Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Devonian diversion

After a bit of a fraught weekend, we’re now down in Sidmouth, at the west end of the Jurassic coast in Devon, staying for a night with Jane’s parents. They’ve just had their central heating replaced. They were married in the post-war period (rationing and all that); and so they’ve been used to making do, and they’ve made do with ‘the most antiquated system’ their gas man had seen for many a long year, made do and shivered in winter. This year he condemned the boiler as unsafe, and a couple of weeks ago they had the whole system replaced. Apart from new radiators you’d not know anything had been done. They’ve completely made good and redecorated through the house. And they’re in their 80s. Respect! So that’s where Jane’s dynamism comes from.

We came via the A303, using the route familiar to us from when we visited my Aunt Susan (the Enigma code buster). It takes you past Stonehenge. It’s an absurd sight, an assortment of rocks, with sightseers circling round at 50 yards distance, but unable to get up close and touch them. What are English Heritage or whoever worried about, I wonder? No one’s going to slip a stone in their anorak pocket and nick it, are they? Billions of sticky fingers would do less damage than the weather. Still if they do want to protect them from human contact, I think they ought to stick up fibre-glass replicas (or reconstituted stone) somewhere nearby, and let people swarm all over them, like at Lascaux where they keep the cave paintings shut up nearly all the time and have replicas open to the public. I really think people are short-changed at Stonehenge at the moment. If you want a prehistoric ‘hands-on’ experience, I recommend Avebury, just up the road.

A few yards beyond Stonehenge on the other side, there’s an encampment of pigs, lots of shelters, a couple of yurts, and pigs happily rootling around in the mud or with their snouts in the trough. Coincidentally, as we’re passing, we’re listening to Radio 5 Live, and there’s the breaking news that the Speaker of the House of Commons is going to announce his resignation at 2.30 in the afternoon. I feel sorry for Mr Martin, because it’s really not his fault that MPs have exploited the allowances’ system. He’s not perfect; so doesn’t fit all the prerequisites of a scapegoat (though come to think of it, I’m not sure he had to be without blemish). But it does seem to me part and parcel of the blame culture which we love to indulge in, to make us feel better about ourselves.

By the way, talking of expenses, when I was training to be a vicar, before we left we had a talk from a clergy tax expert, giving advice to the green curates-to-be. The only bit of his talk I remember was that travel to the supermarket was a legitimate expense, because we were bound to meet parishioners there and have ‘pastoral’ conversations!! I suppose the same could be said of going to your local pub. I never claimed for either. I fell to wondering if bishops claim for their membership of the Athenaeum Club, or members of General Synod for posh hotels and posh meals in London. Fortunately, I’ve not heard too many clergy berating MPs recently. Hopefully we’ve been too busy checking our own expenses and consciences: what’s the phrase – ‘wholly and necessarily incurred in one’s job’?

The trouble with the A303, as against the motorway, is that you can get stuck behind a tractor, which we did before Honiton. Anyhow we made it in good time and then the hardest bit of the journey lay ahead for me, the path. It looks like Great Gable to me. It may not look like it, but it's at least 1 in 3, I'd say. Round the corner there are nine steps to the front door. So in one hand I take my ergonomic walking stick, and hang on to Jane for dear life with the other, and begin the ascent. Fortunately Jane doesn't let go. I’m told I did it in five minutes today, which isn’t bad. Tomorrow, I'll come down in the wheelchair as I find coming down harder and more scary than going up.

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