Tom and Janes Walk

Day 2

Lechlade to Buckland Marsh

How stupid can you get!

Fancy being daft enough to go walking in the UK without a waterproof! The Princess Royal says wisely that there is no such thing as bad weather, merely inappropriate clothing and, boy, did we prove that true today! There have only been a couple of times in the walks when we have been caught in a downpour and today was one of them. We arrived home like dripping rats, and it served me right.

River all the way
I think I saw Ratty and Mole along the way, with several sightings of Toad Hall.

The Law of Unintended Consequences
The reason why we are out of the EU can fairly be placed at the door of the late Paddy Ashdown. How can this be accurate when he was such a Remain supporter? Surely it is Farage and Cameron who were responsible?

Pay attention, for this history is yet another example of the mysterious workings of the law of unintended consequences!

After the EU introduced a parliament, elections for membership in the UK used the “first past the post” system – the same system that is currently used in Westminster parliamentary elections. It makes it vastly hard for candidates of minority parties to get elected.

In 1999, the then Lib Dem leader, Paddy Ashdown, persuaded Tony Blair to allow a “list” system of proportional representation to be adopted for UK voters in the EU elections.

This system acted like rocket fuel for UKIP. Farage won a bridgehead, and then over the years – largely due to his relentless refusal to accept the role of patron saint of lost causes – UKIP won more and more seats, until it forged an unstoppable momentum. In 2016, its success threatened Cameron’s Tory heartland to such a degree, he decided to conclude the issue by holding a referendum he was confident he would win.

The rest, as they say, is history. If the “list” system of proportional representation had not been introduced by Blair (as a concession to Ashdown), we would never have heard of Nigel Farage, UKIP, the Brexit party, or roles for Dominic Cummings and Boris. There would never have been a referendum, Cameron would still be PM – and we would still be in the EU.

Come to think of it, Ashdown’s career was based on his passionate enthusiasm for the UK’s membership of the EU, and his desire for proportional representation to build up his beloved Lib Dem party.

Be careful what you wish for.

Pussy Galore
Kariba spoke to me yesterday. I know it sounds daft, but she really did. It was early in the morning, and she wasn’t best pleased. Her green eyes flashed with irritation and her purr grew into a growl.

“Listen Sunshine,” she warned, “I’m the boss here so please don’t forget it. You are darn fortunate to have me as your cat. But I’m putting you on notice – I’m considering leaving. I know you’ll be devastated if I go, and in many ways, I’d miss you too. But a cat must look after herself these days, and there’s no such thing as a free bowl of milk.

“If you really want to know, it’s about those darn dogs you bring into the house. Your own stupid Moses is bad enough, a mongrel with the fancy name of “cockapoo”. Of course, I marked his nose with a slash years ago, so he leaves me well alone. But your daughter Milly! She brings with her a dog spawned from the sweepings of Bulgaria. All the silly creature does is eat, fart, wee on the lawn and chase me! I am not as young as I used to be, and simply put, I’m fed up.

“Just thought you should know.”

Luckily Milly went… and Kariba stayed.

Day 3

Buckland Marsh to Bablock Hythe

Nearly turned my ankle trying to avoid the vast number of cracks in the path caused by a lack of rain. Then Jane is furious with me for allowing gates to slam in her face. She has every right to be cross. The problem is that when I walk, I go into a sort of torpor, a dream world, as I ponder the meaning of life! Not that I have come to many great conclusions, but if I do, ZANE donors will be the first to know.

Our walk is punctuated with small concrete bunkers, built we are told to provide a lookout nest for Dad’s Army to spot German frogmen swimming up the Thames! As there is no record that any was ever caught doing so, I reckon that acting as a spotter had to be the most tedious job imaginable.

Life Isn’t Fair
I have never stated my political views or shared my opinions on Brexit, and I never will. They may be glimpsed in my writing, of course, but why be explicit and run the risk of alienating at least 50 per cent of ZANE supporters?

However, I do enjoy pointing out the manifestations of the law of unintended consequences – and here is another on proportional representation (PR). People proclaim its beneficial effect in bringing about “electoral fairness”. Ah, but didn’t Nanny say, “Life isn’t fair”? Was Nanny right? Surely PR brings about the joys of democracy, thereby enabling minority parties to have a say in government?

Many years ago, when I was a politician, I thought that PR was more democratic than our present “First Past the Post” (FPTP) system. So, with the enthusiasm of youth, I co-authored a pamphlet called, “Electoral Reform, as Easy as ABC” for the Tory party Bow Group. It is, I hope, gathering dust somewhere, for I have to say it was throughout no more than naive rubbish. Here’s why.

Under FPTP, each party submits its manifesto to the public and, in the event of winning the election, enacts it. If it doesn’t, then the electorate will chuck them out at the next election, and a good thing too. That’s democracy working well.

PR would see effective minority governments replaced by coalitions in which all the parties would be obliged to dump their manifestos and agree a new policy programme – which, of course, the electorate hasn’t approved. Then politicians – freed up from the irritations of prior obligations – can do whatever they like. Since MPs would no longer be expected to deliver on their promises, they could not be held to account for their failure to do so.

If you doubt this dismal scenario, then please see the way PR is working in the EU countries that use PR. Take Belgium, for example, which is in a state of political paralysis.

FPTP is not an ideal system, nothing is, but as far as democracy is concerned, it’s better than PR any day.

Sorry about that.

Nanny, as usual, was right.

Mwah, Mwah, Hug
I have an unworldly friend who, surprisingly late in life, fell deeply in love. As the marriage to his beloved approached, he realised he knew nothing about the – ahem – physical side of marriage. (Reader, bear with me, there was a time before the Internet!) So, my friend ventured to a local second-hand bookshop, and, hidden away on the back shelves, found just what he needed – a handsomely bound book called How to Hug.

The book was wrapped in brown paper and my friend hurried home. That evening, he discovered, to his profound dismay, that he had purchased Volume Five of the Oxford English Dictionary.

I’ve railed against the unhealthy practice of promiscuous kissing in previous blogs. So universal is the custom of greeting friends with a casual kiss that attempts to avoid the snog can easily be misconstrued as rudeness. And now, on top of kissing anyone with a pulse, it’s de rigeur to hug them too!

Of course, touch is important – I’m all for hugging family members and the small group of people I dearly love and who love me. But lingering hugs with everyone we meet devalues what should be an act of genuine intimacy, and it’s plain creepy. When I’m grabbed by someone, I’m left wondering what the hug means – does it communicate something the hugger is unable to say verbally? It’s a kind of mime, a substitute for words. Perhaps dumb silence can be excused in the context of an unexpected death, the jolting news of a one-way cancer diagnosis or a catastrophic accident. But that’s very different from hugging someone in the street you hardly know: “Karen, my goodness… what a long time… you haven’t changed at all!” Then comes the hug-hug – and it devalues the currency of the hug.

So, I say, no more hugging as a default greeting! It’s lazy. How often should we be saying something original, but can’t be bothered – so we hug instead? A casual hugger is virtue signalling, too: “Hey! I’m a warm and loving kinda person, and I like you – so please like me too!” Ugh!

You would have thought that Covid might have put a stop to universal hugging, but if anything, it’s only made things worse. People are so pleased to see a human in the flesh that they incline towards squeezing whoever’s presented.

I hope automatic hugging will wither away… but, until such time, we’ll just have to go on performing like seals.

* Names and images may have been changed for privacy reasons

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