Walking for Zimbabwe: Tom's Walk 2016

Day 7: Worcester to Kington


I was asked to take the collection at our local church service recently. I thought things needed livening up so I cheerfully growled at startled congregants, “Come on: stump up!” Jane was ashamed of my sales-pitch and says the CoE should put me on commission.

Why is it that everyone at church puts on a funny voice? For heaven’s sake, it’s supposed to be Good News surely – so why do people mope around with faces that indicate they have just received a final tax demand?

Communion that day bothered me. I knelt there and my mind went blank! I couldn’t recall anything I had done that was especially wrong – was I wasting God’s time? What on earth was I doing on my knees anyway? Jane told me that I should be ashamed of myself (she says this a lot), and if it would help my contrition she is quite prepared to draw up a list of my iniquities – of which she has first–hand knowledge – for future reference.

Dog Tales

I saw the Rev’d Kate Bottley on a TV programme called Gogglebox in which the reaction of participants watching various programmes is recorded to review their variances. In a session when a dog died, the bulk of viewers wept copiously but this dry-eyed vicar sensibly remarked that since the dog was only a small one, “they only would need a small hole to bury it”. Not an unreasonable observation from someone who spends a good deal of her time comforting people who have been bereaved, sometimes in ghastly circumstances. But apparently the poor vicar was the subject of vicious trolling by the kind of bores who barrack anyone who has fallen short in the political correctness stakes, or who has failed to weep at the correct moment.

This reminds me that some time ago I ran a series of advertisements for ZANE showing a woman living in Harare with two dogs she could no longer afford to feed. I thought that the great British public, with its well-known love of animals, would deeply sympathise with her plight and stump up right royally. Not a bit of it: the prevailing reaction seemed to be, “Why doesn’t this daft woman just eat her dogs?!”

A Tangled Web           

Of course, we’re out of the EU now, but I can’t help reflecting on how years ago – when I was an MP – I went round the parliament in Brussels with journalist John Sergeant. It was hugely confusing then, and it must be far worse now; and it’s all made worse by the fact the whole outfit shifts from Brussels to Strasbourg each six months. What a waste of time and money that is for starters. What do they do all day in all those offices other than allow faceless and unaccountable people to spout vast, confusing directives?

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is a mere 278 words of timeless and immortal prose and the last EU directive on the size of eggs ran to 40 closely worded pages!

The one thing that made me laugh hung in the men’s lavatory in the Parliament building at eye height: “Do you know you are the only person in this building who knows exactly what you are doing!”

In Praise of Monty

It was Kipling who said that as God couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, he created mothers.

I may laugh at Jane for playing General Montgomery from time to time, but she is a remarkable mother and granny. In fact, all mothers surely deserve a medal for the sacrifices they make but of course I only know about Jane’s qualities at first hand. She has focused on our children and grandchildren’s needs for years with laser dedication, allowing them to take reasonable risks yet rescuing them from the various dangers that lurk throughout childhood. She’s told them “don’t shout”, “button it up”, and “don’t sit on wet grass, or you know what will happen”. We’ve heard, “Eat that now and it’ll spoil your appetite,” or “Who cares what Mrs Jenkins children are doing, you’re not going out dressed like that?” Or how about, “Were you born in a barn?”, “This  isn’t an hotel”, or her speciality – said with a glinting eye – “Just because I say so”?

Jane was brilliant at knowing what not to say and allowing our children space to make their own mistakes. She never told off our daughter for smoking behind the stables because she guessed the phase would pass. (In fact, when the children were teenagers I took them to a prison and a home for the mentally ill. They soon worked out what the crooks and mentally unstable often had in common – chain-smoking. End of lesson!)

Jane didn’t say a word when one of our daughters brought home a man with a pigtail and a dog on a rope (I did). She said nothing about the children coming back late at night because she thought that if they were trusted, all would be well in the end. To my astonishment, this worked.

Jane carried the maze of family life in her head and she performed the great, unpaid duties in the home as well. She usually played tough cop, while I got to be the nice one. As Madonna once said, “I’m the disciplinarian with the school runs, making the doctor appointments and ensuring the homework gets done. He does the fun things, the treats, ice creams and rowdy games.” Jane played Cinderella, while I always sought the popularity of Gladiator.

Motherhood is the only job where if you do it really well you get demoted. Jane’s profound works of love won’t make the obituary pages but she has helped form the characters of the wonderful people that are our children and grandchildren. Jane lives in them, not just by her DNA but by the subtle process of osmosis: thousands of baths run, meals prepared and eaten, school runs completed, clothing ironed, homework improved, tears kissed better, stories related, gentle advice given. Jane lives on in their capacity to love greatly. They in turn will pass all this on as the ball rolls steadily forward.

In this way, as the old song goes, “Love never dies”.