The Day After

Two Weeks Later…

Day of relative rest – relative because Jane is working at the food bank, and I am dealing with loads of overdue administration. Many thanks to donors for their sponsorship and kind wishes. And to the excellent ZANE team for their background support. We were fortunate in our driver, Richard, who has all the gifts we required, crucially patience and a sense of humour.

Two weeks is a long time: it went like a flash, yet the start days seem an eternity ago.

The African Way

A doctor friend, who has spent much of his life in southern Africa, tells me that years ago when Cherie Blair was apprehended on the Underground without a tube ticket, a senior African friend was astounded.

“How did the ticket collector dare to stop the wife of the British prime minister for dodging a fare? Why isn’t the man in jail? That could never happen in a southern African country. No one would dare to say anything!”

So, what can be done about gross corruption and mismanagement in Southern Africa? Sadly, the answer is nothing. 

Most African countries – including South Africa – are either in ruins or heading that way. The misrule and corruption will never come to an end, for an “end” doesn’t exist, not in relation to a country. 

The ordinary people in African countries do not expect much from their politicians because they are used to tired and empty slogans. Few, apart from cock-eyed optimists, harbour any illusions about the alien concepts of morality and governance.

The idea that the “state should be an instrument for people’s development” is a Western concept. The notion that leaders are there to serve the people is as real as the tooth fairy. African leaders don’t follow the ideas of Socrates, Kant, and Hegel, for these figures are from a different world. They are content to remain African and do things “the African way”.

The “African way” is to rule through kings and tribal chiefs – they adopt unwritten rules, made up as they go. Has anyone seen a book of African customary laws?

The very idea that a commoner could raise issues about the abuse of public money spent for example, on the house of a president is simply risible: it’s not the African way. To ask a ruler to be accountable is a Western idea. It never happens.

In most African countries, anti-corruption campaigners are an oddity.

No African leader likes an educated populace – educated people are difficult to govern.

People used to wonder if South Africa, under Mandela and Mbeki, might be an exception to this bleak analysis. I fear not. That country will end up broke like Zimbabwe. Just give it a bit more time.    

Making Plans?

Some have questioned me about next year’s walk. I remind them, “Do you know what makes God laugh?”

“People making plans!”

Day 15: Tiddington to Oxford

The Final Day

The final day. Perfect weather and good company. We met the food bank contingent for lunch, and then we marched up Shotover Hill and down the other side into Oxford.

For the last couple of weeks, as we have tottered from theatre to theatre in a great arch, we have been blessed with great company and, in the main, fine walking weather. The administration was fine, and we are grateful for all the kind messages you have sent us as encouragement. We have been fortunate to attract an excellent driver who has been a fund of tolerance, wisdom and good cheer when we were feeling what the Scots call “peely wully.”

Avoiding the Net

All the walkers saw Emma Radicanu’s outstanding tennis performance. One of them – experienced in the ways of the media – wondered how long it would be before a hack unearthed some occasion where the poor woman allegedly behaved badly. I hope she will be well looked after.

Young Blood

I have never liked getting drunk myself. It’s simply not in my genes. But when I was young, hard drinking was all around me. The measure of the enjoyment of the jocks in the Cameron Highlanders in which I served all those years ago was the degree to which they could get “effing stoshered!” Their recreational antics – vomiting and fighting – were a commonplace to be regarded with approval by the officers, a sign of their renowned fighting spirit.

Later, in Edinburgh, I shared a flat with a man who often used to drink until he was rendered unconscious. I can see him in my mind’s eye, lying on the floor covered with vomit. He was delightful in many ways, but incapable of sobriety.

There was little social disapproval of excess boozing in those days. In my subaltern days, drink driving was a sport and dodging the police was never condemned. Instead, it was regarded as an amusing campaign of dodging authority: the fun-loving youngbloods versus the killjoy plods.

For a while, the mood shifted. Slowly my friends realised that the addiction to alcohol wasn’t a just bit of fun. A friend’s son was sent to jail for killing a cyclist and the jokes seemed to die down. But then the booze game came back with a vengeance. Today, expressions like “down the hatch,” “quenching our thirst” and a “night out with the boys” are all euphemisms for getting wasted. As a result, alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales are rising, 20 per cent higher than in 2019. Hospital admissions related to alcohol stand at a ghastly 1.26 million! Just imagine the national reaction if this statistic was related to Covid-19?

Sober Reflection

Today, nearly 40 per cent of incidents connected to violence relate to drunkenness. And the geographical inequalities are shocking. In southern England, there are two deaths per thousand from drink, in south Tyneside it’s a staggering 22 per 100,000!

Today, half of all ambulance callouts are related to drink. If you’re obliged to wait in A&E with an ill child for, say, four hours, then at least two of them are probably down to someone else’s drink problem. And please note, not criminal drugs but socially acceptable drink. “Have another gin, ho ho!”  

