold me under the water for at least ten minutes to get rid of it all! I hope he was joking.
Giles and I couldn’t help but compare the Zimbabwe situation then and now…
Since about 1980, Zimbabwe’s greatest export to the developed world has been around four million of its most talented young workers. This exodus has been as much of a tragedy for Zimbabwe as it has been a boon to the rest of the civilised world, for few will return.
A One-Way Ticket
The UK’s National Health Service relies on a steady supply of talented Zimbabwean nurses and cleaners. Thousands of businesses and restaurants round the world find Zimbabwean waiters, managers and shop assistants a valuable resource.
Of course, millions remain trapped in Zimbabwe and today live lives of repression and destitution. But who left the country and why? Well let’s start with about 4,500 farmers whose land was stolen, followed by hundreds of senior farm managers who faced destitution; then there was a queue of politicians of the wrong stripe who feared that a single misplaced word might involve them in a fatal car accident, people of the wrong tribe who faced cruel persecution, and thousands of young who discovered that they were born the wrong colour to win jobs.
All these people did what humankind has always done when life has become intolerable; it’s what the Huguenots did when faced with religious persecution, it’s what the Pilgrim Fathers did in the early seventeenth century; it’s what the Scottish and Irish farmers decided to do when faced with land seizures. Zimbaweans did what escaping Jews did when facing Nazi genocide in the 1930s. They looked abroad for freedom to live free lives as people have always done throughout the generations.
When Jane and I were young, we used to entertain a great deal. Although we still throw parties, the times we are invited back seems to be falling. I thought perhaps it was us! But my children tell me the same story – the Benyons are a hospitable lot, we all derive great fun from entertaining, but it seems that many people find it a strain. Perhaps their mothers did not like to entertain and so the tradition has never been passed on. My children tell me that when they are asked to dinner, nine times out of 10 they are asked to bring a course with them, or the wine for the meal or something. Why is this? Are we all growing stingier and becoming more inhospitable?