Walking for Zimbabwe: Tom's Walk 2016

Day 6: Rest Day

We took the day off which us just as well as it has deluged! This was the day we were reliably informed would be the warmest ever, so it sounds as if the forecasters are the same folk who forecast the Brexit result!

We went in search of an iPad charger, having left the last one like spoor in the drawing room of the last host’s house. A highlight of the day was a joyous lunch with Liz Landale, a lovely person we have known for many years. She lives in elegant style in a beautiful house she and her husband Sandy developed over half a century. Sandy was a gentleman, a lay reader and an accomplished poet. He died not long ago. He had one of those faces I can picture still and if I don’t want to believe he is dead I don’t have to.

Piggy Wig

When I was a little boy, I was often persuaded to recite the Lear nonsense poem “The Owl and the Pussy Cat” to an assortment of doting aunts. It has a couple of lines that have always intrigued me:

“And there in a wood, a Piggy-Wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.”

Then we come to the complicated bit (when you are aged five lots of things are complicated).

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling,
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.” (See what I mean!)

I knew about the pigs on the local farm close to where we lived, but none of them had any rings. So why on earth did this pig have a ring in its nose? When I asked the question, my aunts were undoubtedly impressed with my precocity but none of them had a clue.

I have now learned that a nose ring makes leading a pig rather easier than it would be otherwise: the pig can’t escape – its will is dominated and it follows obediently.

I never thought until recently that Lear’s innocent little poem had any serious meaning until I saw a crack den (and don’t ask me why I was in one, for it’s a long – and innocent! – story and nothing to do with this tale). As soon as I saw it, I was reminded of Lear’s pig and its ring.

Drug addiction means being led by the nose with one’s will suspended, in this case towards chemical substances. In their ghastly way, drugs command the purest form of “worship” ever invented by Old Nick. The hellish room I saw, with its smeared windows, discoloured wallpaper, dirty bed, and floor littered with discarded needles, was a shrine. A strange, sweet smell hung everywhere, the sort of odour that marinates your clothes and makes you feel tainted.

Addicts will sacrifice anything to get their next “fix” – their money, their bodies, literally anything. Their ring has led them to an altar that is destroying all who worship there with cruel efficiency.

So my dear readers, we may not be crack addicts but like the piggy wig we all have a nose ring. Where is it leading us? A quote that bothers me more than any other is from US bestselling author David Foster Wallace. He wasn’t a Christian but he wrote:

“Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reasons for choosing some sort of God… to worship… is pretty much everything else will eat you alive. If you worship money and things… then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before your loved ones bury you. …Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your owns fear. Worship your intellect… and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful, it is that they are unconscious. They are our default settings.”

Wallace committed suicide in 2008.

The Roaring Lion

Wallace’s words tie in with the Bible (1 Peter 5:8) where we are told, “Your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to snare.” I heard somewhere that you rarely get bitten when you pick up a snake: you only get bitten when you try to put it down.

I read that former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy drifted into alcoholism. There was no great white blinding moment when he crossed a line from moderation into addiction. Indeed, addictions are all around us. And as Wallace says, it ain’t just about booze and heroin. At the last Olympics, a friend’s daughter was living with an athlete who had previously won an Olympic bronze. What a great achievement, but his passion was to win gold to the degree that it became an obsession – which is I suppose another word for addiction. When he finally won another bronze – missing out on silver or gold by a milo-second – he was consumed by a profound anger that finally destroyed the relationship. Poor man and poor couple. It would seem there is a high chance that unless you become obsessed by your sport, you are unlikely to succeed.

Addictions come in all shapes and sizes. Addicts worship but they are bowing down before the wrong thing. G.K. Chesterton wrote somewhere that when a man visited a brothel he was in fact calling out to God. That idea takes a bit of thinking about, but when you understand the pull of raw addiction then you can more readily understand why the likes of Sir John Gielgud have felt driven to solicit sex in public places in order to satisfy their needs. Twenty years ago, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Allan Green, ruined his career after he was caught soliciting sex in King’s Cross. His wife, the poor woman, later killed herself. Forty years ago, Lord Lambton wrecked his ministerial career for consorting with prostitutes, and broadcaster Frank Bough suffered a similar fate when he was caught out in the same way. So it has always been. The exposers used to be the Church; today it is the tabloids. I wonder if those who were caught were in fact relieved. Perhaps they found the mask of respectability too heavy to carry?

Best stick to God. On I trudge…