We have a culture problem. We take a hostile view of drug abuse, but we treat the most dangerous drug of all as a national joke, often to be encouraged as “fun”, always to be tolerated and never to be condemned except by killjoys.

We should review this acute problem – soberly.    

Thanks, But No Thanks…

Years ago, I was the chairman of the board of the Milton Keynes Health Authority. Nearing the end of my tenure in office, I was approached by a woman who asked whether I would like my name attached to the new building next door? My pride kicked in! I had raised money for it, and no one had even noticed. They say that the most exquisite pleasure of all is to do good secretly –and then to be found out. This was proof of that saying!

Okay, it wasn’t quite a statue but at least a plaque is better than nothing? How could I refuse?

I was a little surprised she had asked me because I didn’t like her particularly and I was sure my vague feelings of animosity towards her – and she was a lady of little taste! – were reciprocated.

Something bothered me, so I asked the chief executive what the purpose of the new building would be? 

Oh, it’s to be the “Buckingham Centre for Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” he replied. 

I gratefully declined…  

Day 14: Upton to Tiddington

Match Points

A happy day with friends walking with us. Only a day left to go, and we won’t be sorry when it is finished. We have been fortunate with the weather: only one gruelling period of intense heat.

Last night we watched the now world-famous Emma Raducanu win the US Open Tennis tournament. Clearly, a hugely talented woman and it was a superb match.

Am I alone in trembling for her? She has achieved far more than anyone could have expected and at the young age of 18. Am I a killjoy in remembering the sayings: “It’s better to travel than arrive,” and: “There’s only one thing worse than not getting your heart’s desire, and that’s getting it”. How will she handle losing?

Emma is now exposed to relentless media interest in her life and loves. That exposure will go on forever, and forever is a long time.

I hope she has a sensible family who can keep her feet on the ground and who can stop her from going mad with fame.

Border Bedlam

Control our borders? Fat chance! 

It seems that home secretaries nowadays must hail from an immigrant family – otherwise, when they seek to stem illegal immigration, they face being labelled a “racist monster”. The current home secretary, Priti Patel, is routinely called “cruel and right-wing,” by her vast number of critics. And now in the loneliness of office, she finds she can do nothing about illegal immigration except emulate King Lear: “I will do such things: what they are yet I know not, but they shall be, The terrors of the earth.”  

In terms of risk/reward, people smuggling has to be a great criminal activity, a no brainer with little risk. The demand is vast: even the poorest and most oppressed people in the world have access to today’s internet. It enables them to watch the life of Riley lived by the “have-it-alls” in their Aladdin’s caves with social security benefits, the NHS, subsidised housing, a peaceful society with respected laws, foodbanks, a government free of corruption and the chance of a job (even if it’s only in the UK’s black market). Then there is a media hostile to HMG doing anything material to deal with the situation and on the side of immigrants’ rights.

When you are reduced to being a hooker on the streets of Somalia, what’s not to like about the prospect of immigrating? The totality of Zimbabwe’s poor would choose to live in Guidlford if they had half the chance, so there’s no limit on the number of potential applicants desperate to escape from a life of exploitation, cruelty, hunger and jobless misery to a land of milk and honey. All the would-be immigrants need is £5,000 and to be brave enough to risk the remote risk of drowning. And once they are in the UK, they have access to heaven. They are rescued from the Channel by kind people and given an immigrant’s allowance as well as free accommodation, food and healthcare. If they can’t speak English, they are given access to tax-payer-funded translators and the chance to be represented by a solicitor whose professional aim is to wriggle through our arcane laws on illegal immigration.

Therefore, the illegals stand little chance of being returned from thence they came, and the steady flood continues. Soon, I forecast, we will be facing 5,000 immigrants a day. No one has a clue what to do about it except to wave hands in desperation, talk tough and hand over more dosh to our natural enemy, the French, in the vain hope they might help us. Then we can listen as they laugh all the way to the bank while encouraging even more boats to make the crossing.

Poor old Patel. What a ghastly job.  

Jobs for the Boys

Is your rubbish being collected efficiently? Are your roads free of potholes?

Far be it from me to drive you into a fury as you eat your breakfast, for we must all remain calm, but when you last looked at your rate bill, did you note that the sum to be paid increased by 4.4 per cent over the last year? And did you know that 2,500 local government officers earned more than £100,000 p/a last year – with 653 of them earning over £150,000? As an extreme example, the assistant chief operating officer of Coventry local authority pocketed £575,000, which included a pension payment of £26,000 and an early retirement package of £375,000. For him, early retirement meant moving sideways to a well-paid job as the business development officer of a local university.

In addition, these individuals will all get an index-linked pension paid by taxpayers for as long as they have puff.

Who agrees this level of pay? We are all in the wrong job!

