This was one of the finest walks, a combination of wonderful countryside and unstinting hospitality from generous ZANE supporters. It’s not our custom to list those so generous to us individually, but they know who they are. Thank you from Jane and me and Moses. You turned what could have been a weary drudge into a pleasure.
At home, Kariba, our 14 year old cat. She was sort of pleased to see us. Sort of. She doesn’t like to overdo the emotion.
I suppose it’s nice to see you back again,” she purred, “but I can tell you I haven’t missed your miserable children’s ghastly dogs chasing me all over the place. I am not as young as I was. I have warned you before that I may still be off…you may think I am nothing but a clapped-out old moggie, but I can tell you there is life in me yet!. I can still shake a leg and have more admirers than that neutered old mongrel, Moses. Appreciate me while you still can!”
Last, our grateful thanks to our driver and good friend Richard, who endured us both, looked after us with great kindness and drove us with great skill.
So to Lowestoft and thence to home via Norwich and a visit to the cathedral.
Screen and Not Heard
One of our close relations tells me that one of his major worries for his children is “screens”, that is, the addictive nature of the devices that are inclined to stop children from thinking and participating socially. It’s a growing problem.
Walking down a Norwich street, I saw what he meant. A woman was pushing her two children lolling back in a pram. She was preoccupied with her mobile as she walked, and her children sat still, bored, motionless, and blank-faced.
Further on, another woman was talking to her children in a small park. She was laughing and – I think – telling a story; they were bouncing up and down as they listened and laughing back at their mother.
The point about screens is well made.
The American Constitution grants to all citizens the inalienable right to be “happy”. But what on earth does that mean?
When the late Anthony Clare, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, was asked to define “happiness”, he claimed that number one was to have something at the core of our lives that we are passionate about – something that so involves us and is so absorbing that we can forget the iron-clad fact that none of us is going to get out of this life alive.
Be a Leaf
Number two is to be a “leaf upon a tree”. That means being an individual, in the sense of realising we are unique and that we matter, while at the same time knowing that we are part of a bigger organism, perhaps a strong family or a community. Apparently, some interesting experiments have been conducted on “networks”. It seems that the people best insulated against certain ghastly diseases – typically cancer and heart disease – are part of a community or group so that they feel socially involved.
One of the sad losses connected to the abolition of hunting is that it has wrecked strong country communities – after all, there are few enough of them. (Incidentally, please don’t write to me supporting the abolition of hunting for I am making a wholly different point about the loss of community). A lack of community leads to great loneliness.
If you ask how many friends someone feels close to, those with the biggest list of mates are always the happiest, and those with the smallest list by far the unhappiest. It’s bleeding obvious, really.
Clare said that number three is to avoid introspection and an intense preoccupation with yourself. One litmus test to is recall when you meet new people, do they ask about you or do they merely talk about themselves and the miseries that tattoo their parched lives?
If you drift about carrying a tank of worries to pour on anyone with a pulse, don’t be surprised if people duck when they see you coming. Who can blame them? However, if you project good feelings, then you are bound to attract friends much as a flower draws a honeybee. Often, when people proclaim how unhappy they are, the reason is they are projecting misery like a grey mist. Do you remember the “ITMA” (“It’s That Man Again”) character, Mona Lott?
Turn with the Times
Professor Clare’s fourth point was that we shouldn’t spend time looking forward to things for “time’s winged chariot is hurrying near” fast enough as it is. We should live in the moment.
We should be prepared to embrace change and turn with the wheel. This doesn’t mean making massive changes – like moving house every couple of years, for that’s plain daft – but we need enough variety to keep life stimulating. A close relation of mine had “her views”, but through a combination of laziness and fear, no matter how much the facts might have changed, she clung to them as if they were water wings in a choppy sea.
A bishop said to a church warden at his leaving party, “Ah, Mr Jenkins, after 60 years, you must have seen a lot of changes in your time.”
“Yes,” the old man grunted sourly, “and I’ve resisted every single one of them!”
What’s Your Cause?
I reckon that the key to happiness can be summed up as a battle to fight, a maiden to woo and a cause bigger than us to live for.
My answer to the last feature in that list is ZANE. What’s yours?
A fine day, a pale blue sky. All was well with the world.
I watched a small boy – perhaps about four – with doting parents standing close by. He was busy building a sand castle. With a tiny spade, he carefully fashioned turrets and a moat, then crafted a deep ditch, the full works, and in about 15 minutes, it was Edinburgh Castle. Then he produced a couple of tiny plastic soldiers, which he proudly planted on each turret. And he sat back, and with a vast smile, he admired his creation.
