We switchback out of Blackburn playing matador to the vast number of fancy cars that seem intent on goring us.
Half way down a precipitous hill and a mere foot away from the trafic rode a pretty little girl on a bike at great speed. I reckon she was about eight. I asked her if her mummy knew where she was and what she was doing? She nodded vaguely and gave me a gorgeous smile. Should I try and find her mum? Jane had gone on ahead. In the wake of all the publicity that surrounds old men and young girls a red hackle rose in my mind. Reader I settled for suggesting to her that she gets her mum at least to buy her a hard hat. Its a sad state of affairs that single men worry about helping young girls. Were my intentions noble? Of course they were, but you can’t prove a negative!
The Hosts with the Most
Three cheers for the hospitable Zane hosts who offer us such a warm welcome and so many unexpected kindnesses. In the last four walks we will have stayed with over 100 people. One of the main pleasures of the trip for both Jane and me is to meet such a wide variety of kind folk who are becoming friends.
It is invidious to name some, for if we do that, why not all? However Jane and I want to highlight the substantial number of heroic widows who keep on being positive, often in the face of considerable loneliness.
It is relatively easy to find friends to do something with but it is rarely possible to find people to do nothing with. We live in a world which is often indifferent to the plight of others. Without sounding preachy, when you next give a party why not ask a singleton along?. The numbers at dinner don’t have to be even. Guests usually come to eat and talk, not mate!
Richard the driver is a great asset. He took over from our national treasure Harry Campbell whom we much miss and who was a hard act to follow. Richard is a very different character and we have all become close friends, we laugh at the same sort of things. As a retired military man Richard is used to looking after unreliable, whining and often incompetent soldiers who leave things behind as a matter of routine and are often unruly and late, so he is well attuned to looking after us.
He does have the occasional fixation. He is insistent, for example, that one of our hosts’ relations is a serial killer because she has, so he says, the mad eyes of a Crippen! When we held a recent function in London he stalked up to me and whispered:
” There. Look! There she is again!”
He is convinced that she has buried her father in the rose bushes of her house. The poor woman looks wholly virtuous to Jane and me, but who knows? He may be right.
One Man’s Meat
“Ethical investment” has become fashionable and firms have been set up offering such a service. I saw Comic Relief as well as Amnesty International being pasted in a recent Panorama programme, allegedly for investing some of their reserves in what were deemed to be “unacceptable” investments.
The trouble is that this area is supremely subjective: what’s one man’s meat is another’s poison. Take one example: I happen to loathe everything to do with tobacco. Why? Because I watched both my parents die from smoking related illnesses. In my mother’s case, she suffered a hideous, choking death. Others are relaxed about the substance (I can’t think why, but there you go.)
Some people loathe defence companies while others shun firms related to alcohol. Personally, I am relaxed about defence and I am also open to investing in companies dealing with alcohol. Of course alcohol can be grossly abused, but then so can many things. For example, too much of the wrong kind of food can cause obesity or cars may be driven too fast. These products can be abused and may kill or cause social mayhem, so where do you draw the line?
The poor old Archbishop of Canterbury came spectacularly adrift when it was found that the Church had inadvertently invested in Wonga, the very business he had chosen to strongly criticise. He confessed that it gets increasingly complicated: most banks are involved in loaning money at high interest rates and charge clients Wonga-sized sums for taking brief unauthorised overdrafts. Even so called “respectable” businesses such as W.H. Smith sell pornographic magazines on their top shelves; most hotel groups have a porn channel in rooms that can easily be accessed by their residents; food companies often suck nutritious elements from products and replace them with fat or sugar; and then there are the finance houses…
Take a look at the PR firms and advertising agencies, which try and persuade us to buy things we don’t want with money we don’t have. Most accountants, however they strive to dress it up, are involved with tax avoidance. Many TV companies make a fortune from gaming companies, property companies often house companies involved in all sorts of derring-do and even derring-don’t, and so it goes on. Any company that is without sin can cast the first stone!
ZANE has a modest reserve for it’s impossible to run the charity properly without one. I have told our advisors that I dislike tobacco companies and obvious porn; with that in mind, their job is to make as much money as possible to expand ZANE’s work. I have a dreadful image of having to tell a starving pensioner or a child suffering from clubfoot that we can’t afford to help them because we have an “ethical” investment policy and we have run out of money.