It’s a serious issue, though. Today, public sector employees get a far better deal than those trying to earn a living in the private sector. The issues are two: job security and of course, index-linked pensions. And it goes without saying that politicians and the civil servants who draft legislation have a vested interest to ensure that the status quo remains. What’s to be done? No one knows.   

Day 13: Whitchurch to Upton

Ailing Aylesbury

Six walkers today, all friends. We talked endlessly as we walked; it was fun. We trailed through poor old, down-at-heel, litter-strewn Aylesbury, a once beautiful and elegant town. Its graceful Georgian centre was gutted by 1950/60s so-called “planners” and greedy developers. When next you visit Aylesbury, recall George Eliot’s quote:

“Behind every great fortune is always a great crime.”

Re-treading the Boards

I took a trip down memory lane as I passed the hall where I served – fruitlessly- as a district councillor.

I ponder the number of hours I must have spent as a member of local and district council boards, church PPCs, and school governing bodies and Parliamentary Committees, boards of companies, and health authorities.
I am convinced I might just as well have been playing ping pong for all the difference I sitting on these boards made to the well-being of mankind.

Malcolm Muggeridge called one of his Autobiographies “Chronicles of Wasted Time.”

Great title that.

One observation I know is true: I have walked right around the UK with my beloved Jane, and we have never ever seen a statue to a committee.

Patriotic Pride

Patriots are proud of their country; nationalists are inclined to dislike other countries (Nicola Sturgeon, please take note).

Patriots stand during the national anthem – and because they know the words, they can sing them without embarrassment. They are familiar with the story of the UK and recognise that this is not “history”, but essential general knowledge. Without it, people can have no real understanding of why we are here. History tells us that we are standing on the shoulders of giants. At the very least, we should know who some of these giants are and their stories. Such knowledge will allow us to appreciate that the freedoms we enjoy – the freedom of speech, freedom under the law, universal suffrage – were not delivered by Ocado or the tooth fairy but rather were won through bitter strife and in bloody battles fought by our forebears. And it will help us to understand the crucial importance of protecting these vital rights. 

They may not be hand-waving Christians, but patriots will know their way around the King James Bible and will be able to recite The Lord’s Prayer. They will have read some Shakespeare, at least some Dickens and some poetry.   

Patriots take pride in our island story and will understand that the empire was a mixture of good and bad, as is the case with much human endeavour. They will have some knowledge of the UK’s Civil War, Wellington and Napoleon, the American Civil War, the pluses and minuses of Empire, the First and Second World Wars, Normandy, Spitfires and Churchill. They remember or know about the atomic bomb, Vietnam, the Korean War, the Cold War and peace-keeping missions from 1945–2005. And they will know about the rise of the EU and the UK’s arguments for staying or leaving.    

A Patriot’s Ps and Qs

If you bump into a patriot on the pavement, he will say “sorry”. Patriots are not petty and will not take offence by the use of the word “he” to encompass both sexes. They are unfailingly polite, particularly to women.

Patriots pick up litter. They hold the door open for the next person and if walking with a lady, ensure she is on the inside for protection. Patriots dislike swearing in front of women and children, and they dislike filthy language on TV.  

Moral courage and personal integrity are high on a patriot’s list of virtues. He or she seldom boasts – except of course about the virtues of their children and grandchildren.  

Patriots dislike all things “woke”, Twitter storms and the leftward drift of institutions, in particular the Church, the National Trust and the BBC. They understand that the UK is protected, not by politicians, but domestically by the police, and nationally by the men and women of the air force, the army and navy.

Patriots worry that freedom of speech is being eroded by political correctness and are conscious that the career-destroying term “racism” is too often used as a term of general abuse. They agree with the statement by Dr Martin Luther King: “People should not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”, and would prefer to leave it at that, thank you very much.

Today, more than ever, this country needs patriots for their strong work ethic, sense of humour, sense of responsibility, pride in the UK and decent values.

I am, of course, sure that all ZANE supporters are patriots!  

Day 12: Westcroft to Whitchurch

The day started warm and a tad drizzly. Set off at a sharp pace, but another case of here we go round the mulberry bush as we get lost in fields yet again.

Tartan Titan

Nicola Sturgeon has to be the most talented politician in the western world right now. She must be because she appears to carry the entire dismally poor-performing SNP on her shoulders. We learn that she is angered to be called “prejudiced” against the English. Hard to know the truth, but I reckon her supporters would sooner support Mongolia when playing football than England. Funny how the name “National” would be unacceptable if there was to be an “English National Party” as it would conjure up tattoos, reverse baseball hats and thugs with baseball bats, but it’s apparently an okay title provided tartan is wrapped around it!

Vaccination Vexation

I understand that the vast majority of new cases of COVID are in hospital because they refused to accept vaccination. I ask myself why I should be obliged to pay for the treatment of these idiots when their hospital occupancy was probably brought about by their own obduracy.