Then came the twentieth wave; there was no warning. It smashed through the fortifications, and instantly, the walls were mud, the soldiers vanished, and in twenty seconds, all that was left of the little boy’s careful creation was a shapeless mound of sand.
He cried out, scalded by shock and dismay. His mother swept him into her arms and cuddled him, and I heard her say in consolation: “ I am so sorry Timmy. Life’s like that!”
I reckon with such a mother, that boy will fly!
Lies and the Rack
A sergeant major was reviewing a parade and noticed a soldier talking to his neighbour.
“Arrest that man!” he shrieked at the corporal, pointing vaguely at a suspect.
“No, but he’ll do!””
Andy Verity sets out a scandal in his book Rigged. Cast your mind back to the 2008–09 banking crash that nearly destroyed world financial markets – the eye-watering losses were, inevitably, paid for by the taxpayer while the abusing bankers walked away vastly rich. But, of course, such was the fury that there was a raging public appetite for someone, anyone, to be jailed. (For detail read Michael Lewis’s The Big Short).
But who? Vast greed and purblind folly aren’t necessarily criminal. The desire for vengeance ended up focusing on who rigged LIBOR – the London Inter-bank Offered Rate. This is the interest rate average calculated from estimates submitted by London’s leading banks.
Who would be easy meat? Without exception, the senior management muttered, “Not me Guv” and played Macavity, while the traders on the desks were duly charged.
Judges had to be seen to do something, so they just invented a crime! They decided that any LIBOR rate set that made a profit for the banks was, simply, criminal. Thirty-eight traders – working in both the US and the UK – were subsequently prosecuted. An allegedly inept “expert” witness, with little idea of what he was talking about, was duly found, and 19 were jailed. Families were rendered destitute, and lives were wholly ruined.
It’s now been discovered that the traders were following a direction from the banks’ management to vary the LIBOR rate, and that the management was under pressure from the UK government – and even from the Bank of England. Of course, none offered any help to the poor sods at their trial. Banking small fry are considered expendable.
But lo! After 10 years of campaigning, US appeal courts have declared there was no fraud or criminality! And it was all a mistake. So very sorry!
We await UK judges to declare the same.
Amazingly, some of the victims now deemed innocent originally pleaded guilty. Why did they do that? Surely, they only have themselves to blame?
I’ll tell you why. Up until 1741, English prosecutors used the rack to “persuade” unwilling prisoners to confess guilt. They only had to show someone being racked, with their bones nicely popping, to extract a gibbering confession!
Of course, that was then, and this is now. What’s the medieval rack got to do with US court processes today?
Easy! Imagine you’ve just been indicted in the US courts. You’re offered a plea bargain. Ninety per cent of those prosecuted in the US end up in jail unless they have an endless moolah supply to throw at lawyers, you’re told. But listen… there’s a way out. If you plead guilty and give the “right” evidence to convict your chums, you won’t end up wearing an orange jumpsuit and eating soggy pizza in a Florida prison for the next 20 years (and with no time off for good behaviour. On the other hand, if you plead guilty, you’ll go to a nice country jail in the UK for a year, and that’ll be that!
What would you do? It’s a cruel world – and I’d probably lie too.
The US “plea bargaining” system is the modern equivalent of the rack. But instead of breaking bones, it breaks lives.
Two groups of seals were lazily wallowing on the beach sunshine, grunting and wheezing as we passed. Another morning of hard walking towards Caister and then the penultimate day.
I Don’t Really Do Scenic…
One kind donor has wondered why I don’t write more descriptive items on the walk, especially in such a wondrously glorious place as the coastal path of Norfolk. The reason is that that is my wife Jane’s preserve; she writes the scenic commentary, but that only goes into the written version.
I can’t do both, which is just as well because Jane does an excellent job of it, far better than me. So she leaves me the subjects of politics, religion, death, money and sex!
Religion is difficult because our clergy children (we have lots!) veto all my comments on the CoE on the grounds that they are intemperate rubbish. I agree to such censorship on the grounds of family harmony! Who can blame me? And what can I remember about sex?
I see Sienna Miller parading “a bare pregnancy -bumped midriff”. They say that all publicity is good publicity, but I have always thought that saying was foolish. If I were her father, I would be plain ashamed of her. There are various words that you never see these days: grace, modesty, and chastity are but three. I am all for change if it brings better ways of doing things, but so much today has degenerated to my mind as cheap, vulgar and tawdry and parading your bulging body in such a way comes into that category! But I am an old man now, and the past is a foreign country. And so what do I know!
Money, Money, Money…
Thank goodness it’s considered bad manners to mention Brexit these days. The subject only reminds us of arguments that are – like Marley in A Christmas Carol – as dead as a doornail.
