Tom Benyon is at it again.
Every year he puts himself through misery for the sake of his charity ZANE - Zimbabwe, A National Emergency. He walks the length, breadth, depth and whatever other dimension of the country he can think up in order to raise funds for the numberless people he helps through his astonishing work.
This year, it's Ambleside to Oxford. In case you don't know Tom, I should add that he's of an age where most men are well retired and only creep out for the occasional foray onto the golf course. But increasingly well into his eighth decade, he insists on trekking with his wife Jane and their dog for God and for their fellow human beings who need their help.
Today their walk brought them onto my patch. The least I could do was to eat lunch with them, and then walk them through the wild fields of North Aston Parish and the gentler roads of Steeple Aston.
Eventually they arrived at the Deddington Arms (just north of my patch, but still a decent pub), where Richard, their faithful support driver was leafing through the sports pages of the Daily Telegraph and recounting the criminal lack of good pubs open at lunch times "in the north". Jane & Tom were accompanied today by a goodly legion of family members, as this is pretty close to their own home in Bladon. So there were two daughters (Millie and Clare - herself an Anglican cleric and well-known in these pages) and three grandsons (Clare's boys), which perhaps excused the late-running of the morning session.
Many Moules later, we were ready for the off.
Tom has a curious gait. He waddles with the grace of a man who expects to find a horse between his legs. It is a triumph of his determination to serve his Charity that he finishes these walks - by nature I am not convinced he is built for long daily strolls up hill and down dale. He uses two sticks as he walks, and their constant 'clack-clacking' on any footpath or road surface is fair warning of his approach. He retains stealth mode only when crossing fields and in virgin woodland. (Which is a fair part of the daily fare, if what I encountered is anything to go by).
Also - though Jane has a GPS device hanging from her neck, this is only any good if the paths on the maps exist. Which they didn't as we left Deddington. Still, fields are fields, and I knew where North Aston was. Even a herd of marauding cows couldn't put us off. Tom's sticks were very useful there. One of the grandsons took to hiding in a tree for a moment, but all was well. Even the sheep parted to let us through.
Eventually - North Aston. One of the residents of this most blessed of England's villages once said to me, "I don't understand why anyone who lives in North Aston would ever want to visit Italy". Given the culture, the art, the food, the weather, the architecture, the history and the scenery available on a day like today, it is almost possible to agree. If only there were a Vivoli's in North Aston!
The good people of the village greeted us with refreshments, chairs, embraces, and donations to ZANE. It was very moving - all the more so as we swapped grandchildren; some left, others joined, and both Clare & Millie departed for home.
We walked on through the parkland belonging to North Aston Hall, and down the lane to Middle Aston, before reaching Steeple Aston, where Harry the Springer joined the merry band.
I'm not sure how many clergy have walked with Tom on this journey. He & I talked at great depth about perceptions of right and wrong, the mistake of avoiding responsibility for sin and an understanding of freedom as choosing obedience. With a little more time, I think we would have had a five-point plan for Israel and Hamas, but alas, Tom needed a little time to get his thoughts in order for the Woodstock Rotarians.
It was a privilege to escort these remarkable people who burn with passion for others so maltreated by fortune and their fellows that they have nothing and can do nothing in a country so far away. It was a privilege to step on the edge of their journey as it brought them into the heart of my own. It was a joy to see my own patch from their perspective and to see the love and generosity of people here serving our guests. I was proud to be Rector of such kind people.
Tom keeps a blog through his walks. This journey finishes for him and Jane tomorrow, but the blog is always there, as is so much more. Do drop by. They've done hundreds of miles over these last three weeks, and thousands in total; it's not just a walk in the park - it's a life of commitment to changing lives, and I commend ZANE to you.