Cross About Dressing

I am all for change – provided it brings improvement. But where is the improvement in the rock-bottom slide to Scruff Land in the standard of our dress? The rot began when Presidents Clinton and Bush delivered their State of the Union speeches wearing open-neck shirts. Since then, the decline in how we look has grown inexorably with most of the population lounging about like Dominic Cummings on a bad hair day.

The great, late Noel Coward – “the master” who wrote wonderful plays and lyrics and performed magnificently – felt strongly about standards. He claimed that before the last war, however modest an actor’s role might be, he or she would invariably be dressed in a pressed suit and tie or a smart dress while rehearsing. When asked why they bothered to dress smartly for a mere rehearsal, Coward replied that it was out of respect for the building, the other actors and the play itself. Quite so!    

Thankfully, the retreat is not universal. Most sports demand a strict dress code as is the case with hunting and shooting.

Dressing Down

The top prize for inappropriate dress, however, must be awarded – as I have proclaimed in other blogs – to those vicars who wear sporty sweatshirts and gym shoes while officiating. I suppose they do so in the hope of being as one with their congregations, but this is plainly mistaken. They should be setting an example. There are few enough role models for the young and impressionable today as it is. When a vicar starts to preach dressed like Steptoe, I stop listening. Sorry but it’s involuntary.

Divine services should be respectful and seek to attract worshipers by the dramatic use of space, a well-trained and formally dressed choir, by beautiful surroundings and the vestments of the leaders. How do you create a sense of the numinous when the look and sound is of a Glastonbury pop festival? 

If you are invited to meet the queen, most people dress up. Why is it appropriate to dress down when you are meeting the king of kings?

All is Vanity

During my time when I was – uneasily – a member of medium-size church PCC, the administrator announced she was off to another job. She proposed that a three-month handover period was vital so her replacement could “shadow” her. The implication was that her work was so varied and complex that the new recruit would have to be “taught”, and at enormous length too, how to do it. Of course, this would come at a double-the-salary cost to the church – but she was adamant that without such a handover, chaos would reign!

I volunteered that on one famous occasion when a chancellor of the exchequer was replaced, there was no handover period – just an empty desk and a note reading, “I’m afraid there is no money”. But leaving that joke aside – which horribly backfired – it’s the same for all government ministers: you either sink or swim. If a new chancellor can, like Atlas, shoulder the vast responsibilities of the nation in an instant and without a wet nurse, why should the handover of a bog-standard job in a church be any different? All a bright new manager or new entrant to a job needs are instructions for the coffee machine, the whereabouts of the loo and a good luck note. And if they aren’t bright and raring to go unaided, why are they being hired in the first place?

My suggestion was met in total silence. I resigned soon after for alpha males and church PCCs make uneasy bedfellows at the best of times.

I have little doubt that my suggestion was ignored. But surely this is a no brainer. Intelligent people can do most things and quickly as well. And understandably they will want to do things their way and are bound to find someone hovering at their elbow both patronising and an intense irritant.    

The most extravagant claims of the complications of a business I ever heard were made by overpaid executives working in the Lloyd’s of London insurance market. They proclaimed that it took at least three generations to truly understand the intricacies of the industry. Their pompous bubble was neatly pricked when, during the endless and vicious litigation of the early nineties, a High Court judge, Lord Justice Kerr, had good reason to understand exactly how the market worked. He set to – and it took him a single afternoon!  

What drives the idea that a long handover is essential for any job? You need look no further than Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity.”

Day 11: Hanslope to Westcroft

Gone with the Wind

A better day with warm mist and easy to discern walks. We walk through the old Whaddon Chase hunting grounds: all the old bittersweet memories flood back. Too many hunting ghosts and memories soar over fences in my mind’s eye to relate here, but… it was fun being young.

Our children loved the pony club: many of today’s close friends stem from that clean and innocent time. Our horse “Prince Panache” was bred in our stables. We both hunted him for years: he was a superb ride, like a horsey Maserati, he was guaranteed never to dump us, and he would jump anything. Panache was a beautiful animal and as sleek as a seal. He won the world three-day eventing championships in Lexington, US. It was a vast privilege to have bred him and to have ridden him for so long.

Roundabout Rumours

Much of the land we rode over has been swallowed up by Milton Keynes, today a beautifully designed garden city.

The planners have planted so many trees and created so many hidden villages it’s rumoured that one day we’ll find the lost tribes of Milton Keynes. Then there was the rumour about why there are so many roundabouts: the planners started with a single sheet of paper, and then they drank tea. Each time they set down a cup, lo and behold, there was yet another roundabout.

We walk past dozens of boat owners on the canal doing nothing except lounging about. I recall the great Pope John Paul being asked by a reporter, “What would you advise Vatican workers to do at the second coming of Jesus Christ?

“I’d tell them just to try and look busy!”

Hip Hooray

All ZANE supporters who have benefited from a hip replacement like myself should kneel down with me – if they can – and thank God for a miracle. This walk has caused me far less pain than the one we did ten years ago!