My friend Miles Morland tells me he is no longer as nervous as he used to be about our ability to make our way in a non-EU world – and that’s because of the UK’s extraordinary dominance in industries that require “brain” capital as opposed to the strength the continent has in industries that require “money” capital. The UK either leads the world, or is a close second behind the US, in education, law, accounting, investment banking, fund management, information provision, entertainment, music, theatre, advertising and financial services. These industries require little investment and are wonderfully profitable.
Morland gave as an example a beverage company called SABMiller, which was bought by Belgian multinational drink and brewing company AB Inbev. The deal generated fees of £1.9bn paid to only a few London-based people whose sole capital investment was a few square metres of office space. That was twice as much as Renault’s 170,000 hardworking people made in profit in the whole of 2021 after billions of euros of capital investment. Nice work if you can get it.
One example of the UK’s “soft power” can be seen in the names of those people being called to the English Bar. Many are from places like Nigeria, China, Malaysia, India or the Caribbean, with a very English education planted in them that they will carry around with them for the rest of their lives. If that’s not “soft power” then I don’t know what is!
Until Dame Alison Rose’s downfall – which, of course, came after she was caught giving the BBC details of Nigel Farage’s history with Coutts – we were told she was a talented CEO of NatWest.
Her job didn’t seem to be particularly demanding. Evidently, some of her time was spent telling other people less rich than herself, or those she didn’t approve of, just “to butt off” and find another bank. This must have been fun if you get your kicks out of humiliating others, but giving the finger to the great disruptor Nigel Farage was an unwise career move – rather like goosing Attila the Hun on his bad hair day!
Now Dame Alison didn’t start NatWest. In fact, it’s part-owned by us taxpayers after it had to be bailed out after nearly going bust in 2008–09. Rose took no appreciable financial or career risks in her role with the bank, so could someone please tell me why she was paid £5.2m and is likely to benefit from a vast farewell handout? All this is 25 times more than the prime minister or the chancellor receive, not to mention top leaders in the army or the police, senior civil servants and leading surgeons! If the answer is that banking and financial services have always been special cases, and that £5.2m is the norm, then a radical reform of financial services pay structures is overdue to bring them into line with the remuneration of other equally valuable leaders of our community. It’s our money that’s being wasted on the likes of the wilting Rose.
After my stint as chairman of the Milton Keynes Health Authority board had come to an end, I was asked if I would accept the honour of having my name blazoned on a new building. Although conceit and vanity are not part of my nature, I was delighted.
To my surprise and irritation, however, a staff member tried to persuade me to turn the offer down.
“Why?” I asked.
When he informed me that the new building was to be a centre for venereal diseases, I had to agree that perhaps it wasn’t the best use of the Benyon name.
Norfolk’s coastal path has to be one of the great triumphs of nature in the UK. We walked along with the sea churning for six glorious miles today.
What is astonishing is that these wondrous beaches are more or less deserted. Miles of glorious sand – and litter-free- and rolling waves. Why don’t holidaymakers follow the advice of the eighteenth-century Doge of Venice, who once wrote, “Why should I travel when I have already arrived!”
We pass the submerged Eccles village. We were told that passersby occasionally hear the church bell of the old St Mary’s tolling dolefully. Once, after a storm that raged across the churchyard, a horrified passerby saw skeletons standing erect with polished skulls staring out at the sea. I hope that’s true!
We saw a small seal cub inching his (or her, how can you tell?) way to the sea.
Sweeties for Everyone
A few days ago, we were with a delightful lady who kept calling me “sweetie”! You read it right, not sweaty! Which would have been accurate. I was quietly pleased, for such endearments don’t come my way too often these days. Then I heard her calling her dog sweetie as well, so my old heart simply drooped. I recall the great Richard Attenborough was said to call everyone “darling”; he did this, we are told, on good authority, because he could’ve remembered anyone’s name, and so it saved time.
Front Page Folly
I recall reading some years ago in the Times Letter’s columns:
“There isn’t a picture of Princess Diana on your front page today. Is she ill?” The same thing is happening to Princess Kate, and there she is today, all over the front page with a bruised finger!
I sometimes want a break.
Prime Minister Balfour once said, “Nothing matters very much, and most things don’t matter at all.” ZANE supporters know my commentaries concentrate on politics, money, sex, religion and death. In my view, everything else is small talk.
And, so to death… None of us is going to get out of this life alive, and at this late stage it’s time to get serious! If not now, when?
