Day 4 – Letcombe Basset

A Great Escape

A perfect day’s walking, the sort of day to convince yourself that BREXIT and COVID are an illusion, that reality is to walk in perfect English countryside on a sunny day with friendly people. God is in His heaven: all is right with the world.

We zipped through Letcombe Regis and Wantage, down muddy and rutty tracks, through softly undulating cornfields discussing – inevitably – whether the government’s reaction to this miserable pandemic is overdone? We decided that when all other countries had “locked-down” – particularly Germany – we had no realistic choice but to follow. But the massive collateral damage to our economy and the welfare of the people is such that from now on we will have to learn just to live with the threat of disease and accept deaths. For what will we do when the next pandemic emerges as it surely will? We can’t be turning our economy on and off like a motor engine every couple of years. We can’t just keep removing the common sense and liberties of the people and handing them over to whoever is in power in Downing Street. That way points to ruin and madness.

Reflective Reflection

I caught myself glancing at my reflection in a shop window and wondering whether I should get a new outfit? I have worn the same trousers and hat for ten years, and idiotically I have grown to be rather fond of them; this is despite the fact that my trousers are shredded from a battle with a thornbush – they lost – and beyond even covering the modesty of a scarecrow. But then I thought, why bother? Provided I am reasonably clean and decent, who would I be trying to impress and why?

All is Vanity

Past blog readers may recall my story of how I admitted at a family gathering that by the age of 60, I felt I had become invisible. Women no longer saw me as a “sex object” and just looked straight through me.

“Hold on,” said daughter Clare roaring with merriment. “When did anyone, at any time, think you were a sex object? Don’t give us the date, the decade will do!”

Ha ha!

So We’ll No More Go a Roving…

There’s no fool like an old fool. I caught myself trying to be charming to a pretty waitress recently and I wondered why I was bothering? Some time later, I found myself typing “Love, Tom” and adding a couple of “xx” in an email to a woman who once worked for me. 

Today, careers are ruined in a flash, so why I was taking such a stupid risk? I didn’t mean anything by it, so what was I trying to prove?

I must reassess exactly who I signal to, and why? It’s a pulsating, red danger area. Over the past few years, and particularly after the Weinstein affair, industrial numbers of men have had their lives destroyed by women denouncing them as perverts. The line drawn between gentle flirting and being a deviant is becoming blurred: sexual assault and harassment have been turned into a “monolithic” category.

So I no longer want to do even the tiniest tango in the men/women sex dance. Perhaps I have deluded myself that I may be, in some antique sort of way, still vaguely sexy? It’s a mistake made by all too many men as they grow older. Like frogs in a pot warming slowly and stupidly towards inevitable death, they fail to notice that the gestures that were possibly once delightful or amusing have in fact grown nauseating.

The idea that any women might overlook my saggy face or my gone-with-the-wind muscle tone, and actually want to have sex with me without substantial payment in advance, is wholly absurd. It’s nothing other than the ludicrous vanity of a decaying ego. So it’s time to stop trying to be charming to waitresses or making women laugh. “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” Simply, it demeans me. 

No more keeping my tummy tucked in and trying to look manly, and no more poncing about in tight shirts. No more fretting about whether my suit is creased or not or wondering if my bald patch is showing. No more the mysterious half smile across a crowded room that I once thought looked fascinating but probably today looks like Steptoe leering at an unguarded fiver. Stop acting like a grotesque old fool!

Weinstein has woken me up to harsh reality – and he’s probably done me a favour. 

The Wheat and the Chaff

It is said that Baroness Thatcher never knew a day’s happiness after she was ousted from Downing Street. There’s a tragic picture of her in Jonathan Aitken’s biography, Power and Personality, sitting outside the Lords, draped in ermine, three hours before the doors opened.

Perhaps when the shouting crowds departed and the phones stopped ringing, loneliness – at the horrifying realisation that true friends were thin on the ground – slowly engulfed her magnificent spirit.   

I had a friend – let’s call him Richard – who was the CEO of a large company. In his gift were millions of pounds in supply contracts. When his company was taken over, he lost his job. Richard was now unemployed but he confidently drew up a list of contacts with a view to meeting up to discuss the future and ask for their help. On the list were many people with whom he had socialised – he had been to dinner at their houses and he counted them as close friends. He was profoundly distressed when only a tiny minority responded and the rest made their excuses. Out of office, he was of no use. His unemployed status meant he was dumped on his so-called friends’ “loser” list. Richard was learning, in the most brutal way possible, the difference between social froth and real friends – those people who treasure us for who we really are.

Some people never experience a “High Noon”, that moment of truth that shows us who are real friends are. How the royal family differentiate between deferential courtiers and real buddies is a mystery to me!

When we are very young, we are desperately vulnerable about what our peer group thinks of us. We copy what they listen to, what they wear, what they drive, what they eat, where they go to for entertainment, and even the jobs they do. We are powerfully influenced by what others think of us and how we will be judged.

As we now see daily on social media, the crowd can be cruel and hopelessly stupid, so what can we learn from this? There comes a time, after we have been sufficiently bruised by life, when we can appreciate the wisdom of a couple of lines in Robert Browning’s poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” – “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be…”

Once we have reached a certain age, there is no excuse left for any confusion. Actress Sarah Bernhardt summed it up perfectly: “We must live for the few who know and appreciate us, who judge and absolve us, and for whom we have the same affection and indulgence. The rest I look upon as a mere crowd… from whom there’s nothing to be expected but fleeting emotions… which leave no trace behind them.”    

1 comment

    • Christopher Skeate on September 11, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    You mention Lockdown. I think Lord Sumption’s remarks in a recent interview say it all:

    “If you are going to inaugurate the greatest invasion of personal liberty in our entire history, even including wartime measures, if you dare to do that, then you have to move straight into justification mode.

    The Government has now found itself trapped in a position where, first of all, it has to exaggerate the extent of the problem in order to justify its past actions. And secondly, by exaggerating the scale of the problem, it is contributing to the difficulty that it now faces in persuading people to go back to school and back to work, because naturally what people ask is, well, what has changed since?

    The use of fear has, of course, been noticed by many people. And some members of Sage have made public statements since then saying that this was perhaps overdone, but it was a matter of deliberate policy, as it quite clearly was. “What you have to remember is that when societies lose liberty, it is not because liberty has been crushed under the boot of some tyrant. It’s usually because they’ve been frightened into giving it up voluntarily”

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