Perhaps Mother Teresa, when facing yet another grinning rat with a gold tooth who was offering her a fat case full of grubby bank notes, had the best answer. “I will accept money from any source,” she is alleged to have said. “If it’s money from a wicked source, we will sanctify it by spending it on the poor.”
Twisting in the Wind
Even though I am not a close friend of Andrew Mitchell, his situation offends me. The police have spent thousands of hours investigating what went wrong; five policemen have been discharged for conduct unbecoming, and one has been jailed. The police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, has been obliged to offer Andrew a public apology.
Yet Andrew is still twisting slowly in the wind, his career more or less destroyed and now facing a defamation action financed by the ghastly Police Federation. Apparently Andrew accused a policeman of not telling the truth when he was accused of using the word “pleb”. If the Police Federation is going to finance all actions when the word of a policeman is brought into question, then presumably anyone who pleads “not guilty” when the evidence against him or her relies on police testimony is likely to face an action backed by the Federation. The courts will be busy indeed.
What fills me with profound disquiet is the extent of the police corruption that was surrounding Downing Street, for that is what it was. It’s not just a matter of a bent copper or two; there appears to have been a conspiracy on an industrial scale involving numerous policemen hell-bent on damaging the government and bringing down a cabinet minister if they could. Just like the Goodfellas – but without their looks or charm – they were prepared to do anything necessary to get the business done.
The gang might have succeeded if Andrew had not been angry, persistent and wealthy. He and Newsnight were able to investigate. Unfortunately for the conspirators, one of them was fool enough to invent a witness; then, like Humpty Dumpty, the whole shoddy enterprise had a great fall.
Various questions need answering:
1: It appears that Andrew received – to put it politely – limp-wristed assistance from the “anything for a quite life” Cabinet Secretary at Number Ten. Has there been an apology?
2: How many other police conspiracies are there out there against, for example, impoverished and unheard of members of ethnic minorities?
3: How many innocent people are languishing in the Nick who shouldn’t be?
4: Why should anyone believe a policeman again without corroborating evidence?
5: Various newspapers such as the Sun jumped on the anti-Mitchell bandwagon and sought to kick him senseless. When will they apologise?
6: Smelling blood in the water, various parliamentary colleagues put their snotty thumbs down when Andrew needed help. When will they apologise?
7: Ed Miliband: scathing, merciless and plain wrong. When will he apologise?
8: And last but not least, when will Andrew get a Cabinet job back?
Peeping Tom (Part II)
In my last walk commentary, I detailed the time when I was growing up in Edinburgh and how, during a game of hide and seek, I inadvertently witnessed one of my mother’s friends undressing while I was hiding in laundry basket. Sensitive readers will understand why it took me some years to recover from this ordeal. But only half the story was printed – I’m afraid another part of the saga landed on the editor’s floor.
Our Edinburgh home was a large looming Victorian house situated in the Morningside area next to the Cranley Girls’ boarding house. For many of my formative years, I spent a great deal of time perched on the bathroom hand basin gazing at the windows of the boarding house. I was desperately trying to see a girl – any girl – taking a bath. This was the only spot in the house that enabled me a view.
I was hopelessly unsuccessful. On one occasion, I saw a mottled face looking out and then I glimpsed a blurred figure, but it was all so indistinct that it only inflamed my imagination to fever pitch. The one thing I did once see with 20-20 clarity was a pair of navy blue bloomers hanging across the bathroom window, and then there was a mighty crack and the basin fell apart under my weight.
One of the ZANE staff read the story before it went to print. The telephone rang in my office.
“Oh Tom, what a terrible story” she objected. I asked what was wrong with it. “My mother went to Cranley”, she replied. “You may have glimpsed her without her knickers. That’s too terrible a thought to contemplate. I may have to resign.”
I attempted to pacify her. I had seen nothing, but she knew it wasn’t for want of trying. I thought I had succeeded in reassuring her, but then something happened between the story and the printers. Reader, she spiked it.
Well, now you know the full sorry tale – though you have to concede it’s a pretty tame tale by today’s standards!