I spend a good deal of time – as doubtless, dear reader, do you – at funerals and the memorial services of my friends and relatives. It’s so easy to get hardened to the miseries of life. I recall the late actor David Niven saying, “Life is such a sod, you have to laugh or you will be crushed”.
What else can we do but try to get on with our own little lives as best we can?
But however often we attend the services of those close to us, however stiff we pretend our lips may be and whether we have a faith to sustain us or not, death remains a profound shock. The late Queen Elizabeth said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” When the scenery on the little stages on which we jig and prattle away suddenly vanishes, just how are we meant to react? Please don’t say, “You will of course, get over it”, for grief’s not a common cold.
How long does it take to get used to the gaps in our new stage set? How do we dredge up the courage to continue the dance? Now the light of our life has been extinguished, who’s going to bother to talk to us with any real interest? Who’s going to care when we face extreme old age? Who do we shop or dress for now? And although we may be able to find someone else to do something with, will we ever be able to find someone to just do nothing with? Can we ever rekindle the fires of love and mutual interest that have been extinguished, so only grey ash remains? Does it matter if we live or die?
The shock of death is partly the speed with which the rest of the world spins by without missing a roll. How do we face the gloomy clutter of dying without complaint? (Incidentally, I have a file marked “Deathmin”, and respectfully suggest you might do the same). Then comes the reading of the will for, of course, where there’s a will, there’s always a relative.
Gloomy old man that I am, I raised the issue of planning for death the other day with four close friends who all happen to be vicars. We discussed the details of the end game. We all know that death makes money with many firms competing for the business.
“Tell me,” I started. “As professionals, do you really care whether you are buried or cremated, and why do you care? Would you prefer to be shunted down the aisle by half a dozen bored, retired policemen wanting a smoke, or do you plan that family members will do the lifting?
“And do you need a fancy coffin with mock brass handles, or will a cheap pine job – or cardboard – do?
“Do you need a hearse with someone wearing a frilled top hat prancing around – and the next day waiving a hefty invoice – or would you prefer a simple service and then to be buried at sea? Or how about a quiet service in a country church and to be laid to rest among the grey, slanted graves?
“Have you written your funeral wishes (please don’t include Sinatra’s “My Way”) or, as you will be pushing clouds, will you leave that for others to deal with? Will a family member read the eulogy or will that be the vicar’s job?
“Do you mind being forgotten?”
One said that crematoria were dumbed down to such a degree – probably so as not to offend people of any faith, or of none – that they reminded him of a dentist’s waiting room. Another said the fire part made him think of the Nazi gas chambers and he hated the idea of being ground to ashes. Nor did it help that it’s usually raining at crematorium services. And he didn’t much like the strict time rules, either – 30 minutes then, “Next!”
When Time is Over
The anguish of death is summed up by American poet Emily Dickinson in her poem “XXXIX”:
“I shall know why, when time is over, And I have ceased to wonder why; Christ will explain each separate anguish In the fair schoolroom of the sky. He will tell me what Peter promised, And I, for wonder at his woe, I shall forget the drop of anguish That scalds me now, that scalds me now.”
There they were, as we were striding along the Norfolk Coast Path, two obese parents waddling along with two small children equally plump.
What a tragedy! Tony Blair’s present views on our obesity problems are spot on. Over the last decade of our walks, Jane and I have watched with growing incredulity that people are growing fatter and fatter. The problem is that now obesity is the new normal; as everyone appears to have grown larger, few seem to be noticing what‘s happening around them. I suppose teachers and doctors feel constrained to comment for fear of causing offence. The healthcare bills for heart conditions, worn-out joints and diabetes are overwhelming.
A new tax on fatty foods has to be the answer, however unpopular this may prove to be.
Noel Coward once said to Ivor Novello, “Ivor, Darling, if you ever hear that I’ve made rude comments behind your back, rest assured, the rumour is entirely true – I have!”
ZANE often observes the activities of large charities with interest to see is there’s anything a small charity like ours can learn. It’s been an interesting study. Many charities have created “Human Resources” departments, with staff who presumably spend donor money on woke issues such as “gender recognition” and “progressive ideologies”. They give much space in their reports to “environmental and social” issues, or to another preoccupation, “biodiversity” – whatever that may be. Others proclaim to be at the cutting edge of “inclusion, diversity and purpose”, while one claims a social duty not to spend all its donor money on humanitarian relief – which is what it was set up to do – but a significant proportion on combatting climate change.
And what can ZANE learn from one of the best-known charities, which has decreed that instead of writing “woman”, we should instead write “people who menstruate”? Apparently, it may be better to write “Womxn” (as a mark of “solidarity and inclusion”) and we should avoid using the acronym “BAME” (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and instead use “BIPOC” (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour). It seems that both these former terms are outdated.
