Day 5: Hook Green to Groombridge

Another matchless day:  fast walking through fields of hops and vines towards Tunbridge; the only hazards are long slow hills that seem never to stop but gently wind towards the unforgiving sky. All we can do is plod one foot at a time and  gently curse as we go.

I have been right round the world and visited most places but between May and October nowhere is as beautiful as Britain. Yet In six days of walking we have seen no other people. Of course there are a few people taking their dogs for a poo but we have seen no  real walkers; and please note that where we are is not the industrial midlands or the centre of Scunthorpe but we are wandering in the midst of Arcadia, the most beautiful countryside God ever made anywhere. I see Matthew Parris is all set to walk in the Hindu Kush  in Pakistan, but why are you bothering, Matthew, when this deserted  paradise is not more than an hour out of London and begging to be enjoyed? 

A Long Game

In 2005, Former Prime Minster Ted Heath was buried in Salisbury Cathedral. In 1997   Former minister Enoch Powell was buried in his Brigadier’s uniform in a Warwick cemetery.

They were both Conservative politicians and implacable opponents.

In 1968, Enoch Powell lost his ministerial career having a been sacked by Ted Heath for making  an allegedly inflammatory  – “rivers of blood” speech about immigration.

Some six years later, mainly on grounds of sovereignty, Powell announced his refusal to contest his Wolverhampton seat for the Tories because Heath was applying for membership of what is now the EU. Not only that, in the November 1974 general election, Powell recommended that conservative voters should vote Labour because that was the party which was then implacably opposed to EU membership.

I contested the 1974 election in question for the Conservative cause against prime Minster Harold Wilson, and I can vividly recall the vast row Powell’s actions caused at the time.

Then Powell tirelessly campaigned against membership referendum called in 1975 by the wily Wilson and he continued to protest after the result was known. He forecast that that one day the UK would come to its senses and we would depart.

It has looked ever since that Heath had won hands down and Powell’s failed campaigns against EU membership would simply be forgotten as an historical footnote.

We are probably about leave the EU one way or another; when that happen Heath’s life work so carefully planned and built will have turned to ashes:  what Powell hoped would happen will come to pass.

Politics can be a long game.

The Way of All Flesh

I have a friend David whose marriage has failed brutally. He found himself out of the door with his luggage and a divorce petition in his hand. He couldn’t see it coming and he was shattered. He was too close to the emotional hiatus and unable to see straight.   

Of course, the initial casualty was his pride and confidence, which sank to an all-time low. Then he found to his astonishment that he was the target of considerable abuse from his erstwhile wife, Sarah, and her large family – who had apparently disliked him from the outset. He heard he had been labelled a bully and all sorts of unpleasant criticism followed.

The family convinced themselves they were rescuing poor, vulnerable Sarah from the death of a thousand miseries. When I had a drink with David, he was wondering if the criticisms were true.

Of course, he had made all sorts of mistakes – we all do. But I know him to be a loving and kindly man who had been doing his best to be a good husband. I had watched him tenderly nurse his first wife through her terminal illness. So he was no marital bully or adulterer.  

Altered Reality

I tried to give David an insight into relationships, for I have had several friends whose marriages have gone the way of all flesh. In each case, there was roughly the same pattern. As an example, one of my Welsh friends, Hugh, married a saintly woman, Mary, in high society. After 20 or so years and three children, she met someone else and wanted to be free. She knew herself to be a good, faithful and decent woman and so in order to retain this good opinion of herself she had to alter reality.   

The only way Mary could do this was in her mind – and she harangued anyone who would listen that Hugh was an insensitive and unloving man. He was a total shit, she 100 per cent innocent – and the more contumely she was able to cast on him, the better she felt about what she had done. To live up to the myth, she refused to speak to him and when they met at weddings or funerals, she avoided him like the plague. A year ago, their 50-year-old son died from cancer – even after that, Mary refused to console poor Hugh or allow any sharing of grief. 

Altering reality by one spouse to blame the other – in order to justify their errant behaviour – happens time and time again.

So, Mary managed to convince herself that she is kind, loving and upright person, and she conveniently “forgot” all of Hugh’s many excellent qualities. He has been cast in the role of bullying, sponging rotter. And her family was always there, criticising him behind his back, and always suspicious of his motives in marrying well-to-do Mary.  

But there is Hugh, an ordinary, kindly man and none of the nasty things Mary has said about him is true.

Amazing Grace

After hearing this sorry tale, David asked me what he should do about his own situation. I told him he had to forgive Sarah and her abusive family. Otherwise he would destroy himself, for bitterness corrodes the soul.

Then he must rely on GRACE.

When Jonathan Aitken was found guilty of perjury, the world media became hysterical in its condemnation. He was facing bankruptcy and jail, his career was over, and then his family collapsed. Jonathan sought the counsel of a priest, Fr Gerard Hughes. After Jonathan had poured out his ghastly tale of woe, Hughes asked him, “Have you thought of thanking God for your problems?”  

Jonathan was outraged and initially thought he was being mocked; but after a time, he realised this was golden wisdom. We all have to redeem the things that go wrong in our lives. Churchill said that his father told him when he was a child that “a man who can’t take a knock-down blow isn’t worth a damn.” He claimed it was “quite a healthy process”. I have to agree.  

So David must pick himself up, dust himself down and start all over again. There is no other way. And who knows what the future may hold, especially as a wounded healer?

1 comment

    • Ann Warren on September 4, 2019 at 9:30 am

    That’s great Tom _ look forward to the next episode! I love that part of the country. Happy walking!
    Love to you both, Ann

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