More Precious Than Gold

It became clear during television interviews with many Olympic medallists that without the support of “family”, the majority could never have succeeded. It was the volunteer army of mums, dads, uncles, aunts and grandparents who spent money they could ill afford, repeatedly drove miles at dawn, and encouraged and supported athletes through both good times – and of course, the bad – that completed the winning formulas. How many thousands of other families laboured mightily but unseen for those candidates who simply failed to qualify, never mind win a medal?

The family is the greatest welfare state our country has ever known. How can its value be measured? What about the many sacrifices made, the cheering on at the rare successes, the overdrafts negotiated, the ever-ready hankies to mop up the tears of frustration, and the shoulders to sob on that comfort the many failures? What about the reassurance in both good and bad times, and of being a constantly supportive team at our backs?

Of course, not everyone enjoys the blessings of family – but those of us who do should count our blessings that our lives are marinated in unconditional love. A supportive family is more precious than any number of gold medals. And it’s wonderful so many winning Olympians recognised that their victory wasn’t theirs alone.   

It reminds me of the lines from Hilaire Beloc’s “Dedicatory Ode”.

“From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There’s nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.”

The Thousandth Man

The old story relates that the thousandth man will be hanging up his coat to comfort you when everyone else is leaving the house. And it is one in a thousand! It’s rare. It was a staunch atheist, the great and sadly late Christopher Hitchins, who advised readers that when a friend is in trouble, don’t hesitate. Telephone immediately, go at once to see him or her. Don’t worry about what to say, your very presence will be a comfort. 

It seems that the other 999 are so fussed about whether they might do or say the wrong thing that they do bugger all. Because of fear, laziness and emotional inhibition, they fail to be loving.  

One of my senior retired friends – from the church, since you ask, which he had served relentlessly for scrag-end money for 40 years – found himself the subject of criticism for an ill-advised comment he had made in some long-forgotten report or other many years before. The roof fell in, and all the miserable and mean-minded church disciplines clicked into place!

No one bothered to consider which one of us, if all our letters and emails were to be relentlessly trawled through, would find we had never made a single foolish remark that, on reflection, we might regret?

But our church today is so obsessed with political correctness and anxiously wanting to do the right thing that humanity takes second place – if it is considered at all. My friend found his world – and this is the church that bangs on about love – had retreated to its default position of political correctness. It put in the boot and his reputation was wrecked: months later, hardly any of his friends or former colleagues had bothered to ring or visit him to see if he was okay.

The church can be a very cruel and heartless place, sometimes more concerned with being woke and seen to “do the right thing” than demonstrating forgiveness, compassion and love.

The senior clerics involved in this misery should hang their mitres in shame.  

Day 10: Northampton to Hanslope

Can’t See the Route for the Trees

Hot and hot again. Lost in the woods as usual. Our maps are dire, and we waste time. I am reminded of the eight POWs who escaped in 1944 and used a map of the route to England one of them had purloined: after they arrived in Dover after months of travelling, they discovered that their “map” was of the London tube Northern Line.

Pop Boris?

The word is out that Boris is too keen on personal popularity to be much use as a Prime Minister.

I would like to see what evidence can be presented to sustain this proposition, for from where I am sitting, indications are all the other way round.
In November 2020, he removed the whip and thereby destroyed the careers of 25 rebellious Tory MPs, including three former chancellors. He axed his one-time buddy Dominic Cummings. Now he has just increased taxes on his supporters and removed the so-called “triple lock” on pensioners’ incomes. In the main, they are the ones who vote and when they do, often vote Tory.
Funny way to win popularity!

Shades of Absurdity

Of course, I lost my sunglasses because I always lose them. Anyway, I stopped at a shop in Stratford and chose a replacement.

“How much? I asked.
“£420.00!

I left and bought a perfectly adequate pair at a chemist for £5:99!

Losing It

Don’t worry about losing things. I read somewhere that if you go into the kitchen and can’t recall why, not to worry – we all do that. But if you go into the kitchen and can’t remember what a kitchen is actually for, then you have a problem. 

I see that Apple have stopped only catering for the needs of the young (you know, the unmissable apps that facilitate having sex with strangers, looking at Chinese porn or having one’s toenails painted vermillion at midnight by a Brazilian transvestite).

Now the Apple clever clogs have designed a device for those of us of a certain age who lose things! It’s called AirTag. The technology consists of a small stainless-steel disk that you can stick in your wallet or whatever it is you worry about losing. You can ring the device by Bluetooth, and cleverly – don’t ask me the details – it will tell you where the lost item can be found. This will be a change from my having to endlessly ask Jane where I’ve left stuff. She gets fed up with it, and who can blame her? Sometimes she thinks I’m going doolally because she can see the lost item sticking out from my back pocket.  