Granny told me that unless you can say nice things, you should say nothing at all. Well, although I won’t do everything Granny said, I will at least try to be brief.
Will ZANE change its conservative ways? The answer is, of course, an emphatic “no”! We have always relied simply on common sense in the way we operate. We believe in “Do as you would be done by”. Showing integrity in all our dealings and doing what’s written on our tin – which is to spend donated money wisely and on the issues that our supporters want their money spent on – are the things that matter to ZANE. Over the years, we have been privileged enough to develop a solid relationship with our supporters – one that is built on trust – and ZANE does not propose to play fast and loose with that trust by wasting money on fashionable nonsense.
We are told that all institutions turn “left” in time unless there are people around who stop the drift. ZANE forges its path looking neither left nor right, but straight ahead.
DEFRA authorised a report into to why black, Asian, and other minority groups see the countryside as a “white environment”. Now I hear there is to be a study on racism in the countryside. It is bound to be damning, encouraging victimhood on the part of ethnic minorities and making it a win-win for them. But if the report concludes that the countryside is not “racist”, then the work will be condemned as a “whitewash”. So being human and wanting to be paid, the report’s members will form the usual firing squad and find racism in hedgerows and up trees.
I understand the Leverhulme Trust is funding some of these reports. Leverhulme was a hard-bitten businessman who made his money out of Sunlight Soap. He must be spinning in his grave.
Allow me to be helpful… If I and my family emigrated to India, we might discover that most people living there aren’t white. I suppose, I could wander around loudly condemning the population and shouting “hate crime” – if I could find anyone who would quietly listen to me (doubtful). But I think I’d probably see that I was being unrealistic and plain rude. I could well be stoned – or banged up by unfriendly police who might reasonably conclude I was deranged.
Being a friendly and decent society brings problems. Everyone comes to the UK because of our virtues, and then a vociferous minority abuses these virtues. Then another group of fanatics abuses us further because our society doesn’t resemble the country they left.
What a nonsense it all is.
Antiques Road Show
I saw a Desperate Dan look alike with a shiny bald head on the weight machines at my gym. I decided to try the equipment out and made a new friend.
Henry is a delightful Pole working at BMW – it’s daft to judge by appearances – and he told me about himself.
The next time I was exercising, I saw that Henry and a friend were both staring intently at me while muttering. Later, I asked him who his friend was?
“I had to persuade him to come to a gym,” he told me. “He’s 55 and thought he was too old to exercise and would surely die. I told him that I have a friend who is ancient… and I persuaded him to come and look at you!”
The gym has a nubile recruit. Perhaps they should put me on commission?
“A robin redbreast in a cage puts all of Heaven in a rage,” wrote William Blake in 1803 in his famous “Auguries of innocence”. No one can know what he might have written in disgust at seeing dogs being walked on empty beaches or fields on leads!
Of course, dogs should be restrained near a town or a group of people, but keeping overweight dogs waddling along and restricted on leads on a permanent basis is no less than cruelty. The people who own dogs should learn how to get them to return as soon as commanded, but, for heaven’s sake, set them free to leap and dance freely for the joy of being alive.
Oh yes…On the walk, we saw a number of people walking with dogs peering out of prams! Well, I suppose it takes takes all sorts.
Dylan Thomas was right. We should not “go gentle into that good night”.
Some care homes are excellent, and others are not. I visited Helen in hers recently. She’s a beautiful woman of great character who, with her doctor husband, carved out a magnificent life as a nurse and missionary in the Australian outback. Now widowed and in her early nineties, her energy levels may have been sapped by time, but her mind is sharp and clear.
Helen told me quietly that since Henry died her will to live is faltering. “I hoped death would come easy,” she confided, “but it hasn’t!”
There’s no real conversation in the home to stimulate her apart from workaday chit chat with Romanian carers. Someone told her “mobile phones don’t work in your room” and she accepted that as fact. Mine worked perfectly.
Because she’s a member of the church reticent, she never complains. Grey gloom hovers like a shroud.
Government legislation allowed homes to gold-plate lockdown rules and in so doing they made darn sure that even the great escapist Houdini would be stymied. Walking up and down stairs is risky – as is doing most things – so why allow risk? Homes operate in our litigious society, and they are afraid of being sued by vengeful and greedy relatives. It’s in their interest to say as to a dog, “Sit!” – and Helen does just that.
Helen hasn’t been on an outing for over a year. In the distant past, she used to climb in the Welsh mountains. Today her legs have atrophied and she can only just stagger to the loo. I guess the home is doing the best it can by keeping her like a battery hen on £5,000 per month until her savings are finally pecked dry. But what then? Best not to ask.
