ZANE Blog

Walking for Zimbabwe: Tom's Walk 2016

Day 13: Cosgrove to Hardmead

Last night I asked our host how he had voted in the referendum. He was Brexit. When I asked him how his wife had voted he said he had no idea! A minute later she told me she had voted Brexit too and neither had thought to discuss it! Strange things, marriages.

Today we are joined by two South Africans with a close connection to Zimbabwe and we had a happy time reminiscing about friends ZANE has assisted.

When we were in Worcester cathedral a sign read: “This cathedral welcomes refugees.” I find that sort of soapy nonsense intensely irritating. The church does not have the responsibility to define what refugees are and what they are not. They don’t have to pay for them to come here, house them, educate their children, feed them, pay their health care requirements or their language tuition fees, so all the Dean seems to be doing is “lefty virtue signalling.”

Think about it. The vast majority of persecuted Zimbabweans would love to live in the likes of Guildford if given half a chance; then there are the populations of another dozen or so African countries who would follow in their wake

We have to make some tough decisions about immigration and fast. We have to agree the basics: first, refugees are those whose lives are in threat and, second, entry to the UK is a privilege and not a right.

On we plod.

To Russia With Love

Some years ago, in a spasm of charitable intentions, I travelled to Azerbaijan and then to Nagorno-Karabakh with the redoubtable Baroness Cox (Caroline). Our mission was to assist a group of Christians whom were said to be fighting for their lives. It was the dead of winter and my memories are mainly of feeling frozen.

I soon grew convinced, however, that despite Caroline’s finest hopes, our efforts were not so much about saving lives as prolonging a civil war. So I decided to make my apologies and a quick exit. To that end, I boarded a flight in Yerevan with the intention of flying to London via Moscow.

Rush Hour

The ancient Aeroflot plane was wheezing vapour to add to the frozen morning mist. However, despite the fact the plane looked only a tad more sophisticated than the Wright Brothers’ original, at least it was warm inside. There were no seat allocations so I squeezed in with a crowd of others and hoped for the best. The passengers kept on coming, though, and by the time we were due to take off it was like the London Tube rush hour with people crowded along the aisle. And you should have seen the men – all granite-faced Khrushchev look-alikes!

Then unbelievably there was a knock at the door and four men clambered in carrying jerry cans of diesel that were plunked down in front of the loos. The doors were locked and one of them pulled out a fag and merrily lit up. I wanted out but too late! As the plane took off, the only thing left to me was to shut my eyes and pray.

School Fees

Some years later, a disaster in India compelled me to get involved in charity work once again. A vast flood from the Bay of Bengal had devastated hundreds of villages: tens of thousands had drowned and hundreds of thousands had been rendered homeless. I wanted to build two schools that would benefit the poorest of the poor, and set about looking for the most deprived slums I could find. I searched particularly round the outskirts of Orissa, one of the poorest cities in the poorest state in India. At last I chose two slums, one for leprosy sufferers and another that catered for prostitutes. The district was, I recall, called Jangapally.

I spent about $20k and this went a long way. To ensure it was spent frugally and as sensibly as possible I gathered the councils of the slums together and we debated endlessly about how to proceed. A site was chosen: the easiest part of the process by far. We then bought huge covers to keep out the sun and the rain. Over the next few weeks, we bought blackboards, chairs, computers and schoolbooks; we provided three scooters for teachers. All in all, it proved to be quite a shopping list. A few days before the opening, we held a party to celebrate. But before it could begin, the chairmen of both slums came to ask a favour.

“Please can we have simple uniforms for the children? We would like each child to have a mark of distinction.”

Of course, I agreed.

“We have another request.”

“Ask away”.

“Please will you ensure that all parents are obliged to pay a fee – even if it’s very small – to ensure that they don’t take the education for granted?”

I was amazed: “But what if they have no money of any kind?”

They were insistent. “We will loan them a little bit of money: all parents must pay something.”

So that is what we arranged. For all I know this arrangement has been maintained to this day.

How interesting that the poorest and most disadvantaged people on this planet wanted school uniforms for their children, and for parents to pay a little something towards their education. It was important to them that a client/professional relationship could be created and maintained.

Both principles make perfect sense: it is sad that one of the richest nations on earth, the UK, junked both of these vital principles years ago.

Escape… and Capture

Some time ago at the Military Staff College in Camberley, General Sir Leslie McDonald (not his real name) came to give a lecture to students in the aftermath of the Korean War.

It was titled, “How I Escaped from the Chinese Six Times”.

After the session had finished and the courageous general was poised to leave, a captain in the front row raised a languid hand.

“No questions,” he was told, “the general has another meeting to attend”.

The captain insisted.

“All right then, but please make it quick!”

“Has the general any plans to give another lecture titled, “How I came to be captured by the Chinese six times?”

Lessons in Gallantry

We have all heard of the screaming abuse often levelled at Sandhurst cadets by warrant officers.

One of my friends told me of the trouble he caused when he was being screamed at by a red-faced regimental sergeant major.

The alleged “offence” was that he was said to have been less than courageous when diving into a tank on an assault course.

The RSM finished by shouting, “Study my medals!”

There was at least a dozen.

“What do you see?”

“There are 12 Sergeant Major, and none of them for gallantry!”

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