But I’ll need a box of a dozen of the things to help me find my mobile, my car keys, my wallet, my glasses (all three pairs), my watch, my various books, my good pen, the TV remote and my walking shoes. Sometimes I need an app to tell me why I have gone upstairs, for I’m blowed if I can remember.

It’s a £29 for one AirTag and £99 for a pack of four – and just for the suspicious, no, I’m not on commission.

I hope in the future Apple will develop an invisible device to be connected to my hearing aid that can quietly tell me the name of the person I am talking to. Were they at Sandhurst or at Wycliffe, are they a major ZANE supporter, were they involved with me in Lloyd’s rows, or are they a distant cousin of Jane’s? These people always seem to know me well enough, but often I don’t have the foggiest who they are. After all, Apple can do darn near everything, so why not this?

And keeping the best for last, listen to this idea. An app called Bladder Pal has been designed to calculate the number of times you’re getting up in the night and measure it against the national average for your age and gender. Big market for this one.   

Remember you heard about it from me first!

Fake News

Emma Revie – head of the foodbank umbrella Trussell Trust – implied in a recent Guardian article that the rise in the number of foodbanks and food claimants has come about because of Boris’ Tory government and cuts to social security provision. It’s a good job Jane’s Oxford charity, CEF (Community Emergency Foodbank), never joined the Trussell Trust. I knew when we started it that as sure as you can say baked beans, Trussell would swing left – such charities always do – and start to spout drivel in our name by implying that the wicked Tory government is more or less solely responsible for the rise in the numbers of those attending foodbanks.      

All such charities end up being run by Revie types who virtue signal compassion as they spend other people’s money. I don’t mind opposing political views, but what I can’t abide is people who know better, such as Revie, writing things that she must know are patently false.  

The facts are these: in 2006/07, under Labour, Jane and I founded CEF. Since its foundation, we have supplied emergency food to more than 40,000 of Oxford’s poorest.

Foodbanks stretch right across the world from Tasmania to Los Angeles and are found in all EU countries. No government, of any political stripe, has created a benefit system that caters for the varied reasons people need foodbanks: these include alcoholism, mental illness, desertion, drugs, prison, divorce, family breakdown, loss of work, gaps in benefits, gambling and human folly.

Revie ought to be ashamed.

Day 9: Weedon Bec to Northampton

A better day.

Moses’ Crossing

We nearly faced a disaster. Moses faced a major road: just before I grabbed him, he darted across the road towards our excellent driver, Richard. A lorry flashed by…it missed him by an inch.

Benyon’s law of pain

It’s simple: unless you have a clinical issue – in which case go and see a doctor- most pains and ills fade with walking.

I’ve proved this on each walk. When I started this year’s walk, I had pains in my toes and discomfort high on my left arm. Rheumatism, I suspect, mixed with gout. A week into the walk, I’m a pain-free zone. Both Jane and I sleep like the dead and awake refreshed for the next adventure.

I see a friend has decided to emigrate to Greece. A visit is one thing; permanent living there is another. I reckon it is wise to grow old in your own language.

Apostrophes

“Apprentices close” is just one example of hundreds of offending street signs that upset me as I totter past. Why don’t the sign designers put in an apostrophe? Is it sheer ignorance? Or idleness? Ratepayers should rise up and march in protest!

Nice as Pie

As a member of the older generation, I wince when the phone rings and an unknown voice chirpily says, “Hello Tom!” I always presume I must know the caller and am a touch confused and irritated when I learn that he or she is in fact a complete stranger from, say, the gas board.   

Niceness is everywhere and I’m getting used to it. When someone tells me to have a “nice day” I always reply, “Thanks but I’ve made other plans”.

And my answer to the ubiquitous “Take care”? I usually go for, “No, take a risk!”   

But all these people with their cheery pleasantries are doing is trying to be instantly “nice” – and in so doing, they are seeking to cut out formality by charging straight towards informality. Today’s unease with formality is a concern not to be unfriendly pompous, frosty or old-fashioned. Is this a nice idea?  

The army knows from centuries of experience that command relationships should not be blurred. Formality is vital when orders must be instantly executed. In wartime, there is no, “Dear Freddie, old bean, please can you find the time to do X and Y”. Instead, an urgent order is issued in the clearest possible English.   

Formality is useful. When you are telling someone, “No” or when you are firing someone, it’s surely crass to end the letter with “Cheers”, “Have a good weekend” or “Lol xx”.  

In English, the gap between formality and informality is always harder to establish than say in France and in Germany where they signal grammatically whether they are being formal (vous/sie) or informal (tu/du). If we had that device in English, we would be calling everyone “du”. We are not just changing what we say to those we don’t know; we are changing the way we say it.

The thing I dislike about general “niceness” is that it’s all too easy somehow. It seeks to lazily blur the crucial divide between the mere crowd and the few who really care about us – those who, as in the words of actor Sarah Bernhardt, “know and appreciate us, who judge and absolve us and for whom we have the same affection and indulgence.”