Helen might just as well be in any nick’s hospital wing and chained to a bed. Same ghastly result but at least the nick’s free. Now here’s a thought for the future… announce you are an arsonist and boom! Broadmoor hospital wing, here we come!
“Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
I knew Clement Freud – Clay to his friends – when we were in parliament together. Did I like him? Well like is the wrong word for he was possibly an abuser, and I could see that he had something of the night about him. His humour was original, lethal, quite cruel – and relentless. When Scots-born Teddy Taylor with a broad accent was bussed in for election in Southend, Freud arranged for him to be followed by an interpreter.
Clay’s constituency included “Bury St Edmunds”. He couldn’t resist a campaign with the slogan, “Dig up St Edmunds”. When someone once suggested, “Let’s run upstairs and make love,” his repost was, “Only one of those suggestions is possible at the same time.”
His advice to the elderly who were worried about their mental health was this: “If you go into the kitchen and you can’t remember what for, don’t worry for we all do that. But if you go into the kitchen and you can’t remember what the kitchen is for, then you have a problem.” And his helpful advice to new authors? “Any fool can write a book, but it takes a genius to sell one!”
When I last lunched with him in his Marylebone flat, Clay showed me his great uncle’s election poster in a US senatorial campaign. “Bring back slavery!” it read – I think it was from 1863, in Alabama. “And he nearly won!” chortled Clay.
A while back I visited Burford Priory where Clay is buried. The gravestone reads, “Sir Clement Freud, 15 April 2009, and underneath: “Best before”.
After so many years, Jane and I are experts in our style of walking. We know all there is to know, and I say this without conceit. After nigh on 3000 miles, we just know, and if we didn’t by this time, we would be really very stupid! First, we know the limits of how far we can safely travel in a day’s walk. It may sound obvious, but it really isn’t: we know how far to walk in an hour and when to stop and drink (often!). How to handle traffic (with great care), what sort of pubs to avoid, which to patronise, how to use our excellent “LEKI” sticks. What socks to wear, the best boots and so on.
It all comes naturally now. But everything has a season, and we are well aware that, in the end, everything – the good and not-so-good, as well as the ghastly – passes. We are aware that at our respective ages, we are outliers and supremely fortunate we remain fit enough to be able to walk such distances as we do, day after day or at all. It would be really very foolish to take all this for granted. None of us, not even our wonderful ZANE supporters – will get out of this life alive!
Praise the Lord! Praise His Holy name.
Keep Buggering On
On 30 April 2020, Sir Keir Starmer was secretly filmed by a student. He was in Durham Miners’ Hall with May Foy MP and Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, eating takeaway curry and drinking beer.
In a BBC interview with Sophie Raworth, Starmer was repeatedly asked about “Beergate”. In a rictus of anxiety, he denied there could be any comparison whatsoever between this incident and Boris’ “Partygate”.
For the record, I’m sure Starmer was telling the truth. But that’s not the point.
On My Mother’s Life!
Soon, other people starting sharing evidence of Downing Street booze-ups and helped to bring down a prime minister. Smart phones have changed the world and that’s the thing.
Fifty years ago, even 20, voters would never have known about Starmer’s curry and beer, nor would they have known for sure about Partygate. Vague rumours may have circulated, but in those innocent, smartphone-free days, they were often limited to games of “He said, she said” with the truth a case of, “Who do you believe?” Secrets were usually exploited by breaches of faith, and they went like this:
“I’m going to tell you a hugely important secret… but, please, please, promise you’ll never tell a soul!”
“Oooh, of course… tell me. I’ll not tell anyone. I promise on my mother’s life!”
Of course, by the end of a week most people would have forgotten any mention of their mother and exactly how very secret the secret was. By the end of two weeks, they’d have forgotten the secret was a secret; and by week three, they wouldn’t even be able to recall who spilled the secret in the first place!
But that was then and this is now, for the world’s a changed place. Today cameras and social media rule, and nothing in public life remains behind closed doors for long. Politicians realise that everything they do and everything they say – all their mistakes, outbursts of anger, follies, boozing, betrayals, hands on the knee and other infidelities – may be recorded on camera, or by other means, and paraded to a world that’s gagging for scandal.
Now, most people (except ZANE supporters, of course) have probably done something at some time or other which brings a degree of shame. Just imagine if your worst disgrace had been recorded and was about to be broadcast on social media in the most hostile way imaginable?
