Day 1 – Cleeve Common

Hilly and Milly

“If you have been to San Fransico you will know what hills are like.”

That sums up today’s walk, and if I can walk up those hills, I can still walk up anything!

On the last walk from Canterbury – it seems another era – we started off by walking 4 miles in the wrong direction. I waited today for Jane’s cry of “Oh Bugga”, but thankfully today, we did not have to retrace our steps (much!).

One joy was that our younger daughter, Milly Sinclair, and her husband Clay joined us: they are always a delight and the miles melted with the laughter.

Canon David MacInnes joined us for lunch. Afterwards, Milly said what a lovely man he was, and I agreed and told her that he was a close friend. She thought for a nanosecond:

“What does he see in you to be a close friend?”

Good to have candid children.

Generally Remarkable

Wife General Jane has done a remarkable job in remodelling the food bank she co-founded with me in Oxford in 2007 (CEF: Community Emergency Foodbank). CEF feeds over 3,000 needy people each year.

Up until before the start of the Covid-19 crisis, food bank clients came to a church in Oxford to collect their food parcels, on Tuesdays and Fridays.

We were obliged to make changes to these arrangements to ensure that volunteers no longer met claimants face to face. So CEF is now a sort of ad hoc Ocado operation: while the Covid-19 emergency lasts, the food – donated by churches and kindly people – is delivered straight to the doors of the needy.

It’s been a stressful time. Most of the clients are nice people caught up in hard times, but every now and again there’s a wild card. CEF operates from a church: last week we had to stop one woman snitching the bog rolls from the loo! She was totally unrepentant and not in the least perturbed when we insisted on removing the stolen goods from her bag – she just shrugged and walked away.     

The Clapped-Out Old Galahad

Jane has a Presbyterian streak. When I buy her flowers, she claims I am in fact buying them for myself as a means of seeking attention. She pins me with a laser eye and asks, “What have you done now?” She knows me rather too well.

And she loathes being patronised. I told her that I worried about her overworking – I would act as her driver and make sure she was safe. She stared at me and her eyes went dark.

“Back off, Tom,” she snapped. “I am perfectly capable of looking after myself. I don’t need you trying to protect me like some clapped-out old Galahad.”

I was searching for a title for this blog and now I have it: The Clapped-out Old Galahad.  


History and Hindsight

Mankind is condemned to live life forwards and then to view it backwards. I despair at the ignorance of some of those protesting against our history today. These simpletons want to condemn national heroes – take for example US presidents Washington, Jefferson and Madison – based on one aspect of their actions, namely they owned slaves. Yet these are some of the most talented and influential men in modern history. And back at home in the UK, when people lazily denounce Churchill as a “racist”, they should reflect on the racist views of the man he managed to defeat in the Second World War!

These protestors delude themselves they are morally superior to our ancestors. They do not realise the truth of Isaac Newton’s words in 1675: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The issue of the wickedness of slavery was not seen in focus until the end of the eighteenth century. After the courageous campaigning of a growing number of Christians, the monstrous cruelty of the trade slowly became clear and then unacceptable.

When our grandchildren look back at our generation, I wonder how they will view our blindness to some of the grave injustices that exist today. What about the exploitation of near slave labour in the Third World to service our desire for cheap, affordable goods and clothes, for example? Why are people in the financial sectors paid many multiples more than nurses and teachers? And why do we tolerate loneliness in society, or the sale of alcohol? Take your pick…. 

Monumental Damage

Philosopher John Locke – said to have invented modern society – claimed that our sense of national self was an accumulation of our previous thoughts and actions: “In this alone consists personal identity”. Nations are shaped by what they have done and how they have suffered, and a nation’s story often takes physical form in memorials.

If I say “France”, an idea comes to you of probably the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame – whatever the image is, the chances are it’s a building that has been around for a while. Tourists visit temples and monuments to get a feel of the country they are in.

To Conservatives, the nation is made up of a shared inheritance that each successive generation should care for in turn. To the stone smashers, this is superstition.

Tens of thousands of Africans and Caribbeans came to fight with us in the First and Second World Wars, and the Cenotaph reminds us of that. The smashers think it’s a reminder of the hated past.

The smashing madness is out of control in the USA. A statue of Ulysses S Grant, the Union general who won the war to free slaves, was toppled, as was the statue of Hans Christian Heg, who led an anti-slave militia. The Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial was badly damaged – bear in mind that Shaw, an abolitionist, commanded the first all-black regiment and fought for his men to have equal pay to that of white troops. And then a statue of Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote and himself a former slave, was mindlessly vandalised!

A nation that forgets its past is like a person with Alzheimer’s – helpless and lost.

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