In previous generations, before formality was stripped away, people got to know others before presuming to be informal, so friendliness was in fact of real value.

Formality is useful. It puts a bit of distance between us and the job we do, and it allows us to engage with strangers in a way that is polite without suggesting we have an affectionate relationship.  

The Great Equaliser

She sniffed in surprise when I told her I did some prison visiting. “All prisoners are losers,” she said. “I don’t know why you waste your time!”  

“It’s easier than you think to find yourself in the nick,” I replied. “Even you!”

“Nonsense.”

“What about these examples?” I asked. And I proceeded to describe three scenarios.

Say you are driving out of Oxford on a February evening. You hit a cyclist wearing dark clothes with no bike lights, and he or she dies. The cyclist was at fault for not having the proper equipment, but you were going at 34mph and not 30, or you had just made a fly call on your mobile to say you were running late. As you were breaking the law, the death is moved from being an “accident” to a criminal offence and you will probably serve a prison term.

Take number two… You have nine points on your licence, and you ask your husband to take the points for you. Something goes wrong and your harmless ploy is discovered (in one case a child told his teacher about his parent’s “game”, and she reported it!”). It’s not considered to be a harmless middle-class parlour game, but rather a case of perverting the course of justice, with at least six months inside.   

Or number three… you fiddle probate and nick the pictures from an estate. Then there is a family fall out and so to get their own back, the aggrieved person tells the police or HMRC about your harmless little plan…”

My friend quickly fell silent. 

There but for the grace of God go I.

Day 8: Lower Shuckburgh to Weedon Beck

Honours and Shame

Another roasting day and wandering around in circles. It could be worse. I might be Michael Fawcett, Chief advisor to Prince Charles. No one told Fawcett the way to extract millions from Mahfouz Mubarack in exchange for honours without breaking the 1925 Act. This act was passed to stem the gross activities of Lloyd George’s fixer called Maundy Gregory. Gregory was shame-faced in that he had a list with price tags: I recall that a knighthood cost £15k – big money in those days.

Fifteen or so years ago, Yates of the Yard carried out a full-scale police investigation into what was called then “The cash for honours” scandal into whether Labour’s fixer, Lord Levy, had broken the law in dishing out honours for party funds. I knew from the start Yates would fail because all the political parties know the ropes. What is criminal is to write to a donor: “If you give us money, we will then give you a gong or enoble you.” So what the mover and shakers do today is say to prospective donors, “Give us a generous donation and just wait and see what happens.”
No one told this to the Prince’s team, and they have apparently written a candid letter to a Saudi billionaire, Mahfouz Mubarak, setting out the deal with no finesse.

I presume poor Fawcett will join Yates of the Yard in Outer Mongolia.

The Sins of Our Fathers

Jane told me the real reason why so many of today’s uneducated clots presume to condemn past generations for their links to slavery. It comes down to a lack of forgiveness. 

To my mind, it’s bleeding obvious why the evil trade of slavery flourished all those years ago and I am sure that many of us would have supported it too back then. At that time, most thinking people believed Africans to be what the Germans labelled the Jews, the Untermensch, which translates roughly as less than fully human. Once you believe that, all sorts of inhumanity – and such a sentiment was not unknown at the time of our empire – and cruelty is bound to follow.

They further believed that slaves labouring in say, Jamaica, were bound to be better off than if they were living in Africa.

As communications were hopeless, the stories of atrocities were not widely known. Anyway, few people cared two hoots about slavery at the time. Anyone who raised the subject of banning the trade would have been met with the sort of eye rolling that Remainers used to offer Brexiteers. For commercial reasons, everyone wanted to believe the lies about the trade and so they got on with their lives. When they were faced with the tragic truth of what was going on – mainly from the Christian movement – the trade was slowly abolished. By todays’ standards, we now know that the trade was of course a manifest evil but that was then, and this is now, and surely – and this is the point – we should forgive our ancestors? However, Jane pointed out that forgiveness is a Christian concept. It is not well understood today as people are ignorant about the gospel.

Shifting Sands

Because the statue puller-downers appear to have limited imaginations, I wonder if they realise how future generations may regard some of today’s practices? Let’s take the matter of abortion, for example. Each year, over 200,000 children are aborted. That’s two million in 10 years. Few people discuss this or want to know – I cannot recall the last time I read press comments about it. I have no wish to get involved in the rights and wrongs of this subject, which of course are complex and often about the lesser of evils, except to make my point. In 200 years’ time, views are bound to have undergone radical changes. Perhaps the slaughter of the unborn may be considered to be just as wrong by our great-great grandchildren as slavery is to us today?

Then they may wonder why we allowed a few super-rich “captains of industry” to be paid 50 times more than generals and admirals, and 100 times more than head teachers?

Who knows what future generations may think of us today, but I contend that it’s the height of arrogance and ignorance for one generation to condemn an earlier one! We should forgive our ancestors in the hope that we in our turn will be forgiven by our great-grandchildren.      