Peer back in time to 1943 when Churchill was our wartime prime minister. He ended up as a saviour. But would he have survived if the loans from chums, his incontinent casino gambling, his egregious tax-avoidance, his drinking and his serious ill temper towards staff had been recorded on camera and paraded on social media? Would he have survived when, for example, everyone was on strict rations and pictures of him, a bit sozzled and singing music hall ditties while scoffing smoked salmon, grouse and rich puddings – all washed down with vast quantities of champagne and claret – had been shared with the nation?
Of, course, in those dark days there were no smartphones to cause mayhem and it was, thankfully, a different world. So, today – thanks to Churchill – we can speak in English, not German, and we can KBO (“keep buggering on”, which was a favourite sign-off of his) in freedom.
The late Julian Critchley, former MP for Aldershot, was right when he said that the only thing people in public life can safely do is to suck boiled sweets.
Tennessee Williams coined the phrase “The kindness of strangers,” and never was it more appropriate than in our Norfolk walk. We never use the names of those who offer us hospitality, for few want that sort of publicity and anyway, by the time we have stated that X and Y are wonderful, what on earth do we say about A and B.
Norfolk is fortunate not to be able to boast of a motorway so that it retains its independence and charm. We were even spared the wind that is said to roar over straight from the Urals: “The Beast from the East”.
What is “Confirmation Bias” (CB) and why does it matter? It’s the tendency to process new information as confirmation of our existing beliefs. And it’s often the result of our desire to establish we are right.
Perhaps you think you have an open mind and are willing to change long-held views if you receive new information? Are you sure about that?
Trial By Mob
Allow me to give you an example of extreme CB. Long before Rev Nigel Biggar, Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, wrote his excellent book Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning, he announced he was setting up a group at Christ Church Oxford to research the pluses and minuses of colonialism and empire. To his astonishment, he attracted abuse on an industrial scale from Professor Priyamvada Gopal at the University of Cambridge: “We must stop this shit!” Then followed a condemnatory letter from 59 Oxford academics, backed up by another 200 from around the world, which was publicly circulated. It came from intelligent people who decided to put the boot in on a project well before any of them could possibly have known what it entailed.
How did this come about? Easy! One person decided on the cancellation initiative. A letter was written, and colleagues persuaded to sign it on the proposition that Biggar was a misguided simpleton and that anything from his pen had to be condemned.
So, one by one, these people put the boot in – just as in Alice in Wonderland:
“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
“No, no!”, said the Queen. “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.”
Then publisher Bloomsbury – who had commissioned Biggar – got cold feet and decided that they couldn’t go ahead with the book after all. Rumour had it that young employees decided they were far too delicate to have anything to do with the “colonialism” in the book’s title, and so that was that.
Fortunately, William Collins was brave enough to publish, and the book has been a great success.
What Nigel Bigger suffered is an extreme example of confirmation bias, all from professors and publishers with brains the size of Basingstoke. Being intelligent didn’t not stop them from acting like hens. They judged before they knew the facts – and none has apologised!
So, what hope have we got to avoid the CB trap?
This is how it works. Let’s assume you supported the Remain camp back in 2016, and you loathe Boris Johnson, whom you regard as largely responsible for Brexit. Each time you hear of one of his achievements – such as the vaccine rollout ahead of all other countries or support for Ukraine – you simply close your ears. Meanwhile, his many disasters are like catnip to you.
Just listen to people parading they are “left wing” – whatever “left wing” is meant to mean? They are virtue-signalling they are not “right wing”, like that ghastly Nigel Farage and Boris.
Some claim to be so delicate they cannot bring themselves to read the Daily Mail or even have it in their house, as if merely touching the paper would taint them with some exotic right-wing disease. When I point out that it’s the most popular newspaper in the UK with wonderful sports and women’s pages, an informative financial section, first-rate quizzes and simply stated opinions by top-class writers – so what on earth are they talking about – they grow mute. CB sufferers are never happy to be challenged.
I submit we are all tainted by CB to some degree, welcoming views that support our prejudices whilst rejecting others that do not. Let’s run a simple test. To what extent do the names or words Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Angela Raynor, Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage, Meghan Markle, Brexit, Rupert Murdoch, Dominic Cummings, Dianne Abbott, Richard Dawkins, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, Israel and Palestine, and the words “colonial” and “empire” trigger an attack of “CB” in you?
Now we know the moral quality of figures from some leading universities and publishers, it makes it easier to understand the dynamics of Paris’s revolutionary mob, the Salem witch hunt and why in America’s deep south, individuals were so easily persuaded to lynch black people.
Roughly halfway house, and we’ve burned a few pounds from our easy living! The faint muscle stiffness has abated and we are swinging along with renewed confidence as each mile passes us by.
