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.


“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!”


“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.

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