Life Lessons

Poor Harry Markle will, I fear, be learning some harsh lessons.

The first is that the gilt does come off the gingerbread – and perhaps the day job wasn’t so bad after all? Second, Meghan’s blood relatives – including her father – apparently can’t stand her and they may not all be wrong. The third is that all the functionaries in Buckingham Palace claim she is a spoiled bully, and they may be right. Fourth, calling their daughter “Lilibet” might not have been such a good idea after all.

And the fifth? Forever is a long, long time.    

Day 7: Rest Day

Counting Blessings

A day away from roads, brambles, plough and paths that lead nowhere. A day to sort out the car, get clothes cleaned and have a good night’s rest. Breakfast with younger daughter – always a joy – and lunch with her beloved sister so our cup of happiness floweth over. Kariba danced with joy when we arrived back,

There’s a lot to be said for counting one’s blessings, and this we have been doing. Our lives have been as full of snakes and ladders as most readers: so we just get on with it and turn to whatever next confronts us, as do ZANE donors.

Hearts’ Desires

Last night, more or less comatose with tiredness, we found ourselves watching a snippet of the life and loves of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I had forgotten most of the story, and we were, at the same time, both enthralled and horrified by the saga. Taylor was married eight times, twice to Burton. Their tempestuous relationship was a never-ending battle with booze and with one another.

They were both supremely gifted with an abundance of looks, sex appeal, acting ability, and charisma. If you have never seen the film “Whose afraid of Virginia Wool” or heard Burton’s “Under Milk Wood,” then do so. They are works of genius.
But it seems that none of their Huge gifts satisfied them.
They were like comets soaring far into the night and then burning out. Burton died aged 58 of alcohol. After his death, Taylor was never happy.
The old saying: “ there’s only one thing worse than not getting your heart’s desire and that’s getting it”, has to be true.

Walking the Talk

As I’ve already mentioned, there are five subjects I choose to write about: sex, politics, religion, money and death. So, allow me to turn now to an old theme, the matter of faith…

I always thought that people who once heard the Gospel walked away because they thought it was fabricated nonsense or wishful thinking. I thought their scepticism was best answered by St Augustine or Tertullian who wrote, Credo quia absurdum – “I believe because it is absurd.” This gives a straight answer to those who think it plain daft.

Global Vision

This year marks the centenary of the birth of John Stott, one of the most influential Christians of the twentieth century. Stott was an astounding global preacher and Bible teacher. He believed that people rejected the Gospel, not because they think it false but because they think it “irrelevant”. They claim that “Christianity doesn’t listen”.

Yet the contemporary world is positively reverberating with cries of anger, frustration and pain – and all too often, we turn a deaf ear to those anguished voices. The better way is to read the gospel before we judge it ineffective.          

Stott’s concern extended beyond his tribe, theological tradition and culture. He had a global outlook and he listened to the voices in Latin America, Asia and Africa. He campaigned for climate change, the eradication of poverty and the abolition of arsenals of weapons.

He wrote, “I hope our agenda is not too narrow.” He campaigned against the “sacred secular divide”, and the idea that some parts of life – church services, praying, reading scripture – are important to God, but that everything else – work, the arts, science and sport – is secular.

Stott wrote, “We must not marginalise God or try to squeeze him from the non-religious sections of our lives.” He was committed to the “liberalisation” of the laity, recognising that while the clergy have a crucial job to do, so do solicitors, actors, social workers, scientists, journalists and homemakers.

Stott walked the talk. He didn’t presume to start “Stott’s International Ministries” and during his magnificent life there was never a whisper of impropriety. He gave his money away as he well knew that “pride is without doubt the greatest temptation for Christian leaders”.

It goes against the spirit of our age to think that anyone born 100 years ago has anything to say to today’s young and affect the culture of the moment. But Stott’s writing and vision could not be more relevant or needed by the modern age. 

Checkmate

“Daddy taught me how to play chess last week. Grandad, can we have a game?”

So trilled nine-year-old Amelie Benyon, our delightful elder granddaughter.

I set out the board and reminded Amelie of the moves each piece could make. This was taking candy from a kid! Boring really, but still – this is what grandads are for!

Three moves in and I needed a pee. When I returned, I was surprised to see Amelie with a triumphant grin. Butter wouldn’t melt. 

“Did you mean to lose your queen so early in the game?”    

I stared with horror. I had tried to check her in four moves… and failed to watch her bishop.

I tried to pretend this was all part of a clever ploy, but she wasn’t remotely fooled. She knew!  

The rest of the game was mess. By the end of the evening, Amelie had phoned her mother and father and her other grandfather to tell them in lurid detail exactly what had happened and how she, a total beginner, had hammered Grandad. 

I tried to laugh it off. Unsuccessfully. Jane roared with merriment.  

Moral: Never underestimate Amelie Benyon.