ZANE Blog

Toms Walk 2020

Day 14 Cornbury Park – Tom’s Walk 2020

September 20
Cornbury Park (Charlbury)

Cornbury

Off we start. The penultimate day and with a delightful new group of walkers including one couple who have walked with us – and map read with great accuracy – nine times.

Two dogs with us again, so Moses runs at least twice the stated distance. More glorious weather.

The lunch at a middling pub: the landlord apologises for being “rushed off his feet because it’s Sunday! ”

But for goodness sake, Sundays occur at regular intervals, so why do they take him by surprise?

Pushing Him All the Way

The other dog gets randy and starts to ravish the nearest walking leg. We have a boy with us, aged seven – who walks us off our feet.

His weary father tries to explain what the dog was doing.

It reminds me of Noel Coward’s explanation to a Godchild of two mating dogs.

“The front dog is blind: his kind friend is pushing him all the way to St Dunstan’s.”

We discussed the mawkish cover of individual death in BBC reports on COVID.

We all think it overdone and in poor taste. But then, of course, we are an old fashioned bunch. The war generation dealt with death rather differently.

Mourning Sickness

Do you recall the answer given by the Duke of Edinburgh when asked by a reporter how he felt on receiving the news of the murder of his uncle Lord Mountbatten?

You can’t? That’s not surprising because no journalist dared to ask such a drivelling question.

In 2012, the wonderful Daily Telegraph journalist Cassandra Jardine – a good friend to ZANE – died of cancer, leaving five distraught children. Her husband, actor William Chubb, played his theatre role on the evening of her death. He knew the show must go on, for that’s exactly what sensible Cassandra would have wanted. The family could mourn deeply later and of course in private with close friends and colleagues. They understood the value of a stiff upper lip. To them loss and grief were personal matters.

Recreational Grief

Fast forward to when I was chairman of a heath authority board. A number of staff decided they were too grief stricken to do their job because of the Twin Tower assassinations in New York. Not that they had family involved mind, they were just too distressed to work. I wondered to my chief executive what would have happened if the Battle of Britain pilots had been too distressed by the death of their friends to fight? But I was told that if I had summarily dismissed the absent workers – as I proposed to do – I would lose the sympathy of the entire 2,000 staff. On reflection, he was right not to be too hard on them; in recent times, we have been conditioned to believe that it is right, even proper, to indulge our emotions. They probably felt virtuous for having done so.

Letting it all hang out is now the thing. But I am of an older generation, and I can’t bear to watch the ghastly sentimentality and unremitting vulgarity of today’s news. And it’s not just the token politicians with faces like broken bed pans reciting the mantra, “Our prayers are with the families” that appal me, it’s worse than that.

Today’s culture demands that for public titillation the media must squeeze the maximum amount of recreational grief from any disaster. And the deaths from Covid-19 present a glorious opportunity.

Death is no longer a family matter but paraded as a public spectacle. So foot-in-the-door reporters nightly feed on the misery of stricken families and ask loved ones to express their “feelings” at the death of granny, or whoever it is that has died. They dwell on emotion, the more harrowing the better, and they encourage its indulgence. The cameras probe relentlessly to uncover raw grief, pain, shock and as many tears as possible. The obscene intrusion is justified as “caring” and “compassionate” when in fact it’s the exact opposite. When the reporters have gone, the families are left empty and despairing.

The sadness is that the public have striven to accommodate the media’s desire to provide them with this sort of emotional pornography. Tell people they should feel something, and they’ll not only feel it, they’ll regard themselves as entitled and obliged to feel it. So the bereaved weep and lament and feel a flattering importance whilst enjoying their brief five minutes of fame.

George McDonald Fraser – author of Quartered Safe Out Here – describes life as a private soldier under General Slim in nine section of the 14th army in Burma in the Second World War: violent death, of course, was an everyday occurrence. Fraser wishes we could be transported back in time to hear a modern television journalist ask members of his platoon for their “feelings” after one of their colleagues had just been killed. He would like to have heard their reply.

And there’s still time to ask the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Truth Will Out…

Jane is a gardener and rightly proud of her talents: to my untutored eye she has created a mini Sissinghurst. Woe betide any suggestions from me. I made the foolish error of proposing that one of our handsome Zimbabwe statues would look good in another part of the garden. She whirled round and rasped, “The trouble is that you’re a vulgarian!”

So true.

Tom Benyon

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