About a year ago, I had an operation on my left foot, and I worried whether the foot would survive the inevitable battering, for if the feet pack up, then it’s goodbye sweet Prince to the walks. For some weeks it was a bit stiff, so with some trepidation, I launched the foot on my second last walk. My old theory holds good: if you simply ignore pain, it often goes away. It did. Now it’s all fine.
Heaven on Earth
“If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.”
So said the fourth Mughal emperor, Jahangir, while visiting Kashmir in the seventeenth century – and those words might aptly be applied to the UK today.
Anyone who discusses immigration runs the risk of being called “racist” and as there is no agreed definition of the word, it can be launched as a general insult to smear anyone you dislike. Nevertheless, ever since Tony Blair threw open Britain’s borders and rebuilt the economy around cheap migrant labour, immigration has remained a contentious issue.
Once the genie had flown from the bottle, that was it. Cameron proved this in 2010 when he promised voters to reduce net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands – instead, he ended up presiding over the highest levels of immigration ever seen. His inability to honour that pledge reinforced the growing sense amongst voters that no one was in control. Of course, this was one of the factors behind Brexit and it will be an important determinant at the next election.
Land of Milk and Honey
Voters aren’t stupid. According to YouGov, uncontrolled immigration – particularly illegal immigration – remains among the electorate’s top three concerns. Across the Third World, millions of people, mainly young and unemployed, are determined to make the UK their home. Many of them live in countries where life is often cruel and short, where corruption is endemic, where there is no chance to alter society for the better, and where thinkers and critics often rot in jail. Meanwhile, their mobile phone screens tell them that the UK is a land of milk and honey – a country that promises free healthcare, free education, generous social services, religious freedom, democracy, and the rule of law handed down from incorrupt courts. A land where – so the people smugglers tell them – lawyers will (for free!) do all they can to prevent new arrivals from being deported.
In short, the UK is to the Third World Emperor Jahangir’s “heaven”. Who can blame young hopefuls for their iron determination to reach our shores? And who can be surprised that there is a booming business to facilitate their passage, run by corrupt people smugglers?
What can we do about this? First, truth must be separated from garbage. We are told that these non-European migrants are an economic benefit to the UK. If this is true, please will someone tell me why Belarus and Turkey use immigrants as weapons? Why isn’t France campaigning to get its valuable migrants back from Britain? Why aren’t countries everywhere competing eagerly for more incomers, perhaps incentivising them with bribes and goodie bags?
There is no such thing as a bargain! The reality is that migrants cost a great deal of money and the numbers are staggering. Net immigration – people allowed to come here – soared last year to about half a million. That represents the population of a city half the size of Newcastle each year and it costs north of £15bn.
So, although estimates differ wildly, illegal immigration is an economic drain – at least in the short term – which is why the countries the immigrants pass through play pass the parcel and hope they land up in the lap of the UK.
The 100,000 illegal migrants are, in the main, unskilled, poorly educated and heavily dependent on the public purse. Their accommodation in south-coast hotels costs UK taxpayers £5.6m per day – and this pays no heed to the numbers in the black economy, into which many foreigners disappear.
UK residents already face an acute housing crisis, schools are overcrowded, and the NHS has a waiting list of seven million patients. We have escalating welfare bills and there is a growing reluctance by the country’s increasingly elderly citizens to pay the necessary higher taxes to fund the welfare services they have grown to expect as their right. So, what is the government to do? Of course, no one wants immigrants attempting dangerous boat crossings to drown. But we must stop our laws from being flouted by people smugglers.
And why is HMG embarrassed by critics focusing on self-interest on behalf of UK voters? Dare we discuss the level of immigration that suits the UK, however contentious that calculation may prove to be? We must not heed the siren voices that tell us we must be “kind and nice” and try to improve the lives of immigrants everywhere, for this will lead to national bankruptcy. There are 89 million displaced people in the world, 27 million are refugees, 40 million live in modern slavery and up to 780 million can claim fear of persecution on grounds of race, nationality or religion. The solution cannot be to bring even a small minority to the UK. Similarly, the popular “safe and legal routes” cannot stop the crossings unless they apply to everybody prepared to travel here illegally.
Surely, we must concentrate on the interests of the people who already live in the UK? Our government should decide what number of immigrants best benefits our resident population and elevate the interests of voters who already live here above the interests of people who don’t. What’s wrong with that? After all, HMG owes its first allegiance not to suffering humanity, but to the UK taxpayers who live in the country it was elected to protect.
Voters are merciless! Unless our relatively liberal government does something about uncontrolled immigration, voters will shrug and back far-right leaders who will. That’s what’s happening In Sweden, Italy and Germany. Our present leaders should take note.